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The difference between homebrewing and commercial brewing

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First, let the record show that we are still technically homebrewers. But after being entrenched in the homebrewing culture for a few years now, and after having some exposure to the professional brewing culture as well, we thought it might be interesting to point out one of the fundamental differences between the two. There are obviously more differences, some of which I’m sure we will probably learn the hard way.

While we homebrew (only brewing small batches and never selling anything), we approach the art with a focus on the future, specifically commercial production. What does this mean? Realistically we will only be able to launch with a few beers (we are targeting two), and so we need those two beers to be as good as they can possibly get.

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Homebrewing traditionally has been a bastion of experimentation and creative expression. Charlie Papazian’s phrase, “Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew,” has become a rallying cry to many homebrewers. Homebrewers embrace the unexpected and even seek it out in their beers.

We, however, have been brewing the same couple beers with only minor tweaks in controlled environments for years now. After becoming relatively comfortable with an initial recipe, it has been our blessing and curse to massage every last drop of goodness out of that recipe that we can. We brew the same IPA, over and over, trying to get it one iota closer to where we want it to be. Once we’re past the concept phase, we brew for consistency, not creativity.

Most commercial breweries (even craft breweries) deal with this same truth. It isn’t uncommon for a particular beer to be 70-80% of a craft brewery’s sales. Think Fat Tire from New Belgium. Or closer to home, 420 from Sweetwater. In those cases, the time for experimentation are indeed over, and consistency is the key to success.

That’s not to say that the two viewpoints are mutually exclusive. This great article points to the fact that many craft breweries are still rooted in homebrewing:

?I?d say over 90 percent of small brewers I talk to today have roots in home brewing,? says Papazian, who now serves as president of the Brewers Association, a trade group. ?The creativity and innovation they?ve brought to the business has been amazing. The American wheat beers. The fruit beers, the honey beers, the chocolate beers. They were all homebrews first.?

In fact, much of the craft beer revolution we’ve experienced in the U.S. grew out of a response against the bland macro lagers. Creativity is a natural part of this uprising. But once you make it, you need to make it consistently or you’ll be going home.

Brewing for consistency can wear on you. We obviously look forward to the day when actual production will free up our homebrewing to experiment more (time permitting). But for now, we’ve embraced this necessary dichotomy at Monday Night Brewery. We work hard to create not great beers, but consistently great beers.

Thoughts from any homebrewers or professional brewers out there? We’d love to hear them.

9 thoughts on “The difference between homebrewing and commercial brewing

  1. Almost every craft brewery I know still has seasonal or experimental beers.

    Sure, Stone isn’t going to change the recipe of their Arrogant Bastard Ale. But they’re constantly experimenting, releasing one-time production beers (vertical epic and their anniversary ales), doing all sorts of interesting stuff to sell on-site at their tap room, etc. They occasionally will have some of these become more mainstream (such as their Cali-Belgique IPA).

    Most brewpubs, as well, have their standard line-up but will often have one or more taps devoted to seasonal or experimental beers.

    Being a craft brewer does mean that you’ll have some standard recipes and your job will be to produce those recipes faithfully and consistently day-in and day-out. That’s not mutually exclusive with being an experimental brewery and trying new things as it suits you.

  2. I think that once you’re working in a brewery controlled environment, producing those beers consistently will be a little easier. You guys (like I do) brew out doors. You dip your pot in a tank of ice to help cool it. These are not things you would do in a controlled environment of a brewery, but do have an effect on the beers you’re currently producing. You would have flow meters to know exactly to the drop how much sweet wort has gone into the kettle. You’d be using pumps and big counter flow plate chillers to chill. So I would think if you’ve got some recipes you feel you have down, maybe throw in a little experimentation. You’ll see things through the experimentation that sort of validate the decisions you have already made. For example, your mash efficiency should probably be similar almost no matter what you’re brewing. My two cents.

    By the way, how did that shiny new burner work? I’ve been eyeing one myself.

  3. Kevin, I completely agree. We’re being as precise as we can but we don’t have all the tools that a commercial brewery has. Our mash efficiency IS about the same no matter what. We’re honing in on the last few tweaks on our 2 launch recipes, so hopefully we’ll have some more room for experimentation too.

    That burner is amazing. It gets our wort/water up to temperature much quicker and is actually a lot quieter than our old jet engine burner.

    Brad, great points, I think we’re in agreement. Of course, our first 1-2 years of production we’ll probably not have as much leeway to experiment as we’ll be fighting for acceptance of our staple beers. Once there’s some predictable demand for those we will be producing more interesting seasonals.

  4. It must be really difficult to see that boiling pot of wort and NOT add bacon into it. I can hardly help myself from doing stupid things just when making each single batch of beer let alone years of the same beers. As usual, hats off to you guys. I’m really looking forward to the day I can _buy_ a MNB beer while I’m in GA. That’s not to say that I’m ever in GA, but it’s not THAT far away from KY.

  5. In a brewery you can control the beer because you brew a few times a week at least and you usually have the equipment to brew the way you want to every time and your most of your equipment is permanatly set up ready to go .

    Also most microbreweries have a few standard beers and the rest ore seasonal or specialties unless your a large production brewery then your seasonal’s become the same beers you brew every day , large macro breweries have Pilot brewery’s to experiemnt on and a pilot plant like the Brew Magic by Sabco has even made it to the Advanced Homebrew market so homebrewers can make consistent beer with some level of control .Theres even Pico Breweries using the Brew Magic and Sam Caliglione from Dog Fish Head started on this system .

    https://www.brew-magic.com/bmindex.html

  6. I’m certainly no accomplished homebrewer (I’ve done less than a dozen batches in my life), but I love the sense of excitement and experimentation.

    Part of the fun is recreating a style you like, personalizing it, or making something up entirely out of thin air.

    Like others, I think moving the place you brew – from a driveway to a brewery – will only change the final product from a QC standpoint. It’s what you put into the beers – both the ingredients and your three personalities – that make Monday Night Brewery.

    My point here is that you’re still Monday Night Brewery even without a brewery (as you are now).

    I think you guys will still experiment – maybe more so – once you’re off and running.

    My two cents.

  7. I’ve tasted six batches of my own homebrew so far, and consistency is a huge issue – sometimes even bottle to bottle. I swear the first few bottles from a batch always taste the best. The worst mistake so far is some swing top bottles I have let the carbonation leak out (I think – I still haven’t tracked this down 100 percent), wasting about half a batch. Unfortunately, it also happened to be the best tasting batch I’ve done so far.

    Anyway, I have a ways to go before I have an actual brewery, but it’s certainly a goal. And if I don’t make it, while, I had a lot of tasty homebrew and great conversations sharing it with friends along the way!

  8. Looking back on this post over 4 years ago – I’d love to hear your thoughts on the evolution of Monday Night Brewery since Jonathan penned this piece. We’re close to getting our own (GrassLands) off the ground here in Tallahassee, so I’ve just been perusing the archives of our influencing breweries and their respective journeys toward the commercial side of the house :)

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