Book Review: Extreme Brewing by Sam Calagione

By Greg B.  In my spare time, when I have time to sit and read books, I continue to be something of a science nerd.  I read historical scientific literature (the complete works of, say, Charles Darwin, in their 1st editions), or historically important philosophy texts like Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville.  But occasionally, I shake things up and read books about beer.  Years ago I purchased Extreme Brewing by Sam Calagione, and I’m pleased to learn there is a 2nd edition currently in press.  To lets give this book a little review!

Extreme Brewing is a book featuring the central philosophy of Dogfish Head Brewing Company’s founder, Sam Calagione.  And that philosophy is: Experiment, make bold beer, and make bold beer you want to drink.  It’s a philosophy that, in my opinion, has produced some of the best (Dogfish head’s 90 minute IPA) and some of the worst craft beer (Dogfish heads Sah’tea) available on the market.  But whatever your personal opinions or tastes, you have to give the man credit.  Anyone who can be the star of a Discovery channel TV show for a season about craft beer and searching the globe for interesting ingredients or ways of making beer has a talent for it.  But how does that talent translate to the book?

I’ll start by advising that this book is great for a beginner, and not as useful for someone who is a bit more advanced in homebrewing.  If you’ve been making beer for a few years, are already into all-grain brewing and have advanced to kegging, you probably won’t glean much information from this book by buying it.  I’m not saying that picking it up in Barnes & Noble to skim the recipe section won’t provide you with some insights you might not have known, but you can find that all on the internet as well.  However, if you’re a new homebrewer, or someone who wants to get into it, this book will serve as an OK guide.  It won’t be the best option, because it lacks depth in terms of the technical aspects of making beer that will help one produce great beers, but it will serve as a good supplement to a larger, more useful (and likely more boring to read) text, such asThe Complete Joy of Homebrewing, by Charlie Papazian.

The photography in the book is a bit spotty.  Many of the images are over contrived and staged in weird ways.  Watching Sam chop apricots on a tiny cutting board with a large knife, staged beer in front and large measuring cup of un-milled wheat in the background (who uses that for brewing?) is a bit cheesy.  And the solid colored backgrounds make many of the images seem a bit lame or outdated.  So don’t expect this book to contain the mouthwatering images of beer or beer ingredients that you’d find in a top notch cookbook.  But then again, that’s not the angle the book is going for.  So lets move on.

The book takes the reader through the very introductory steps of making beer, the necessary parts, components and very basics of the brewing process.  Enough to get started and get your feet wet, so to speak.  Then the book jumps right into the Big and Bold beers that are iconic to Dogfish head.  There are recipes in here that will teach you how to use fruit, certain spices, when to add them and what they’ll do in the beer, that will be helpful to individuals seeking to brew really unique, robust beers.  In the back of the book, it contains clear, well laid out steps for making beers using recipes from both Dogfish Head and other breweries, such as, but not limited to: Russian River, Port brewing, Allagash, The Portsmouth Brewery, Shorts Brewing Company and (personal favorite among the list) The Bruery.  The recipes are clear and easy to follow, good for a beginner to read and become inspired by.

This book is also the second edition, and it’s been revised from the previous.  Truthfully, I didn’t notice much of a change or much of note, besides some extra beer recipes in the back of the book.  It’s nice that this occurred, but I feel that further explanation of the nature of brewing and some better photography would help make this book a lot more accessible and useful, rather than simply adding Bold recipes from additional breweries across the nation.  But at the same time, I understand that the craft brewers in this book all like each other and do business with each other, so it’s nice to see them collaborating, even if it is just that Sam allows them to publish a recipe or two in his book, to get these other breweries a bit more notoriety.

Overall, I think the book has it’s place in the world of Homebrewing literature, however, I do feel it could benefit from some improvements.  Aesthetically, the photography should be totally re-done.  The bright orange cover with an orange beer (is it a pumpkin ale?  Or an IPA?) on it makes my eyes hurt, and simply reminds me of halloween with the black text.  The layout of the book is good, and it’s progression for the beginning homebrewer is good, clear and helpful.  It suffers from one of those fatal flaws of starting to brew, however.  The book jumps quickly into advanced and crazy flavorings for the beer, without devoting too much time to the actual beer that forms the backbone of these advanced beers.  Young brewers can quickly be enamored with the complex and intensive flavors of the back of the book, without learning the basics.  Hopefully, this book will be used mostly as a supplement, rather than the complete starting brewing book.

This entry was posted in Misc and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply