Friday, August 29, 2008

Fermentation Friday - The best is yet to come

There's a maxim that gets bandied about in homebrewing circles that goes a little something like this: "A batch of homebrew is ready when you've drank the last one." Whereas this smirking quip has its origins in the debate over the proper aging and conditioning of homebrewed beers, it could be taken on a philosophical level to mean something wholly other. What if rather than meaning that most folks often tap into the fruit of their labors while said fruit is still a bit on the green side, it was alluding to the Platonic conceit that exists on the periphery of all best-laid artistic endeavors?

Say, as you work your way through those hand-capped bottles over the course of a few months, that while the beer within those bottles is maturing, that you too are maturing, as an observer of the specific qualities of the beer. And as the facets reveal themselves in different lights like Hokusai's Mt. Fuji, that final sip from that final glass essentially closes the loop on your experience like a freehand outline of the ungraspable soul of the beer. [Note: This analogy has no bearing on the life cycle of the rancid, ropey, freaky infected messes of spoiled nastiness that can occasionally inhabit the homebrewer's domain.] While that outline succeeds in capturing a perfect reflection of the experience of the beer, Magritte would be quick to point out, "Ceci n'est pas une bière." It's but a mere picture of a beer. But could the beer get any closer to being done? Could you be any closer to finishing it? It floats out ahead of you like a faintly glowing ghost, illuminated by its very potential, brought to life by your relationship to its essence. It'll be done once you've finished tasting it, the Form of it up ahead in your mind's eye, perfect.

Now let's step back a moment. What else could finished mean? If we're talking about "the point at which it's reached conditioned maturity and optimal frame of time in which to drink it," we're essentially using it to connote the point at which the beer is at its best. That brings us to this month's Fermentation Friday topic: "What, in the opinion of others, is the best beer you have ever made and why?" In a macro view, taking our stance that a homebrewed beer is at it's best at the point when you've just run out of it (sound of one hand clapping, people!) to the next level, wouldn't the best beer you've ever made then be the next one you make?
With that in mind, it seemed appropriate to head down to the cellar and put a glass under the tap of the last batch of homebrew we've got here, a keg of witbier that managed to sputter and cough one final decent pour of cold, simple, tartly refreshing goodness before giving up its own ghost. When it was done, it was time for the best beer we'd ever made to come into being - if there's one step in the process of making one's own beer that's more enjoyable than tasting the product you've envisioned, it's this, the envisioning process itself.

Summer is on its way out. A beer brewed at this moment, of regular strength and bereft of complex procedures, would be ready for enjoying amidst the heaviest fall of dried leaves, slanting shadows of the oncoming lesser days, whipping winds signaling a change in the seasons, and unpredictably alternating moments of a summer's heated last gasp and winter's northern-borne chill. It's a seasonal season, if anything. The harvest is in full swing, and the thriving bursts of life that surround us in spring are turning into fruit that will either return to the ground, or be picked for our own nourishment. With that in mind, earlier this summer, knowing Des' attraction to the ephemeral nature of nature's olfactory bounty, I got her a still for her birthday. (Granted, the romantic qualities of such a gift are hard to compete with, but it should be noted that it's an essential oil distiller, so the hooch 'n moonshine act is still virgin territory.) One of the first things she distilled was the essential oil of lavender which prolifically blooms here in late June, which also resulted in large amounts of lavender hydrosol. There's a fascinating bit of transmutation that goes on when converting hard, obvious, symbolic items into the sensory element that singles them out in your unconscious mind. And with the seasons passing, catching a whiff of the recently expired elements of summer's headiest moments can be a bit of a timewarp. Bringing lavender into beer, though?

Like I mentioned before, whatever gets brewed at this moment will fall squarely into the hallows of late October's transitional, myth-evoking stage. It's a season, to be sure, but what does that mean in terms of a saison? The Oktoberfest concept is a little played out, and truly more evocotive of saying goodbye to summer than welcoming winter. This saison needs to be black. A black saison, hints of the last dry elements of the waning summer, caught up with hints of the dried flowers that accompany it, prepared to sit alongside a stormy night of power outages and Lovecraft readings or an Indian summer afternoon with quince tarts and farmhouse cheeses. Dry, bitter, not too strong, but not too easy.

So there you go. Here's the recipe.

I'll let you know how it turns out, when it's ready.

Many thanks to the Bunz over at the Panhandle Beer Snob and Redneck Brewery for hosting this month's Fermentation Friday, a monthly blogging carnival gathered around the topic of homebrewing, originated by Beer Bits 2.

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Blogger Mario (Brewed for Thought) said...

Nice post Rob. I have no idea what is going on with the chemistry set though, or what plant you pictured. Help me out.

And have fun this weekend.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Rob said...

The plant at top is some culinary lavender growing in our backyard, and the crazy chemistry set-looking contraption is the essential oil distiller that Des used to extract the lavender oil.

10:49 AM  
Blogger Bunz said...

Great post. It's evident you put quite a bit of consideration into it. Thanks for sharing.

1:50 PM  

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