The Session No. 92: I Made This

This month’s Session* topic is hosted by Jeremy Short of Pintwell. Jeremy raises the topic of homebrewing.  I’m late to the party once again, but since I enjoy the collective writing exercise I’m going ahead and submitting a late Session Post.  Here’s a summary of Jeremy’s topic:

The idea of this session is how making something changes your relationship with it. For example, when I first started homebrewing I wasn’t a big fan of lagers. After learning to brew I realized how complex and particular lagers were and I came to love them because of that. Here are some ideas to get your writing juices flowing:

For the homebrewer:

– How did homebrewing change your view of beer? Do you like beers now that you didn’t before? Do you taste beer differently? Does homebrewing turn you into a pretentious asshole?

Jeremy has other questions for those who have only brewed once or have never brewed at all.  Since I’m a regular homebrewer I’m happy to take this first set on.


1.  How did homebrewing change your view of beer?

I started homebrewing in 1997. Like most homebrewers I began by using extracts and soon started adding in specialty grains.  I brewed many batches over the next several years, obsessing over sanitation if nothing else.  Most all of these beers were drinkable. One or two were quite good. None stood out and all had an extract twinge to the base flavor.

Law school and the years that followed got in the way of homebrewing for a while. I brewed an occasional batch so I could still call myself a homebrewer, but the results were consistently disappointing.

Having fresh hops in the back yard and the chance to observe an all-grain brewing session provided the spark I needed to have fun with brewing again.  I gathered the parts and pieces to build my simple all-grain setup.  The improvement in quality was immediate and pronounced. Kegging quickly followed.  I now make beers I would readily pay for (and, of course, some which still need a lot of help). Twenty three all-grain batches later, my interest is only increasing.

How did this homebrewing fun change my view of beer?  Not much.

In the past I’ve said it helped me appreciate that making great beer is far more difficult than it looks.  It is, but I’ve learned that just as well by trying thousands of beers.  The truly great ones remain few and far between. Most run the gamut from tasty, but unremarkable, to pretty darn good.  And there is a lot more mediocre and even bad (maybe “uninspiring” is a better word) beer than we want to admit.

Being a homebrewer helps me explain the creative and scientific processes better, but it does not do much to change my view of beer.

Homebrewing Fun

2. Do you like beers now that you didn’t before? Do you taste beer differently?

Nope. And nope. Though when I come across a beer I particularly like, I’ll try to find the malt bill and hop schedule.  I have no interest in brewing clone beers, but learning what grains and hops are creating the flavors and characteristics I’m enjoying is a great way to create homebrewing recipes that build upon those flavors.

3. Does homebrewing turn you into a pretentious asshole?

I’ll answer that question by starting with another question.  Is there any hobby, sport, activity, occupation, or other sector of life that does not have pretentious assholes in it?

No, homebrewing doesn’t make a person any more pretentious that he or she is already predisposed to be. It merely gives that person a specific outlet.

In addition to brewing beer, I’ve had the opportunity to judge several homebrew competitions.  Now there’s an interesting experience.

Judging has taught me there are three main groups of homebrewers.  The first group is the brewers who have it figured out.  That’s not to say every brew they make is a home run.  But the beer is clean, free of defects and often so good I’d happily shell out some cash to buy pints of it.

The second group may or may not have it figured out, but they’re too busy drinking the kool-aid of craft beer freedom to realize they haven’t mastered the basics. Yes, homebrewing gives you the flexibility to put whatever you want in beer and make up entirely new styles.  But if you haven’t put in the work to learn how to coax more clove flavors out of a crisp, clean hefe, find a balance of hops in a pleasant pale ale, or adjust the roast level in an every-day great stout, stop believing you have the skill to create a triple dry hopped belgian dubbel with rose hips and pecan juice. It’s in this group where anecdotal evidence suggests the bulk of the pretentious assholes live. (Which is different than saying everyone in the category is a pretentious asshole.  Quite the opposite, actually.)

The third group are the ones who don’t have it figured out. Beers are unintentionally soured.  Carbonation is a mystery. Buttered popcorn flavored porters just don’t cut the mustard.  Some of these brewers are new to the hobby and may well be on an upward trajectory.  Others should take up knitting.

I presume this question was generally intended to be humorous, but it does raise an interesting point to ponder. It is very easy to unintentionally sound pretentious when describing beer, homebrewing, hops, grain, yeast, or any other aspect of the hobby and industry to those who are new to the exploration.

We’d all do well to take a step back and remember 1) beer is fun and social and there are no right answers; and 2) despite its growing popularity, there are many who remain at the beginning of his or her beer (and homebrewing) learning curve. They’ll enjoy learning what you know far more if it comes in the form of a conversation, not a sermon.

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*The Session, held the first Friday of each month, is a collective effort of beer bloggers around the world to write on a common topic once each month.