Book Review: Beer: Tap Into the Art and Science of Brewing by Charles Bamforth


Beer: Tap Into the Art and Science of Brewing (1998) by Charles Bamforth is my selection for the March Book-A-Month Challenge: Craft. Creating beer is certainly a wonderful human craft and Charlie Bamforth examines it from historical, global, and scientific angles. In a sense this could be a textbook for a science course on brewing with much detail on the chemistry, physics, and biology involved in making a good brew. For all that it is quite readable, if you keep in mind that my brain skims over the more complex scientific parts.

Here are some facts about beer I learned from this book:

  • Brewing beer is an ancient art going back to prehistoric times. From archaeological evidence at an Egyptian site, brewers Scottish and Newcastle were able to recreate an 3,000-year old recipe which they sold as Tutankhamun Ale. – p. 17
  • Since the late 80′s Coors has shipped their beer from Colorado to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia for packaging, bringing a little bit of the Rockies to the Appalachians. – p. 32
  • Boiling, fermentation, and anaerobic packaging of beer are all inhospitable to microorganisms, so drinking beer is often safer than drinking water. Something to remember when traveling abroad. – p. 73
  • Hops are unusual among agricultural products in that their solitary outlet is for brewing. “Although hopping acounts for much less than 1% of the price of a pint of beer, it has a disproportionate effect on product quality and, accordingly, much attention has been lavished on the hop and its chemistry.” – p. 102-103
  • The major starch-degrading enzyme in fermentation is the same as that in human saliva. In some cultures brewers start fermentation with their own spit! – p. 120
  • Brewing is a water-intensive process with as many as 20 liters of water used to create one liter of beer, although many brewers attempt to be much more efficient. – p. 123
  • In medieval times, the strains of yeast used for brewing were known as goddisgoode. “Saccharomyces cerevisae, then, is a busy beast. Apart from being the workhorse of the brewery, it is responsible for the production of cider, wine, spirits, and some other alcoholic beverages. And as every cook knows, it is essential for production of life’s other staple food, bread.” – p. 137
  • Beer is essentially the excretions of yeast. – p. 151-152
  • Filtration is done with one of two filter-aids: kieselguhr which is the fossils of primitive organisms or perlite which is a volcanic glass. – p. 159
  • Beers advertised as not being heat-treated are basically just marketing gimmicks since boiling beer does not significantly affect the flavor. – p. 164
  • Army Air Corps General Curtis LeMay played a role in creating the keg when US airmen stationed in East Anglia during WWII did not take a liking to the traditional cask-conditioned ales of England. – p. 167
  • Bamforth claims that being a quality assurance beer taster in a brewery is not as fun as it sounds, although I’d still love to find out for myself. – p. 183

So this is a great book, I’d reccomend to anyone who likes beer, brewing, and/or science.
Incidentally, while reading this book I came across this review of another book about beer, Fermenting Revolution: How To Drink Beer and Save the World by Christopher O’Brien, which may be next on my list when I want to read about beer.

One response to this post.

  1. I understand that there was controversy over which came first, beer or bread. Earliest known recipe is for beer, out of Babylon. Still digging, of course.

    One of the greatest history books of all time — and a great read — is Hans Zinsser’s Rats, Lice and History, which details the history of disease and humanity. Zinsser points out that many times, when people ran out of wine or beer, they drank the water and died. An army out of beer was an army in desperate trouble.

    Zinsser, by the way, was the guy who isolated the typhus bug and developed a vaccine for it. The book is nominally a biography of typhus. More, here:
    http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/EID/vol11no03/04-1001.htm

    Reply

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