Sunday, 15 September 2013

Award-winning homebrewers

Just in case you managed to miss this yesterday: one of our beers won an award at the UK National Homebrew Competition.  Our Declassified NZ (a black IPA brewed solely with NZ hops) took third prize in the Specialty round. 

We were very pleased that something we brewed would be judged worthy of an award in a brewing competition. It provides some validation that we are doing the right things. Although, if anything, it makes us want to keep improving our beers rather than just sitting back and being content with what we've achieved.

However, we did have stop and think and say HANG ON A MINUTE, that award-winning beer was only the fourth beer we ever brewed. In fact, if not for the change in the hop profile (switching US Pacific North West hops for NZ hops) it is the same as the second beer we brewed (which was our first all-grain brew). So how did we manage to brew something so good (relatively speaking) so early on in our brewing history?

I was reminded of an article I read on the Brewdog blog about homebrewing a few months back. One quote really stuck in my mind:

Russell: "Do as many home brews as possible. After about 100 attempts the beer will start to taste good! There's a lot more control in modern breweries so don't beat yourself if your first few attempts don't even taste like beer; it's tricky! Be prepared for plenty of trial and error."

I remember thinking at the time, 'how bad could you be at home brewing that you would need to do 100 brews before producing something good?' I have to assume this figure is an exaggeration. But surely such statements would be more likely to put off potential home brewers than to encourage them to try it for themselves? It sat slightly oddly in an article that appeared, on the face of it, to be encouraging people to try home-brewing.

The first thing we ever brewed was an all extract pale ale. We fully expected it to be awful but actually it tasted nice. Our second brew was all grain, the original Declassified Black IPA. We thought it tasted pretty good, even if we say so ourselves... Two brews later we produced something that won an award.

So I guess what we're trying to say is, home brewing isn't rocket science but it is a scientific process. We're both scientists by training. So we approached brewing like a science project: we educated ourselves as much as possible beforehand, we documented as we went, we reflected after, and we learned from our mistakes. If you've never brewed before, you're not going to brew a good beer by accident. But if you're willing to learn and you try your best you should get something that tastes good in less than 100 attempts. ;)

However, if you're not of a scientific bent, please don't be put off. You can still make good beer without a detailed understanding of the science behind it. However, don't be surprised once the home-brewing bug bites, that you'll want to know more. Once you starting learning more about the science of beer, you're on the road to turning good beer into great beer. 

Thanks to everyone who has tried our beers and offered us feedback and constructive criticism. We have appreciated that and found it really useful.