I have been home brewing now in one form or another for around 7-8 years. I have settled into a way of making beer that I can now do on autopilot, it’s a process that I’m happy with and I consistently brew a beer that I enjoy. It wasn’t always like this. When I started I was constantly worrying that I had done something wrong, stressing over technique and being so overly thorough about things that my brew days would be several hours longer than they needed to be.
Information Overload When You Start Brewing
When you first start home brewing everything is a challenge or unknown to a certain extent. I didn’t read a whole lot about brewing beer before I made my first batch. It was an extract beer with a little crystal malt steeped for half an hour and a combination of English Hops thrown in. I didn’t know anything about what malt extract was, what crystal malt was or how either were made (I just found a recipe, got the ingredients and made the beer). It turned out to taste exactly like beer, not particularly spectacular beer but still beer.
Brewing Is Not All About The Details, It’s Also An Art
One thing I find amazing about home brewers is their appetite to learn and understand every single detail about the beer making process. Past the point of being able to brew a beer a lot of information that brewers learn can be pretty technical and scientific and often not really necessary because, after all, you are making beer for yourself, it’s not a commercial brewery.
A lot of the information someone new to homebrewing reads online is over complicated because those already good at home brewing include all the technicalities and data relating to a recipe or brewing process they are talking about. This makes it pretty difficult for someone new to brewing to know where to start
When compared to other home based food production such as bread making you don’t really see so much focus on technical detail and minutiae. I bake my own bread a couple of times a month and I’m sure a lot of other people do as well with not much idea about the scientific principles that are happening. OK, so I know a bit about what the yeast in my bread dough is doing but only because of my beer making background. I’m not entirely sure how gluten works or why steam in the oven affects the crust. I’m also not really that bothered because the bread taste good and the texture is great.
The point I’m trying to make is that for hundreds and hundred of years people knew very little or nothing about things like yeast, enzymes, proteins and the various compounds in beer. All the knowledge that went into making beer was found through trial, error and repeated brewing of beers over many, many years. All of this was often on a commercial scale let a alone on a home brew scale.
Practice Brewing Rather Than Dwelling On The Details
It seems today however people can’t make a beer without performing hundred of calculations using software, home brewers aren’t happy knowing a beer will be blonde, ruby coloured or pitch black we need to know the exact SRM to a decimal point.
Let me give you an example, the first loaf of bread I made turned out more like a brick than a light and fluffy loaf. I did the recipe, again and again, altering the amount of time I spent kneading and the time and temperature I left it to prove. Soon enough I was able to make a loaf that was on par with one from a bakery. All of this was with trial and error
Some of the best beers I’ve made have come from recipes I’ve brewed again and again with minor tweaks until I got it just right. After a few times of brewing the same recipe, I ended up forgetting the technical details about it and started focussing on the beer as a whole. I relied more on handwritten notes from the previous beer and trying out new things and run no additional calculations at all. I made the beer on autopilot and adjusted a few minor things.
Think of beers like traditional farmhouse style beers and how they would have been made hundreds of years ago. They rely mainly on craft and making the best use of what’s available in terms of ingredients with little need to understand the technical processes. The same type of beer is made every year and after all those years it becomes a unique beer all of its own.
I think this is something more home brewers should try and incorporate into their beer making.
Asking a first-time brewer to understand all the enzymatic activities that occur in the mash or various flavour compounds that are found in beer and it soon becomes too much. Give them a recipe though and give them options on malts, hops and flavours and it’s much more of a creative process.
Knowledge Is Good, Practice Is Better
I’m not saying that all this extra understanding is a bad thing, it is most certainly not. It obviously helps a brewer to make more informed decisions and when you understand the principles behind something you ultimately have more control. It is also necessary to progress from those early stages of beer making into more advanced areas and understanding how you can get a beer tasting a certain way.
What if however you didn’t rely so heavily on software, calculators and reference guides and rely more on experience and practice. As I mentioned before home brewers aren’t the same as commercial brewers, there are no financial constraints on the beer a home brewer makes, plus, there is only one person to please.
Take one of your beer recipes you’ve brewed previously and make it again or find a recipe online that has plenty of positive feedback, tweak a few things you think will make the beer better and note it down so you can repeat it next time. It’s this kind of thing that will make your beers truly unique. Inject a bit more art into your brewing and learn a bit about the process through actually brewing.