This one goes out to a wide variety of people – all the would-be home brewers out there, eager to jump into this and make beer of their own, as well as the guys and girls who are already actively brewing, but hitting a speed bump in creativity. I am constantly brainstorming ideas for my next batch of beer. You can always go and pick up an extract kit and make exactly what they give you, although after a while the creative juices demand to be unleashed. This forces you to want more from your brew day than to make the same thing everyone who bought that kit made. Here is where creativity comes in. A lot of the brewers these days – Dogfish Head most notably – have been all about defying conventional brewing wisdom and making stuff that is completely outside the box. Why can’t you do the same?
The original German beer purity law of 1516 – Reinheitsgebot – states that beer has to come from only three sources – water, barley and hops. It wasn’t until the mid 1840s – and thanks to Louis Pasteur – that this was adapted to include yeast, a previously undiscovered element in the brewing process. See, science class can be fun! Breweries in Germany still live by an updated version of Reinheitsgebot, in what is called the Provisional German Beer Law. Just because they follow this with strict adherence doesn’t mean you have to. Look at everything that is thrown into beer now – corn, rice, other assorted adjuncts. The basic elements are all still there, but many breweries these days add all sorts of stuff or devise new methods to preserve and embellish their beer. Look at the huge boom in barrel aging these days. I myself am a huge fan of barrel-aged beers. But I digress. Getting back to my point, there are a number of ways you can make your beer stand out from others before it. How, you say? Glad you should ask.
Quite a few home brewers out there are totally old school. They’ve been doing it so long, they have it down to a science and can pick and choose the grain, hop and yeast varieties at will to create their next batch of beer. This is only possible through years of experimenting with various combinations to find out what is right for them. Some will impart more hoppy – or bitter – flavors, others will be more earthy and malt-forward. Only a truly seasoned brewer can do this “on the fly,” using a wealth of previous knowledge and probably a lot of notes. Advice to all you fledgling brewers out there, take note of everything you do when you brew. For the rest of us, there are clone kits we can buy, so you can see what goes into making your favorite brew. A little trial and error and tinkering with this ingredient or that, and you can come up with your own recipe, or at least some variation of the intended one. I hope you wrote all that down.
For the technologically savvy, especially computer nerds like myself, there are software programs such as BeerSmith that you can buy that help you put together the right grain bill and hop additions to produce a great batch every time. You can either go off an existing template for a style of beer, or you can start clean and begin adding various ingredients. The tools are all there to help you keep it balanced and build something that you can truly call your own. For brewers of every level, you even have the option of producing batches that are either all-grain, partial mash or extract, simply by using a few simple, user-friendly conversions within the program. It’s all in your hands and the power is yours.
Whether you decide to pick up a few books, grab a clone kit and tinker with it, or you download software – the choice is yours. Do some homework and find out what is best for you. Think back to beers you have sampled and want to recreate, refer to your tasting notes/thoughts and decide how you can improve on the original. Then, go out there and give it the old college try. While your first batch or two may turn out to be subpar or barely decent, you are gaining knowledge and experience that is worth its weight in gold. Plus you naturally will get better with each successive batch. Who knows? You may stumble upon the next great recipe and be a world-class brewer in no time. And then I will look forward to trying out one of your tasty concoctions. Cheers!