The obvious answer, of course...
With a little holiday gift money in my pocket and a few beginner questions answered, I energetically jumped into the wide world of homebrewing earlier this year. In the dozen or so extract batches I've made since, I've found the transformation amazing in my understanding of this hobby. It's an avocation that can be as approachable as making your macaroni & cheese, all the way to being as in-depth as crafting your own space shuttle. I've had some other substantial hobbies over the years (guitar, barbecuing, etc.) but this one has got to be the most intriguing as to why' people started this pastime. In those other hobbies, no one goes to the various lengths in all areas as they do in home brewing. I've never heard of a guitar player making their own strings in order to make a particular song better, or a barbecue smoker growing their own trees to get the right kind of smoke for a certain cut of meat. But that's EXACTLY what us zymurgists do!
I have met some great brewers, judges, purveyors, tasters, and consumers of homebrew (as well as commercial & craft) beer in the past few months that have added to my deepening knowledge of beer and brewing. And I've asked them all, Why do you brew?
My question has gleaned several unique reasons as to what drives us to brew, but also, it's shed some light on what's keeping me from spending the next six month's mortgage payments on that have-to-have piece of shiny beer gear or forcing my daughter out of her room so I can condition a metric ton of fermentors. So, let's look at it through the cast of characters I've met in my short journey to get a better understanding as to why we brewers brew
So, a Master Cicerone, a Top Chef, and homebrewer walk into a bar... Boulevard's Master Cicerone Neil Witte, Chef Celina Tio and a Budding Professional Brewmaster
The Budding Professional Brewmaster
This brewer is doing anything and everything in beer. They capture wild yeast. They grow their own hops. They test a variety of comparison batches to note the differences in his ingredients or processes. The Budding Professional brews beers and styles outside their comfort zone that they know they won't like; like grapefruit ciders, spruce meads and fruit-heavy barley wines. They take courses, network with everyone in the biz, and never miss an event. And they will truly go pro at some point in the near future. The Budding Professional Brewmaster loves all things beer and is driven to learn all about it. They will make a career, and a better life, from it. There is no stopping them.
This person wanted to make their own beer their own way. Either they thought they could make it cheaper than buying it (or weren't of age to purchase it!) or, they want something that the commercial brewers aren't making. The Rogue, for the sheer love of beer, is driven by being different, by doing different and by brewing differently. Fearless and headstrong, the Rogues dive in and just brew, dagnabit!
That's neat Mr. Scientist Brewer, but I've got a barleywine I brewed using coal older than you.
The Scientist brewer loves the details. They can talk ad nauseam about water chemistry or the maillard reaction, (and sometimes both!). Small decimal points mean BIG things for them. The Scientist is driven to pre-calculate and engineer the beer before it is brewed, all the while considering the ingredient reactions, interactions with the various surfaces, temperature impacts, timing impacts all like it's a big ol' lab experiment, except that you can take it to a party later....
The Sensory Cicerone
The Sensory Cicerone smells the hops in the beer even before he's opened the bottle. He can ascertain the temperature of the strike water simply from the label design. They have a great vocabulary of deftly descriptive terms. These are the brewers armed with the strong taste and smell senses. The Cicerone brews in order to feed, expand and satisfy those unsatiated senses that they possess. They also have great memories of beers tasted from years prior. They are driven to entice and excite their senses and create magical brews with subtleties and depth and all sorts of other unctuous and delicious things that few of us mortals will ever comprehend. They tend to be highly selective in the style, ingredients and even the season when they brew.
Do I detect Feux-Coeur Francais hops being poured into a goblet?
The Mad Scientist
Different than the Scientist, the Mad Scientist wants to create the next unique and crazy beer combination. You know, the Belgian-style Jalapeno Mead with Lavender. (I probably just upset some Cicerone's out there) The Mad Scientists are driven to create stuff you just never thought of. They include some funky process like dry smoking hops over peat moss on their charcoal grill or cobbling together some steampunk, redneck, hi-tech, Frankenstein-like rig out of the gear they've got in their brewcave in order to remove the oil from the goat milk their neighbor gave them to use in that Plum and Olive Hefeweisen why not?
The Why Notter
This brewer has grown up around or been previously exposed to a lot of home brewing. The Why Notter is now of age (and means) to brew, so it seems like a common, natural thing. They have a well-rounded history and understanding of beer and brewing. They are driven to keep the family tradition alive. It would be odd for this brewer to not want to brew.
This brewer is always tinkering to make something better. Similar to the Scientist, they too love details. The Improver is driven by perfection to produce the best beer they can, or the one to closely clone a commercial beer. They knock a step off of the brewday process; researching for hours online for that one doo-dad that will save them 10 minutes in mashing. They look for that one temperature range for cold crashing that takes their beer from really darn good to winning a blue ribbon. They brew the next brew to somehow, some way beat their last brew.
The Crafter makes all the other stuff that helps themselves brew. Need a stir plate? Easy-peasy. Wanna see my brew stand I made out of a ladder and some sheet pans? How about my Keezer I built out of an old airplane engine? You bet. Custom granite tap handles? I've done a couple dozen already. The Crafter is driven to make something, anything, in order to help them brew, keep them brewing, or satisfy their budget driven, creative and handy skillset.
The Partier/The Giver
These brewers are driven more by the social components of brewing and beer. They simply want to show up with a case of their latest crowd pleaser beer. And just like the ladies at the church potluck bragging about taking home the first empty deviled egg platter, there's a certain joy and pride the Partier/Giver has when their beer is the first keg emptied. These types of brewers are driven to brew for any and all events that are beer worthy, and they love to support an event and to get that joy of giving. They'll create a state of brewpetual motion by throwing a brewing party to celebrate that the last batch is now on tap...
The Hobby Brewer
The Hobby Brewer simply thinks it would a fun hobby. That, or they desperately needed to kill some time or make some extra space in their wallet. This brewer species has merely happened into the hobby by chance or luck. They have absolutely no clue they've already stepped well into the vortex ...
So, did you recognize any of your fellow brewers, or parts of yourself? I think that a lot of us have a smattering of all of these types of brewers mixed in at times. So, again, it begs the question - Why do you brew?
I just moved into temperature control and kegging, and while I'd love to get another chest freezer and a handful of kegs, I have to ask myself, Why am I brewing? I mean, who wouldn't want 10 taps raring to go and 12 more in conditioning after that? But, there is monetary, time, desire and commitment aspect that needs to be addressed as well. And can you balance it? I've met people who've left the hobby, and some who've even returned. I even hear occasionally some brewers reluctantly talk about having to brew this weekend. Which tells me it's a bit unbalanced or a chore for them.
Homebrew always tastes better when shared !!
I about sprung for another 5 kegs on the local online want ad site, but I stopped short because there's no upcoming event for me to share it with, and no way I could drink all that beer. I may have just found a bit of balance. Instead, I'll move what I've got currently fermenting into my new kegs, and look to make a better recipe for a good fall beer. We should all strive to improve our hobby for our own reasons, tempered with the very reason we're doing it.
And as for which one of those characters above is me? Well, let's just say that this hobby is all about the camaraderie of being with fellow brewers, buying some cool new toys, making some more gear, learning as much as I can about my craft, and most importantly making a beer and hoping it's a tad better beer than last time. And then maybe throwing some onions or rutabagas into a porter to see what happens Man! I love this hobby!
Now, why do you brew?
Brew on, fellow brewers! Brew on.
Vance B. Brison
Proprietor, Flying V Fermentory