Book Reviews: Craft Beer Bites, Gardening for the Homebrewer, and Craft Cider

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Three new beer or cider related books recently came in my mailbox, and each is quite different. Gardening for the Homebrewer explores growing your own hops as well as barley, herbs, fruits, etc. for your beer; The Craft Beer Bites is a cookbook full of mostly small plate dishes made with beer as an ingredient; and Craft Cider is an all inclusive introductory book on cider, from how to make it to how to cook with it, taste it, and make cocktails with it.



The Craft Beer Bites Cookbook

The Craft Beer Bites Cookbook is the latest from The Beeroness, aka Jacquelyn Dodd, who focuses exclusively on food recipes with beer from her Seattle home for her website The Craft Beer Bites Cookbook is here follow-up the similarly titled Craft Beer Cookbook. This plus-sized recipe book features 100 recipes for small bite-sized snack items made with beer.

The first thing that strikes me about The Craft Beer Bites Cookbook is the great printing quality–though it’s technically a paperback (cheaper!), it’s got a thick slick waxy matte cover and the pages are glossy and heavy with beautiful photos. The font is large and so are the pictures, the recipes sound complex but are made simple. It is primarily a list of recipes with mouth-watering photos but is filled with bits of context and pairing suggestions.

I like that the opening chapter spends a decent amount of time explaining some of the important cooking terms, important cooking utensils/equipment and prep suggestions like how to tenderize your meat. There is a page on taste suggestions and how beer flavors translate into cooking, it’s not always as simple as a hoppy beer adding they same hoppy flavor to a dish. There are tips on how to concentrate a beer by cooking it down and what kind of beers go best with specific cooking flavors. Jacquelyn wisely realizes these small shared plates are ideal for experimentation and gatherings and thus offers suggestions on beer parties pairing drinking and eating.

I did notice some rather glaring formatting issues in the early parts of the book before they get into the actual recipes. Why is there literally just half a page (with no image) about made up beer holidays like IPA and Stout day and what does that have to do with cooking? It felt like filler fluff but then actual interesting bits of information in the “Odds and Ends” about how alcohol can intensify a foods heat or how hops and beer also help cook and preserve food, is spread out into two short side by side paragraphs that take up less than half a page with just white space below. I dont know why this information is not more edited or condensed but to be fair it feels like a publisher or designer choice and not the writers, but that’s pure speculation.

The Recipes are where this cookbook shines as it should. Each recipe is only one page of ingredients and directions that is easy to read and understand. Jacquelyn begins each recipe with a little warm-up like a personal anecdote, observation or cooking tip. The adjacent page usually has a full color beautiful pic of the dish and a pro-tip on what style of beer would work best with the dish like a smoked porter instead of a London-style Porter etc.

Jacquelyn has split up the recipes into sections for all types of palates: Sliders, Skewers, Crostini, Dips, Hand Pies, Wraps, & Rolls, Handfuls: Nuts, Olives, Popcorn, Tartlets and Mini Pies, Seafood Pies, Deep-Fried and Desserts. It used to  be expected that books have a decent glossary and index but lately I have been finding them absent, thankfully The Craft Beer Bites Cookbook has both done well! From a useful U.S./Metric Conversion Chart that’s useful for the non cooking enthusiast that goes to a glossary of beer terms that include obvious beer styles to more obscure styles and terms like biere de garde and gueuze to things I havent even heard of like Diät Pils.

Despite the minor editing/layout choices I think this is a great book for those interested in getting into cooking and experimenting with beer and you don’t need to be an expert but it’s not dummed down either.




Craft Cider: How to Turn Apples into Alcohol

Craft Cider is a new book from Portland’s own Jeff Smith, co-founder/owner of Bushwhacker Cider and author of his first book. Though the tagline for the book Craft Cider is “How To Turn Apples Into Alcohol” it actually ______ the book as a sort of home cidermaking guide, but it’s actually much more than that. Sure there is a whole chapter dedicated to making Cider it’s just one section in a book that covers the entire breadth of cider in a broad sense, from apple varietals to cooking with cider and even cider cocktail recipes.

Chapter 1 is entitled “The World of Cider” giving a vast overview of the state of the industry in just 6 pages. The chapters just get more specific and eccentric as you get further into the book. Chapter 2 acquaints the reader with all of the different styles of cider, something I think even most cider fans are just getting to know beyond sweet, dry and semi-dry. It begins to get more into the making of cider by Chapter 3, offering a guide to how to source fruit and juice for the making of cider.

The chapters are short and the text is large in Craft Cider, but that’s not a bad thing. This book could be the equivalent of Charlie Papazian’s seminal homebrewing book “The Joy of Homebrewing” only offering a greater overview of the entire industry. The similarity is in how approachable, and simple in the best sense, that the writing is. A novice to intermediate cider enthusiast can learn a lot quickly without getting turned off by a lot of industry terms and historical details that only the eccentric advanced or industry enthusiast would get into.

As a fan of cider that knows more than most but isnt as familiar as I am with beer, the chapters on apple varietals (with pictures of each!) and on how to taste ciders (not just regurgitate beer speak) I found Craft Cider both educational and a breeze.




Gardening for the Homebrewer: Grow and Process Plants for Making Beer, Wine, Gruit, Cider, Perry, and More

This is the rare beer book that I have not seen before and wins extra points for originality. There is plenty written about growing hops and here in the Pacific Northwest you can pick them in half your friends backyards or the lattices of many an outdoor beer garden or patio. There is precious little about growing all the other natural ingredients often used to flavor and brew beer from barley to basil to pumpkins and perry.

Right from the back cover synopsis Gardening for the Homebrewer poses the question if your yard is a good site to grow barley or better suited for herbs. It’s also not assumed you have an actual garden to work with, maybe you only have a balcony or windowsill? This book has you covered.

Authors Wendy Tweten and Debbie Teashon open the book with 16 pages getting you acquainted with the necessary tools and techniques and planting, seeding and choosing what to grow. From there they get right into it on growing the key beer ingredients: hops, barley, wheat and malting. Though the title suggests this book is only about growing beer ingredients there is plenty of room dedicated to wine, cidery, perry and liqueur and infused spirits. Like the Craft Cider book, they didnt need to pigeonhole themselves with the title because this book would be just about as good of a read to mixologists, home distillers, winemakers and cidermakers.

The 3rd chapter on brewing herbs and other fermentables is a favorite. It starts off discussing the great obscure beer style of the “Gruit”, a style pre-dating the use of hops in beer that used native herbs, spices, fruits, grains etc. to ferment, spice, bitter the beer. There are cool sections on popular Gruit plants like Yarrow, wild Rosemary, Heather and more with a full breakdown on everything from the height, soil, growth habit, pruning, propagation, spacing, everything…

Gardening for the Homebrewer is pretty dense and reminds me of my high school textbooks if they had helped me learn about plants and alcohol. This could be a killer required read for the Fermentation Science program at Oregon State University or UC Davis. At the same time they do not ignore modern audience that may be cooped in by a 2nd floor apartment or even a dorm room. You can still grow practically anything with a balcony or a grow light no matter where you are.

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: [email protected]

1 Comment

  1. Kate

    September 25, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing about “Craft Cider: How to Turn Apples into Alcohol”. It looks like a great cider book! I’ve been enjoying Bill Bradahaw & Pete Brown’s “World’s Best Ciders” lately.

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