Friday, January 30, 2009

Fermentation Friday: How the best of '07 became the worst of '08 and why Adolphus Busch is better than you

Miller is better than you. So are Bud, Pabst, and Coors. Now, I don't want you to think I'm singling you out; it’s not that you're a bad brewer –well, you might be, but that's not the point. So am I. So is everyone else who isn't a brewmaster for one of those big companies.

By now, I'm sure you making angry, Nixonesque harrumphs in your wheely office chair and compiling your list of favorite microbrews in your head. I'm sure you're saying beers like Burning River, Arrogant Bastard, and Golden Monkey are way better than Miller Lite, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and the Silver Bullet; but they're not. They're just not.

And I’m sure you have your reasons for picking those microbrews. I’m sure you’re thinking about the mouth feel, the wide range of flavor and scent the carefully selected hops bring to the brew, how much richer the color is, how much fuller the head is. But you’re wrong.

The reason the larger breweries are better than the smaller ones can be summed up in one word: consistency. Winter, summer, fall, spring, bad harvests, blights, new suppliers, water pollution, pesticides, fertilizers, economic hardship, floods, tornados, war… none of these things have any effect on their end product. And that's simply astonishing! Just stop and think about what a monumental achievement that is! You probably bitch when your local shop runs out of your favorite brand of priming sugar.

But don’t think I’m saying I’m better than you. I’m not. I’m probably worse, and now we’re getting to the point. Last winter, MC Paddy and I brewed up a Christmas beer with hints of honey and cherry. It was dark, full, rich, sweet, strong, and even got a bit chocolaty with age. It's probably the best beer we've ever made, and this winter it became one of the worst. We dug out the recipe, gathered the ingredients, and set to work. We did our best to replicate everything from the year before, but something went wrong. What? Who knows.

And there's the problem. What good is expanding your knowledge and developing new and exciting recipes if you can't do something more than once? And I mean doing it exactly the same more than once. We were so excited to make this winter beer again. We came up with a name and a clever label, and really did it up properly. But the stuff inside just didn't live up to our hopes.

So I’m not saying all those things you like about your favorite microbrews aren’t important, I’m just saying that they aren’t as important as being able to do it all consistently. That's what I want to work towards next year, and I urge you to do the same. Whatever level of brewing you're on, no matter how good or bad your beer may be… learn to make it the same every time. That way, when you hit on something really good, you'll be able to make it again and again anytime you want.

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