It’s safe to say that, given the relative constant of beer in my career choices, I have a meaningful attachment to beer. That’s not to say that I’m a crazy alcoholic (that period of my life known as “graduate school” has come and gone), but that I have spent a long time thinking about beer and spirits, and now spend my time trying to make a career out of the world of beer and spirits.
Yes, I drank a lot back then. No, I don’t drink nearly that much any longer. It’s surprising how little you drink once your job involves tasting beer at multiple points in the process!
Part of the appeal of beer (and to a very real extent, spirits and other fermentables) is the process and the methodology. There is a very real science behind crafting beer (#craftingcraft) and getting the most out of all of the elements that participate in the whole package that people just call, “beer.” Everything from the grains (malted of otherwise), the adjuncts (hops or otherwise), the microbes (ale, or lager, or otherwise), and the water all play an integral part of what makes the beer we drink “beer.” I won’t even go into the minutiae of calling it an “IPA,” or “craft lager,” or any number of styles dictated by the BJCP or BA. It’s beer, and there’s a crazy amount of science and careful planning that goes into making that pint of liquid that we enjoy; and when we belly up to the bar at a taproom, we should stop to think about the amount of time and thought that went into that glass of beer.
In a very real way, the brewer’s job is to arrange a harmonious relationship between all of the individual elements of the beer, to create something very specific, very organically, from the individual pieces that are part of the puzzle. It’s probably more than a little apropos that the jigsaw puzzle analogy is used: each individual piece might be interesting on its own, but it’s only when assembled that the bigger picture can be enjoyed. It’s probably just as apropos that when one piece is missing from the assembled puzzle, even if it seems insignificant and tiny, it can be incredibly disruptive to the entire experience. And so it is for beer.
If there is one thing missing, particularly when it’s seemingly insignificant, it will absolutely throw off the entire experience for that beer. Not enough hops in that IPA? You’ll know. That German lager not quite finished fermenting and clean? You’ll know. That kölsch missing that delicate and clean maltiness characteristic of an excellent beer from Cologne? Heavens, you will definitely know. And it also applies when we think about the time spent to make the beer – sometimes, what’s glaringly obvious in the beer we are sampling is that there wasn’t enough time taken to brew that beer. It tastes rushed, or green, or “young.” On top of that, what tends to be very impressive is when the thing that’s missing is ever so slight. It’s a very real application of the Uncanny Valley principle, only we’re talking about flavors and mouthfeel in beer. If a brewer screws up, even if just a little, the beer that you’ve been making day in, day out, for however many years suddenly sticks out like a sore thumb. A very sore, very arthritic thumb.
It’s actually pretty easy to replicate: just take really bright, beautiful champagne you love, and stir it around a little – just enough to make it a little flat. Drink it. Roll it around in your mouth for a minute or two, and then swallow. Do it again with a freshly poured glass of the same thing. It’s different – and while you may not have the words to describe how, you can definitely say that “it’s different.” You don’t need the fancy words, or the language of a sommelier to say what’s wrong – something is wrong and it’s bugging the hell out of you.
Something is missing, and you wish it was there, because you know that it is so much better when that thing, that element, is there married to the whole to make it complete.
5.0-5.5 gallon batch (60 minute boil)
11 pounds Maris Otter (pale)
- Sacch Rest 1: 155F / 45 minutes
- Sparge: 168F / 55 minutes
- 1 oz Galaxy (@60 min)
- 1 oz Galaxy (flameout)
- 1 oz Galaxy (dry hop 4-5 days)
- White Labs WLP-001
- Wyeast American Ale I
- Propagate Labs MIP-100
- Imperial A07 Flagship