Book review: Designing Great Beers by Ray Daniels

Designing Great Beers was, if I remenber correctly, the second book about homebrewing that I purchased. Written by Ray Daniels, founder and director of The Cicerone Certification Program, what attracted me from this book was that it was written to help brewing specific beer styles. After gaining some experience in all-grain brewing, I was interested in learning about the different beer styles, the ingredients and processes that were part of them. The description of the book under its title, “The Ultimate Guide to Brewing Classic Beer Styles” fitted perfectly for what I was looking for.

The book is divided in two parts. In the first one, after three shor chapters that don’t contribute too much, there are some chapters about beer basic ingredients: malt, water, hops and yeast. The different types of malts, hops and yeasts are discussed, as well as the parameters and processes in which those ingredients are involved, including a good number of calculations. Although if you don’t have any other sources of information you can find something useful here, these chapters are in general quite simple deep and you can find more in deep (and updated) information from a lot of different sources.

The secon part is the one that it is reall y interesting and it is about brewing “classic” beer styles. Not all the styles are covered, but you can find a good number of them. There are chapters for German Barley Ales (Kölsch and Altbier); Barley Wine; Bitters and Pale Ales (including IPAs); Bock Beer; California Common; Fruit Beer; Mild and Brown Ales; Old Ale; Pilsners and other Pale Lagers; Porter; Scottish and Scotch Ales; Stout; Vienna, Marzen and Oktoberfest and Wheat Beers.

Each chapter is put together in a very organized manner. As a general rule, after a brief introduction, a description of the evolution of the beer style through history is made, since its origins until present day (well, at least until year 2000, when my edition was published). Here, the numbers and ingredients that have defined the style through the years are specified. This part, althouth may not include practical information about brewing the style, would pleased those of you who, like me, have interest in knowing about brewing history. Later, there is a part about brewing the style today. Here, each of the ingredients is treated separately, describing which is suitable for the style (base and special malts, hops, water profile and yeast). In addition, the steps to follow in processes like mashing and fermentation are detailed. Everything is based in contemporary commercial examples as well as in information compiled from recipes that got at least to second round in the American Homebrewers Association competition. Serveral tables and graphics, along a understandable text, help to summarize and see everything easily. Finally, a summary with keys about brewing the style closes each chapter.

It’ s been a long time since I hadn’t have a look at this book, but it is, without a doubt, one of the books I’ve learned more from. As I said before, in the first years of my homebrewing career, I tried to brew different styles to learn about them and this book was a must to plan my recipes and processes. Not only helped me to know about beer styles, it also showed me what the different ingredients could contribute to beer. Maybe this is not a book for experienced homebrewers (unless they don’t control about one of the styles described in the book), but I highly recommend this book to those who are starting to brew. Or even to those who have some experience, but want to learn what defines a style and, while doing that, can learn about different ingredients and processed in brewing.


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