Drinks

How to Brew Your Way to Success

These new books make it easier than ever to make beer at home
Basil Ale from Scratch Brewing Company
Basil Ale | Photos: Marika Josephson

Not all cookbooks guide you through making flaky pastries and roast chicken. Some of them can help you whip up what you really want: a glass of home-brewed beer. If you’re trying to finally cut down on those bar tabs or just looking for a new hobby, these two new books will help you turn your home into a microbrewery.

The Homebrewer’s Almanac, by Marika Josephson, Aaron Kleidon and Ryan Tockstein ($23)
The introduction tells you everything you need to know: “Just as cooking with fresh seasonal produce enhances the flavors of food, the same is true of beer.” If we’re so focused on eating in season, why shouldn’t our drinking follow suit? The book is written by the cofounders of Scratch Brewing Company, a farmhouse brewery in Southern Illinois, and if their ethos alone doesn’t convince you that farm-to-table should also mean farm-to-bottle, the photos will make you want to jump ship and live the life of a forager.

Organized by season, the recipes walk you through taking ingredients that you wouldn’t expect—think delicate basil, tomatoes, meaty chanterelles—and adding them to beer. And while basic brewing knowledge would help before diving into sage-lemon balm saison and nettle-spicebush ale, there are tips and resources to aid new homebrewers.

But the lessons don’t stop with beer. Flash back to Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts as you put your novice or advanced outdoor skills to good use. You’ll pull pesky dandelion roots from your yard, turn them into “espresso” and then add it to a base beer. Or you’ll learn how to tap a maple tree to brew rich, chocolaty maple porter. One thing’s for sure: You’ll finish the book with a deeper appreciation of harvesting, foraging and nature—and you’ll be holding a quality beer showing it all off.

Brew, by James Morton ($25)
While the previous book is more of a field guide, this one feels like a prolonged dialogue with your beer expert friend. The author, who was the runner-up on the third season of The Great British Bake Off, previously penned two books about baking and bread. Combined with his extensive brewing experience, this makes him a trustworthy source, as beer is essentially just liquid bread.

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Despite digging deep into details, Morton’s writing is light and enjoyable. You’ll likely laugh at his dry British wit, which comes out as he warns you about caustic substances (“Whatever you do, don’t accidentally drink some. You’ll likely die.”) or cautions you, “Don’t treat your beer like you treat your child”—that is, don’t worry about its every move. After all, it’s just beer.

Getting started is easy. All you need are a couple buckets for fermenting. Then once you get to a more advanced level, Morton discusses using an auto siphon for transferring beer and how to build a home keg system. The 40-plus recipes range from classics like IPAs and German hefeweizen to specialities like elderflower pale ales, before venturing into sour beer territory. This is a great book for beginners. There’s even a whole section for troubleshooting: Smells like paint thinner? Tastes too much of cooked cabbage? He’ll explain what’s funking up your brew.

Of course, some people might say why even bother with beer how-to books when a six-pack is 10 dollars at the corner store. But Morton puts it perfectly, “Everything we make is unique. It is unrepeatable if attempted elsewhere or ever again. There’s something quite romantic about that.”

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