This week, we are fortunate enough to have a guest post from Josh Brewer, the head brewer for Mother Earth Brewing, located in Kinston, NC. Josh began homebrewing in 1995, then quit his office job to start cleaning kegs at a local Chicago brewpub. Since then, he has worked in breweries from Hawaii to Hilton Head, SC to Savannah, GA and even opened up his own brewpub in Beoufort before moving to Kinston to become the head brewer at Mother Earth.
Just like many professional brewers, my career started as a hobby. After crafting my very first batch of homebrew, something I’d label as a pale ale of sorts, I was hooked. My passion for brewing escalated quickly and soon I was ready to trade my office job for the chance to be a keg cleaner. That’s love.
Fortunately, it all turned out alright. Now, years and years later, I’m surrounded by a team of incredibly talented, hardworking people, creating some fine brew. And lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how the production brewing I’m involved in today is much like the homebrewing that sparked my obsession years ago, yet it’s also very different. Here are a few of my thoughts…
Sanitation as a Foundation
I learned early on in homebrewing that you simply can’t expect to brew killer beer if you aren’t willing to take the time to methodically sanitize. It’s like wanting to win a marathon without being willing to suffer some hard-core training runs. It just isn’t going to happen. Throughout the years I’ve worked for some excellent brewers who reinforced the importance of impeccable sanitation. As far as I’m concerned, sanitation is the foundation from which you craft your beer. Without it; your beer isn’t going to perform.
Availability of Equipment and Ingredients
All of you all-grain homebrewers would find the process of production brewing very familiar. The ingredients and process are virtually the same. –And the availability of stir plates, digital Ph meters, hydrometers and the like allow homebrewers to set up a pretty sweet system for themselves. In short, homebrewers are using much of the same lab type equipment that we use in production brewing. Now a days, homebrewers have access to a massive selection of liquid yeast, and it’s pretty easy on their wallet. So, homebrewers can brew a greater selection of styles and replicate production recipes without much difficulty. That’s good stuff.
Ease of Experimentation
Speaking of styles, one clear difference between homebrewing and production brewing is the ease of experimentation- which is one of my favorite aspects of brewing. Concoct a homebrew that fails and you’re out a few Andrew Jacksons. Brew a 40 Bbl batch that’s way off mark in the production facility and you’re out thousands… not to mention you’ve put a big knot into your production schedule. For sure, losing a batch of homebrew is devastating (I’ve been there) but in the scheme of things, the ramifications aren’t quite as intense.
Because I live for experimentation, we’ve got a 1 Bbl system at Mother Earth Brewing – and I get on it as often as I can. We make some treats for our Taproom, and of course we try out new recipes to add to our line-up. It’s not as easy to experiment at the production level, but I’ll always find time for it.
While production brewing certainly has a bit more technology tossed in, it’s still brewing- and the principles you learn as a homebrewer certainly apply. In the end, I’d argue that what makes a good homebrew makes a good production beer: sanitation, a solid recipe, quality ingredients, precision in measurements, meticulous record keeping, and finally critique. Production brewing isn’t as casual as a Saturday spent in the homebrew shed, but it’s still a good time; and I can’t imagine anything else I’d rather be doing.