Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Stewards of the Craft

I recently completed a brew session with a couple of first-timers. These guys were the caricature of the modern homebrewer. Their enthusiasm and vigor reminded my why I love making beer. What they lacked in knowledge was offset by the desire to experience this magical procedure in which one turns perfectly good food into even better beer.

I was pleasantly surprised and frankly encouraged when they showed up with notepads and laptops to record each step of the brew. As we entered each phase of the mash, boil, etc., one of them scratched off simple instructions and/or temperature observations while the other pressed the homebrew store manager and me for our opinions and thoughts. These guys recognized and seized a golden opportunity to pick up first-hand knowledge from actual homebrewers. And better yet, they wrote it all down!

It got me thinking back to my first brew on the stove of our rent house, kit recipe in one hand, plastic spoon in the other, and oh... the aroma! I glanced at a few YouTube videos, read an article or two, and came to the conclusion that if I was at a loss for what to do next, surely the recipe would guide me along the path to righteous beer. While it wasn't the worst thing I've ever made, it certainly wasn't award-winning. If I had taken better notes of that session, I could probably pinpoint at which stage(s) I strayed from ideal practices. However, my confidence arrogance yielded a typical first batch that only its creator could love, and that remains the simple truth about the origins of my brewing journey.

I did not know who these first-timers where before we began the batch. They mentioned to the shopkeepers earlier that week that they were interested in participating in a brew session that the store typically hosts every weekend that folks want to brew, and I happened to have a free Saturday. We decided to brew a clone of the ever-popular Fuller's ESB straight out of the Clone Brews book. We made minor hops substitutions based on the store's inventory and adjusted the quantities for a 9 gallon yield (no way I was walking away without some beer!). In a sense, this was session a first for me as well, having only done 5 gallon and smaller batches thus far.

We had a successful brew and walked away with right at 9 gallons of fermentable wort - I took 4 and left them a standard 5 gallon yield. They were remarkably upbeat throughout the experience, and their passion for craft beer and this new frontier of homebrewing drove them right through to the end.

Homebrewers are a tight-knit community. Anybody can enjoy a well-crafted beer, but those of us who take it upon ourselves to create this beer are a rare breed. We come from many different backgrounds, have very different opinions on brewing, and at times we don’t have a whole lot in common with one another. However, one bond that ties us all together is our love for the craft. No matter what we are making, it is our effort to make it the best we can that unifies us all.

I read an article recently on the very popular online resource in which a homebrewer shared his origin in the craft and extolled the virtues of having a proper mentor. It's a short fun article, so go read it. I believe it is imperative for newcomers to find a seasoned brewer and learn all they can from them. Experience is a much better teacher than YouTube. There are whole libraries of books written on the science and art of brewing, but if I may go Texan on y'all for a moment, all that book-learnin' don't mean squat if you ain't actually doin' it!

Get your equipment dirty. Experience a boil-over. Miss your target gravity. Learn how to overcome the many adversities that sneak up on us once in a while. Some of the best Brewers out there aren't just good at coming up with recipes, but they are people who can think on their feet and turn a potentially disastrous brew day into a success.

Brewing good beer is much more than following a recipe. It means knowing the quirks of your setup, knowing and constantly testing your limits, good note-taking, and most importantly sharing this great craft with anyone who wants to know more about it. If anyone you know has expressed an interest in brewing, plan a brew day with them and share the gift.

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