Archive for May, 2011

Give a Man a Brew and He Drinks For a Day, Teach a Man to Brew…

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Me and my old 5 gallon 'ghetto rig'

My old 5 gallon 'ghetto rig'

Another old saying is, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach”. I’ve always thought that was total BS. It really should be, “If you can’t teach it, you don’t really know how to do it”. Perhaps that comes from being married to a teacher. More likely it comes from years of dealing with people who, despite their title or position, can’t tell you a thing about what they do or how they do it. So Every year I put my “know-how” to the test and teach a brewing class at my house. The school where my wife works has an annual auction and for the past three years, I put the class up as an item for bid. I’ve always had several takers and while it raises money for the school, it also gives me the opportunity to see if I can really impart whatever knowledge I feel that I’ve gained about brewing to a typically uninitiated audience.

In my regular life, I’m a software engineer, and working with less experienced engineers, mentoring them and bringing them up to speed is fairly commonplace. It’s not typically difficult to do because they have a understanding of engineering and coding principles, etc. I find that teaching someone to brew can be far more difficult. They typically have no previous background in brewing. They generally don’t even know the main components that go into a brew, the equipment needed, why the need to sanitize anything. It’s truly a blank slate. From the perspective of the “student” it must be a bit daunting. I can remember starting out, but it’s been so long ago that I really can’t quite recall that exact look of wonder I must have had walking into the brew store for the first time.

Comic Book Store Guy

Do NOT be this guy

So start off slow. Don’t assume knowledge the new brewer simply could not have. Explain everything you’re doing and why. Whatever you do, do NOT try to come off as the super brew master, regardless of how many awards you’ve won, or how good everyone says your beer is, you will end up sounding like the Comic Book Store Owner from the Simpsons. You’ll lose your class before you even begin. I begin by talking about all the dumb mistakes I made starting out. I explain how I overcame certain flaws in my process and that by no means is the current process I use the perfect one. A little humility goes a long way and sets the newbie at ease. If a mistake gets made while you’re brewing, then call it out and use it as an opportunity to show how easy it is to screw something up, and how to fix it. Did you miss your starting gravity? Why? How could you go about fixing it? Why does specific gravity matter in the first place…

What I’ve found is that most people who express an interest in brewing don’t usually go on to become brewers themselves. Be it a time commitment, the amount of gear needed, whatever, they just can’t make the jump. But then there are the few who do and there is nothing better than seeing that person complete their first brew and watch it all with a bit of pride knowing you helped kick-off this new passion. Teach someone to brew. It will make you a better brewer and you just may end up being responsible for the next award winning brew master! You never know!