Book Review: Strong Waters

November 5, 2010


When I saw Strong Waters: A Simple Guide to Making Beer, Wine, Cider, and Other Spirited Beverages at Home by Scott Mansfield published this year, I got kind of excited. Here is a book for both me and my beer making husband, I thought.

My first casual flip though the book made it seem normal, and then I got to the cider section, followed by the beer section and then the infusions. First off, Mansfeild is adding sugar to his cider recipes, which will raise the ABV. Most craft cider makers are oppsed to this practice, instead opting for a lower ABV like beer. Secondly, he is only letting it ferment 7 to 10 days, and Peter Mitchell taught me that dessert apple juice should be allowed to sit at least a month, and most books would say six would be optimal.  I’m a tad worried about these recipes still fermenting in the bottle and exploding from pressure.

When it comes to beer, admittedly, I don’t know much about it, but I have observed my husband boiling grain and malt extract for hours, then adding hops in the hop sack and letting that boil for awhile before finally being done. Mansfeild, on the other hand, basically takes just malt extract, sugar (which is rare to find any beer brewer using), water, and yeast. His first recipe actually calls for hopped malt syrup, and I asked my husband about that, and he said that it used to be popular, but is difficult to find with today’s craft beer boom. Basically, Mansfeild is treating his beers like he is making mead by using just syrup. It is not going to taste like a craft beer.

The next chapter is Infusions, in which he gives a brief introduction to what distillation is, with the warning, “This book does not advocate distillation. Not only does it require specialized equipment, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, a poisonous level of methanol… Stills have been also known to catch fire or blow up. Finally, it’s illegal to distill alcohol without a license.” He then moves on to talk about different infusions, such as nocino, limoncello, raspberry liqueur, and a few more. What alarms me is that the last recipe is for absinthe.  Absinthe is a distilled spirit that has gone through periods of being legal to being illegal and back due to the wormwood ingredient containing thujone, which which is a psychedelic drug. I believe that absinthe does not contain enough of the drug to do much damage on its own, but when combined with bad distillation practices that increase toxins such as methanol, it can be dangerous.  Mansfeild puts out a caution that reads, “Prolonged absinthe use can set off headaches, nervousness, and insomnia, and has caused already drunken Swiss farmers to shoot their families. This recipes is included for historic purposes only. Wormwood can be purchased at herb shops.” Historic purposes only, and then he tell people where to buy it, allowing them to make it? That is contradictive! He shouldn’t have even put the recipe in the book, and left absinthe production and education to licensed professionals. I think, as an infusion, it probably would have an increased amount of thujone than legally made absinthe would.

Mansfield has supposedly been fermenting things for 15 years, but he just has me so angry at these three sections that I didn’t even review this book like I normally would. I’m sure he can talk you though equipment needed, processes, cleanliness, and his wine recipes seem to track well. He has a section on beerlike quaffs that even intrigues me, but he scares me with the short cuts he takes in time, ingredients, and safety such as possibly exploding bottles from incomplete fermentation, and also by publishing an absinthe recipe. I just want to call him a quack. I don’t trust him, and I don’t trust this book.

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2 Responses to “Book Review: Strong Waters”

  1. Alisha DiMasi Says:

    Hi Candle Wine,

    I appreciate your book review of Strong Waters, as I am considering purchasing for home brewing needs. What seems unique about this book is the all encompassing topic, which is good for me as I prefer to buy only one book; however, this assumes the author is proficient in all areas of drink making (which we see may not be true). Any other suggestions of books that detail making cider, wine, AND beer in a simple beginners -can-understand way?

    Thanks for any direction.

    Alisha


  2. Alisha,

    Unfortunately, no. Maybe my husband and I should write one!

    First off, let me say that libraries are your friend. Go check some books out before you go and buy one. Also, you are going to need a homebrew supply store, so see what they have and recommend. They might even have pamphlets.

    That said, I recommend “The Joy of Home Winemaking” by Terry Garey, and my husband recommends “How to Brew” by John Palmer (FYI – the 1st edition is completely online at http://www.howtobrew.com/).

    Thing is, if this is going to become a hobby, you want books you can grow and learn from. The book on this review is just a neat novelty that you would do once or twice and be done with it.

    Please feel free to email me at candlewineproject@gmail.com if you have any other questions or so we can find a book that would be good for you.


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