Sometimes when I take a sip of a great craft beer, I wonder to myself if I could make a beer that good at home. Usually my answer is no (based on some of my homebrew results, the answer might be hell no). But every once in a while, I convince myself that I can make a decent beer at home. Each new one-gallon batch I brew, I learn a little something that I try to incorporate in the next brew session. Whether that has to do with mash temperature or something as simple as having enough clean buckets and bowls ready to use, the best way to learn is to do it.
Don’t get me wrong, I have made some pretty undrinkable beers, from IPAs to oatmeal stouts. But each time, and usually after asking a lot of questions of a brewer friend, I make little improvements here and there. My last stout was not terrible, but it had a little unwanted coconut flavor, and it was way over-primed in the bottles. When I’m feeling positive, I tell myself that “this batch is an improvement from last time”. When I’m not feeling so good about it, I might dump the whole batch on the spot. But each session is a little bit more experience under my belt, and a whole lot of mistakes I can learn from.
My homebrew setup is pretty janky. My mash tun and brew kettle is a large stockpot, so I need another vessel to mash out and then return the wort to the boil kettle. If I’m sparging (running water over the grain bed to extract more sugar) I have to break out the biggest strainer and pot I can find, and after the boil getting my wort down to pitching temperature (a temperature suitable for the yeast to begin fermentation) means that I use every ice cube, ice pack, and tons of tap water to cool my kettle down. I could solve some of these problems by just investing in some more useful and quality equipment that are actually designed for brewing. But I don’t have room for that in the kitchen, and sometimes other expenses are more vital than homebrewing equipment. So, I make do with what I have. In a way, I’m glad for every mistake I make on brew day. It (hopefully) helps me out down the road, either by realizing what not to do, or figuring out a better way to do something as opposed to the way I do it (in that case, most things).
It’s not like I have designs on opening my own brewery one day, but I do want to make decent beer that I consider worthy of drinking. My brewing training consists of solo homebrewing on an electric stovetop (anybody with an electric stove knows how annoying it is to hit different temperatures), asking a lot of questions of my brewer friend, and doing a ton of reading on beer, brewing, techniques, and ingredients (hello, beerandbrewing.com). As much as you might read about other people’s trials, tribulations, and successes, nothing compares to the experience you get from actually doing it yourself. I don’t really care how many brewing school certificates you have if your beer consistently sucks. On the other hand, I don’t care how many certificates you don’t have if your beer is consistently awesome. You don’t have to go the same route as everybody else to make great beer, and I’m determined to prove that to my taste buds, one mistake at a time.