The Best Books on Home Brewing

Publicity shot of Boots home brewing range 1979.
Publicity shot of Boots home brewing range c.1979.

Every time we find ourselves answering the same question more than two or three times on Twitter, we take that as a hint that a quick blog post on the subject is in order, if only to save us the trouble of repeating ourselves. One common question is ‘Which book on home brewing should I buy?’ and these are our recommendations.

  • How to Brew by John Palmer. This is one of the best all-round guides. It’s perhaps a touch dry and even (or so we found) discouraging in places, but it’s worth a look, especially when the first edition is free online from the author’s website.
  • Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher. Full of historically-informed recipes, crazy ideas, solid research and step-by-step advice, this is like having an inspirational teacher at hand. Particularly good on decoction mashing and brewing lager at home.
  • Brew Like a Monk by Stan Hieronymus. In-depth research into the practices, recipes and ingredients used at Trappist and abbey breweries in Belgium, with bonus material on Duvel and other related beers. A fascinating read as well as a practical guide.
  • Farmhouse Ales by Phil Markowski. Saison and Biere de Garde are given the same treatment as above. The book that helped us understand saison and, recently, to brew a pretty bloody good one.
  • 1909 Style Guide by Ron Pattinson and Kristen England. Self-published so a little scrappy in places but the content… wow. Not only an education in what British beer was really like before World War I but also a goldmine of inspirational recipes and ideas. (Short version: more sugar in everything!) (Print on demand.)
  • UPDATE 07/10/2014: for a broader range of historical recipes, and more professional presentation, we might now suggest Pattinson’s Homebrewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer (2014) instead.

Note: we haven’t yet come across a book of ‘clone’ recipes which is worth the bother; read one or two of the books above and you’ll be able to work most of them out yourself.

29 replies on “The Best Books on Home Brewing”

I’ve never really understood the interest in ‘clone’ recipes anyway – if I wanted a bottle of then I’d just go and buy one.

The joy of homebrew to me is being able to make (and make up!) my own beer, not copy other peoples.

Definitely a list to inspire some additions to my Christmas list!

I quite like Clone Brews, not that it produces accurate results — that would be boring — but it’s good for finding out how that aspect of that beer can be recreated.

There’s also apparently useful clone data in Les Howarth’s self-published recipe database, as reviewed here.

Historically speaking, and in keeping with your current research, we would have to mention Dave Line, publishing in the mid/late 70’s. His Big Book of Brewing is excellent for imparting theory fairly painlessly, and his Brewing Beers Like Those You Buy is probably as good a clone book as exists, with recipes that are now of historical interest.
Both these books went through numerous editions, so must have sold well, and presumably been inspirational. They both have a home in my beer library to this day.

Great list. I would also add brewing classic styles – this is a great starting point for designing a recipe for an unfamiliar style

All great suggestions in the article.

My suggestions:

Brewing Better Beer – Gordon Strong. An excellent resource for anyone looking to improve/refine their brewing techniques.

Classic Styles – Zainasheff/Palmer. While not a book of clone recipes, it has proven example recipes for each of the BJCP sub-styles, which provide good base/inspiration for your own recipes (or you can just follow them to the letter if you wish!). There are details missed out about some of the recipes, but that’s where combining experience and knowledge comes into it.

On the subject of clone recipe books – cloning a beer is so much more than the recipe alone. BYOBRA is fairly limited in it’s range, and there are differences in some of the recipes to the actual commercial recipes – fine if the intention is to give a homebrewer a good base. There is (intentionally I believe) no guidance on yeast (where obviously for some beers this is vital!), mash temps, etc. I find the recipes can be improved upon (late/aroma hop rates seem to be particularly low for example) – for the beginner, it’s fine for recipe formulation. For the more experienced brewers, it’s a bit simplistic (and you’d probably be makign your own recipes anyhow).

Clone Brews – this is a bit variable. Some recipes make sense, others are just miles off, even from inspection (adding pear essence to a Duvel clone? huh?). Again, good for starting points, but it is very much US focused, there are better sources of recipes out there, and the techniques are again skipped over a bit.

I second Gordon Strong’s book. It’s not a beginners guide but a fountain of information for a brewer who wishes to up their abilities.

What about Durden Park’s Old British Beers and How to Make Them? I’ve also heard good things about Mitch Steele’s IPA, for both its historical and contemporary content (not read it myself though).

Not read it Durden Park yet, but have heard that (thought interesting) it may not be especially historically accurate. 1909 Style Guide certainly is!

Thanks for further recommendations, everyone! The comments are usually the best bit on our blog posts…

I would second the David Line “Big Book” recommend as well as Al Korzonas’s “Homebrewing – Volume I” both of which are general brewing instruction book and not recipe books or limited in style. The nice thing, seeing as one is from the 70s and the other from the 90s is they are utterly untrendy, don’t guide you to fad styles or ingredients but focus the reader on the basics upon which an understanding of the newer more niche books can be understood.

Just stumbled on this blog today and thought I’d share a couple of American classic homebrew books by Charlie Papazian, a nuclear engineer who founded the Association of Brewers and the Great American Beer Festival, and who, through his books, helped kick-start homebrewing as a hobby in the US when it became legal in 1978.

The Complete Joy of Homebrewing:

The Homebrewer’s Companion:

Looking forward to checking out the rest of the blog 🙂

TK – thanks for stopping by. Hope you find a few posts to interest you.

Cookie – funnily enough, we stumbled across that post when researching Dave Line. He’s a bit of a mystery. Jealous of your vintage edition — we’ve had to make do with modern reprints.

What’s the mystery about Dave Line? Hadn’t realised his stuff is still in print – amazing!
Your comment about too much crystal malt is relevant way beyond just Durden Park – it seems to be a real issue with the US homebrew scene, for example.

Just not much biographical info available: he came, he wrote several of the earliest ‘definitive’ texts on home brewing, then died young in 1979.

They still sell reprints of his books in branches of Wilkinson’s next to the home brewing kit. Amazing.

Maybe there’s not much to tell – he was an electrical engineer, lived, I think, in Andover, married with a child, and had a passion for beer and brewing. Died tragically young.
Perhaps his career, his family and his hobby were pretty much his life. Which would describe many of us, I dare say.

I am hugely pleased that his books are still in print, though, and perhaps the publishers could put you in touch with his wife (Sheila?)

Not exactly a recommendation: nearly two years ago now, I came away from the 2011 NWAF with a copy of Clive la Pensée’s CAMRA-published _Homebrew Classics: Stout and Porter_ (with an introduction by Roger Protz, and corrections to the introduction by C. la P.). I wrote at the time:

Clive la Pensée … appears to be Martyn Connell‘s evil twin, with an even greater appetite for historical brewing trivia and even stronger opinions, mostly about how brewing has gone to the dogs since the eighteenth century. The blurb on the back of the book promises that it gives “full instructions for brewing your own Stouts and Porters with modern ingredients”, but I think this is wishful thinking. A quick scan of the book reveals 27 different recipes, but out of these all 27(!) are labelled ‘historical’ and only three look at all followable – and those three are prefixed with comments like “now things go from bad to worse”. I think this is going to be my kind of beer book.

‘Evil twin” – hmmm. I’m not a brewer, but Clive la Pensée’s two books certainly looked good to me, and he’s clearly done some research in old German texts as well as British ones.

Martyn – no offence intended (to you or Clive la P.). I haven’t got the book in front of me – it’s in a to-read pile somewhere – but the authorial voice made me imagine someone with your kind of expertise who’d done a lot of reading in a short time and then woken up in a bad mood, or logged on to RateBeer, or both.

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