Might vs. Right: Blogs, Brewing, and Belief

What's the point of all of this?  Why are you reading it?  What is it saying?

It's the start of a new year, so instead of unseemly navel-gazing I'm just considering this "introspection," but at least it's to some purpose.  

Several times a year I run across commentary from readers of this and other blogs (brulosophy.com comes immediately to mind) which are critical of beer blogs and bloggers.  Their central objection is that we're trying to "reinvent the wheel" or spread idiosyncratic and small-sample pseudo-science.

I thought it was worth a few minutes to speak to what we're doing here, and maybe also speak to readers' expectations or interpretations, because I feel like beer writing readers/critics have constructed quite the Straw Man.  For today, anyway, read this because it might save you some frustration later.

What I'm Not Saying

I'm not pitching a religion here.  No one is saying that you must do things a certain way, brew certain things, not take certain steps.  Your brewing is yours.  Brew what you want, how you want.

I'm not arguing that I'm infallible.  I could certainly be wrong, and badly.  In fact, that's the one thing I AM certain of: somewhere in the pages of this blog is some really bad advice.

I'm not saying it's science.  I might say that it's logically sound, and make a case for a reasonable conclusion, but you'll  never read that it's scientific.  Empirical, yes - but more on that later.

I'm not making a claim of originality.  There's nothing new under the sun, and humans have been brewing almost as long as we've been human - most of what we write about has been written about before, is being written about now, and will be written about again.  

I'm not telling you that what I'm writing is worth your money.  I love the "I wish I had a job where I could just write pointless think pieces about beer" criticism.  Yeah - me too.  Who wouldn't?  But the reality is that this isn't a job (for me, anyway), so when I take 1,500 words one Monday morning and just write about something I've been thinking about, there's no need to point out that it's frivolous and lacking in utility - I already know that, and I'm not asking you to pay for it.  

So in light of these things (and others), why bother reading?  

Why Bother?

First, because frivolity and thinking aren't bad things.  As humans we like the idea that others have the same thoughts as we do.  We like being exposed to new-to-us thoughts that we agree with.  Heck, trolls will tell you that we even seem to like arguing (at a nice remove) with people that we disagree with.  

Second, because although this isn't science, it is a bit scientific. It's often empirical and approached with an eye towards making a defensible argument, at least.  There's not much here that I assert without something to support the assertion (even my well-documented hatred of Terrence Malick films).  

Third, and this is probably the most important part from the brewing perspective, it's because of YOU.  Lots of this stuff is reactive - lots of you out there trade in conventional wisdom and tradition and habit, and tell us what we can or can't do.  And, so, I/we push back.

You're the Problem

Not really, but I wanted a nice, provocative heading for this section.  What I mean by that is that a great deal of what I'd consider the "process" stuff I and others write about is taken up from a perspective that seems to be misunderstood.  

I'm not saying that what I do will work for everyone.  I'm saying you're wrong when you say it can't work (especially when you say it about my brewing), and I'm prepared to make and support an argument that it can.  Let me give you an example:

  • "You can't use OneStep alone to clean/sanitize, because you'll get lots of contamination."  
    • OK, but I have, for a decade and about 250 batches of beer, and my beer shows no evidence of consistent (or even sporadic) contamination.
  • "OK, but just because you like drinking your filth doesn't mean it isn't contaminated."
    • Very true.  But I also enter all of my beers in competition to get objective feedback on them, and my scoring data show no evidence of contamination, either.
  • "OK, but it's still wrong of you to say that everyone can do it..."

And that's how we end up at the straw man.  I didn't say that.  I'm saying that you're wrong when you say something CAN'T work.

I CAN'T make full-sized batches on a 110-volt, 1800-watt induction element.  I CAN'T boil indoors without a vent hood.  I CAN'T free-add pellet hops and drain/chill through a plate chiller without a screen.  I CAN'T ferment lagers at 75F after two days at 50F without getting off-flavors.  I CAN'T make an all-grain batch with a full 60-minute mash and boil and be done in 3:15.  

Except I can.  I do.  I'm not saying it will work for you - just that it might, despite the categorical prohibitions and proscriptions you've been exposed to.  Might - not right.

So before you criticize a piece of beer writing, ask yourself whether you're criticizing it for what it's actually saying, or just what you think it's saying.  When I say it works for me and you should try it, I'm not trying to re-write De Clerck's Textbook of Brewing.  I'm just saying you should give it a try, because it worked for me and I think it might work for you.

I'm sure there are lots out there that DO try to win converts and make near-universal claims of scientific accuracy - and when they do, go ahead and give them hell if they deserve it.

Those aren't the norm, though - at least not in my reading.  Mostly it's well-meaning people, spending time and sharing thoughts about a hobby they love, and trying to add to the collective discussion we're all having.  Is there crappy information on the internet?  Sure.  Always be willing to question the credibility of your source.  But most of the criticism of beer writers that I read is people that are pushing back against something that's different from what they do or from what they've always believed, and their objection is more often than not rooted in the objection that it's different or heterodox.  

Keep an open mind.  It's a new year, after all.

Keep it simple.