There are five ingredients to craft beer.
There are four ingredients everyone talks about: water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. The Germans even codified those ingredients into an official law. These four ingredients and their manipulation are also why I fell in love with beer and continue to fall in love with beer every day. You take those four ingredients and you change or shift any one of them and you have something different.
If you move from hard to soft water, your beer will taste different. If you use dark malt or light malt or a combination of dark and light malt, you will get a different beer. If you change hops or change when you add hops, your beer will become something different. If you change the yeast strain you use, your beer can take on a banana/clove taste or a barnyard taste.
Then there is the fifth ingredient. If you take a beer recipe with just the four other ingredients and give it to three different brewers, you will get three different beers. The fifth ingredient is the brewer and his/her creativity.
As much as I talk about the business of beer and laws surrounding beer and how we need to take beer more seriously as an industry, that isn’t why I’m drawn to beer. Those are interesting things that are fun to research and think about, but that isn’t why I’m here. I’m a romantic. I love the people in the craft beer world and I love the creativity of brewers and others involved in it. They are why I keep coming back.
Make no mistake, I think of craft beer as a creative enterprise. The creativity of that fifth ingredient is the difference between craft beer and big beer. There are talented and creative people that work for big beer. I know this because whenever these people are unleashed by leaving big beer or getting to make something special and one off for big beer they almost always shine. However, their day to day activities are hamstrung by the necessities of making lowest common denominator beer.
I love creative types and I love listening to them talk about the thing they love. I have a friend who is a baker and whenever she talks about any part of baking from the process of coming up with a recipe, to the construction of a speed rack, to putting powdered sugar on the finished product, she radiates. It is beautiful to see. Brewers are the same way. If you ever get to talk to one about any part of the brewing process, please do. You will come away with an appreciation of beer and the people who make it.
There were no blog posts, articles, or news stories that piqued my interest today and talked to my friend the baker yesterday and it got thinking about how creative people are even if they aren’t officially called artists. It helps to remember that every time you read a story about big beer buying up a smaller brewery or you hear about a legacy craft brewer getting close to extinction.