Fundamentally, I guess brewing can be defined as the action of alcohol-producing yeasts on sugar. What you’re brewing is defined by your source of sugar – grains that are slightly germinated and then kilned produce the liquid wort that becomes beer, grapes are pressed to produce the juicy must that becomes wine, and honey, moistened excessively, is the feedstock for mead.
Brewing terminology can be as technical as you want it to be, explained in a language that pulls from chemistry and biology, but my preference has always been to treat it as an art. I brew like I cook, by building recipes that sound like they should be good and ballparking measurements and throwing in whatever I think works.
Sometimes the results are brilliant. I used an extract kit to produce what I called Nutmeg Wit (pretty much how it sounds) that wowed everyone who tasted it. I think that’s my father’s platonic ideal of my home brew.
Sometimes the results are surprising (and informative) – not necessarily in a good way. A few years ago I wanted to get a chai sort of profile into an extract beer. I forget the base kit, but I remember tossing cardamom pods into the kettle with some enthusiasm during the first hopping and leaving them to boil for 60 minutes.
Fun fact: Cardamom develops a bright, piney flavor when you boil it for an hour.
That beer smelled like South Asian candy, and tasted like something from the north woods. Lesson: Secondary for chai spices. Some things aren’t meant to be boiled.
Not that it was bad, just a strongly flavored beer that wasn’t what I was aiming for. Bottled in August, I aged it for months and gave most of it away in December, calling it “Jingle Bell Rock.” It worked.
So that’s been my approach. A few months back, when Spyke and I had our first brew day, we made country wines and meads. A lot of them. Spyke’s background is in chemistry, and her processes and even her interests are really different from mine. She has a little laser gun thermometer while I use twine to suspend a regular thermometer in my kettle. I own a hydrometer, but I’d never really bothered to use it until we started brewing together. Spyke pulls gravities and estimates potential alcohols all along the way, and loves to find new toys to provide other areas of measure and, ultimately, refinement. I find all that stuff interesting, but never felt it was strictly necessary.
But here’s the thing: We both brew really good stuff. And we both brew really interesting stuff, because we’re not afraid to experiment – and we’re not afraid of ending up with a batch of not-so-good beer or wine here and there.
There’s no “right way” to brew. There is no website that takes into account the mechanics of your kitchen (mine is too small for all grain, so I proudly brew extract and partial mash at home) or your time constraints or how much room you have to store a bubbling carboy.
This site is about down and dirty brewing, lazy brewing, simple brewing, or massively complicated recipes. It’s about creativity and experimentation and making great things (with the occasional not-so-much). This site is about brewing the way you do it, because that’s always going to be the right way to brew.