Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Free Beer*; Why the open source recipe movement is a joke

Now that I have your attention, let's discuss a movement. They say the best beer you can get is the one you get for free. Today while browsing the internet, I found out that I could get FREE BEER* (and you can get some too!) (*Free as in free speech). Free Beer is the "first brand of beer with a 'free' recipe", to which I call shenanigans. Let me tell you why this movement is rubbish.
Free Beer
Aside from the name being incredibly misleading, the product itself is very lackluster. Let's take a look at the "free" recipe they have listed on their website. They appear to be on version 4.0, contrary to the banner I found on their website.
FREE BEER VERSION 4.0, SEPTEMBER 2008, Codename: SKANDS
(19 L, ALL-GRAIN) OG = 1.054 FG = 1.014 IBU = 32 SRM = 19 ABV = 5,1 %)
INGREDIENTS
MALT:
3,8 kg Maris Otter (3,0 SRM)
800 g Munich Malt (7,1 SRM)
200 g Crystal Malt (66,0 SRM)
100 g Brown Malt (95,4 SRM)
80 g Carafa Special Type III (710,7 SRM)
HOPS:
7.48 AAU Northern Brewer hop pellets (FWH.)
(25 g of 8.5% alpha acid)
2.92 AAU Williamette hop pellets (7 min.)
(15 g of 5.5% alpha acid)
SPICE:
35 g Guaraná berries
Crush Guaraná beans and infuse in 1 quart of hot boiled water (max temperature 78 °C).
Filter the mixture and add to the boiling wort the last 15 minutes.
YEAST:
London Ale (White Labs #WLP013)

First off, the whole recipe is in metric measurements, so without taking the time to do proper conversions, I can't make it. The project was started by students from Copenhagen, meaning the recipe is inherently Danish. What good Danish beer exports have been brought to US soil? I have never seen Carlsberg in any shop I have been to. This project was introduced back in 2001 when the number of independent breweries in the United States was around 1,500. Now in 2013 we have at least 1,000 more in the country. I don't think our country has a problem with variety any more.

The whole point of the project is to encourage people to be able to use an open source recipe as a brand. Congratulations on your innovation Danish students, but I can point you to many homebrew recipe websites. I even list a variety of the recipes I wrote to make my homebrew, you can use them too. Additionally, your recipe is extremely gimmicky. Even though I am a sucker for gimmicky brews, the gimmick here is crap. Free Beer is a dark ale with added Guaraná berries. Guaraná berries are from a plant native to Brazil which contain nearly twice the amount of caffeine as coffee beans. I do not understand the fascination with caffeinated alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is a depressant while caffeine is a stimulant. Why would any brewer want to make their drinker experience both feelings at the same time? It was popular with the infamous Four Loko (which also uses Guaraná berries!), but regardless the FDA doesn't even approve of them. In 2010, they sent out a notice to breweries making caffeinated alcoholic beverages telling them that caffeine as an unsafe additive to alcoholic beverages. So why does Free Beer still use the berries in the most recent recipe? I cannot say why, but it's probably because Denmark doesn't abide by the FDA. 
Free Beer in my own apartment
I too can make a "free" beer. The part that costs money are the ingredients
The first renditions of Free Beer were littered with problems too, as the recipe did not list boil times for hops or yeast varieties. Homebrewers during that time were disturbed by the recipe and the attitude of the project leader. According to Rasmus Nielsen, one of the developers of the beer, the beer was used to convey the message of "dogmatic notions of copyright and intellectual property that are dominating our culture." I think this notation would apply more to soda brands instead of beer. I know that Anheiser-Busch and Miller yeasts are secret and proprietary, but I don't think anyone would want to try to replicate light lager, especially since the process of making them is actually difficult to do as a homebrewer. Anyone can make better tasting beer than the macrobreweries without even trying. Many craft breweries actually make some of their ingredients known or even release recipe guides to making 5 gallon batches so homebrewers can attempt to replicate. Five gallon recipes do not scale directly to full scale production size, so the process (and potentially the flavor) is inherently different on the two different levels.

Although the Free Beer project might have seemed like a good idea to the Danish students, the idea and implementation has been lacking. Homebrewing has served as a "free" way to express ones own brewing and beer tastes. If a homebrewer likes a recipe, he'll brew it. He isn't bound to some slightly changing recipe involving Guaraná berries in the boil. If Free Beer was any better, maybe they could actually setup their own brewery and sell the beer made from the recipe (That would defeat the whole idea of course). Oh and enjoy the recipe I posted, free of charge and speech. Anyone can read a recipe, but not all can replicate the process.

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