Open Source Brewing

In my last post, I mentioned that we’re going to be completely open with our recipes. To that end, I provided links to all of the posts on Mike’s blog detailing what we’ve done so far, and I also mentioned that we’re going to put a bounty on crowdsourced improvements to our recipes. This is what I call “open source brewing”, and I’m going to flesh it out a bit right here and now.

Here’s the Wikipedia (itself something of an open source project) definition of ‘open source’: “In production and development, open source is a philosophy, or pragmatic methodology, that promotes free redistribution and access to an end product’s design and implementation details.”

Open source is most commonly associated with software, but it’s kind of part of the craft beer ethos as well. Some breweries provide homebrew scale recipes for certain beers at the request of magazines or the occasional determined fan. Others treat their recipes as trade secrets, making employees sign non-disclosure agreements, and a few even go to great lengths to hide details like fermentation temperature from their own staff. No brewery that I know of makes a policy of posting all of their recipes. We will.

And we’re not just putting the recipes out there passively; we expect feedback. The real beauty of open source is that it allows for the collective intelligence of a community to create something better than any singular entity could achieve.

Mike is a fantastic brewer and recipe formulator, and I think I’m pretty good at judging beer. But even on our best days, we cannot muster a fraction of the intelligence, experience, and cleverness of the homebrewing hive mind. I also hope commercial brewers will participate, both by giving us feedback and advice and by releasing their own recipes. The more people that participate, the more valuable the collective knowledge becomes.

There are risks, of course. What’s to stop another brewery from simply copying our beer? Nothing and I hope they don’t, but due to some combination of confidence, arrogance, and naiveté, I’m not too worried. Knocking off a competitor’s product is common in other industries, but virtually unheard of it in craft beer. That may change as the industry gets more competitive and more unscrupulous people get into the business, but I think the benefits of open source outweigh the risks.

It’s important to distinguish between plagiarism and influence. No one pretends that musicians are free from influence, or that artists work in a vacuum. Brewers don’t either. The Amber IPA we’re working on was influenced by Troegs Nugget Nectar and Alpine Nelson. It doesn’t quite taste like a cross between the two, but it definitely would never be mistaken for either one. The hoppy wheat was influenced by Three Floyd’s Gumballhead and a general love of Citra hops (which are not found in Gumballhead). To me, this influence is perfectly natural and desirable, and I do in fact hope our recipes influence other brewers. Who doesn’t want to be influential?

(Note: I don’t think we’re yet at the extremely high level of quality found in the above-mentioned commercial beers, although it’s my goal to get us there.)

Aside from helping to build a free and open knowledge bank, what’s the incentive to participate in this scheme by offering us feedback? Modern Times is a commercial operation, so I think it’s valid that contributors would expect something other than just warm fuzzies.

So here’s how I’m thinking it’s going to work. If you contribute an idea in the early stages of recipe formulation (e.g. a hop variety to use, an adjustment in a malt bill, changes to water chemistry, etc…) that we end up adopting, we’ll invite you to participate in one of our tasting panels once we’re up and running. If you can’t make it out to the brewery, we’ll acknowledge your contribution for all to world to see in a suitably awesome way.

Once a recipe is in production, we’ll up the ante. If you bring us a homebrewed version of our beer that we like better than our own and provide details of what you did differently, we’ll invite you to brew the beer with us at the brewery. Suffice it to say, we’ll make sure you have a great time and are crowned king of Modern Times for the day. (Note: ABC rules are complex and greatly limit what we can do in this department, so all of this is subject to change.)

So what do you think? Is there a better way to do this? As always, comments and critiques—on everything—are greatly appreciated.

Comments

Saison II vs. …

Sat, 11/17/2012 - 06:50

[...] enough to sell in 16 oz cans! If these sorts of posts hadn't clued you in, we're taking a unique path on recipe secrecy. Spelt Session Saison III Appearance – Foggy pale yellow. Suspended overhead is a billowy, [...]

kevin gittemeier

Wed, 10/17/2012 - 05:23

I love the idea. It will be really cool to watch this all unfold. Best of luck to you and Mike.

Eric Magruder

Wed, 10/17/2012 - 09:26

Where can we find these recipes? I love to tinker, and would be really happy if I could help on some small level!

Eric.

Shawn

Thu, 10/18/2012 - 01:01

I think that's a fantastic way of going about it. Also, I think supplying your recipe is great as well... the recipe, as most home brewers know, is only maybe half the battle - process, water, luck, etc. makes up the rest of it, easily.

Sergey

Thu, 10/18/2012 - 04:29

To my opinion it’s great and innovative idea and reminds me how Linux was born by great minder Linus Torvalds and how it evolves. I think idea behind it similar to this: how many people that many opinions. Same for the beer recipes: Before I get known homebrew I knew 3-4 kind of beer and differentiate them by color, country and taste and Now I know that somewhat 87 and counting. Before I thought there is no such thing as American beer ( Bud, Coors, and the rest not count) and only know about Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada ( 8 years ago) but know I don’t have enough funds to buy beer I’m interested in and from brewery I’m following. I call it BIG BEER BANG 
in biero veritas, comrades 

Daniel

Thu, 10/18/2012 - 09:26

I've had a conversation along these lines with other home brewers on multiple occasions, and the consensus has been consistently the same. Homebrewers are DIY enthusiasts, and in my experience retain general disdain for commercial breweries that guard their recipes and make their methodology a trade secret. From my perspective, reproducing a commercial brewery's recipe is an homage, not an invasion of privacy or a misuse of proprietary technique. I look up to craft breweries because they have the means and the wherewithall to innovate. I respect their creativity and seek to emulate it, not steal it. If anything, I drink more of their beer when it engages my palette (and my imagination). I have been inspired by Mike and his blog for many of the same reasons. I'm certain your Open Source approach will win you more admiration than reproach.

HornyDevil

Fri, 10/19/2012 - 05:59

I'm a big fan of this open approach to brewing beer. It gives a nod to the roots of the your brewery (homebrewing) while still retaining the integrity of your business. Even if you give someone every single detail of how you brewed your beer, they will find it very difficult to reproduce it exactly. There are just too many variables to be accounted for. They might get close, but that's about it. In the end, though, who wants to reproduce a commercial product exactly? In doing so all you have done is created something that . . . well . . . has already been created by someone other than you. Inspiration is one thing and undoubtedly we, as modern brewers (both home and commmercial) have stood on the shoulders of giants, but who doesn't want to put their own unique stamp on something that they have make? As far as the recipe formulation side of things goes, maybe I'm a little jaded or stubborn, but I have a great distaste for too many cooks in the kitchen and am WAY more inspired by ingredients or techniques than I am by certain beers/end products. Might it be fun? Sure. Would I love to contribute? You bet. Those things being said, when you find a relationship/methodology/thought process that works, it is best to stick with it.

John

Fri, 10/19/2012 - 10:33

I love the open source approach! Living in the last place anything good comes in America (South Florida) I often only get a small glimpse of the greatness that is American craft brewing. In fact I had given up beer drinking for many years until work landed me in Colombus IN a few years back and we were fortunate enough to get Founders Breakfast Stout, a few different Three Floyds, and some Diesel stout from Powerhouse Brewing. My tastebuds reawakened I struggled to find many great beers available in my area. Homebrewing was the answer! Being able to brew the Pliny recipe that Vinny released allows me to drink great beer much more often. Iam also able to share the great tastes I find in my travels with local friends stuck here. I look forward to trying your great beers on future visits to SD and wish you great success in your endeavors!

Saison II vs. …

Fri, 10/19/2012 - 12:25

[...] One of a easiest ways to turn a improved recipe engineer is to separate batches. It allows we to ambience accurately what a certain part contributes. In this box we constructed 10 gallons of petite saison wort (Pilsner malt, flaked spelt, and a hold of corn) that we divided between dual fermentors. we pitched one with White Labs Saison II and a other with a recently expelled Saison III. Hopefully this drink evolves into a year-round drink for Modern Times, something uninformed adequate to sell in 16 oz cans! If these sorts of posts hadn’t clued we in, we’re holding a singular path on recipe secrecy. [...]

JohnE

Tue, 10/23/2012 - 04:15

First of all, as a homebrewer I now hate to drink anything if I don't know what's in it. Second, as a homebrewer, if I do try to replicate/improve on a commercial beer then I have to have plenty of control samples to taste alongside as my own beer ages or when I brew new batches, which means I still buy the brew that originally inspired me! So win-win for the brewer to be open with his or her recipe!

SFBuff

Tue, 11/20/2012 - 02:43

+1