Frequently, I reflect on the fact that, as humans, we are recipients of a long line of trials and errors. Whether we recognize it with tacit actions, implicit understanding, or vocal acknowledgment, most everything we take for granted is a result of failed attempts or raging successes that have gone before us. With the increase of technologies and the results of industrialization, this fact is, at the same time, truer and more illusive than ever. There is simply more and more for us to take for granted. Sometimes late at night a thought like this will occur to me. Often times, thoughts like these come home to roost when I’m doing something that involves beer.
While roasting my own cocoa beans the other night, I realized that it was not an easy thing to do. That chocolate bar that we grab is not easily processed. I wanted to put some cocoa beans in a brew that I was making, so I heated the oven and started going. (I read up on it, so I’m over-simplifying.) I worked on those things for about 30 minutes or so and realized that I over-cooked them slightly. The cocoa flavors were there but so was a touch of bitterness and a smoky quality.
The whole process got me thinking about the nature of trial and error. Error can be a great thing because it’s a building block for the next trial. I learned what I did wrong and expect a better result the next time.
Why do I mention all this? How many attempts did it take to isolate a yeast strain? How many trials and errors did it take to arrive at a certain flavor profile or grain type? How many batches of grain were burnt, undercooked, or otherwise ruined because of trial and error? What sorts of happy accidents occurred as a result of an unplanned error? I think the answer to all these questions is…a lot.
I put those cocoa beans in my beer. Why? I thought they were imperfect but useable. In some ways, that’s why I keep brewing beer. I never have a perfect recipe. Never have I found “the beer.” I am personally the collective sum of all my trials and errors… and I’m a better brewer for it.
However, this is not all introspective and existential. Sure, I’m proud of the growth I’ve made. Yet I still have to remind myself that I’m the recipient of the shared trials and errors of thousands upon thousands of brewers. Every time I roast a bean, use some grains, sip a beer, pitch some yeast and literally work with hundreds and thousands of other aspects of beer, I’m sharing in the trials and errors of my beer brethren. Cherish your beer!