The Art and Science of Brewing: And Why I Love It
Written by Bryan Bastow, Brewer & Quality Control Manager
As a professional brewer we often get asked the question “why brewing?”. There are the obvious, common answers like “why not brewing?” or “making beer is an awesome job”. Most people would agree that getting to make beer is a pretty awesome job, probably because it entails that you get to drink beer for a living. It amuses people during small talk and they get a kick outta it, but for me the answer to the question “why brewing?” has a much deeper meaning. To this question I usually have two answers. My first response is that I clearly chose brewing for the fame and women…of course. But more seriously, my response is that brewing is the perfect blend of art, creativity, and technical science. Brewing fits me perfectly in that I can both exercise my abilities in science and have a great creative outlet and medium to work through. I can’t imagine many other professions where I would have the best of both of those worlds. At first I wasn’t completely sure what subject I wanted to write about for this blog. I usually like to keep things light but I’m about to take it to a serious tip, and really explain what brewing means to me. Brewing is both a science and an art. It’s difficult to make great beer without one or the other. I never sought out any other career because brewing has always satisfied my artistic and technical abilities, and has always pushed me to learn more and attempt to produce a more flavorful and appealing product. Like all forms of art, brewing is something you can never really complete or finish. As an artist you can grow, change, and evolve, but you just don’t stop because there is always something more to be explored and experimented with. On the flip side brewing is also about constantly finding ways to improve the brewing process. Good science is a must for making technically sound beer. As the quality control manager at our brewery I strongly feel lab testing greatly improves the quality and ensures the consistency of our beers. The best brewers in the world have outstanding scientific abilities and knowledge. Brewing has always fed my thirst for knowledge and is more than enough to occupy my scientific needs. Brewing is a subject in which there is always something more you can be doing to strengthen your skills. That journey of seeking knowledge and taking steps in an attempt to master my craft is truly humbling and may be what really appeals to me about brewing.
I consider art to be people expressing their creative and technical skills through a sensory medium that could be auditory, visual, or other. There are thousands of forms of art and thousands of medium through which art is created. For brewers our medium is in liquid form. Throughout the brewing process there are many opportunities for creativity and individuality. Anyone who has made beer, wine, or fermented beverages can appreciate that to do it well it truly becomes an art form. What makes beer and the craft brewing culture so great is its unique creativity and diversity of styles. Without this diversity, the beer selection would not only suck but artists wouldn’t have the ability to develop their own style. Different factors throughout brewing history such as ingredients, process, and technology have influenced the way brewers made beer. This lead to the development of varying styles around the world. Nowadays brewers have so many options in front of them they can easily express their own unique style and individual flavor characteristics. As with all art the possibilities of creating something truly unique are endless. It starts with raw ingredients selection and recipe design. From choosing brewing water profiles, proportions of malts in the grain bill, hop bitterness and flavor, a brewer has a great ability to be as expressive as they want. The brewing procedures, fermentation characteristics and yeast, filtration and finishing, and even packaging are all aspects where brewers can take free reign over their imagination and develop a style strictly their own. Just as musicians have different musical influences that play a part in how they feel about music and impact how they compose and create their own music, the same can be said for brewers. Personally I have several brewers I consider influential on the way I choose to make beer. These influences have impacted my preferences in flavor and brewing techniques, and shaped the way I brew beer. I respect Matt Brynildson from Firestone Walker for this technical abilities and exploration within the brewing process. I see his willingness to change and experiment with different techniques and ideas in order to reach a certain flavor profile that is both full and well balanced. Vinnie Cilurzo from Russian River is another one of my brewing influences. I greatly appreciate his artistic and creative freedom which has led to some of the most unique beers I’ve had. I’ve been able to learn a lot from him as far as raw materials, barrel aging, and even sour beer production. Finally, John Stewart our production manager here at Perrin has been a huge influence and mentor for me in the brewing industry. Not only has he taught me a great deal about brewing but he’s also impacted my brewing style, technical abilities, and brewing philosophy. I’ve learned so much from him throughout the entire brewing process that It’s helped me improve all aspects of my brewing skills and knowledge beyond measure. Hopefully I’m able to pick up on valuable traits from these talented brewers and use them in a constructive way. Using different influences along with my own creativity I hope to continue to develop my own unique style as an artist and brewer. Well you get the picture, brewing is art, and art is something that to be appreciated, and for some of us we can’t help to pursue that journey.
What separates brewing from most other forms of art is that our art is consumed and enjoyed once it is finished. Beer contains living organisms, it transforms throughout the brewing and fermentation process, and it is altered by the environment and time. That being said brewing requires much more technical involvement than other art. Finally, the biggest difference between our art and others is we are required to recreate our art on a regular basis. This is where the science aspect of my job comes into play. My position at Perrin as quality control manager requires that I ensure both the quality and consistency of the beer we make. This requires a good deal of knowledge and a lot of testing. Every beer and brand we make has precise specifications that each batch must adhere to. This includes how it is brewed, fermentation schedules, filtration, bitterness, ABV, gravity, pH, and so on. Testing the beer as much and possible not only insures that it is being made as it was intended by the brewer’s recipe, but it also verifies that each batch is the same as the next. Having a consistent product is incredibly important especially for large breweries producing high volumes of beer. The factors that affect the beer and final product are always changing which brings difficultly in trying to recreate the same product over and over again. There are agricultural changes such as weather and climate that impact and change our raw materials like hops and barley every year. There are environmental influences within every brewery such as temperature and pressure that are altered by the seasons. Even changes in who is making the beer or operating the brew house (The Joe Factor) can impact the final product we make. A great comparison I heard is that between wine and beer. Unlike wine where differences in years are celebrated and enjoyed, beer must remain the same from year to year. This is true regardless of the changes we see in our main ingredients and other factors. “Nobody talks about how ’79 was a great year for Bud Light” - Adam LeClaire. Brewing science is there to support a brewer’s creative vision of what they are trying to make. Without science it would be very difficult to produce a beer exactly as I envisioned it in my mind. This is especially true when you consider the great deal of changes happening to our raw ingredients and many other factors that affect the final product. Having the technical skills is a must in the brewing process. To produce a consistent product while dealing with changes in the variables, there has to be measurements taken wherever and whenever possible and strict specifications that must be meet to keep everything the same. I feel it’s every brewer’s responsibility to use the modern technology at hand in conjunction with traditional methods and styles to push the line of what is possible within brewing, just as brewers have been doing for hundreds of years. Scientific exploration is the only way to make significant progress and continue to move brewing knowledge forward. Experimentation within brewing science is also an incredibly fun and interesting aspect of the job that gives it some balance.
Brewing pushes me to improve my technical abilities while causing me to change and grow as an artist. It’s like there is a natural drive when it comes to brewing. Every brewer wants to make the best beer they possibly can. In order to make something that people will want to drink and enjoy, it calls for a certain set of skills beyond the normal occupation. Growing up I always loved science and was fascinated by the natural world. Which is why I chose to seek out a chemistry or biology degree when I entered college. Although I wasn’t sure what I was going do with that education, I would soon find out. Since a young age art, music, and creativity were always a big part of my life although I hadn’t found my own creative outlet at that point. Soon after the start of my freshman year in college I started taking homebrewing much more seriously. After kicking out a few batches and playing around with different flavors and beer styles I pretty much immediately realized that I wanted to make brewing my career. It worked out so perfectly I couldn’t have planned it better. I was already going to school getting my biology degree, and this education would serve me well in my future job as a lab manager. I had also found my artistic outlet and was able to unleash some of my creative energy that I hadn’t been able to earlier in life. I knew right away that brewing was for me. No other run-of-the-mill career would be nearly as fun or interesting. Brewing professionally is very dynamic and requires a wide range of know-how from many different areas: mechanics, physics, chemistry, biology, etc. Nothing else inspired me the way brewing did, and nothing else drove my passion in that way. Soon after deciding to become a brewer I was able to get a job at a brewery 15 minutes from my hometown. Over 5 years ago at the tender age of 20, I began my brewing career running a QC/QA lab and doing work all around the brewery. I honestly don’t know what I would be doing if everything didn’t come together the way it had.
What I love about brewing is there always be something new to learn. I love the constant drive to gain knowledge and improve upon some aspect of the process. I’ll never be finished learning about the brewing process. There will always be new technology, new equipment, and new science that changes the way we do things. As an artist we grow and change with time and go through new phases of creative exploration. Together the art and science of brewing is an ever-changing and constantly evolving subject. For me it’s the perfect fit. It’s something that will never grow old and always remain relevant and interesting. Brewing is extremely rewarding in that I get to physically enjoy the product of all our effort. Every once in a great while I come across a beer that tastes so good it causes some sort of reaction that I really can’t easily understand or explain. I love when drinking an awesome beer becomes an eye opening experience that can introduce you to new flavors or expose you to something you didn’t know was possible for beer to create. It’s great to pour so much energy and effort into a profession, and then have that experience when drinking a liquid brew that tastes so good it’s beyond comprehension how a collection of flavors can work together in such a beautiful way. All the tire-less work and long hours become worth it when you or someone else gets to enjoy your beer and have that mind blowing experience. If nothing else, brewing has taught me that when you have a passion for something you really don’t have a choice but to pursue that path. I can’t help myself when it comes to brewing. It’s what I love to do and feel compelled to spend my life trying to perfect my craft and chase the perfectly constructed and best tasting beer. I’m fortunate to have a passion for such a diverse and complex art form. If you’re lucky you’ll have something as equally stimulating, rewarding, and fun to fill your life. And if you’re really lucky, as I am, you’ll get the opportunity to get paid to do what you love.