Friday, July 25, 2008

Fermentation Friday - Words of advice

Isn't it romantic?*

Embarking on a new hobby oftentimes involves a period of giddy excitement when first acquainting yourself with the lexicon, history, and mountains of reference material that surrounds the adventure of the new. Homebrewing is, not surprisingly, loaded with ample opportunities to immerse yourself in esoteric lingo. Each style has a history. You can get as scientific or as philosophical as you'd like. It has such a welcoming learning curve, you can crack the spine on a 300-page instructional text and make your first successful batch from the notes on the first two pages, getting deeper into the nuances as you eventually dog-ear the next 298.

And as it's a pastime that inspires equal amounts of good-willed advice and spirited debate, the question asked this month of homebrewing bloggers - What one tip would you give a beginner homebrewer before they brew their first batch and why? - caused a rift in this here household. Therefore, we're cheating the awesome power of that italicized "one" and giving our two separate answers to a question that will easily garner many, many more opinions.

That said, my one piece of advice to anyone taking the leap into brewing their own beer at home is simple: Taste more beer, more.

I'll pretend I don't hear the waves of agonized groaning, simpering pleas for mercy, and tormented, piteous whimpers for a compassionate alternative. No. You simply must drink more beer in order to achieve a level of confidence in your level of success, and to assemble your palette of understanding what exactly it is about the beers you enjoy that you yourself would want to capture and recreate. By all means, do not try to take the cheap way out, asking your local homebrew supplier or buddy or dirty old man Internet to write you up a clone recipe of a beer you had recently. It won't come out right, anyway. Instead, what is it exactly about that IPA you had the other day that made you want to take a stab at making your own? Is it something you can taste in another IPA from another brewery? Or is it unique? Do a side-by-side. Make some notes of some of the things you're coming across in the tasting, without editing out any comparisons you think don't make any sense. When you sit down and look at your scribbles, giggling over the part you wrote down about how when you burped, it tasted like you'd had grapefruit for breakfast, you might just come across something in your online research worth remembering when it comes time to make your own.

Getting more acquainted with the elements that make up your taste experience with beer with something like Meilgaard's flavor wheel can be especially eye-opening, more so when you consider the focal object, sitting at the eye of the wheel like the reflective image distiller at the center of an István Orosz anamorphosis, is a collector of all the various disparate, mysterious elements into the single experience we all know as a nice pint of beer. And rather than trying to bone up on stylistic descriptions and memorize the common descriptors for various specialty malts, open up that bottle of Schrödinger's dark ale and find out for yourself why it can coexist in a quantum state as both a porter and a stout. I don't think it's a hard sell to convince you that it's easier to learn about the taste of beer by tasting beer than it is to read about the taste of beer.

Not to mention how much more fun the person writing up the recipe will have, versus being asked to scrabble up a nice "wheat beer". When you've outlined your target flavors and aromas, along with the color, level of carbonation, idea of the level of alcohol involved, then you've got something worth comparing notes against when that first bottle of the batch gets opened. You'll be tasting deeper, likely enjoying it more, and preparing yourself for the slightly more advanced, and not terribly exciting nor worth talking about here, second stage of tasting. Find that hint of Moroccan spice you were looking for hidden amidst the raw cacao overtones first, then feel free to jot in the margins that it also smelled like microwave popcorn.

And there you have it. Shouldn't be too hard. Don't enjoy yourself too much taking this one piece of advice, though. It's all in the name of research, science, and the pursuit of a better life for all. Doing it while playing Rock Band only focus your attention even more.

Des' one piece of advice, on the other hand, being of sound mind and body, comes direct from the all-caps shouty text of the old instruction sheet that SF Brewcraft used to hand out, and can be summed up without need of excess verbiage: WATCH POT CAREFULLY MAY BOIL OVER.

This is especially true if you have a difficult to clean stovetop.

Many thanks to the Brew Dudes for hosting this month's Fermentation Friday, a monthly blogging carnival gathered around the topic of homebrewing, originated by Beer Bits 2.

* I'll leave it to twenty or so other people to comment on the importance of sterilizing your gear.



Blogger Adam said...

Most excellent advice :-)

12:05 PM  

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