hist-brewing: ART vs SCIENCE

Mills, Scott Scott.Mills at COMPAQ.com
Fri Jul 9 10:39:09 PDT 1999

Is there more that we can do to foster the ART of brewing, meadmaking, and

Pardon if I seem to rant.  Once again I run too long.  I gotta get more
frequent in my posts and stop letting all this build up.

People here have talked about the difference in the greater technology
required to brew beer as opposed to making wine and I tend to agree.  But
what about art? I will focus on mead/wine since that is what I was
discussing in a previous post. 

Lets not forget that the great art of the winemaker is in the constant
sensory evaluation of the wine throughout the process.  He will look at and
taste the grapes in the vineyard to decide when they are ready to pick, he
will constantly taste the wine throughout the cellaring to determine how
much time it should spend in the oak, etc. A winemaker takes different wines
perhaps from the same variety of grapes (or not),  from different vineyards
or different pressings with different flavor profiles and carefully blends
them to craft a finished product.  The process of picking, destemming,
crushing, and fermenting is largely a simple step-by-step process that
anyone can follow.  I think I see that the real art of the winemaker comes

What I am trying to say is that we shouldn't be afraid to experiment with
our recipes and techniques and to promote the development of art.  It is way
too easy to say "I followed the recipe and instructions and it just wasn't a
good mead."  Was there something that could have been done to improve the
mead?  Was there something that you did that hurt the mead?  Did you blindly
assume that it needed tannins before tasting it?  Did you add two cups of
strong black tea because that was what the recipe said not because you
thought it needed it? There is nothing more glorious than a truly pure
traditional honey-and-water mead unencumbered by other flavors and aromas
when it turns out right.  I see it now... We mere mortals are blessed with
ambrosia, the food of the gods, and before he even tastes it someone says
"Hey, lets add some tea to it!"

This in no way means that I disapprove or dislike flavored meads.  Quite the
contrary.  I often prefer a flavored mead and greatly admire the subtlety
that goes into crafting them.  I have had some really good spice and fruit
meads that were made after the meadmaker was unhappy with the traditional
mead that he made.  Even saw one win an award at an Ambrosia Adventure (the
old AMA annual competition open to commercial and hobby meadmakers) where
the meadmaker had used spice to cover up some unpleasant flavors and aromas
derived from something that went wrong in his primary ferment. 

How about blending your mead's?  I have done it when a mead turned out too
dry or too sweet.  Not only did I come up with a better mead, but it was fun
and I learned something.

Historically the brewers, meadmakers, and winemakers were not blessed with
the quality and consistency of raw materials that we have today.  Malts were
not as perfectly modified as they are today or as consistently kilned.  All
honeys are different and I doubt that most meadmakers thought of such things
as varietal honey.  Lack of modern farming techniques, wide scale
irrigation, weather prediction, pest and disease control, etc meant
variation in quality, quantity, and consistency of grain and grape harvests.
Perhaps this year I don't have as much barley as I would like, but I have
plenty of oats, wheat, or rye.  How do I decide what type of beer will I

Traditional craftsmen were not blessed with shelves full of printed material
or schools to research or learn their trade.  They apprenticed with a master
craftsman, perhaps a family member, and if they possessed some skill they
would learn the trade and become a craftsman in the own right.  Those few
with an extra dose of talent and a passion for the craft became true

We (including me) in this list concentrate a lot on the science and
techniques of our craft.  It seems that often a novice will ask a question
like "The recipe calls for Earl Grey tea but I don't have any.  Can I use
something else?"  and invariably we all start in discussing the difference
in the types of teas rather than thinking about do we even need it in the
first place.  I think the best advice would be to taste the product, if it
needs something then add something that you like.  Take a few small measured
cups of nearly finished mead, a few cups of different teas, a small
measuring spoon and add a small amount of tea bit by bit to decide IF you
want to add tea, if so what type, and how much.  What fun!  

The same holds true when we start discussing how much alcohol and what
gravity 2 lbs. of honey will yield as opposed to 3 lbs. of honey or when I
start discussing pH and calcium carbonate to buffer a honey and water
solution.  Good science. Great technique. Is it art?

There are lots of technical and scientific discussions in MLD and HBD
unfortunately sometimes the signal to noise ratio is so high that you can't
find them.   The beauty of this list is that it is a much smaller group with
a passion for historical recipes, materials, techniques and the ART of the

For me, and perhaps just me, ART is what sets this group apart from HBD and
MLD but lately as the group as grown it seems that ART has received less

Is there more that we can do to foster the ART of brewing, meadmaking, and

I apologize to my fellow craftsmen for my ranting. Do I have a point? I
dunno.  Perhaps just a desire for art.


Scott Mills
Engineering Problem Management
Industry Standard Server Division
Scott.Mills at compaq.com

AKA Ld Eadric Anstapa

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