There are a few stages that we all go through as we learn the art and craft of brewing. When you look at other endeavors you will see similar patterns. With brewing the most basic and easily learned method of brewing is the kit method. You know what you want to make and you rely on someone else to give you all the pieces of the puzzle so you can assemble it. It isn’t great beer but it also isn’t all that bad either. You could almost think of it as hop spiced Kool-aid.
After you have gotten a little braver and want to explore a bit more you move on to clone recipes. This step is slightly above the basic kit. You are trying to recreate something that has already been done and have a guide to lead you down the path. In both of these you tend to be using mostly extract for your grain or extract with grain. For the most part you are not doing a full mash yet.
The next phase is really the intermediary phase. It is here that you move into all grain brewing. You may still be using clone recipes as basic to keep cutting your teeth. Or you might have moved up a bit more and are now stepping a bit off the beaten path and turning the clone recipes into something a bit more your own.
It is from this stage that we move into building our own style specific recipes. I have spent quite a bit of time in the pages of Designing Great Beers and The Brewmaster’s Bible, exploring the grains hops and water chemistry of various styles. At this stage you have most likely built a workable brewing system (maybe even gotten to the point of a full-on brew sculpture).
Which brings us to the last stage. At this point, you have already formulated the basics of your brew in your mind and now you are only looking to fine tune what your vision says it should be. Sometimes it even ends up as a hodge podge of what do you have lying around the brew house.
Many times we try to rush ourselves to that last stage and attempt some crazy things with no basis for whether or not it is possible. Brewing is craftsmanship. Until you have a sound base of knowledge and skill you will always be on shaky ground. Think of the musician that attempts Beethoven’s concerto #9 on the piano when they have not put in the hours playing Mary had a little Lamb. It’s possible that they could get lucky but odds are that they will crash and burn.