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Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Early Contender for Book of the Year: Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beers

Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beers
Ron Pattinson
Quarry Books, 160 pages

If you're reading this blog, you probably know Ron Pattinson.  His blog, Shut Up About Barclay Perkins, is a cult hit--the most-scrutinized blog by professional brewers, at least in the US.  I don't speak as often to homebrewers, but I suspect they are big fans, too.  Casual readers ... well, maybe not.  Ron writes about the history of beer, using a voice that makes you feel like you've wandered into the middle of a discussion between two friends at the pub.  Today's post, for instance, begins with this sentence: "Another day, another set of dodgy Milds from the 1920's."  That's typical.

Back in 2007, he started his blog with an admirably clear vision:
Books. I have piles of books. I can provide photographic proof if necessary, but believe me, the piles are just about up to my elbow. I blame the interent. It's just too easy to buy the most obscure publications. Once I have them, I have to read them.

But, once you've plucked out the juiciest sweetmeat of knowledge, where's the fun if there's no-one in whose mouth to drop it? The solution is obvious: join with the unemployed and unemployable in the blogsphere. Share with my peers the weird bits up crap I've unearthed.
Over the course of 3,175 posts, a clip of 1.3 a day, he has documented the details of those books--plus many more, including brewery log books, that he has dug up since.  He has revealed many truths about old English, Scottish, and German beer styles, helped clarify some misunderstandings, and correct many myths and legends that have gathered like cobwebs over the years.

The problem with 3,175 posts of material is that it's very hard to find succinct information.  I know, because I spent hours poring through Ron's archives as I researched history for the Beer Bible (and, full disclosure, Ron agreed to have a look at some of my history to see I'd gotten it right).  He has collected his posts together in slightly more digestible books--but these have the appearance of a binder full of loose-leaf pages clamped together (I consulted both Scotland! and Decoction! as well).  They lack a through-line.

Now, at last, we have all that Ron has learned distilled down to 160 concise pages.  (Complaint: I'd have preferred, say 300.)  These include fairly detailed history sections followed by--and again, readers of his blog will find this familiar--recipes for five-gallon batches of various historical beers. He describes two methods of mashing for the recipes, a scaled-back, single-infusion mash, and a multiple mashing system as the pre-sparging breweries used to employ.  If you're hardcore, you can learn how to brew like an early Victorian brewery.  He mostly covers British styles, but he devotes a few pages at the end to lost German styles like Kotbusser, Broyhan, Grodziskie, and Salvator (precursor to doppelbock).

The recipes are just delicious, too.  If you flip through and aren't inspired to brew one of these, you're beyond my help.  The picture below captures one high on my list--an 1805 pale stout.  If you look down at the mashing regime, you'll notice something incredibly interesting: the second mash is cooler than the first (they usually step upward).  Why?  Pale stout, weird mashing schedule: enticing.  The book is full of this stuff.  (Sorry the photo's crap.  It does, however, reveal my other complaint--that weird binding.)

You should buy it if you're a homebrewer or if you're interested in brewing history.  And you should especially buy it if you've wished that someone would collect the information from Ron's blog in a concise, easy reference guide. 

1 comment:

  1. My only quibble with this long-awaited, necessary, re-examination of brewing history as it is commonly perceived, is Ron's lack of references to back up his findings.Of course, all one need do is go to the blog, and search for the references. They're all there.