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My husband is very much into his homebrew. He owns a lot of equipment and buys ingredients from specialist shops and online. Typically he makes cider, lager and ale but he has been keen to diversify a bit more with what he makes. The homebrew books that we own already are quite specialist and technical and are aimed more at the more practiced homebrewer.
As such, I was immediately quite interested when I found out about this book coming out when I read a précis of it in Sainsbury's magazine as it promised a wider variety of recipes including seasonal fruit recipes.
The book is hardback with matte finished pages (so will be a bit vulnerable to the inevitable splashes. The spine isn't the greatest I have to admit, and you can see the string binding exposed on a lot of pages when they are folded back.
The book starts with a short introduction where it sets out its stock as being a book which will inspire ideas and also be fun.
Part One: Getting started begins with a section called 'the basics' . There are sections on how alcoholic drinks are made, cleaning, sterilization, extracting sugars, the complex process of fermentation, racking, conditioning and storage. I have to say that these are all explained very well and are understandable even to a 'layman' like me!
Next up the general equipment that you would need for making wine and beer is detailed which is not overly complex or expensive.
Following this is a section on the essential information for making fruit wines and spirits - including basic principals, the basics of all winemaking, how to get the best out of the process, some troubleshooting advice. Next up is an equivalent for making beers, ales and ciders including some history of these drinks, the necessary ingredients and equipment, different methods of producing beers dependent on the 'kits' that you are using and a useful section on how to understand the beer recipes. The same is then done for cider, perry and mead.
Then we come to the actual recipes. In general they largely follow a format that you would expect in a normal cookery book, with an intro and photography of the ingredients used or some nice pictures of people enjoying the drink all shot in a rustic style. Given that many of the ingredients used throughtout the book are not standard, they also give the pages in the book where you can refer to their definitions, which is very helpful.
As I briefly alluded to earlier - the beer recipes are presented in a slightly different way. They start by saying theat you must refer to the process illustrated earlier in the book (giving a page number) and then detailing the particular variations - in mash, water required, in boil, statistics and yeast recommendation or what malt extract you will need if you are going for the extract version (where appropriate.).
The first section is on fruit wine. Recipes include - blackberry wine, damson wine. Dandelion wine, elderflower wine, cassis, cherry brandy, sloe gin and variations, quince vodka, limoncello,.
Next up is beer and ales. Recipes include pilsner, IPA, bitter, vanilla bourbon porter, stouts, cherry beer, spiced Christmas Ale,.
Then we have cider and perry. Recipes include the three basic variations of both (sweet, medium, dry), blush cider, mulled cider, cheats cider ( using apple juice), mead.
The next section is dedicated to cordials, syrups and squashes. It starts with a short introduction on why this is something you should do, listing benefits such as the fact that they will be less artificial than the shop-bought variety and their uses in cooking. Recipes include fresh lemonade, lemongrass cordial, ginger beer (and mulled ginger beer!), berry fizz (a drink and sauce), elderflower cordial, blackberry and apple cordial, rosehip syrup, lavender champagne, winter cordial (an old-fashioned country drink containing ginger and oatmeal),
At the end of the book is a section on terminology - explaining some of the terms used throughout the methods eg - brew length and lagering.
I am really impressed with this book. Having bought it largely blind, I am really impressed as to its content. In my opinion it really does cover the gamut of homebrew - going as it does from the standard homebrew fare of beers and ciders to more rustic cordials and fruit wines. An example of this is that my husband really enjoys the more complex methods such as those to make ale and indeed has purchased quite a lot of the equipment previous to getting this book; whereas I come to it not knowing very much at all and not understanding what all of this equipment is for and yet there is a lot that I can get out of it and a number of recipes that I am looking forward to trying.
There is not a lot from the book that we have tried yet, but those we have have been easy to follow. It is very well cross-referenced at points where you have to go between the recipe and the basic method which is in the introductory section.
Diversifying into non-alcoholic drinks is another really smart move. It means that you can create more versatile drinks, ie those for teetotallers and those you can drink any time of the day and even get children involved.
The explanations are very well considered - taking into account all levels of ability and understanding . I expect this to be a book that will come into its own in our house over a long period of time for a few reasons. Firstly, by nature homebrew recipes require a long period of preparation (ie weeks and months) before you can sample the finished product. Secondly, the amount of room that the product and equipment is likely to take up means that unless you have loads of room to spare you are unlikely to have more than one or two on the go. Lastly, a lot of the fruit wines in particular rely on having a large quantity of seasonal fruit which is only around in the summer months.
It is well presented, giving the information in a visually accessible way. I also like the slightly rustic photography and artwork design that it uses.
I would go as far as to say that in actual fact, it is possibly the only homebrew book that you would need, given the sheer range of recipes and techniques that are described here.