About 95% of the time, I brew alone. I like it. Everything that happens - good or bad - is down to me. It means that I get to decide precisely how things go down: recipe, mash temperature, boil length, hop additions, dilution or addition, how long to oxygenate - all me. And like a lot of people who are fundamentally introverts, I know that "being alone" isn't the same thing as "being lonely." I rather enjoy brewing as a solitary pursuit, with only Biscuit the Brewdog (who doesn't make demands or suggestions, only wags and approves) as an audience.
Which is why, about every 40 batches or so, when my wife gets an awesome idea for a beer, I get a little anxious about our joint brew day.
A Stranger in the Brewery
Mostly, Barbara sticks to meads. She prefers them to drink, and she also seems to prefer them to make - the patience and care that they require suit her temperament. But about once a year, she gets inspired by something or other to make a beer. One year it was a Thanksgiving beer: an Irish Red with cranberries and rosemary, the perfect complement to a leftover turkey sandwich (it was great). Another year it was a maple almond beer (it was remarkable). This year it's an Earl Grey Braggot (which I'm sure will be exceptional).
This isn't about her beer sensibility: she has remarkable taste and an impressively intuitive sense of what will work in beer, which is all the more impressive when you realize that she doesn't drink more than 16 ounces of beer in a year.
No, this is really just about sharing the brewery. It's in our house, just off of the Great Room (gotta love induction - indoor brewing!!!). It isn't explicitly "my" space. But still, in descending order of who spends the most time in there, it's me, then Biscuit in a respectably-close second, and then Barbara WAAAAAY back from the two of us. So it feels odd, having her there.
It's like when the bears get home and realize someone's been in their beds and at their porridge: something's not right here...
For at least the first half hour or so, it's like wearing your watch on the wrong wrist. But then, something changes.
Sharing is Caring
After the initial awkwardness, it's really a pleasure to be brewing together! I run a pretty tight brewing ship (as regular readers will have read before), but with two sets of hands we can brew even faster! Or at least accomplish the same work in the same time with less individual bother.
There's someone to talk to. There's an interested person there asking questions and offering insights of her own. Brewing becomes collaborative, and while my experience means that I'm making a lot of recommendations, I'm also being confronted with new questions and ideas that my brewed-a-few-hundred-times brain hasn't considered in a long time - and maybe forever.
And beyond that is the simple fact that it's fun to share something you love with someone you love (or even someone you just like, if the person that's in the brewery that day isn't Barbara or Biscuit, but just a friend or acquaintance). When I stop and think about it - even now as I type this - my fingers get tingly from the simple joy of knowing that someone cares to ask how you know when the mash is done.
It doesn't even really matter that I'm providing most of the technical information - at the end of the day, that's just trivia and minutiae. What matters is that we're doing it together.
What a great thing to be doing together. Of course, anything can be a great thing to do together, with the right person or people.
But then I think..."OK, that's enough for now."
Whether it's because I don't want to become bored or complacent with it, I tend to come around to the idea that this once-in-a-while experience is quite enough. It's like smoking a cigar two or three times a year instead of one a day: you preserve the "specialness" of the experience, but you also avoid building up a tolerance, so you still get that nice buzzy high from it every time.
I (eventually) love brewing with someone else. It's a wonderful collaborative experience. But I wouldn't want it all the time.
One of two things would happen if I didn't think this way. Either I'd eventually feel that itch to get away and reclaim my solitude in some other venue, or the novelty of the situation would wear off and it would dilute the happy memory making quality of the thing - which even if it happened only a little bit would be a tragedy, like a small death (and not the good kind).
And so we brew together, and a few weeks later we package it up together, and I return to my hermit-like brewing life.
We'll brew again together, I'm sure of it.
Not too often. Not too rarely. Just enough.
Keep it simple.