How Brewing Your Own Beer Can Make You A Better Person
I started brewing in lockdown by pure chance. We tried to clear out the garage (what else were we going to do?!) and in a box I found a copy of a seminal brewing textbook — John Palmer’s ‘How To Brew’.
I had no memory of buying it, but I was meant to find it, because the world that book has opened up to me in the last 9 months has inspired, helped and taught me.
Here are three life lessons that homebrewing can teach you too, if you give it — or any other creative hobby — a chance:
Be More Patient
We live in a world of the right now. Everything is getting shorter, quicker and more intense.
As the world speeds up, so do we. Suddenly we want that promotion next month, not next year. We take it all on, try to earn more and more, and it takes something big to jolt us off our conveyor belt of consumption and… stop.
Try brewing your first beer at home, that will make you stop. Gather and sanitise your equipment, assemble your ingredients, heat your water, mash your grains, boil your wort, add your hops, cool your wort, transfer to your fermenter, add the yeast, clean everything for next time.
Good luck getting change out of 5 hours!
But that 5 hours will fly by. Not in a stressed way, but in a logical, reasoned, “Yes, this should take this long” way. If you start at 7pm and at midnight you’re looking at 23 litres of beer-to-be in your huge plastic bucket, then you go to bed happy, trust me.
“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” — Leo Tolstoy
Making the beer on brew-night is just the first lesson in patience though — you’re still at least a month away from tasting it. For a few days it bubbles away, filling the room it sits in with strange gurgling noises and intriguing beery smells. You realise that your creation has taken on a life of its own.
All you can do is wait. Two weeks later you bottle it, adding some sugar solution to naturally carbonate, and it’s time to… wait another two weeks.
Then, 4 weeks after brew-night, you can try it. What a moment. And it’s at that point, as you pour this golden liquid that is only the way it is — truly unique — due to your choices, your process and time passing… you learn how important patience is.
The taste? The best beer you’ve ever had.
It’s natural to worry, especially in the middle of a global pandemic, but, to paraphrase an ancient religious scripture — who, by worrying, added another hour to their life?
Slipping into the pattern of listing everything that is going wrong, or is not quite perfect, is too easy to do. Worse, we start to look at the one thing that’s bad, not the 99 that are good.
Brewing has a lesson to teach you.
You’ve read the book, you’ve paid attention. Cleanliness is the most important attribute of a good brewer. So you scrub and sanitise everything to within an inch of its life.
You’re interested, you’re a good student, so you know what’s meant to happen. And when it doesn’t… you doom-monger.
It’s off! It’s got an infection! The yeast isn’t happy! The temperature is wrong! I added the hops back to front! All that time and effort put into something that will have to be poured down the drain.
“Negativity is the enemy of creativity.” — David Lynch
You’re so worried that you search online for what could possibly be going wrong. And it’s at this point you meet 7 letters at the end of everyone’s forum posts, and you wonder what the heck can they mean?!
And then some kind soul explains…
“Don’t Worry, Relax, Have A Home Brew”
And you’ve learnt the lesson. If you combine grain, water, hops and yeast and get anywhere near the process in the right order, it’s actually very hard not to make beer. There’s a reason brewing has been happening for thousands of years. It’s pretty difficult to mess up.
So don’t doom-monger. Have a go, do your best, let it get on with its thing, and chill out.
The Joy Of Making And Sharing
Saving money is fun. Oh, the rush you get when you nab a bargain. Drinking beer is fun too. And when you work out that the ingredients for a lovely ale with not-too-funky (expensive) hops in it cost about £15 for 20ish litres of finished beer, you start to get quite excited. And a little smug.
So you bottle your beer up, you probably have fun thinking of a silly name for it and sticking some labels on (you haven’t been this crafty since you were a kid!) and then you joyfully line up bottle after bottle in your cupboard. You mentally rub your hands together with glee — you’re sorted for months.
And that’s when you learn another brilliant life lesson:
Find joy in sharing. Give freely and expect nothing in return.
You just can’t help yourself. You’re flabbergasted at how good your beer tastes and you want to share it with the world. And guess what? People love free beer.
So you look for folk who might want some. You suddenly have a lovely answer to the question “What are you up to at the moment?” — “I’m brewing”. Smiles and jokes emerge along with promises to try and give feedback.
You find yourself brewing again and again as you experiment with recipes and repertoire. You end up with so much that you’re desperate to get the stuff out of the door. So you start making little selection boxes for your mates for their birthdays, Christmas, Easter, and any other excuse you can find.
“In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” — Khalil Gibran
Then you realise: Making and sharing are two of the best things you can do in this life.
Brewing is a great teacher.
It’s taught me to be more patient, to not doom-monger and to re-connect with the joy of making and sharing. Maybe beer won’t be your teacher. Perhaps it will be bread, or vegetables, or wine, or sauerkraut or yoghurt.
Give learning, making and sharing something a chance to make you a better person.