The beginning of “homebrewing season” is usually a time of great anticipation, a time to fill some fermenters and once again hear the gurgling of air locks in your house. But sometimes even the most dedicated homebrewer can feel trapped in a rut. If it seems like you are facing your upcoming brewing sessions with less than the usual anticipation, check out these 5 things to shake up your routine and reinvigorate your interest.
1.) Try Something New
This one’s obvious, but worth pointing out. Trying something new will engage your brain and hopefully pique your interest in some previous unexplored brewing territory. Even if, like many brewers, you brew a different beer nearly every time you brew, you can still be stuck in a rut. I remember some years where I brewed a number of different batches. Each was different — pale ale, porter, “copper ale” — but they shared many similarities. All were ales, fermented with one of my two favorite yeast strains, mostly using the same hops for bittering, the same base malt (bought by the sack) and just generally being very similar — clean and dry versions of standard English or American ales. I wanted to try something new, so I started making sour beers.
Of course, the answer for everyone isn’t sour beers, but beers that you like and are outside of your range of experience. Is there something that all of your recently brewed beers share? Are they all big? Hoppy? Ales? Whatever they are, look for a beer outside of that range and give it a try. Getting into Belgian ales, if you haven’t before, can be fun. Likewise, trying your hand at lagers, if you haven’t before, may be the ticket.
You can also look at it from the standpoint of technique. Instead of thinking of a new kind of beer to brew, think about using a new technique. Lagering, again, might be something to try if all you’ve ever brewed is ales. [You can even try making lagered versions of your favorite ales. At the ZEALOTS picnic I recently attended, there was a nice IPL (India Pale Lager), brewed by Corey Martin.] And if you have tried lagering, perhaps try kräusening a batch or decoction mashing. Or maybe you like English session ales and brewing real ales (served from a pin or firkin) would be a great addition to your homebrew repertoire.
If you’re a very experienced brewer, who has brewed most types of beers (ales, lagers, sours), why not try your hand at malting? Done that? Try growing your own barley.
Trying something new might also be as easy as brewing with a new ingredient. On occasion, I like brewing with odd ingredients (including Mt. Dew). But it could be as simple as trying a batch of beer using acidulated malt to lower your mash pH or brewing with smoked malt or a hop variety with an interesting flavor (for example, Sorachi Ace).
2.) Take It To The Hoop
If trying something new doesn’t interest you, how about perfecting something you already brew? If you have beer that’s a favorite of yours (or your friends), read up on the style and see if there’s anything you can do to improve on your attempts. Making a yeast starter and running the fermentation better? Getting into the water chemistry? Experiment a little — maybe make a split batch and try your usual yeast versus another strain. Brew, tweak and repeat until the beer becomes your “thing.”
3.) Combine Interests
Think about how your other interests might mesh with homebrewing, to help it keep your interest. If you like grilling or cooking, there’s obviously cooking with beer or brewing a beer specifically to go along with a certain meal. If you like gardening, maybe you want to incorporate some homegrown herbs or spices into one of your beers (for example, homegrown coriander in a witbier). Or you could start growing hops (or barley). Do you like to build things? There’s an endless variety small of projects you could tackle. And if you’re up for a big project, you could try building your own brewing rig or own homebrew bar.
4.) Conquer Your Own Everest
I’ve brewed a lot of kinds of beer, but I’ve never brewed a Scottish ale that I really liked. My attempts have yielded decent ales, but they spoke to me more like Simon Pegg in the new JJ Abrams Star Trek series rather than James Doohan in the original Gene Roddenberry series. So, metaphorically, Scottish ales are a mountain I have yet to successfully summit. And, climbing to a heretofore inaccessible peak is another way to regain your motivation. So, get fired up to best your nemesis — like Kirk did when he fought the Gorn captain in the original series — and, when you do, you will be king of your own homebrew hill. (And, while doing so, if you feel the need to muck up a perfectly good mountain climbing metaphor with some unconnected Star Trek references, then “make it so.”)
5.) Take a Break
Homebrewing should be fun. If it starts to feel like a chore, put down the mash paddle for awhile and give it a rest. Recharge your batteries. You’ll be back; you wouldn’t be reading this if you wanted to quit for good.