Jan 25 2012

Are You an Engineer or an Artist?

I love how science and art come together in the brewing of beer. You need to have your technique down and your calculations correct in order to make great beer. You, also, need creativity to pair together the right flavors and aromas to make a beer transcendent. But just like “right-brained” and “left-brained” people, we all favor one or the other. There must be a dominant side, right?

Which way do you lean? Are you an engineer or an artist?

I wandered across this idea when I recently took a tour of the Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon. The tour was fantastic, and I have nothing but good things to say about them, their process, and their beers. Breweries the size of a Deschutes put a lot of money and time into insuring that their beers taste exactly the same from one batch to another, and that all of their customers are getting the same, quality beer. It is a difficult task and certainly an important one. Like many big, craft breweries, they test through sensory training and their own lab. A wildly inconsistent product can be the undoing of any company, in any industry.

Commercial breweries obviously need engineers in order to maintain that sort of consistency.  This isn’t to say that an artist can’t thrive in a production brewery, but I’m guessing those brewers need to recharge their artistic batteries with one-off beers and collaborations from time to time.

So, let me oversimplify the engineer and the artist:


The Engineer

The Engineer is the brewer that always hits their numbers. They are always looking for better ways to improve their process. Faster, more efficient, leaner. They want to know how everything works. If you turn away, for even a moment, they are taking things apart and putting them back together again. They are forever doodling schematics and looking for the closest whiteboard. They make all of their equipment, and their rig is cooler than anything you could buy. They can take your recipe and make a better beer than you by pure brewing skill. If you ask them a simple question, they will give you a three hour response, and they will become more excited with each passing moment of the description. They take amazing notes, and they can always pinpoint where things went right or awry.

But… they don’t always have the most inspired recipes, if they can write them at all. They often depend on other people to taste and evaluate their concoctions. They can brew astonishing beers, but they can’t describe them in a way that makes you actually want to drink them. Wild yeast and sour beers freak them out. (There are too many variables. Too much that is out of their control.) They are not patient. They make all of their equipment, and it can look like some Frankenstein’s monster shit. They don’t understand that beers can be technically perfect and still suck. They make the same beers over, and over, and over. And give them version numbers.


The Artist

The Artist is always coming up with great ideas. Although they occasionally strike out, they generally blow you away with their beers and their illogical flavor and aroma combinations. They make brewing look easy. Like a zen art. They don’t become obsessed with perfection. They are infinitely patient and can age beers to perfection. They love the mystery and they have the parenting skills to brew wonderful wild and sour beers. They get the big picture of beer. Its place in history, and the greatness it can inspire.

But…despite making wonderful brews, they always hate their own creations. They can never make the beer that they dreamed up in their head. Their brewing process is a zen art, and learning how to brew from them, or replicating their methods, is impossible. They get bored easily and can burn out. Good luck trying to get them to make the same beer twice. They can be horrible collaborators, always want their way, and refuse to compromise. They put more time and effort into naming the beer and creating the label they made for the bottles, than the recipe and the actual brewday. They take terrible notes, if they even take notes at all. You will never get a recipe from them that makes any sense whatsoever. All of their beer has a certain house flavor that you are going to either love or hate.


What now?

Well, you probably don’t match either of those descriptions exactly. We are all far more complex than an overly simple Myers-Briggs, but one of them sounds a little more like you than the other.

Do you try to consciously change your methods and tendencies in order to become more centered? Do you try to surround yourself with people who are your antipodes and, therefore, would be complimentary? Do you just stick with your strengths (and weaknesses) and carry on with a slightly better understanding of yourself?

What will you do?