Wood and brews go way back. The duo of tree material and fermented beverages has seen good times and war times together. The partnership might have seen a drop in popularity with the introduction of steel and plastic kegs, but the traditions and knowledge have been kept alive throughout history. Even though “Wood and Beer – A Brewers Guide” is mostly for brewers, the history and economic lessons, and not to mention the technique descriptions, would be interesting for a broader (nerdy) audience as well.
The first part of the book is, for all intents and purposes, a walkthrough of how barrels have been used in different industries, with a focus on the brewers/vineries/distiller side of things, and is a neatly packed history lesson on a very micro subject that branches (I’m allowed one of these puns per book review) out for a bit to different areas.
A whole industry was once devoted to stae-and-head-making machinery, successful coopers outdoing each other in their efforts to turn out more and more barrels for the industries that in turn demanded them […] Companies still exist today that were founded on invenions of cooperage machinery” – Cantwell, Bouckaert
After the history lessons, the practical barrel-business gets a thorough look: How to store, prepare, fill and maintain the wooden vessels are detailed in text and black/white photographs to help out the reader. Interesting charts what different kinds of wood does to liquids, what temperatures can do to the process and everything in between that can have an effect on flavor, consistency, and color.
Everything is presented in a clear, straightforward way, which is very helpful when you try and absorb all the knowledge (and there is a lot of that to absorb in this book).
Different ways to implement wood in brewing-processes is gone through. Everything from wood chips, powder, cubes, and, of course, barrels gets demystified and a look from different parts of the world. One that stood out to me was the use of fresh twigs, used in Norway (not far from where my girlfriend grew up), for the lautering process of beer brewing.
“Well, sure. It’s always easiest to move on. But commitment of any kind demands patience, tolerance, and a willingness to put oneself out there just a bit. The brewer took a chance back at the outset by allowing this sloppy, non-sterile vessel into his or her brewery in the first place.” – Cantwell, Bouckaert
I learned a lot from reading this book and it will be an invaluable part of my library from now on. I filled my copy full of Post-it notes for easy access to certain sections. Even though the core of the book is for larger breweries (mostly storage-size wise), there is enough material for the microbrewers like me to solidify its spot on my bookshelf. I’d prefer seeing more on how to scale from small to bigger when incorporating wood into your brewing, but that is just a personal preference.
Pick up your copy of “Wood and Beer – A Brewers Guide” by using this Amazon link if you want to support us here at Utopium and get a great book at the same time.