June 27, 2013

The Homebrewer's Garden Book Review

The Homebrewer's Garden: How to Easily Grow, Prepare, and Use Your Own Hops, Malts, Brewing Herbs by Joe and Dennis Fischer is a slightly dated book that focuses on exactly what the title says it does. It provides an introductory level of knowledge about the gardening (or farming might be more appropriate) of hops, grain and brewing herbs. I picked this book up on Amazon on the kindle platform for a reasonable $9.99 price (and you can go through the Basic Brewing affiliate link). It's an interesting read but not as hopeful as I had hoped. I picked up the book after listening the an interview with the authors and expected a little more technical precision in the hop growing section.

The book was published in 1998 and has all the hallmarks of 1990s era homebrewing books. It is written with the same non-specific tone of other 1990s homebrewing texts (and Ray Daniels comes to mind as the icon of that homebrewing writing style) and the let's-put-wacky-stuff-in-beer attitude of Randy Mosher's books. This book doesn't do a bad job of stuffing in a lot of homebrewing myths that can be found in other 1990s texts but it also isn't terribly scientific, either. I'm sure among its peers it was a solid text. The recipes include a lot of 1990s-style ingredients but you can easily figure out modern equivalents.

The Homebrewer's Garden is broken up into four main sections: growing hops, growing herbs, growing grain and homebrewing recipes. The largest section by far is the herb section. Many herbs are identified and recommended quantities are offered for use. If you ever had it in mind to try an herbal beer or even a gruit, this book would be an excellent starting point, especially if you wanted to grow the herbs yourself. The hop section houses fairly standard information that can be found online just as easily. The grain section goes into a lot more detail than anything I have seen on homebrewing websites although that is probably because most of us do not have acres available to grow grain. There is a section on malting the grain with a germination set up that looks surprisingly like the mash tun set up in Joy of Homebrewing. 

The last section includes homebrewing recipe with an interesting mix of recipes including gruit, fruit beers, herbal beers and beers with unusual grains. The recipes, although couched in 1990s ingredients, contains the basic recipe for many of the more unusual brews that have come out commercially over the past decade or so, including pumpkin beers and dandelion beers. Although these styles existed prior to this book's publication I don't think one can overlook the timeline between homebrewers who likely read this book and later became commercial brewers. The recipe section looks questionably similar to Dogfish Head's beer line up over the last decade. 

Overall I think this book is a good read and worth the money at $9.99. I believe we will start seeing more herb-based beers coming onto the market and this book would be a good investment to get you started if you want to get into that trend. A larger range of herbs are being used in food these days and you can already see beers coming out with a wider range of spices and herbs than just orange peel and coriander. It will only be a matter of time before you're buying your first DIPA with Horehound or Milk Thistle.

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