I have one really sexy brew system.
Here she is:
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Expensive, too. That darling cost me over $3,500 to build.Worth it though.
It lets me hold spot-on mash temperatures, perform complicated step mashes, and chill boiling wort to lager temps in under 15 minutes.
Yea, it’s one helluva brewing machine.
But it’s not my best brewing tool. Not by a long shot.
What is my best brewing tool then?
That’s a picture of me judging at my homebrew club’s competition last week. I’m in the middle of critiquing a Belgian Saison.
While I took my “sniff sniff” of the aroma, I said to the guy next to me: “This smells just like Wyeast 3711. I bet that’s the yeast they used.”
Well, that beer’s owner was standing right behind me and recognized his bottle being poured so he listened in to our critique.
At the end of the competition, he came up to me and said, “Dude, you nailed it. That was Wyeast 3711.”
I’m not bragging here. Anybody can learn this stuff. I wasn’t born a supertaster or anything like that.
The point here is to demonstrate the power of every homebrewer's ultimate brewing tool: his palate.
Let me show you why that is…
Let’s look at two fictional homebrewers: Barry and Vinny.
First, Meet Barry…
Barry has pretty poor beer evaluation skills. A lot of beers just taste the same to him.
Their flavors all run together.
He knows when he likes something in a beer, but that’s as far as he gets. He can't describe why he likes his beer.
Barry goes to his local brewery and tastes a Belgian ale with a delicious aroma. He’s determined to recreate it in his own version of the beer.
The problem is he can’t describe the aromas he’s getting or even come close to pinpointing the source of them.
“Is that coming from the malt or the yeast?” he thinks.
So he throws together a random recipe and hopes for the best.
The result? Barry’s recipe doesn’t even come close. He brews batch after batch, using trial and error (and luck) to get the exact beer he wants. Rarely does he nail it.
Now, meet Vinny…
Vinny is a highly skilled beer taster with sharp senses. He smells the same local brewery’s Belgian ale and is immediately captivated.
He identifies the source of the tantalizing aroma as coming from the yeast. His mind goes to work, scanning a mental database of dozens of flavor descriptors to find the right ones.
He lands on raisin, pepper, and plum. Must be a Trappist yeast. If he’s used this yeast before, he can recognize it.
Even if he doesn’t know the strain, he’s still in great shape because
1) He knows the aroma he enjoys is coming from the yeast,
2) He recognizes that it's a Trappist yeast, and
3) He can articulate the exact aromas and flavors from the yeast and why he likes them.
Not only that, but he can evaluate the yeast flavor relative to the other flavors in the beer. For example, maybe that yeast would pair great with German hops.
Vinny will do the same exercise with the other aspects of the beer and incorporate his findings into his homebrew recipe.
And if Vinny’s first version of the beer misses the mark?
No biggy. He’ll evaluate the beer, describe why it doesn’t taste the way it should, and make the needed adjustments to the recipe.
In homebrewing, this is what we call “the feedback loop.”
Vinny has complete control over his beer’s flavor, and it only takes him a couple batches to dial in his recipes.
Do you see how Vinny’s beer evaluation skills makes him a much better brewer?
When you’re a skilled beer taster, you’re able to…
- Instantly pick apart the flavors in any beer
- Know what you like and dislike about a beer
- Describe the beer’s flavors in vivid detail
- “Steal” the flavors you like and install them into your own recipes
- Better critique your own beers and if they miss the mark, understand why
- Make informed tweaks of your recipes instead of playing blind archery
Now, isn’t it obvious that your ability critique a beer is your ultimate brewing tool?
That's the secret of all the best brewers.
Your greatest advantage in homebrewing IS NOT your fancy mash tun, your collection of recipes, or your 47-point brew day checklist.
Your best tool in homebrewing is your palate.
So which are you, Barry or Vinny?
I’ll be the first to admit that for years I was a Barry. I had no clue how to properly evaluate a beer.
And if you’re like most of the readers I talk to, you’re more like Barry too.
You love good beer. You appreciate it. You love homebrewing, too.
But you’re not so hot at describing your beer.
Well, it’s time to change that.
See, you might think that you were just born without “good taster” genes.
I used to think the same thing. It turns out I was dead wrong. Tasting skills are something that can be learned by almost anyone.
This is exactly what I’ll be teaching on our upcoming Confident Beer Taster Bootcamp.
It’s specifically designed to give homebrewers the ability to critique and improve their own beers.