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.