What goes through your mind when you get ready for brew day? What is it you are thinking about when you are gathering ingredients? At first there is not much thought to it. You pick up a Better Beer kit and start heating some water. No big deal really, or maybe it is…
For some progressing beyond a kit may never happen, but there are so many more who make that first kit and it raises more questions than the kit is designed to answer. The kit is a safe zone. You can get exactly what you expect from it as long as you follow directions. Even if you don’t follow directions you will still arrive in the same ball park.
It is when you start building your own recipes that you really have to put thought into what you are trying to accomplish. You have a margin of safety while still using extracts. But for this you sacrifice control. Lack of control means that you can come close but never quite exactly where you might want to be. Sure at times that can be “good enough” but for some people just brewing with kits is “good enough” too.
It is when you move into all grain that you take full control of your vision. It is here where what ever beer you can think of, you have the power to create. There is no safety net, all you have is the knowledge you have built over other safer brews (and sometimes just darn luck).
This is probably the best part of brewing. It is a craft skill, much like woodworking. True artistry does not show itself until you have mastered the basics. For brewing the basics begin with that first kit. By cutting out all the bigger decisions you are able to focus on a very important basic, cleaning and sanitation (wow, how did I get here).
It seems like mindless rhetoric but the reality is that like any other form of craftsmanship, each step toward mastery is based on skills you learn along the way. Just as you will run into problems time and time again if you never learn the simple skill of sanitation, you will never be able to create a new beer or repeat what you have brewed in the past if you do not learn the skills of mashing and lautering.
At times it can seem mindless and boring, repeating the same thing over and over again can be mind numbing. But it is in repetition that skills become automatic. When skills become automatic, your mind is a bit more free to work on the things that require a bit more thought. It is then that you can build something with a bit more meaning.
I think it’s time for a pint…