It would be a shame if any beer lovers were to miss out on Stan Hieronymus’s latest book, For the Love of Hops, because it resembles a technical manual for brewers.
We have another book in the series, on the subject of yeast, which we’ve found a little heavy going. FORTLOH (yes, that’s what we’re going to call it), though it certainly has all the details on, say, 4-mercapto-4-methylpentan-2-one you might expect, is quite the opposite. In fact, it’s almost a page turner, as the hard facts are woven into vivid reportage from hop fields around the world, laced with Van Klompesque profundities from brewers, and peppered with revelatory statements that bring the pint in your hand into sharper focus.
And ‘the love hops’, in this case, doesn’t necessarily mean that Randallizing, chest-bumping, BRING ON THE BURN!!! fanboy tendency: there is plenty of talk of balance and much insight into ‘classical’ European brewing techniques. The much-maligned ‘boring old’ Fuggle — too English for its own good — is given plenty of attention, and put into context as a kind of ‘stud’ from which many hipper hop varieties are descended.
If you do brew, however, you will no doubt finish the book resolved to make changes in your technique. Where other brewing guides make assertions based on ‘thirty years’ experience’ or ‘common sense’, Hieronymus has dug out the results of industry experiments, so that he can suggest, with some confidence, that a mixture of post-boil hopping and dry-hopping will give the most bang for your buck in terms of aroma. Some mind-bending conclusions about how we perceive bitterness and ‘hoppiness’ are reached.
Throughout, there are reassuring references to trusted names (Martyn Cornell, Evan Rail), and a care with words which means, as far as we can see, that nothing is stated with more certainty than it deserves.
We like to include a balancing ‘on the downside’ paragraph but it’s an effort in this case. Perhaps the process of growing hops is a touch mysticised — the rustic Hop People with their queer ways, oneness with the plant, green-fingers and folk wisdom, and so on — but that’s arguably balanced by the demystification of other parts of the process.
So, in conclusion… how do those ratings systems work? ‘Five thumbs up’, or whatever. Buy it.