Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Passion and Brewing

Are you passionate about beer? Does it consume your every waking moment,or is it just a drink that you enjoy with enthusiasm, while keeping perspective clearly in view and your feet firmly on the ground? Now most people reading this blog are likely to be keen on beer. Very keen on beer. Too keen on beer even, but degree will vary. Within the beer fraternity you tend to have a broad church and a few zealots. This zealotry can exhibit itself in many ways; the real ale, fiend, the dedicated Guinness drinker, the ticker, the lager man, the craft keg devotee, etc. etc. Whether these are passions or just preferences or mild obsession is moot, but beer to the devotee, brings out strong feelings.  Not so unusual, as products of all kinds, from cars, to biscuits or whatever, have their specific adherents. It is human nature and what makes (some of) us tick.

That's drinkers though. What about the passionate brewer? I read constantly about the new breed of craft brewer and passion. Thornbridge has the word embedded into its slogan and advertising.  Even Gazza Prescott, erstwhile ticker, brewer and a bit of a sceptic where such things are concerned, speaking on Twitter,  thinks there is something to this. Brewers with passion are better brewers, is both implied and stated. (Not just by him I hasten to add). Now let's consider this. Most micro brewers are unqualified except by experience. This isn't to insult them, but most have been home brewers, beer fanatics, or whatever and learned as they go along. They may have had a Brewlabs, or Dave Porter Brewing course, but they are basically playing it all by ear. Nothing wrong with that. That's the art of brewing, but not the science. It is partly what makes beer so approachable. Anyone can do it really. Some better than others of course, but if you have passion, that's even better.  You see, passion, it is implied, makes better beer than qualifications or science and sets some brewers apart. Well, maybe.

Now of course there is always  a place for passion in what you do or believe in. It drives you forward. It makes you push at the barriers and get up in the morning. It allows you to recover from setbacks and to enthusiastically do what you do. It doesn't replace training, knowledge, skills, technique or qualifications though. It just supplements them in the best of cases, or is used as a mask to hide behind in others. Big brewers don't have passion is the unspoken part of this message. I am not so sure about that.  They may well be restricted by environment and by corporate or other diktats, but many have just as much passion as the small brewer in his pride.  I'll tell you a story. A couple of years ago, one Saturday, I met J W Lees Second Brewer and Brewhouse Manager in the pub. He was looking particularly dusky, so I enquired as to the reason. He'd just come back from his hols. "What time did you get back?" I asked. "Early this morning" he replied. "Ah", says I, "Back to work on Monday then?" "Yes" he said "though I've been in already." "What just now?" I asked, for it was afternoon? "No, about five am. this morning, when we'd got back from the airport. I just wanted to check the fermentation and see if the Brewhouse was OK."  Was that passion or dedication? A large slice of both I'd say.

Small brewers are constantly looking for ways to set themselves apart from their larger rivals. So is passion one way to do it? Does passion  actually make a difference or are you better just knowing your stuff? Possibly, but neither is limited to small artisanal brewers, or innovative ones, or even dedicated ones. Does passion make you a better brewer? Quite likely, but I'd venture only if you are a good brewer in the first place.

 I think passion is a word that needs to be used sparingly and in context. It is far more common though throughout British brewing than some would have you think.

Passion is an intense emotion compelling feeling, enthusiasm, or desire for something.  Both Thornbridge and Gazza are used for illustrative purposes only.


Cooking Lager said...

I can tolerate passion so long as no one has put there todger in it.

The Beer Nut said...

Reminds me of this.

Brother Logic said...

Good brewers are passionate, Passionate Brewers are not necessarily good. I think it's pervaded our culture that time and passion translate to quality - you see it on Cooking Shows, on the X-Factor and (for me) in University Students. It's a fairly empty word that people seem to put a lot of faith into.

Tandleman said...

Brilliant BN. Thanks for that.

Gazza Prescott said...

I've been illustrated in much less favourable ways... ;)

what you said. basically, passion doesn't replace knowledge but supplements it. a brewer with just knowledge is less likely, IMO, to produce characterful, interesting beer than one with both knowledge and passion for the job.

I know there are many working in big breweries who have paSsion, no-one would claim luminaries such a, Roger Ryman aren't passionate about beer, but running your own brewery seems to bring out a particular kind of passion in the brewers which is of rare intensity.

so yes, it's an overused wankword which means nowt, but I do think brewers with passion, drive, get up and go, or whatever you want to call it will, in general and assuming the requisite skills, make more interesting and/or better beer than those who just do it for a job.

Bailey said...

Complicated, this. I'd rather listen to a brewer with passion talk, but I'm not sure passion does equate to better beer. Professionalism and personal pride are probably just as likely to make someone a good brewer.

If you don't like beer and/or hate your job and/or have no pride in what you do, you'll probably make pretty shite beer.

Small/independent/craft brewers certainly don't have a monopoly on passion, but those working for big brewers are more likely to get their arms twisted by marketing, the Board, or whoever, and end up making beer they don't, in all honesty, much care for themselves.

Ed said...

This passion thing might be alright for a Frenchman or an Italian but as a British brewer I like to think that when I brew my upper lip is stiff and nothing else!

Phil said...

That David Mitchell link says it all.

I don't trust passion. The idea seems to be that passionate brewers never do a half-hearted, mediocre job, not like the jaded cynics who work for the big outfits. I think it's a bit of a con - the opposite of churning out half-hearted mediocrity is working with professionalism, dedication and high standards, with or without passion. Value passion over those things and you're likely to end up with something weird and undrinkable, which you can only sell by going on about how passionate you are.

Phil said...

I think it's pervaded our culture that time and passion translate to quality - you see it on Cooking Shows, on the X-Factor and (for me) in University Students.

You see passion in university students? Where on earth do you teach?

Anonymous said...

the knowledge of brewing =Sambrookes+Purity.the passion for brewing =Kernal +Steelcity.Iwould rather have passion.CHEERS JOHN

Curmudgeon said...

"I can tolerate passion so long as no one has put there todger in it."

Yes, I remember one local CAMRA member saying of one beer on a pub crawl that it tasted as though someone had dipped his wick in it ;-)

While there is much to be said for passion, when producing a commercial product it counts for little without consistency and attention to detail as well.

Gazza Prescott said...

The trouble with saying passion counts for little without consistency (which is true as far as it goes) is that you're assuming big brewers have consistency and micros don't. I'd much rather have interesting beer which varies a bit than brown twig juice that's always exactly the same.

don't know if. passion is the be all and end all but it certainly helps in pushing beer forwards; without it we might still all be drinking bitter and mild. except me, I'd have gone to live in Czech.

Dave Unpronounceable said...

I'd say it's pretty clear you need both... passion without knowledge will drive you to TRY to make good beer, but often without success. Knowledge without passion will enable you to make consistent products with clinical efficiency, but likely to be uninspired - so you'll brew a technically well-brewed beer that may be very uninteresting (dare I say this explains 90% of German beer...).

Pleased to be mentioned under 'passion' above, but I think we (especially Gazza!) have knowledge as well, even if we lack formal qualifications in brewing