"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.
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.
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