Thursday, April 11, 2013

Book Review: For the Love of Hops by Stan Hieronymus

For the Love of Hops
For the Love of Hops
by Stan Hieronymus
Brewer's Publications, 2012

I suspect it's no coincidence that For the Love of Hops, by Stan Hieronymus, was published so soon after the release of Mitch Steele's volume all about the India Pale Ale. The two books might seem to address the same subject, but there is surprisingly little overlap between them — in fact, they make for perfect companion pieces.

Both books touch on beer history, contemporary trends, and best practice and technique, and both are invaluable for understanding IPAs and how to brew them well. But one might say that Steele's IPA covers the "brain" of the style — its personal history, its reasons for being what it is today, its personality and progression, while For the Love of Hops tackles the heart of the matter: the 'what makes it tick.'

For the Love of Hops isn't really about brewing IPAs, after all — its about hops, not any one style of beer. But I suspect most readers will be reading this book to improve their knowledge and technique for the sake of their hoppy beers. With an entire, detailed chapter devoted to dry-hopping technique (which includes some truly interesting, insider-details on how a few of the big craft players dry hop their beer), For the Love of Hops is still close to being an IPA-brewing manual. I've read complaints suggesting that Steele's IPA didn't get into enough detail about brewing techniques, compared to history, so any readers who felt that way should certainly pick this one up. The level of detail is thorough and impressive, and with sections devoted to the science of hop acids, IBU calculations, skunking, flavor stability, et cetera; there's something here that'll be helpful for every style. This book is as dense with info as a pallet of Citra hops is with aroma. (Feel free to put that on the book jacket of the next edition, Brewer's Publications).

All of which would be great and all, but somewhat less helpful, if the book were a chore to get through. Happily, it is not. I've read some other books on brewing science that I had to tackle in short spurts — the info just piled up too quickly, and stopped absorbing into my feeble, English-major-not-Science-major mind. That's not a knock against any such book, as a heft, dense tome is sometimes what you're looking for. For the Love of Hops manages to be both dense with info and also a compelling read — both profile and research paper — with a surprising amount of narrative behind it. Hieronymus is certainly a gifted writer, demonstrating that hops are an inherently fascinating subject. And undoubtedly, they are, given the personal, cultural history surrounding them. The first few chapters of the book largely deal with hop farming — both agricultural techniques, the art of hop selection, the wonderful and exciting magic of experimental hop breeding programs, and also, the rather fascinating men (and traditions) behind hop farms. People have been growing hops for a while, so it's no wonder that Herionymus manages to craft a narrative to set his science upon, but it's an effective strategy.

Beyond just an excellent and interesting manual of information, For the Love of Hops sometimes reads like a statement of optimism for the industry, and for this miraculous little flower. It's right there in the title, and the passion for the plant is contagious. How many times do you hear about a tiny cottage industry struggling in the wake of our modern industrial world, nearly going extinct, the old traditions fading in the face of corporate homogeneity? How many times does an industry like hop farming experience a sudden, massive explosion of interest and success, new generations swooping in to restore old traditions with passion and fervor? I may sound over-excited, but we live in exciting times. For the Love of Hops captures not only the love for the hops out there today, but makes it clear that the future will grow ever-more-exciting for brewers. Mosaic and Citra and Amarillo are only the tip of the iceberg. This is an immensely useful volume of science and history that comes with an unexpected happy ending.

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