homebrewing The Session

It’s hard to make great beer

Beer recipe close up.

In his post announcing the Session No. 71 on the subject of brewers and drinkers, John at Homebrew Manual says this:

The more I learn the less I enjoy mediocre beers, knowing how easy they are to make. Similarly, great beers seem all the more impressive now.

Since we started brewing, and especially since (to some extent) we got the hang of it, we’ve found that, on the one hand, we’re much harsher in our judgements of ‘craft beer’. We can make just about satisfactory but slightly wrong, disappointing beer at home — why should we pay top dollar for it? We certainly can’t bring ourselves to whoop or holler about brewers who seem to be running before they can walk.

On the other hand, we’ve also learned our own limits, and come to respect really expert brewers all the more. It is difficult to make beer without niggling little flaws; with full, rounded and dare we say clean flavours; and to do so time after time. These are beers we can’t deconstruct, made by people who are in complete control of their processes and understand their ingredients at a level we never will. We don’t take that for granted anymore.

This isn’t just a beer thing, though. Once you learn to make decent pizza or burgers at home for next to nothing, you become very resentful about paying someone else £8 for a crappy one, however ‘artisanal’ the presentation.

Bonus: here’s a previous post on why we brew; and this analogy works for us, too.

17 replies on “It’s hard to make great beer”

Very true. Ever since I started homebrewing, my aim has been to brew beers that I can’t buy very easily in the store, hence my current efforts to make a consistently good bitter – rarer than a hen’s tooth over here, same goes with my next grand recipe project, a mild.

I have to say I actually think it is easy to make great beer. I’ve gotten to all grain after stop and start brewing for over 25 years and have it down. I have no fancy equipment, basically brew ales as one might in 1790 and love the stuff. Top ingredients and a mania for sanitation is the key. But what I cannot do is make all sorts of beers. I also can’t hit levels of efficiency. And they do not taste exactly the same batch to batch.

But I don’t care. I am not a commercial brewery. I don’t care any more than the carrot I grow or the cheese or bread I make tastes identical time and time and again. Making good beer is fairly straight forward. Pretending you are a brewery is not only silly, it is an unreasonable expectation. The curse of industrial standardization. Funny that the hallmark of “craft” beer has become dreary industrial standardization.

“I have to say I actually think it is easy to make great beer.”

We’ll have to keep practising, then. We enjoy most of the beer we make, but we’d be embarrassed to charge anyone for it. (Except the last saison we made — that was amazing. But then the next batch will probably be (a) nothing like it and (b) rank.)

“I have to say I actually think it is easy to make great beer”
By “great” you appear to mean “very nice, drinkable, decent beer I’m happy to have made” – you’re right, that isn’t particularly difficult to make.
However, I think, by “great”, that B+B mean “exceptional, outstanding, world classic” beer. That kind of beer is very difficult to make.
If you don’t know how to write recipes so as to be able to make different sorts of beer (as you admit), it’s highly unlikely that you’re brewing great beer, in the sense that B+B mean.

Rod — we did mean ““exceptional, outstanding”. Turns out ‘great’ is no more useful a word than ‘good’ or ‘craft’…

No – I think it was perfectly clear actually to anyone without a massive chip on their shoulder.

Silly moo. I make exceptional beer. As I described, it is not hard. But thanks for coming out of nowhere with no experience of me and calling me both a liar and accuse me of having a chip on my shoulder.

B+B: if you feel you are not making exceptional beer, you may want to review the steps you take, the simplicity of your techniques, the quality of you ingredients and your attention to sanitation. One of the odd things about beer is the presumption of difficulty which as much a marketing theme as anything – otherwise how would professionals make a buck? How would expert commentators impress us with their special knowledge?

Baking bread, making cheese, food gardening are all one with brewing beer in this respect. Alienation from being skilled in these sort of common capabilities gets to be a point of pride, oddly, for some. But, really, you are taking on a skill set mastered by thousands of brewsters for hundreds of years despite few of the resources we might be convinced were a minimum requirement.

In the good old days – late 80s Halifax Nova Scotia – there was no question that micro brews varied from batch to batch and that some were particularly on point while others were not as good. One brewery actually would lower the price if the batch was wonky but would also still sell it. It was a more engaged process for a drinker. But, then again, I was not dealing with rock stars.

I have to say, I enjoy the process of figuring out why my beer didn’t do what I wanted it to—good, bad, or otherwise. Although, I’m pretty content with the beer I make—except those beers based on British WWII era brews, Yoinks—they shook my resolve!

Alan — if you’re making exceptional beer, and find it easy, then I can understand why you wouldn’t be impressed by what the best of the pros do.

Devil is in the detail and all that. The method is (largely) the same for most beer (decoction, turbid mashing, steinbier, etc aside…) – it’s the little things that make the difference, and often mostly during fermentation.

It’s possible to cover this up a bit in some styles (through alcohol, malt or hop) , but thus arises the great challenge of brewing a truly world class light bitter – easy recipes, easy method, tough to nail.

Re: consistency, one of my favourite quotes is from Garrett Oliver that I can’t find the exact wording of at present, buy it’s something like -“Variation between batches does not mean you make craft beer; it means you can’t brew” (or words to that effect).

Exactly – a reasonable level of consistency indicates that you actually understand what you are doing.

“Silly moo.” You’re starting to sound like Alf Garnett (and not in a good way…..)

” I make exceptional beer.” In Nova Scotia? Compared to what?

” But thanks for coming out of nowhere with NO EXPERIENCE OF ME and accuse me of having a chip on my shoulder” I shall let the good people who read this blog reflect upon this priceless sentence (and avoid mentioning the grammar)

Lastly, I just checked with my wife, who’s from Toronto, and she confirms that, even in Canada, sarcasm is regarded as the lowest form of wit.
Enjoy your beer.

*glum* Don’t argue, chaps. If you must, please stay this side of bad-tempered. (Silly moo is rude, but I’d say it in front of my Mum, so it passes the test.)

[…] Alan, Boak and Bailey do think it’s hard to make great beer. They can make drinkable, passable, but not great beer at home, and begrudge paying through the […]

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