homeEpisode Guideread the blogarticles and resourcesaboutcontact
      Travel by the Pint  

Book Review


The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation by Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff

This latest publication by the Brewers Association is focused on what the authors' describe as the "cold side of brewing": yeast.

The book is divided into six parts: the importance of yeast and fermentation; biology, enzymes, and esters; how to choose the right yeast; fermentation; yeast growth, handling and storage; and your own yeast lab made easy.

With Zainasheff and White (of White Labs) as authors, it is no surprise that the book is heavily detailed. And it is clear that professional brewers at small craft breweries are the primary audience. While some of the chapters gave me flashbacks of AP Biology exams, that doesn't mean the information in its broad strokes is too scientific to be of interest to the casual homebrewer.

Nuggets of useful information are sprinkled liberally throughout the book, acting as guideposts to consistently creating beer with the characteristics the brewer strives for. Developing the wort is only a portion of the battle. If the wort doesn't contain the proper nutrients for the desired yeast strain, if it's fermented at a less-than-ideal temperature for the strain, or been subject to temperature swings, the yeast may produce undesirable compounds that will cause off-flavors.

The downside of all this useful information (the dangers of doing one thing a little too early or the same thing a little too late) may make the reader want to curl up in the fetal position clutching Papazian's book muttering his mantra "Don't worry. Have a homebrew." If it does, skim the troubleshooting chapter to learn how to fix mistakes or at least not repeat them.

Any homebrewer who has seriously considered bugging their beer will be grateful for the Brettanomyces section of Part 3. It describes how to avoid contamination problems, the biology of each strain, and the characteristics each add to the beer. Bugged beer isn't for the feint of heart, so brewers new to the craft may want to read this section just to have a fuller appreciation for the skills of professional brewers like Ron Jeffries of Jolly Pumpkin.

I was particularly interested in the last two chapter of the book, having dabbled myself with yeast ranching (there have been times I've had more yeast than food in the refrigeratoríńÓdon't tell my mother-in-law!) and building up simple starters in a Pyrex flask on the kitchen counter. I don't see myself ever advancing to the point of having a yeast library stored in agar, but the tips on rinsing, basic storage, and making starters are worth the price of the book alone. For example, I'd never worried about matching the cooling the temperature of my wort to the temperature of the starter. Frankly, I was always grateful when it fell inside the fermentation window stated on the label and didn't worry about it beyond that. Now I realize that if they don't match, it can shock the yeast and cause many of the problems I had hoped to avoid.

Serious brewers, both homebrewers and professional, will appreciate having Yeast in their brewing library.


More book reviews:

A Pint of Plain
Tradition, Change, and the Fate of the Irish Pub

The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation

Return to main articles and resources page


Please drink responsibly — don't drink and drive.