Pause: The Virtues of an End-of-Year Brewing Hiatus


If it's December, I'm not brewing.  And I'm absolutely convinced that it's a move every homebrewer would benefit from.

Every year, around this time, I take a break from brewing.  For one thing, it's a natural reaction to the autumn orgy of beer and brewing events, activities, and obligations.  I don't know if it's because beer and fall seem to go together so well, or because we're all inspired by Oktoberfest, or because I spend an inordinate amount of time brewing and bottling and kegging for the inevitable drinking-down of my beer stocks over two major parties (Christmas and my club's Winter Social) and lots of friend-and-family visiting throughout the holidays, or what - but by December, I'm brewed out.

That's not the whole story, though.

Retreat to Move Forward

During my little brewing hiatus, I do things.  I give the brewery a substantial cleaning.  I inspect, repair, or replace equipment.  I think about my recipes and process, and make changes based on the past year's evaluations and results.  I inventory my ingredients.

In short, this strategic brewing pause lets me (forces me to?) ask questions about whether I'm happy with what and how I'm brewing.  It has obvious practical benefits, of course, because it means I'm doing my due diligence on keeping my brewery, equipment, and ingredients up to scratch, but the more important part is that it frees me up to think about ways to improve.

When you're churning out beer all the time, you're squeezing those reflective moments into, well, moments.  I'll stand at my taps before a party and sample what's on, and maybe spend two minutes thinking about what I'm pouring and how it got there, but then I'll repair to the kitchen to get the coffee-beer-infused scones out of the oven and make sure the door is open and the Beer Jeopardy! questions are ready to go.  While I'm milling for my current batch I'll look around at the grain library and think about storage methods and whether I'm using too much Caramunich, but then a few seconds later I'll be shutting down the drill and heading over to get the mash going.

It's like trying to decide what you want out of a new car and when to buy it while commuting to work: doing a thing and considering a thing don't always work well, concurrently.  During my brewing hiatus, I can consider without the pressure of doing.

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Then there's this: after about six weeks of no brewing activity, I can't wait to get back to it in mid-January.  Imposing a little brewcation on yourself makes you eager to jump back in.  

I know a lot of former brewers.  Oftentimes, they're people who weren't all that into the hobby to begin with (which is fine).  They're also, frequently, victims of circumstance: new job, new kid(s), sudden wealth or poverty, etc.  Some, though, are just burnt out on it.

I am absolutely confident that if I maintained my brewing pace all year long, eventually it'd start to feel like some kind of job.  A lot of the joy would go out of it.  Instead, I get to start every new brewing year fresh from a break from brewing, with a sparkling-clean brewery, some new ideas and ingredients and (if it's a successful Christmas) a new and/or improved piece of equipment, and the optimism of looking forward to the new brewing year.  

That's a fantastic way to keep motivated.  It's January and my kegs are largely empty, but I don't have to brew - I get to brew.

Get Biblical (or Musical)

As the Bible/folk music says, "To every thing there is a season."  This implies more than just that life progresses through stages - it also suggests that there is a natural rhythm to what we do, if we're doing it right.

Maybe I'm just already tuned to think this way, being a professor.  Fall semester, winter break, spring semester, summer break: activity, then reflection and preparation, over and over again.  

Give yourself a break this December.  See how it feels.  Spend some time thinking and drinking beer, and leave off of the making of it.  I think you'll be happy with the results.

Keep it simple.


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