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 Beer Simplified... Planning, And Returning to K.I.S.S.

From time to time something, or a series of things occur that reinforce the benefit of planning and simplicity. We've all heard the phrase "elegantly simple" but most of us have never really thought about what that means to us in everyday life, whether it be beer-life, home-life, work-life or whatever.

Our recent move has given us more than ample opportunity to appreciate things that are planned simply, planned specifically with an eye toward avoiding unnecessary complication. Simplicity played a major role in allowing us to tear down and rebuild a store in a period of just a few days, and according to many of you who have commented, make it look like it the store was just magically transported from one location to the other. We take that as a great compliment as the goal was just that... to make the transition as seamless and as transparent as possible. Now it was far, far, far from that in reality. As you would expect, complications arose around virtually every corner. We told you about a couple of them, most notably the telephone fiasco. The critical point is, nearly every complication occured during the planning stages. More accurately, complications occured and potential complications were discovered through the planning process. By eliminating them or working around them at that stage, complications were largely avoided during the actual move transition, and those not forseen were easily enough handled since we were not in a situation of total mayhem.

So, how does this message relate to beer??? Simple... it relates absolutely directly. Take the message and run with it. Run hard, run fast, run headlong into it but for crying out loud take the message seriously. If you discount the importance of the message in the prior paragraph, take that as a sign... you may not value the benefits of planning, and that could be an indication you have a brewing procedural problem. You may be so interested in getting to the end that you gloss over the most critical part of the brewing process, the plan.

The beginning and the middle of any project are largely thinking... identifying a variety of plans of action, and solidifying the plan. If you are thinking we are making the brewing process more complicated, well we're not. We're suggesting that if you plan your brewing better it is likely to turn out more like you expected, and therefore be better or more successful while likely being a simpler recipe. And it needn't be some long protracted planning process... just a little forethought.

Here's an example. First, I decide to make some beer. The questions that immediately spring to mind, in about this order are:
1. What kind? Gee, I don't know.
2. Dark, Light, or in between? I think "in between".
3. Amber?, Red?, Brown? How 'bout a Brown Ale.
4. How dark? Mmmm, maybe about the color of Newcastle.
5. Toasty/Nutty like that, or more Chocolatey burnt? Definitely nutty!
6. Hopped more bitterly, or smooth? Just enough to sense it.
7. O.K., strong hop aroma or mild? Pretty potent... I want to know the hops are there.
8. And lastly, a real dry crisp finish, or sweeter and malty, or in between? I guess "in between".

We just went through the planning and thought process for making a recipe decision. Sounds an awful lot like the questions we ask when you come into the shop, doesn't it? The reason we ask that is because it helps us plan a simple recipe with you and/or for you. The parameters of the questions and answers in the example are those we feel allow a brewer to make a pretty well thought out beer, but they certainly are pretty simple things to consider. If you follow that process with every beer you plan, it will become increasingly easier to produce the beer you are thinking of... with one additional qualification. The simple questions must be followed by designing the recipe or choosing the ingredients as simply or efficiently as possible.

Simple and efficient design is the logical companion to a well planned beer. It is most critical when you first begin exercising your planning skills. After all, the less experience you have with something, the less likely you will possess a mastery of it. The more complicated the ingredient list, the more difficult it will be to propose changes to improve it or to even detect the origin of a particularly desireable or undesireable flavor characteristic. Suppose in our Q. and A. example our beer turned out too sweet and we could not really taste the hops like we had hoped. Do you think it would be easier to fix our recipe if we had used, a.) 5 different steeping grains and 4 different hop varieties added at 6 separate times, or b.) 2 different steeping grains and 1 hop variety added at 2 separate times??? Of course the answer is "b.". But, why? Is it because it is less complex... has fewer parts? Absolutely! But why is that the reason??? Because just like anything involving perceptions and the senses, the fewer the ingredients and the more basic the process with which they are utilized the easier it is to detect and identify the impact of one particular ingredient. The greater the number of ingredients or the increasing complexity of how they are handled makes any one particular ingredient's impact more difficult to nail down. Your senses effectively become overburdened with stimuli, and even if the overall flavor is a pleasant one there is just too much to identify.

So, does all of this mean that beers with many ingredients in their recipes are not good? No, it does not mean that. Then does it mean that beer recipe procedures that have you adding one thing or another every couple of minutes, and sometimes multiple additions of the same ingredient are not good?? No, it does not mean that either! Oh, so it must just mean simple recipes and procedures always make better beer, huh??? NO!, NO,! NO!, that's not what it means, even though it sometimes is true. (...sorry for shouting) What it means is that effective thinking/planning followed with efficient recipe design will almost always produce an extremely drinkable if not superior product. A complex recipe may or may not produce a beer you would enjoy better, and flavor complexity is not necessarily the product of using lots of different ingredients. Often there is a synergy of simple ingredients that produces a complex flavor, and even if a flavor complexity is the result of some exotic technique... well, it is nearly impossible to know what the ingredients and technique need be that will produce the desired complexity, without starting out simply and building recipe complexity over the course of a few, or many batches.

Now how do you use this newfound zen-like wisdom? Cautiously... Grasshopper. Most men believe having many things in their recipe makes them wiser. Few realize less is sometimes more until they become wise... Elegant simplicity.

We'll present some recipes later on in the newsletter to illustrate this planning and simplicity concept, but it might be better for the more inexperienced brewers to have a map of sorts to follow.

The reason for planning a recipe with a mind to keep it simple, is:
To maintain, re-gain, or wrest control of the outcome of that recipe... YOUR BEER!
The reason for keeping it as simple as is reasonable is:
To more easily identify the origin of any or all of the individual component flavors or aromas.
The reason for identifying the impact of an individual component is:
To make a subjective decision regarding whether you like it or not, or whether you like the level of intensity of that component.

Use as many ingredients as you need to create the flavors you desire. Don't be afraid to use a variety of ingredients, but don't use an ingredient unless you know why you are using it. If you are using it and don't know it's importance to the flavor of the finished beer, it means one of two things ...it isn't doing anything -or- it is, but you don't know what!! Either way, it's not a good picture. And that grasshoppers and grasshoppettes is precisely the reason for the preceding 1500 words or so. End of sermon. Amen. Go forth and you know, brew.