So this is the second part of the series on Your Homebrew Sucks. If you haven’t read the first article yet, you should check it out first. Assuming that you’ve read the first part, let’s get into Your Homebrew Sucks – Part 2.
How do we actually evaluate a beer? This is something that a lot of people actually struggle with and the people who claim that they do this are doing a poor job of it. First and foremost you need to remove your emotional attachment from the beer that you brewed. The idea of performing an evaluation revolves around honest, critical assessment of a product. As homebrewers we are proud of all the beers that we put forward even if they aren’t the best that they could be, to effectively evaluate a beer you need to place yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t know you or your beer. This is really difficult to do but is absolutely essential for everything that follows.
Check your ego at the door, you need to have zero emotional investment in the beer you are evaluating to make this effective.
There are a couple of handy things to have nearby when doing these sorts of activities. The first and possibly the most important is a good notebook. Over time and multiple batches you will have a lot of notes on each and every beer that you are brewing. Assuming that you brew every other weekend (26 batches in a year) and that you follow my advice of evaluating the beer three times each batch in a single year you will have 78 different sets of notes. Having these on random pieces of paper scattered around your brewery is essentially the same thing as having never done the evaluation at all. If they aren’t convenient to retrieve, read and revisit there is no value in the evaluation. I like these moleskin notebooks for all my evaluations but I’ve seen other people using a three ring binder with some custom printed sheets. I like the idea of using a three ring binder in that it can be customized, the problem that I have with it is that it’s just too large for me to keep handy.
The next couple of things that I recommend having near you are reference materials. The 2015 BJCP Style Guidelines is essential if the beer you are evaluating was an attempt at a classic style. You can download that for free from the BJCP website. I printed out the style guide and have it in a binder that I jot notes in when I have classic examples of the styles. If you are the electronic sort the there are several apps available in both Android and Apple that can provide you with the BJCP style guide. The next reference item I recommend having is a beer flavor wheel. I printed out my beer flavor wheel and taped it to the inside cover of the notebook to help me quickly reference and identify potential flavors. The flavor wheel is great to help you expand your vocabulary. When you are tasting an English brown ale for example you can go from saying “I taste malt” to “I taste light toffee”. You’ve identified and described more in that flavor profile with just two words. During your evaluation these sort of descriptions are very important. Your Homebrew SUCKS Part 3 will include more information on how you actually perform an evaluation of a homebrew so check back into that post to learn more.
The last reference that some people like to have is the recipe. I’m on the fence about this because sometimes you shouldn’t know what’s in the recipe if you are trying to honestly evaluate a beer. Knowing the recipe is like knowing the twist ending of an M. Night Shyamalan movie. Having the recipe on hand will inherently lead to bias in your evaluation, know that you added a touch of black patent malt, you are going to be searching for that roasted flavor and find it, even if it’s not present. Because of the possible bias that the recipe will introduce I typically do not have this nearby, remember you are evaluating the beer in front of you, not the beer that you had in your mind when you were brewing. The only exception to my recipe rule is when I brewed a beer that I already think is perfect from numerous iterations of brewing.
I didn’t get into this in the first part of Your Homebrew Sucks so I should probably mention this now; there are 3 different categories when you are performing this evaluation.
- Beers brewed to a traditional style
- Beers brewed for non-traditional style
- Beers that I think are perfect already
The way that we are going to be evaluating the beers is the same for each of the possible options but the intent is slightly different for each. Again the only time that I have my recipe in front of me is when I’m brewing a beer that I think is perfect already.
So there you have it, you have all the equipment at your disposal to perform an evaluation of your homebrew. In Your Homebrew SUCKS Part 3 we are going to go into how to actually evaluate a beer so check back soon!