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Can I Really "Brew Beer Better Than I Can Buy"?

I’ve been homebrewing for close to five years now. Ever since I started I heard this “myth” that I can “Brew beer that is better than I can buy” – or something along those lines. I’m sure many have heard it.

I have yet to reach this point. I would 10x rather have THE BEST commercial beer I can purchase, such as a Founders, Rodenbach, or Russian River. I haven’t yet brewed beers that well. I don’t feel it’s because of homebrewing’s limitations, I feel it’s because I haven’t perfected my craft as well as these professionals.

That’s the heart of the myth, I suppose. The myth is really saying that a homebrewer can brew better beer than a professional. Is there any truth to this or is it a relic of generation’s past?

Can you? I think the right answer is “maybe.”

I know many of my beers are better than their commercial counterparts…just ask me. :wink:

I’m not a fan of ‘yellow’ lagers. But, many in my family love them: american, german, mexican, etc. So, i’ve brewed some for them. I think mine taste better and the feed back I’ve received from family and friends support that too. I actually drink my yellow lagers but i never buy/drink the commercial ones because, well, their just not good IMO.

I also think my current red lager (ken lenard’s recipe) and my last black lager are also better than any commercial ‘red or black.’

My belgians are good,very good in fact, but not as good as the commercial. I’ve brewed them many times, and while each seems to be better than the last, their still not as good as their commercial counterparts. Finally, my stouts are a mixed bag…sometimes very good, other times, not so much.

My guess is other forum members can say the same regarding their brews…so again, maybe.

IMO, not a myth and not exactly true either.

Just my 2c.

:cheers:

[quote=“StormyBrew”]Can you? I think the right answer is “maybe.”

I know many of my beers are better than their commercial counterparts…just ask me. :wink:

I’m not a fan of ‘yellow’ lagers. But, many in my family love them: american, german, mexican, etc. So, i’ve brewed some for them. I think mine taste better and the feed back I’ve received from family and friends support that too. I actually drink my yellow lagers but i never buy/drink the commercial ones because, well, their just not good IMO.[/quote]

Nice! Yellow lagers, a brew I hold close to my heart. I wonder, if any homebrewer were to compare their best helles to a professionally brewed helles, right as it left the brewery, such as Spaten Premium or Weihenstephan Orignal, would it still compare?

That is, does the myth also come from the fact that many of the best examples of traditional styles, such as Helles, Pilsner, Bock, Saison, Marzen, are still brewed “across the pond” and staling during transport is still a real issue. Meaning that the beer may be brewed better by a professional, but because a homebrewer can provide it fresher, it’s, by default, a better beer at that moment.

If you have the $$$, space, and a particularly wonderful spouse, you can equip yourself properly to really nail down every step of your process for each style. Then your patience CAN produce a better beer than you buy (their profit motive results in a couple of hurryups). Thats not many of us. Some of our beers are as good or better, some aren’t. Depends on process and style. Its hit and miss. But if we are careful and diligent, we can brew a damn fine beer of any style that we’d be proud to pour to family and friends.

Brewing better than commercial isn’t easy, but it’s not rocket science, either. Most important IMO - patience, ferm temp control, sanitation, attention to detail, quality ingredients, and solid recipes and process. Make changes one at a time so you can figure out what works and what doesn’t and keep decent records so you can replicate (last brew day I went back to a pale ale that won multiple BOS medals but over time the recipe had drifted a little, and using the original notes with a few tweaks that I’ve learned since, the wort was so frickin’ good that I drank the sample glass after a final pH check). Limit brew day beer consumption to tastes, not chugs. And don’t accept “good enough” which leads to mediocrity - if the beer isn’t stellar, then brew it again with a fix.

Is that what it’s about though? I have been brewing for a few years now, slowly getting better and improving my kit, but I’m nowhere near commercial brews. For me, it’s about the process and the challenge. If I wanted to make commercial beer, I would have gotten a job at a local brewery. Get out of the hobby what you want, but even though my beer isn’t as ‘good’, I like it better because I made it and I’m proud.

Indeed. But it’s all the more rewarding when you create something that you prefer over commercial. That is some real pride. But you’re right, definitely a challenge, but not impossible

That’s quite the bar you have set for yourself. I can brew beer that I like better than a lot of commercial breweries and local brew pubs, but those 3? That’s asking a lot of a little experience.

Founders, Rodenbach, or Russian River are very high goals. Few commercial brewers can match that level as well.

There is also a lot of ok to poor commercial brewers and brew pubs. I tend to think you can brew above the bottom 1/3 of these brewers with a little practice.

For me, its about styles I can’t get. Very few brewers have milds, table Saisons, or small bitters. I think I can brew the best of these styles that are currently available to me.

OldStyleCubFan hit the nail on the head.

The short answer is YES. But it takes a lot of refinement. And the examples you used are without a doubt, elite. For instance, I think my IPA is better than Founders’ Centennial or Double Trouble… but not as good as Blind Pig/Pliny. I’ve probably brewed 15 variations of my IPA recipe to get it where I want it consistently.

A big part of it is imagination. Can you imagine a better beer than the one you can buy? If you can imagine it, you can brew it.

Something like German hefeweizens can be made as good as commercial, considering they have to be imported and these styles are best fresh.

I’ve made some darned good krieks and Flanders reds, maybe not better than the best examples but they aren’t $35 a bottle either.

I’m still trying to get the wonderful malt flavors of a Brooklyn Brown or other commercial beers.

At least one answer to the OP’s question is how you and/or others simply enjoy your beer. All of our friends love drinking our home brew and they’re also pretty tough critics. Taste is key but it does not encompass whether or not your beer stands up to commercial brands. My wife and are die hard foodies and we love being home together. The majority of our weekends are set up around what we want to cook, where we’ll buy our groceries and what time we’ll convene at the kitchen counter for happy hour, slicing and dicing. When we do eat out, we find ourselves saying something like, “We can make this better at home. Or I would add this or that.” So, the whole beer making process and subsequent enjoyment in drinking one’s own beer out weights buying it at the store. IOHO  Then again we haven’t made a crappy one yet.

All I know is, I brewed NB’s dry irish stout (extract) for a St. Patty’s day party, and someone else brought some Guinness cans. People generally liked the homebrew better (including me). It really does taste great. Now, I’ve never had a Guinness on tap in Ireland, and it’s not the most complex beer to make, so I take it for what it’s worth, but I was still stunned and proud :wink: .

My Chinook IPA received positive feedback, and an early sip (racking to secondary) of Phat Tyre compared surprisingly favorably with Fat Tire I’d had on tap the night before, and IMO already tasted better than bottled Fat Tire.

On the other hand, I just started brewing custom recipes, and it’s proving quite tricky to hit my intended marks (mostly due to efficiency issues). So, I think it also depends how you’re brewing. If you can get a clone to taste as good or better than the original, there’s something to be said for it, but you lose points to the original because they had the creative juices to come up with it in the first place (or are carrying on a tradition where it was developed). Also, as was mentioned, freshness can’t be ignored.

But, if you can get an original recipe to taste better than commercial versions of a particular style, that’s getting more into the art of brewing, imo.

FWIW, that is mostly me kind of extrapolating my views as a songwriting musician into the brewing arena :cheers:

I would say that it is hard to be as consistent as the best brewers - lots of variables are just really hard to control all the way through the process. Plus, let’s face it, most of us don’t have hours and hours of time EVERY day to devote to our hobby. And, quality equipment is often expensive.

That being said, I would say that 60-70% of the beer I have managed to brew over the past 3 years is as good as the beer that I would get at an average brewpub, or much of the beer that I might buy if I were picking up a 6 pack from a microbrewery. Not saying it is “the best” or anything, but it is as good (at least to my personal tastes) as I often buy elsewhere. I have sampled many other homebrews of others that were as good or better than a lot of beer I have bought.

I probably have not bought 2 cases of microbrewed beer in the last 2 years, maybe a few 30’s of busch light for camping/fishing convenience. Other than that - all my own, or at brew pubs.

I think making it yourself allows you to tailor your recipes to what you like, so in that regard, it can be better. There is a lot of commercial beer that is world renowned and classic to its style that I just don’t really like that much for one reason or another. Homebrewing allows you to control the things that appeal to you.

Plus - as mentioned - it is not about “outcompeting” commercial brews - it is about doing it yourself, enjoying the process and getting better at it.

I’ve noticed some of my beers are better than commercial and some are not. My wife and friends would take one of my wheat beers over their favorite commercial beer any day. I’m a hop head and would prefer certain commercial IPA’s or APA’s over some of mine, but not all. My Black IPA is better than any commercial BIPA I’ve had. I also made a damn good Oktoberfest last year that I would be proud to serve in any bar next to a commercial Oktoberfest. Having said that, 2 of my favorite IPA’s are Lagunitas’ IPA and Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch Belgian IPA. Both are 2 of my favorite beers and I can honestly say I’ve yet to brew an IPA as good as either. But to me, that’s the fun and challenge of it. One day I WILL brew an IPA as good as one of those.

In the end I would almost always rather come home to one of my home brews rather than a commercial brew. Even if there are better commercial brews out there. It’s a sense of pride in something I made. And also knowing I brewed 5 gallons of a beer that cost me as much as one or two six packs of most commercial craft beers.

[quote=“alanzo”]I’ve been homebrewing for close to five years now. Ever since I started I heard this “myth” that I can “Brew beer that is better than I can buy” – or something along those lines. I’m sure many have heard it.

I have yet to reach this point. I would 10x rather have THE BEST commercial beer I can purchase, such as a Founders, Rodenbach, or Russian River. I haven’t yet brewed beers that well. I don’t feel it’s because of homebrewing’s limitations, I feel it’s because I haven’t perfected my craft as well as these professionals.

That’s the heart of the myth, I suppose. The myth is really saying that a homebrewer can brew better beer than a professional. Is there any truth to this or is it a relic of generation’s past?[/quote]

well with rodenbach and russian river I assume your talking sours. Better have a lot of patience and blend although not needed.
Not all my beers stand up to commercial ones, but quite a few do.
Some I have down pretty good to where I know the outcome.
For sours I have had some right up with there with commercial versions and some not, just like every other style I have brewwed some compare or are better some dont.

While I’d have to say that the majority of my brews are not at the same level as the very best commercial examples of the same styles, some batches just seem to come out so well that they really are better. I’ve hit that magic spot every now and then, but have some trouble repeating it despite taking very exact notes and having a very controlled process. Maybe it’s due to variation of ingredients from batch to batch (it is hard to find the same quality of raw ingredients here as you can in the States). So if you add in “consistancy” as a criteria, then I certainly am not at that level. But I can say that I HAVE brewed better beer than I can buy.

consitecny on a pro level is way different in homebrew level. THey usually double there fermenters, to help even things out, have much better process on lots of grain and hops and such. Homebrewers get what they get at the LHBS

“Better beer” is subjective. You can absolutely brew fresher beer. You can brew beer with better quality ingredients. You can brew beer that is more to your taste. That said, you may not be able to duplicate the recipe or flavor profile of a commercial beer you already enjoy.

Brewing isn’t “magic” and there is very little that a commercial brewery can do that you can’t replicate at home. You may be making a better beer (fresher, higher quality, etc…), but that won’t help you appreciate it more if it doesn’t have the aroma/color/flavor you are already expecting from your commercial example.

There is no doubt that homebrewers can brew better than SOME commercial beers. My first homebrew, an irish red, was pretty tasty but not my best. However, I absolutely have had commercial beers that fell flat on their face, which answered the question right there.

Belgian ales (from Belgium), and german lagers (from Germany) I think are the exceptions to this. The process that they use are much different, and somewhat mysterious in nature. While we can point to some unique things (open, square fermentors), generally they have a whole lot more knowledge and experience that allows them to tweak the process as they go along, to produce quality brews time after time.

Aside from having a solid process, I think the sourcing of ingredients is one aspect that the best commercial brewers have over homebrewers. Generally, commercial breweries are a bit higher on the list for receiving the freshest barley/hops from suppliers. The best ones also have the know how to sample ingredients from different suppliers and choose the best crop for their particular vision. This is something that is difficult to do for the average homebrewer, not to mention time-consuming.

Luckily homebrewers have access to some really great ingredients, which enable us to make some outstanding brews. While I still go out and buy my favorite commercial brews, my ultimate goal is to produce my own house line of beers. I am the only one who can do that, and the hardwork and patience that goes into it is rewarding challenge.

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