Aug 31, 2012

Heeding Other's Advice

The more I brew, the more I learn about how I brew.

I think that is true with most things in life, right?  The more you do something, the more you learn about it.  "Practice makes perfect," as the saying goes. But practicing the wrong thing can lead to bad habits and, even worse, bad beer.  So, I want to go into a little more detail about the opening sentence.

First, learning.  It is something I have been somewhat obsessed with since I started brewing.  I have gobbled up information from books, forums, and podcasts.  Learning is a good thing.  It helped me know what the heck I was doing - at least in the general sense.  It gave me an overview of the process, a map, a view of the entire forest.

 I needed to know how to hit temperatures, how to sparge, how to do the basics of brewing.  Learning, reading, and listening gave me a bigger picture of the process.  Those various avenues of learning were, and still are, extremely helpful.

But learning in general doesn't always help in the particular.  That is the "how I brew" part.  Because my system isn't like their system.  It isn't like your system.  Following lock-step other people's way of doing things isn't necessarily the best way to do things for you or me.

Mashing in for a Russian Imperial Stout
Let me give you an example.  In my hunger for all things brewing, I listened to tons of the Brewing Network podcasts.  In one of the podcasts on "Repeatability," Jamil states that he mashes at 1.3 quarts of water per pound of grain.  All the time.  He keeps that consistent.  "Oooh!," I thought.  "If 1.3 is good enough for Jamil, it's good enough for me!"  So, I've been using 1.3 quarts per pound for mashing... which worked great exactly 1 time.

Now, not to poo poo Jamil's advice.  It obviously works for him - he's won plenty of awards for his beer.  But the point is, it works for him.  Does it work for me?  Does it work for you?  I don't know how Jamil mashes.  I don't know how you mash.  I know how I mash.  And for me, 1.3 just ain't enough.  I need more liquid in my mash tun.

I think having a higher ratio of water to grain will help with temperature consistency throughout the mash (the thermometer installed in the mash tun is always way low, even though a temperature probe I jab in the mash at various levels and locations will read differently).  I think a higher ratio will help with recirculation (since I can direct fire my mash tun if need be).  I think it will help with sparge time (Good Lord, that takes for. ev. er.).  I also think it will help to cover any sort of measuring or calculation error in the mash tun (which I had this past weekend - but that is more of a "rant" than a "post").

So, I guess the moral of my post is listen to others but look at it critically.  What makes sense for you on your system?  Not all advice is will suit your needs and what others do may actually screw you up.  So, apply the information and example to your situation and remember that everyone else's advice may not be pertinent to you.

Not even mine.