Put an End to Hit or Miss Homebrewing

  • Hits and Misses
  • The secret to better beer
  • The path to brewing greatness

When I began to study what the best homebrewers did differently, I noticed that homebrewers generally fall into one of two groups:

Group 1: Hit or Miss Brewers 
This was me back with that stout from Part 1. I was always in "reaction mode." If my beers turned out great, it was mainly due to luck. I could never replicate my success. And if my beers turned out crappy, I simply guessed at how to fix them.

Homebrewers in this group don't have much control over their brewing. They can't taste their own beer and say, "Oh, this didn't turn out quite how I expected, but I know exactly how to fix it."

Instead, they rely on either 1) Guessing at what changes to make or 2) Feedback from other people. But as we saw in Part 2, getting feedback on your beer from other people comes with risks. It's helpful, but it should not be your #1 source of feedback. Your own taste buds should be #1.​

Group 2: ​Total Control Brewers

Like the name says, these brewers are in total control over their brewing. They are in the driver's seat. They veer off course every now and then, but quickly get back on track.

​Total Control brewers have proven recipes, go-to hop combinations, and killer techniques they've developed. They're able to put together a recipe from scratch and get close to the bullseye on the first try.

And if their beer has an off-flavor or the flavor doesn't match what they wanted? They can quickly decide what needs to be done differently next time.

Which brings us to the quality that ALL the best brewers, homebrewer or pro, have in common...

All the best brewers are great tasters!

Try to find me a great brewer who doesn't have a great palate. They don't exist.

Take Gordon Strong for example. He's the only 3-time winner of the coveted Ninkasi Award, which is an insane accomplishment when you think about it.

Or Jamil Zainasheff. He's now a professional brewer at Heretic, but spent decades as a homebrewer and brewing educator. I learned most of what I know from him and his books. Jamil is an accomplished beer judge and is renowned for his critical palate.

Or take Chad Yakobson, the founder of Crooked Stave Brewery. I got to know Chad when I lived in Denver and​ Chad's palate for beer is incredible. I remember handing him one of my homebrews and he guessed the final gravity dead on.

(The final gravity was 1.021 btw. The beer under-attenuated, which Chad immediately picked up on).

What do you think these guys would say if you asked them what's a bigger difference maker in brewing great beer? A fancy new brew kettle? Or a finely tuned palate?​

"But I don't have a great palate... "

You might be thinking, "Well I don't have the palate of a Gordon Strong or Jamil or Chad."

Fair enough. But here's the thing...

First, if your goal is to brew better beer, you don't need to be some kind of supertaster. You don't need to be as good as those guys. You just need to be good enough to get over the hump to where you can make informed decisions about your recipes.

Second, anyone can develop a more critical palate. It's a skill you learn, just like anything else. It doesn't matter if you're a born taster. I'm certainly not, that's for damn sure.

​But once I became a beer judge, where I was forced to develop my palate, I realized that 1) It is possible to learn how to taste more in your beer. I don't mean the flavors become more intense, I mean you can taste more distinct flavors.

And 2) It didn't take nearly as long as I expected. In just one month of practice sessions, I made bigger gains than I had in all my years of being a craft beer drinker.

Key Insight: You get quick gains in the beginning

Some skills, like playing guitar, you suck at for a long time before you make any noticeable progress.

Other skills, you get better at quick and then eventually get diminishing returns. Critiquing beer falls into this category.

It's like lifting weights. Ever get into weight lifting? If you haven't bench pressed in a long time (or ever), you get better at it fast. You add more weight to the bar at every session. Eventually you'll hit a plateau, but by that time, you're strong as hell.

It's the same thing with training your palate on beer. You get better fast because you've never actually practiced it before.

You see, most homebrewers never practice critiquing their beer so they never get off the ground. They stay stuck on the bottom of that line in graph above. They think it takes years of practice to make progress, but little do they know, quick gains are right around the corner!

​When I started to teach what I had learned to other homebrewers, they got great results too. Like James, a graduate of our Beer Tasting Mastery course.

​And Brian.

You don't need to be a super taster. You just need to be good enough.

Basic tasting skills go a long ways in hombrewing. Think about it...

If you could identify one change to make to your recipe -- instead of guessing -- you could save yourself an entire cycle of brewing. And we saw in Part 1 just how long a batch takes, from getting your ingredients to tasting the final product.

That's what I mean by tasting skills going a long ways. When a batch of beer takes months to be ready, every decision you make is super important. I mean, do YOU have much spare time these days???

I can teach you. We're at over 800 graduates and counting.

Becoming a beer judge made the biggest difference in the quality of my homebrew. Most other beer judges will tell you the same.  But here's the thing...

You don't need to become a certified BJCP judge to get these skills. There's a lot of "other" stuff in getting BJCP certified, like learning how competitions work and how the rankings work.

If you just want to develop the critiquing skills, you don't need to get certified, which can take a year like it did for me.

The need for beer tasting training is why I created our Beer Tasting Mastery online course. It's opening very soon and this Fall 2017 class is the very last time it will be taught.​

Join our free beer tasting webinar

I'm hosting a free webinar where we'll taste beer together and I'll share with you some of my best beer tasting tips. These are techniques that you can use immediately the next time you visit your local craft brewery or taste your own homebrew.

This webinar will also give you a feel for the Beer Tasting Mastery class, because we'll use the same webinar format in the official class. Finally, I'll walk you through how the class works and answer any of your questions. And we'll drink beer. Did I mention that already?