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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Underground Beer

I hope to expand on this theme in a print article in the near future, but Derek's most recent post has seduced me into at least mentioning the topic here. For his wedding, he's brewed up three batches of beer--two fruit ales and a saison. I have no idea if he's a good brewer, but the finished product is impressive. And whether he's a good brewer or not, there are many in this city who are. I've been to homes and been served beer that exceeds the quality of all but a few professional breweries. And in fact, I've even brewed a batch or two that met that quality myself.

The upshot: there's a whole lot of exceptional beer out there, and we'll never get to drink any of it. Fascinating to think, isn't it, that the best beer in the city--and this is Beervana, after all--may have a clientele of just a few people? I try not to think too hard about it, though. Best to leave that tantalizing prospect in the lost recesses of your brain, where your mind won't stumble across it too often.

(Incidentally, homebrewing the beer you serve at your wedding is the coolest. I did it back in '97, when I was not the greatest brewer in the world. Three batches: a brown, an IPA, and a wit, and no one complained. My favorite picture from the day shows my wife and I, smiling and finally relaxed, cavorting as we cut the cake. I was holding a bottle of homebrew.)


  1. Jeff,

    Thanks for the link. I agree, I've tried some incredible homebrew over the years, even some of the best beers I've had were brewed in a home, not a brewery. Never turn down a homebrew when offered, that's the golden rule.

  2. The American Brewing Renaissance was ignited by many home brewers; i.e., many of the great Renaissance were started by home brewers.

    Today, it seems many brewers have been taught "On-the-job" brewing skills. I think something lost when you don't start out as a home brewer. As a home brewer you can experiment continuously! Tweak this beer.. add something funky to that beer. It increases creativity and allows for innovation. "On-the-job" taught brewers don't have this luxury or experience.

    For them, it's more, "Push button. Add water. Add grain. Mash......Hit buttons. Hit More buttons. Add hops... Add more hops..." Any tweaking is usually done on a large scale. Not very practical if it turns out like shit... ;-}

    Thoughts or grunts?

  3. I love homebrewing. Its made me appreciate well made beer that much more. I agree, some of my favorite beers are those that I or someone else have made at home. I also think it makes sense when commercial breweries have small pilot set ups for experimentation. I remember reading something a while back about how Alaskan has something like a 1 or 1/2 barrel pilot brewery that any employee can use. If the beer is good then the brewery may produce it. I wonder if they still do that?

  4. Can we all congratulate Dr. Wort on a non-ranting, reasonably well-argued comment? Right or wrong, he actually makes a valid point in a manner that falls short of obnoxious. Hooray!

  5. Ah shucks... It's hard to constantly maintain the Doctors obnoxious bravado. Sometimes he has to make some sober statements.

    It's probably still a pretty jaded statement. The Doctor was created and maintained by old school/new school home brewers.

    We believe beer appreciation can be greatly enhanced by understanding the ingredients and the brewing process. Knowing the challenges of a nutty profile, rummy, toasty, hidden alcohol notes or even balancing bitterness, makes for more appreciation than a person who takes and tastes at face value. They may not really appreciate the efforts and skill it takes to CRAFT certain flavor profiles and nuances. As the Doctor always says, "It doesn't take much to just add bucket loads of hops..." but some people are easily impressed by it.

    Is that a little more obnoxious for everybody? :-)

  6. Just to pose the opposite to you dw; I'm not sure if I were a head brewer I'd want someone out-thinking the process. They just might get a wild hair and make an adjustment based upon a badly calibrated refractometer reading. ;)

    Let them cut their teeth on the pilot brewery and sell it to unsuspecting brewpub patrons as an "Experimental [insert style]".

  7. @Ralph

    I agree. Let potential on-the-job trained breers cut their teeth on a pilot brewing system.

    Unfortunately, a lot of breweries don't have pilot systems or in the case of a small brewpub like some of small MCMinimalist brewing systems, the brewery is almost a pilot brewery to begin with... ;-}

    You definitely don't want some young wise ass tweaking your 30+ barrel batch of Bridgeport Downtown Brown.... although just about any tweaking might make it better... :-O

  8. Historically, beer brewing was often a home-based practice. Now, it's a hobby that does yield professional results and sometimes leads the brewer to turn pro. As for the wedding angle, it's a good one. I brewed a mead for my step-daughter's wedding. Hops, grown in the back yard (a mistake I learned) adorned the poles of the dinner tent. The mead was quite popular and appropriate for a wedding.

  9. "30+ barrel batch of Bridgeport Downtown Brown"

    DW needs to add a few more pluses as the BP brewhouse cranks out 70-80 bbl brews and combines them into 140-150 bbl batches.
    Not that it's an ultra-fine brew, but BEERtown Brown was "designed" by marketers and the BP brewers had to create the recipe based on that. Had it been the other way around it's likely the beer would have been more interesting.