What a whirlwind month and a half it's been. I have been resurected from my gimp like state and am now back on my way to being a strapping,somewhat young lad.
Competition season is right around the corner, and there are lots of plans for entering a couple of beers that are now ready, and also plenty of oppurtunities to hone the judging skills.
I was thinking the other day, and taking the BJCP study courses and then the exam has been the single most important thing I have done as far as brewing goes. It isn't all about making sure every beer tastes exactly the same and then ridiculing others that are sub par.It shouldn't be perceived as pretentious or snobby, and it isn't a secret beer society gestapo. The test is extremely hard and I'm sure others agree with me, there is a certain satisfaction when finished, and I came out of the classes with some people I didn't know previously who I am proud to call friends.There are always certain personalities (as with anything else) that can give something fun and educational a bad name.I've kind of started to notice though that they are the ones that haven't brewed anything to enter, or don't brew anymore. Hmmm.Competitions and the BJCP are a good thing(and lots of fun!), and there is a whole new group of judges coming up that are going to be very helpful and offer good feedback. After all, we will be judging each others beer in the same competition!
Coloring out of the lines (as Tim says) is extremely important, and is one of the things I like so much about brewing. Being artistic and having the balls to go for it. Push the envelope. Throw caution to the wind.Sometimes you have to go for it and learn what works and what doesn't.No one wants to be stuck drinking the same amber ale day in and day out.A couple beers we have made have turned out pretty awesome from a crazy spice addition or pushing the limits of the yeast.
I think it is very important to research the style (or base style) of the beer one is going to be brewing. Rodney and I will usually sit down with a couple of good commercial examples and discuss what we like and don't like about it, and come up with some ideas on how to achieve the flavors, aroma, and body that would make the beer drinkable and enjoyable. I try and research the history of the beer and learn about what made it how it is today, how it has changed, what others have done to improve on it as far as yeasts and brewing techniques.What is a good base recipe to start with? What characteristics will certains specialty grains contribute or hinder in this beer? What kind of hops do I have access to and will they be too cloying and cause this to be unbalanced?
Yeast management, propagation, and good fermentation techniques are key as well.If you have access to plenty of fresh, healthy yeast, or the ability to build up your own, you've halfway won the battle. Vinnie of Russian River has written a few times, and said to Adrian and I while touring the brewery, is you have to know what the yeast can and can't do for you.
If you have the ability to duplicate a beer to style time after time, then you have no excuse not to put your own twist or signature on it.Sure, it can get boring drinking textbook beers, but I have come to respect someone who can do it. They have done their homework and researched the history of the recipe. The same goes for someone who takes a shot in the dark and ends up hitting it out of the park. It's a fine line I suppose...
I can sum up what brewing means to me in a quote I read and is kind of my mantra, and hope to have this painted on the wall of my brewery someday....
"He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands, his head and his heart is an artist."
-St.Francis of Assisi