Feb 11, 2013

Review - IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale


So, I purchased the IPA book.  I was in a mental bind about whether to get this book or the new Hops book, which is part of the Brewing Elements series.  I posted about my delima on various social networks: "which one should I get?"  To which the reply was mixed.  Get this one if you want this, get that one if you want that.  So, to make a short story boring, I bought both of them - but read the IPA book first.  (Have not yet gotten to the Hops book.  Can you say, "future post"?)

I chose the IPA book because it is more in line with what I want to brew and learn.  I want to brew a good IPA, and to a lesser extent, a good pale ale.  I figured the Hops book would talk about hops in each style, growing, selecting varieties, etc.  Not what I am wanting now.  So, on with the IPA!

The book goes in depth in to the history of the India Pale Ale style, going way back in history to its roots.  It tracks the evolution through the centuries - 1700s to present - and through the locations - Europe, India, America.  He brings in the "newer" IPA styles - double, black, Belgian, even white.  It was... moderately interesting.  I wasn't as taken with the story of the IPA as I thought I would be.  Maybe it is because the IPA of yore is quite different than what I drink when I order an IPA.

Also, I felt as if the history chapters were written individually of each other and were more for reference and research papers than for an actual narrative of history.  I felt like I was reading/reminding of the same thing over and over each chapter - lots of Burton on Trent and their water, if you catch my drift.  But this isn't to say that the history piece was bad; it just didn't flow or resonate with me as well as I would have liked.

The history piece takes up a majority of the book.  So, the subtitle, "Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale" is really a misnomer.  The book should be titled, "IPA: Evolution, Recipes, and some Tips" because there wasn't a whole lot of "technique" explained in the book.  There are a couple of pages here and a paragraph there, but what I was hoping to be a "how to build an IPA" book fell a little flat.

The tips Steele gives are good tips, but can be applied to any brewing - use fresh ingredients, use good tasting water, sanitation...  I wish there would have been a little more to this section, especially since it is the first item in the subtitle.

The recipes are plentiful, if not hard to understand and decipher.  Steele tries to make the recipes adaptable to any size brewery - 5 gallons to 50 barrels - but sometimes he just leaves out important information.  More accurately, he makes the pertinent information (i.e. - HOPS) difficult to figure out.  Let me give you an example.

Stone IPA.  We all love Stone IPA.  If you want to brew it from this recipe, though, you need to know a lot about bitterness formulas (see Palmer's, How to Brew).  Mash and grains are pretty simple, but for the hop schedule, quoting directly here, "Combine 26% Chinook with 23% Columbus and add at the start of the boil.  During the whirlpool stage, add 51% Centennial."  (Steele, pg 257)  Not like any other hop schedule you've seen, is it?  What he means is 26% of the total hop weight you use comes from the Chinook, 23% of the weight comes from the Columbus, and 51% comes from the Centennial.  He does give you the total IBUs for the beer: 75.  So, you need to know 1) math and 2) hop utilization formulas.  Which, most people don't know either.

I'd look at these recipes more as guidelines.  Some are more helpful than others (stating each hop addition should equal X number of IBUs, which is a little easier to figure out.)  You can simplify the above Stone IPA recipe into 1 ounce of Chinook, 1 ounce of Columbus, and 2 ounces of Centennial.  How many IBUs is that?  Depends on your utilization, of course, and the alpha acids of the hops, too.  So, not too helpful.  (In playing around with numbers, it would seem that 1.25 ounces of the 90 minute additions and 2.5 ounces of the whirlpool addition will get you close.)

Overall, the IPA book was an interesting read, though not exactly what I was hoping for.  If you want to know about the history of hoppy beers, by all means, this is a great book.  But if you want an end-all, be-all book on how to brew a modern version of an IPA, you will probably want to open up a different book.

I would give this a 3 star rating.

Cheers.