Free As In Beer But Not Free As In Speech

Stuart Harrison

Craft brewery Brewdog has announced it will release all its recipes for free. Beer geek, homebrewer and ODI Web Developer Stuart Harrison discusses why this is a positive move, and how Brewdog can make this even better


Brewdog. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, by Stuart Crawford.

Brewing is a wonderful thing. As someone who spends pretty much 50% of their life in front of a computer, it’s liberating to throw off the shackles of a laptop screen and spend time creating something with my hands.

It was no surprise then that my ears cocked up when Brewdog announced it was releasing all its recipes for free for homebrewers to try themselves at home.

This is an exciting move. We’ve already seen Stone release the recipe for their decomissioned pale ale, and Cloudwater put out a super-detailed blog about the process it went through when brewing version 1.0 of its DIPA, as well as a myriad of other one-off recipe releases, either official or unoffical.

Where this differs from previous recipe releases is that this is the first time (to my knowledge) that a brewery has gone all out and released all of its recipes, and Brewdog deserves a lot of credit for this.

That said, there’s something missing from this release which would have been the icing on the cake.

In my day job, I work at the Open Data Institute. Our mission is to connect, equip and inspire people around the world to innovate with data. One of our main aims is to help organisations – be they government or private – to release open data: data that anyone can access, use and share.

A major part of what makes open data truly open is the addition of an open licence. This clearly sets out what users can do with the data, with minimal restrictions (the only usual restriction to a truly open licence is that anything created with the data is released under the same licence).

While Brewdog’s release of these recipes is a real step forward for openness in the brewing industry, an open licence would have shown real guts and allowed brewers who wanted to brew and sell beer using their recipes confidence that they wouldn’t get sued.

“But why would they do that?” I hear you cry. “They’re a business, not a charity.” I totally get that, but not all licences are created equally.

If Brewdog released all its recipes under Creative Commons Zero – the least restrictive of all Creative Commons licences – breweries that wanted to brew a beer that harked back to the original golden days of Punk IPA could pick up the recipe, brew a beer and sell it quite happily.

However, if Brewdog released its recipes under a Creative Commons Attribution licence, the brewery would have to put some kind of attribution notice on its labels, acknowledging where the recipe came from.

Even better, if it gave its recipes a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike licence, not only would the brewery have to attribute Brewdog, it would also have to share the recipe it itself used, along with any changes it made along the way. This would create a buzz around the recipe, allowing others to tweak, change and brew along the way – all the while releasing its recipe under the same licence.

The brewing industry has as much to gain from transparency as software

This transparency could end up improving the brewing industry for the better, with breweries tweaking, sharing and making things better. This has already been seen in the software world. Most of the Internet and World Wide Web would have been impossible without open source licences that allowed people to share code and collaborate.

This has actually already been tried. The Free Beer project started a few years ago, with breweries around the world brewing an openly licensed beer, including St Austell in the UK. This was a fun experiment, but it would be great to see a major brewery throw their hat into the ring and openly license all their beers. When we make things open, we make things better.

Stuart Harrison is a Web Developer at the ODI. Follow @pezholio on Twitter.

This blog post was originally posted on Stuart’s personal blog – check it out if you’re interested in all things beer-related.