Five Retrospectives From a Year of Homebrewing
My first brew was in September of 2014. It’s now November of 2014 and I’m preparing on brew #12. Since starting into the hobby, I’ve read all or parts of a handful of books, hundreds of blog posts, and probably thousands of postings on Reddit, Homebrew Talk, and other message boards or forums.
1. Always Be Mindful of Who You’re Brewing For: YOU
One of my least favorite beers is the one I brewed for the Brew United competition. It is the highest scoring beer I’ve ever made. I’ve given lots of it away. Lots of people seem to like it. I don’t. I have at least 2 6-packs of this stuff sitting on my storage shelves and one bottle in my fridge occasionally. I brewed it because I thought I liked Kölsch beer and to try something different. It was an experiment of sorts, but I didn’t really have ME in mind when I brewed it.
My IPAs aren’t brewed for anyone but me. Consequently, they are the least-shared and fastest consumed.
2. Be Above Craft Beer Elitism
Maybe a week before I wrote this, Ballast Point sold. I’ve seen good reactions and bad, with one prominent brewer saying that they will remove them from their bars. I guess their bars don’t carry Goose Island or Kona Brewing, either. The same people gave Lagunitas the same shit. And Founders.
I understand there are things that happen with profits when we buy non-craft beer. And I understand the drink-local attitude. But don’t be so pretentious to put down good beer (like Sculpin, KBS, CBS, and nearly everything else by Founders) over some definition that doesn’t actually include ‘good beer’. Yes, some AB-SAB-InBev-owned products are actually good. Personally, I’ve tried a lot of stuff from Goose Island once. Some more than once (I’d take Goose Island over Bud Light!), and some I have my eye on.
3. Read With Caution
I’ve noted above that I’ve read hundreds of articles and blog posts. I read about both homebrewing and the craft beer business. I’m on Reddit Homebrewing all the time – I rarely post but I read (and have learned) a ton. There’s hundreds of posts that will tell you that you must do certain things to ensure good beer. Most of it is right – for example, I recall one that includes “healthy fermentation” by using yeast starters – definitely smart in very many cases. Some is less right – for example, I recall one (possibly the same list) that said to control fermentation temperatures using something like a fermentation chamber or device – not necessary in all cases. Many homebrewers in the midwest have basements that will maintain a fairly stable 65-70 degrees (although it helps to ensure that is the case).
Additionally, I’ve read things ripping on malt extracts. While I do not use them, if you’re happy with the beer with them, use them. I’ve brewed a very good IPA using all DME with some carapils steeped. There is a different skill to using malt extracts, and it is one that deserves a little more respect. And I say that as an all grain brewer.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment, But Do So Intelligently
My first experiment was a stout that I split and fermented in two batches, one with vanilla and the other with coffee. Both had a bitter cocoa bar added to the boil. It was a failure.
After that, I decided to be smart about experimentation. I bought a 1 gallon carboy. Occasionally, I rack a gallon of a base beer off into it when bottling (the rest of the batch gets bottled). The first experiment was a Saison with brettanomyces added. The second (which is currently in the carboy) is a cherry stout. If something goes bad, I’m out a gallon, not 5. Of course, as Murphy would have it, I haven’t had a bad batch come out of the 1 gallon experiment carboy!
5. Don’t Stop Brewing
A kitten dies when a homebrewer stops brewing. Don’t be that guy. If you’re in a slump, look at the BJCP style contents and brew something new. Brew something different. Brew something that isn’t beer (root beer, wine, kombucha). Experiment. But don’t stop.