I talk a lot about the technical aspects of brewing. And there’s a very good reason for that: they’re very important. Without good technique and an understanding of your process, you can’t make consistent beer, and if you have no consistency, then you can’t reproduce recipes. And if you can’t reproduce a recipe, then you also can’t refine that recipe because you never know what it’s going to taste like.
But, in all honestly, that’s only half the equation.
There is a church down the street from my house that I drive by whenever I head to the brewery. I’m not necessarily a church-going fellow, but I do thoroughly enjoy their marquee sign sayings. Sometimes they’re supposed to be funny, sometimes inspirational, and sometimes they just make you think. There is one up right now that I particularly liked, and I actually pulled into the parking lot on my way home from the brewery one night to snap a picture of it.
It caught my eye and made me think a bit more about the artistry side of brewing. I really do feel like brewing (and making any sort of food or drink, really) is a marvelous blend of art and science. I often tell people that the artist in me is the one who develops the recipe, but the engineer in me makes it the same every time.
Over the years that I spent homebrewing, I rarely made the same beer twice. I had over 75 different recipes over the 6 years I was homebrewing and those recipes had less than 20 of them that were brewed a second time. Many of them I wasn’t 100% satisfied with after brewing them the first time, but I would frequently just note the small tweaks that were to be made for the second round and then move on to a new technique or a new style. Although much of this time was spent working on refining my equipment and technique, this vast variety of recipes were helping me to hone in on the creative side of brewing.
Learning how the different malts interact, how the different yeasts perform, and which hops I liked and didn’t like. This time was spent not only figuring out the colors in the pallet and how they interact, but my style of manipulating those colors.
I found that I liked beers with bold flavors, and frequently just a little higher alcohol (or sometime a lot higher alcohol). I had a particular affinity for Belgian beers, but also had a respect for many of the malty english styles, and the american interpretations of those styles. All of these affinities were developed through tasting the handiwork of many brewers with far more experience than myself, and then trying to recreate the general feeling of what they had created, but with my own twist on it.
Trips to belgium and germany cemented my love for their rich flavorful beers, and tours of various breweries all over the US gave me a respect for the unique style that we’ve developed here. All of these things combined to really make Wanderlust the brewery it is today.
I recently did an interview for The Full Pint and one of the topics we got onto was beers I do and don’t like. The list is quite exhaustive on both sides of the fence, but one of the things I waxed poetic about was how I can not enjoy a beer, but I would still call it a good beer. It’s was well-brewed, well thought out, and well executed. The flavors are clean and the beer was brewed in such a way that the intention of the brewer really came across. It may not be a style I enjoy, but I certainly respect what they did. (for the record, I named off a few over-the-top hoppy beers that I didn’t particularly like, as well as the entire general realm of smoked beers, but I have had many of both that were very well executed)
Don’t get me wrong, there are some beers that are just bad. They’re poorly made, they may be contaminated or improperly carbonated, they may be hazy when they shouldn’t be, or the description of the beer by the brewer may just be way off what was actually executed, which indicates to me that they weren’t on target with their process.
And, unfortunately, even if you come up with a good beer in one of those situations, recreating it is very difficult. Again, it comes back to artistry balanced with engineering, and the resulting blend of those two is a beautiful thing.