Wednesday, May 22, 2013

You know you're a brewer when...

Hah! I found this in my drafts folder, and thought I would share:

"The furnace at my house broke the other day. I noticed the house seemed colder than usual Monday morning, but didn't really think much of it.  I left for work and the house was still cold, but not that cold.  But that evening I received a text from my mother: Furnace broken. Sleeping at Nonnie's. "

The furnace was dead in the middle of January. We were staying in my grandparent's house to keep warm. And I had cider fermenting. I don't remember all the details, but by the time I got home from work, the house was in the 50's. I packed some clothes and toiletries for the night, grabbed the carboy of cider, and headed to a warmer house.

You see, my first thought when I got the text was not to worry about pipes bursting or houseplants dying or trying to sleep in a cold house. It was concern that the yeast I was using in the cider would not be happy fermenting below 65 degrees.

In the end, things worked out just dandy. The cider survived, fermented out completely, and is waiting to be bottled (probably this weekend).

10,000 Hours

I've been listening to Macklemore's Ten Thousand Hours (google it if you want to listen...), and it's got me thinking. The general theme of the song and Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000-Hour rule is this: to become truly great in your field, you should amass over 10,000 hours of experience. And while there are some that discredit this idea, arguing that lucky breaks and natural talent are just as important, the basic idea still remains.

If you want to be the best at something, spend time doing it.

Which is a problem for me. While I may not want to the the best brewer in the world, I sure as hell want to be a good one. And yet, I am not brewing (or studying brewing) often enough.  If you assume about 5 hours per batch of beer (brewing, racking, bottling, etc) and look at the number of batches I've made (around 30), I haven't even broken 4 digits. Even if we include time spent studying brewing techniques and related information  I'm still not sure I'm at 1000 hours. While I'm not hung up on the exact number of hours, the number is a quantitative answer to otherwise binary or qualitative questions (am I a good brewer/have I become a better brewer?).

And am I a good brewer? Given the feedback I've gotten from friends and family, I'd say yes. Most of the beer drinkers I know who have tried my brews have only (or at lest mostly) favorable things to say about my beers. One went as far as to tell me I consistently make the best home-brew he's tried (this might be partly due to the fact that I don't share the bad beers. I make myself drink them as punishment). However, I finally entered my first beer into a home-brew competition (hosted by Right Brain Brewery) and the results were not great. I had a average score of 33 out of 50.

Now there are several qualifiers I should through in. I don't know the number of entrants (though it was at least around 50. My beer was #47), I don't know the average score, and not every beer was reviewed by every judge. However, I can say that I did not win the overall competition, I did not win any of the style categories, and my beer only got a 30 from the Cicerone who judged. I'll post more about that beer and the feedback I got later.

The point is, there is definitely room for improvement. And how will I improve? By brewing over and over and over, learning from (and drinking) my mistakes, and celebrating my successes by repeating them (so I can understand what did work).