Porter at One Month…

My porter has been bottle conditioning for four weeks now and I just completed my second taste test. The first one was done at two weeks and I’ve concluded that the additional two weeks of aging have been beneficial. I’ve heard that, in general, homebrew is ready to drink at two months of bottle conditioning, so I’ll continue to check it every two weeks until I feel it’s worth sharing with others.

I’m finding the need to question my preconceptions of how “good beer” should taste. I have tasted a wide variety beer styles over the past 25 years and have become quite opinionated about the flavors I prefer in a beer. Yet I’m realizing that there are skills and equipment that a professional brewer utilizes that most homebrewers do not. Also, there are things that commercial breweries must do to their beer, such as filtering and pasteurization to help the beer survive the distribution process, that a homebrewer doesn’t need to be concerned with. Does that mean that the professionally brewed beer will always be better… or is it just different? Hmmm…

That got me to thinking about a story told to me years ago about a local crafter. She was wearing a garment and someone complimented her on it. When the person found out that it was handmade, the crafter was told, “That’s amazing. It looks like it was made by a machine!” This comment was meant as a compliment because the stitching was so perfect and regular, something that can be hard to do with handcrafts, but the crafter was irritated by the comment. When did a machine-made product become the standard by which quality is judged? Why isn’t the irregularity that reflects our humanness valued higher than the repetitive consistency of machines?

After discussing this issue with my husband Chuck, he pointed out that in the business world consistency equals quality. If a business can have their product meet the customer’s expectations each and every time, then quality has been achieved. Many business have been extremely successful with this business plan – McDonald’s, Denny’s, Budweiser, Coors, and pretty much any national chain store in existence. Quality is achieved through consistency. But is this really how we should be judging quality? If a Big Mac is considered the epitome of quality because we can count on it to taste the same each and every time, maybe it’s time for us to adjust our standard by which we determine quality. Perhaps it’s time for us to learn to be more open to new experiences, to be a bit more flexible, to allow for the variances in seasons and conditions, and to be happy with experiences that are often good, but have the potential to be amazing – even if you can’t count on that each and every time.

Chuck also pointed out the advantages homebrewers have in terms of freshness of flavor. Homebrewers don’t have to filter or pasteurize their beer, they have complete control over how well it’s stored and cared for, and they can control the manner in which it’s served. Homebrewers can also learn the basics of chemistry and how the various ingredients will affect the flavor of their beer, thus being able to impart a certain level of control over the end product. Basic skills are essential to keep the beer from tasting bad, but do homebrewers really need to strive to be able to produce the same beer over and over again? Does consistency equal quality or is variety the spice of life?

As much as I enjoy being able to purchase an item knowing that I will get exactly the quality and flavor I have come to expect, I think we need to also allow for the irregularities of our humanness to show through and to realize that sometimes when the item is different it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Perhaps it just means it’s time to learn something new and expand our horizons.

Now back to my beer. So far my porter is good, but not great. There is an aroma that could either be the yeast or the malt/malt extract coming through. It’s not necessarily a bad aroma, but it’s different than what I’m used to. The flavor is good, but not where I want to settle. I need to find out how to get more mouth-feel in my beer. It currently has a “thin” flavor and feel that is fairly common with homebrew. Perhaps it’s time to move to all-grain brewing for my next batch, rather than doing another extract batch. I definitely have more to learn about this process and am enjoying doing so.

Next taste test will be in two weeks. I’m guessing that by May 1st it’ll be time to consider this batch done and ready to drink. In the meantime, I’ll continue to plan my second homebrew… which will definitely be another porter.

Jenne Hiigel

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5 thoughts on “Porter at One Month…

  1. I would certainly welcome a little “inconsistency” in things. Your examples (macdonalds, etc) are everywhere and so anywhere is the same. BORING!!! And machine made is often tacky – with bad seaming and buttons that go with any thing and so go with nothing very well… Well, you know what I mean!!! (I hope) (Hi Jenne)

  2. Great post! I am dismayed at homogenization in general, not just of food and clothing, but on a larger scale as well. I really began to see this as a cultural phenomenon after reading Fast Food Nation. So, Huzzah for variety! ‘Tis indeed the spice of life.

  3. It’s not that consistency means quality, it’s that in industry someone decides what are the limits of acceptable (let’s just say how much beer is in a full bottle — should be 12 ounces, but is 11.999 OK?) If nothing less than 12.000000 is OK, just because you don’t know where the last drop falls you have to aim a little higher, but you don’t want to aim for 12.5 and most of the time put in more than you’re paid for. So you do some statistics and if only one time in a million do you expect to be more than 0.01 oz off (and you can figure that out with statistics without measuring anywhere near a million bottles), you can aim for 12.01 and only one time in a million will you be short-changing the customer. If your machinery isn’t consistent enough (say once in 100 times it’s 0.1 oz off) you have to set it to more like 12.2 oz or you’re cheating the customer too often. But then sometimes you’ll put in 12.3 oz and overfill unless the bottles are so big that there’s a suspicious amount of empty space in the ones that really have just 12 honest ounces. So it’s not that consistent mediocrity means quality, it’s that in industry you can’t have reliable quality without consistency.

    But of course you and that crafter are right about handmade. Machine made can be the standard for uniformity stitches, but the design, texture, and individuality can be better in handmade. If a crafter hand knit a T-shirt that ended up looking just like a Hanes undershirt, it might be amazing workmanship but most people would just say “why bother?”

  4. What a wondeful post, Jenne! We have gotten so used to the things we consume being standardized and predictable. Which, as DeanB points out, is necessary to a certain degree (“you can’t have reliable quality without consistency.”) But handmade/homemade asks for a different mindset from the consumer. Hence the disclaimers we often see on handmade items sold through retail outlets: “Due to variations in the materials, individual items will vary slightly.” In other words: you’re getting a unique, one of a kind piece, don’t complain when it doesn’t exactly match the picture!

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