When is it cheating?

Hi all!

Yes, I haven’t written anything in awhile.  Since the fifth of November to be precise.  Don’t worry, Mikey has had stern words to me.  I haven’t done a brew in a few weeks either!  Once again, Mikey has had stern words to me.

Since I haven’t brewed in awhile, I figured I’d share some thoughts.  This comes from a conversation Mikey and I had a few weeks ago.

With a variety of brewing methods available: extract, steeped grains, mini-mash, all grain, and combinations there of; when is it cheating?  At what point can you no longer say “I made this beer”?

Purists will probably say all grain is the only way to go.  If you’re not mashing the grains yourself, and therefore not making your own malt, you’re not actually making your own beer.  I’m sure there are even those who say one must even mill their own grain!  But then you should also be growing your own grain and therefore your own hops… you should have your own lab to culture your own yeast.  Where does it end?

However, the steeped grain process offers a great opportunity to experiment with the flavours from various (unmalted) specialty grains.  All this process is doing is freeing the brewer from the “burden” of mashing their own grains.  And mashing isn’t terribly difficult; while it’s possible to “get it wrong” or do it well/badly, it’s actually a simple process.  So, at the risk of being extremely controversial, it’s not the be all and end all of home brewing.

Even with extract brewing, the brewer has the opportunity to add their own hops for extra flavours.  Either the brewer is inexperienced and still experimenting, wants something simple for whatever (completely valid) reason, or that’s simply the brew they want to do.

So I guess the real question is: is extract brewing cheating?  Is the idea of a kit and kilo a little too easy?  The process is extremely simple: dump some pre-made stuff in a bucket, add water, and you’re done.  Ignoring the fact that this is a great way for people to learn the basics and realise the importance of sanitising, it is a bit like ready to eat cake mix.  If you just add water and stick it in the over, can you still say you baked a cake?

Well… ultimately who cares?  For a hobbyist, it really just matters that you’re enjoying yourself.  Home brewing is a great hobby not only because it’s excessively fun, but you also get a great product at the end that you can share with your friends.  And friends always enjoy sharing beer with each other.

I was at a mate’s party a few weeks back and he asked me to bring some home brew.  He didn’t give me enough time to make a batch just for the party so I just brought what I had on hand: and extract brew.  Everyone loved it!  Of course I said it was an extract brew – I wasn’t going to take credit for a brilliant all grain – but people were still interested in it and interested in the process.  I enjoyed making that beer and I enjoyed drinking it with friends.

So really, it’s never cheating.  Do what you enjoy!

-Chas

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