Catching the Truck: What to do When You Made "Your" Beer and It's Awful

You've brewed for a little while.  You have some control over your process.  It's time to go off-script and make your own beer.  That's what this hobby is great for, right?  Creativity?  Novelty?  So you do it, and you get exactly what you aimed for - and it sucks.

I'm sure we've all been down this road at least once.  It happens all the time in life, so why not with brewing?  "Seemed like a good idea at the time" isn't only something that applies to time shares, small-of-the-back tattoos, and eating at Whataburger.  

Sometimes we brew a beer that does exactly what we wanted, it just turns out that what we wanted isn't any damned good.   In my case, it was a colonial-era stock ale with pomegranate and spruce.  I wanted to make a strong ale that Washington might have drank during the cold winter at Valley Forge.  I wanted some heat, some roast, some berry, and some pine.  I wanted rustic.

Well, I got exactly what I wanted.  And if I was right, George suffered that winter in more ways than one.

That beer was awful.

Now what?

Own It

First, be humble enough to admit that this wasn't the result of some process flaw (poorly calibrated thermometer, for example) or a mislabeled bag of grain.  You made some bad choices.  Take it like a big boy/girl, and own up to it.  If you won't do that, you'll never learn.

I met a brewer early in his career who would mash everything at about 140F.  This guy was making starchy pseudo-beer (with a healthy dose of cat hair, I assume for flavor).  Why?  "So I don't extract tannins."  OK, fair enough - but you're not getting many sugars, either.  Convinced that we were just not in touch with what he was shooting for, he dismissed a lot of our feedback.  His beer never improved (to my knowledge) and he moved to Appalachia and later had a broken engagement (if I remember correctly).  I imagine him sipping his starchy beer and petting his cats in a lonely shack somewhere

Don't be that guy.  Learn from your mistakes

Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome 

The Tree of Life sucked - one of the worst movies ever.  Old Faithful is really disappointing.  And that colonial spruce ale was awful.  Yet people still tell me about the genius of Terrence Malik.  They say that I can't miss Old Faithful because it's so majestic.  And that spruce ale went on to win several medals.

Now, clearly, there's an element of subjectivity and personal preference and taste here.  I'm not pretending there isn't.  But what I do know for a fact is that a number of people came up to me later and said that they didn't understand The Tree of Life but that they said they liked it because they didn't understand it (see also, The Piano).  On driving out of Yellowstone (and with me keeping my thoughts about geysers completely to myself), my wife looked at me and said, "I don't think I actually enjoyed that...", referring to Old Faithful - it was a let-down compared to the other amazing things in the park.  And at least one beer judge said to me that my awful beer won because it was "exactly what the description described" and was "unique."  He admitted that he didn't like it, though.

Don't let that be you (in any regard - stay away from Terrence Malick films...and Baz Luhrmann films, while we're on it).  Just because you made exactly what you were trying to make, don't convince yourself that it's good just because it was what you "meant to do" or because it's unusual/novel.

Make Allowance for Their Doubting Too

Just because you were the dog chasing the truck and finally caught it, it doesn't mean that the result is all you dreamed and hoped for.  Be willing to let go of the truck.

Go out of your way to get/accept objective feedback, and be willing to give it to yourself as well.

The only way to get it right the next time is to acknowledge that something went wrong this time.

Trust yourself when all others doubt you - but as Kipling tells us and as we've mentioned before -make allowance for their doubting, too.

Keep it simple.


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