Achieving "World-class" status, is it possible? (Homebrewing)

Discussion in 'Homebrewing' started by YCantWeNotBeSober, Feb 20, 2013.

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  1. YCantWeNotBeSober

    YCantWeNotBeSober Initiate (0) Jul 27, 2012 Michigan

    Sorry if this question has been asked before on this homebrew sub-forum, once in a while I'm just too damn lazy to search through various keyword searches to find my answers. But anyways...

    I just had a KBS 2010 (on tap at hopcat, GR) followed by a Bolt Cutter. Both amazing beers. While appreciating every little layer of flavor this KBS had to offer (ranging from sweet tobacco to smoky coffee), I wondered if I could ever in my lifetime re-create something as amazing as this beer with homebrewing. Now I am not a spectator of the sport, I may have only 9 batches under my belt right now, but I've brewed some pretty decent (all-grain) batches. But still I feel that even my best batches, all custom recipes featuring some pretty delicious and complex flavors I've never tasted before in any beer, have fell short of the world-class status that KBS, BCBS, Zombie Dust, and even Backwoods Bastard have achieved. Now obviously this isn't an easy task to re-create the greatest beers known to man (mastered by years of experience and trial and error), but the fact that my most dedicated attempts have feel short leave me with the impression that this is just a pipe-dream. So my question, In you experience as a homebrewer, do you believe it is remotely possible to brew a beer that could stand up to some of the top 50 beers here on beer advocate? Do we have access to the ingredients and equipment needed to produce such a beer or are we destined to require purchasing these beers from the hand of our masters?
  2. wscaffe

    wscaffe Initiate (113) May 6, 2011 Florida
    Beer Trader

    You can do it! In all honesty, you do not need crazy equipment or ingredients to brew amazing beers. Some of the best beers you have ever had were probably originally designed and conceived in garages and backyards by home brewers.

    Also, sweet TOOL reference in your username.

  3. macandrewsRIP

    macandrewsRIP Initiate (25) Oct 28, 2007 Massachusetts

    of course you can. But, let me humbly offer you the best piece of advice i can give someone who only has '9 batches under your belt right now', homebrewing is a journey not a destination.

    You will over the years produce some mediocre beers, some good beers, some damn good beers, and sometimes, every now and then produce a beer that will just make your jaw drop, the clouds will disperse and rainbows appear in your backyard. A slight, slight tear might even appear at the corner of your eye. You can then die a happen man knowing you achieved one of life's goals.

    But what then? Not much. You can't sell it. Just revel in the knowledge that it's the little things in life that make life worth living. And you made a killer ale.

    And no you don't need crazy ingredients. Just keep it clean, use good quality ingredients, pay attention to the process, keep notes, and never stop homebrewing. It's the best hobby, ever. Period. Case closed.
  4. teal

    teal Initiate (0) May 3, 2012 Wisconsin

    I'd say so. Guys like Gordon Strong and Jamil have and can do so but they brew - A LOT and IMO that's the best way to go at it.

    MASTER your system, then brew your ass off.
  5. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,005) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Industry Beer Trader

    I've been trying for as long as I've been homebrewing to recreate Schlenkerla Maerzen. I'm beginning to realize it can't be done.

    Is it possible to re-create Coke? :wink:
  6. honkey

    honkey Aspirant (262) Aug 28, 2010 Arizona

    It is very possible. I brewed for 3 years at home before being hired by a local brewery. Some of the best beers I ever had came from my apartment stove and plastic fermenters. Granted, I was brewing A LOT. I would say I never brewed a beer that was undrinkably bad, but there were quite a few batches I wouldn't want to drink again. Lots of good beer and a few great beers. Most importantly to me though was the fact that it was a lot of fun sharing what I made. Luckily, I have the honor of doing what I love for a living. I still enjoy brewing, sharing my beer, and sharing my recipes.
  7. yinzer

    yinzer Initiate (0) Nov 24, 2006 Pennsylvania

    Basically yes.

    If I could gave advice I'd say learn about yeast and fermentation. That's where it at.

    The other thing is tweaking recipes. Right now that's harder for me then the process is.

    Lastly, don't be afraid to try new things. Many of those World class beers came by years of tweaking. And I imagine that would be both on the process side and the recipe side.

    And yeah, this is a cool mal-function err.. hobby.
  8. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,005) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Industry Beer Trader

    Without opening up too big a can of worms...shouldn't producing something truly world-class require more than simply a few years experience, tweaked recipes, and/or a dialed-in process. I mean, those things would make quality beer, but truly world-class...?
  9. OddNotion

    OddNotion Devotee (478) Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    What else would you suggest is needed?
  10. yinzer

    yinzer Initiate (0) Nov 24, 2006 Pennsylvania

    Well if it helps I started brewing at least ten years ago. It was a cycle of brewing/quitting, brewing/quitting, etc. And to tell you the truth I wasn't happy and I was also following much of the advice that I've see here. Then about a year and a half ago I started over. I started to do things that I was afraid to do before. The things that I rationalized away.

    Am I making World class beers? Looking at the top beers on BA it is a special list. Most of those beers have a special quality that will be hard to reproduce. But I think that would be for _anyone_ to reproduce. Could the Brother Micheal brew Heady Topper? Without the house strain? Okay, maybe that's not the best example but it's something to think about.

    But there is one thing I'm sure of. A lot of those brewers that make a World Class Beer, don't make all of their beers that would be World Class. I just made a GI BCS inspired beer that is better than I ever hoped. And I think that is what as homebrewers is a goal that we can all reach.
  11. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (2,784) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    “ …do you believe it is remotely possible to brew a beer that could stand up to some of the top 50 beers here on beer advocate?” I have an easy answer to that specific question, the answer is yes!

    I will be repeating what others have stated: you need to brew a lot of beers and it is indeed a journey. I bottled my 300th batch yesterday. Does it take 300 batches to get ‘there’? No, it is just as macandrewsRIP posted: “You will over the years produce some mediocre beers, some good beers, some damn good beers, and sometimes, every now and then produce a beer that will just make your jaw drop …” As you brew more and more the “jaw dropping” increases. What is needed here is the spirit to try different approaches and the extreme willingness to learn. You need to learn from your experiences but also you need to learn from others as well.

    I hope that the OP doesn’t find this insulting but 9 batches is basically nothing.

    Yinzer provides good advice in: “I'd say learn about yeast and fermentation.” As a brewer you make wort (which can be no mean feat) but it is the yeast which makes beer.

    So, keep brewing, keep tweaking, and keep learning.

    Herrburgess has not replicated Schlenkerla Marzen yet but there is no doubt in my mind that he will get there since he is the most hard headed person I know.:wink:

  12. NiceFly

    NiceFly Aspirant (275) Dec 22, 2011 Tajikistan

    We are brewing beer not ending worldwide famine.

    There is a relatively finite bit of science that goes into brewing. I am talking fermentation temp, pitching rate, water chemistry, things like that. If you can apply those then you can make quality beer. You can pretty much read a book or two or three and get all you really need.

    After that it is mostly emperical. Tweaking small percentages of grain and hop bills. Tweaking gravity and attenuation, which you can now do since you can apply the science. Choice of yeast, choice of carbonation level. Sure that takes time and a number of brews but if you were really intent on mastering a style it can probably be done on the order of months not years.

    Plus, most brewers are pretty forthcoming about their beers. Perhaps you do not want to clone the beer, but how the use the ingredients gives you and idea you can to achieve your goal.

    I have a few beers I brew that I would take the pespi challenge with other beers in style. Other that that I am usually trying new hops and whatnot. I cannot remember the last time I mixed and matched flavor and aroma hops but my next IPA will do just that.

    Cheers, and a sip of Damphbeir.
    YCantWeNotBeSober and barfdiggs like this.
  13. mikehartigan

    mikehartigan Aspirant (292) Apr 9, 2007 Illinois

    Yes, you can. One of the biggest mistakes homebrewers make, IMO, is to focus their energy on replicating their favorite commercial beer. It's cool if you can do it, I guess, but if I can go out and buy it, why would I want to spend the time and effort brewing it? Instead, figure out what it is you like about it and tweak it into something even better -- to your taste. Once you nail that, you've made a beer that is better than the seemingly elusive 'world class'. The best beer I've ever tasted was a homebrew. I might go so far as to say that 5 of my top ten favorites were homebrews (not all mine). Just like the best steak I've ever tasted was home cooked. The best chocolate chip cookie I've ever eaten was home baked. Etc, etc, etc. The biggest difference is consistency. The big guys can put out the same beer over and over. Homebrew (and home cooked steak, home baked cookies, etc) likely differ from batch to batch. Enough so that some batches are better than others. That's part of the adventure.

    When putting together a recipe, I decide what flavor profile I'm shooting for and just do it. I may have never tasted that particular flavor in any beer before; it's just something I want. And when I achieve it, it's almost surreal! I'm actually experiencing something that was a mere fantasy a few weeks earlier. You can't do that with commercially brewed beer (unless you're the brewer, of course).

    Stick with it. Hone your process. Figure out how to make the flavors that are in your head. Make the results predictable. Eventually, you'll find that you prefer homebrew to virtually anything you can buy.
  14. barfdiggs

    barfdiggs Initiate (0) Mar 22, 2011 California

    I really like this point. I was in a rut brewing beers I was unhappy with eight or so months back, listening to what people told me my beers should contain and how I should brew them. I was unhappy, and then, thankfully, I said f*ck it, and decided to take risks and brew beers the way I wanted to brew them, regardless of what was suggested/expected. Beer quality has went up drastically since then, including a five or six different beers that I would take over well respected/commercial beers in a heartbeat.
    utahbeerdude, SFACRKnight and NiceFly like this.
  15. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,005) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Industry Beer Trader

    For truly world-class beers, I think there are always intangibles. Be it Schlenkerla's/Augustiner's house maltings, (pre-1993) Urquell's water, Rodenbach's (and pre-1993 Urquell's) oak vats, Orval's hand-selected and specially-kilned malts, Cantillon's/Brussels' wild yeasts, Bell's proprietary house yeast strain, etc., etc., etc.

    EDIT: I basically agree, as well, with what many people here are saying: the best beers are ones that "happen" when you give up trying to clone your favorites and defy advice and/or expectations. I think this is likely what led to many of the truly world-class beers in the first place...but a lot of luck and ideal conditions contributed to producing these (very) rare examples as well, and IMO it's short-sighted to ignore this fact.
    utahbeerdude and hoplover888 like this.
  16. OddNotion

    OddNotion Devotee (478) Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    While those are some good examples, the majority of breweries out there that do nothing special other than use the same malts, hops, and yeast that are all available to us. I think it just takes time, learning your specific equipment, and learning your ingredients along with their interactions. Many professional brewers got their start as homebrewers and the successful ones certainly didnt make the jump to professional with subpar beer.
  17. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (2,784) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Mikehartigan has an excellent point: “One of the biggest mistakes homebrewers make, IMO, is to focus their energy on replicating their favorite commercial beer.”

    I recently made a Northern English Brown Ale that I decided to ‘kick up a notch’ with 1 lb. of Weyermann Smoked Malt and 1 lb. of Briess Rye Malt. I called it a Smoked Brown Ale. I suppose I should have called it a Smoked & Spicy Brown Ale? Anyhow, it was the best Brown Ale that I ever drank. Way better than any commercial Brown Ale that I ever drank.

    The beauty of homebrewing is that we can make anything we want. There is no need to stay within the confines of what is commercially brewed.

  18. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,005) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Industry Beer Trader

    Those things can absolutely produce great beer. As JackHorzempa, above, knows all too well, however, I reserve terms like "world-class" for only the most "exceptional" beers :wink:.

    p.s. Randy Scorby, who won Best in Show in the 2011 national homebrew competition for his Classic Rauchbier, had also been trying to get as close to Schlenkerla Maerzen as possible; it was only after he "gave up" and dropped the Carafa, upped the Munich, and threw in some Caravienne that he ended up with a great beer. I never tried his, but I brewed my own version of his recipe and ended up with my best Rauchbier yet. It's was nowhere near what I'd consider "world-class," but it tasted damn good to me. And that was good enough...but apparently not to some local judges, who dinged it for not being truly to-style at my one and only competition.
    utahbeerdude likes this.
  19. OddNotion

    OddNotion Devotee (478) Nov 1, 2009 New Jersey
    Beer Trader

    I guess I would need to try some more homebrew from others before I could judge one way or the other, but I do know I have had some (of my own as well as others) that I would have no problem paying that $10-$12 a sixer for. I would still say that many of those world class beers at some point or another have been made on the homebrew scale with those same ingredients. I am not saying every time its brewed itll be world class but I feel there are some out there that are.
  20. yinzer

    yinzer Initiate (0) Nov 24, 2006 Pennsylvania

    So you're the hard-headed guy? Good thing I got the heads up. I would never of guessed. [insert whatever smiley face to show that I'm kidding]

    I understand what you mean. But, in the examples that you've mentioned I find solace in that you aren't mentioning things like fermenting in a multi-barrel fermentor or other process things that we can't do. I think that we a HB'ers actually have more freedom than pro-brewers. Well, lets put a side that I can't buy a truck load of freshly dumped spirit/wine barrels. But with the fresh yeast, nitro packaged hops, etc - I think that we have become either the limiting factor or a non-factor. Basically (and as I spew this you might agree) that if you/I/we aren't making great beer, then we need to review what we are doing.
    mikehartigan, NiceFly and herrburgess like this.
  21. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,005) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina
    Industry Beer Trader

    Totally agree with what you're saying. Matter of fact, I have a SMaSH Classic Koelsch in secondary right now that is tasting as good as the Paeffgen I was lucky enough to drink my fill of while in Cologne over Christmas.

    Another thing that should not be overlooked is the freshness factor. If we stay on top of our processes and schedules (and purchasing!), we're basically drinking these beers in their ideal state of freshness -- which is something nearly no commercial brewer can consistently provide.
  22. sarcastro

    sarcastro Disciple (332) Sep 20, 2006 Michigan
    Beer Trader

    Can your homebrew achieve "world class" status? No. Can you recreate some of the beers you mentioned on the homebrew level. Yes. It's not magic. Will it be easy. No.

    I think it is more difficult with the barrel aged beers due to surface space of barrel / volume of beer, unless you are willing to spring for a full sized barrel. I personally didn't find Zombie Dust all that incredible and I dont think it would be hard to recreate.
  23. wspscott

    wspscott Savant (979) May 25, 2006 Kentucky

    I think you can definitely make a kick-ass beer. The hard part is being able to make it a second time :relaxed:
  24. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,255) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    It can be done.
  25. mnstorm99

    mnstorm99 Initiate (0) May 11, 2007 Minnesota

    I may still brew a dud, as I drink a weird IPA that is easy to say. But, with knowledge of the process and your system, as well as care for the yeast (still the #1 thing to grasp), world class is definitely achievable. Also, barrel (bourbon or otherwise) aged beers can be done perfectly without the barrel, which I think is fun but not needed.

    Oh, and to go along with my current dud I also have 7 bottles left of one of the best 3 barleywines I have ever had (commercial or homebrew), and I rarely ever brew big beers.
  26. mnstorm99

    mnstorm99 Initiate (0) May 11, 2007 Minnesota

    And, without that major expense to worry about if it doesn't turn out good.
  27. pweis909

    pweis909 Meyvn (1,453) Aug 13, 2005 Wisconsin
    Supporter Subscriber

    While my beers typically are inspired by commerical beers, I don't try to brew exact replicas, so they are different, and I doubt I would ever confuse my beer for the commercial example that inspired it. While I love most of the beers I brew, I would not consider myself a world class brewer. I do not have consistency dialed in, I do not know exactly how to brew a beer that will taste exactly the way I want it to taste, and I would guess that my packaged products don't have the stability of most commerical beers. But for the most part, I enjoy my homebrews as much as I enjoy commerical beers. Either that means I am discerning when it comes to my own beers, or I am doing something right. Since I used to not think I would every be able to brew beers that I enjoy, and now I do, I think I am doing something right.
  28. YCantWeNotBeSober

    YCantWeNotBeSober Initiate (0) Jul 27, 2012 Michigan

    Thanks for the encouragement and advice everyone. Being still young in the game I've got the rest of my life to learn and master the process. I agree with your comments that it is a learning process and you've given me a lot of good areas to focus on, and a lot of trial and error will help with that. It is a fun journey, regardless of a few bad batches every so often, and those once in a while batches that exceed your expectations make it all worth it.
    NiceFly likes this.
  29. AlCaponeJunior

    AlCaponeJunior Initiate (0) May 21, 2010 Texas

    My beers haven't been world class, but they're still damn good. I make beer to drink it, not to compare them to commercial brewers with far more resources and experience. However...

    One day I'll truly make a world class beer. It's possible that nobody else but my brother and a few friends may ever taste it. Even then, most of the people who drink my homebrew probably have never had a world class beer, so they'll have no reference to compare to. Thus, I may be the only one who ever knows. :sunglasses:

    I can live with that.
    jlordi12 likes this.
  30. premierpro

    premierpro Disciple (384) Mar 21, 2009 Michigan

    World class is a matter of opinion. I make a couple beers that I prefer over the best comercial styles, however others might not agree. I tweek my recipes untill I deem them a"keeper". Brew what you like to drink!
    NiceFly likes this.
  31. mikehartigan

    mikehartigan Aspirant (292) Apr 9, 2007 Illinois

    A 'world class' commercial brew represents the brewer's idea of what that beer should taste like. Since everybody's taste is different, even if you find one that you really, really like, odds are there's something about it that you would change if you could. Maybe Founder's Breakfast Stout could use just a touch more chocolate, or a slightly lighter body, or maybe HopSlam would put me into an endorphic trance even quicker if it was just a tad more bitter, or maybe a tad less. That's where homebrewing comes in. You have the power to make those tweaks and come up with something that exceeds what was once your ideal 'world class' beer. That's what it's all about. It's not simply making drinkable beer that you didn't have to run out for. It can, and indeed, frequently does, excel over commercial beers. And the occasional (and increasingly rare) failure makes the successes that much more enjoyable. I don't think I'd bother otherwise.
    utahbeerdude, MrOH and pointyskull like this.
  32. pointyskull

    pointyskull Disciple (309) Mar 17, 2010 Illinois

    If you're making beer you enjoy who cares if it's "world class" (whatever that may even mean).
    The amount tweaking that can be done to recipes and process seems infinite, so it's on all of us as brewers to find that magic spot. Perhaps not easy and obviously subjective, but I would think certainly do-able...
    GreenKrusty101 and jlordi12 like this.
  33. AlCaponeJunior

    AlCaponeJunior Initiate (0) May 21, 2010 Texas

    I like this philosophy.

    There is something about certain beers that makes them world class tho. Heady topper, Pliny, KBS... what is it? Is it quantifiable enough to figure out?* Or is there just some statistical likelihood that some beer is going to have to rate the best, and these happened to please more people (on average) than anyone else?

    And how can a homebrewer improve on PtE? (that one's definitely rhetorical, and should draw some interesting answers) :rolling_eyes:

    *that might be a rhetorical question, BTW
  34. udubdawg

    udubdawg Initiate (0) Dec 11, 2006 Kansas

    I've felt a touch depressed a few times when tasting something that I feel unlikely I'll ever equal. KBS and RR Temptation and a couple vintages of HOTD FFTW come to mind. But those days are few and far between, and I haven't thrown in the towel by any means.

  35. mikehartigan

    mikehartigan Aspirant (292) Apr 9, 2007 Illinois

    At the risk of getting too philosophical, you're setting unnecessary limits on yourself. Why would you want to simply brew beers that are equal to those you love? A race is won by beating the competition, not by tying it. I'm getting the sense that many homebrewers have their heads in the wrong place on this point. Frankly, this thread has been an eye opener for me. I started brewing with the full expectation that I could brew better beers than I could buy. It never occurred to me that I would have to settle for something less. I'm happy to say that it's happening with greater frequency as I gain experience. But that's what I expected, so it's not a surprise to me.
    jlordi12 and MrOH like this.
  36. udubdawg

    udubdawg Initiate (0) Dec 11, 2006 Kansas

    Hmm, I guess I don't see where I've set any limit for myself.
    I have made world class beer. I will make more of it. Making better beer than you can buy doesn't have to mean everything you make is better than everything you buy. I've also tasted homebrew and immediately thought "this person is a better brewer than I am right now"
    However there have been a few experiences where I've had, for lack of a better term, mind-blowing commercial beer that I am in awe of. Just ridiculous beer. "How the fuck did they do this?!?" beer. It seems unlikely that I'll ever match them to my satisfaction, but I'll repeat: I haven't thrown in the towel.

    there are no limits on my homebrew, but that's just, like, my opinion man.

    YCantWeNotBeSober likes this.
  37. dsal89

    dsal89 Disciple (331) Jul 6, 2008 Indiana
    Beer Trader

    I definitely think it is possible. A lot of newer breweries that make world class beer started the same way that you did
  38. mikehartigan

    mikehartigan Aspirant (292) Apr 9, 2007 Illinois

    When you said "I've felt a touch depressed a few times when tasting something that I feel unlikely I'll ever equal", I interpreted that to mean that merely equaling those beers was a goal. If that's not what you meant, then nevermind. :wink:
  39. WickedSluggy

    WickedSluggy Devotee (400) Nov 21, 2008 Texas
    Beer Trader

    Keep in mind that a homebrewer has the advantage of being able to brewing to his OWN unique tastes. If he loves ridiculously burnt flavors in an Imperial stout, he can add a ridiculous amount of black malt. The commercial brewer is not going to necessarily brew to your tastes. If a brewery claims "we brew what they want to brew and screw everyone who doesn't like it", their taste had better be sufficiently marketable or they are only going to be screwing themselves.

    That said, a well-informed and properly equipped/supplied homebrewer is as capable of brewing a world-class beer as the typical new microbrewery. This is no different from acknowledging that a home chef is capable of producing a gourmet culinary dish. It's simply a matter of knowledge and experience. Yes the typical brewmaster (or chef) is going to have more knowledge and experience than the typical homebrewer (or foodie), but there's nothing preventing the amateur from producing great things.
    OddNotion and rocdoc1 like this.
  40. mikehartigan

    mikehartigan Aspirant (292) Apr 9, 2007 Illinois

    Indeed! Consistency is the only substantive difference. And even that will improve with experience (just like it did for the brewmaster and the chef)
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