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Homebrew Dogmas: Kill Your Darlings, Darlings

In the amateur brewing community we have a legacy of furphies and dogmas passed down through the years. A lot of those misunderstandings are based around the premise that we’re replicating professional brewing environments at scale; some are based on historic misunderstanding about chemistry or inputs; others, a lack of science that has been corrected over time, or experimentation that has proven that the dogma doesn’t hold true.

This is where I really do enjoy the input of people like Drew Beechum and Denny Conn from Experimental Brewing, Marshall Schott and the contributors at the Brulosophy podcast, and Ricky The Meadmaker from Groenfell Meadery with his ongoing video series Ask The Meadmaker.

And I owe many thanks to the authors of a growing number of books, articles and papers and presentations (like the Chemistry of Beer course from the University of Oklahoma) who constantly offer insight into the chemistry of beer and brewing. Because, I’m a geeky kind of guy… if I just wanted beer I would have stuck to the beer kits and kept it all simple.

A good example of breaking down these dogmas is that nowadays people are winning homebrew competitions with relatively warm fermented lagers. God forbid! It also appears to make no difference whether you cold crash your lagers fast or slow. Or whether you let the beer finish and then lager a long time, or you do a diacetyl rest and cold crash for a short time. If you do make lagers, I’m sure there is someone out there who will swear that the Germans made them a certain way and it’s the only way to make lager. And, while all or none of what I just typed is correct – you’re free to experiment, read and explore those ideas in making your lager.

But there are other dogmas that we’ve grown to accept and have only, in recent years, started to seriously question – look at the whole thing around Short and Shoddy beers. Do you really need an hour mash and an hour boil? No, it turns out you don’t. Does it make a difference if you crush your grain on brew day, or if that well kept grain is six months old? Nope.

There is a long list of dogmas that I’ve seen successfully challenged in recent years – hopping temperatures and duration, the effect of mash temperature on wort fermentability, Brew in a Bag was originally a dogma breaking idea, the No-Chill Method of fermentation, trub or no trub in your fermenter, and on and on.

And often the reason breweries did things a certain way was because it worked for them in their production process. Nothing more, nothing less. Sometimes they thought A + B == C and mixed correlation with causation. The old confusion around we’ve always done it this way and it works… ergo, this works because it’s done this way. Not fully understanding why and which parts work or don’t work in the first place. Don’t overestimate historic knowledge of science just because they made good beer at some place or point in time.

At an amateur level, the simple physics and chemistry differences start with the time and processes to heat and cool wort at home versus in a brewhouse; the dimensions and ratios of your equipment; and the logistical ability to do something better at smaller scales (like adding or removing fruit). As amateur home brewers we’re not working with the same set of constraints as a professional brewhouse. So let go of this idea that you need to pretend you’re a brewhouse to make good beer at home.

Marshall Schott sums all of this up better than I could in a post titled Dogma is a Funny Thing.

I guess the take away from this discussion is whether you can alter your processes to make your brew day easier or faster. Or, even if you want to do it all easier or faster. If what works for you works, they why change it, right? Well, sometimes letting go of these furphies and dogmas lets you relax a bit more on brew day. If you don’t need to boil wort for an hour… then why do you? Because the brewhouse required it? The goal should be to make good beer.

I’ve been making booze for about a decade and along the way there have been some dramatic changes in the attitudes and methodologies around making good beer, mead and fruit wine on the amateur level. What you do need to pay attention to is yeast health – temperature, sanitation, the things that make a real difference.

Journalists learn to “kill your darlings”. Amateur brewers could take that same advice.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark and I live in the Derwent Valley in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a mazer & a yeast farmer (making beer, fruit wine and mead as by-products of continuous improvement in my farming practices). I'm a photographer, although my film cameras are currently silent. I do not tolerate idiots. I do not tolerate bigotry. I do not tolerate excuses. Let's be clear, if you sit with my enemies you my are my enemy for life.

Blogger. Thinker. Brewer. Drinker. Life partner to the amazing and incredible Megan.

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