Hello! And welcome back to the weekly Brewmaster learning blog! This last week was intense to say the least. We had a series of exams that tested our knowledge of a broad array of subjects we have studied thus far, from malting technology to chemistry and everything in between. The exams were challenging and the fast pace of the course certainly seems to be rearing its ugly head at the moment. Moving out of exam week, we immediately started in on a research paper that deals with brewing malt modification. So, in the absence of classes last week, I thought I would take some time today to discuss individual brewing philosophy and how to find one’s voice in the noise that is the wide world of beer brewing.
One very cool thing about the Brewmaster Course at VLB is the diversity of brewing backgrounds of the participants. Since experience working in the brewing industry is a prerequisite for the course, each participant brings their own experiences and what they have been exposed to in their home country to the table. We have lab technicians from large, international breweries. We have brewing assistants from small, craft operations. And really, everything in between.
Photo Cred: The Beverage Journal
VLB’s goal is to educate their Brewmasters in a way that will allow them to walk into any brewery in the world and know exactly how to run the show. I’d say, so far, VLB is making good on this goal. I never thought, for example, that I would have the opportunity to learn about the malting process to such an extent. It has always interested me, but never seemed critical to my knowledge of brewing. But, I was wrong. It is crucial to understand the grain and the processes it goes through from the moment it is planted in the field until the moment it is consumed at the pub.
This holistic philosophy of education about the entire process has caused me to return to my own musings of what my personal brewing philosophy consists of. As a craft brewer, I am obsessed with using fresh, local ingredients and minimizing any kind of chemicals, adjuncts, filtering, or “unnatural” products or processes in my brewing. But, being exposed to how “big beer” does it raises some interesting questions. Small beer traditionally looks at big beer as impure, a perversion of real ale and the devil incarnate for the palate of the common drinker. But, it’s interesting to take a step back and observe big beer not as an enemy, but as a product of history, condition, and capitalism. For me, we shouldn’t be mad at big beer. Big beer has found a way to provide a consistent, stable product to the entire world and helped to popularize beer in modern culture. Craft beer couldn’t experience the boom that it is currently enjoying if not for big beer.
I mean, even if you prefer unfiltered beer, you have to appreciate filtering and stabilization for what it is. Filtering has this evil connotation to it. An irony of Goldstar creating an unfiltered beer to compete with the craft market in Israel, for instance, is that it insults their filtered product. The rolling out of a product that contrasts the sole, staple product they have been selling for over 50 years and the charging of more money for it automatically signals that the filtered product is inferior. But for me, I’ll take Goldstar’s filtered product over the unfiltered every time. Filtered Goldstar looks better and is consistent. Unfiltered does not really start with enough taste benefit to justify not filtering it anyway, so why pay more for an inferior product? Filtering has its place and it is not to be looked down upon. My opinion is that even craft should filter their beer if it makes sense, and many craft breweries across the world do filter their products.
As a brewer, it is important not to be so staunch or extreme in your views that you deny quality or value based solely on principle. Every successful brewery has something to offer, something that can be learned from. If they didn’t, they would not be successful. Beer is democratic at the end of the day. The people speak and breweries need to give them what they want. Sure, we as brewers can make suggestions. But our supporters and customers ultimately vote with their wallet, and we must listen to what they have to say or face the consequences. That’s why, as my brewing philosophy continues to evolve and develop, the most important thing for me is non-exclusion and open-mindedness. What’s interesting is how well this approach relates to life. After all, isn’t that the best way to be a member of your community, by adopting the approach of open-mindedness? Well, there’s that and, of course, supporting your local brewery.
Catch you next week!