The Arts and Crafts of Beer…

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011 | Life

…in which I talk about the art of craft beer.

This past weekend I went to the 2011 Denton Homebrew Showdown in which 14 beers were entered to see who made the best craft beer in Denton. Not only was it an opportunity to sample a wide range of beers, but more specifically it was nice to try out a lot of the creative ideas spawned right here in Denton. I had been invited to participate but seeing as how I still view my brewing as kind of “cheating,” I didn’t feel justified in entering the contest. Additionally, I would have had to provide 5+ gallons of beer and since I only brew 2 gallons at a time, I would have resulted in an oddly mixed batch of beer. I had a good time and enjoyed the selection, but I left with mixed feelings about my own processes.

2011 Denton Homebrew Showdown
Another sample of Denton’s finest.

My immediate reaction to it all was that I had to up my game and start brewing from raw ingredients. This has been a background thought of mine since I first started brewing, that Mr. Beer would be my starting point and I would eventually upgrade when I decided I’d maximized my skills with the limited creativity allotted me by kit brewing. The thing is, though, the more I brew from kits, the more I feel like there’s more room to play within those constraints. Besides, who am I brewing for other than myself? I’m not really in the homebrewing gig to compete or try to make a name for myself. I’m happy enough just brewing my own beer to enjoy on my own time. I do like sharing my beer with close friends, giving them the opportunity to see what can be done with craft beers and kit brewing. In my time brewing I’ve had some very successful combinations and have further ideas on what else I can do with the resources available to me. So why should I feel pressured to up my game?

Strangely, as comfortable as I am, locked inside the boundaries of kit brewing, I feel like I’m missing a much greater world out there. Talking with the brewers at the Showdown made me feel like I wasn’t really tapping into the artistry of brewing. When they would talk about adding this many pounds of grain, or growing their own hops, or using just the right herbs and fruits to blend with the flavors of the malt, I felt like I was a freshman hanging out with seniors. I’ve priced out the tools for starting a larger scale homebrew operation and it’s not a fantastic initial investment, and my old excuse – “I can’t get the ingredients in Denton” is less applicable both because ingredients are fare more available online, and there is a movement right now to get a Homebrew supply store set up in Denton.

The problem that remains then is to determine why I’m brewing and what I would gain by changing my processes? I still insist that I am brewing exclusively for myself. Though I am proud to say, in a way, that I’ve been commissioned to brew up a batch special for a friend’s Halloween party. I’ve got two gallons of my Molasses Spice brew fermenting in the cupboard right now, waiting to be bottled. I am excited to share an entire batch with friends and strangers at this party, but not so much that I want to become a mass producer. I feel like this is more of a “show and tell” kind of opportunity. I like talking about brewing and what I can do with the Mr. Beer kits. I’m impressed with the latitude that I do get out of the limited system, and like to surprise people with the news that they are drinking a heavily modified kit beer. So, again, why upgrade?

A part of me is just curious. Curious to know if I could do the full monty, from raw ingredients to palatable beer. Part of me is curious as to what’s really in those kit cans that I get, and would like to know how the raw ingredients get to that state. It’s like when you take something apart just to see how it works. I know all of the concepts of the beer, I know why it ferments, I know how the yeast reacts with the sugar, I even understand some of the chemical reactions taking place, but I still don’t know a lot of the steps up to where I take over. It’s like I’m coming in on the second half of the cooking show, where they already have the dough made up.

But is curiosity enough to merit revamping my entire system? I’ve got a pretty good setup already. I’d hate to dump it all and start over. Maybe this is a thought to put back on the shelf for a while longer. I think I’m still uncertain as to my motives to move forward and trying to decide anything now would only result in more mental stress. I’m happy with what I’m doing and I haven’t yet been truly disappointed in anything I’ve put together. They say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” so why am I so antsy to change things up. There are many other, more sound things to spend money on right now, so there’s no reason to go re-reinventing the wheel. For now, I think I need to keep pushing the boundaries of the process I already have at hand. There’s still a lot to learn about what I’m doing. Maybe, when I feel like I’ve crafted the perfect kit-hybrid, then I’ll reconsider moving forward and recreating it from scratch, but for now, I’ve got a lot of learning and playing left to do.

So if you’re in the neighborhood, and I’ve got some on hand, feel free to stop by and sample what I’m doing with a couple cans of malted hops, some extra lame looking fermenters, and a bit of imagination. And I only ask that if you like what I’m doing, you can always bring me some more swing top bottles and I’ll do what I can to fill them for you.

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