Happy New Year from Beer: Simple! To start off this new brewing/beer year, here are some simple things I’m planning on doing in 2016 – and I think you should consider doing the same. They’re all about getting more out of your beer and brewing life, and shouldn’t take too much of your time, effort, or money (well, except #9, but it’s totally worth it).
But before we get into the list, let’s address a long-standing epidemic that is the shame and bane of the beer world: beer-based puns. In discussing this post with people, a disturbing number of people jokingly asked what the post title would be. Among the rejected suggestions were the following: Hoppy New Year, Happy Brew Year, Happy New Beer, Malty Brew Year, Hoppy Brew Beer...
People. People, people, people. End the puns. Never make one again. Don’t wish me a “hoppy birthday.” Every time I see that on Facebook it makes me want to punch my dog in the face (but then I look at her, and…well, she's just too damned cute).
So just stop it. Now, on to the list! Things to do this year, Beer and Brewing Edition:
10. Buy a high-quality thermometer – or at least calibrate the one you already have.
I can’t tell you how happy I was to open my new Thermapen MK4 on Christmas morning! It was the only thing I asked for, and for good reason: temperature is really at the heart of what we’re doing. It affects mashing, boiling, fermentation, conditioning – even enjoyment when you finally open the bottle or pull the tap handle. So do yourself a massive favor and get your hands of a good thermometer, or at least calibrate yours so you can make the appropriate adjustment for what it reads – if it’s consistently reading 2-3 degrees high or low, you’ve got an easy fix for a lot of likely issues in your brewery.
9. Make a point of attending either the Great American Beer Festival or National Homebrewers Conference.
Conveniently, this year NHC (June) is in Baltimore and GABF (October) is (as always) in Denver, so one or the other will be (relatively) close to home for nearly everyone. Both are events that let you taste a LOT of beer, and both also offer myriad ways to expand your beer and brewing knowledge. I’m a much greater proponent of NHC, but only because I’ve never been to GABF (the only downside to an academic life – no travel in the fall…). But going to beer events of this size is a wonderful experience – stay hydrated (just drink your cup wash water), eat at every opportunity, and soak in as much as you can!
8. Find a new appreciation for a passé or overlooked beer style – I’m thinking Witbier.
We all have beer styles that we gloss right over on beer menus. I’m not a huge fan of very many Belgian beers or breweries (some notable examples, though – Allagash and Ommegang are always on my list!), so this year I’m going to focus on a style that may deserve doubling-back on – probably Witbier. For you, maybe it’s amber lagers. For others, maybe you’re a hopophobe and it’s time to try out some IPAs again. But try to avoid brewing or drinking ruts – these beers and styles evolve over time, as does your palate.
7. Give up beer for Lent, even if you’re not Catholic.
Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations, notes eleven virtues that you should exhibit and which are “wholly within your power” – one of these is self-denial. Every year, for 40 days, most Catholics you know give up something for their Lenten observance (you can usually tell – they get a little pissy whenever you order beer, chocolate, steak…). This year, whether you’re Catholic or not, give up beer. Marcus’ point about self-denial is that it shows that you’re in control of your impulses and desires – you’re not governed by them. This also gives you the opportunity to spend some time on other beverages you might have neglected: revisit wine, give Scotch a try, delve into meads or ciders – or even “go dry” for 40 days. It won’t kill you (and, in fact, has impressive health benefits), and your favorite beer will taste that much better come Easter!
6. Write a letter to a brewery that is making your favorite beer and thank them.
When we travel, my wife loves to write thank-you notes to the staff of the hotel or the crew of the cruise ship, while we’re still on it, to let them know that we appreciate their hard work. She figures that most of what they hear, day-to-day, is complaining (much of it just whining, really) and she wants to change that. It’s really quite sweet and something I would literally never think to do on my own (she’s a much nicer person than I am). So this year, I’m going to write (actually write – with paper and pen and all!) a brewery I like, and thank them. Brewing is hard, hard work, and breweries deserve a lot of credit for doing it, especially when they do it well.
5. Learn one scientific lesson that will improve your brewing.
Brewing is a science. Just because we learned to do it by accident 5,000 years ago doesn’t mean that it hasn’t grown up! So, I’m going to hit up one of the biologists, chemists, or physicians in my club and have them teach me the scientific root of a beer process, and then use that to simplify and improve some element of my brewing process. To paraphrase the book The Martian, I want to science the shit out of something in my brewery.
4. Attend a homebrew club meeting – other than your own!
If you don’t belong to a club, you probably should, because remember – Your Beer Sucks, and they’ll tell you why and how to fix it. But even if you belong to a club (I do), I think it’s a good idea to go to another one now and again. For one thing, you’ll meet more homebrewers (fun), and you’ll get new feedback – and new kinds of feedback – on your beer (useful). It’ll be worth driving an extra 20 minutes or so to get to that club’s meeting.
3. Teach a willing person to homebrew, and brew with them at least three times.
I’m sure a lot of people talk to a homebrewer and decide to brew. Once. Then they do it, feel frustrated, and never do it again. I know this happens because I remember how irritated and frustrated I was brewing in the new house when we moved – I didn’t know where anything was, nothing worked as it usually did, and the beer was a pain in the ass to make (though it turned out well). If that had been my first go, there’s at least a one in three chance I’d have given up. The way we tell people to just “get your stuff and brew” is like sending a new skier down that Black Diamond trail called “The Preacher.” So instead, convince someone to brew, and then brew with the at least three times, preferably on their equipment and at their home/brewery. Brewing is habit and process more than anything else, and being there to keep them on track for the first few beers will mean a better brewer and one who is more likely to keep at it when you’re not around. And going back to basics may also remind you of some important things you’ve been letting slide!
2. Stand up for one newbie that is being razzed by an alehole.
Sometimes when we see this shit – new bartender or wait staff being hazed and harassed by a know-it-all (even if he/she doesn’t) alehole – we let it slide. Even if you don’t confront the alehole, at least have a quiet word with their intended target, and let them know that we’re not all like that, and that (especially if they’re new to the craft beer world) it’s pretty easy to get up to speed. You might even recommend them to the Certified Beer Server course over at the Cicerone Program – in short, be constructive. They’ll probably throw you a free beer for it, so do it even if you’re a curmudgeonly, introverted, misanthropic elitist like me.
1. Contribute in a meaningful way to the brewing world – however you can.
And finally, try to find a way to pitch in to our (still quite little) community. This doesn’t have to be big. No one’s asking you to organize a 5K. Or even run in one. Or even walk in one. OK, basically, no running unless you’re into that – why do we as a society feel better when we force unwilling people to pay money to run approximately three miles for a cause? But I digress. Just try to give something back. The reason I got so into beer and brewing was that I was so impressed and touched by so many people in the brewing community, and I feel like every year should include a resolution to give back, however and wherever you can. I think there’s a 5K that is sponsored by a local brewpub that I’ll run in – wait, an 8K??? Well, alright…
Have a wonderful year everyone, and thank you for following Beer: Simple into it. I’m also resolving to do my best to keep providing what I hope is high-quality writing on relevant beer topics, but if you feel I’m not quite up to the mark, please let me know in the comments or by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.