Since I began to brew my own beer just over three years ago I have done a lot of brewing with friends and family. Additionally, I have shared equipment with new brewers and borrowed various items from others. And it’s not just physical items that can be shared—intellectual property can be shared as well.
When it comes to brewing beer I don’t feel like there are any big secrets out there. Between the internet and brewing literature there are endless resources. Add to those resources homebrew hangouts and brewing clubs and there is no limit to what you can learn, both on your own and by talking to others.
In all of my own research as well as the times when I’ve picked the brains of more experienced brewers I don’t think anything has helped me to refine my own brewing processes as much as inviting other homebrewers to come over and brew with me.
When it comes to habits and routines you’ll find different bits of information out there about just how long it takes to form a new habit. Regardless of the number (21 days anyone? No wait, it’s 66 days!) I have found that my own habits form almost immediately when it comes to incorporating new equipment and processes into my brew day.
For example, this past year my brother-in-law helped me put together an electric brewing system. We wanted to increase our batch size from 5 to 10 gallons and go electric to increase our consistency and lower our energy costs. After the first couple brews I had already developed a routine for using the system and was getting results that I was more or less happy with.
Then my friend Seth asked if he could try out the system. He came over to see how everything worked while I was brewing a beer with my brother-in-law. Almost immediately Seth was politely pointing out a few problems with our process. The funny thing was these things were immediately obvious once he pointed them out but my own habits had already been formed and I couldn’t see these obvious things.
I’m not trying to say that I could never improve without the help of others but sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to see the things that are right in front of you. There are certainly times when I love to brew by myself. There is a rhythm to brewing that can have an almost meditational quality to it. And yet the times when I brew with others seem to be the times that I’m forced to re-evaluate the way I do things and to either defend my own ways or be open to change.
This past week Seth came over again and we brewed an IPA together. We emailed recipe ideas back and forth in the days leading up to the brew and tweaked the hop additions more on the brew day. The brew day went very smoothly with no screw ups or accidents. We hit our target pH, and only missed our target gravity by a point due to running off slightly too much wort into the kettle (I’m still trying to nail down what my evaporation rate is on this system).
One interesting thing about brewing with another person is that it is both fun and somewhat stressful. My own experience aligns with what Jeremy Dean refers to in his book, Making Habits, Breaking Habits, as the stress of “decision fatigue.” When it comes to habitual actions we are able to perform relying mostly on our unconscious brain to get us through the steps. This frees us from the stress of constant decision-making and allows us to direct our thoughts to a wider variety of things than the actual thing we are doing. However, when we step outside the norm of our habitual actions it is not only stressful but interesting and potentially exciting. While one’s own habits are open to scrutiny there is also the opportunity for new discoveries and improvements. This has been my experience so far and I feel that I grow as a homebrewer each time I collaborate with another homebrewer.
I still plan to brew by myself on occasion and I will make sure to use good techniques to keep my own habits in check (like using a checklist), but I am planning to brew collaboratively as often as possible.
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