Saturday, July 25, 2009

Homebrewing Etiquette

I have an acquaintance on facebook named Eric who is trying hard to get a brewery going. He discusses his efforts here. The other day Eric posted a status stating he was enjoying one of his Mayan chocolate black ales. I asked what kind of ingredients he was using because it sounded kind of inspiring. He replied he was keeping this one "secret."

I thought this was kind of funny, because (a) he shared his Imperial Stout recipe with me, and (b) even though I know that he’s trying to start a brewing business, I could probably concoct similar ale by tasting it.

I did not use his Impy Stout recipe, but wanted to get an idea of the balance before making my own. I think I reviewed 6-8 different Impy Stout recipes. In the end, most of them confirmed my original recipe, although I did use information in some of them for targeting certain amounts of an ingredient, such as molasses. If I could taste his ale, I would, however, I don’t plan on visiting Minneapolis any time soon.

This brings me a question to brewing etiquette. I understand if someone has a secret recipe that they don’t want to share because giving up the recipe would possibly allow someone else to make money off of it. However, with beer, this is always going to vary because of the variables involved when brewing beer. The water I use in my town will be different from water used by someone even a couple of miles away. My brewing system could have different quirks, the temperature I mash at, the amount of water I mash with; these are just a few things that would make a difference between two people’s version of the same beers, even if they used the same recipe.

So, why not tell someone what ingredients you’re using? For example, I am going to develop a recipe based on Harpoon’s Saison Royale, which they have an ad for in the most recent issue of Beer Advocate. The ad tells me what malts are used, the hops, and even a style of yeast strain. To top it off, the bottom of the ad has the IBU, OG and ABV numbers, all of which can be used to determine how much malt and hops to use. If I build a beer from this information, will it taste EXACTLY like the Harpoon version? It might taste close, but most “clones” I’ve made or tasted, have different nuances. The clones are still good, and sometimes even better, but they’re not the same.

There’s this guy named Denny Conn out there on the internet, and he frequents various message boards. He’s so well known that Wyeast even developed his house yeast for mass packaging, on a limited basis. Denny has stated that he just wants a simple, hands on approach to brewing, and he’s really helped me not to worry as much as I do, since he posts his recipes to the forums, people make them, and comment about how great they are. His recipes are so popular, that Northern Brewer is actually building beer kits you can buy based on two of his recipes. Denny doesn’t aspire to “go pro” and he probably should get paid for providing therapeutic beer brewing advice (in my opinion).

If you ever want any of my recipes, let me know. Also, if you ever want to trade beer, let me know, I don’t mind hand delivery as long as it’s not outside a 30-mile radius.

The other question I have is, Is it ethical to enter a beer made from a beer ingredient kit (such as those from Northern Brewer) into a contest? My fellow brewer, John, was saying he wanted to enter a Dunkel lager that he made from Midwest Brewing into a contest. I said, “You can’t do that!” He said, “Why not?” I said, “You didn’t make that up!” He told me, “You’re really not doing anything different when you enter any of your recipes into a contest!” I was kind of taken aback by this. Of course I am! I did the research, put the ingredients together myself, and made the beer.

But I think I see his point. Based on my argument above, Northern Brewer could sell 30 of their Pale Ale kits to 30 different people and each one of them would be a little bit different. So maybe I’ll relax my stance on this, but I’m really curious to know from people:

1) Do you share recipes?
2) Do you enter kit beers into contests?


Wendy said...

Heck ya we share recipes! Isn't the brewing community a "Community"??? I don't think safegaurding a recipe is viable for all your stated reasons plus, Whats the fun of an exact copy? I don't want a craft brew to be a reproduceable and generic as a Miller. Many contests have both all-grain and extract entries, it gets back to no method is right or wrong and the end result is the same....Yummy Beer!!!!

David said...

Wendy is actually David Manson

Jez said...

Well, I'm glad you cleared that up, Dave. Now GET BACK TO BREWING!