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

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

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

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

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

That beer was awful.

Now what?

Own It

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

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

Don't be that guy.  Learn from your mistakes

Emperor's New Clothes Syndrome 

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

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

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

Make Allowance for Their Doubting Too

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

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

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

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

Keep it simple.

JJW 

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I Don't Like Your Beer - and That's OK

Brewing beer and sharing beer are basically inextricable.  I don't know any homebrewers that drink all of what they produce, like some kind of homebrewing hermit.  But if you share your beer, you're going to get a reaction, probably whether you ask for it or not (though most do), and when that happens you're eventually going to get back some negative feedback.  

I tasted your beer.  And I don't like it.  

And you know what?  That's OK.

You Asked For It

OK, maybe you didn't (hang tight - we'll get to you in a second), but you probably did.  We were at a party or a beer festival or you brought it to my house, and you said, "hey, would love to know what you think of my ______________ !"

What's crazy is that despite judging/evaluating lots of beers, in competition and professionally and as part of research for writing, I'm not really particularly judgmental when I'm just drinking.  But if you ask for it, I'm going to tell you.

What's even more crazy is how often people get bent out of shape if I say I don't like it.  

Look, if you're holding out for universal acclaim in life, you're going to have a long and disappointing row to hoe.  Why'd you ask if you didn't want to know?  I didn't spit it across the room and then give you the finger while disparaging your mother's sexual history - I just smiled and said, "I don't know - it's not really for me."  If you don't ever want to hear that, don't ask.

You Didn't Ask For It - But You're Going to Get It

Then there's this.  Let's say you didn't ask.  Now, if that's me and you didn't ask, I'll just say "thanks" and leave it at that.  But most people won't.  

Beer is inherently communal.  The context of it isn't "sitting at home alone with the lights off watching a Downton Abbey marathon," it's a pub, or a sporting event, or a party.  When you hand someone a beer - whether you made it or not - they're likely to say something about it.  

You might not be looking for a reaction, but (especially since there's alcohol involved), you're probably going to get it.  Brewing beer for yourself and offering it up for public consumption takes a touch of bravery - own it.  Smile, thank them for their feedback even if it's unsolicited or indelicately phrased, and either dismiss it (if you want) or take it to heart (if you want).  But I think it's unreasonable to hold it against that person.

I Didn't Say It - But You Heard It Anyway

Maybe it was just a facial expression, or the fact that I didn't want more of it, or I didn't praise it and instead remained silent (though I'd point you to Sir/St. Thomas More's defense of "qui tacet consentire videtur").  But you interpreted my reaction as an expression of my dislike.  Maybe that's not totally reasonable.

I remember being told, as many of us were, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."  I don't remember that being followed up with, "...and if someone does that to you, act all pissy and snub them later if you can."  

I Didn't Know This Was Yours

This one comes up fairly regularly, actually.  As much as so many of us claim to want honesty, and/or we think the world has gotten too soft and politically correct, we ignore (to our benefit) the reality that lots of people aren't honest with us when they know they're directly offering feedback to the progenitor of a product, whether it's food, or art, or beer, or...ahem...a blog.

If I don't know you brewed it, I'm probably going to offer a pretty frank opinion - which might be good or bad.  I think most people would.  It's like how if I'm talking about the Cowboys I'll say that nothing gives me more pleasure than watching video of Tony Romo crying while slumped dejectedly on the field after falling JUST short of winning a playoff game.  Now, if I ever met Tony Romo, I wouldn't share that with him.  It'd be inappropriate.  

So when you hand me a beer and say, "what do you think of this?," or if we're at a beer event of some kind and I taste your beer at a booth and don't know who brewed it and you seek out/overhear an opinion, I hope you'll cut me a little slack and know that I would have been a bit more politic if I'd known you were going to hear it.

That doesn't make me two-faced - it makes me human.  Or so my "How to Act Human" pamphlet tells me.

I Don't Like Your Beer - and That's OK

Ultimately, if you're going to say (as so many homebrewers do) "I brewed this for me, and I like it," then you shouldn't get too hung up on what I (or others) think of your beer.  

I'm not in that camp, though.  I brew beer I like, for sure, but I also want you to like it.  So if you have anything to say - nice or not, polite or not, accurate or not - I want to hear it.  

But even if you're in the "care what people think of your beer" boat with me, it's still OK if people don't like what you made.  Beer is diverse.  Not every beer fits every palate, even if very well made.  And some will find a supportive audience even if they're not well made.  

At the end of the day, it's only beer.  

I don't like yours - and that's OK.

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).