Beer is friendly, dammit

I recently saw a very new brewer ask a question on a forum I spend some time on: is it okay if I put herbs or fruit in my beer, to add some flavor? Is that a thing I can do? What’s good to use?

It was honestly pretty depressing to see how unanimous the response was: NO. Or, more accurately: HELL NO, NO WEIRD STUFF UNTIL YOU CAN MAKE A GOOD NORMAL BEER.

Believe me, I do understand  where they’re coming from. I love the idea of a standard, old-reliable recipe that can comfortably accommodate a lot of adjuncts. The idea that you should learn the basics before improvising is a very old idea, and definitely a practical one; everybody’s probably got at least one wildly ambitious first project that went terribly wrong, wasted materials, and came out nothing like what they wanted. I know I do. Brewing is a very friendly hobby to people focused on details and procedure and measurements…and people who focus on those things tend to focus on perfecting a foolproof, reliable process they can control all the variables of, or duplicating something they already like. I GET IT.

But you know what? It still pissed me off. An experienced brewer had the gall to give this newbie a homework assignment: make 20 batches the normal way, then you can start messing around. I saw the sad little reply: “okay, you guys give good advice. I guess I’ll just focus on making good beer”.

I wanted to throw things.

I wanted to reach through the internet with a witbier in one hand and a juniper branch in the other and start bludgeoning everyone involved in the exchange.

This person wanted to do something that was good, normal beer–the kind a beginner or anyone else would make. It’s the definition of good, normal beer for most of history and most of the world, in fact. It was unbelievably frustrating to see an idea as unremarkable as socks treated like something dangerous. Our beginner may not make it to twenty brews before trying out some adjuncts, but when s/he does, it will probably be anxiously, tentatively, and with a nagging conviction that they’re going to ruin everything by doing it. IT DOESN’T NEED TO BE THIS WAY.

Beer is forgiving. Beer is tolerant. Beer is not scary, and it’s not waiting for you to mess up so it can laugh at you. Please, please, brewers–remember, and help others to remember. You can get away with more than you think.

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6 thoughts on “Beer is friendly, dammit

  1. Ben Messina says:


    As I believe I’ve expressed to you in the past, I understand the approach of perfecting the basics before going crazy with adjuncts.

    BUT – This has never been stated as a requirement, at least not from my lips. First priority – BREW BEER. Don’t let shit like that slow you down.

    I’ve had my first… well, I can’t call it a failure, just a sort of “aww, that’s not what I wanted”. My Belgian Christmas stout came out more of a strong dark ale. It lacks body and could use some more roasty goodness. I found this out at a Southern California brewery, where the brewers were sampling my wares. They also had another of my beers which they were over the moon for, and want to brew themselves.

    So whether you’re adding lots of crap or just brewing basics, you’re going to have hits and misses regardless. Just brew, (wo)man.

    • brewingape says:

      Thanks man. 😀 Like you say, hits and misses are part of the deal–I know beginners are sensitive to failures and setbacks and get discouraged easily, and I want to bundle them all up and soak them in mint ale and tell them it’s OKAY. I want to protect them from clenchy people. Gah.

      Do I get to hear about the one your brewers liked, or do I just have to wait and get it at the bottle shop?

  2. Ben Messina says:

    Hah! It was a second try at a chile pepper beer. First time it was all fire roasted jalapenos in a basic amber. 1.5lbs into a 5 gallon batch. Only hops were for bittering. It came out more spicy than pepper flavored.

    Second try is a lighter golden ale, with 2lbs anaheim and .5lbs jalapenos. I was only going to bitter this one as well, but after tasting it post-fermentation it was missing something. Had lots of bold pepper flavor, just a little bit of heat in the finish. So I ended up dry hopping with some whole leaf citra I had on-hand for a few weeks. After carbonation, it’s nice and floral and chile peppery without being too bitter or too sweet. Just a really good balance.

    San Francisco beer week is a month and a half away, and I’m going to try to do this again for the event the homebrew club I’m in is putting on. Excited to serve it to like 200+ people.

  3. Beernik says:

    I’m guessing the forum is populated with a lot of competition & style nerds. Ithink I would have lasted a maximum of 3 seconds on that forum

    I fruited my second homebrew (a peach cream ale), made a cranberry-vanilla-pomegranate pLambic with my 3rd, and the best beer I make is a hazelnut milk stout.

    My standard advice to new brewers is: styles are a great place to start but are not necessarily a great place to stop.

    • brewingape says:

      That is fine, succinct advise and I’m going to quote you on it.

      (also, let’s talk about your hazelnut milk stout. 😀 Where does the hazelnut come in?)

      • Beernik says:

        I add the hazelnut extract at bottling. I like about a teaspoon per 5 gallons of beer. My wife prefers it stronger, with a tablespoon per 5 gallons.

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