Part 1 of Designing Great Beers
is a complete book in itself, focused solely on home-brewing ingredients and techniques (including three
superb chapters on hops alone). Ray Daniels
proves himself the "techie" type, infusing his introductory chapters with as much brewing math as brewing lore. Yet, Daniels never hops off the deep end of beer geekdom. Instead, he complements this emphasis on data with the creative use of graphics; where one could get bogged down in the stats, there is usually a clear visual depiction to instantly summarize their meaning.
This focus on facts continues into part 2 of Daniels's guide, where it backs an admirably pragmatic take on beer styles and their importance in home-brewing. Daniels devotes a chapter to each of 14 major style categories, detailing historical origins and modern brewing techniques. He lays a contemporary groundwork by compiling and analyzing the recipes of the National Homebrew Competition's most successful beers. The assumption is that beers deemed representative of particular beer styles in modern competitions serve as ideal models for recipe creation. Among the information provided for each style is a chart showing the percentage of brewers using each type of grain and in what proportions the grains were added. Similar data are supplied for hop varieties, yeast strains, and water treatment. This reverse engineering of award-winning beers naturally benefits experienced brewers seeking to wow judges at the next competition. Yet, even brewers taking their first shy steps into creating their own recipes have much to gain from this kind of practical analysis. Daniels provides the basic tools a brewer of any level can use to formulate recipes with confidence and creativity. --Todd Gehman