Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Review: IPA by Mitch Steele

For Christmas this year my sweetie gave me a fantastic book about one of my favorite beer styles to drink--IPA.  The Brewers Publications book is one of the newest in their Style Series, IPA written by Mitch Steele of Stone Brewing in California.   The book kicks off with a very good introduction by Matt Brynildson from Firestone Walker, briefly covering the trends toward hoppier beers and the personal history between he and the author.  Following that intro is another, longer, introduction from Steele discussing his history as a homebrewer, his work at Anheuser-Busch, and his eventual move back into craft brewing with Stone.  He also explains the path of his own interest in the IPA style, including his travels to England and much of the background research that he and others did in pursuit of writing this book.  I briefly met Mr. Steele at NHC in 2012 and went to his lecture on historic IPA at that time.  He covered some of the preliminary information from this upcoming book, and included a lot of cool photos and anecdotes.  That lecture (while drinking an endless supply of Stone IPA) was one of my favorites from that conference, so I had high hopes for this book!

The first third of the book covers the history of IPA in quite a bit of detail, digging deep into the storied past of the English IPA.  I found this section fascinating, as Mr. Steele debunks many of the myths surrounding the style and brings up new interesting theories of what this beer was really like.  It turns out that many beers were being exported to India, including porters and stouts, that did not require high hopping to survive the trip from England.  In fact the beer was being shipped in the 1700's for ages but was not truly called IPA until as late as the 1820's.  This is the kind of history I can get behind!  The  book spends a lot of time on the traditional roots of IPA, then moving to the changes occurring throughout the world until the current renaissance of the style by mostly American home and craft brewers. 

The next section of the book focuses on the different sub-styles of IPA:  English, American, Double, Black (Cascadian), Belgian, Triple, and White.  Most of this is very recent history with many of the styles arising just in the last few years.  He then moves on to cover the basics of brewing this style, from ingredients to mashing to boiling and fermentation.  The chapter on IPA hops has a lot of good information on hops and hopping techniques that I haven't seen gathered in one place before.  There is a lot of detailed information about the brewing and fermentation processes that is true for all brewing, not just for this style. 

The final third of the book is mainly recipes.  Steele has chosen to give as much detail as possible, but giving grain by percentages and hops by IBU/AA so that the reader can calculate the details needed for their particular pro or home brewing set-up.  At first I was disappointed, as I wanted a good 5 gallon batch recipe spelled out for me, but I get why he did this.  He has historical recipes that have been updated for modern ingredients and measurements and I am very excited to try my hand at one of these.  At least no one will be able to tell me it isn't to style!  The recipe for Ballantine IPA (the last hold-out of original IPA in America, now lost since 1960,) is taken from BYO, and my friend Mike Behrendt has brewed that with some success.  There are also many recipes for more modern craft beer IPAs, many with details and discussions directly from the brewers. 

There is a significant chunk at end of the book taken up by appendices, charts, notes and bibliography.  Steele has certainly done his homework on this book!  He even gives a bunch of resources for the reader to pursue their own research and learning about the style.

Overall this is the most readable and interesting beer book I have read so far.  Mitch Steele does a great job of toeing the the line between super-geek technical and layman's terms, so there is something to learn here for every reader.  He has hit that sweet spot in technical writing where the well researched facts and figures are balanced with anecdotes, stories and historical side-bars that keep the reader interested and on task.  I feel that new and experienced homebrewers will get a lot out of this book, as will professional brewers.  Highly recommended!

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