December 22, 2012

"Barley Wine" Book Review

Festive cover
I picked up a couple homebrew books as a Christmas present to myself and Barley Wine by Fal Allen and Dick Cantwell was the first of the two I knocked out. I picked this book up because I didn't feel like I knew enough about barleywines and it would make for some interesting reading. I liked it enough to give it a brief review, so here goes.

Barley Wine is about brewing, obviously, barleywines. It's one of the Classic Beer Style series published in the 1990s by the Brewer's Association. You can definitely tell it's dated material, not only by the absence of discussion of the 2000s but also by a lot of the brewing discussion. There's a lot of debunked homebrewing mythology asserted and just some old school bad advice worth ignoring. Curiously, the book really wants you to use wine yeast in your barleywines so you don't get a stuck fermentation. It never really addresses why you can't just pitch a sufficient amount of ale yeast in the first place, but I guess there just wasn't enough good yeast around at the time. The recipes in the back of the book almost all contain some extract in them which seems standard fare for older homebrewing materials.

All that aside, the book actually is well written and does a good job of detailing the history of barleywines and some of the challenges faced when brewing these larger beers. The historical discussion is about half the book and the homebrewing advice that follows is somewhat more basic than I was expecting. Still, the book was a worthwhile read and does contain some good recipes and general information on some commercial versions. The information on the commercial recipes comes in the less specific recipe descriptions common to the Brewers Publications books published over the past ten years, such as Wild Brews, Brew Like A Monk, Farmhouse Ales and Brewing with Wheat. However, Barley Wine is considerably shorter and less detailed than the four more recent books. For that reason, it's probably over-priced at $14.95 although the books in the Classic Beer Style series often run on sale throughout the year (I picked it up on sale myself) and you can find used copies of all but Lambic cheaply on secondhand book sites.

What probably surprised me the most about the book was how basic most of the commercial barleywine recipes are/were. A lot of the recipes were straight two row or two row with some munich malt or crystal malt. A lot of times barleywines are cast as kitchen sink recipes, with all kinds of specialty malts thrown in. Certainly, there are some of those floating around but it goes to show that even big, complex beers like barleywines don't need enormously long grain bills to produce a good beer.


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