Friday, May 30, 2008

Homebrew Blogging Day #1 - On the origin of cerevisiae

Not just any cerevisiae, mind you, but cerevisiae of the home-brewed persuasion. That's the little blogging Beagle we're boarding, begat by Beer Bits 2, the launch of a new monthly groupthink that's putting the emphasis on the "home" aspect of brewing, a neat parallel to Stan Hieronymus' exponentially popular Session group. And, christening that voyage is the question that lies at the heart of the matter, the question of how we all got around to mucking about with DIY malt fermentation to begin with.

The funny thing about cozying up to scribble out an essay on a topic of someone else's choosing is that you can find yourself experiencing a bit of déjà vu, considerably so if you're as much of a rambling and redundant writer as I am. But the clarion call of the carnival is just too seductive to resist, so I'll try to follow this month's topic with as little repetition as possible from this earlier post. But first, a recipe:

(Click for larger beer-stained image.) My good friend Alex recently informed me that my induction into formal beergeekhood occurred when I caught the homebrew bug, no sooner, no later. Dark, dark years of suffering followed. There was doomsday doppelbock. There was the mysteriously "sweet 'n' sour" beer. There were unidentified floating chunks lurking in carboys. There was rope. On the other end of the tunnel, or the "green grass" side of history, if you will, it all seems worthwhile, as it's now been years since we've made anything other than (dare I say) delicious-ish, pat-yourself-on-the-back, honest-to-goodness, don't-nitpick-the-flaws beer. Had you sampled the "beverage" that resulted from the virgin brewing attempt based off the above recipe, you wouldn't have bet on it.

We still drank it, though.

If you can smile when the food's that burnt,
the beer must be pretty good.*

It's a small, charming coincidence that this subject has arisen with Father's Day on the horizon, as my father can take full blame for the homebrewer in me - if not only for his effective branding on the olfactory development of my impressionable nervous system à la the McDonald's Happy Meal by introducing me to home-brewed beer in my youth, but also for the fact that he presented a bored, bookish kid with a funky little home library to peruse which happened to contain within it my introductory text on the subject. Besides John Barth (Giles Goat Boy, The Sot-Weed Factor), Hunter S. Thompson (Hell's Angels, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas), and Graham Greene (The Quiet American, Brighton Rock), Byron Burch† was in good company with his 1975 edition of Quality Brewing: A Guidebook for the Home Production of Fine Beers‡ nestled neatly betwixt them. Cracking the spine on that delightfully rudimentary and debatable text conjured up distinct (and most likely false) memories of the home-brewed beer I remembered from my earliest youth: the crispness of the carbonation, clarity of bitterness, warm golden hue, and grassy, floral aroma. In retrospect, I'm all but certainly recalling the taste of the first German pilsner I ever tasted as a tiny wee one - not my dad's homebrew - but one can never be sure when it comes to things like that.

My father's inspiration for homebrewing came from his intention to recapture the taste of the German lagers that sustained him for his time stationed in Frankfurt, hence my hybridized recollections. Interestingly, pilsner is one of the only major classic styles we've never attempted, mostly out of reverence to the standard of quality that I'd be embarrassed to approximate (and only slightly due to the chills of terror I still get in remembrance of the sole triple decoction mash fiasco/experiment/failure we endured). Regardless of the differences of between our personal beer preferences, however, there aren't many more ardent supporters of my little hobby than my father, a man who unembarrassedly proclaims each new concoction the new unbeatable best, and who I can also thank for the real reason why I've immersed myself in this subject: for instilling in me a true passion for food, the notion of the kitchen as the soul of the home, and the act of creating and sharing§ food with others as the ultimate act of love. Around here, brewing is part and parcel with cooking, which in turn is inexorably linked to the table, whereby the most primitive, basic, soulful community- and family-buidling exercises take place, through the act of breaking bread. I owe my father for ingraining the importance of the communal table into my psyche, and for reminding me that when you sit at that table, you best be enjoying some damn fine food and drink with your company. So take that as your obligatory (and early) Father's Day toast||.

* And yes, that's a grill loaded up with beer can chicken.

And as for Byron, he's still doing his thing in Santa Rosa with The Beverage People, taking awards for homebrewed mead and selling cheesemaking molds via catalog.

Inside that book was the yellowed business card of one mister Steve Norris (anyone know whatever happened to him?), with the address of a homebrew shop in the Outer Sunset, who guided me through that initial gear-buying spree, recipe formulation, and failsafe instruction guide. And despite a couple items that might induce a chuckle from the more experienced brewers out there ("full" body!), though, there's truly not much that's changed in what goes into making a West Coast pale ale since 1995.

§ If there's a unifying characteristic of the homebrewers I've had the pleasure of meeting, a sense of sharing has got to be it. That's why never make less than 5 gallons at a time...

|| A toast which will this year be raised with glasses of hefeweizen which might break my streak of "unbeatable bests". Beer-and-tear-stained scanned recipe to follow.

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Blogger Adam said...

Amazing! This is why I read your blog :-)

10:48 AM  

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