Serendipity is discovering something you were not looking for. In my brewing, I often experience serendipity when browsing spice shops, farmers’ markets, gourmet food aisles. It’s the experience of finding exactly the right ingredient for a beer even when I don’t even know I’m looking. Example: I’m asked to brew a beer for a Cajun-themed Christmas party. I’ve come up with two ideas, one for an “Imperial” English brown finished with chicory called Voulez-Vous. The other is a departure from style inspired by an idea for something Cajun and spicy, a blackened pale ale. The base for this beer is Colorado Malting Co. pale malt, crystal 120L and just enough Midnight Wheat to darken it, plus brown sugar at the end of the boil for an OG of 1.063. My hops are Columbus, Amarillo and Willamette for the finish at 42 IBU. And the base is good – a brew I will do “straight” but given the “Cajun” theme, something is missing, a certain, pardon my terrible French, je ne sais pas. First thoughts were tincture of cayenne and black pepper in cheap vodka, added to taste. Yuck. Burn but not the right flavor. Next idea was to add some shrimp boil I picked up from Savory Spice – glad I didn’t do that test. Then by chance I dropped into a spice shop and started sniffing stuff. I was looking for dried bitter orange rind for a Wit but no luck. Then I moved to the dried peppers. A brewer in Louisiana recommended chiles d’arbol, so I sniffed some. Not quite what I was looking for. Dried chilies, no joy. Then my nose wound up in a jar of dried chipotle peppers and the connection was immediate! This was it, a smoky-peppery nose and flavor. It took some experimentation to find the right dilution, the one-gallon batch was way hotter than I wanted but with just the right smoke and pepper flavor, the blackened pale ale went from a good beer to a great one. The final version will use smoked malt, mild, roasted Poblano peppers and maybe one or two dried Chipotles for a little bit of burn in the finish, great with some boiled crawfish. Spice shops provide inspiration. Farmers’ markets are a great source for ideas. The clearance aisle at Home Goods provides me a source of unusual fermentables – my shelves always have agave nectar, some exotic sugar, a spice I picked up on a whim. Your nose is your instrument – sniff everything. Imagine pairing food with a beer then imagine that flavor in the beer. Taste fruits, vegetables, spices, both cooked and raw. Learn what your grains taste like. Taste your wort. Make an error to learn what a flaw smells and tastes like. Brewing is a hedonistic experience so experience it with all your senses. Experiment and play. One gallon batches are great because if the beer is a total flop, it’s easier to pour out ten bottles than fifty- more on one-gallon brewing to come. Use recipes for inspiration, for points of departure, change them up, add an unusual ingredient and maybe create something new and uniquely yours. Having done that twice this summer, once with inspiration from my local microbrewery and once starting with only a concept, it’s the most rewarding brewing I’ve done.