The best part about beer, hands down, has always been drinking it.
But for many thousands of Americans, brewing beer is just as rewarding. Brewing is an intellectual experience -- it's an art, a science, a study of history, a mastery of chemistry, and a craft. And while drinking beer meets our visceral desires with flavor, calories, and ethanol, the act of brewing rewards us with the joys and thrills of creation.
In the newly released Beer Craft: A Simple Guide to Making Great Beer, local authors William Bostwick and Jessi Rymill acknowledge the pleasures of drinking and brewing. In fact, on the first page, they give us the best reason to do both: By homebrewing, they write, "you'll make the best beer in the world -- your own." It's a debatable point, but we get the idea.
Beer Craft is interspersed with professional brewer interviews, overviews of styles and ingredients, and Rymill's colorful graphics. The book kicks off by traversing 12,000 years of vivid beer history. We move through beer's accidental beginnings, its regional development, the first use of hops, the rise and fall of prior craft beer revolutions, the global conquest of the macrobreweries, the reemergence of craft beer in the 1970s, and the rise of homebrewing culture.
Indeed, most of us know someone who made beer that one time, and many of us have done so ourselves. Living in this beer-soaked nation, you're probably familiar with the five-gallon brew buckets and huge glass jugs essential to homebrewing. But Bostwick and Rymill streamline beermaking into a simpler, cheaper, and less daunting task: brewing by the gallon. Such small batches will hardly sate the masses, but they're conducive to an experimental spirit, which is, after all, the soul of craft brewing. And if the beer sucks, who cares? It's only one gallon. Dump it and try again.
But if a 10-bottle batch elicits oohs and aahs from friends, you can easily reproduce on a grander scale.
In this writer's experience, homebrew shopkeepers often encourage beginner brewers to first try their hand at pale ales, browns, or IPAs. But Beer Craft, true to the current era of creative and "extreme" brewing, pushes readers to explore. The authors provide recipes for basic styles, but they also offer instruction on making barrel-aged beers, sour beers, dry-hopped beers, and other styles often available nowhere but on draft at select brewpubs.
And if our favorite beer styles could really become available out of a homebrew bucket, then maybe what Bostwick and Rymill say is true after all -- the best beer in the world is your own.