Archive for the ‘Essay’s on Failure’ Category

Essay’s on Failure: Gear

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

I wanted to write three Essay’s on Failure.  One would focus on knowledge, the second on assumptions, the third… gear.  Excluding mistakes, I think every failure can be lumped into one of these three categories.  Either you learned something wrong (knowledge) , you concluded something that is false (assumption), or your equipment screwed you (gear).

My goal is to write future entries on real world applications, a lot less theory.  However, I wanted the theory up front so when I hit a problem, I could reference one of these three essay’s and move forward rather than put time into detailing why an issue is an issue.

Heady.

On Gear:  Problems with Gear are a physical manifestation of Essay One (Knowledge) and Essay Two (Assumptions).   When I met Scott I had been brewing for about a year and half.  He was a young brewer, with limited knowledge.  He was making all the same small mistakes I already made.  One of the things I pointed out to him was some of his gear sucked.  For instance, his siphon method.

Essay One: Knowledge.  Scott didn’t know a better way to siphon. Essay Two:  Assumptions.  Scott assumed that a better way to siphon might exist, but it wasn’t “that much” better.  Combined, these two elements allowed Scott to be ‘satisfied’ with a siphoning method that was constantly frustrating.

I can imagine the reader thinking, “I would never be ‘satisfied’ with gear that irritates or frustrates me- that doesn’t make sense.”  As a person that participates in two local brew clubs, who has over the years, developed a multi-state network of home brewing buddies, I can assure- you all hobby brewers work with at least one piece of crappy gear.

And why do they keep working with that crappy item?  They almost always say, “It’s what I got.”  or, “What else is there?”

It amazes me that home brewers will spend hours working on a recipe, studying the difference between Canadian Two-Row and U.S. or English Two Row, but they can’t put a dime into equipment after that initial purchase.  This is what I bought, so this is what I got.  If they do decide to buy something, they price everything out and always buy the cheapest item.

On this topic, one of my nicknames is “Cheap Bastard”.  I’ve been encourage to open a brewery called “Cheap Bastard Brewing.”  By no means am I encouraging my fellow brewers to buy the most expensive equipment that exists, but look at your brew day, consider the worst part of the day, then wonder, “How can I make this day better?”  The solution is almost always improving your method, and that’s a fancy way of saying improving your gear.

When Scott was insanely frustrated with siphoning his wort to a carboy, I would say things like, “Your transfer tube is to long.”

There is a mental leap to take a purchased item and “break it” by cutting it.  But when he ‘broke it’ (cut it) it was less frustrating.  Modifying his gear made siphoning easier.  When sludge clogged his siphon I would say things like, “I use hop bags/socks.”

How could a bag matter?  (Lack of) Knowledge and (wrong) Assumptions caused him to hesitate.  That hesitation made getting his beer into a carboy the longest worse part of the day.   When he started using a hop back (gear addition), the sludge issue disappeared and wort transfer became easier.

This hesitation isn’t exclusive to Scott, I’ve done it and I’m sure all hobby brewers have done it.  We all wonder, “Will this improve my day?  Is it worthwhile?”

I believe anything that makes brewing more fun is worthwhile, but that doesn’t mean I’ll pay for it!  I have a lot of projects under my belt.  I might go back and detail the successes and failures of completed gear.  I have projects I still intend to build, and I plan to detail them as well.

I suspect discussing my gear will touch upon reoccurring issues all brewers experience.  These failures in method can typically be traced to bad gear and I have a huge problem with bad gear.  That’s one of the reasons my call-sign is Retrofit.  The passion and thought Scott puts into making great recipes, I put into my gear.  My “Failure Trilogy” is complete.  It’s time to talk about good brewing.  Not good recipes- Scott can handle that topic.  I’m the gear guy, and my gear… will make your beer… better.

For buy dissertation visit or site.

Essay’s on Failure: Ignorance v Imagination

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Ignorance can be defined as a lack of knowledge.

Imagination is act of forming a mental image never before perceived.

In my previous essay I established that failure is a reoccurring theme in my brewing.  Specifically I discussed the knowledge a brewer learns can be flawed, and I touched upon the notion that the speculations a brewer makes can also be flawed.  I wanted to elaborate more on this second point.  The speculations a brewer makes can also be limited by his imagination.

There is a vast realm of information out there for brewers to draw from- some of it is wrong, and that’s a stumbling block.  However a lot of it’s right, the styles are combinations of ingredients that ‘taste good.’- they sell.

And yet there is a larger world- an undiscovered beer country!  The beer styles are a product of time and location.  Technology and regional ingredients coming together to produce something that tastes good, a ‘style’.  Having learned ‘this works’, there isn’t much motivation to do more.  The English built the English Bitter and it sold- the end.   The Germans built an Octoberfest- it sold- the end.  Make more of this!

All these things were figured out in the past and they are the cumulative history that present brewers can learn from, but how does one find this undiscovered beer country?  They have to enter the world of ignorance, the places where there is a lack of knowledge- they have to use their imagination to discover something new!

Dark malts have existed for a long time, so have IPA’s, but only recently was the Cascadian Dark named an official style.  The idea, of making an IPA and putting dark malt in it- just hadn’t occurred.  Or it maybe it happened, but nobody sold it.  In the cumulative history of mankind, this beer is ‘new’.

And for every new style that is developed, how many failures are there?  Who knows, a lot, more than a lot!  One of the things about my brewing is I have an interest in exotic ingredients.  I want to understand what they contribute to a beer.  I do this because I want to make beer that I can’t buy at the store.

Consider that once upon a time there were seasonal beer, regional beers.  They were specific to a region because that’s the only place you could get this malt, or hop, or spice.  Seasonal because these ingredients were only available this time of year.  Historically beer might be common, but specific beers were time and place specific.  This is no longer the case, you could if you wanted, find a Christmas beer on the Fourth of July.  A Trappist Ale in Jamacia.  It could happen.

To make something rare or exotic, one has to enter the realm of ignorance and pack a lot of imagination.   Fool around with ingredients no one uses, or in a combination no one tries, see what happens.  Maybe someone did discover this tastes terrible, that it won’t sell.  The problem is, there isn’t a lot of documentation on what won’t work- just what will.

Since I want to find something rare in a world that has made beer common, I pursue unusual ingredients.  Sometimes with success, but many are terrible.  I’ve made a Dandelion beer (tastes like dirt, smells like lawn), and cough drop beer (tastes like menthol) , yarrow and oak  gruit (tastes like wet tree).  None of these will earn me the title of a style developer.  They are just bad- failures.

However, like my other failures I am learning from them.  I’m putting together an arsenal of unusual ingredients.  I can see a day making a Christmas ‘warmer’ that makes “the nose tingle”, the secret ingredient- a cough drop!

If every bad beer is an expression of ignorance, it is also an opportunity to improve your next beer!  The next time you make something terrible.  Tell everyone, ask them what’s wrong with it.  Take notes, drink several bottles yourself.  Take more notes.  Detail what is off and what is right.  Don’t focus on the good elements, consider the bad.  Think creatively, use your imagination.  Could these off flavors ever help a beer?  In some styles they might!  Is your beer sour?  There are sour beers!  Can your brew this again intentionally as a sour?  Is it to sweet?  There are sweet beers, can you do this again?  To dry, when is that appropriate?  All the bad things can be good- if you can imagine an use for them!

For more info visit http://essaylab.org/

Essay’s on Failure

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Failure can be defined as a lack of success.  A Failure, is then a person who lacks success.

Most of my beers can be described as failures, but I do not define myself as a Failure.  To explain why I can consistently fail, but reject the title of failure I need to explain how one becomes a brewer.

A person, for numerous reasons finds their interest in beer moving beyond drinking “Beer”, into the world of craft beer.  There is more than one kind of beer- there are styles, and within a style, there are many versions, many interpretations of that style.  And some kind of curiosity combines with hands on activity, and person realizes they want to try making beer.

Then this person needs to learn how to do it.  Yes a person can learn from a book.  They can buy a video, or watch something on line, but given the many actions that are occurring, the many minute details that need to be hit- in order, at specific times, most people seek out a teacher.

The process of making beer is simple, it is easy, but with no previous knowledge, it is incredibly intimidating.  The teacher, might be a community college class, or a Big Brew Day event, or a local club sponsored gathering.  Maybe it’s just a neighbor, but one person shows another the various parts of the brew day, and that act is how most people learn to brew.

And I am getting to a point.  While a book, or a video, or an on-line app can try to show you the way, nothing is as effective as being there, in person, going through the motions, seeing brewing done, and doing it.  Like muscle memory, this work through it, under the guidance of another is the fastest easiest way to learn.  That sort of learning is the oldest kind of learning, it is the oral tradition and it’s as old as beer.

This act of talking it through as you brew has numerous advantages.  The student can see, act, and ask questions.  The teacher, in the moment can explain, clarify, and guide the student.  Many nuanced issues can be addressed as the moment allows that a chronological book, video, or app can’t address.  The teacher is incredibly important to the novice brewer.

And yet… the teacher might be full of shit.

I was taught how to brew by a great friend who in turn was taught by one of his friends.  He taught me that when you drop your first hops, you need to boil it 60 minutes, then you drop your second hops and boil it 30 minutes, and then you drop your final hops and boil it 15 minutes.  This is how he was taught and this is how I learned to brew.  My first beer had a 105 boil because that’s how my friend was taught to brew.

Only when I bought my first book and read it and re-read it, and re-read it again did I e-mail my friend and humbly ask him if  he might be wrong.  Maybe the entire boil is suppose to be 60 minutes and 30 minutes into the boil, you drop the second hops, 45 minutes into the boil you drop the last- the total boil time is 60- not 105?

His first response was I was wrong.  Eventually he asked on line and he was told he was wrong, but because he had been taught that erroneous method- there was this emotional attachment and he said something like, “Some people do it that way.”  A reluctant, “I’m wrong.”  Not based on pride, but based on trying adjust what he was taught was true with what he learned is true.

As a brewer, I spend a lot of time trying to determine what I was taught was true with what is in fact true.  There are many instances where I feel like I am reinventing the wheel.  I feel many young brewers do this.  They can’t simply take your word on something.  If a little Black Patent is good, then a lot must be better.

I can’t fault brewers that ignore my advice, because I ignore the advice of other brewers all the time.  And here’s my point, that choice- to ignore the advice of others, causes me to fail often.  Having said this, I reject the premise that I am a failure, because I am learning.  I am learning what is true and what is not true.

Many brewers pass on false information.  Many brewers speculate on issues they don’t know anything about, or assume extremes that never occur.  As a brewer I’m curious, I want to separate fact from fiction.  Most of the time I find facts- more Black Patent isn’t always better.  Occasionally I find fictions- “Squeezing the Bag” probably won’t hurt the beer.

I suspect that most of my material will be Essay’s online on Failure, a “What Not to Do” as a brewer.  However, once in a Blue Moon- I might get something right.  When your not laughing at my failures, you might learn something from my successes.

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