Aim Low: A Defense of Everyday, Low-ABV Beer


If you ask most of the folks that walk up to my taps, they’ll tell you that whatever you might find in terms of quality (I like it, but I’m biased) you’ll almost certainly find beers under 5% ABV. This is an undramatic departure from the conversations and iterations I find in homebrew groups, in other folks’ breweries, and in most brewing media (though when I get the chance to contribute to that media, I do my best to encourage folks to “aim low”).

Why do I do it? Lots of reasons. And I’m not even going to waste time with the “session beers can be super intense and flavorful, too!” or “here’s how to make a beer seem like it’s a big beer!” stuff. Either you believe the former or you don’t, and either you know your recipes well enough to do the latter or you don’t, so why bother? If you want to know how, mention it in the comments and I’ll get to it another day.

Today’s about the pragmatic, boring, and (dare I say) simple reasons to not brew beer that’s even moderately high in alcohol.

1: ABV is Money, and in More Ways than One

Of all the questions that will peg you as a new brewer, “how do I make my beer stronger?” is right up there, because there’s no freakin’ mystery here: more sugar. Whether that’s in the form of grain, candi syrup, table sugar, agave syrup, lollipops, Grape Nuts, leftover corn, or edible underpants, it’s MORE EXPENSIVE to brew stronger beer. You need more gravity, and gravity ain’t free.

And if you succeed in this wizard-like alchemy, your reward is that you ALSO need to spend more on hops (in the boil because your utilization just dropped AND you have more sweetness to balance, or in the whirlpool/fermenter because you have another flavor to compete with), maybe on yeast (higher ABV means a tougher fermentation environment), and almost certainly in time (more sugar means longer fermentation and maybe longer bottle conditioning times).

No thanks.

2: I Want More Beer

I don’t want to be more intoxicated - I just want more beer. I mostly drink for the social ritual of the thing, not for the buzz, and so more time socializing means more ounces of consumption, and so I’d rather have more beer at lower ABV.

“I know it’s only eight minutes into the second half, but may I shift from beer to some Mountain Dew?” is a sentence I don’t want to utter for a whole host of unnaturally green reasons.

This also works in the “I want to brew more beer for the same effort,” sense. I can brew three gallons of 4.5%-potential wort. Or I can brew the same amount of 9% wort, cut it, and end up with six gallons. Score.

3: I Don’t Want You Drunk In My House (Or Outside Of It)

What you do in your own time is your business. If you’re at my house, though, I need to deal with you, and you getting drunk and yelling at my dog to “stop staring at me, b**ch, I’m not even talking to you!” just doesn’t work for me (nor for Biscuit, I suspect).

Then there’s the legal liability question. Even if I offer you a bed and an Über, if I’m offering liter-boot pours of a Belgian Quad I think I’m skirting uncomfortably close to some legal problems. Even if I’m not all that invested in you living or dying, I don’t want to roll the dice that you won’t hurt someone I DO care about, you know?

4: You Get Enough of That Other Stuff

Look, I see what tap lists look like in most places. You can get 7% IPAs and Belgian Strong Ales and “Session” Pilsners (at 5.8%) all day long. Have a 4.2% Bitter, or a Mild, or a Leichtbier, on me.

And good luck finding them at even a supposedly “English Pub-inspired” taproom.

5: Sweet Beer Sucks

Alcohol is sweet. I don’t want sweet coming out of my walls. I don’t really do “sweet” in anything - not in food, not in relationships, and definitely not in beer. When I see a brewery bragging about a “zero-IBU” beer, I want to run the other way. I’ve tried, gang, but you’ll probably never convince me that the key to a good beer is a lack of bitterness. I like bitter. I came of craft brewing age in the years of the IBU Wars and Hops Shortages.

If I wanted sweet, I’d have gotten into alcoholic water ice.

Less alcohol means less sweetness, all other things being generally equal. So, low-ABV for me.

Drink What You Want - Just Not in My House

Before anyone says, “who the he** are you to tell me what to brew or drink???,” relax, I’m not. But if you want to drink in my home brewpub, then wrap your head around the idea that you’re going to have to drink more than a snifter of a bitter beer, and that it won’t make you forget the poor choices that brought you to this point in your life.

Fair warning.

Keep it simple.


Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link! Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

Beer Bikes, MOOCs and the Dutch


As part of Ornery Ales' annual effort to celebrate (Inter)National Homebrew Day, they create a video featuring brewers from around the world brewing and talking about beer, and it's an incredibly fun mash-up (no pun intended) of a global cast of brewers showing off their systems, beers, and personalities. Beer Simple offered to shamelessly shill for an international brewer or brewers who showcased the simplicity of beer and brewing.  The entrant that caught this blog's attention satisfied that criterion by mashing and sparging in what looks like a six-litre (we're going with European spellings in this here post - deal with, Americans) pot, chilling in a sink ice bath, and bottling up about 13 bottles.  Being a fan of small-batch brewing, I knew we'd found our perfect fit.

And I was completely wrong.  Well, sort-of.  Because although their video was a perfect encapsulation of simple, small-batch brewing, the program that created that video was anything but simple!  

See, the brewers in question are four Honours (again, European.  Seriously, move past it.) students at the University of Wageningen who had, in fact, created a MOOC (that's a Massive Online Open Course - a distance learning-compatible educational device that may provide higher education options at much lower prices by enrolling thousands of students, free or near-free, in online courses) titled "The Science of Beer."  Sander & Esther (Food Science), Florence (Land & Water Management), and Nico (Management and Consumer Studies) brewed their first beer for the video!  

Their story is fascinating, and follows:

What motivated you all to develop the Science of Beer course?

So we are four students participating in the Honours Programme of the University of Wageningen. As part of this Honours Programme we were supposed to start a two year (research) project to the 'university of the future'. As genuine students, and yes, this may sound somewhat surprising: we ended up making a course about beer. In fact we started the research project with doing interviews with people mainly from politics and universities. We wanted to know how they saw the 'university of the future' and, it turned out, several interviewees thought the university should transmit more knowledge to the public. Now, how do you better transmit knowledge to the public by developing a Massive Open Online Course? (for information about MOOCs, please check out this video That's what we did. We decided it would be a MOOC about the science that is behind a beer. And then, why beer? Well, we realised that we could investigate the science behind beer from many perspectives such as production, raw materials, marketing and health effects, which could be perfectly linked to the different research domains of Wageningen University. And, of course, there is no  better topic than beer to attract students!

Who is it for?

The course is open for anyone with an interest in the science behind beer. The course was designed as an introductory course, so experienced beer brewers shouldn't expect too much complexity, but with the four perspectives (production, raw materials, marketing and health effects), we think, there is always something to learn for everyone. 

How long have you been brewing?

he truth is: the video of us brewing at home was only our first time making beer! Therefore, we were even more happy to see that our video was selected as the winner. In the video, we are brewing an Irish Red Ale and we were surprised by the good taste. Perhaps we will continue our brewing experiences in the future. 

Here are two videos of our home brewing experience [Author's Note: YOU WANT TO WATCH THE BLOOPER REEL!]:
- The home brewing video 
- Bloopers home brewing  

How does teaching affect your appreciation of beer and brewing?

During the making of our online course, we started trying as many different beer styles as possible. We were getting better in distinguishing the typical tastes associated with the different beer styles and we developed our preferences. Now that we have learned so much about all the science that is behind a seemingly simple pint of beer, we have the feeling that we started appreciating our beers more. But, more importantly, we have become more aware of the health effects of drinking beer. Perhaps, we turned into more conscious drinkers 

What was the best tip you ever received about beer/brewing?

In our opinion the most important tip we received is to make sure you're brewing under sterile conditions. Often, we hear people say their brewing failed and they stop attempting afterwards. That's a pity!  [AUTHOR'S NOTE: Definitely a shame.  It's like going skiing for the first time and being pushed down a double-black-diamond trail called "The Preacher."  You're not gonna have a good time, and your frustration will push you out of the hobby.  Keep it clean out there...]

Favorite beer/style?  Least favorite?

Sander prefers a Porter, Nico goes for a Blond beer, Esther for a Stout and Florence for an Irish Red ale.

On the other side: you don't make Sander too happy with a pilsener, Nico doesn't enjoy a Stout very much, Esther is not a fan op IPA and Florence not of a pilsener or IPA. 

Strangest thing about beer culture in the Netherlands?

That's a good question, we are not so sure about typical Dutch things. But I (Nico) experienced myself: in the Netherlands, we mainly drink pilseners and we've all got strong opinions on which brand is good to drink and which brand is definitely not. But it turns out that, when tasting different pilseners blindfolded, hardly anyone recognizes which taste belongs to which brand and a 'bad' brand might suddenly be not too bad after all. [AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is spot-on.  It's almost impossible to identify specific beers using nothing more than your palate.]

Besides that, something the Netherlands is known for is of course cycling. Dutch people always take the bicycle and it is not unusual to see 'bike jams' over here. In line with the Dutch cycle culture, if you come to a city in the Netherlands, it is possible to see the so-called 'beerbikes': pubs-on-wheels for 10 to 20 people. 

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: I thought this was hilarious and ingenious in equal parts.  In fact, here's a video of it in action.  It's on my to-do list the next time I'm in the Netherlands!  If your sound is on, note the distinctly American soundtrack...]


Where can our readers find out more information about the course?

Nico wrote a blog about our online beer course:


Thanks to Nico, Sander, Esther, and Florence for being such great sports and supporters of beer and brewing!

Keep it simple.


Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

Money, Loyalty, and Home Brewing: The LHBS Dilemma


I'm surrounded by local home brew shops (LHBS).  Too many, probably.  There are four within 20 miles of my house.  

And I patronize them all.  Why?  Because I help organize competitions and events in the area, and frankly it's convenient for each one of these shops to know I'm a customer.  I also write about beer, and in the event I need a shop owner's perspective on a story, there are plenty of folks to take my call.  Plus I'm out and about a lot anyway.

The point of this piece, though, isn't to talk how many there are and whether there are too many: it's to ask whether (and how) you should be shopping there in the first place.  

At What Price, Local?

The reason this is coming up now is because of a conversation I had on- and off-line with some folks about just how much they're willing to pay to keep their business local.  It was kicked off in a social media group by someone mentioning that they were paying $250 for a basic kegging/draft setup, but they found the same thing at an online retailer for $170.  

This individual wanted to know if he was being unreasonable for thinking about buying from the online retailer.

I shop locally.  It's convenient, and it maintains relationships with people in my local beer community.  And I'm willing to pay a premium to do so, and to help keep them in business.

But if I walk into a shop and see something running a 50% markup?  

I'm probably going to buy online.

I'm also sure that some of you are thinking, "sellout," or "traitor," or "cheapskate."  

What you should be thinking is, "economist."  Because I'm more than willing to pay more for identical products in order to support my local beer economy - but I'm not willing to pay any price, and you shouldn't be either.


LHBS, the traditional brick-and-mortar kind (even if they do some online sales), are obviously facing a market headwind.  When large retailers leverage their economies of scale and purchasing power and sell at near-cost because they can, it puts enormous strain on LHBS to compete with - much less match - their prices.  I get that.

Then there's the fact that homebrewing is "leveling off" or dropping in terms of sales, if not in number of homebrewers (it looks like more are simply brewing less, but it might only be a matter of time before the number of homebrewers actually drops).  

What's a LHBS to do?  One option is to raise prices and lean on sentimentality and loyalty and look askance at any homebrewer who confesses to concealing a life as a secret online shopper.  Another is to find a business model that lets you make money while not pricing my purchase as though I'm buying for two neighbors of mine that stopped homebrewing a year ago.

If you can't compete with online retailers for everyday brewing supplies and ingredients, maybe find something online retailers are bad at (teaching about homebrewing, or customer service in many cases) and lean into that.  Focus on selling heavy-weight or perishable products that don't ship well (fresh fruit for fruit beers and meads).  Build your own client base by starting or hosting homebrew clubs in your area.  Host events and festivals.

But you can't change the economy.  EVERY retailer is struggling with this.  While homebrewing was growing by double-digits every year and everyone needed a hand with what to buy because they were new and/or there weren't good resources online, then LHBS were easy to sustain (if not terribly profitable).  The moment that's not the case, you're going to be caught up in the same dilemma every other traditional retailer is grappling with.

Where to Buy

I'm not going to stop shopping at my four local shops.  I wouldn't even if I didn't have a mercenary motive.  But I definitely shop with a strategy.  I'll buy yeast, bottles, and some equipment from shops.  I'll buy things that I know the shop can get more or less in bulk, like tubing.  

But loyalty has its limits.

If shops are saying, "we can't stay in business by selling those things," then, harsh as this sounds, maybe you can't stay in business, at least not with your current approach.  I'll help in any way I can.  I'll even overpay for lots of products, within reason.

But loyalty has its limits.  

I'm positive that many homebrewers identify with the "craft" ethos and want to support local businesses.  For sure, I encourage people to buy local, and to look for items that their shop seems to offer competitive prices on and make the trip to get those things there.  I encourage them to attend a live class so they can get their specific questions answered (though online classes are a great option for those in homebrewing deserts).  

But loyalty has its limits.  And the clock is ticking.

Keep it simple.


Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

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.


Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).



RoboBrewing: Automation and "Real Brewing"


A few weeks back I put some thought into a brewing system overhaul.  I was looking at my nine-year-old Coleman Cooler mash tun and pondering the idea of "if it ain't broken, don't fix it" vs. "stuck in a rut," and decided it was at least worth exploring.

One of the things I considered - mainly because I'm friendly with some enthusiastic people who own, use, or sell them - was one of those new-fangled brewing machines like the Zymatic.  Pricey, for sure, but I was curious about whether it might be worth it, and so I started talking to some folks.  Time saved and repeatability are worth something, after all, and psychologists often demonstrate that money spent on buying back time feels like a good investment compared to other forms of buying, so why not?

That's when I discovered a surprising resistance to these kinds of machines: "That's not REAL brewing."  

"Real Brewing?"

" isn't?"

Nope.  Not according to a small-but-reasonably-vocal group of homebrewers I was in touch with.  Maybe I'm constructing a straw man here and there really isn't real opposition to this, but it sure seemed that way.

Some even seemed shocked I was considering it.  

The argument went like this: if a computer and a machine are doing the adding and processing of ingredients, then the "real brewer" is the machine, not the human operating it.  They described the machines as basically producing a hot, pre-hopped wort extract.

So, naturally, I followed up with, "OK, but isn't extract brewing 'real brewing?'"  This is where it got weird: YES, obviously, extract brewing is real brewing, in their estimation.  


Well, because you're adding the pre-hopped extract and boiling it yourself.

Dismissing (I think rightly, but please feel free to disagree) the idea that using a can opener and pouring extract into water to dissolve it as a "brewing act" of note (I mean, really, why is that substantively different than letting the machine do it?  If I used an electric can opener, am I "not brewing" again?), it seems like these folks bring brewing down to one act:

Boil the wort yourself.  Is that really the essence of "real brewing?"  If so, it seems like a strangely specific hill to die on.


And then there's the old saw that "brewers make wort - yeast make beer."  If so, then isn't "real brewing" much more about the cold-side process?  

That argument didn't get much traction with my impromptu and far-flung focus group, either.  Why?  Because the objectors had what amounts to an ideological objection.  One wrote, and I quote, "it's just wrong," referring to the use of an automated brewing machine to produce wort.  Others expressed the same idea in different ways, but to the same general conclusion.  

Introduce automation, and you've tainted the process.  You're "buying" consistency in your process, as one put it.  That's not an expression of logic - after all, the same could be said of brewers who use software to build recipes and calculate strike temps and water additions/adjustments - it's a statement of philosophical and stereotypical and normative thinking.  

But ideology, stereotype, and philosophy are, almost by definition, incomplete and imperfect shortcuts that often work against reason.  They simplify the world and make it "knowable," which is comforting, but they usually rely on (check out Lippmann, Public Opinion, Chapters 6-10, for some awesome reading) "blind spots" to provide their crucial energy and agency, since simplification nearly always comes at a cost in terms of accuracy or consistency.

Automation "feels" wrong to them, and introducing it is acceptable in some ways that feel "OK" (using extract) while being unacceptable in others (using a home-based machine to create a comparable product).  That inconsistent standard is often evidence of a blind spot at work. 

No Axe to (Automatically) Grind

Ultimately, I decided against the various machines out there, but I was perfectly satisfied by their capabilities and potential to make great beer.  I have no axe to (automatically) grind, here.  I'm not path-dependent and trying to make myself feel good about a decision or purchase.

I'm just fascinated by the debate.

For what it's worth, I can't side with the anti-machiners.  Even if we're talking about a push-button machine with pre-packed ingredient sets, you're still doing your own fermentation.  If we start drawing lines around what can and can't be accomplished by buying pre-processed ingredients, using specialized tools or programs, and/or taking advantage of technology and equipment in order to decide what is or isn't a brewer, then I think we just end up in a muddle.  

Is a decoction gal a more "real" brewer than a single-infusion guy?  People who use whole flower hops v. pellets v. extracts?  Temp controller folks v. "natural cave aging and temperature control" people?  

If you're working the product in any way, you're brewing.  If the day ever comes when you can push a button on one end and get a full, fermented, and carbonated keg out of the other end with no work on your part, then I'm more than willing to restart this conversation.

Until then, though, I don't see what the problem is, even though I'm sticking with my old, reliable Coleman cooler instead of the shiny brewing machine.

Keep it simple.


Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

Homebrewing Addict: Obsession, Commitment, or Compulsion?


I recently played a basic icebreaking game with a class in which the speaker made three statements about him or herself, two of which were true and one which was a lie.  My "lie" was "I run marathons for fun."  It was a lie because although I do run marathons, I don't think there's anyone who does so "for fun."  In my explanation (and experience), most marathoners run them because they're compulsive people who are willing to engage in a deliberately injurious activity out of a desire to do something relatively extreme - it's where people who want to exercise and also have addictive personalities end up.

I've started to think it's the same with homebrewing.

Does This Sound Familiar?

I've brewed beer while kegging/bottling a beer so that I have somewhere to put the beer I'm brewing right at that moment.

I couldn't tell you the exact date of five of my six nieces'/nephews' birthdays, but I can tell you the exact OG of the beer I brewed two days ago.

I've adjusted the heat/AC in our house to aid in fermentation temperature management (in the days before I had a temp controller).

I have two or more refrigerators on at least two levels of my home, plus two more in the garage. 

I've scheduled social and professional events around when I need to be at a local homebrew shop to get supplies for a batch.

We have more than one room or area of our house explicitly dedicated to (and decorated for) homebrewing.

A solid majority of my friend group is comprised of members of my homebrew club(s).

I deliberately shop at three - no, wait, FOUR - different homebrew shops so that in a pinch, if I need something rare or special, I can call on a favor from an employee or owner at those shops.  

Since I started brewing beer in April 2007 I've never - not once - been without beer of my own to drink.

Does this sound familiar?  And does it sound sane?  I'm seriously asking.  I hang around with mostly homebrewers, and that's like being a coke addict who mostly hangs out with insomniacs with ADHD - you start to lose track of what's objectively normal.

Rubbing the Lamp

Fine - so we live in a pretty involved and involving subculture.  But it's still culture, right?  I mean, sure, this chews up time that could be spent at a museum, or hearing live music, or visiting family, but honestly, when was the last time anything constructive ever happened in any of those places?

Because say what you want about however you spend your time, but at the end of the brewing day, you know what I have?  I have beer.

And that's like rubbing the lamp with the genie in it and being smart enough to ask for more wishes.  When you're the guy/gal with beer taps coming out of your walls and with the fridge full of bottles and the head full of know-how, the world beats a path to your wort-stained door.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go pack up some herbs and yard clippings I've been drying on a windowsill for use in a hay-themed Saison for a Homebrewing Secret Santa brewing challenge.

And then maybe I need to make an appointment with a therapist.

Keep it simple.


Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

Hell Is Other Brewers: Loving and Ignoring Beer Feedback

Our previous image was apparently offensive to at least one reader who took issue with the use of the face of Che Guevara.  Instead, please enjoy these creepy meerkats staring at you, which work pretty well, too...

Our previous image was apparently offensive to at least one reader who took issue with the use of the face of Che Guevara.  Instead, please enjoy these creepy meerkats staring at you, which work pretty well, too...

There's a certain vulnerability in homebrewing that we don't often discuss: homebrewing invites judgment.  I don't know a single homebrewer that drinks everything they brew.  Such a person could be only a sporadic brewer or an alcoholic (or both).  That means that, for most of us, we're offering up what we've brewed to other people, and when we do, they're going to judge us.

Hell is Other Brewers

In reflecting on that last week, I was reminded of a famous line from Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit: "Hell is other people."  An oft-misinterpreted sentiment, Sartre isn't saying that other people are annoying (though they can be, of course).  He's saying that there's anxiety and pain caused by a near-unavoidable human trait of seeing ourselves not as innately free and independent entities, but as an object that is regarded externally by others, and that we are as others perceive us to be.

If you are as others perceive you, you're a slave to their perceptions even if your innate qualities are completely adequate to your needs and wants.  If they think you're stupid, or vain, or untrustworthy, then you are (or might as well be), and your inability to be free of that judgment can be torturous.  Hence, "hell is other people."

This is deep for homebrewing, I realize, but in many ways it applies to the kinds of judgments we get from people who drink our beer - especially other brewers.  Your friends and family probably won't be totally honest with you, even if they're journeymen beer aficionados with some sensory training and a good beer evaluation vocabulary.  But other brewers...they'll probably be honest.  Maybe painfully so.

And here's the thing: you should both want that painful feedback and try to remain independent from it.

No Exit

For a variety of reasons that we've already delved into, you should be seeking good feedback for your beer - and "good" shouldn't mean "polite."  It probably shouldn't be hurtful and demeaning, but even in those cases such feedback (if warranted) can be a good wake-up call for a brewer who is, perhaps, a little too optimistic in their assessments and filters everything through the lens of "clearly I'm a great brewer and I love my beer and that's all that matters."

I'm 100% guilty of giving unvarnished, direct feedback, to the point where I'm also pretty sure that, taken out of context, it'd be considered cruel (I'm working on being nicer about it, I swear).  Intent and context matter here, though.  If someone is just ripping on your beer to belittle your efforts and mock you, then that's clearly wrong - don't confuse that with someone who is just being pointed to the point of cringe-inducement to prevent any rose-colored-glasses misunderstandings.

Because that feedback is just what you need.  There's degrees of "wrong" in brewing, as we all know.  Slight ester in a lager?  No big deal.  Vegetal aroma plus sulfur that smells like a head of cabbage lit a bucket of s**t on fire?  Big deal.  You need to know the magnitude of the problem, and politeness will strip away that important feature of the feedback.

Hell, I don't even mind when someone is just being mean - there's probably some truth in there, and I think we can and should find value in even ill-intentioned feedback.

That doesn't mean you should be a slave to it, though.


Sartre, like many others, was philosophically guided and preoccupied by notions of human freedom.  Those lessons apply here, too.  Feedback is valuable.  Feedback, however, should not be deterministic as it pertains to your brewing choices.

Creativity is something that draws lots of people into homebrewing.  Creativity and artistry are not things that are universally understood, and in many cases the very best of art is perceived as deeply flawed by the majority.  Maybe you've hit on something truly brilliant in your brewing; even if you have (hell, especially if you have) it's very likely that the feedback you receive about it will be negative and maybe hostile.

If you believe in what you're brewing, then don't let others change your mind for you.  This isn't a blanket denigration of feedback, but it is a reminder that what you're doing, even if you share it around, is still fundamentally for you.  If you believe you're making the beer you want to make, then keep making it.

Be willing to reject specific points of feedback, no matter how intense or how universal.  But if you do, do so for a reason.  Rejecting feedback because you don't like feedback is arrogant and self-defeating.  Rejecting feedback because you have a specific claim or goal can be both principled and correct.

Brewing and Nothingness

Zymurgic-existentialist meanderings aside, the right path here, as I see it, is to embrace the feedback you get.  Beer is inherently social, and making/sharing it even more so.  If we didn't have that feedback, it wouldn't be beer.  In Being and Nothingness Sartre notes that nothingness is a real thing, not simply the absence of something.  

If you walk into a bar and your barfly friend who stops by every afternoon for a pint on the way home isn't there, then his or her absence "haunts" the bar and your experience of it.  It is not simply a state or condition; saying "Chris isn't here" is different than saying "a horse isn't here," because no one expects a horse in a bar.  Chris, though, should be here, and isn't.

In the same way, if we have beer but don't have the social, group mechanism of feedback then the lack of it "haunts" the entire exchange.  It creates a form of isolation that isn't healthy and is certainly not enjoyable.  

So love that feedback, whatever its character or content.  Ignore it if you have a reasonable justification for it, but love it all the same, like a relative with strange political beliefs.

Keep it simple.


Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

How To Talk Homebrewing Without Going Overboard

"A fanatic is someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." - Winston Churchill.

You're at a party, or perched on the bar, or standing around a grill.  There's beer.  Someone starts talking about beer.  And, almost irresistibly, you find the words spilling out of your mouth, despite any intention you had of keeping them in...

"Actually, I brew beer."

If that's not you, then you can go.  But I can write that sentence fully aware that I'm keeping an enormous percentage of you on board for this, because as far as I can tell we nearly all do this.  It's not inherently a bad thing, but it certainly has the potential.  Homebrewer fanaticism might not be what it once was, but there's still plenty of us out there.  

The Downside of Depth

Specialty is the enemy of gaiety.  It isn't so much that people aren't or couldn't be interested in brewing (though they might not be), it's that the kinds of conversations homebrewers tend to have about beer and brewing are only interesting to other homebrewers, and even then it may be heavily dependent on the other's brewing practice, experience, method, or skill.  

If I'm not a Brew-in-a-Bag guy, then there's only so much I care about where you're ordering your bags from and whether or not they eliminate the need for rice hulls in a wheat-heavy grist.  If I don't use extract I'll have a hard time mustering up interest in Muntons v. Alexanders or DME v. LME.  If I don't use induction...well, I do, but you get the point.  

And that's assuming you're talking to another brewer.  Now imagine you're not.  How much do they care about anything other than the very, very basics of brewing, if that much?  

If you're talking about homebrewing, there's a very good chance that you're not educating or entertaining - you're masturbating.  And no one wants to see that in public.

Courtesy v. Interest

I'm sure I've said this before, but never mistake courtesy for interest.  Yes, you're all talking about beer.  It can be fun, and if you're at good craft beer bar or brewery there's bound to be some casual interest.  This shouldn't convince you that you have a green light to go full beer geek.  


If you're going to talk about brewing, maybe don't go full beer geek.  If you use terms that need to be explained, you've probably already gone too far.  If you mention ales v. lagers, take a breath and change the subject.  If you think you might let the words SRM, sparge, or Vorlauf escape your lips, step outside and punch yourself in the genitals until you feel the sensation pass.

The danger here is that people might keep listening just to be polite.  Hell, I'm married to someone who keeps asking questions about something even when she hates the topic, just because it seems polite.  Don't assume that just because they're nodding and smiling that they're not screaming on the inside.

A Matter of Taste

I've been down this road.  I know what it feels like to be the overcommitted, hyper-talkative alehole in the room.  You realize it the next morning, or maybe later that night, and you wonder why you didn't just stick to the basics.

So that's my advice.  Stick to the basics.  Hell, stick to less than the basics.

I prefer to talk about beer like it is what it is - a food product.  Leave the science and the mechanics aside completely.  I've never, not once, had a brewing-based conversation that focused on taste and flavors that has gone awry.  But I've seen (and ignored?) a lot of glazed eyeballs when I go into too much detail on the question, "how long does it take to make beer?" ["Well, only about 4-5 hours to make it, all-grain, maybe 2-3 if it's extract, but you want to do all-grain because of the control you get.  It's cheaper, too.  Anyway, all-grain is when you do your own starch conversions, instead of just getting the liquid or dried extract.  Hey, cool - where'd you learn to tie a noose?  So, as I was saying you can use a cooler or a kettle to mash in, mashing being when you hold the grain in a warm, wet bath so the enzymes can convert the starches into - sure, I'll get you a glass of water for those pills - simple and complex sugars.  See, yeast can consume and convert short-chain sugars but not long-chain sugars, so there's some left over which is why we need hops to balance the sweetness of the remaining - oh, Bob?  He's in the bathroom with my pocket knife, I think he needed to clean his fingernails - long-chain sugars and alcohols, because you know alcohol is sweet, too!  Anyways, that's just the brew day, but it can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to ferment and age the beer..."  You get the idea.]

And when I say to talk flavors, I don't mean "round maltiness" or "flinty bitterness" or "slick diacetyl."  I mean "pineapple," "banana," "coffee," and the like.   Imagine you were describing cake to someone who just generally, sort-of-knows-about baked goods.  You'd talk up the sweetness of icing and the softness of sponge cake, not the advantages of convection ovens over gas ovens or silicon trays v. aluminum, right?  


Nothing wrong with something basic ("all alcoholic drinks are basically just sugary liquids, fermented, which makes alcohol") and a discussion of flavors ("lots of beers taste like banana or spices even without using fruit or spice").  Crack that tiny egg of knowledge, then shut up.  Pretend you're cultivating an air of mystery, if it makes it easier for you.  Answer questions, but don't try to gin up a long conversation.  Maybe it'll happen anyway, but try to talk about other things in between brewing-related questions.  And maybe you're just better at this than I am.

But I always get better results when I keep it brief.  A couple of points, and then move on.  

On that note, why not stop here?  

Keep it simple.


Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).