On the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Session. Someone picks a topic, and everyone blogs about it. John at Homebrew Manual wants to know about everyone's relationship with beer and how it's made. He poses a series of questions on the topic:
Do you brew? If so why? If not, why not?
I have dabbled with homebrewing for a few reasons. First, I'm a huge nerd and actually did want to know more about beer and how all of its various characteristics were achieved, etc... But from my perspective, it was more about making something out here in the physical world. I recognized at some point that while I have participated in a lot of creative activities, both personally and professionally, most of what I've produced is virtual (i.e. most of my creative endeavors have primarily been done on a computer). There's nothing wrong with that, per say, but I wanted to make something out here in meatspace. So homebrewing has helped me scratch that itch, and I love beer, so it's been a really fun process.
How does that affect your enjoyment of drinking beer?
It's given me more perspective in what I like about beer, and I feel like my palate has become more attuned as a result. It also helps me understand what brewers are talking about, separating actual process from marketing fluff, and so on. In general, I think of all of this as a positive development, and I think I enjoy beer more now than I did a few years ago. I do think there's a danger in becoming too well versed in this, though I'm not really all that sure either (some of the other questions get into this, so see more below).
Do you need to brew to appreciate beer?
Of course not. In my mind, appreciation and enjoyment are easy. You don't need to know how something was made in order to appreciate or enjoy it. Indeed, I would say that most people don't know how the majority of things they use on a day to day basis are made, but that doesn't stop anyone from appreciating that stuff. Now, perhaps those that brew beer have a greater appreciation... or perhaps not. It's all very subjective.
Do you enjoy beer more not knowing how it's made?
This is sorta the flip side of the previous question, and like I said, it's all very subjective. Life is what you make of it, and enjoyment comes in many flavors. I think knowledge of brewing can be a benefit, or a curse. I recently came across some quotes from Mark Twain's book Life on the Mississippi, wherein he discusses the details of how he became a steamboat pilot. He learned to read the river, looking for subtle signs on the surface of the water that indicated danger, or where currents were strongest:
The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book--a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day.
Sounds pretty cool, right? But then, Twain felt he lost something too:
Now when I had mastered the language of this water and had come to know every trifling feature that bordered the great river as familiarly as I knew the letters of the alphabet, I had made a valuable acquisition. But I had lost something, too. I had lost something which could never be restored to me while I lived. All the grace, the beauty, the poetry had gone out of the majestic river!
I think this question of what was gained or lost because of learning a trade wasn't quite a simple as laid out in the quotes above. In terms of beer, I do think it's possible to get so wrapped up in the details of the brewing process that some of the majesty of drinking beer goes away, or is at least transmuted into something different than what most of us experience. Is that a good or bad thing? Again, I think it all depends on your perspective. If you're so inclined, you could feel the loss that Train felt. Or you could see the gain of something else entirely. Or maybe vacillate back and forth. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
If you brew, can you still drink a beer just for fun?
Well, I certainly have no problem doing so. Would someone who has achieved a Twain level of mastery be able to? I would assume so.
Can you brew without being an analytical drinker?
This is a tough one, because I was an analytical drinker even before I brewed anything. I'd like to think that my analysis is better now that I brew, but I think we again come back to the subjective nature of the process. Are there brewers out there who can't help themselves but to analyze the beer they're drinking to death, even whilst in a social engagement? Probably. But I suspect most brewers would be able to turn off such analysis in at least some situations, alcohol being a social lubricant and all that. I certainly don't seem to have any problem doing so.
Do brewers get to the point where they're more impressed by technical achievements than sensory delight?
I think that's certainly possible, though I don't think it's an inevitable occurrence. In particular, I think a lot of brewers have become obsessed with strange and weird ingredients (I'm looking at you, Dogfish Head!) There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but my favorite beers tend to have a pretty straightforward set of ingredients. Oh, and they taste good. That's ultimately the bar that needs to be set for a question like this, and I think there are some breweries out there that take the whole experimental angle perhaps a bit too far, I think they're ultimately doing so in the hopes of opening up new avenues of sensory delight, which I can hardly fault them for. You never know until you try.
Does more knowledge increase your awe in front of a truly excellent beer?
I think it does, and actually, I think more knowledge has expanded the scope of what I'd consider truly excellent beer. There are a number of beer styles or flavor profiles that I've found to be an acquired taste, and I think knowledge has helped unlock some of the secrets of such brews. Of course, knowledge comes in many different forms, one being knowledge of other beers, another being how a given beer was made.
Ultimately, I beer is what we want it to be. It can be enjoyed with or without context, and while knowledge may change the ways in which one appreciates beer, it need not prevent enjoyment.