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Extreme Beer: An Enthusiasts Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home - Sam Calagione

Not Your Typical Homebrewers' Guide

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Extreme Beer: An Enthusiasts Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home - Sam Calagione
If you've ever had any of the beers brewed by Dogfish Head then you know that there's no one more qualified to write a book called Extreme Beer than the owner and founder of Dogfish, Sam Calagione. Dogfish has pushed the limits on what beer is and is one of the reasons most beer lovers agree that US brewers are the most innovative in the world right now.

Homebrewing

The sub-title to this book is "An Enthusiast's Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home." Indeed, Extreme Beer could easily be a fledgling homebrewer's first book. Calagione does an admirable job of breaking down the process of brewing into simple and easy to understand steps. If you follow his instructions you will start brewing good beer in very short order.

But that's just the beginning. As I read through the first half, which is basically an introduction to brewing, I had a couple of criticisms. First, there were no charts and I really like charts. I like to know how the original gravity of a barley wine stacks up to a Scotch ale or how the hops and bitterness content of an English IPA compares to an American IPA. But this succinct discussion of homebrewing doesn't bother with such things.

Second, every recipe in the book is an extract recipe. There are no instructions for all grain brewing whatsoever. But this isn't a book about homebrewing - at least making a technically advanced brewer of its readers isn't this book's goal. It is a book about brewing extreme beer at home and Calagione is content to leave the minutia of mash and sparge to others.

Extreme Brewing

What makes this a valuable book begins on page 55 with the chapter "Components of an Extreme Beer." Calagione revisits the basic ingredients of brewing and this time describes how to push them to their limits. Then he discusses using fruits, wood, herbs and spices in beer recipes. And he finally placates my nerdy need for charts and numbers by breaking down the quantities of these less than usual ingredients and their time in the brew as well as tips for use.

Most of the last half of Extreme Beer is devoted to extreme recipes. With beers like Ginger Saison, Kiwit (kiwi-wit), Peppercorn Rye-Bock and Crandaddy Braggot there's enough here to keep a homebrewer excited for some time. Calagione also gathered recipes from some of today's most innovative brewers including Adam Avery of Avery Brewing, Rob Tod of Allagash, Vinnie Cilurzo of Russian River Brewing and others. As well as their contributions, there are homebrew versions of some of Dogfish's best known beers including Raison D'Etre, Indian Brown Ale, and Midas Touch.
Extreme Beer wraps up with a beer and food chapter. After contributions from Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery and Robert Aquilera of Formaggio Kitchen in Boston about pairing beer with cheese and chocolate, there are some tasty sounding recipes that include beer. Unlike the same old beer batter recipe that list "beer" as the ingredient, these recipes list the specific style to be used.

I wouldn't recommend Extreme Beer as your only homebrew book. There are other books that can help you mature as a more technically proficient brewer. But brewing is half science and half art and those books typically focus on the first half of the equation. Extreme Beer takes care of the art. There's no hand wringing of Reinheitsgebot here. Want to try a handful of raisins in your beer? Throw 'em in and see what happens!
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