Essay’s on Failure: Gear

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


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.

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