Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Moving over to the Dark Side

One of the reasons I haven't written much here recently is my new hobby of homebrewing. No, I am not so absorbed in improving brewhouse efficiency and mastering recipe-crafting that I have no time to write (although these are very absorbing subjects).

The main problem is that brewing makes you look at beer differently, disturbing your once-sturdy perspective as a purely "demand-side" blogger. It takes a while to acclimatize and rediscover that comfortable, blinkered self-righteousness that allowed you to inflict your views on others in the first place. I'm nearly there…

Here are a few observations gleaned from my young homebrewing career that have changed my perspective on beer.

1. It is not easy to make good beer
Most of the homebrewing books I read return to the mantra over and over that brewing might seem challenging, but it is essentially simple. In the grand scale of creative industries, brewing may well be "simple" in that it involves a few basic processes and chemical reactions, but it is still bloody tough to get right. I now feel like a douchebag for reviewing beers as "pedestrian" or "unremarkable" when I'd now consider either term to be an accolade if applied to my own offerings.

2. Someone makes beer
Well, duh. Lots of beer bloggers (me included) know personally some of the brewers behind commercial beers. But when we buy their stuff in a pub or a liquor store, it has the nice label and it's all standardized and we feel the authoritative reassurance of the brewery when we confidently pop the cap and suck. When a fellow homebrewer hands me a beer, I furtively look him over. Is he basically trustworthy? Does he look hygienic? Is she someone whose judgment and ability to do stuff properly in her general life impresses me? My first sips of that person's beer are full of trepidation and concern. I sense myself preparing to reject the beer as unacceptable at the merest hint of an off flavour — far more so, bizarrely, than if they had just made me a sandwich.

3. Drinking sessions have become episodes of CSI
Two months ago I had but the vaguest idea of what DMS, acetaldehyde, or oxidation were. I now know that those charming, mysterious notes that wafted in and out of my palate as I supped a complex beer are faults that must be remedied and resisted. Likewise, even the most desirable of intended flavours must be explained by my inquisitive mind as some product of ingredient, process or equipment. This is so much better than being able to sit and merely enjoy a beer…

I am enjoying brewing very much. I'm into my third batch now and things have come a long way since I ineptly fumbled my way through brewing a stout (which was just bottled at a ridiculously undershot 2% ABV!). Brewing is something I will be doing for a long time, I am sure of that. But I will say this: I had no idea of what I was letting myself in for.

Our homebrew setup