Brew envy

Anyone else have brew envy? By this I mean, you go to a local craft brewer and have a sip of their beer and think: “Why can’t I make something like this?” I hear people say all the time that their beer is as good or even better than quality craft brew. Not that I’m calling these people liars but I find it hard to believe. While sitting at home sipping on one of my beers I enjoy them. I definitely have a sense of pride, but if I have one of my beers right before/after I have a commercial craft brew, it doesn’t compare.

I may be a bit overly critical about my beers (ask my wife she will agree), but I just feel like no matter how much I fine tune my process, craft brewers on professional equipment with access to professional products, will always be able to produce a better beer than a homebrewer.

This doesn’t mean that I feel that all craft beer is better than mine. I’d probably choose a few of my beers over some of the commercial beer out there. I would just like to be able to create a beer in each category where I like my example as good or better than most of the examples out there commercially. Maybe it’s a futile pursuit like searching for the grail.

It gets frustrating thinking I’m producing a world class beer…only to wait the 6 weeks to find out it’s just OK. And so I’m stuck with 48 bottles of OK beer that I have only a mild desire to drink.

Anyone been in a funk like this? How’d you get out of it?

I totally get it. My take is that I homebrew because it teaches me things. A lot of things. It helps me appreciate commercial beer in a better way. I make a pretty mean robust porter that I’d put in the middle of the pack in commercial quality, and I’ve got a pale ale that I can drink pretty happily, but I’m still always going to find better commercial beers than what I can make. Which makes me try harder. Or gives me ideas to try out. Like this year’s pack of Mosaic IPAs that were all over the stores… they inspired me to trot out my pale ale grain bill, ferment with US05 in the low sixties to bring out peach esters, and late hop with tons of Mosaic. Before homebrewing, I never would have been able to tell you the difference between fruity yeast esters and different hop aromas.

It’s also a good resource to criticize some commercial beers. I think my notes on Untapp’d for a recent IPA recognized that they’d overdone the crystal malts and should have moved some of the bittering hops later into the boil. Which come to think of it, is exactly what I say about my own IPAs, but still, brewing gives me the knowledge to think about it in a way other than “I don’t like it.”

It’s kind of funny, there are other things I appreciate without understanding at all how they work (music, cars, etc). They’re “magic” to me. I can appreciate people thinking the same way about beer, that it’s just magically good without caring about how that came to be. Trying it has made me appreciate what goes into commercial beer.

I’m out in CO these last two weeks and there are numerous beers out here to try but to be honest I can’t wait to get back to my own. They may not be better buy I enjoy them more. I have no envy though.

“The relentless pursuit of perfection” huh? yea I hear ya Matt.

I’m pretty happy with my/your Vienna Lager actually…My dunkel gets rave reviews…not just from me…My robust porter and my irish stout are good but easy to brew with lots of roastiness to hide flaws…my pils is getting there…

My holy grail is a good irish (red) ale like Smithwicks. Haven’t been able to brew one I’m happy with. I’m getting close but not quite there.

Still I’m pretty happy drinking my beers over most commercially available stuff.

Keep at it man. You know you brew good beer. You’re just not satisfied to stop there. I get that.

Yeah, I’ve been there too. What I’ve switched to lately is not trying to compete with commercial breweries and not trying to compare. I really like 2 hearted, but it’s readily available here so why bother trying to clone it when I can just go out and buy it? I’m not really saving money by brewing, so it’s not really a consideration. And there are dozens of various IPAs out there that are equally good. Not that I want to drink 5 gallons of any of them, either.

Instead, I try to make beers that simply aren’t available commercially, that I can’t just go out and buy. How about that same 2-hearted recipe, fermented with an estery yeast and a fruity strain of brettanomyces in secondary, with a huge Citra dry hop? Definitely can’t get that commercially. Or a rum porter aged on oak and pineapple chunks? Not around here, at least.

There’s certainly a challenge in trying to make a super clean pilsner that’s of equal quality to what you can get from some of the best german breweries, but they’ve been doing this for hundreds of years. And if I want it, I can usually just go get it at the store. Instead, I try to make beers that I want to drink that nobody else is going to make for me. Often times because other people would just find it weird. Lots of places these days are making beer with mass appeal. And although they’re really well done, they tend to be… well… boring.

I wonder if bias is coming into play as well. You ever do a blind test with some of yours alongside some commercial beer to see if you still like the commercial better? For me, it can be harder to evaluate my own beer objectively as it comes with so much more baggage than a beer you bought off the shelf. You know every thing that went into it, what mistakes you made, what shortcuts you might have taken…these things can definitely bias your opinion.

Some people have notions that homebrew is always better than commercial, and everything they brew somehow manages to be the best thing on the planet. Some people are the opposite. I do wonder if the beer drives the notion or the notion drives the perception of the beer.

I dunno Matt, I’ve tasted a few of your beers, and they are pretty frigging solid. (I had the Vienna and I think a Stone IPA clone, which I believe you weren’t fond of). There is a lot of mediocre beer out there, though you are in Fat Heads country, so it probably would be tough comparing one’s beer to that!

My first inclination is to tell you to enter your beers in as many competitions as possible, and if you have the time (aka no kids), get some sensory training of your own (BJCP, Cicerone) to diagnose the problems.

+1 to the confirmation bias cited above. Have your wife set up a blind-triangle taste.

What about the fact that you are bottle-conditioning? I have to say, I do pick up differences in a beer that is bottle-conditioned next to one that is force carbed. Depending on style (ie a lager instead of a belgian strong ale), not always a good difference.

The only other thing I can think of is it is driven by the setting. You can make a 50-point kolsch, but there is something about sitting outside at a cafe overlooking the Rhine next to the smell of pretzels and hand-rolled cigarettes that you just can’t replicate. But I’m hoping sitting in your house beats bellying up to a barstool at The Winking Lizard!

craft brewers on professional equipment with access to professional products, will always be able to produce a better beer than a homebrewer.

By the way, totally disagree with this. But I am one who thinks (with some consensus of other local brewphiles) that his beer is better than much of the commercial craft beer.

Why does that matter. If me and my pals think my beer is better than anything on the market why would I want to disprove that by doing a blind test. Also some of the beers I brew that I like I havnt found a commercial to compare it to. I don’t generally brew to style but I think Matt tries so I can see where he’s coming from I believe.

it matters because he is comparing his beer to locally-available craft beer. A blind triangle allows you to compare without confirmation bias.

Interestingly enough, I had a sort of opposite thing happen. I had heard a lot of people make a big deal about Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh, so I took a date and made the journey. My first beer there was a Scottish Export… which I promptly made a funny face when I tasted it. At $$$ a glass, I was sorely disappointed because it tasted EXACTLY like one of my home brews (I still can’t put my finger on exactly which one as I haven’t made a Scottish Export yet). My two other selections there didn’t strike me as any better than one of my home brews either.

Now, are my own brews the best out there? No. I still have work ahead of me to get where I want. But I enjoy my home brews knowing the effort I put into them. I’m trying to brew to my tastes. And one of my beers that I’m still tweaking trying to get it right is an approximation of a beer that is no longer made, but was a totally awesome brew if I remember correctly.

I still do buy beer now and then. Sometimes because I miss the taste of something particular, sometimes to just try different things. Sometimes I’ll look for a clone recipe, not so much to make it, but because it might give me ideas to incorporate into something of my own. I see it as an adventure to brew my own.

Of course, I’ve never been satisfied with off-th-shelf… just look at my trucks and equipment… nothing stays stock…

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I think this might have a lot to do with it. I zero in on all the imperfections of my beer and that’s all I can think of or taste every time I crack one open. It makes it hard to just shut off the analytical part my brain off and enjoy it.

Though I do try the reverse and try to thoroughly analyze commercial beers. I am very unimpressed with a good number of them. But when I find a good one is when that envy usually kicks in.

And I don’t always try to clone a beer. I’m not looking to make a beer that’s just like the commercial examples, but I do feel like if I brew a beer within the same style using hops similar to those, I should be able to produce something I like just as much.

I understand that but three people can sit down and each pick a different beer and they can all be good. So it only matters if you are trying to copy a specific beer. I just read an article about whether Guinness really tasted better in Ireland. You can guess what the results where.

I did this for a while but the cost was kinda pricey shipping beer out every month or so on top of the entry costs. Usually I got mildly useful advice but other times some of the responses had me scratching my head wondering if they even tasted my beer. (Moderately hopped tripel finished at 1.003 was “cloyingly sweet” according to both judges. I’m no BJCP but there is no way they were drinking my beer when writing that review).

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Commercial brewers only put out their best product. They dump it if something is off.

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Or they should


Why would you want to get as close as possible to the objective truth? I’d say that question answers itself, but if you prefer the ‘ignorance is bliss’ worldview, that’s your prerogative.

My pals come over and say they can’t drink commercial anymore, maybe their stroking me. But who cares I’m fine in my ignorance.:wink:

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see right there though (not having tasted your beer, but it sounds like you have solid practices), I have a feeling part of that at least, is the experience of it. The experience of getting together for a few pints laughs in your personalized brew/mancave, drinking draft beer MADE by one of their buddies that only THEY get to enjoy is really cool, sorcerous even, to a lot of people. Myself included.

When all is said and done though, it is supposed to be fun. Its a drink. Seeking perfection is never a bad thing, unless it drives you mad. Which it can.

Not getting high ground on Matt, as I definitely went through a phase where I evaluated EVERYTHING (amazing I still have friends left…since I would often vocalize my opinions). I am now at a point, while I don’t want to waste calories, liver enzymes, or TIME, on something that isn’t excellent, I don’t let my palette, preference, know-how ruin mine or other people’s good time. Its really just not worth it.

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That’s kinda where I’m at now too, the problem being I don’t think my beer is excellent. I’d rather grab a 6 pack of SNPA than drink the pale ale I just brewed.

Darn, that ruins the intent of the post I was thinking about while out in the shop.

I was going to ask, “Do you like the beer you brew?” If you do that is all that counts.

I live in a fairly beer isolated part of Wisconsin. Most of the beers you Guys have been talking about are not available here. We have BMC and local Wisconsin brews.

First time I tasted an IPA was at the only good restaurant around here. It was New Belgium’s Ranger. Thought it was pretty good. Maybe I should brew an IPA. Chose NB’s Dead Ringer. I found Bells Two Hearted Ale a week after my DR started fermenting. After the first bottle of Two Heart I thought I had made a big mistake. If DR tasted like that I would only have a passable beer to drink.

My DR is better than Two Heart. I love it. Your DR may not taste like mine, but that is homebrewing. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Must be our water.