Brewing decent, drinkable beer is fairly easy. Brewing the highest quality beer is somewhat more difficult. Previously, I’ve posted a variety of articles with specific suggestions on how to brew the best quality beer at home. Today I’m going to look at a more nebulous aspect of becoming a successful brewer — your mindset.
The successful brewers I’ve met — both homebrewers and commercial brewers — are a diverse lot. However, they share a set of traits related to how they view their beer and their brewing skills. Hopefully, I can do this without venturing too far into phoney-baloney “motivational poster” territory. Personally, I think the “de-motivational posters” are much funnier. So with that in mind, here are the five habits of successful brewers.
Looking to Improve
Successful brewers spend little time resting on their laurels. They are always looking to improve upon their beer and their process. I’ve noticed that successful brewers are always learning how others accomplish their brewing tasks, and trying out promising new techniques, ingredients, or equipment.
Seeking to improve doesn’t mean that they dislike their beer, or have an overly negative view of it. It just means that they believe improvement is possible, and they are willing to put effort into improving.
The motivational poster representing this could show a brewer, high on a mountain, trying to ascend to a peak obscured by clouds. The caption could indicate that he or she is always looking to climb higher, even though the destination isn’t visible. (The de-motivational poster might reveal that a group of sherpas have already built a brewery near the summit.)
Seek Out Criticism, And Weigh It Fairly
In order to improve, successful brewers need an accurate assessment of their beer. As such, they frequently seek out people who can help them to better evaluate their beer. And, they listen to what these people say. Of course, some people are better at evaluating beer than others. And, even among qualified brewers, opinions can differ. Successful brewers gauge the qualifications of their critics and the number of times they receive a given criticism to get an accurate picture of their beer.
Seeking criticism can be hard to do. Most people look for praise, not criticism. And it’s easy to take criticism of one’s beer as criticism of the brewer itself. Successful brewers, however, don’t see negative criticism as a bad thing – it points to the path to improving their beer.
Focus on the Beer, Forget the Numbers
As brewers, we have a wide variety of tools to help us quantitatively evaluate our beer. These include hydrometers, thermometers, and pH meters. We also have tools to help us calculate almost everything we would like to estimate, including OG, ABV, IBUs, water volumes, etc. These are all a great help in the quest to brew the best beer possible.
However, there is a point at which a successful brewer needs to forget about the numbers and assess the beer. For example, just because the recipe calculator estimates that a beer has 60 IBU, does not — in another itself — mean that it is hoppy enough to be an IPA. A successful brewer uses his nose and palate as the best tools to evaluate his success or failure.
The motivational poster representing this might show a brewer stepping back far enough to finally appreciate the forest for the trees. (The de-motivational poster might show that the trees were obscuring a monster that the brewer couldn’t see. For example, when a brewer asks you if he should adjust his water chemistry to accentuate the hops, but his beer is so contaminated that it doesn’t matter.)
Plan To Succeed
Speaking of motivators, Sun Tsu — in his book, “The Art of War” — said, “Victorious generals win first and then go to war, while defeated generals go to war and then seek to win.” He also said, “The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.”
Successful brewers plan for successful brew days. They review their plan, try to think through every option, and anticipate potential problems. They also devise a plan to deal with possible disruptions. Successful brewers test their equipment beforehand, when needed, and have appropriate backup supplies (an extra propane tank, oxygen cylinder, etc.). They also inspect their ingredients to ensure freshness before they mash in. In short, they plan to succeed, then they work the plan. And if something out of the ordinary happens, they hopefully have the ability to adapt and respond.
There are lots of possibilities for a motivational poster illustrating this, of course. If I were to make the corresponding de-motivational poster, I would show a brewer pouring a vial of expired yeast (no yeast starter) into his wort, saying, “I’m brewing a barleywine.” The caption would read, “Not for any reasonable definition of barleywine.”
If you play a musical instrument, you might have heard the phrase, “Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong.” Successful brewers brew. They improve their skills and their beer via repetition. The more a brewer brews, the better he understands the capabilities of his equipment, techniques, and ingredients. The more a brewer brews, the better his chances of pulling everything together and brewing a great beer. Although learning, calculating, and planning are all important, so is actually brewing. At the danger of venturing into phoney-baloney motivational poster land, the mental aspects of brewing are like one pedal on a bike and the physical (actually brewing) is the other — you need both to move forward.
Finally, the most important advice I can give you is this — believe in yourself. I’m totally kidding. Stop patting yourself on the back and clean something.