“Only a fool learns from his own mistakes.” Otto von Bismarck
I made a mistake. There I’ve said it! Admitting you made a mistake for some reason can be hard but once said you feel lighter (like the clear air after a storm). I brewed a beer that simply tasted far too bitter and was compounded by a single cask leaving the microbrewery before testing. AHHHHHH!
With my engineering background I immediately wanted to do a “root cause analysis” to understand what exactly went wrong. What was the “root cause”? Once understood put “corrective action” in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again. I do have some strengths after all!!!
Although I’ve drawn analogies to baking cakes in the past, brewing really isn’t like baking. A weird mix of chemistry, engineering, art, and quite frankly alchemy, is required.
When I produce a beer I start with a prototype on a small brewing plant just to see how it works. I then have to “scale it” up to the large plant and this is when EVERYTHING changes. The process, equipment, cleaning, “brewhouse” efficiencies all change. It is here where I focus my analysis.
To work what went wrong you have to get a clear description and understand of the problem. Then focus on what could potentially cause this. In this case the beer was too bitter which comes from hops, and/or an imbalance of ingredients.
Beer is made of grain, hops, yeast, and water. As I scaled up my recipe the ratio of hops, and volume, to grain changed. I was focused so much on getting the right volume of grain, to control alcohol levels, I forgot to double check the quantity, and strength, of hops.
This problem was further compounded by not testing the beer before shipping (what an idiot Glen!). Why didn’t you test I hear you ask? Well you can’t test a casked beer without opening the cask itself…..until now J.
Once the problem has correctly been identified with the root cause(s), you have to identify potential solutions that will prevent it happening again. Investigate the viability of each solution and select the best. Now implement.
My understanding of hop bitterness, strength, and grain ratio is considerably improved (hard to admit but true). I will also focus on all ingredients as I scale future recipes.
Finally I now take a sample of the beer in a resealable bottle to mimic “cask conditions” during racking (the process of transferring beer into containers). I will not ship without tasting first. Lesson learnt!
WHAT ABOUT THE BITTER BEER?
So I had a large volume of beer that was too bitter to drink. What could I do with it? The obvious thing is tip it down the drain but with all that effort I wanted to use it if possible. Think of all the effort from the farmers, the maltster, utility suppliers, and of course from the microbrewery itself. Is there a use for this beer?
I racked my brains and immediately thought food! What foods would this work with? I came up with beer batter, sausages, pies, and bread (if you can think of more options please email me J)! The great news is I now have a whole host of local producers I can work with on producing quality food including the beer. The first beer battered fish and chips was apparently excellent, and I can’t wait to try it myself.
Turning a mistake into an opportunity or what!!!!