This first "real" post in the brewing section of the blog is dedicated to a statement of philosophy more than a specific practical improvement, but I think it's important to ground what's to come in the weeks, months, and (who knows?) years to come in a statement of what I mean by "brewing simply."
Despite the near-limitless universe of gadgets, equipment, and tools available to homebrewers, brewing outstanding beer definitely does not require an extensive investment in that equipment, or even a detailed knowledge of how the stuff we buy at the homebrew shop becomes "beer." Is some knowledge beneficial? Absolutely. But is some knowledge (and its application in homebrewing) just a form of hobby-intensive masturbation? Absolutely. Knowing the difference is part of what we'll be discussing.
This section will detail areas where processes and ingredients can be simplified - either by eliminating extraneous or minimally-beneficial steps or implementing a work-around for existing steps. Will some recommendations cause minor variations in your beer? Yes, almost certainly. But not all of those changes will be negatives, and when they are I'm confident that they're nominal.
I start from the position, in every case, that brewers would brew more frequently (and be happier doing it) if it was easier, took less time, and turned out a good product, reliably. So that should be our goal. In evaluating your own process (the topic of our next post), ask yourself why you're doing something: can you justify (and not just rationalize) this, in the context of making a positive contribution to the beer? Or are you just doing it because you read it in a magazine/blog/message board? Or because you've always done it? Or because a great brewer you know does it? I think that many people lose sight of the fact that this stuff (beer) was made basically by accident, for millennia. The science we reverence now is a relatively recent guest at the brewing party, and while it can open doors to make our beer a lot better, its mania for correcting even very minor errors may be creating additional work for very little return.
So, take a look at your process. Write down your steps in detail. Next time, I'll be discussing where you might be putting in a lot more than you're getting out!