I like Dave Miller. His Homebrewing Guide was the technical manual in the mid-90s and the book that ushered me into all-grain and kegging. He had previously written a number of other books, some of them for what would eventually become Brewers Publications. Then, like many others, became a homebrewer who went pro.
That was more or less the last we heard from Dave in print for a while, until last year’s Brew Like a Pro. Mr. Miller has retired as a pro brewmaster and once again taken up the small spoon; this book is, in his words, “a field report of my reentry into homebrewing.”
The intended audience for the advice and how-to aspects of this book are brand-new homebrewers who are committed to pub-quality output; the author’s instruction to that audience is to skip extract brewing and proceed directly to all-grain, to never mess with bottling, and to buy a keg system and fermentation refrigerator before ever shopping for a kettle. There’s an inescapable logic to this that I can’t argue with – this configuration is the conclusion at which most of those who stick with the hobby for any length of time arrive anyway; if I ever have to start over from scratch, this is exactly what I’d do. However, having worked in homebrew retail for many years, I know that brand-new homebrewers willing to jump that far into the deep end right away are unicorns.
Still, existing AG wonks will probably sit up and take notes as a pro brewer applies commercial brewery process management principles to a five gallon workflow and setup – I did.
After Dave’s autobiographical introduction in chapter 1, the book gives an overview of commercial operations in a brewpub, then devotes a large number of pages to the needed components in an all-grain, draft-beer, temp-controlled homebrewery. Ingredients get a quick rundown, then a well laid-out and clear chapter on “Homebrewing Operations” (basically brew day through forced carbonation) that hearkens back to the Homebrewing Guide. “Advanced techniques” including yeast propagation, lager brewing, decoction mashing and cask-conditioning get a bit of a glossing over ahead of a chapter on DIY projects like a lauter tun, thermowell, and pump speed control.
Brew Like a Pro ends with a recipe chapter that’s deliberately light on recipes, which I find a bit refreshing: this is a book about a utilitarian, workmanlike approach to homebrewing as an endeavor, and the chosen styles reflect that: a couple porters, a brown ale, a blonde ale, Kölsch, pale ale … in a very Zen Master moment in chapter 1, Dave writes:
“Homebrewers often ask me for recipes. Here’s yours: 8 pounds of malt, 1 ounce of hops, 1 packet of yeast. Keep making it until it tastes the same every time.”
That resonates with me, and probably with the aforementioned dedicated AG wonks, too: brewing at any scale is a process-driven craft. Considerations like mash regimen, lauter tun geometry, boiler size, pitch rate, and gap spacing on mill rollers are at least as important as a bill of materials, arguably more. “Know thy system,” we could paraphrase.
Like Gordon Strong’s Brewing Better Beer, this is fundamentally a book about how one dude brews his beer, but with broadly applicable lessons. If you’re already brewing all-grain and kegging your product, this book won’t teach you much new in the way of new techniques. But even if you already have a dream system, even if you already have your brew day down, there’s something here to be gleaned, even if it’s just validation that you’re doing it right.