Essay’s on Failure

By Retrofit in Essay's on Failure, Home Brewing on 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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