Ok. How do I do this review? Do I do the right thing and tell you exactly how it is? Or do I try to make it sound like something you need to read? Crap, I guess I just told you how this review is going to go.
Brewing Better Beer by Ben Phelps is a book that should be AVOIDED at all costs. Please note that this is NOT the book by the same title that was written by Gordon Strong. I am only doing this review to warn people, so they won’t get the wrong book from Amazon. Lucky for me this one was FREE for today instead of it’s normal $8.97 price (if I paid for this book I would demand a refund)
The book starts off by giving a very very basic run down of equipment needed and a VERY basic ingredients list for a VERY basic extract beer. It does include specialty grains in that basic recipe but what it tells you to do with them is wrong on so many levels. He mentions that capping beer bottles can take a few tries so make sure you have extra caps ready. Wait, what? Capping is the EASY part of the entire brewing process. The capper makes it pretty much fool proof.
During his brewing process explanation he suggests that you get a pot of water boiling and then add the grains in a cheese cloth sack for 20-30 minutes. Wait, What??? Noooooooooooo you STEEP the grains in hot water (150-154F not boiling) and then remove them before bringing to a boil. But according to this idiot, you can leave them in until it’s time to add the finishing hops? He even went as far to say that if you don’t have cheese cloth, just add them to the kettle since you’ll be straining later anyways! What is this guy making? It certainly isn’t good beer!
When it came to ingredients he vaguely suggested get what ever type of yeast you want. ale, lager or WINE implying that it doesn’t make a difference. I’ll tell you flat out. Yeast makes ALL the difference in the final outcome of the beer. He also implies that pellet hops are some how inferior to “fresher hops”. Pellet hops are great ti use and you can get more extraction of flavor and bittering oils from pellet hops. Maybe he thinks that pellet hops are made from old stale hops, their not.
He next suggests that you transfer this boiling hot liquid to your fermentor after passing through a strainer. He suggests using a 5 gallon bucket or 5 gallon GLASS carboy for primary fermentation (which according to him takes a month or longer) and THEN cooling it down to pitching temps. OK, back that whole thing up and cool it BEFORE transferring to the primary. While you’re at it, use one that will hold at least 6-6.5 gallons to allow for the krausen (foam caused during rapid fermentation). Pouring a boiling hot liquid into a glass carboy will cause it to shatter due to temperature shocking the glass. The result will be boiling hot sugary liquid going all over the place and all over YOU. be safe people. Chill then transfer.
No he says that once chilled to 70-80F you can pitch the yeast. Sure, go ahead, if you like off flavors! He mentions that ale fermenting temps are higher than lager temp but does mention that the lager temps are in the 50-55F range while ale is in the 60-68F range (except Belgians that ferment hotter up to 80F!). The important thing is, temperature control is crucial to making better beer. A beer fermented at 70F+ using a lager yeast will taste like crap.
After fermentation he goes into bottling. He tells you to add priming sugar and transfer to a bottling bucket (he calls it a bucket with a nozzle). The fill the bottles and cap them. He does mention that a bottle filler is a good investment but says it’s not mandatory and doesn’t explain WHY it’s needed. He then tells you to cap the bottles. He completely skipped the part of waiting 2-3 weeks for the bottles to condition and then chill for 24-48 hours in order for the CO2 to be absorbed into solution. Instead he says to take a bottle and stick in the fridge for a couple hours and test it. if it isn’t ready, try again a few days later.
He mentions early in the book that All Grain brewing adds 12-36 hours to your brew day. I brew All Grain and my brew day is just 4 hours long (gotta love BIAB). I’m not sure how he figures that it adds that much time, but he’s wrong.
There is one thing that he completely skipped in the entire book. It’s the MOST important thing in brewing anything (beer, cider, mead or wine). SANITATION! You have to clean and sanitize everything that comes into contact with the beer/cider/mead/wine to prevent contamination ruining the entire batch (and possibly future batches if you don’t locate the source)
In closing, avoid this book at all costs. If you have never brewed beer before, stop by your local homebrew store. they’ll be happy to assist you. If you don’t have one near you. Ask here and I’ll be happy to help. You can also find more information that you thought possible at Home Brew Talk. I don’t own that site or get paid by them to promote the site. I’m just a regular member there who like many love to help people learn to brew.
til next time….