April 8, 2013

For the Love of Hops Review

For the Love of Hops is Stan Hieronymus's new brewing book, (obviously) tackling the subject of hops. It is the newest book in the Brewers Association's line of books focusing on brewing ingredients (following Yeast and the upcoming Water). I have mixed feelings about this book but it's worth a read.

At least half of the book discusses the hop industry and agriculture, from its history to the way new breeds are designed, grown and sold. It's interesting reading but makes a very salient point that hops are not only a food product but a very temperamental one that changes based on growing location (even down to different locations in the same field), seasonal conditions, harvest time, treatment after harvest and stability on the shelf. The book discusses the dual markets in hops: the alpha acid market, which trades as a commodity where farmers are growing for maximum alpha acid yield, and the aroma market, where farmers are growing for maximum sensory perception. The alpha acid market is largely driven by large breweries who contract out their needs and the farmers seek varieties with maximum yield so they can generate as much profit as possible per acre. The aroma market, however, is driven by the craft industry and principally by the US craft industry.

As much as I was interested to read about the industry and the importance of how future varieties are likely to appear, for a homebrewer the information was not particularly useful because I'm not going to contract my hop purchases with a farmer nor am I going to be contacted by one of the farms to test out new varieties. I'm buying on the retail market beneath the spot market. I'm not even close. Still, the information was interesting and I can appreciate a more robust outlook on hops now but this part of the book is at least half of all the material, which left much less room for discussing brewing than I had hoped.

The parts of the book relevant to brewing had some very good pieces of information I didn't know but at the same time there were several times where the book glossed over going into any depth on brewing aspects. The Brewers Association books are notorious for not giving specific details on techniques or recipes, instead offering ranges, but I found this book to be particularly unspecific with hopping techniques. I think there was one page where the book discussed ranges of hop volumes commonly used at different additions. It gave the impression that this book was written with craft brewers as an audience rather than homebrewers but failed to direct the information to both audiences as Yeast did.

What makes up for the slightly disappointing brewing discussion is the large section of brewery recipes for hoppy beers. Fortunately, it's not a list of west coast IPAs. Instead it includes both east and west coast styles along with some pale ales and several hoppy German brews. The recipes are written in the brewer's original volumes so there is some conversion work to do to scale down to homebrew level. Nevertheless it's worth the work because the recipes represent a solid foundation for building your own interpretation of these styles. There's also several lager recipes for styles it's often hard to find a tested recipe for.

All in all the book is worth a read and I think it's worth the money to put in your brewing library. It may not be a book I consult frequently for brewing but now that I am starting to dabble in lagers and hoppy beers I expect the pages of recipes to become dog eared in little time. I think what I was expecting most and found the least was an extensive discussion of brewing techniques, such as more explicit analysis of how different additions create results in the beer and how to put together different blends of hops for a desired effect. Maybe that information doesn't exist anywhere that explicitly because which hops work best together and in what sequence is a huge matter of opinion and my expectations for this book were wildly off.

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