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Historical Brewing Techniques (Book Review)

Historical Brewing Techniques by Lars Marius Garshol

About twelve months ago a brewing book was released by Brewers Publications called Historical Brewing Techniques: The Lost Art of Farmhouse Brewing by Lars Marius Garshol. In fact, I’d call this an extremely well referenced text book that could be used to teach the subject in a University environment. Lars spent many years travelling and investigating this subject with the help of archives, translators and the friendliness of farmhouse brewers in Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Denmark and Finland. This isn’t just a book about Norwegian kviek yeast, although along the way Lars almost single handedly brought that yeast back from the edge of oblivion to become a home brewing obsession; it’s about a much broader subject – farmhouse brewing traditions across Europe.

What I found most interesting and inspiring about Historical Brewing Techniques were the wide array of solutions created by farmhouse brewers in the past. Some people threw hot rocks into the mash or the boil; some boiled their mash; some mashed in the oven making loaves of grist; others never boiled at all. The same goes for using hops: into the mash, into the boil, boiled in water (or wort) alongside the mash or boil. It’s a horrible saying, but there are many ways to skin a cat and there seems to be nothing more true in this regard than the history of brewing.

Historical Brewing Techniques takes the reader through a number of the surviving traditions in rural farmhouses where pre-cash economies used to grow grain, malt the grain, share local yeast and ferment the one beer over and over as they were taught by their elders. Farmhouse, after all, was about local ingredients, local yeast, local traditions. From the giant ovens of Eastern Europe to the Scandinavian fjords and the British Isles, the traditions have been fading away and many of these old beers and yeasts are gone forever.

As someone who learned to make beer in the modern craft brew era, it’s inspirational and enlightening to read through these old techniques and consider what might be my next project with a raw ale. I’d learned there were ways and temperatures and science dictating the making of beer; yet there seems to be a spirit of making beer that works differently and just as effectively on a home brewing level. I’ve never had a raw ale, and it inspires me in the way low intervention cider inspires me, or wild mead, or spontaneous and wild beer fermentations. Or natural wine, for that matter. There is something adventurous in these times of science and industrial process to reach out and make products that touch the roots of our culture.

So my biggest takeaway from this book wasn’t that I’d like to make farmhouse beer. I’ll leave those people to maintain their traditions and hopefully they won’t be lost to time. But their techniques are different; I see those as quivers in my home brewing bow; tools to be employed to create different flavours outside the reach of craft beer. And I do love making and drinking good beer – cream ale, porters, stouts and Belgian inspired beers, in particular. But the world of brewing is so much larger than this single facet of the beers from our era. And there is a certain romance to exploring and creating the unusual and those things you can’t easily buy.

If I were to recommend just one brewing book for the year then Historical Brewing Techniques would probably be that book. Because it opens your mind to how forgiving brewing can be once you throw away the numbers and the modern rituals and the emulation of industrial process. This beer making that I learned to be one way that creates a certain outcome is just a path among many. So I’ll be going back to this book over time for ideas and inspiration. My geeky brewers brain certainly wants more to follow. Thank you Lars.

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About the Author

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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