As I write these words in my first ever blog post it’s becoming increasingly obvious that I am way out of my depth. Please bear with me while I get my blogging sea legs, and thanks for your patience.
Having said that, for my inaugural post, I’d like to discuss my brewing philosophy, if there is any such thing. Mine has two elements:
- Keep it simple
- Do what makes you happy
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” —Leonardo Da Vinci
Home brewing can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. Part of the appeal of home brewing is that no matter where you fall along the simple-to-complex spectrum, you can make your own brewing process distinctly yours. Some of us are obsessive data collectors and number crunchers; others prefer a more ‘organic’ fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach. Some like the challenge posed by mutli-step mashing, while others prefer the simple single-step infusion. Some design recipes with long (and often bizarre) ingredient lists, while others keep their ingredients to a minimum. And some—maybe most—find a balance somewhere in between.
My own philosophy is to keep it as simple as possible . Some recipes can definitely benefit from complex procedures, such as decoction or multi-step infusion mashes. Some require long lists of ingredients. The individual recipe really dictates the degree of complexity required for a particular batch. But for the vast majority of recipes an average home brewer might attempt, simple procedures are often a better choice than more complex ones.
Simple recipes require simple procedures, and simple procedures translate into fewer opportunities for mistakes. It’s only after mistakes have been minimized that consistency begins to emerge. I don’t mean consistency in the sense of always brewing the same recipes using the same procedures. Rather, I’m talking about the kind of consistency that allows a home brewer to develop his/her own style. This is the kind of consistency where people can taste one of your beers and know it was made by you. It’s your signature, batch after batch.
Simplicity and consistency also affords a brewer an opportunity to manipulate variables and make accurate predictions about the effect those manipulations will have on the final product. With each additional step in the process, and each new ingredient added to the recipe, a small measure of uncertainty is introduced. The cumulative effect of all of these uncertainties leads to unpredictable results in the finished beer. The best way to ensure consistent and predictable outcomes is to simplify your process.
“Happiness is a way station between too little and too much.” —Channing Pollock
But at the end of the day, home brewing is a hobby. It’s what we do in our spare time. It’s what my wife and I call ‘Zen time.’ It’s a creative outlet that provides us beer in the end. There’s nothing wrong tossing caution to the wind from time to time and be surprised by the result. It’s part of the fun of it all. And that’s why the second element of my brewing philosophy is to do what makes you happy.
I think there is a definite place for serendipity in home brewing, especially in the creative process. In my early brewing days, caution was thrown to the wind more often than naught, and sometimes (mostly) the results—although completely unpredictable—were surprisingly good. Sometimes careful experimentation in home brewing, and tinkering with different mashing techniques or different ingredients can aid in the learning process.
The point is, whether you’re trying to achieve consistency and a personal style or whether you want to try all the latest gadgets and all the newest or most sophisticated techniques, using simple or complex ingredient lists, do what makes you happy. This is supposed to be fun, after all! But if you really do want to take complete control over your craft, simplification is key.
As I mentioned above, this is my first blog post. As we get rolling here, you will come to recognize that by and large we adhere to this philosophy pretty closely. Most of our brewing activities are quite simple. When we manipulate variables, we tend to do it one (sometimes, two) at a time. But then again, sometimes the rules fly out the window and home-brew recklessness rules the day. It’s what makes us happy!
Do you have a brewing philosophy? If so, what is it?
 Note: While I was developing this post, I came across an article from the American Homebrewer’s Association that had the same basic message that I was trying to convey about keeping things simple.