Why are homebrewers behind some of the best and worst beers made?
I recently wrote about the best and worst beers that I have ever had.
It is no simple coincidence that both of those beers were made by homebrewers, and I believe that many other folks that are fans of craft beer have had similar experiences.
The mind thus turns to the obvious question – why are homebrewers responsible for some of the best and worst beers?
So let’s get the bad beer out of the way. Homebrewers make some awful brews, myself included. There are several reasons for this, and most are pretty obvious. Here is a list of some of the more common problems.
- They are inexperienced. Many new to brewing make some rookie mistakes. This is normal and part of the learning process.
- They lack some equipment. Have you ever tasted a lager that was brewed far too warm? Lack of temperature control is a common problem to newer homebrewers.
- Inferior materials. Someone must be buying those old hops sitting on the shelf. Or the grossly expired yeast.
- They experiment. Enthusiastic brewers will try all sorts of experiments, and not all are successful. Some will be, but certainly not all.
- Doing too much in one beer. This is a common affliction for many, but few beers need 8 kinds of grain.
- Untrained palates. Not all combinations make sense. Chamomile, jalapeno and licorice root sound more like a punch line than ingredients that belong in the same beer.
The reasons for bad beers are many and varied, and the above list is certainly not complete.
Why though, do many homebrewers make such great beer? There are many reasons for this also, but here is another partial list.
- Specialization. Many homebrewers specialize in a select number of styles. Odds are that if one style is brewed repeatedly one will improve at making it.
- Research. In our modern information age one is able to find the knowledge to make better beers. From water profiles to recipe composition, the information is there if one cares to invest the time.
- They don’t have to sell it. Expense is not much of an issue when making a beer. Since this is a hobby and not a job, one doesn’t have to worry about making a retail product and pricing out the cost of labor, rare ingredients and such.
- Feedback. Now more than ever people have access to quality feedback on their product. From friendly commercial brewers, hobbyist clubs to sanctioned beer competitions, homebrewers have access to skilled tasters for unbiased feedback on their beer.
- They experiment. I realize that this is the same as from the above list, but experimentation has its payoffs as well. While not every experiment makes good beer, sometimes it makes for a great one.
- Collaboration. While collaboration is becoming a developing trend in commercial craft beer, collaboration is a well developed theme in homebrewing. Hobbyists are a passionate bunch and often lend each other ingredient, equipment and of course, advice.
These are some of the reasons as to why homebrewers make some beer better than the Pros, but of course there are many more.
So what does all of this mean? Well this is my response to something that I have heard many times before, namely that homebrewers make bad beer and cannot approach the level of skill at their craft that the professionals do.
I find that claim by some beer aficionados to be nothing but a lack of experience in the world of amateur brewers. What they also often forget is that even the pros turn to the amateur scene for ideas, inspiration and sometimes even recipes.
One final thought. Professional brewers sell a commercial product for a profit. Homebrewers though are motivated for far different reasons that allow them to produce very different beers, be they good or bad.
To turn one’s nose down on a brew that was made by a homebrewer is to potentially give up a fantastic beer – and who would want to do that? Aren’t we all here for the same thing, namely good beer?