Put an End to Hit or Miss Brewing

  • Hits and Misses
  • How to Ditch the guessing game

How's it going, brew buddy? Ready for Part 2?

What I'm sharing here goes beyond the surface level tips you normally hear from homebrewers. "More information" is rarely the problem with homebrewing. ​We're drowning in information, as we saw in Part 1.

If you really want to brew great beer, and do it consistently for years to come, you need to change how you approach homebrewing.

You may be thinking this means more work on your part. Far from it.

This path is actually easier than the way most people approach homebrewing. It will will save you countless hours over the course of your brewing career. And you'll have more fun with the hobby.

In Part 1, we saw that Hit Or Miss brewing is a miserable way to go about homebrewing.​

​Let's be blunt: Homebrewing chews up a lot of hours.

It's not like cooking marinara sauce on the stovetop where if you screw it up, you can have another batch ready to taste in 20 minutes. It can take months for a new batch of beer to be ready to taste.

When you look at each step in brewing a batch of beer...

  • Finding a recipe to brew
  • Getting your ingredients
  • Putting your recipe into your software
  • Cleaning and prepping your gear
  • Brewing, chilling, and cleanup
  • Fermentating
  • Taking samples
  • Kegging or bottling
  • Tasting (finally!)

... you're talking about A LOT of time invested.

​Of course, we enjoy all the time spent. It's our hobby. But if I'm going to invest that much time, I don't want to rely on luck for my batch to turn out the way I hoped.

So what's the secret then? 

If you want to brew better and better beer, it's absolutely critical that you learn how to 1) Critique your own beer and 2) Make changes to your recipe based on your personal tastes.

Why not just get feedback from others? There are problems with that.

  1. Feedback from friends: Have you ever asked a friend to taste your beer and they go "Tastes pretty good!" Or, "hoppy!"

    Nice of them, but not very helpful, is it? 
  2. Feedback from beer experts: You could ask beer experts in your area for feedback. Like professional brewers. The problem is you need to find one. And even if you do find one willing to give you feedback, you probably don't want to hit them up for every batch you make. After all, pro brewers are insanely busy.
  3. Feedback from beer judges: Look, I'm a beer judge. And I think homebrew competitions are great. But there are three big drawbacks. 1) There's a shortage of experienced judges, so sometimes you get a judge who knows way less than you do about beer. 2) It can take months to get your scoresheet back. 3) This is the biggy. We judges don't know your recipe and we don't know how you brewed your beer. So we can't tell you which specific changes to make. 

Oh, and let's not forget the most important reason you can't depend on feedback from others: You have different tastes! For example...

Some people enjoy hops that taste like grapefruit. But I've never enjoyed eating grapefruit. Bleh!

Some people enjoy Belgian beers that have intense spice-like flavors. But I don't.

Some people enjoy SUPER bitter beers. But I don't.

You have your own preferences too, don't you?​

What all this means? If Hit Or Miss Brewing is not the answer, and you can't rely on feedback from others, then the only solution is to learn how to critique your own beers. You must become your own personal beer judge!

This doesn't mean you need to actually get certified as a BJCP judge. That's up to you. What's more important is that you know how to judge your own beers.

The light bulb moment came to me when I was interviewing a professional perfume maker, Joel, about learning how to refine your sense of smell. He was explaining to me the difference between him smelling a lemon and his dad smelling the same lemon.

First, he said that he was not born with a "better nose" than his Dad. Rather, the difference was in his training.

Now pay attention because this is the critical piece...

Listen to how Joel describes smelling a lemon.

When I heard Joel describe how he smells a lemon, I had a giant "AHA" moment. Because I saw how it all tied back to improving your beer.

Let me explain...

Check out the picture below. Have you ever felt like this when you describe​ your beer? Like instead of smelling all the distinct flavors, you only smell one flavor? It just smells like beer.

You may enjoy that flavor. You may love it. But to your nose, it's just one somewhat vague aroma & flavor.

That's just like Joel's Dad smelling the lemon. He may love the smell of lemon, but to him, it's just lemon.

Which is fine because he's not a perfumer. A lemon can smell like a lemon and that's okay.

Just like most craft beer drinkers don't care if they can pick apart all the flavors, as long as they like what they taste.

But you and I are different. We're homebrewers. If we can't distinguish between flavors, we can't improve our beer. Which is why so many of us rely on the Guessing Game.

Now check this out.

See the difference?

The little colored dots on the right represent the individual flavors in the beer. It's the citrusy aroma of the hops. It's the breadiness of the malt. It's the pear-like flavor from the yeast.

Can you guess what that red dot it?

Yep, it's an off-flavor. 

Remember my stout from Part 1? When I was trying to improve that stout recipe, I was the guy on the left. I was just guessing at what changes to make. And I was guessing at what changes to make to my recipe because I couldn't pick out the individual flavors.

Once I got decent at this ( it didn't take as long as I expected) I began to notice different types of adjustments to make to my recipe.

Category #1: Off-Flavors

These are what most homebrewers are trying to get rid off. They are the flavors that are almost always undesirable in beer, like:

  • DMS
  • Diacetyl
  • Acetaldehyde
  • Oxidation
  • And the rest...

But they are still only one category. If you've brewed a beer that didn't have any noticeable off-flavors, but you still weren't happy with it, the reason was most likely because of one of these other categories.

Category #2: Out of Balance Flavors

This is an often overlooked category just ripe for opportunity.

Much of the time, your beer doesn't taste the way you want NOT because you made a mistake that led to an off-flavor, but simply because the flavors are out of balance.I don't mean that your malt and hops should be perfectly "equal" in every beer.

After all, an IPA will ALWAYS be dominated by hops. But it should have enough malt to balance those hops. Just like a milk stout should have enough bitterness to balance the sweetness from the malt.

Category #3: The Wrong Flavors

Another big reason your beer doesn't turn out the way you hoped is because the flavors just aren't right for your palate.

Maybe they flavors clash, like what happens when you combine roasty grains with bitter hops. Or maybe, like I mentioned above, you used hops that taste like grapefruits but you really freaking hate grapefruit.

Over to you...

Now that you know the 3 major categories, which one do you find most of your adjustments falling into?

In the final installment, Part 3, I'll show you how you can get better at detecting which changes to make. I'll also connect the dots between knowing what adjustments need to be made and actually taking action to make these changes in your own batches.

Talk then!