Saturday, June 2, 2012

Book Review: Brewing with Wheat

Es ist war ein gutes Biere die Golarische Gose,
Doch wenn man meint, sei sei im Bauch,
So lieght sie in der Hose.

It is indeed a good beer, Goslar Gose
Though when you think it is in your belly,
So it is in your trousers.

Brewing with Wheat, Stan Hieronymus’ most recent tome, gets into the nitty gritty concerning the history and diversity of wheat beers. It is witty (pun intended) and well-written: Hieronymus has an eye (and an ear) for a well-turned anecdote, and uses them brilliantly to build his narrative. For example, the above lyrics are drawn from his discussion of gose in the chapter “Beers the Reinheitsgebot Never Met,” and are used to set up a short history of the beer (157). As well, one of the most interesting overall points of this book is noted by Yvan De Baets in his “Foreword”: “For a modern brewer it is indeed funny to see that the key to a style resides in what is now considered the Evil in our breweries: lactic acid bacteria!” (xii).

Hieronymus opens by noting that “wheat is not a style” (7) before going on to discuss the breadth and diversity of wheat beer brewing. In “Wheat, Beer, and Bread,” he offers the history of wheat in beer, including the effect of the Reinheitsgebot of 1516 on wheat beer: “Among other things the ‘beer purity’ law allowed barley as the only grain in beer, ensuring that wheat and rye would be reserved for breadmakers” (18). The backdrop on this “beer purity” law, coupled with the anecdotes concerning the longstanding feud between wheat-eaters and rye-eaters, offers a broader (and certainly amusing) context in which to place the Reinheitsgebot in brewing history. When added to the geographically specific location the Reinheitsgebot initially represented, “That some would have violated the Reinheitsgebot doesn’t matter, because the rest of Germany did not adopt the Bavarian ‘beer purity’ law until 1906, and even then with some loopholes” (150). Well put.

The most useful aspect of the book—at least to me—is the depth of insight into the different ways brewers create and produce wheat beers. While Hieronymus clearly indicates that this book is not a brewing manual complete with clone recipes, it certainly does provide the “details” to understand the “challenges of brewing with wheat” (11). Thus, I found numerous comments, observations, and insights that will (well, at least hopefully) improve the quality and complexity of the beers I produce. Thus, not only did I use this as a reference last summer when I tried my hand at brewing a gose, I’ll be referring to it again shortly when I attempt to brew a grätzer. Additionally, I do love a book that provides new terminology. First, I finally got a definition of “torrified” that made sense (27). But the best new term was “shankbier”: “German law requires the starting gravity of shankbier must be between 1.028 and 1.032 (7 ˚P to 8 ˚P), producing a beer of about 3 percent alcohol by volume” (153).

My favorite anecdote is that Dan Carey of New Glarus was initially inspired by Olympia: “Dan Carey has been a sucker for copper kettles since he was a kid and saw them shimmering in the giant window at the Olympia Brewery in Tumwater, Washington” (123). It’s always nice to hear that my personal obsession with Olympia is at least partially shared by others. Other observations worth noting: historical context for the lemon garnish (86-7), the potential historical connection between wits and gose (42) as well as gueze and gose (sorry, I can’t find that reference), and finally, this gem: “In a curious turn of history the first wheat beers in Bavaria were known as ‘Bohemian’ and the first lagers in what was previously ale-brewing Bohemia were called ‘Bavarian’” (79). Awesome. As well, for other reviews of note, see Beervana and A Good Beer Blog. Then, of course, there is the press release from the Brewers Association, which interesting in its own right.


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