Book review: Extreme Brewing

Extreme BrewingWhen Vinnie Cilurzo stepped to the helm at Blind Pig Brewing in Temecula, Calif., in 1994 he started out by brewing the first commercial Double (or Imperial) IPA anybody had ever heard of.

“Our equipment was pretty antique and crude, so I wanted to start out with something that was big and, frankly, could cover up any off flavors,” he said.

Call is homebrew logic. We’ve heard it before and we pass it along. After you’ve brewed that first batch of beer from a kit what do you do next? Make a big ol’ stout or a nasty barley wine, something bold enough to overwhelm any flaws. You can jack up the alcohol by adding more extract. This doesn’t require taking the intimidating next step (to all-grain brewing).

I don’t recall those suggestions ever including the likes of “Peppercorn Rye-Bock” or “Crandaddy Braggot,” but then Sam Calagione wasn’t in our homebrew club and besides the founder of Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware hadn’t yet come up with most of the recipes he offers in Extreme Brewing: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home .

Calagione wrote Extreme Brewing with novice (even pre-novice) brewers in mind. “I don’t want to overwhelm people with technical stuff,” he said while he was still working on the book. “Otherwise the beginner is going to think, ‘Wait a second. I’d have to be a rocket scientist to make a 10 percent beer.’”

Calagione carefully lays out a path even a rocket scientist could follow, introducing equipment and ingredients and then explaining the relatively simply process of stove-top brewing a minimum of equipment.

Bottling

The first recipe is for A-to-Z Brown Ale and the steps literally go from A (Heat the water for use in the brewing process) to Z (Store the bottled beer before drinking).

Calagione also leans on many friends for expert advice. So Calagione’s step-by-step recipes are augmented by plenty more from other award winning brewers, Wyeast Labs founder David Logsdon offers tips on handling yeast and Garrett Oliver — brewmaster at Brooklyn Brewery and author of The Brewmaster’s Table — writes about pairing beer and chocolate.

This book stands in contrast to John Palmer’s How to Brew published earlier this year. How to Brew will take you all the way from the first batch (presented as simply as Calagione does his) to building your own equipment. Palmer illustrates how to master processes that Calagione lets a brewer skip, and Palmer also explains the science behind those processes.

Calagione chooses to emphasize what makes extreme beers different so, for instance, he has primers on brewing with fruit, with spices and different sugars

In the end, if you want to fabricate equipment and build a home brewery that mimics a professional operation then Extreme Brewing isn’t for you.

And if you don’t enjoy hassles that extend beyond brewing with a kit then it’s not for you. Or if you are afraid of occasionally failing and ending up with beer that has an aroma akin to one rising from a dump bucket at the end of a long night of tasting then this book isn’t for you.

But if you think you want to try brewing, Calagione assures you can. “Making good beer is a skill,” he writes. “Making exceptional beer is an art form.”

He does that in part by sharing discoveries made during his own journey. “As I think back to the first few batches of homebrew that I made over a decade ago, I am amazed that the beer was drinkable at all,” he writes.

Extreme Brewing is properly educational, very approachable and certainly inspirational. If Calagione doesn’t sway you over to the extreme side, then give Bryan Selders, one of the lead brewers at Dogfish Head and another contributor to the book, a chance:

“Extreme brewing is like driving 90 mph on a winding road that you’ve driven a million times before — except it’s nighttime and raining, your headlights have burned out, and the Department of Transportation has removed all the guardrails to upgrade them.”

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2 Responses to Book review: Extreme Brewing

  1. Ron Lindquist February 21, 2007 at 1:13 am #

    Hi, I’m looking for a book. About 20 years ago I got it. How to build a home, grain brewery, using 3 1/2 S.S. half barrels. Now that I finially got the barrels, I can’t find the book. Do you have one like this for sale, or someone that does, or ever even heard of something like this ?
    Thanks,
    Ron

  2. Stan Hieronymus February 25, 2007 at 10:02 pm #

    Sorry to have missed this before.

    You should be able to find the information here.