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.