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Guile Brews (Book Review)

Guile Brews book coverAs a big fan of brewing history (because it combines two passions) I’ve naturally acquired a few books in this direction. Brewing history books attract me because I’m interested in what a stout used to be in the 1800s, for example; I’m interested in historic brewing processes and the agricultural inputs that went into the beers of another time. In our era of post-millenium globalisation and the expansion of home brewing as a hobby it’s easy to take for granted the wide availability of highly modified malts, the ever-expanding array of hops and availability of high quality cheap yeast. If these subjects pique your interest then Guile Brews by Peter Symons is a gob-smackingly great read about the beers of Peter’s youth in Cornwall and historic beers from Ireland and England in general. Peter’s ability to track down and gain access to private brewing records and the ability to formulate close approximations of how to make these recipes as a homebrewer today provide a compelling read.

Which is kind of funny, because I lack any nostalgia with the Boags Draught that haunted my younger years in Tasmania. My only criticism is that putting such great information into a low quality Lulu publication is a shame. Seriously, read my lips… “Your research deserves better.” And I’ve worked with designers enough to know that typography is a valuable skillset. But one doesn’t know what one doesn’t know, I guess. Enough said.

Breweries specifically covered in this book include Banks’s, J. A. Devenish, Eldridge Pope, Flower and Sons, J. J. Murphy and Son, Redruth Brewery and St. Austell Brewery. It’s quite the read.

My absolute favourite parts were the entire beginning 90 or so pages and the chapter on Murphy and Son later in the book… which would surprise nobody around me in real life because I absolutely love making beer and what’s finer than a good old porter or stout? I’d call this an inspirational ideas book because the discussion around permutations in guile brewing leave you wondering what you might get away with in your own home brewery.

Oh, what’s guile brewing? I know, hardly the common parlance of the blog reading crowd. Guile brewing is where a brewer will mix wort from different coppers, or in ratios, to create a couple-to-a-range of beers from the same basic grist. There are a number of ways the brewer might come at this methodology and I’ll leave you to read the book rather than divulge too much about the contents. Just know that in previous eras of brewing, double mashing, the use of return worts and other permutations of guile brewing were not an entirely uncommon way to commercially produce beer. A little extra sugar here and a bit of caramel there and you would be amazed at the difference between those beers in ABV, flavour and mouthfeel.

Peter Symons has written and published three heavily researched brewing history books through Lulu. First was Bronzed Brews: Brewing Historic Australian Beers, then 6 O’Clock Brews continued on from the first on the subject of Australian beers; and now he’s revisited the beers of his youth in Cornwall, including Britain and Ireland. And there really is only Ron Pattinson and Peter Symons in that kind of ballpark when it comes to scouring the brewing records for snifters of clues about what was made where and the illusive recipes. So, in my mind, they sit side by side as authors. Each has a unique take on the information and corresponding writing style. In my mind they support the same genre from two slightly different directions. Ronald Pattinson offers more charts and numbers; Peter Symons offers more prose and general perspective in an easier reading style. Both authors include recreation recipes. Both self-published authors are rife with typos and bad typography.

That customer gripe aside, this was a great brewing history read and I’ll certainly play around with my stouts from ideas gleaned by reading Guile Brews. I’m curious to want to make an early stout, too… apparently it will taste nothing like the stout of today. We often think that beer styles as they are today were merely continued, rather than evolved to modern tastes. So buy the book, don’t buy the book… the question is whether you need the information. It’s a good book, badly published. A really good book, at that. I wish it had higher quality production values to reflect the value inside. I enjoyed it immensely.

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Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark and I live in the Derwent Valley in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a mazer & a yeast farmer (making beer, fruit wine and mead as by-products of continuous improvement in my farming practices). I'm a photographer, although my film cameras are currently silent. I do not tolerate idiots. I do not tolerate bigotry. I do not tolerate excuses. Let's be clear, if you sit with my enemies you my are my enemy for life.

Blogger. Thinker. Brewer. Drinker. Life partner to the amazing and incredible Megan.

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