Book Review: Wild Brews: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition

A few weeks ago I came across an old chapters gift card which still had some money on it, so I bought a few brewing books. The first of these (For the Love of Hops) I reviewed last week. I’ve now worked my way through through the second book – Wild Brews: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition by Jeff Sparrow.

Wild Brews.
Styles Introduction: 4/5
History of Belgian Brewing: 5/5
Coverage of Wild/Sour Beer Styles: 4/5
Wild Fermentation & Organisms: 5/5
Blending & Other Advanced Topics: 4/5
Homebrewing Procedures: 5/5
Overall: 4.4/5

This is one of the better brewing books I’ve read in a while. Maybe not quite as good as Designing Great Beers, but it is a very, very, very close second. This book covers the unique ‘wild’ (or sour) beer styles of Belgium, and does an amazing job of covering every aspect of these styles of beers that you could ever want to know. This book open with a history of sour beers, covering everything from the roots of sour brewing (10,000 years old!), to the development of modern methods, to the abandonment of those methods by all but a few Belgian brewers, and their new adoption in a handful of craft brewers around the world. This is followed by a ‘drinking guide’ of the major producers products. After this, the book goes into a hard-core look the organisms and chemistry of a wild ferment, and finishes by dedicating the final third of the book to a discussion of how wild brewing can be done by the homebrewer.

If you brew sours, or are even vaguely interested in them, this book belongs on your bookshelf.

More Below the Fold…

The Good:

This book has a lot of strengths, and will have sections of interest to most brewers. Everything from the history of Belgian brewing, to how modern breweries operate, to the (unusual) chemistry of wild brews, to organisms involved, to procedures and recipes the home brewer can use, are all covered in great depth in this book. This book is good for both a straight read-through, and as a reference book. Despite only having this book for a few weeks, I’ve already found myself going back to a few specific sections – all dutifully noted with dog-eared pages – to re-retrieve specific facts & helpful procedures.

The ‘Bad’:

Bad in quotes, because bad is relative. This book didn’t have much in terms of detractors. I wasn’t thrilled with the detailed accounts of the various lambic/Flanders breweries – but that’s just me; I’m sure others really enjoy those sections. My biggest disappointment is that no discussion was made (other than saying that it wasn’t going to be discussed) about sour beers made just over the boarder in Germany – Leipziger Gose & Berliner Weiss.  I thought it odd that US styles got a bit of coverage, but two much older (and among my favourite) styles were ignored completely.

The Ugly…

Those who’ve brewed wild beers in the past need no introduction to this, but for anyone going down this road – just wait until you get your first pellicle in a fermenter . . . then you’ll know what I mean by ugly!

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