Real Beer: What's better about being a homebrewer today than it was 10-12 years ago? What's not as good?
Ray Daniels: Clearly we have more resources of every kind today. More suppliers and a greater range of supplies of every kind. More books, more clubs and the whole Internet out there seething with information. Clearly it is easier to get homebrew supplies and information today than it ever has been before.
On the other hand, I think that the motivation to brew is not as high now. When I first started out, if you wanted to try a porter or an Oktoberfest, you pretty much had to brew it yourself. Now you can get good examples of those styles - both foreign and domestic - in any good liquor store during at least some seasons of the year. Of course the goal of mastery is still there: challenging yourself to make a beer as good as one you admire. In addition, we still have the opportunity to innovate and investigate in ways that commercial brewers will never be able to match. I'm still looking forward to nailing some of the Belgian styles and I also want to take a closer look at some of the new hop varieties that aren't seeing much commercial use yet.
Lynne O'Connor: There are better products, more variety, and generally better prices if you factor in inflation. But most important, there is much more accurate information today. If there is any downside, it's the scale of it. Homebrewers were a pretty small group 12 years ago, so you felt very special being part of that.
Andy Anderson: MUCH better ingredients today. There are also more top-flight homebrewers around, so good feedback is more easily achieved, whether at homebrew clubs or contests. On the other hand, 10-12 years ago there was more a sense of adventure about the hobby. Will this beer be drinkable? What is a decoction mash? What is liquid yeast? etc. Today, there are a lot less new discoveries for the homebrewer. While I appreciate drinking better beer, I kind of miss the sense of wonder when someone would demonstrate whole new brewing concepts.
Real Beer: Describe the perfect homebrew experience.
Ray Daniels: Tim Norris' back yard pretty much captures my perfect homebrew experience. In the early to mid-1990s, the Chicago Beer Society would do a group brew-in about once a year at the home of one of our members, Tim Norris. He had a big yard, with plenty of room for gear sprawl. In addition, he had a beer fridge in the basement stocked with many delights, both bottled and draft, including homebrews from all comers and a variety of commercial favorites. Finally, he sold grain, so there was never any shortage of supplies.
But the brewing, the camaraderie and the beer were just the first step. I also learned a heck of a lot at those brew-ins -- and for me that is one of the most enjoyable things about brewing: the constant learning. I well remember someone (maybe even Tim) bringing out some old stale hops one year: it was the first time I really smelled hops that were clearly "cheesy." (We learned that
any beer brewed with them would be cheesy too!) The readily available grain supply led to an impromptu grain tasting: it was here that I was first impressed by the flavor differences between "pale," "two-row," and "six-row" malts.
Those trips to Tim's back yard were a homebrew orgy -- the ultimate expression of what this hobby is all about.
Lynne O'Connor: Having a full day to brew.
Andy Anderson: Uh-oh, here's where I don't practice what I preach. The perfect experience involves the camaraderie of brewing with friends, yet I brew alone. I make fewer mistakes when I brew alone, yet it's less fun.
Sean Quinlan: Just gathering with a bunch of people in my club and doing two 5-gallon all-grain batches. We spent the day outside in the sun and had a great time.
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