Brewing

The Hops Mirage: Pellets, Flowers, Powders, and Time

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I don’t know that it’s possible to drink or brew beer these days without confronting, face-first and chin-out, hop heads. If it’s just the beer drinking variety, they can be a bit soporific: there’s only so much discussion of whatever experimental hops such-and-such brewery was using that I can take before my mind starts to wander. I’m also not at all sold (experimental results forthcoming) that they (or I) can tell the difference between hoppy beers unless they’re sitting side-by-side. Still, with them it’s more about endurance than engagement.

It’s the brewers, though, that I get into the most spirited debates with, especially on the question of what really makes for hops aroma. I think I manage to bring most of them around on the practical physics of the thing (that in the boil, they’re all bittering hops - if you want aroma/flavor, add it in the whirlpool), but I still get no end up pushback on the question of hop form.

Let’s just put it out there. Pellets, powders, whole flower hops - it doesn’t much matter, so stop wasting my time with it. Time, it turns out, is exactly what we don’t have when it comes to hops flavor and aroma.

A Matter of Time

I say that knowing full well that many of you have strong feelings, especially about Cryo Hops/powders/hash. The problem is that while I agree with you that they yield a domineering and impressive hops presence in the short term, within even a few days there’s just no difference. And believe you me, I’ve tried. The effects are (to borrow a phrase from political scientist Larry Bartels) either minimal or fugitive outside of that super-tight window.

I don’t drink most of my beer in the 96 hours after packaging. If you do, then go ahead and move on - keep pounding your IPAs and American Ambers while drink-reading through some other pieces here at good ol’ Beer Simple. The rest of you, though, can rest easy. If you’re planning on serving that beer in a week, or two, or (Ninkasi forbid) a month, then you’re just as well off with conventional hopping products.

Time isn’t your friend. We know that, as brewers. Just how big an enemy it is, though, is obvious when you get a whiff of the intense aromatics of a cryo-hopped beer…and then some time passes.

The Mirage

It’s an attractive illusion, those hops powders. You can just tell that they’re going to work. And they do - but just as you’re walking across the room to stick your friend’s nose into the glass…

Gone.

OK, so it’s not that quick, but it’s not far off, either. I’ve played with these hops six ways from Sunday, and I’ve never been able to produce a stable advantage from them. In a week (or less) they’re more or less indistinguishable in intensity.

Whirlpool only. Whirpool and dry hop (this was best, btw). Just dry hop. Multi-stage dry hop. Pellet and powder (this was best, btw). Pellet and flower. All three. Significant and interesting immediate differences - no lasting difference.

Maybe your experience is different. Maybe my system, or process, or yeast, or something is nulling it out.

But I just don’t see it. To me, different forms of hops are just a mirage of flavor, shimmering in the background and all resolving into the same hoppy finale when I get closer.

Right, for the Wrong Reasons

That’s not to say you shouldn’t use them, of course. There are advantages in the form of less ingredient loss, probably in product shelf life as well (though I’ve never had an issue storing hops in the freezer for even years at a time), convenience, or even just the knowledge that you’re doing all you can (even if that “all” doesn’t amount to much) to amp up your hops flavors.

Maybe these fancy products are right, just for the wrong reasons.

Whatever the case, though, I had to say it, just one time, to all of you: when it comes to hops, I’m going to have to keep acting like the kid who said the emperor was naked, even if that means I’m beaten to a hoppy hash by King Gambrinus’ green-clad courtiers.

Keep it simple.

JJW

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Frozen: Fractional Distillation for (Almost) Any Beer

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Three times in two days I was asked, "can you freeze any beer to make it stronger?"

"Sure," I answered.

One individual followed that up with, "so, I could make an Eis-Pilsner?"

Quoting one of my favorite lines from the Alec Baldwin classic The Hunt for Red October, I responded, "Sure - why would you want to?"

This simple fact is that any beer can be "iced" (fractionally distilled by freezing), but not every beer benefits from it.  And all of them run some additional risks: the process also intensifies faults which might otherwise be undetectable.

Fractional distillation is possible because water freezes faster than ethanol.  As a result, it's possible to intensify a beer's flavors and increase its ABV by concentrating it, post-fermentation.  Some beers benefit from this, making finished products of significant depth and intense substance - some don't.  Which styles fall into which category, in my humble opinion, is what we'll be discussing today.

Don't Bother

For lower-ABV beers, don't bother.  Freezing isn't a necessity to increase their ABV - just add more base grain or simple sugars.  Intensifying their flavors, likewise, can usually be accomplished by recipe adjustment.  The risks associated with fractional distillation just aren't worth it.

If you're making any beer under 7 percent ABV, you can up the alcohol and intensity by half or more using conventional means.  Do so.

I also wouldn't make an Eis-IPA for any reason whatsoever.  Predicting the flavor impact of IBUs is a tricky business at the best of times - I wouldn't care to try to do so in any kind of distillation effort.  The result will likely be tough to drink unless your palate is burnt to a crisp.

Maybe...Not

Some styles fall into the "dunno, try it and find out" pile for me.  These are your strong-ish ABV beers (7-8 percent) with relatively strong flavors.  Think of something like Robust (American) Porter, or some of the Belgian styles.

If I want an amped-up version of those, I may not be able to get it easily just by recipe adjustment.  At the same time, they're tricky, because I might end up making a beer that's too intense along several flavor dimensions.

Eis-Saison, Eis-Porter, and Eis-Tropical Stout?  Absolutely - but be prepared to tinker a bit, and be prepared to fail.  

Definitely

Interestingly, I think the best candidates for fractional distillation are the beer styles that are already pretty intense.  Ironically, Eisbock isn't even in this category (but, fun fact, I'm going to be making an Eis-Eisbock soon!), since it's perfectly plausible to get the flavors of them from conventional brewing - I once won a duel in my homebrew club with a non-iced Eisbock.  Don't get me wrong - strengthened strong lagers are great choices here, but they're not the most interesting.

No, I think we should be icing beers that already swing for the fences.  Wee Heavy, barleywines, and the like.  

Won't they be too intense?  Maybe.  Avoid astringency-prone chocolate malts in favor of dehusked versions of the similar malts, limit IBUs, ferment clean and cold, etc. to avoid a nigh-undrinkable beer.  But if it's intense...so what?  Isn't that the point?

Bottle them all up in twelve-ounce bottles, and share.  A few ounces of a 17% English Barleywine can be a ton of fun, and they'll almost certainly age really well.

Frozen Nuts and Bolts

And now, just a quick reminder of what's involved.  

First, brew your beer (again, with the awareness that most flavors - intended or not - are going to be more intense in the finished product).  

Second, ferment your beer.  I generally recommend at least a very cold start for these beers to limit off-flavors and their precursors.  Easy does it is good advice here.  Ramp up temperatures at the end to get the right fermentation character, but do your best to hold hot alcohols, diacetyl, and other sins of too-hot fermentation at bay.

Third, freeze that sucker.  Transfer to a keg.  Then, let your chest freezer off of its chain and give it (the keg, not the freezer) a shake every couple of hours until you hear some slush forming.  When you get a feel that it's about one-fifth ice to four-fifths beer (some art rather than science here), rack it out from under the ice and package it.

And that's about it.

Finally, to those thinking, "I can make an Eis-Imperial-IPA!," what the heck, go for it.  If you're successful, let me know!

Keep it simple.

JJW

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

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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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DavEhc1wds). 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 https://youtu.be/T6g-aVC9_uc 
- Bloopers home brewing https://youtu.be/BKKgL7_hVd8  

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: 

 https://blog.edx.org/science-beer-wageningen-students-create-first-online-course/?track=blog

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

Keep it simple.

JJW

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).


Lying Lagers and the Lagerers Who Lager Them (and other Lying Beers)

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I don't care what it is - I care what it tastes like.  

At least once a year someone comes at me with some kind of declaration about how it's not "right" or "acceptable" to call a beer something that it isn't.  Not a month ago someone threw this one at me on a social media discussion thread:

"Just because it tastes like a lager doesn't mean it is."

Statements like that make me shake my head in disbelief.  I'm doing it right now, just as a result of looking it up again to make sure I got the phrasing just right.  

Now, this #alehole might be technically correct: if I didn't use a lager yeast, and/or if I didn't cold-condition the beer for several weeks, I suppose in a legalistic, anal-retentive, wrapped-too-tight-for-homebrewing sense it "isn't a lager."  Fine.  And that hamburger you're eating isn't one either because it wasn't made in the traditional Hamburg-comes-to-America method of smashing the ball of beef on the grill into a round shape.

Relax.

If it tastes like a lager, and I call it a lager, does it matter that I cheated a little bit in the process?  

If it's a Berliner Weisse and a panel of judges pick it as Best of Show, does it matter that I spiked it with lactic acid instead of developing all of the acidity in the mash or the kettle or in fermentation?

If it's a Blackberry Pale Ale but I follow fellow Stoney Creek Homebrewer Mike Todd's recipe and hammer it with Bramling Cross hops, does it matter that I didn't use any actual fruit?

My answer to these and all other such questions is, "No, absolutely not."

I care what it tastes like.  

Here endeth the (brief) lesson.  I don't want to hold you (or me) up on this holiday weekend.  Enjoy your Memorial Day, and take a few minutes to remember a soldier, sailor, airman, or marine who didn't get to have a beer with friends and family today.

Keep it simple.

JJW

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).


Get Regular: Frequency, Consistency, and Quality

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"Consistency is the hallmark of the unimaginative."

"Consistency is contrary to nature; contrary to life."

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

With all due respect to my friends Wilde, Huxley, and Emerson...their beer probably sucks, and unlike their friends I'm not afraid to tell them so.  

I get that brewing is a creative and artistic effort as much as it is a scientific and regimented process, but how much you brew is probably a lot less important than how often you brew.  I've already written about the importance of a reliable process, so today I want to make a pitch for a reliable brewing life.  

I'm thoroughly convinced that whatever success I've had as a home brewer, especially early on, is thanks in large part to the idea that I brewed frequently and regularly.  

Brew Day

I read about brewers and their "brew days" all the time.  I don't think they're really recognizing that phrase for what it is, though.  Rather than thinking about it as "A day on which I'm brewing," I'd recommend thinking of it as "THE day on which I'm brewing."

For me, that used to be Fridays.  Friday was Brew Day.  

It wasn't always wort/beer production on that day.  Sometimes it was bottling.  Sometimes it was equipment cleaning/maintenance.  Sometimes it was the day I'd head up to the local homebrew shop and pick up ingredients.  But Friday was Brew Day.  If I thought of something that I wanted to do with regard to beer or brewing, I'd just make a note - "Yup - gotta remember to dry hop that beer on Brew Day!"

Let's think about the virtues of that.  It meant that a consistent one day a week I was asking, "OK, what do I want to do today with regard to my homebrewing life?"  I'd schedule things out - "So, this Friday I'll grab grain and yeast and make my starter, next Friday I'll brew that pale ale and maybe double-batch it with something else I can use the rest of that starter for, and then the Friday after that I'll dry hop the pale ale, and..."  

It'd be rare to have something fall through the cracks, sit longer than I wanted, have to rush to get a beer conditioned, etc.  Why?  Because in advance I committed to using a specific day for whatever brewing activity should get done that week.  Not only did that mean fewer problems, it actually meant better beer, because I was hitting things when they were optimum, not when I'd overlooked them and had to get them done or miss some deadline.  

I get that not everyone has the kind of flexibility in their schedule that I do, to be able to set aside a lot of one day in perpetuity, but I bet more brewers could find a consistent few hours each week than they think.  Even a small bloc of time, consistently, is better than convincing yourself that you'll knock it ALL out on that mythical weekend day when you have nothing scheduled.  It won't hold up - you'll schedule something.  Or you'll get tired and leave some things undone.  Or you'll feel frustrated and continue procrastinating.  

Find a Brew Day, and stick to it.

Regularity and The Human Brain

I don't always get to bring my professional life into confluence with my beer life, but this happens to be a case where I do!  It relates to the way in which your brain actually works to manage your life (whoa...).  

Have you ever driven home from work and realized that the entire time you were thinking about something else, and can't remember the turns you made, stopping at that light, managing the traffic on the freeway, or pulling into your own garage?  Scary, right?

That's normal.  In any behavior that we do regularly, our brain takes advantage of the rote nature of the thing to take a break and focus on other things.  Essentially, you have a kinda-dumb-but-still-capable "doing" part of your brain that can be left to its own devices sometimes, while the smarter "thinking" part of your brain can go elsewhere, leaving Dumb Doing Brain to mow the lawn, drive the car, or brew the beer (in this case).  This would be insanely hazardous, except that overlaying it all is a "surveillance" system that's almost constantly interrogating the environment and is ready to sound an alarm bell when something weird happens - at that point, your "thinking" brain snaps back to take charge of the "doing" part, to deal with the new (unexpected) thing.  Driving driving driving...brake lights - snap back, hit the brakes.  [This, by the by, is why something like texting and driving is so dangerous, even if you think you're still watching the road - your surveillance system isn't up and working because you're distracting it with reading and composition.  You're not going to notice changes in the environment.]

It's repetition and habit that make that possible.  Which means that when it comes to brewing, the more often you do it, the more likely you are to be able to just let Dumb Brain run on autopilot while your Smart Brain does other things.  That's incredibly useful in brewing, which rewards a consistent process.

Brewing more often, and especially on the same day and under the same conditions, if possible, makes you a better brewer.  

You'll also enjoy it more, because habitual behaviors seem "easier" to us than behaviors that make us think and decide and actively manage what we're doing.  My wife and I walk to get tea/coffee a couple-three times per week, and it's a 3.2 mile walk each way (we mainly do it for the exercise - the coffee is just a bonus!).  Walking 6.4 miles takes a while - about an hour and a half, at a pretty brisk clip - which might seem like a LONG time.  And it would, except that we do it all the time, so while we're walking we can talk about whatever or just let our minds wander because we're not constantly being "pinged" by our surveillance systems when a new street comes up and we have to decide if we're turning onto it or not.

Consistency equals Quality

If you want to brew better, brew more often.  Jack Nicklaus was fond of pointing out, when people mentioned to him that they didn't get better at golf despite playing for years, that they were only playing once or twice a month and no one gets better that way.  Want to get better?  Play more golf, consistently.

Now, brewing isn't golf.  We don't need to do it every day to get better.  So, how often should you brew, if your goal is to get better?

I say once per month.  Twice, if you can, but once a month should work.  If you have four "Brew Days" in your month, you can use one to get ingredients and prep, one to brew the wort, one to do a mid-fermentation check or treatment (dry hopping, temp adjustment, etc.), and one to package.  Repeat.  Once you're more comfortable, or if you find you have more time in your Brew Days than you thought (especially now that you're getting more efficient and reliable), maybe add in a second beer per month to that cycle.

And then, the next time you run into Oscar, Aldous, and Ralph, you can tell them they can stick their thoughts about consistency right up...wait, they're dead?  Oh.  OK.  Well, never mind then.

Get regular.  You'll end up with more, better beer that you had an easier time making.

Keep it simple.

JJW

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).


Buying Time: Setting Your Hoppy Beers Up for A Healthy Shelf Life

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ACTUAL EXCHANGE OVERHEARD ON A FACEBOOK GROUP THREAD:

"I need some help getting rid of six cans of [insert famous IPA here].  Picked them up at the brewery seven weeks ago."

"Wow - that beer is OLD."

What the hell has happened to people's tastes that a seven-week-old beer is old?  I'll grant you that if it's a particularly hops-aroma-forward beer, you want it as fresh as you can get it, but old?  

Well, rather than go off on a jag about how beer geeks' palates have (allegedly) become so refined that they NEEEEEEED a beer that's no more than 21 days old (and I'd love to test their sensitivities and have them predict the age on their favorite IPA based on nothing but aroma), I think we'll talk about ways to set yourself up for success and brew beers - particularly hops-forward beers - that can actually hold up to some shelf time.  We'll save the "supertasters'" sensitivity test for a future Beer Culture post, when I find the time to put together some good data (should be able to get that done by June).  

I take two approaches to this: recipe design and handling.  And don't worry - we're not going to belabor the "store it cold, avoid oxidation, blah blah blah" aspects of this.

Design

First, if you're hoping for better shelf "life" on hops aroma, then don't use a huge mash-up of your favorite varieties of hops.  Pick one that, in your water and recipes and system, seems to come through clearly without blending, and then schedule a substantial addition of it.  It can be very hard (borderline impossible, as I hope to demonstrate in that upcoming Beer Culture post) to accurately evaluate the amplitude of a specific hops aroma and predict its age, but I can certainly buy the idea that you can notice if that aroma/flavor changes in character rather than amplitude when one of your blended hops fades faster than the others.  And before anyone jumps on me, I'm sure you can tell them apart by amplitude if you have samples to compare - but unless you're routinely serving someone identical-but-for-age beers at the same exact time, that's irrelevant.

Second, avoid crystal malts in general, and Crystal 60 in particular.  I've read some convincing academic research that suggests that the melanoidins in crystal malts are hostile to hops oils at the molecular level (and that the 60 is especially so).  From a straight flavor perspective, I also notice that hops can struggle to present against a toffee-centric background.  I aim high and low in my hoppy grists - base malts and 20s-ish Lovibond character malts, and 300+ Lovibond chocolate malts.

Third, write a recipe that uses late boil hops, whirlpool hops, and dry hops.  Both my and others' experiments (primitive and imperfect though they might be) have consistently found that multiple hops treatments yield larger aromatic effects, which means that you're starting from a higher "drop-off" point, extending shelf life.  Having said that, and this is where I'm afraid anecdote has to come in, I've noticed a sharper decline when I use more dry hops.  This is a repeat of the first point, in a way: to my palate (and maybe yours, others), dry hops present distinctly from warm-side hops (whether boiled or whirlpooled).  When that character goes away or diminishes, I notice the change.  So, while I use dry hops, I don't go overboard with them - usually not more than one ounce per 4.25 gallons.

Last, I tend to select for citrus hops if I want persistent aroma, particularly the lemon-lime notes we get out of many New Zealand/Australian hops.  They cut through the air and are easily-recognizable to our senses, so even when they're much less potent they seem bigger than they are.  I don't notice the same from the mango or stone fruit flavored hops, and definitely not from the herbal/floral European or old school New World hops.  

And to head off the question, I'm agnostic on whether powders/hashes are actually creating bigger character: they may, they may not.  Use them if you want.

Handling

If you want the hops flavor/aroma in that beer to last, KEG IT.  This is going to serve two functions.  First, while some flush their bottles with CO2 at packaging and some don't, nearly EVERY kegger I know flushes their kegs with CO2 before racking into them.  Less oxygen (yay).  BUT, and this one is apparently based on real science in at least one food sciences journal article I jumped behind a paywall to read, vibration breaks up and volatilizes hops oils.  Maybe that should seem more intuitive to me, but it doesn't, for whatever reason.  However, if you're bottling and hoping for longer hops shelf life, the subtle shaking and bumping of bottle handling is going to degrade the oils you want to be able to perceive.  Kegs, on the other hand, will just sit there.  Bottle/growler up what you need, when you need it.

Whether bottling OR kegging, increase carbonation levels.  Higher CO2 levels (say, 2.5-2.6 volumes of CO2) increase the punch of most aromatics, including hops.  This might be a particularly diabolical way of maintaining a steady perception of hops character in your kegged beer: serve it "on the way up" to full carbonation, and over several days your lower-than-target carbonated IPA/pale ale will have roughly equal hops aroma as your fully-carbed-but-slightly-older version.  But in any case, a spritzier presentation will make it seem hoppier than it actually is. 

You can also cheat on this and give everyone a smaller glass with a bigger bell (snifters rather than shakers), forcing them to go back to the tap/bottle more often and pour into glassware that will provide a crutch for their olfactory perceptions by capturing more of those volatile compounds.

I do also need to make a pitch - however obvious - for cold storage and limiting oxygen pickup.  Anything that stales or ages your beer is bad for hops character.  There.  Cliche served.

How Much Time Do I Have, Doc?

All beers have fading flavors over time.  This is, in some ways, a question of rate - and don't assume it's linear.  You may well have a drop-off from an initial peak of hops flavor, but good recipe design and handling will flatten out the rate of decay on that curve.

Your hoppy beers will be best in the first month or so.  But they're still (or can be) really, really good for months after that.  My oldest medal-winning hoppy beer was a 14-month-old American Amber Ale, and I've had IPAs that score well and win at 10+ months of age.  

Some minor recipe design tweaks and solid basics on handling (with, again, minor specialized adjustments) can keep your hoppy beer hoppy for a good long while.

Seven weeks.  Please.  

Keep it simple.

JJW

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).

 

 


Fresh Off the Tank: Brewing With Hot Water

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In my last Brewing piece I mentioned that, when sending water off to be analyzed, you should be sure to send the water you actually brew with.  If you run your brewing water off the "hot" tap, then send that in to be tested.

A few of you responded...aggressively.  The short version is that apparently some of you think I'm somewhere between a reckless libertine and a war criminal for brewing with water that came out of my water heater tank.  

Why So Heated?

I was confused by the intensity because I've never brewed with anything but pre-heated water from my water heater, and it doesn't seem to have hurt me, either in terms of how the beer is judged nor in the level of enjoyment I get out of it.

One individual was convinced I was essentially taking my life in my own hands.  [All caps his/hers, not mine] "YOU WOULDN'T FILL A POT WITH HOT WATER TO MAKE PASTA, WOULD YOU?"

UH OH.  Yes, yes I would.  And do.  A couple of times per week.  Should I not?

Have you ever noticed that if someone tells you something that seems totally at odds with what you've done your whole life, you can go one of two ways?  Some people lock into deflection/rejection mode and won't engage with it at all.  That's never been my MO, though - if I'm wrong, I want to know it, so I looked into it a little deeper.

Dangerous or Gross?

It seems like the arguments against run in one of two veins.

First, it could be the case that hot water leaches contaminants out of some kinds of pipes, adding things to your water that you shouldn't want to ingest (lead, primarily).  As far as I can tell this is a valid concern in older homes, and the American EPA as well as the CDC say that you should avoid it even in newer homes, since "lead-free" pipes can still contain as much as eight percent lead.  The Canadians don't seem as worried about this, but I can't find links to the studies that state they don't find any long-term risks from it (though popular articles on the topic reference them).  

Second, people who take a gander inside their hot water tanks note that they're pretty gross in there.  That's a less-compelling argument to me.  I filter, and my beer tastes pretty good.  Let's stick with the risk of lead in the water.  

I have to say that I'm torn.

On the one hand, it seems like a universal fact of life (which somehow I've missed) that we shouldn't be using hot water in any application that results in drinking it (be careful what you get into that shower beer).  On the other hand, the risk seems very small.  I don't live in a particularly old home, I use a municipal water service that regularly checks for lead, and it seems as though the risk to adults is far less than the risk to children (I'm already about as screwed up as I'm likely to get, apparently, though this picture suggests that's not exactly a small amount).

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On the other hand, though, what's the harm in taking a little extra water heating time to mitigate even a minor risk?

A Compromise

I settled on a compromise. 

I generally divide my water into two batches (like most of you) - mash water and sparge water.  It's really in my mash water that I'm looking to save time, since that's at the top of my brewing process.  The sparge water I heat while I'm mashing.

Up to this point, I've drawn 100% of my mash water from the hot tap (carbon-filtered, but that isn't likely to make a difference if there's a lot of lead), and a 50-50 hot-cold blend for my sparge water (just to fill up the water bucket quickly).  

It seems as though the risk (such as it is) is elevated in water that's been standing in the pipes for a while.  So, for my mash water I'm going to start running the hot for five minutes prior to filling the mash water bucket, to at least get fresh hot water.

Then, I'll use only cold for my sparge water draw, since it can take some extra time to heat while I'm mashing.

Sound reasonable?

Thank you, sincerely, to those who brought this to my attention, particularly to the medical risks.  Prior to this I've only ever been confronted with, "oh, it's too minerally, so it'll screw up the flavor of your beer," to which I've always responded, "well, it hasn't hurt it yet..."  The lead concerns seem legit (if small in magnitude), and I'm grateful for those who brought it up.

Keep it simple.

JJW

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).  


Water for Dummies: A Simple Approach to Brewing Water

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When it comes to water, it's been my experience that brewers spend far too much time and effort tinkering with it - or, paradoxically, they're terrified of it.  Neither of those are productive. 

Bad water can really wreck your beer - but most water isn't bad. 

Water chemistry is complicated - but we don't need to understand the chemistry to get what we want out of our brewing water.

My point is that for most brewers, the water they're using is probably fine - or could be, with one or two small (and consistent) adjustments.  One approach - the Beer Simple approach, for sure - is to identify a couple of rules-of-thumb for your own brewing rather than approaching every recipe as a new opportunity to tinker with your water.

Today at BS we'll be talking about a strategy for getting your water in good shape (and maybe coming to realize that it's already in good enough shape).  This is for non-chemists, particularly because I'm definitely not a chemist.  I'm also not going to be delving into how to adjust your water - this is about identifying a path to water independence.  

Understanding your brewing water for just a few minutes can set you up for the rest of your homebrewing life.

Don't Chase a Problem

Let's get the cliches out of the way first, shall we?

If your water tastes good to drink, it'll probably make good beer.

There.  Done.  Don't go chasing a problem.  If you're not noticing a consistent deficiency in water flavor or finished beer flavor, then maybe just ignore your water chemistry until such time as you've ironed out every other aspect of your brewing life.  If your water tastes good, then there are almost certainly far more substantively significant things for you to address: recipe formulation, ingredient storage, mash/boil/fermentation processes, yeast health and more are far more likely to have noticeable effects on your beer than your water.

Three Steps to Water Independence

Let's say you have noticeably troubling water and/or you're confident that the rest of your process is sound.  That still doesn't mean you need to enroll in night classes in chemistry or geology to be "water competent."  Most brewers will be fine with three steps.

First, you need to know what's in your water.  There are lots of testing kits out there, and you might get some solid info from municipal water reports, but for my time and money there's nothing better than Ward Labs' brewing water report (note: not a paid endorsement - it's just fast and easy and affordable).  They'll send you a container.  You put your brewing water in it and send it back.  They e-mail you a PDF of a report with the relevant brewing info/ions listed.  Done.  But be sure you're sending your brewing water.  If you filter, filter it.  If you use hot water, send water from the hot side of the tap.  Send the water you'll be using to brew.

Second, you need to know what your report means in terms of brewing.  Note that I didn't say you need to know what it means in terms of the water.  I have a good understanding of technical terms like residual alkalinity and pH and anions v. cations - but I didn't when I first made my water adjustments.  Grab your copy of How to Brew and flip to the section on water - you'll find a set of nomographs to get you in the ballpark on a range of beers that are good for your water, and some basic instructions on how to adjust for other styles.  It's not the only one - BeerSmith, Bru'n Water, and other calculators/tools are out there, too.  What I love about How to Brew is that it's possible to use those nomographs to figure out your water's potential and shortcomings even if you don't understand the chemistry behind it.  Maybe enlist the help of one of your water-nerdy friends to be sure, but you'll end up with the answer to two questions: What can I brew without adjustment, and what styles need adjustments?

Third, and last, you need to know how to adjust your water chemistry.  This doesn't need to be complicated.  First, there's likely a range of beers you can brew without any adjustment at all. And when you do need to make some changes, most of the time we're just talking about a small addition of acid or some mineral/salt.  Some with particularly hard water might need to dilute instead.  You don't need to dial in, exactly, every single beer.  Most will fall into broad categories.  What adjustment, based on color?  What adjustment for hoppy beers?  What adjustment for Czech lagers?  Focus on the practical side of things and you can forget everything you ever knew about chemistry.

And that's it.  Figure out what's in your water.  Figure out what you don't need to adjust and what you do, and then work up a handful of cheats for yourself.  This isn't something you have to delve into with every new recipe. 

Water Doesn't Have to be Hard

For me?  Two adjustments.  Pale beers get a quarter teaspoon of gypsum to bump up my sulfate-to-chloride ratio and accentuate hop bitterness.  Dark beers get a quarter teaspoon of baking soda to keep the mash from going too acidic and add roundness to the malt flavors.  Everything else is as-is, with the exception of anything Plzen-originated, which gets a dilution with distilled water.  That's it.

Water doesn't have to be hard (pun intended).  I know why I do these things - but I didn't when I started, and I don't need to know now.  The mash doesn't know if I understand what the sodium bicarb is doing.

Can you get better results by minutely controlling additions and adjustments with every batch, emulating specific brewing centers and using specific adjustments to yield precise flavors?  Sure.  Probably.  But is it worth it?  

It might be, if you've covered everything else, and you care that much, and you enjoy the minutiae of the brewing process.  But if you're more of a "Relax, Don't Worry, Have a Homebrew" type but still want to do some water adjustment, it's possible to do so without jumping into the chemistry deep end with every batch.  

Keep it simple.

JJW

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).  


10 Simple Beer & Brewing Resolutions for 2018

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Happy New Year, gang!  2017 was an excellent beer year, and I managed to keep (almost) all of my resolutions.  I didn't have more than one of any beer (a habit that's proving surprisingly difficult to break, but some pitcher-ed Miller Lite at a bowling alley helped), tried a number of new beer bars (rather than just tap rooms at breweries), made a (passable) perry, and I would have gone back to my least-favorite brewery to try out their beer but (I swear this is true) they closed two weeks before I'd planned on going.  

So, what's on tap for 2018?

10. Drink Around the State, Country, and World

As noted last week, this year's beer challenge will be to see what percentage of PA counties, US states, and countries in the world I can "visit" via their beer.  Should be fun, especially when the "easy" places are checked off of the list!  Just the other day I ordered an IPA from a brewery in Wyoming, because when you're looking at a state with fewer residents than South Philly, you'd probably be wise to take that beer where you can find it!

9. Brew a "Wet Hop" beer

I've played around with fresh hops, thanks to friends with bumper hops harvests, but I've never specifically brewed a beer exclusively with them and designed for them.  I'm hoping to go mobile with my brewery and do it on-site for maximum freshness.

8. Visit every brewery within 20 miles of home

Some might scoff, but that's a lot of breweries for me.  Every now and then someone asks me if I've been to a brewery, and I'll say no and ask where it is, and it'll turn out to be within a few seconds of a route I travel regularly.  That's wrong.  I'm not a "drink it because it's local!" guy, but I definitely want to support good breweries - and if I haven't visited, I don't know if they're any good.  

7. Brew with five new yeast strains

There's a fine line between consistency and being in a rut, and just to be sure I'm not doing the latter, I'm going to brew ten batches with five new yeast strains this year.  Preferably strains I'm not in any way familiar with.  But never that Trappist High Gravity yeast - there's something really wonky in there...

6. Empty my beer fridge completely, and start fresh

I swear I have beers and meads in there that I've had for so long I have no idea what's in them and/or I've forgotten what the code on the top means.  I wish I could say it's because I've been deliberately aging them, but I don't want to lie to you.  They're just the ethanol-laced debris at the back of the shelf.  This could be an ugly summer...

5. Replace my Better Bottles

I had this on the list last year.  I just didn't do it.  But the same logic applies: I've still never had an obviously contaminated batch, and I'm worried it's lurking in there someplace...

4. Rebuild my taps and faucets

I've never been especially happy with my tap handles, and I have a couple of new stainless faucets, so I think it's time for a freshening up in the service department!  I have three beautiful new black-gloss painted handles, and I'm looking forward to dressing them up with some von Rycknell Brewery logos and magnetic tags to indicate what they're serving.  

3. Get back in the habit of bottling

For some reason, I've gotten out of the habit of bottling up a six-pack of my beers and setting them aside for competitions, which I've always done as a form of quality control.  Kegging is easy, but bottling a little bit isn't that hard, and it's a great way to keep a steady stream of beer evaluation data coming in.

2. Use homebrewed beer to raise money for a good cause

As a member of a homebrew club, I've gladly participated in events where our beer is donated and poured, but I don't think I've ever explicitly used homebrewed beer to raise money for a charitable cause.  Once I figure out if that's legal, I'm going to do it. 

1. Keep writing Beer Simple

I love writing Beer Simple.  I'm grateful to all of you for reading, for your feedback, for your ideas, and for your time.  I know that if it's ever time to stop, you'll let me know.  Since I haven't received any voodoo dolls or horse heads yet, I guess we'll just keep it rolling.  Have a great 2018! 

Keep it simple.

JJW

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

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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.

JJW

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).

 

 


In the Boil, They're ALL Bittering Hops

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I recently returned from two days of nonstop talking about hops, hopping, hops oils, hops resins, pellet hops, leaf hops, hop shots, iso-alpha hops extracts, hop farming, and hopping methods.

As a result, I really don't want to write about hops today, but...

I noticed a real (and probably faulty) bias in lots of the folks I spoke to on my trip about what we're getting out of mash, first-wort, and boil hops, which is that they would often talk about these hops in the context of significantly increasing aroma and flavor.  They're not wrong, really - it's just that they're overly-optimistic.  I found myself repeating what I thought was a useful conceptual approach to hopping, over and over again, this past weekend:

In (or before) the boil, they're all bittering hops.

If you're using those additions to develop moderate-to-high levels of hops flavor and aroma, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.  Like a sequel to the classic film Zombeavers, it just ain't going to happen, no matter how badly you want it to.

It's Getting Hot in Here: Utilization and Volatility

Hops have two things we care about (beyond odd names we can't pronounce): resins and oils.

We talk a lot (too much, probably) about resins, specifically alpha acids, and their role in producing bittering in beer.  Alpha acid isomerization (by boiling) isn't terribly complicated - the longer they boil, the higher the utilization of those acids you'll yield, up to a practical limit of about 30%.  What's worth noting, though, is that you pretty rapidly (20-ish minutes) hit 15% utilization, or about half of the max.  Practically, this means that you get the bulk of your bitterness from that initial rapid rise in utilization, and the rest of your 60-240 minutes of boiling is yielding diminishing returns.

That same kind of rapid reaction is volatilizing your hops oils, and just as rapidly (or faster).  Of the oils we care about that add nice flavors and aromas to our hops, nearly all undergo a rapid process of getting-the-f***-out-of-your-beer when you boil them, because the temperatures at which they volatilize are generally much lower than the 212F you're boiling them at (some go as low as 140F or below).  Within 15 minutes nearly all are at less than half of their initial concentrations.  Linalool - a nice floral, lavender aroma - hits that mark in six minutes.  

The upshot here is that even short-added hops are still yielding most of their bittering potential and losing most of their flavoring potential.  

In the boil, it's just not productive to think in terms of "early-bitter, middle-flavor, late-aroma" hops.  In the boil, they're all bittering hops.

Low and Slow

None of this matters for lots of recipes, because in a great many styles we don't actually want much more than the bittering out of our hops.  We want accents and hints of hops flavor, not pronounced impressions of it.  

in a more and more hops-forward world, though, I see people actively trying to make even traditional malt showcases with big hops aroma and flavor.  If you want to do that, that's great - but don't try to make new-fashioned beer the old-fashioned way.

If you want anything more than low or medium hops character, add those hops post-boil, pre-chill.

After the boil, let your beer sit until it drops under 170F, then go to town.  At those temps you're adding minimal bitterness, but extracting and preserving the oils (and flavors) you want.  Let them sit, too - longer is better, up to about 20 minutes.

Consider the "less is more," approach, too - when Sapporo played with this stuff and published their results, they found that a lower level of dissolved oils in some beers gave more flavor.  Weird.  

I usually use less than an ounce of anything added then, and then adjust in subsequent recipes.  

Dry hopping in addition to using post-boil/pre-chill hops will intensify flavor and aroma again, but be conscious of the other plant-based flavors and textures you're adding, too.  Dry hopping is not identical to post-boil hopping, though, so make a conscious choice to do one, the other, or both.

Make What You Want

New brewers often work from pre-existing recipes, and with good reason: they often model already-successful beers, and we all need to learn from something when we're just getting started.  After a while, though, you should be thinking back from the finished product instead of forward from the recipe.  

Decide what you want to drink, and then design a recipe and process that gives you the best chance of getting that.

And if what you want is big hops, then you should definitely be thinking more about what happens after you kill the burner than what happens before you spark it up.

Keep it simple.

JJW

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"

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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?"

"Um...it 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.  

Why?

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.

Ideology

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.

JJW

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).