Last weekend, I had the pleasure of teaching a group of close friends how to brew. We gathered in our host’s driveway like a gaggle of birds flocking to a piece of tossed bread, excited to gorge our brains on malty knowledge, to create and learn all in one very efficient swoop. I’ve taught classes at a corporate level before, slinging SharePoint solutions like a pro, but I’d never taught a class on how to brew. I went crazy with it. I even made a 7-page handout!
You forget, once you’ve fully ingrained yourself in a process, how many aspects of the art you take for granted. As I held up a cylinder full of golden wort to explain hydrometers, sugar density, and original gravity like these were concepts the average person should know about, it struck me how involved and complicated brewing must seem to someone who hasn’t been studying and physically doing it for nearly ten years. I did my best to explain (in less scientific terms) how water, sugar, hops, and yeast eventually become the drink we all immediately recognize, which forced me to reanalyze brewing as an activity, and it’s applicability as a hobby.
At some point, when I was explaining how to troubleshoot a stuck fermentation, and how relatively subtle changes in temperature can result in unwanted off flavors, I realized that homebrewing is a high risk, low reward venture. It requires a significant start up cost, large swaths of free time, and until you’ve done it for a while, results in pretty mediocre beer. It requires a lot of study, a lot of patience, and sometimes, a light sprinkling of luck. It’s clearly not a hobby for everyone.
A strange current undulates deep in the aquifers beneath craft beer culture, an ebb that pulls beer drinkers into production breweries, and a flow that pushes them to gaze upon rows of stainless steel tanks in jaw-dropped awe. The phenomena is unique to beer (from what I can tell); writers do not spend their time inside publishing company warehouses, admiring printers and book binding machines, while comparing and rating fonts. Foodies rarely walk into the kitchens of their favorite restaurants to grab a quick bite with the head chef while admiring his oven. In other fields, such behavior would be bizarre, possibly even ridiculed.
Part of the allure of a brewery comes from novelty; prior to the last few years, the only options you really had to see beer-making in action required generic tours through massive Bud and Miller industrial complexes. Many people who have loved beer for a long time now get to peek behind the curtain, see that the great and powerful is actually the organized and practical, demystify the processes and the people that lead to their favorite drink. General brewery openness to invite the libatious public into their work space shows just how welcoming our little community really is, but comes with an oft overlooked side effect that mars all that generous inclusivity with unintended exclusivity.
The obsession with breweries makes it seem like you have to love brewing if you already love beer. Everyone else seems enamored by the creative side, puppy-love smitten by the idea that beer is crafted by people, not just spawned in bottles and distributed to the masses. So why not you? I’ve heard several friends and colleagues announce, with much dejection, that they “just can’t get into brewing,” or “I tried homebrewing, and didn’t enjoy it,” their voices tinted with frustration and failure. There is an implication that the enjoyment of the product is inextricably tied to the enjoyment of the process, and that you cannot possibly be into one without being into the other. A subconscious malignant trend whispers mean words to the dark, suggesting that people who love to drink beer aren’t “real beer people” unless they frequent every brewery in a fifty mile radius, and homebrew every weekend.
I’m here to tell you that’s all nonsense. In a commercial context, there will always exist two subsets of people: creators and consumers. While there will inevitably be some cross over, in nearly every other modern industry, the lines are pretty cleanly drawn between the two groups. You don’t expect every voracious reader to also be a writer, or study sentence structure and grammar, do you? You’d never suggest someone who enjoys delicious food also learn how to cook every dish they enjoy, Iron Chef style, right? We appreciate the creators because without them we wouldn’t have our products to consume, but trying to culturally tie creation and consumption together will lead to a lot of unreasonable expectations, and possibly some alienating let downs when reality deviates from the prescribed popular path.
It’s OK to not want to try your hand at homebrewing, or to find the process tedious and unrewarding.
It’s OK to love beer for it’s mosaic variety and deliciousness without giving a single solitary shit about how it transformed from raw ingredients to decadent ambrosia.
It’s OK to not want to visit breweries, to not have an aesthetic opinion about stainless steel versus copper, to not really care at what temperature the grain for your favorite beer was mashed.
You can love, respect, and enjoy beer without any of that. You should still maintain a healthy respect for those who do spend their time making beer (as long as they do it well), but feel no shame in not wanting to pack up and move yourself to that side of the beerish world. While it would be pretty difficult to love brewing if you didn’t love beer, never let the culture, or any unspoken trend, suggest the opposite is true.
It’s OK, really, to love brew as a noun, but not as a verb.