Monday, February 11, 2008

Catching Up (finally) and a matter of style

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

Cheers everyone.

10 comments:

ibrew2 said...

Very well said. I do want to correct you though. You were in more of a "schlenk" state than a "gimp" state. And what more fitting beer to drink in this state than the ultimate gimp beer, Schlenkerla! Have you ever looked closely at the bottle cap? It's a dude in lederhozen with a gimp leg and a cane! How un-PC is that?

Coloring outside the lines. That's what makes people stand out.

I also whole heartedly agree with you regarding the whole beer judging thing. There is a breed of beer dork who doesn't brew, doesn't enter, and maybe doesn't even drink beer, who likes to try to decide what beer should be. This is nonsense and the opinions of these knuckleheads should be given as much weight as they deserve. I say you must have brewed a beer in the last 3 months to be able to judge in any competition. That ought to keep all the hard core dorks thinned out. I don't know how art can be judged by someone who is not an artist, or poetry by someone who is not a poet, nor beer or wine by someone who hasn't been up to their armpits in must or mash lately. You've got to do it to know it.

We should ask ourselves, "Why are we brewing this beer in particular?" Is it to push the envelope or try something new, or try to make something so drinkable, that all your friends clammor for more? If so, then break out the big purple crayon Harold and let er' rip!

I like to think that some styles, particularly traditional, German styles, are great because they are exactly the way they are. Not to say that an estery lager can't taste good, but I think if you are going to call your beer a Munich Dunkel, it really should be a traditional Munich Dunkel. Some styles have a lot of wiggle room like American ales and many Belgian styles. Lot's of room to color and be artsy-fartsy.

I for one am about as artistic as a cardboard box. I'll be the one with the razor-sharp crayolas and a straight-edge & engineering rule trying to make Frosty and the Easter Bunny just a little less bland. As you look at all the pages in the coloring book, mine will be the one you laugh at for being so stiff and predictable, but you will notice it!

Brew-on my schlenky yeast-whispering friend!!!

Beacon Hill Brewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beacon Hill Brewing said...

I kind of went off on a slight tangent. I hope the point got across that style is important.Learn the basics and you will have the key to kick it up a notch.Speaking of kicking it up a notch:

Timmy: Were you not the one that was standing out on the sidewalk in Issaquah(at Rogue) boiling and reducing a pot of cherries soaked in bourbon last week,adding it to the beer,to then be put back into a Wild Turkey barrel that is going to be served at the Washington State Cask Festival?

If that's what you call stiff and predictable, then call me Lawrence-fucking-Welk!Besides,you don't get a name like "The Beer Engineer" without using razor sharp crayolas.

Geoff said...

"I also whole heartedly agree with you regarding the whole beer judging thing. There is a breed of beer dork who doesn't brew, doesn't enter, and maybe doesn't even drink beer, who likes to try to decide what beer should be. This is nonsense and the opinions of these knuckleheads should be given as much weight as they deserve. I say you must have brewed a beer in the last 3 months to be able to judge in any competition. That ought to keep all the hard core dorks thinned out. I don't know how art can be judged by someone who is not an artist, or poetry by someone who is not a poet, nor beer or wine by someone who hasn't been up to their armpits in must or mash lately. You've got to do it to know it."

Wow do I completely disagree with that statement. I've been considering taking the exam and getting into judging, but I don't brew more than twice a year, if I'm lucky (and even then just extract w/ grain). Just because of that, you are saying I, or someone else similar, is not in a position to judge a beer? How does that mean I don't know beer and I'm some "knucklehead beer dork who deserves no weight"?

I just don't get the view, seems pretty elitist.

Beacon Hill Brewing said...

Geoff,

I don't think Tim or I was implying everyone as a whole. From reading what you have written so far on your blog and ratebeer you seem like a very informed, unpretentious guy who seriously loves beer. Tim and I are both judges, and at certain competitions there are people who show up to judge that are complete cocksuckers who ruin the entire spirit of what this is all about: Encouraging people to make good beer. There are those types in the industry as well that kind of ruin it for everyone because they "already" know everything (or think they do). If you show up to a competition that Tim is involved in, you would be welcome with open arms by him and all of the other fantastic amazing people that make up the awesome hombrewing scene. But there are those few that unfortunately have ruined it for some newbies who have entered or tried to judge or steward. The point of the judging sheets are positive feedback and encourage growth with brewing, not to make a mockery and discourage someone. I guarantee you are in good company Geoff if you ever decide to take the exam or come down to help judge or steward, we would all love to have you.

Geoff said...

You are definitely right that I have no idea what type of people show up to judge...it's surprising that some judges have that attitude; just doesn't make sense. Why get into it? Is there a process for removing/boycotting certain people from judging in the future?

Makes sense that you wouldn't want those types to show up, but hope you can understand how the original message was misunderstood. My first thought was, "Did Michael Jackson ever brew?" I don't think he did....but i'd say he wasn't bad at picking out a good beer.

Big Al said...

I have been thinking about the judging thing and how it has affected my beer life a lot lately. Something has been bothering me about it all and I think I've got it figured out. I have found that beer is like any other craft, most are done well, very few are not good, and even fewer are exceptional. If someone is taking the time and interest to brew beer at home, then its good. Period. Could it better, sure sometimes. But when someone offers me thier beer, I like it. Unless its flawed (infection, oxidation, light stuck, etc.) I will enjoy it.
Then I learned a little bit more about styles, tastes, flavors, aroma, color and judging in general. What I found was the more I learned, the less I liked the beers I was drinking because like I said earlier, few are exceptional. And if you are comparing every beer you drink to these guidelines you quickly discover that most beer is flawed in some way. This to me is just wrong. The beer is what it is. What I mean by that is maybe these "flaws" were intened by the brewer. If I chose to hop a beer a certain way, I don't see how it could possibly be right or wrong. I hopped it the way I wanted too, thats the beauty of creating things. Do I really need you (anyone) hating on my beer because its 100 IBU's instead of 60? Tell me its too hoppy for you, tell me you'd like it more if it was less bitter, but DONT tell me its too hoppy for the style! If I say "hey I'm gonna enter this in a competition, how do you think it will do?" Then great, fire away. But if just say "I got my pale ale on tap, want a pint?" Dont compare it to Sierra Nevada or BJCP guidelines because it rude.
Am I making sense? I dont know. How about this, if I invited some people for a tasting of the chili I made, do I want everyone to examine it like a professional food critic? I think food critics are snobs, and I love cooking but I dont cook to please them, I cook to please me and my peeps. And when I go to someone house and eat their homemade tomatoe sauce I'm not trying to determine if they used enough basil or whatever. This goes for resaraunts too, I just see if I like the food or not. I think if I were a food critic I would enjoy eating less, and this is what I saw happening with beer so I stopped it. I drink beer and I like most of what I am drinking again.
Now, none of this is to say there is not a place for beer judges, and food critics. Like Colin said, they are a great resource for feedback and I do enter competitions for this purpose. Also, I may brew a beer that I intend to be traditional and I'll enter these beers as well for feedback (and a blue ribbion never killed anyone;) All I'm saying is that beer judging is not for me because I enjoy beer too much to let judging (or anything else) make me enjoy it less.
I'm sorry if this came across too negative....I just love beer and brewing and most of all enjoying it with my friends and when I see something getting in the way of these fundamental joys of my life I get a little fired up.
-Big Al

Beacon Hill Brewing said...

Jano, you're so sexy when you get fired up though. I know this is a subject you feel strongly about. I for one would never judge a beer someone spent all of that time on making and are proud of unless they asked for feedback.I would be happy at that time to share a beer with them.It doesn't get better than that. It's something that can be turned on and off easily.I think this is a great resource for new brewers and what I saying in my original post, it would be nice to educate and not intimidate.

As far as brewing. I do feel that I owe it to myself to learn as much about each beer as I possibly can and make an informed decision about my next plan of attack and recipe formulation. The guidelines are just that, guidelines.If I don't know anything about this beer, what is a good commercial example and the history behind this?Where should I start looking if I want to make a traditional Pilsner?

I got a lot out of the classes and the test and I actually enjoy beer more now than I ever did. I remember sitting at Uber after we took the test, sipping on a Mahr's Weizenbock relieved that everything was all over. I remember how much I enjoyed that beer. I sat there savoring, tasting, smelling, then started wrtitng the base recipe for a Weizenbock that we recently made sitting at the stool. I had the knowledge of how to pick out what was in that beer and the tradition of brewing it and what it would take to get me in the ball park. My recipe is far from traditional, but I knew if I properly substituted something here and there I could get it.I researched fermentation temps for the particular historic yeast I was going to use and adjusted it so it worked in our favor. The beer turned out great, one of the best ones I think we've made so far. My point being is that the classes really benefited me in that respect. The people who would outright compare a beer you made to Sierra Nevada or whatever commercial example need to learn to relax a little bit and have a beer!

We all have different tastes. I have high standards of what I eat and drink if I'm out paying for it, but also I try and keep and open mind.I try and seek out small sustainable local places I can to support my community. If it doesn't meet my standards, I'll find someplace else.Why do I like this food or beer and why would I come back and spend a bunch of money a second time? I think it's my right in a time when everything Applebees, Olive Garden, and Budweiser is shoved down your throat at every turn.At least that's my take on commercial beer and food.


Geoff, I don't think Michael Jackson ever did brew. I don't think he ever wrote anything bad about anyone or any beer either. I think it was more in what he didn't write about a particular beer or brewery, was his way of of a bad review. So very diplomatic and positive all the time, able to transport you to a small artisan farmhouse in Flanders or a foggy scotch distillery in Orkney. I would rather judge with someone like that any day than someone who is pretentious and has their mind made up already that has been brewing for years. I think he was considered an Honorary Grand Master by the BJCP. That may be a title just reserved for him:)

Geoff said...

Exactly why I would love to take study/take the exam:

"I got a lot out of the classes and the test and I actually enjoy beer more now than I ever did. I remember sitting at Uber after we took the test, sipping on a Mahr's Weizenbock relieved that everything was all over. I remember how much I enjoyed that beer. I sat there savoring, tasting, smelling, then started wrtitng the base recipe for a Weizenbock that we recently made sitting at the stool. I had the knowledge of how to pick out what was in that beer and the tradition of brewing it and what it would take to get me in the ball park. My recipe is far from traditional, but I knew if I properly substituted something here and there I could get it.I researched fermentation temps for the particular historic yeast I was going to use and adjusted it so it worked in our favor. The beer turned out great, one of the best ones I think we've made so far. My point being is that the classes really benefited me in that respect."

That spells it out for me...I love beer(and writing about it), but I'm far from knowledgable when it comes to how a beer is made and how it's built. Honestly, if I did pass the exam I would probably only judge on rare occasions.

Hope I didn't come off too rough with my reply earlier today, I figured the intentions were different than the way it was reading.

Beacon Hill Brewing said...

No prob Geoff, it's all good. One of the cool things about taking the test, is even if you don't pass, you're still considered a judge. Just not ranked.We went through a 3.5 month study group that consisted of a lot of "sampling". I figured "learn and talk about beer?" Sign me up!