Free as in beer, not as in software

28 July 2005

Must be a slow news day or something – the story about Open Source beer banging around various weblogs and linklogs I read. Okay, so the idea is great, make a beer recipe with a Creative Commons share-alike licence which people can download, use for free, make derivative works, etc.

But, it’s nothing more than a crappy gimmick. For starters, the recipe they have isn’t that much more informative about making beer than what’s currently available in the public domain, or on other websites (this brewing site, which I found while Googling, looks quite interesting, and is far more informative). More importantly, the knowledge required to brew beer successfully is not the kind that benefits from an open-content licence; it’s highly complex and often quite tacit – what the different strains of yeasts, varieties of grain and their carbohydrate content, the time of year and ambient temperature, the complicated business of sterilising containets – all these factors are quite hard to get a handle on and to make things worse, the complexity increases once you start combining them.*

These things are hard to spell out exactly. To publish a beer recipe is an amusing diversion, but on its own, it’s about as informative as posting source code without comments, if not worse – all the information of any use is outside the grasp of the written word.

* I am not a brewing expert; however my father used to be quite into making wine, sherry and later on, mead, and I suspect many of the problems he encountered similarly apply to the beer industry.

5 Responses


Wasn’t this gimick tried already with Open Cola about 3-4 years ago?

Agree its a gimmick. But liked the idea. It got emailed around the office as a way to explain what “open source” was.

Sometimes ideas need repeating…!

Andrew Duffin

You’re right, their recipe is crap.

Mash at 55-60C? Well in brewing terms that is quite a wide range. 60C will seriously affect some of the enzymes involved. There will be a noticeable difference between a beer mashed at 55C and one mashed at 60C. It actually matters.

And what the hell are Guarana beans? Don’t these people know beer is made from malt hops water and yeast and NOTHING else? (Unless you’re a big-name UK fizzbrewer, in which case anything goes).

The beer recipe does very little to explain what “Open Source” means – OS isn’t just showing everyone what the source is, but allowing it to be reworked, hacked about with, integrated with other products and so on. And it could be argued this happens with recipes (in food, at least) as a matter of course; AFAIK no chef has sued another for a reworking of one of his recipes, partly because the most vital expertise is never written down.

Incidentally, the addition of guarana is a hack/modification of sorts, but not a very good one – Guarana is that Brazilian stimulant (caffeine amongst other things) that’s in a lot of energy drinks now, ostensibly to mitigate the effects of alcohol. Of course, caffeine does very little to actually sober people up, and in fact often makes the effects of alcohol much much worse; I’d definitely recommend not mixing it with beer.

The recipe itself doesn’t. The BBC article does…