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Does anyone else just wing it?

I have noticed in the short time I have been brewing that many people are VERY focused on the details of the recipe and figuring out the alpha acids of the hops and measuring out very accurately the amounts of ingredients. I have only done extracts but I seem to have the general pattern worked out for a 5 gallon batch. So I wanted to just play. I went to my local shop and got 7 lbs of assorted malt extracts, and some hops. I followed a basic brew schedule that it seems all the kits I have done follow. I threw in some yeast that I had left over from a kit that supplied 2 packets but only required one if making an ale. It came out fantastic! I am very happy with the results. So I was just wondering if I am breaking any sacred rules of brewing or am I just doing what everyone else does. I did keep a good log of what I did and used so I can make it again if I desire.

I’ve brewed 458 at batches of beer (so far) and on only a handful have I truly winged it. And only a few of those turned out to not be disappointments. I like to have a goal and execute a plan to achieve that goal. True, as I’ve gained experience it’s easier to imagine what will go with what and in what amounts. But I still have a goal in mind when I start planning a brew and I try to hit my target, whether it’s a true BJCP style or just something I imagine with my “taste imagination”.

In my limited experience (59 batches in 4 years), and limited sensory training (currently BJCP - Certified), I can give you the definitive answer of: it depends.

It depends on how you enjoy drinking (and brewing) beer:

If you are a style maniac and learn to taste the slightest of imperfections/notes of diacetyl, metals, phenols, fusels, etc. etc. etc. etc., this is not the way to brew.

If you just enjoy drinking some decent beer that YOU made, this may be the way to brew.

I have made farmhouse ales/saisons that are little more than pils, maybe some wheat malt, small charge of bittering hops, lot of flameout hops, saison yeast/brett. People brewed this way for centuries and made beer. How good the beer was depends on who you ask.

I used to brew with a guy that loved his 80/-'s, bitters, Irish Reds, and the like, and this guy made PHENOMENAL beer. He would do IBU calculations (Raeger and Tinseth) not by computer program, but by HAND.

To Denny’s point, you may not win any comps by winging it…but you might.

[quote=“Pietro”]In my limited experience (59 batches in 4 years), and limited sensory training (currently BJCP - Certified), I can give you the definitive answer of: it depends.

It depends on how you enjoy drinking (and brewing) beer:

If you are a style maniac and learn to taste the slightest of imperfections/notes of diacetyl, metals, phenols, fusels, etc. etc. etc. etc., this is not the way to brew.

If you just enjoy drinking some decent beer that YOU made, this may be the way to brew.

I have made farmhouse ales/saisons that are little more than pils, maybe some wheat malt, small charge of bittering hops, lot of flameout hops, saison yeast/brett. People brewed this way for centuries and made beer. How good the beer was depends on who you ask.

I used to brew with a guy that loved his 80/-'s, bitters, Irish Reds, and the like, and this guy made PHENOMENAL beer. He would do IBU calculations (Raeger and Tinseth) not by computer program, but by HAND.

To Denny’s point, you may not win any comps by winging it…but you might.[/quote]

I don’t care about winning comps any more. Can’t even recall the last time I entered. But I do like to have a clear vision of what I want to drink and a plan of how to get there. But as you said, everybody has different reasons for brewing and what they want from it. It’s a hobby, it’s supposed to be fun…do whatever you want/need to do to achieve that fun!

I have never truly winged a recipe and and probably never will. That’s just my MO. I enjoy the element of design in brewing. With few exceptions, every aspect of my process and my recipe is designed and executed with intent.

I experiment, but it’s never random.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned and I have to improvise. Like when brew day arrives and I don’t have as much of a given hop as you thought, so substitution becomes a necessity. This type of thing doesn’t happen often.

Rarely I will improvise a recipe tweak a the last minute. I happen to have done this last weekend. I was brewing a Farmhouse that involved an Amarillo hopstand. I was looking in a cabinet for something during the boil and found an ounce of bitter orange peel that I had forgotten about. Even in this case, there was an evaluation process–albeit brief: I’ve had this orange peel for a while. I need to use it soon. A tad of orange might work well with the Amarillo and esters from the yeast. I think I’ll toss this in for the hopstand.

I wing it sometimes but always use a spreadsheet to get the right results so I have a basic idea of what to expect. Many times, I use my Big Booted Bastid Pale Ale grain bill and swap out the hops in an effort to showcase a particular hop. Those always turn out very well. The spreadsheet is on my website and was recently updated by our forum member gregscsu. It is otherwise known as EZBrew. Feel free to try it out.

[quote=“kcbeersnob”]I have never truly winged a recipe and and probably never will. That’s just my MO. I enjoy the element of design in brewing. With few exceptions, every aspect of my process and my recipe is designed and executed with intent.

I experiment, but it’s never random.

Sometimes things don’t go as planned and I have to improvise. Like when brew day arrives and I don’t have as much of a given hop as you thought, so substitution becomes a necessity. This type of thing doesn’t happen often.

Rarely I will improvise a recipe tweak a the last minute. I happen to have done this last weekend. I was brewing a Farmhouse that involved an Amarillo hopstand. I was looking in a cabinet for something during the boil and found an ounce of bitter orange peel that I had forgotten about. Even in this case, there was an evaluation process–albeit brief: I’ve had this orange peel for a while. I need to use it soon. A tad of orange might work well with the Amarillo and esters from the yeast. I think I’ll toss this in for the hopstand.[/quote]
This is my MO too. The closest I’ve come to winging it recently was yesterday when I decided at the last minute to brew a second beer (seeing as I had a whole day for it, why just brew one?) at the last minute. But even then I used a recipe I already had and ran the water calcs before I weighed out the grains.

I’ll often experiment, but like others above I’ll carefully plan what I’m trying to achieve with the experiment.

But that’s just the way I enjoy this; there is nothing wrong with winging it if you enjoy it that way.

I only wing it when I brew new beer :slight_smile: . Well I think about it, ingredients and so on but do not do test batch. If it does not work I have 170 gallons of it.

I can’t wing it. I am haunted by the notion that i could brew the best beer i’ve ever brewed but because i winged it, i can’t replicate it. I have to write it down and take notes. Not to mention i’m new to all grain and i feel like i won’t learn about my ingredients if i don’t adhere to this approach. But this is just me, others may feel that they can learn via other methods.

Doesnt sound like winging it to me, that’s how most people brewed before computers. Computer programs have made it so that idiots like me can brew really good beer. If you can brew great beer without a crutch I salute you.

I wouldn’t consider software a crutch. It’s a valuable tool that saves time, aids with accuracy of calculations, makes recipe storage and retrieval easier, etc… It does not replace the experience of the brewer in designing a recipe or executing the process.

I think it gets harder and harder to truly wing it the more batches you brew. Even If someone didn’t know what an IBU or gravity point was after 100 batches there would be some degree of understanding that more hops=more bitter more grain=more drunk. Even If things aren’t written down or put into a recipe calculator there has to be intentions based on how many shovelfuls of grain and how many handfuls of hops are used. Now if you were to start heating up water then drop a few hits of acid that would be winging it.

You mean you do something without a plan? :smiley:

Crutch is was probably the wrong word. I agree it is a helpful tool it does simplify things. But all you need is some expierience and maybe a recipe book. You may not be able to calculate or predict IBU SRM or IB/Bu. But you can certainly make good beer. Little old fashioned but that’s alright.

I have had much more success winging it than I have half-assing it.

Do you consider a hammer a crutch becasue you could use a rock instead?

I would agree that that’s not truly winging it.

But on the other hand, it is possible to make really good beer without obsessing on the calculations. As stated, it’s just about how committed you are to hitting a particular target. If you want to hit the bullseye every time, no winging. If you’re ok with just hitting the target somewhere and not losing the arrow, then by all means wing on. I used to do that all the time, now that I’m doing all-grain and trying to do more specific styles it requires a little less winging. But when fall comes around and brown ale time arrives, then I will probably wing more.

“Wing it” ?
It’s called experimentation. Those who do it learn an grow.

[quote=“simple”]“Wing it” ?
It’s called experimentation. Those who do it learn an grow.[/quote]
I would agree that experimentation is helpful for learning, but that concept also involves forethought. Very different from the “wing it” concept, which implies reckless abandon.

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[quote=“beerme11”]I think it gets harder and harder to truly wing it the more batches you brew. Even If someone didn’t know what an IBU or gravity point was after 100 batches there would be some degree of understanding that more hops=more bitter more grain=more drunk. Even If things aren’t written down or put into a recipe calculator there has to be intentions based on how many shovelfuls of grain and how many handfuls of hops are used. Now if you were to start heating up water then drop a few hits of acid that would be winging it.[/quote]I find this to be quite true.

I paln my recipes, but don’t always keep my inventory list up to date, so when i go into the brewery, I’ll sometimes need to adjust the recipe to fit my available ingredients. As I do this, I can’t really wing it because I can “taste” the result of the changes in my head. Similarly, I might find I need to change the hop schedule or decide that the beer might taste better with a different hop combination. However, I don’t just throw in a handful of this and that, I look at the label and imagine the flavor.

[quote=“kcbeersnob”][quote=“simple”]“Wing it” ?
It’s called experimentation. Those who do it learn an grow.[/quote]
I would agree that experimentation is helpful for learning, but that concept also involves forethought. Very different from the “wing it” concept, which implies reckless abandon.[/quote]My experiments are definitely much more thoroughly planned than a standard beer.

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