Friday 7 March 2014

The Homebrewer's Guide to Vintage Beer by Ron Pattinson

The Home Brewer's Guide to Vintage Beer: Rediscovered Recipes for Classic Brews Dating from 1800 to 1965

There was no way I wasn't going to like this book. Old fashioned beer has long been a fascination of mine.

Soon after I'd started all grain brewing (or full mash as we called it then) I attended a course for homebrewers run by Brewlab. James McCrorie was also there to talk about the Craft Brewing Association he was forming, and from that learnt of Durden Park Beer Circle and their booklet Old British Beers and How to Make Them.

It was from there that I first heard of the golden age of British brewing before the horrors of the First World War, and saw that Farnham was once famous for hops.

Though the Craft Brewing Association now seem decidedly lagging with the internet some of the first things I ever downloaded (by asking my brother to do it at work and print it out!) were from them.

In the years since then the amount of easily available beer knowledge has massively increased, in fact to the point where it's not possible to keep up with it anymore (though that doesn't stop me trying!).

More than anyone else Ron Pattinson has made available information from historic brewing records providing detailed, and at times surprising, information on what and how different types of beer were made over the years.I'm a regular reader of his blog and have several of his self published books.

He's shown that despite producing an inspirational text the Durden Park Beer Circle were a bit too free and easy when they adapted historical recipes for modern homebrewing, and the bit of historical research I carried out myself shows that there's a lot more to Farnham hops than is mentioned.

My hop research lead to Ron contacting me before publication to discuss British hop history, and I was also sent an early version of the text to cast my pedantic eye over.

So, this is a book about a subject that's long fascinated me, and that I had a small role in producing. Not to mention that I got sent a free copy. As I said, there's no way I wasn't going to like it. But I'm pleased to say it's actually really good.

The format is slightly odd, being ring bound with a hard cover but it is an excellent design for a recipe book. You can lay the book flat on a surface so you can read the pages with your hands full and the hardback cover will provide good protection.

At just 160 pages it would scarcely register as a 'mini-book' if it was one of Ron's self published offerings but it's good to see, quite possibly for the first time, that when constrained by space he has the ability to succinctly get the important information across. I still wouldn't have thought the book over long if it was twice as big though.

Divided into 12 chapters there's some background information about ingredients and brewing before historical recipes for different beer styles are presented after a short historical introduction.

The beers cover rather more than the key styles Ron has boiled British beer down to (porter, mild, bitter and strong; or should that be Porter! Mild! Bitter! and Strong! ?) and some obscure European styles are detailed as well.

Ron makes clear there has had to be some interpretation of the recipes, and I did notice an impossibly early Bramling Cross hop in one from 1915 (possibly should be the Bramling golding?) but until the day the long awaited time machine is found I can't think of a better way to find out what historic beers tasted like than trying some of these recipes.

Having enjoyed the book the icing on the cake for me was seeing I'm included in the acknowledgements:

It's a.little known fact that I'm already famous being mentioned in a book by name, but now I'm in two I must be twice as famous. But I care little for the fortune that will no doubt be following soon (though I'm looking forward to the groupies).

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