The Imperfect Pastor [A Book Review]

The Imperfect PastorPost-apocalyptic movies always begin the same way. The scene opens upon the heels of catastrophe—all of humanity’s best laid plans have quite literally exploded around us, and the few survivors are left to pull together what remains and eke out some semblance of meaning and purpose from the ashes.

So call Zack Eswine’s latest book, The Imperfect Pastor, something like a post-apocalyptic pastoral theology. Having experienced desolation himself, both personal and pastoral, Eswine forges a way forward for pastors in the far from perfect world we live in. Simply put, he explores the calling we pursue (part 1), the temptations we face (part 2), reshaping our inner life (part 3), and reshaping the work we do (part 4).

What is immediately striking about the book is its tone. There are many books in pastoral theology today promising seven steps to a better church, or the secret key to unlocking ministry leadership potential in order to grow your church tenfold. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are many other books that react against this sort of “Leadership Industrial Complex” (to quote Jared Wilson) with uneasiness, distrust, and even cynicism. Having seen such grand promises fall through, the second sort of book warns the reader against the church growth movement and its allurement. While they rightly (in my opinion) point out the errors of the first, few go so far as to chart a practical way forward.

This is what is remarkable about Eswine’s work: his own personal disasters and disillusionment with chasing “professional” ministry seem to have chastened him and created in him a humble wisdom that is grateful for small things. What does pastoral ministry look like without speaking platforms, book deals, podcasts, and networks? What is a pastor to think when his church is not large, influential, strategic, or well-known? Consider these words:

We have trouble seeing how it is glorifying to God to eat food, learn to love, go to bed, and get up the next day for the same old work. The thought of living and ministering in one or two unknown and ordinary places for fifty years and then going home to be with the Lord feels like death. Of what account to God is an ordinary life in the grain fields?

As Eswine painted ever more clearly his picture of ministry, my heart kept saying, “Yes!” The cult of personality that the pastorate has become is neither good nor safe. Furthermore, it is hard to reconcile pastoral platform-building with, say, the attitude of John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). Eswine speaks an encouraging word to the majority of pastors in the world laboring in small congregations in the middle of nowhere, helping them shepherd their flocks with practical advice about how to care for the sick and how to handle well-meaning but hurtful comparisons to the former pastor.

If the book has any weaknesses, it is in its verbosity. Sometimes Eswine says in ten words what he could say in two. Notwithstanding, The Imperfect Pastor is a thought-provoking, incisive, and valuable meditation on what it means to be a pastor. I had something to gain by sitting at Eswine’s feet, and I trust that many others will, too.

You can pick up a paper copy of the book from Amazon for $15, or from WTS Books for the same price.

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.

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The Bible Story Handbook: a Resource for Teaching 175 Stories from the Bible [A Review]

The Bible Story Handbook is a useful tool that I’m glad to have on my bookshelf. I envision myself referring to this book in all my future teaching of Scripture.

My wife and I are big readers, and a little while ago she reviewed a cookbook here. We have a young son whom we wish to teach the Bible to, and so when we had the opportunity to read and review John Walton’s Bible Story Handbook, she decided to look it over to see if it would be a good resource for us.

One love that I very dearly hope to pass on to my child is a love for the Word of God. And yet, as I interact with my eleven-month-old son, I often find myself looking for fresh insights on how to do this. How can I effectively teach a small child (who understands very little about the world to begin with) the deep and precious truths of the Bible that still teach and challenge me daily? In their resource, The Bible Story Handbook, John and Kim Walton offer guidance to parents and children’s ministry volunteers in thinking through the weighty task of teaching the Bible to children.

The Bible Story Handbook consists mainly of case-by-case analyses of 175 Bible stories, designed to be referenced as needed. Each analysis includes key points of focus and application for the Bible story lesson, as well as brief essays on biblical context, interpretational issues, background information, and mistakes to avoid. Before jumping into this index of stories, though, the Waltons offer three general articles discussing the purpose of teaching the Bible to children, and asserting what they believe to be the right and wrong ways to accomplish it.

These front articles are, in my opinion, as essential to the book as the story surveys themselves. The articles guide the reader to consider the self-revelation of God’s glory found in the Bible, and then to note common fallacies in children’s curricula that present the text in ways that fall far short of this glory. While I do not necessarily agree with all of the Waltons’ conclusions in these articles, they are certainly instructive for any parent or Sunday school teacher in recognizing foolish ways we try to make Bible stories more relevant and digestible to children… and, in doing so, how we wrongly water down the truth of God! Instead, the Waltons encourage us to “allow the text to set the agenda, to speak for itself.” The subsequent Bible story analyses aim to do just that, carefully studying each story in pursuit of the truth God intends to reveal about Himself.

The structure of this book is what I would deem to be its greatest weakness. In addition to some distracting typos and layout issues (at least in the Kindle edition), I found myself wishing that the story analysis sections had been ordered quite differently, so that the background, context, and discussion of interpretational issues were treated first and built up logically to the summaries of lesson focus and application. With the lesson focus and application summaries at the top of each synopsis, it feels like the authors are asking the reader to simply trust their conclusions rather than taking a more inductive approach that includes the reader in the exegetical process. I would have loved to see more detailed explanations of each story – but of course that would have called for a much larger book and is, after all, what commentaries are for. Besides, it would sort of defeat the purpose of having a concise Bible story reference.

Even with these structural challenges, a copy of The Bible Story Handbook is a useful tool that I’m glad to have on my bookshelf. I envision myself referring to this book in all my future teaching of Scripture (directed to children or anyone else), both for its exegetical insight on specific stories and for the principles of correctly handling the word of truth. Whether or not you agree with all of the Waltons’ reasoning, the book is certainly thought-provoking and will at least guide you in the right direction.

You can pick up a hard copy of the book from Amazon for $18, or for $10 on Kindle.

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.

The River Cottage Booze Handbook [a review]

From rose hip vodka to green walnut grappa, from elder flower and gooseberry wine to blackberry cider, from puffed wheat beer to dandelion and burdock beer, it is clear that alcohol is really something of an art form for Wright. These brews are intended to stand out from the crowded shelf of normalcy.

Just about anything in this world can be transformed into a delicious alcoholic beverage, if you know what you’re doing. That is precisely the message of John Wright’s new River Cottage Booze Handbook. As the title perhaps implies, the booze culture of Wright’s world is more akin to Hobbits in hobbit-holes or Redwallian friar mice in forest abbeys. His passion is for the forageable fruits, nuts, berries, leaves, and roots you can pick for yourself in the wild, and the delightful concoctions you can then make from them for next to nothing.

The book is a series of recipes for the most unusual and delightful drinks, divided up into four categories: infusions, wine, cider, and beer. From rose hip vodka to green walnut grappa, from elder flower and gooseberry wine to blackberry cider, from puffed wheat beer to dandelion and burdock beer, it is clear that alcohol is really something of an art form for Wright. These brews are intended to stand out from the crowded shelf of normalcy.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding, and the true test here is whether these recipes are truly drinkable. Since the mint patch in my backyard is in season right now, I decided to follow Wright’s recipe for Watermint Vodka (67). My variety is actually chocolate mint, but the infusion was simple to make and turned out quite well within just a couple hours. (I decided to get a little crazy, however, and add some lemon thyme leaves after a few hours. I wouldn’t recommend it–the resulting flavor was close to cough syrup.)

One of my favorite parts of the book is Wright’s discussion on each recipe. Sometimes he offers tips on where to find various ingredients and how to identify them in the wild, or what sort of cocktails you might make, or how to maintain the correct specific gravity when adding high water content ingredients. All the while he maintains a wonderfully dry sense of humor.

The one downside to the Booze Handbook is that Wright is English, and the book is really aimed at the UK. Though the edition I am reviewing here is the US edition, there are plenty of terms that Wright uses that are unfamiliar to me as an American reader. This gets most problematic when certain ingredients don’t even grow (natively) in the US, such as Alexanders. One might expect that in a US edition of a book like this, substitutions would have been made.

Notwithstanding, this book is a pleasing collection of recipes, many of which I intend to try soon. The hardcover edition is gorgeous, with innumerable high quality photographs, thick paper, and a rugged binding. I would recommend it if you enjoy crafting your own beverages from raw ingredients and you’re comfortable with the necessity of figuring out substitutions for UK-native ingredients.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon for $16.

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.

Pure Food: Eat Clean With Seasonal, Plant-Based Recipes [a review]

My wife and I have been experimenting in the kitchen for the past few years, looking through various cookbooks and trying new recipes. She’s been doing the lion’s share of the cooking lately, and so the following review is written by her.

Two topics that we frequently consider in our home are the importance of healthy eating and the elements of a wise diet. A quick look at the news or a Portlandia episode confirms that we are not alone in this; many Americans are seeking to be more intentional with what goes on their tables, and many are contributing their own conclusions to the national conversation. One such voice is Veronica Bosgraaf with her new book, Pure Food: Eat Clean with Seasonal, Plant-Based Recipes.

Bosgraaf, founder of Pure Bar (a line of organic fruit- and nut-based snacks) offers a collection of recipes that is, as the title suggests, full of pure and fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains creatively combined to yield maximum nutrition. These recipes are organized seasonally, with each month holding its own chapter—a unique and useful feature when working primarily with fresh produce. She is a decided advocate for local, seasonal, organic, non-GMO, “real food,” as she passionately describes in her introduction, and she firmly champions the reader’s ability to cook this “real food” in fabulous ways. These two convictions sound clearly throughout all pages of the book.

My favorite characteristic about Pure Food is that it reads as a sort of Cookbook Plus. Each recipe is supplemented with reflective commentary on its inspiration or on the health benefits of certain ingredients. Bosgraaf also provides many tips with thoughts on broader topics related to health and green living. These side notes lend the book a fun and personal flavor, as if you’re sitting in Veronica Bosgraaf’s kitchen listening to her gush about the interesting food she’s just served you. Additionally, the notes are quite informative and thought-provoking; Pure Food is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to examine their practices in the kitchen. For example,

  • Is it really best to buy only organic, non-GMO foods?
  • How can fresh and healthy foods be increasingly incorporated into one’s daily diet?
  • How does food play into one’s way of life throughout the year?

As for the backbone of any cookbook—the recipes—I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the recipes I tried were clear and simple, and I felt confident following them. On the other hand, I have three hesitations about her recipes. First, many of them strike me as somewhat strange and acquired tastes—and we already strive to follow a health-conscious diet! For someone looking to take first steps from meat and potatoes to a more natural, plant-based diet, these recipes seem like they would be quite a stretch; at the very least, they would need to be incorporated into one’s meal plan one or two at a time. One potential difficulty is that many of the ingredients in Pure Food’s recipes are only available at health food stores. This ushers in my second hesitation: Bosgraaf urges a diet that tends to be fairly expensive. Unless you’re already willing to pay the price for “real food,” you will need to grapple with your food priorities and finances in order to cook from this book. My third hesitation with these recipes is that they generally lack common plant-based proteins like beans, soy, and seitan. Bosgraaf actually argues that the plant sources she uses provide sufficient protein. But I’m a nursing mother and runner, and the recipes I tried were too insubstantial to keep me full for long.

On the whole, Pure Food is a stimulating cookbook that encourages readers down the valuable path of healthier living. Although you may need to add some protein here and there or substitute some less expensive (and less healthy) ingredients, Veronica Bosgraaf’s cookbook will inspire you to go on creative and nutritious adventures in your kitchen.

You can pick up the book from Amazon for $16.

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.

Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment [A Book Review]

Allison offers concise, exegetically specific reasons why a certain Catholic doctrine is wanting. If there is substantial agreement, on the other hand, he says so.

Roman Catholic Theology: An Evangelical AssessmentCatholic theology, to the average outsider, is a mysterium tremendum. Being an evangelical and somewhat of a theology geek myself, I’ve always been curious to know what Catholics really believe—to cut through the layers of misinformation, Protestant biases, and sheer hearsay. Such a curiosity is only sated by a comprehensive, systematic overview: it wouldn’t do to simply learn about the immaculate conception of Mary, for example, without understanding the overarching framework in which it makes sense. As luck would have it, that is precisely the project that Theologian Gregg Allison has recently accomplished.

In his work Roman Catholic Theology and Practice: An Evangelical Assessment, he walks through the Catholic Catechism offering a brief summary of each doctrine without comment. After each summary he then presents an Evangelical response wherein he weighs both points of agreement and departure between the two theological perspectives. Though Allison himself comes from a Reformed perspective, he strives to speak for the entire Evangelical ecosystem, giving every side of a doctrine where intramural disagreement exists.

What is the value of such a book? Perhaps those who would be most inclined to pick up a reference like this are not simply those who have an academic curiosity like myself, but those who live on the social border to Catholicism. Whether it’s a friend or a relative or a coworker, we all likely know someone who is Catholic. This book aims to help you engage in more fruitful dialog with them by having an accurate portrayal of their belief system. Though one could read straight through the whole thing, I envisage a reader picking it up and flipping to a specific section to read up either before or after a conversation with a Catholic.

The book’s strength lies in Allison’s Evangelical response sections: he strikes me as being fair-handed with both sides (of course, I’m biased to agree with him) yet he offers concise, exegetically specific reasons why a certain Catholic doctrine is wanting. If there is substantial agreement, he says so. I especially appreciate that he maintains a charitable tone throughout, as Evangelicals can tend to become rather vitriolic and unnecessarily offensive when dealing with those Papists.

One potential weakness of the book is its highly intricate structure. Given the complexity of the task at hand, Allison does an admirable job of keeping the book as simple as possible, but a brief perusal of the table of contents can be a bit daunting. Nonetheless, I would heartily recommend this work to anyone who has a reason to know what Catholics believe in contrast to Evangelical Orthodoxy. Secondarily, a Catholic who wonders what Evangelical Protestants are all about might benefit from it as well.

You can pick up the book from Amazon for $23 ($12.50 on Kindle) or from Westminster Books for approximately the same price.

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of a fair, unbiased review.

Noah: Reflections

While Aronofsky might not have gotten some of the details right on the Noahic plotline, in my opinion he absolutely nailed the Bible’s emotional stance on evil. I’ve typically found among us evangelical types that we’re generally okay with movies as long as they don’t have sex scenes or four-letter words, but when it comes to glamorously portraying horrifically graphic violence or greed (for instance), we don’t bat an eye.

Noah came out on Redbox a little while ago, so my brother and I rented it the other night to see what all the hubbub is about. The basic overview of the movie that I heard from others was, “Sweet special effects, very unbiblical plotline.” I guess that’s basically an accurate assessment, but I thought the cinematography felt like it was straight out of a 1980’s PBS docudrama. At any rate, I did find the movie to be compelling and interesting in some ways, and I wanted to share a few thoughts here.

The Unpleasantness of Evil

While Aronofsky might not have gotten some of the details right on the Noahic plotline, in my opinion he absolutely nailed the Bible’s emotional stance on evil. I’ve typically found among us evangelical types that we’re generally okay with movies as long as they don’t have sex scenes or four-letter words, but when it comes to glamorously portraying horrifically graphic violence or greed (for instance), we don’t bat an eye.

I’ll quit using the royal We and own up to the fact that I’m talking about myself, first and foremost. I’m a sucker for an action flick, especially of the sci-fi/fantasy variety, and I think that a good fight scene is sweet. (Return of the King, anyone?)

Aronofsky’s Noah, however, forces me to face an unpleasant question: why am I so squeamish about a steamy sex scene and yet perfectly unperturbed by mass killings and malicious vengeance? Perhaps it’s because I know that nobody is actually being killed whereas those actors are actually doing it in the bedroom. That argument feels a bit thin to me, though. If I dig deeper, perhaps it’s because sexual sin is a little bit closer to home for me, and because it’s generally held as the worst of sins in the evangelical imagination. Perhaps it’s also partly due to the fact that I’m a quiet, introverted twenty-something living in a small town and working a day job and the evil of violence seems so far removed from me that I can watch it safely without becoming some sort of sociopath. Sex and cussing, on the other hand, are much more viable possibilities so I stray far from them.

Is that true? It’s disturbing to realize that the only factor that makes the viewing of sin wrong is whether it would cause me to emulate it. Are there other side-effects of visually engaging in graphic depictions of sin? Porn numbs us to the intimacy, delicacy, and utter humanity of sex and objectifies it into a product, a commodity, a drug that gets us high and satisfies us for a little while until we need our next hit. Movies like the Saw series have been labelled “Torture Porn” because they do the exact same things, except for with violence rather than sex. Most action flicks today could probably be labelled softcore torture porn with some degree of legitimacy, because we’re watching our fellow humans being slaughtered by the thousands and millions and saying, “Wow man! That was siiiick!

This is precisely where Aronofsky punches me in the stomach. When Ham returns from Tubal-Cain’s encampment with a wife, I thought to myself, “Okay, so this is how Aronofsky is going to tie up that plot point.” But then her foot gets caught in a bear trap in the woods and she gets trampled to death by the slavering hordes of humanity. It’s a jarring scene: “Wait, hold on a second. Did that just happen?” A human life is snuffed out with a boot to the head just like that, and Aronofsky is not trying to paint it as “cool” at all. It’s just plain horrific. Like violence probably should be.

Hordes of Humanity

As the waters rise and people pathetically cling to the highest rocks for dear life, they are dashed by massive waves that rip their fragile little bodies off of handholds and drop them down into sickening piles of dead humans. Their attempts at self-preservation are, in the end, utterly futile. Though they see themselves as the captains of their own fates, in reality they have no more power over their lives than an ant in the hands of a child with a magnifying glass.

Violence, in Aronofsky’s lens, is evil. Irredeemably so. It cannot be refashioned into entertainment. It cannot be recast in the mold of coolness. It’s just horrific. Jarring. It leaves us aghast.

“‘Who among us can dwell with the consuming fire?

Who among us can dwell with everlasting burnings?’

He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly,

who despises the gain of oppressions,

who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed

and shuts his eyes from looking on evil.”

Isaiah 33:14-15

Who indeed? We incline our ears and open our eyes to evil, and look on deliciously.

An Uncomfortably Silent God

Picture Jesus in your mind’s eye for a moment. Chances are, you’re thinking of the same image I am: white, air-brushed cheeks, a lush beard, gently cascading locks of slightly curly brown hair, blue eyes. It’s the one hanging in the 1950s frame in your pastor’s study. The image is utterly ridiculous; Jesus was Palestinian, and I’m betting he didn’t use conditioner to keep his hair sumptuous. Yet this is our picture of Jesus, not because it’s who he actually was, but because it’s who we imagine he might be within our own culture.

Aronofsky’s antediluvian world is much the same–he has painted the picture not as it was, but as it would be today. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the God of the film (referred to as “The Creator”). This creator is silent, aloof, and dispassionate. When people pray to him, he doesn’t say anything in return. In other words, this is not the God of the Old Testament who was tangible in burning bush and parted sea. Instead, he’s God as twenty-first century Americans sense him.

I must confess that I relate: sometimes when I pray, I find myself thinking about how crazy I am. I’m sitting in a room by myself speaking aloud or silently, assuming that there is a God who exists and even hears me. Further, he drops everything he’s doing the moment I begin praying so that he can diligently take notes on all my selfish requests. Then when my friend’s aunt’s co-worker succumbs to cancer anyway, I say, “God, why? I prayed for healing and you didn’t do it!”

Tubal-Cain is the master of his own fate.
Tubal-Cain is the master of his own fate.

There’s a poignant scene in the movie when Tubal-Cain goes into his tent and, awkwardly semi-kneeling, begins to pray: “God! Where are you? Why will you never speak?” It’s the same lament of forsaken abandonment that we find in the Psalms. Whether Tubal-Cain actually prayed that or not is irrelevant for Aronofsky; his intent is to portray with artistic flourish what men and women feel about God today.

When Tubal-Cain leaves his tent, he resolutely sets his face against the harsh truth of the world. It doesn’t matter if God exists or not, because he’s proved that he won’t help. Humanity must be assertive and forceful to live.

The Creator is little better for Noah. The most explicit he gets is cryptic, abstract dream sequences from which Noah deduces that disaster is approaching, and he must build a boat to rescue all the animals of the world. This Creator is loathe to provide detailed blueprints, and Noah must figure the details out himself. He understands that the reason for destruction is the evil that so dominates the world, but he has no express word from God to explain why he and his family would be permitted to survive. Given the latent proclivity toward evil that he sees in his own soul and those of his family, Noah logically proceeds to the conclusion: they are allowed to survive the flood in order to take care of the animals, but they too are deserving of death. None of them are spotless. All of them have fallen short. Noah must ensure that his family line dies out. Without revelation, people perish.

A Deepened Compassion

Aronofsky did not stick unswervingly to the biblical narrative, but I don’t understand why we would assume he would. He is an atheist, and he has no evangelical commitment to biblical inerrancy. His goal was to say something true about the world as it is today through the power of visual storytelling. And he did. We evangelicals might be wise to let him disciple us about how to actually be disturbed by sin, and to see it as evil rather than as tsk-tsk-sigh taboo. Does evil feel evil? Is it horrifying and terrible? Or merely socially reprehensible?

I walk away from Noah with a deepened sense of compassion for those who live and move and have their being in an AD world with a BC defining narrative. For them, Noah is not fiction, but fact. To live in a world where you’re under the impression that you must make your own way is lonely, terrifying, and dehumanizing. Now that is a world that needs a savior.

Make Some Beer [A Review]

“Craft beer is like wine these days,” my brother offhandedly remarked to me “It’s crazy how many options there are.”

I grew up on the front range of Colorado, which is basically micro brew mecca. It’s weird if your town doesn’t have a brewery. Call me spoiled, but I never have a good reason to drink Bud or Heineken or Corona when I multiple excellent breweries within minutes of my home.

Make Some Beer

Beer means many different things to many different people; to some, it’s a picture of laziness and indolence. To others, it’s the specter that haunts homes and destroys families. I want to acknowledge that these images are based in sad reality, but for me it’s never carried that connotation. I grew up in a home and a community that was very moderate for the most part. After all, if you’re going to buy craft beer, you’re drinking for pleasure and taste rather than to just get smashed.

When I turned 21 and began to learn about the intricacies of beer, I became utterly fascinated. At first it was fun to just try new beers, but as time passed I became interested in homebrewing. My dad brewed occasionally when I was growing up and my roommate at the end of college brewed all the time, sometimes successfully and sometimes less so. (His pumpkin ale was incredible, while his espresso stout with juniper was… less incredible.) 

When I graduated from college and moved out of that house, two of my roommates and I decided to pool our returned security deposit money and invest in a brew kettle, some buckets, hoses, air locks, and the whole nine yards. We started with a simple amber ale kit which turned out okay, and then a few months later we tried making a brown ale. Also just okay. But with a few home brews under my belt now, I wanted to venture into more interesting beers but didn’t know where to start.

About a month and a half ago, I saw Make Some Beer: Small-Batch Recipes From Brooklyn to Bamberg by Erica Shea and Stephen Valand online, and it’s basically a beer cook book. Shea and Valand are the founders of Brooklyn BrewShop, a supplier for hobbyist brewers in NYC. They specialize in small-batch beers, meaning 1-gallon quantities rather than the usual 5-gallon. You might ask yourself, “That hardly seems worth it! Isn’t that a lot of effort for a microscopic amount of beer?” I admit that I was surprised at first, but there are (at least) four advantages to such a small-batch approach:

  1. You can brew it on your stove with normal kitchen implements
  2. You can test out a recipe to see if you like it before brewing a gazillion bottles of it
  3. It’s a comparatively small investment
  4. It’s a smaller amount of malt, and thus a little bit more manageable

Certainly the disadvantage is the economy of scale, because you put in almost the same amount of effort as you would for five gallons, but you get significantly less output. The other challenge is that most brew shops sell hops and yeast prepackaged for 5-gal recipes, so you’ll have to do a little more measuring. I would definitely still recommend trying it out, though.

I convinced my brother to try a couple recipes with me, so we brewed a Bruxelles Blonde and a Farmhouse Ale in the same day. The recipes are clear and easy to follow, and if you want to scale up to a 5-gal batch they offer adjustments at the end of each recipe. They were done fermenting two weeks ago, so we bottled them up. They obviously hadn’t carbed up yet, but I was flat-out impressed with how well the flavors turned out. We didn’t have a good way to measure out the hops and yeast very precisely, so I was worried that the beers would taste really screwy. The Blonde tasted perfect, but we must have added a little too much hops to the Farmhouse. When we popped them open this weekend for Labor Day, they had carbed up pretty well. We probably could have been a little more generous with the sugar, but it wasn’t bad. The farmhouse ale still tasted a bit off, but we’re going to let the rest of the bottles sit for a while longer and see if that helps.

Though the proof of a book like this is in how good the beer is, I also wanted to offer a few comments about the book itself (and not just the beer I made from it).

The actual review part of this review

The recipes are dead easy to follow, even for a guy like me who’s relatively new to the homebrew scene. If you’ve ever cracked open a cook book, this will be what you might expect. The book is divided up into the four seasons, and for each season they provide a generous helping of appropriate beers from breweries all over the country and the world ranging from common (the Bruxelles Blond we tried is just your average Belgian) to crazy (a Bacon Dubbel from Pisgah Brewing or a hop-less Dandelion Gruit from Upright Brewing). 

Another neat feature of the book is a selection of (food) recipes at the end of each seasonal section that complement a certain beer or use the spent grain somehow (I plan on trying out their spent grain no-rise pizza dough). I found to be especially helpful a spent grain primer (p. 56) that explains how to use the spent grain while it’s still wet, how to dry it out, mill it, freeze it, or compost it. 

If you need it, they offer a quick refresher on how to brew beer at the beginning (p. 12) as well as a list of brewing equipment and ingredients. If you’ve never brewed beer before, you’ll probably want to find something additional to learn more about the process. They also have an excellent reference guide to common hops that shows where they are from, their relative bitterness, and tasting notes. It’s a great tool if you want to start branching out and creating your own recipes.

I only have a couple quibbles, and they are relatively minor. First, it’s bound as a paperback which is a frustrating choice for a cookbook–it doesn’t stay flat when you lay it on the table. When your hands are covered with sticky malts, you don’t want to be worrying about opening up to the right page. Though it would cost more, a hardcover or spiral-bound edition would be more helpful. 

Second, the table of contents is less than helpful. It gives page numbers for each season, but not for each individual beer. It’s not the end of the world, and you can flip around and find the page quickly enough, but it’s just not very helpful as far as tables of contents go. Plus, the spent grain primer isn’t even listed at all!

Conclusion

At the end of the day, Make Some Beer is a really helpful beer cookbook for the amateur home brewer who wants to try out some interesting new beers. I wouldn’t recommend it to the complete novice, but if you’re fairly familiar with the brewing process then it should prove to be an excellent resource for you. Brewers more experienced than I would probably find it less helpful except to get some new ideas.

You can find Make Some Beer on Amazon for $15.

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.