Without a doubt, the 100%, undisputed, #1 question I get about homebrewing is:
“Is it good?”
Hell yes it's good!
I mean it's not world-class or anything. Some batches are fantastic, while some are just ok. But I can honestly answer that question by saying, “Yes, my homebrew tastes good.”
If you're a homebrewer, I'm sure you give the same response. OK so no one is going to say “No, it actually tastes like shit, but I brew and drink it anyways.” But I really bet yours is good. Why? Because I know most of my readers and you guys and girls know your stuff.
Let's stop tooting our own horns and be honest though – it's not that hard to make beer you would call good. Especially since the person asking the question is usually a drinker of light fizzy stuff. Not their own fault, they've simply been brainwashed. Please bring them back to reality. Thank you.
Let's think about this knee-jerk response for a moment – “Is it good?”
Why are people so skeptical? What from their experience leads them to doubt that making great beer is possible?
One of the problems with understanding why is that I'm a bit of a youngster at 26. In this regard I'm pretty lucky that I hit drinking age when homebrewing was in full swing and it was easy to get high-quality ingredients and information. But a homebrewing historian I am not, and I don't know what it was like before these golden days.
From what I've heard, it hasn't always been this way. In fact there seems to be an idea about brewing beer in bathtubs. Will somebody please tell me where this came from? I think my Dad mentioned his aunt brewing something in the bathtub. My Dad reads this blog. Hey Dad, what was that stuff about a bathtub and why do people ask me if I make beer in a bathtub?
It's ridiculous. I always laugh when I hear that. I'm not insulted at all, but fascinated that this notion has been ingrained in our culture, even with people my age or younger.
Why We Make Good Beer
Before we go too far wondering why they ask, why don't we answer the question why it is good. I don't think most non-homebrewers understand that you can make commercial quality beer. The beauty of the hobby is that we're not at that much of a disadvantage, and in some cases we have advantages over the pros.
The key thing to realize is that we can closely mimic the probrewers, just on a smaller scale. Here's why:
- Ingredients – The pros don't have access to any better ingredients than homebrewers do. In fact, this is where we're at an advantage. It comes down to cost. Many brewers simply can't afford say, organic fruits, because they need to buy them on such a large scale. There is a much greater financial risk if their beer doesn't sell. Homebrewers don't have this concern. Because we're typically brewing in 5 or 10 gallon batches, we can afford to spend a little extra on premium ingredients.
- Equipment – Most of the fancy equipment you see at a professional brewery is there because they brew in such large volumes. The pipes, pumps, and huge tanks are necessary when you're brewing a million gallons per year. For the rest of the equipment, they do have some advantages over homebrewers, but not too much that really affects the beer quality. They've got us in temperature control, yeast handling equipment, and mash tuns that optimize efficiency, for example. But homebrewers are an intelligent bunch and they've created gadgets to rival the pros. At the end of the day, a boil kettle is a boil kettle. Our equipment allows us to make very good beer.
- Information – There are plenty of options for homebrewers to learn how to brew, from books to on-campus classes. The beauty of the hobby is that it doesn't take years of studying to make a batch that you would call “good.” In fact, after learning homebrewing from a buddy, my first homebrew turned out excellent. If you know what you're doing, any of the pre-assembled ingredient kits that most of us start out with are going to turn out “good.”
Let's not forget the ultimate advantage homebrewers have over the pros: freshness. Unless you're drinking at the brewpub, your homebrew will be fresher than any beer you buy. And remember what Michael Jackson said about fresh beer?
One of life’s great but simple pleasures, widely recognised, is the aroma, taste, and satisfaction offered by truly fresh bread. Another, less well acknowledged, is the same sequence of sensuous experiences brought forth by really fresh beer. – Michael Jackson
So those are my main reasons why we can make good homebrew. Astute readers will notice that they are the same three factors I list in my 3-Legged Stool analogy on making beer. Here it is again:
Fun graphic, eh? If one leg is missing, you fall on your ass.
So let's move this discussion down to the comment area. If you're a homebrewer, what is the most common question you get? Is it just that people are only skeptical that I, personally, could make good homebrew? Could be. For my non-homebrewing readers, what are your questions about it? Are there things you assume about the hobby from your experience? Bathtubs?