Beer brings people together: Obama, homebrewers, and online communities

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Open source beer

In my favorite open source quote, Richard Stallman explains that "Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand that concept, you should think of 'free' as in 'free speech,' not as in 'free beer'." 

However in the past week, I've begun to question the validity of this explanation. In fact, I would argue that free software is exactly like free beer. 

In the past few days, much of the talk in the open source community has been about open source beer. From the Yeastie Boys to President Obama's White House Honey Ale, beer has been a popular subject (well, more popular than usual).

It turns out that the home-brewing community has been thriving off open source principles for quite some time. According to The Powerbase, "The idea of sharing beer recipes with others is nothing new. Homebrewers have been doing this since, well, forever. The home brewing community has always been very open to sharing, and for many people, swapping and improving recipes is the whole thing about it." 

Last Wednesday, open source homebrewing got a lot of press. In an impromptu AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit, President Obama answered 10 questions that users asked. One of the Redditors asked about the recipe for the homebrewed White House Honey Ale. The president replied, "It will be out soon! I can tell from first hand experience, it is tasty."

Of course, the open source community gets excited any time the White House decides to open source a project. It could be their petition platform We The People or their favorite beer recipe. Even if it's just as simple as a beer recipe, it is definitely a step toward openness. The question and answer session was so popular that it "brought the site to its knees", reported CNET.

The Yeastie Boys Digital IPA has also been frequently tossed around in conversations in the open source community over the past few days. To describe the beer, the Yeastie Boys' website states, "Just as the term digital is all about zeroes and ones, the concept of IPA is all about malts and hops."

This beer stands out from other homebrews because the Yeastie Boys cleverly put QR codes on the bottles that link to the recipe, so you can try the brew yourself. They also link to different forms of social media so fans can easily share their tweaked recipes.

Some people are even publishing their beer recipes under Creative Commons licenses. Free Beer posts their recipes under a CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 license and explains that anyone is free to use the recipe and earn money off the beer, but they must publish the recipe under the same license and credit the original source. Their site allows you to download a Free Beer label to display on your bottles, and features a blog with pictures of the bottles around the world.

Even at Red Hat, the open source homebrewing community is thriving. We have an entire list-serve dedicated to our homebrewers, and it's filled with threads of different brewing recipes and tips. Occasionally, they even bring their finished products into the office for a tasting.

So perhaps it's time for Mr. Stallman to update his quote. What would you change it to? And have any of you tried homebrewing? We'd love to hear any tips or recipes. More importantly, we will also gladly taste test any samples. You know how to reach us…

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Casey is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism. She spends too much time perusing social media sites, and she's especially fascinated by open source startups. twitter: @caseybrown_


Just signed the petition:

It's out!

Sadly, for the record I must point out that Richard Stallman doesn't like beer! I have attempted to buy him suds, to no avail.

Thrilled that the recipe has been released. True to open source form, I brewed this over the weekend, making a few modifications based on preference or equipment restrictions:
- I brew all-grain, so I converted the extracts to mashable grain.
- Could assume that "amber crystal" means mid-range crystal malt (eight of the first ten Google results for "amber crystal" direct you to the White House recipe, so not a common ingredient name), but took the inspiration and used amber malt, instead.
- Used honey from the local Farmer's Market. With more time, I'd like to source the honey from the open source community, as we have several Red Hatters with honey bees.

Chatting with some fellow homebrewers at Red Hat, everyone has interpretated the recipe differently. I am very interested in trying everyone's versions and incorporating some of their ideas into my next batch!

The amber crystal might be Crisp's amber malt, or Weyermann's CaraAmber. But, the CaraAmber is actually a biscuit malt as well so it would seem redundant. I will publishing a BeerSmith file to Bull City Homebrew's website when I figure it out.

We compiled a few different versions of the recipes. There should be at least 2 on the website. Feel free to spread them around or modify them.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.