My husband and I are homebrewers.
We make beer, serve it to our friends, drink it ourselves and enter homebrew competitions. Sometimes we win, more often we don’t. The real joy is in the process of brewing, sharing what we make with other beer lovers, getting feedback and making it better. Here are some life lessons from the perspective of a brewer.
(N.B. “We” really means “he” …I design recipes, sometimes hang out while he’s crafting them, and take credit for a lot of it, but Jim is the brewer.)
Enjoy the process.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the outcome of our efforts that we forget to enjoy the process. The first time we brewed, it was sort of a disaster. The wort boiled over on the stove. We realized too late that a fair amount of ice is needed to cool it down rapidly. The end product tasted vaguely like dirty socks. It was fantastic! We had done a lot of things wrong, but we had something that resembled beer, and enough lessons learned that we did better the next time. And most importantly, we had fun. We had discovered a hobby we could enjoy together.
The quality of our beer progressed from bad to mediocre and finally we were confident enough to serve it to someone other than ourselves. He not only drank it, he asked for another. That memory still gives me goosebumps!
Fourteen years and many batches later, we have graduated from kits to recipes, from extract to all-grain, from bottles to kegs and we continue to enjoy the process. The quality keeps improving and sometimes we miss the mark completely. There are tons of great craft beers you can buy off the shelf – homemade beer is a labor of love.
What are the things you do for the sheer joy of it? How often do you take time to enjoy the process?
Savor the feedback.
Our track record in competitions isn’t shabby. The very first sanctioned competition we entered (i.e. one that is conducted according to the rules of the Beer Judge Certification Program) we won Best of Show. We’ve been selected to brew at professional craft breweries and one year were crowned King and Queen of the Hive by our local homebrew club based on the number of competition points we earned.
Winning is fun. Usually there are medals and sometimes prizes. But the best thing to come out of these competitions is the feedback from certified judges that tells us specifically where the beer is correct (i.e. aligns with the standard for the style) and where it can be improved. Each scoresheet we receive gives us more insight into how we can get better. It’s sometimes tough to hear but is always offered with goodwill by someone who appreciates the time, energy and effort that has gone into the brew.
The feedback doesn’t need to come from experts. A few years ago we made a keg for a friend’s party. It was served alongside a couple of commercial craft beers and it was the first one to kick. That people not only drank our beer but drank all of it was among the best feedback we’ve gotten. Our good friends – most of whom know beer but aren’t certified – will always tell us what they think. Those conversations can spark tweaks to recipes or new recipes altogether. Or, we might look at the feedback and say, nah, we like it the way it is.
How do you receive feedback? Are you looking only for the medal, or do you seek the input that will help you to become better? Do you go into react-and-fix mode, or do you examine the feedback for relevance to your goals? Here is a great Harvard Business Review article on receiving feedback.
Find your people.
Our social life is very beer-centric. We belong to two brew clubs: Brewers United for Zany Zymurgy (BUZZ) is officially recognized by the American Homebrewers Association. We have monthly meetings with specific educational topics. Many of our members are certified judges and we are always learning from each other. Our other club, LCD Brewing, is somewhat less formal. It’s a bunch of guys who like to brew and started doing it together years ago. There’s a lot of sharing of ideas, feedback and beer. There are t-shirts. It’s more like a social club that also brews. This group has become like family. Most of the close friendships I have made throughout my life have been situational – we met at school or at work and formed a genuine bond. My LCD family has blossomed from a common interest, a loose set of traditions and a set of shared experiences across many stages of our lives.
Who are your people? How did you meet them? If you’re looking for connection, I invite you to identify the things you’re passionate about and find others who share your passion.
Experiment and make it your own.
I’m one of the leaders of the BUZZ Homebrew Club. We call ourselves the Primary Fermenters (it’s a brewing pun – look it up). Now that our monthly meetings are virtual, I serve as host (i.e. I am the one with the Zoom account that allows 20+ of us to talk about beer for 2-3 hours at a stretch). The virtual sessions actually allow us to more varied topics and guests.
In our meeting this month we had one of the brewers from Free Will Brewing, Nate Walter, join us to talk about his brewing process. He is a Saison expert and is passionate about the possibilities that a Saison offers. He talked about foraging for flowers and plants that he could throw into his barrel and focused as much on the art of brewing as the science. When some of our members were pressing him for specific insight into how to make a perfect Saison, he pushed back and said that in the age of technology, we are too focused on looking to others for guidance. His advice (paraphrased): Figure out what you want to make, try it, mess it up and try it again. Dump it out if you need to. Experiment. Keep making changes until you get the result you want. Do what works for you and have fun doing it. Own it.
How often do you look to someone else to see how it’s done? When was the last time you experimented? Are you willing to dump it if you don’t like it (or drink it if it’s just ok) and try again next time? What would be possible if you truly own it?
Find your wisdom.
Think about your hobbies and interests. What about them is appealing to you? I invite you to examine the things you’re passionate about and see how they might have relevance for the other parts of your life and your work.
And remember…life’s too short to drink crappy beer!