Last week, hosting this month’s Session, I asked what knowing about brewing does to your enjoyment of beer.
Here’s the round-up.
I was interested in whether learning more about brewing changes how you enjoy beer. And if it does, if it’s for the better.
The thought that went into the responses was impressive, and it’s been a pleasure to spend the weekend reading them.
Some general themes came through which I’ve used to organise this post. Apologies if in doing so I’ve quoted you out of context or twisted your words. It wasn’t on purpose.
Sorry too if the categories are restrictive and you feel pigeon-holed.
It’s how I found my way through the task of connecting such a range of ideas.
Enjoyment’s Not The Same As Appreciation
A strong idea common in several posts is that enjoyment and appreciation are different.
Enjoyment’s seen as a raw experience that remains largely unchanged regardless of background, whereas appreciation tends to grow with knowledge.
Learning about brewing, says The Beer Nut, is “certainly not something that makes a beer more enjoyable per se, but it can be a fun extra alongside the main feature”. Knowing that it’s difficult to make a weak beer with complex flavours, doesn’t make drinking it any more enjoyable.
Beer Nut’s great post neatly describes the relationship between brewing and drinking and compares beer making to a magic trick. Once you know how it’s done, you’re no longer impressed.
But others thought that, on the contrary, knowing how difficult something is can make it all the more impressive.
Drawing parallels with studying guitar, Pints and Pubs pointed out that the more you learn the more you appreciate a true master such as Jimi Hendrix.
Technical knowledge isn’t enough: “It’s not just understanding the process and the effort that goes into making beer, but appreciating the subtleties“.
Even with a heightened technical appreciation of the craft, enjoyment of the product is the same. It’s just as thrilling to listen to Hendrix with Stella in hand as it always was.
Similarly unaffected by increased knowledge is Alan from Growler Fills.
15 years ago, when he started brewing, there wasn’t much good beer around. “Homebrewing offered a window into the magic of beer and the possibility of greatly expanded choice“.
Now that he knows more about beer he doesn’t enjoy it any less. “Being a home brewer provides perspective, appreciation and a little street cred” when talking about beer, but that’s it.
As for whether analysing flavours ruins enjoyment he asks ”do any of us just pick up a beer and drink it with no thought at all?”.
Eslem (Mr Moustache) from In Cervesio Felicitas suggests it’s almost possible.
He describes “the aficionado that despite his experience brewing or drinking, can open a beer, sit in front of his computer, write a blog post and not think at all about sensory evaluation, just the good company that it’s giving him”.
(aquel aficionado que aún con toda su experiencia, haciendo o bebiendo, puede abrir una cerveza, sentarse enfrente de su computadora, escribir un post para su blog y no pensar en nada de evaluación sensorial, solamente pensar que buena compañía me estás haciendo)
Having said that, Eslem believes that “knowing more than normal about beer slightly spoils your appreciation of it”.
(el conocer más de lo normal de cerveza te arruina un poco la forma de apreciarla)
But you don’t need to brew to get this knowledge. Reading and drinking are also ways to learn.
Mark from Kaedrin Beer Blog also believes “you don’t need to know how something was made in order to appreciate or enjoy it“. Beer can be enjoyed whether you brew or not.
He also explains how gaining knowledge can mean losing something else, although he’s unsure whether that’s good or bad.
While he’s been both an indifferent drinker and a obsessive brewer in his time, Bryan from This Is Why I’m Drunk is not sure it really matters what your relationship with beer is.
But there is a difference between enjoyment and passion:
Enjoyment of something isn’t solely based around your education, but passion about something is greatly enhanced by stoking that fire with knowledge and appreciation.
It Doesn’t Make Any Difference
Countering the idea that brewing enhances beer appreciation, if not enjoyment, are those who think it doesn’t make any difference one way or the other.
He does admit that “seeing how [his home brew] has changed in the bottle over a couple of months, has had an effect on how I’ve enjoyed a beer”.
He now gives lifeless bought beer a bit more slack.
Mr David has “plans for home brew”, “to use it to brew beers that I want to drink, and also to use it to learn more”.
He’s not going to buy any beer this year, so I expect he’ll learn a lot.
The one and only pure “drinker”, Sean at Beer Search Party, issues a warning to over-zealous home brewers: ”your relationship with the beer in front of you should be one of discovery and open mindedness“.
It doesn’t matter what you know about it, beer’s to be enjoyed in the moment.
Questioning the idea that brewing good beer is difficult, Alan from A Good Beer Blog is ”most interested in the ebb and flow of thinking about beer, as opposed to the making or makers“.
It’s not practical experience that tells you about beer, but focussing on it. There are other ways in apart from learning more about brewing: “travel, historical research, entrepreneurship, dipsomania”.
Home Brewing’s Not Difficult, Great Beer Is
On the other hand there are “beers we can’t deconstruct, made by people who are in complete control of their processes and understand their ingredients at a level we never will”.
They’re still able to be impressed.
Another homebrewer, Derrick from Ramblings of a Beer Runner, ”knows enough to be dangerous” and brews great beer from time to time.
His entertaining post points out one of the great motivating aspects of home brewing: flukes happen.
Everyone’s capable of brewing great beer, but repeating it’s another matter:
Whenever someone raves about one great beer from a new brewery that’s supposedly the next big thing, I always think, “Let’s see them do that again.”
Beer + Home Brewing = Obsession
In several posts home brewing gets blamed for turning an interest in beer into an obsession.
Before being given a kit by his wife, Glen from Beer Is Your Friend, didn’t really know what was in beer.
As well as enlightening him, “homebrewing has also led to me becoming, shall we say, obsessed by beer.”
However, despite spending every waking hour thinking, reading and daydreaming about beer his approach hasn’t changed.
He still enjoys a good pint.
Sheppy has a similar story. “It is clear that I have a much deeper knowledge and appreciation for beer now that I brew“. In fact, he often finds himself using beer words that others don’t understand.
He credits his first beer kit with turning his blog into a beer based one. He’s slowly become obsessed by beer, his love of home brewing driving it all.
Jon At The Brew Site also ascribes his love of beer, and his blog about it, to his passion for brewing.
Knowing how easy it is to brew gives him more reason to appreciate beer: ”I brew because I simply have a fascination with how easy it is to create beer—and (elephant in the room!) simply how easy it is to create alcohol”.
More To Enjoying Beer Than The Taste
Along with the arguments about whether brewing knowledge alters enjoyment or not, is the view that drinking and brewing are just small parts of the beer whole.
Although he doesn’t yet call himself a brewer, James from Beer Bar Band has recently started home brewing.
For him beer is a conversation, and brewing will give him more to talk about. However, it’s not just the taste he’s interested in but the social experience that goes with it.
Anyone who’s getting a bit too into brewing receives this advice: “If you are becoming too analytical about the beer you are drinking…the solution is easy, just have another one!”
Having taken part in tasting sessions with high level brewers, Chris from Draft Mag has seen how increased knowledge changes the experience of drinking.
But he uses air drumming to illustrate that you don’t really need to know how to do something to enjoy it. When it comes to beer, “your taste buds take care of that for you“.
Simon, The Reluctant Scooper makes a clear statement: “you don’t need to brew to appreciate beer. Like you don’t need to butcher to appreciate steak“.
There are so many more variables that affect enjoyment, such as mood, weather and company, that brewing’s influence is minimal.
When he discovered that “it is possible to brew beer at home that’s as good or even better than what the pros produce“, Zac from Beer and Pavement had a second epiphany.
Learning about brewing altered his “enjoyment from aesthetic-based to one of utility”, but ultimately he believes that beer is to be enjoyed in the moment and home brewing doesn’t change that.
You need to balance knowledge with enjoyment, and go easy on the analysis.
Reaching a similar conclusion, Rick from Pacific Brew News says that in reading too much and becoming experts “many of us can be downright annoying to drink with“.
“When you treat each and every glass like specimen to be dissected, that’s just a sad place to be.” There’s a time and a place for everything, and with friends we should just enjoy the beer.
Beer And Life
Finally, some extended the scope to make wider observations.
One of the most amusing posts is a biology lesson on the sub-sets of brewers and drinkers, by Darren at I Dream Of Brewery.
Drinkers often become brewers after realising that beer’s “not simply a refreshing booze delivery device“. These are “very well-rounded people who are highly skilled and generally awesome”.
In general he feels there’s not a lot of difference between brewers and drinkers. To make his point he include’s a Venn diagram that might explain the meaning of life.
Jon from 10th Day Brewing has always been interested in working out the mechanics of things. He likes brewing because he likes process.
But on it’s own that’s not enough. Showing off technical skill is all very well, but it’s slightly pointless if the resulting beer isn’t any good.
Above all, learning to brew has given him “a deeper appreciation for beer and the importance it has in our lives and culture“.
With a different take on the subject Stan from Appellation Beer explains that after spending his days focussed on other people’s relationships with beer, “introspection that includes beer has little appeal”.
He’s learnt about beer, not by making it but by reading, listening and observing.
After telling the story of a beer tasting at Cantillon in Brussels, he leaves us with this: ”Making beer is humbling. But so is life“.
Thanks everyone for taking part, and let me know if I’ve left you out. Hosting The Session’s a great experience that I’d recommend to anyone who hasn’t done it.
Next month it’s Montana Beer Finder‘s turn. See you there.