By Greig McGill
Often when judging homebrew competitions, I’m surprised by the “repeat offenders” - that is to say, the entries from brewers who have been brewing a while who are still making basic errors, or struggling with problems that have long been solved in the brewing community. I think my surprise is down to a philosophical difference of opinion in “how to homebrew”. I’ve always been a believer in standing on the shoulders of giants. Others have already put in hard work figuring out techniques that solve a particular problem the best, and things that work well versus things that don’t, or worse, actively cause problems. Sure, there’s plenty of work being done to advance brewing techniques all the time, but I have often thought that there’s almost no excuse these days for a beginning homebrewer to make “bad” beer.
Why is there so much out there then? I’m not sure. Part of it could be that classic Kiwi attitude of “do it yourself”, and the feeling that if you’re not pioneering your own methods, then it’s not really your work. Part of it could be that a lot of homebrewers don’t come from backgrounds where technology, and using the resources the Internet has to offer, is second nature. I come from a background in IT, so “just google it” is built into my DNA! In doing so, I feel I’ve amassed enough of the wisdom of others that it becomes like playing an instrument - you end up creating your own style based on and composed of the techniques of others, yet wholly your own.
So, while I recognise that others may never wish to adopt my particular philosophy of giant-shoulder-standing, and that’s perfectly fine - it’s your hobby, you do you - I thought it might help to curate the vast resources of the Internet into a subset of “solid knowledge” that you can generally trust to only give correct (or at least, working) information. With this, I hope to avoid information overload, and just provide resources that I have personally used, or at least verified. I apologise in advance if I’ve left out your favourites!
While the nature of technical podcasts may mean that they have a tough time focusing on their core topic, as the episode count rises, one which has always managed to stay on task has been the very long running (perhaps longest - since 2005) Basic Brewing Radio. As the name suggests, James Spencer and Steve Wilkes choose to take a simple, accessible approach to sharing their wisdom and experience, as well as that of their guests. The topics they cover may range far from the “basic”, but they always try to keep the manner in which the information is presented accessible to even the rank beginner. They have a companion Youtube channel (Basic Brewing Video) also, which sometimes serves as a companion to the podcast episodes, but usually stands alone. Maybe not for you if “Dad humour” isn’t your thing, but I think it brings a great personal approach to the subject matter and keeps it from becoming dry and hard to digest. You might even find yours truly featured on the occasional episode!
Jamil Zainasheff is a legend in brewing circles, and he hosts (usually) the Brew Strong show on The Brewing Network. His sense of humour, and that of the network in general, skews strongly towards my own, which is to say you might not always want to listen to this in front of your kids if you have them, but the information and technical detail is top notch. Look out for deep dives like the multi part series on water treatment (unsurprising, as his usual co-host is John Palmer, of How to Brew, and the Water book fame) as well as the frequent Q&A episodes.
Finally, Marshall Schott leads a fine team of contributors at the Brülosophy Podcast. This one is dedicated to challenging long-held brewing practices. While I think that sometimes people use the lack of detected significance of certain experiments (exBEERiments as Brülosophy calls them, but I… am not going to) as an excuse for lazy brewing, that’s certainly not Schott’s intention. The sheer number of factors tested is amazing, and the conversations around WHY a certain factor may or may not “matter” is the real meat-and-potatoes of the show, with the actual result of the experiment being almost irrelevant. The hosts are the first to point out that their results are not the be-all-and-end-all, and so long as you keep that in mind, it’s a great, and entertaining, podcast. If you’re extremely technical and/or a science geek, you might find the companion Brü Lab podcast worth a listen too, as Cade Jobe talks to scientists doing cutting edge brewing related research, and goes into deep technical detail on what it can mean for both home and professional brewers.
Without a doubt, the single best book for homebrewers (and even professionals) in my opinion is John Palmer’s How to Brew. The 2017 edition is the latest, and covers everything from the basics to extremely advanced material in a fact-checked and informational manner.
Forums are, but nature, problematic as “sources of truth”. While extreme wisdom sometimes emerges from them, they are the downside of the democratisation of knowledge. Anyone can claim anything, and “it worked for me” reigns supreme. As a result, I can’t really recommend any particular forum, but there are plenty with excellent reputations. Here are a few - but keep in mind the words of that legend, The Dude: “Yeah, well, you know, that's just like, your opinion, man”. Aussie Homebrewer (which gave the world Brew-in-a-Bag), the US Homebrewers Association forum (packed with contributions from many of the big names in homebrewing), and, while not aimed at homebrewers, there is plenty of great technical info on Probrewer.com.
For the visual learner, Youtube is a bottomless source of beer and brewing knowledge. Of course, a lot of it is just like forums - how do you know who’s dishing out the good stuff? You can rely on these channels to give you correct information in a useful and hopefully entertaining manner!
Clawhammer Supply builds and sells brewing equipment in the USA, but their youtube channel is far better than just a way for them to advertise. They are smart, accurate, and often funny with their videos, covering all sorts of topics from the basic to the esoteric.
The BruSho is targeted at beginners, but uses great production quality as a tool to cover simple things well, and dives into individual styles and beer examples.
Flora Brewing is a great channel if you enjoy brewing with unusual adjuncts. Sarah Flora is semi-professional these days, but still runs her youtube channel and has information you won’t find anywhere else. She is disarmingly honest and talks about her failures as well as her successes.
The Brülosophy Show is a new kid on the block from the team behind Brülosophy - see the podcast section for more information. Much like the podcast, they explore some of the experiments in a shorter, more visual way, and the episodes are kept short and easy to engage with. This show is new, but the quality stands out, and while it skirts the edge of authoritative information, it is at least well-considered and practical.
So, that’s my list! There are so many great resources out there, so I’m not suggesting these are the only ones you should listen to. What I am saying is that all these resources take the time and effort to ensure you’re getting good information, based on industry standards, current science, and/or general consensus. If your favourite source disagrees with something here, that’s fine. If they do it consistently, and the beer isn’t world class, well, I know who I’d believe!