Is Brewing Beer an Art Form? James Burge Explores the Argument

Pure Order Brewing Co. Presents: Lessons With The Brewmaster

Is brewing beer a form of art? I don’t really know the answer to this question but let's explore both sides of the argument.  While brewing beer requires creativity as well as the ability to push the limits on certain styles, there is a distinct scientific side to brewing that can’t be ignored.

Santa Barbara Brewery Tap Room

If you are the most creative brewer in the world but have no understanding of how wort is made or how yeast can be manipulated, you may get lucky at times but fail miserably most of the time.  Each style of beer has a set of guidelines it needs to adhere to according to the Beer Judge Certification Program Guidelines (BJCP) for judging purposes.

1. If the BJCP limits brewers to specific category guidelines for judging, does this limit the brewers artistic ability to place in there beer?

I know what you're thinking not all pale ales taste the same and I agree. However, if you read the guidelines they suggest that all pale ales, and other beers for that matter, must have certain flavor profiles, aromas, alcohol percentages, color, and mouthfeel. In some categories they even go as far as tell the brewer what hop must be used in order to place in a certain category.

2. So how can brewers be so limited in the beers they want to produce and still be proclaimed artists?

Well, if you keep reading the guidelines there are a few categories that allow some artistic flow in the brewing world for example: experimental ale, barrel aged beers, and so on.  

Both the scientific and artistic elements came into play when we created a speciality small batch Russian Imperial stout, "Sputnik" last month.

Both the scientific and artistic elements came into play when we created a speciality small batch Russian Imperial stout, "Sputnik" last month.

3. This is where it starts to get tricky. Is brewing an art?

I believe brewing is both scientific and artistic, and I am not trying to cop out here. You need to be skilled at both sides of the equation if you want to brew good beer.  History shows when humans first started brewing beer they had no clue what yeast, bacteria, co2, and mash temps were. It was all simply a big experiment, based on taste over time as the beer matured and became drinkable.

Here is where both the science and the arts come into play. I believe the early brewers (which were predominantly women) were brewing better beer than their neighbors were truly artists, as they had no science backing up their delicious concoctions.  They went on flavor and ingredients alone and repeated it time and time again.  

When Louis Pasteur first discovered yeast and bacteria he was trying to figure out why older beer tasted worse than fresher beer.  What is a simple answer for us today was a true breakthrough in the realm of science. He quickly discovered the older beer had more bacteria than the fresher beer. AND BOOM! Brewing beer becomes scientific.  

The scientific part of beer filtration in action at the Pure Order brewery.

The scientific part of beer filtration in action at the Pure Order brewery.

Nowadays breweries have a full yeast lab and they can tell you the exact IBUs there are in their beer. They can tell you the exact count of yeast cells going into the freshly brewed wort and they can tell you how many vols of CO2 there is in their finished product.  All in the name of consistency.  This goes for the artsiest brewery you can think of all the way up the chain to the larges darkest macrobrew out there.

So while brewing beer is an art, it also relies heavily on the science of the art. Without the element of art, we would not have the wide array of delicious craft brews, as well as the consistency of the macrobrews.

For more on our Lessons from the Brewmaster series go here.

Cheers!

James Burge, POBC