5 Questions for “The Secrets of Master Brewers” Author Jeff Alworth

New book “The Secrets of Master Brewers” serves as a worldly homebrew guide of tips and tricks from the pros that you may not find anywhere else. As has become custom here on The New School, we asked its author, local beer blogger Jeff Alworth, five questions about his follow-up to “The Beer Bible.”

If you’re not like me and don’t do all your reading on a LED screen using a mouse to trace the lines rather than a finger, you can order a print copy of The Secrets of Master Brewers right now on Amazon.com. The downside is words are on something called “paper” and the pixels don’t enlarge when you try to zoom in. I can’t click the highlighted links for more information, and there are no short looping videos or colorful emojis. Still, I am told it’s more tactile or some such nonsense, and guess what, you can purchase it for the Kindle, or even an audio CD.

Jeff Alworth was inspired to write his new book by his travels in researching his last book, the Beer Bible. He discovered Europeans really do it differently and that many of the world class ale and lager brewers have something they are doing differently that gives them an edge.

Along with sharing his travels, notes, tips, and anecdotes, The Secrets of Master Brewers features 26 recipes for creating each style, including Irish Stout, German Weissbier, Belgian Saison, Italian Lager, American Hoppy Ale, and more. 

author Jeff Alworth

Q: What kind or research went into finding these “secrets?” Was it simply asking brewers for their secrets, or did you hear about them first or have to pry the info out of them?

JA: The primary research was when I visited these breweries for the Beer Bible. That was an amazing opportunity to tour these landmark breweries, and in nearly every case with the master brewer. For the most part, they were as happy to tell me what they were doing as Americans are. I think most people never ask! To the extent they’re secrets, it’s mainly because few people have considered the cultural element in brewing and systematically tried to find out how these brewers think about and make their beer.

Q: What was the strangest or most unique technique you heard about?

JA: Everything at Rodenbach is strange, but one of my biggest ah-ha moments was when I realized they put fermented beer, not wort, into their foeders. I’ve had so many terrible Flanders Red in the US, and I think it’s because breweries pitch the Roselare (Rodenbach) yeast from Wyeast straight into wort. But I was also surprised to see that decoction was not only ubiquitous in the Czech Republic, but actually written into law. And Fuller’s still using parti-gyle to make their ales was amazing, too.

Q: How did you select the brewers and styles of beer to be featured?

JA: The idea behind the book is to drive home that people think about beer differently in local regions. Germans think about beer in their own way, as do Belgians, Brits, and Czechs. (And Americans!) I wanted to illustrate that you need to understand that cultural framework, what I call “national tradition” in order to get how these beers are conceived and put together. Once I did that, it was then just a matter of decided how many archetypes of the beers in question needed to be described in order to demonstrate the range in that national tradition. At first I’d thought I’d do separate chapters on all styles, but then I realized that many are actually just different recipes within a tradition. There was no point in doing bock, helles, dunkel lager, and schwarzbier, because they’re all made the same way and just use different ingredients.

Q: Were there any trends or techniques that seem to be catching hold and becoming more popular or mainstream?

JA: I was really pleased to put America in the book. We have created a new style of brewing–a national tradition–that is currently animating the world’s brewing scene. I have a chapter in there on “hoppy ales”–IPAs, basically–where all the techniques for producing the amazing flavors we love are revealed. Portland’s Ben Edmunds is the source there. (And no, there’s nothing on NE IPA, and this book is actually one of the reasons I don’t think it’s a separate style. Aside from throwing in some chunky malts, all the techniques people use to make those beers are standard across the country. What people really love are the bright, expressive flavors you get from American hops, and Ben has you covered on how to repeat them.) I also got to mention how to make fresh-hop ales, a style especially suitable for homebrewers (Double Mountain’s Matt Swihart, who was one of the first to dial that style in, is the informant there).

I include a section on kettle-souring as well, a newish technique homebrewers can use to enliven many of their beers if they wish to. (That one required me to figure out a technique for the home system, and it’s sort of hinky. I look forward to hearing back from homebrewers on better techniques they’ve devised.)

Q: Who is the most secretive brewer you have come across?

JA: Easily the most secretive is Guinness. By far. They are sponsors of my blog and even flew me out to tour the brewery–and then promptly refused all my entreaties about how their beer is made. I know only very vague things about it. As a result, the chapter on Irish stout comes from their crosstown rivals at Porterhouse, who were delighted to tell me everything they knew. Porterhouse is likely a better resource anyway, because Guinness is a large industrial brewery that does high-gravity brewing. It would have taken some work to get an Irish stout out of them that could be brewed at home.

Incidentally, I’ll add that not every commercial style can be brewed at home. Rodenbach, for example, is made in giant foeders. There’s no way to make it other than in those giant foeders. In much the same way, the lambic-makers of Brussels use a process that can’t really be replicated at the homebrewer scale. I turned to Americans who adapted these styles in their breweries instead. Josh Pfriem tells us how to do a Flanders Red, and Jason Kahler (Solera) describes a form of lambic brewing that involves inoculating your wort with fresh fruit. He also describes his solera system–keeping carboys of wild ale “fed” with fresh wort–which he developed as a homebrewer himself.

The Secrets of Master Brewers
Jeff Alworth
Storey Publishing, March 2017
304 pages; 6″ x 9″
Two-color; illustrations throughout
Paperback; $24.95
ISBN: 978-1-61212-654-8

Samurai Artist
Samurai Artist

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: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com