Thursday 15 June 2017

Miracle Brew by Pete Brown

I can’t think of a book I’ve waited longer for. Even Stan Hieronymus’s For The Love of Hops didn’t seem to take so long to arrive.

I'd stumped up the money for Miracle Brew through the Unbound website over two years before publication, and although there were occasional uptakes for supporters published on the strangely named “shed” things did seem to move at a glacial pace.

Focusing on the four fundamental ingredients of beer Miracle Brew chronicles Pete Brown’s research into water, malt, hops and yeast. He is undoubtedly one of today’s best beer writers so I was surprised to see him say it’s been eight years since he’s written a book about beer. His background in advertising clearly helped him learn how write in an engaging style, and he’s always keen to get the details right. Unlike some beer writers I could mention, who don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story. However, by writing about the raw materials of beer he’s straying into technical territory, so how well did he do?

The book is a pleasure to read, and the author travels to key places, historic and contemporary, in his quest for knowledge, and consults with a wide range of experts. The fact I’d finished the book on the kindle before the hard copy arrived is testament to how much I enjoyed reading it. If you haven’t yet got yourself a copy I can certainly recommend you do.

And now I’ve got the praise out of the way I can start on the anal retentive OCB Wiki style commentary on where I think he went wrong, or more information is needed. Location numbers not page numbers are used as I did the nerdery on my  kindle.

128. It's stated that Peter Darby is the public face of the British Hop Association, which rather overlooks the work of Ali Capper. It continues that the National Hop Collection at Queens Court Farm is where old varieties are preserved and new ones raised, but as I understand it the hops at Queens Court are a back up and it's at the National Scientific Hop Collection at China Farm near Canterbury where most of the work of Wye Hops Ltd is done.

143. Says the Fuggle was found growing as a chance seedling in 1785. Sadly, this story appears to be bollocks, and if anything modern analysis show the Fuggle's origins are as a mainland European hop. There's a number transposed too, as 1875 is the year the Fuggle was released commercially.

146. A new hop called “Wye” is mentioned. This can't be right and I suspect this comes from mishearing a hops actual name, as at one point Wye College added the prefix “Wye” to all their hops (e.g. Wye Target, Wye Challenger)

219. It says brewers refer to the four basic ingredients of beer as “raw materials”. This is done, but yeast can be classified as a processing aid. Though probably not if you're making London Murky.

276. The photosynthesis equation is meant to be written with symbols but is in fact written as words again.

324. There's talk of the enzyme diastase, which is archaic. Amylases would be more accurate.

395. There's talk of the modification during malting being about the the activation of enzymes that can convert starch into sugar. It is also about the breaking down of cellular structures to make the starch in the grain accessible to breakdown.

399. It states the grains need to be turned to stop them tangling into a big lump. This is true, but it is also to keep the temperature even so even modification will occur.

521. William Gosset is given as Wilson Gosset.

564. It states the process of malting has hardly changed in centuries, but in fact the introduction of air rests during steeping in the 1950s was a major change compared to previous malting methods.

610. The kilning of malt resembles coffee roasting, when in fact malt roasters used for making crystal and highly coloured malts much more resemble coffee roasters than kilns do.

633. It states that beer colour is determined by analysing the wavelength of light. In fact the wavelength is fixed at 430nm and it's the attenuation of the light passing through the beer that's measured.

637. It talks of the Maillard reaction causing amino acids to brown malt, when in fact Maillard reactions occur between amino acids and sugars.

709. It states that Matthew Wood introduced coffee roasting techniques to create malts that had no extract but just added flavour. Here the author seems to have mixed up Matthew Wood with Daniel Wheeler, the inventor of the malt roaster. And roasted malts do have extract, it's just not very fermentable extract.

790. It states the Institute of Brewing and Distilling meet every spring to compile a list of approved barley varieties. In fact the English Micro Malting Group that does this is really run by the Maltsters Association of Great Britain, but the approved list has retained the brand of the IBD.

866. It's said that whisky is essentially distilled beer. In many ways it is, but it's also of course missing one of the key ingredients: hops.

1175. It states the kiln takes malt as far as caramelisation, while roasting drums create roast flavours. In fact roasting drums are used to make caramel or crystal malts as well as roast malts.

1194. Bohemian dark lagers such as Bocks and October beers are mentioned. I suspect he means Bavarian here, and you can certainly get pale bocks and October beers anyway.

1201. It states acidulated malt has been treated with lactic acid, in fact it has had lactic acid bacteria grow on it during the production process and they have created the lactic acid.

1361. It's said that during the mash the “porridge-like wort” is constantly agitated. In mash conversion vessels the mash will be agitated, but if mash tuns are used the mash is not agitated.

1375. It's stated that as soon as brewers were free to legally used roasted barley Guinness began doing so. This is not the case.

1391. The author gets a bit confused about water hardness and pH, and seems to be confusing hardness with carbonate concentration (a mistake I've made myself in the past), when it's really calcium and magnesium concentration. Calcium and to a lesser extent magnesium will lower the mash pH by reacting with phosphates and polypeptides, liberating hydrogen ions. Carbonate will act as a buffer and have the effect of keeping the mash pH high.

1424. It's stated the water to beer ratio is typically 5 to 10 pints of water per pint of beer. The industry standard for large breweries is certainly less than 5:1 nowadays.

1802. The graph of mineral concentrations in Burton-upon-Trent water are attributed to Hind's “Brewing Science and Practice” though I'm pretty sure the author had a double barrelled surname “Lloyd Hind”.

2039. There's a dash in the middle of “common” for no apparent reason.

2043. It's said gruit should contain bog myrtle, rosemary and yarrow. Though this is often stated I'm sure I saw someone point out that as they don't grow in the same areas it's unlikely to have been the case.

2404 It’s stated that the IBD began developing hops to compete against the imports. I know the IBD does help fund hop breeding, but it’s still done by Wye Hops Ltd. 

2785 It’s stated that Yakima used to mainly grow bittering hops for Anheuser-Busch, but until relatively recently a lot of the aroma hop Willamette were used by AB, so I suspect they were grown extensively in Yakima. In fact, this is actually mentioned later in the book (2849). 

2924 There seems to be some confusion about the different types of hop extracts. Oil extracts can add flavour and aroma, but alpha acids extracted from the resins will be needed to add bitterness. 

3202 It’s said hop breeding begin in earnest in in Kent 1917 but it had started before then.

3356 That some “Goldings” are no such thing is mentioned but not in enough detail for my liking.

 3644 .“Carlsbergensis” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

3735 “Pastorianus” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

3737 “Carlsbergensis” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

3742 “Carlsbergensis” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

3763 “Pastorianus” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

3808 It’s stated lager yeasts enjoy a long, cold fermentation and without this the beer will have an undesirable amount of diacetyl. Though this is the traditional way of making lagers, a warm diacetyl rest where the fermentation temperature is allowed to rise towards the end of fermentation, is now commonly used to lower diacetyl levels in considerably faster time. It’s also incorrectly stated that diacetyl is an ester when in fact it’s a ketone. 

 3986 “Pastorianus” is capitalised when it shouldn’t be

4028 Two strains of bacteria: lactobacillus and pediococcus are mentioned. In fact these are both genera of bacteria not strains (strain is used for differences within the species). And as genera names both should be capitalised. 

4145 When talking about strain differences it’s stated that five genetically identical strains of yeast made very different beers. I would be interested to see more details about this. I wonder if it’s really about about strain variation within a species?

4172 The talk of putting freeze dried yeast in plastic test tubes and then melting the end shut before storing them in liquid nitrogen sounds confused to me so I’d be interested in seeing more details. 

4184 It talks of kvass beer strains called kvaic, mixing up the bread based beer with Norwegian farmhouse yeast, kveik, and then misspelling it. 

4227 It states that domestication robbed yeast of its ability to reproduce. Presumably that should be reproduce sexually. 

4261 Heineken is hyphenated for no apparent reason. 

4644 Interesting comment about hops affecting the colour of beer. I saw this mentioned when researching Farnham hops but it’s not usually something you see mentioned today. 

4648 Another thing I’d like to see more details of is the claim that someone brewed a 6% ABV beer with grains he’d malted, and a 3% ABV beer with unmalted grains.


  1. Fuck me Ed. Good job you are much more fun in person! Pete should have got you in for a massive fee (or a few scoops) as proof reader.

    Was hoping to see you at the Guild AGM, but instead I'll be taking part on a panel discussing the future of cask beer for Manchester Beer Week.

    Any thoughts?

    1. I blame the OCB Wiki, I've been anal with beer books ever since. I now even find typos in textbooks written by people who know far more than me.

      I've moved to the Isle of Man so it's not as easy for me to get to London as it used to be, I'll be over for the GBBF and the warm up though.

      As to cask beer that probably deserves a blog post in itself. I think that cask beer sales being stable actually hides a lot. I'm sure mass brands like Tetleys are way down and replaced with nitro keg, whilst sales of cask beer from micros must have increased massively. It's a lot rarer to find keg only pubs than it used to be, and (at least where I drink) cask beer quality is better now than when I started my drinking career. I see no reason why cask beer shouldn't continue as a mainstream product in ordinary pubs.

    2. Didn't know you'd become a tax-dodger!

    3. Not actaully no tax but it's certainly less. I've been here a couple of months now, but I try and avoid putting work things on the blog.

  2. In more than 140 characters will allow, thanks so much Ed. My writing is firmly aimed at the general, curious reader, so while I have to keep things simpler than you would probably like, it's very important that it's actually correct. You do deserve a massive fee, but I can only extend to a few scoops I'm afraid. As I mentioned, we're launching the book in the US in September, and there'll be a paperback edition in the UK next year. I'll list you in the acknowledgements of these editions as technical proofreader, and hopefully have chance to buy you this few scoops around GBBF.

    1. That's very kind of you Pete. I know I was laying it on a bit thick with the nerdery!

  3. By Heck! A lot of this is pretty pedantic to say the least.
    Also, a lot of this is "Pete says this, but he could/should also have said this", but this is not a Phd thesis, it's a book aimed at fairly ordinary folk.
    I pretty well every case cited, Pete is focussing on the salient point for clarity, not going off on, slightly irrelevant, tangents.
    You haven't actually identified that many cases where what was written was actually incorrect.

    1. Well you can't say I didn't warn you it was anal retentive nerdery.

  4. Well, you're not arguing, so fair enough, I suppose.
    But really -
    " In mash conversion vessels the mash will be agitated, but if mash tuns are used the mash is not agitated..."
    I know this is what you have to learn to get your IBD exams, but it simply doesn't reflect reality. Brewers don't talk about "mash conversion vessels". Some (trad British) mash tuns just let the mash rest, and some (German/European) mash tuns agitate the mash.
    I could go on and on, but you've more or less conceded the point.......

    1. Clearly your experiences differ from mine! The last brewery I worked at had a Mash Conversion Vessel and a Lauter Tun. The one before that just had a Mash Tun. And that's what they were called. The one I'm currently at is a European system, so I've been calling the first vessel an MCV, though I'm slightly paranoid they actually call it something else now!

  5. Indeed my experience does differ.
    In my 11 years at Meantime I have used four different mash tuns, all of which had agitators, and all of which were called mash tuns.
    I have never heard a brewer talk about mash conversion vessels. Any more than I have ever heard a chef talk about a "peel removal utensil".

    1. Well you have now, that's what they call it in the pilot brewery at Campden BRI.

  6. Ok. Maybe there are chefs who talk about peel removal utensils too.....
    The point is that your comments were very largely disproportionately nit-picking, given the nature of the book that you are discussing.
    But you've more or less conceded that, so let's move on.

  7. Love this review Ed. Hope all is well. Chris

  8. More nerdathon then review, but still, it's good to have a hobby. Things are mostly going, and if I play my cards right I could have the webbing grafted on within the next few months.

  9. I have come to really dislike this “whisky is distilled beer” trope. It’s not true in any but the most simplistic terms. Also, whisky tastes much nicer than distilled beer.

  10. I thank god The Beer Bible is too long for anyone to have attempted this on it.

    However, I'll OCB your OCB. Your comment on 1375 about Guinness is inaccurate. Although I hate to contradict Cornell (whose post I used in The Beer Bible to repeat the same, wrong, information), this isn't true. Guinness did start using roasted barley fairly soon after 1880, though the precise date is not known. I asked the archivist Eibhlin Colgan about this, and she found brewing logs in the late 19th century with barley as an ingredient. She's not sure whether the info she has is complete, however, and can't confirm it wasn't used earlier. Martyn has not visited the archive--or hadn't when he wrote that post--and so hasn't seen these records. But they're there and anyone can see them.

  11. With "roasted barley" as an ingredient that should read.

  12. I agree with your comment about the book taking so long in coming. I paid to be a supporter and did get a few updates from Pete on its status (and his). After many fits and starts, I finally finished it — yesterday. Cheers!