One thing that attracted me to the notion of becoming an engineer was the idea of finishing things. To build that product or prototype and stand back, with a mixture of criticality and admiration, and say “I built that”. To go exactingly over every aspect of the design and say “This mechanism was a stroke of brilliance, I’ll look for more opportunities to use it.” and “This part of the design doesn’t work, I’ll remember not to do that again.” After all, is this process not how experience is gained, and knowledge calcified into the hard bone structure of profession?
Unfortunately this ritual of completion almost never occurred in my (thus far) short and woeful engineering career. I was stuck on one monolithic, politicized, shambling behemoth of a project after another. At my last job, I was pulled from the one project that would have offered me some closure when the big one I was also working on moved to a remote office. Eventually I became disillusioned, anxious. How would I ever become the dynamic, seasoned hands-on engineer I wanted to be if I was always working on projects whose schedules seemed to be plotted out on Mӧbius strips?
At some point I just said “Fuck this fucking bullshit, I need to finish SOMETHING”. And so I took up homebrewing. It was an elegant solution to a number of problems. I could build my recipes from the ground up, have control over the process and take responsibility for the magnificence or dreadfulness of my finished beers. I could bring my product to friends, to parties and say “I made this.” I could keep records of every batch to know what worked and what didn’t. I could continuously improve my process and recipes until my beers were as good as the ones on the shelf. I could disrupt the paradigm of big shitty lager, waging quiet grassroots war against the hooting bro forces of adjunct brewing.
And brewing has gone great. It has given me a hobby, a reason to value my free time, something to talk about at parties. If I meet another homebrewer we can begin to interface, speaking our technician’s language and comparing notes. I feel like, in some small way, I’m a part of something bigger, the amber and fragrant wave of craft brew sweeping across America. The activity of brewing itself has become a ritual, a set of procedures to be carried out unquestioningly with monk-like devotion. I feel a deep appreciation for and yea, even a kinship with the yeast, who do most of the actual work of making the beer.
Brewing is also a wonderful way to get time on your side. Usually the passage of time marks a kind of futility – seasons change, friends grow apart and you slide ever closer to the grave. However, when you have a beer in the fermenter, keg or bottle, you can take solace in the fact that with every passing day, your beer is increasing in quality and maturity. I’ve often felt a mild kind of empty nest sensation after bottling a beer. Every day that goes by unpunctuated by the comforting bubblings of the airlock seems like a missed opportunity.
As a brewer, I am headstrong, foolish, brash. My attitude is that if a beer is available on the shelf, why bother making it? I make wacky fruit beers with silly names, e.g. “Neon Malte Dream of a Hoptofish”, a Mango Habanero ale with a searing spicy finish. Many of my experiments have been noble failures, but they are usually drinkable. Some have been downright good. Successes include my “Round and Round” Mulberry Pale Ale and my “Saisão” Guarana (Brazilian soft drink) Saison.
I brew, therefore I am. I brew because I love beer, but more than that, I brew because it is an arena where I can have a vision, attempt to exercise control over the inputs and process, and reap the results. Each beer is a complete cycle, a chance for improvement, innovation, greatness. Indeed, these are the outlines of most creative hobbies, but what other hobby could ever taste this sweet?