Saturday, 21 October, 2000

On Homebrewing Beer

Debra and I started brewing beer about three years ago.  It's perfectly safe and legal—distilling liquor without a license is illegal and potentially dangerous, but fermenting is legal with some restrictions—and the result can be quite good.  Some of the best, and certainly the most interesting, beers I've tasted have been homebrew.

Brewing beer requires patience.  You boil the ingredients, cool the result, add yeast, and wait.  And wait.  And wait some more.  It'll take anywhere from three to six weeks before you can drink the stuff you brew.  The time required is mostly dependent on how much fermentable sugar is in the mix, and the type of yeast you use.  Generally, more sugars makes for more time (and a beer with a higher alcohol percentage—waiting does have its benefits).

There's not much you can do to speed the fermentation process.  You can try adding more yeast, but you run the risk of overpitching, resulting in a subtle off-flavor termed yeast bite.  You can also increase the fermentation temperature, but yeasts are a little picky.  If you get outside the yeast strain's temperature range, you'll produce chemicals that lead to off flavors.  If you get the temperature too high, you'll kill the yeast.

Does that sound like a software project to you?  The more complex the project, the longer it'll take.  You can add programmers to reduce the time required, but at some point adding another programmer actually increases the time and can also lead to lower-quality code.  You can increase the heat—make the programmers work longer hours—but at some point you'll burn them out and kill the project.

Viewing a software project as a biological process is something I'll have to ponder.