Monday, June 2, 2008

Thoughts on brewcraft

I'm sitting here at my "desk" - the end of the living room table, in point of fact, since we're having trouble procuring furniture that meets our standards of both green and responsible, and not an aesthetic disaster - sipping one of the last half-dozen bottles of an ale I brewed a couple months ago. It wasn't a successful batch, in some ways; for one thing, it's a dark brown, but I don't think I'd really call it a stout or a porter since it's not very dry or toasty, so it's a bit of a bastard beer when it comes to style. For another, I really underhopped it, since I was improvising on the recipe and I didn't have a good feel for the hops I used. To top it all off, I also used the irish moss - a flocculant - and priming sugar wrong, so it's cloudy and supercarbonated. When I opened the first bottle and tried it, it reminded me strongly of really crappy albeit unsweetened root beer: brown, explosively bubbly, and, well, crappy.

It's matured for a couple of months now, however, and I have to say that at this point in time, it's really... not bad. I don't know if I would buy more of it from the store, but I'm happy to drink what I have left. It developed real character, and as the maltiness came out, the insufficient hops really seemed to matter less. The excess carbonation also seemed to bleed off a bit over time, perhaps owing to the flip-top bottles I used, so right now it's a nice, balanced, malty brew, and I don't even think I can really call it a failure in any fairness.

So what's the moral of this story? Well, first off, it's that beer is pretty good, even when it's bad.

More importantly, though, the moral is this: if you use decent ingredients, it's hard to make bad beer, even if you don't really know what you're doing. Really hard. You practically have to try to fail, since yeast is a prolific little organism that really likes sugar, and it doesn't like to allow any other organisms to share, so bacterial infections in the wort rarely prosper. Understand, then, that when you experience bad beer, you are being subjected to direct malfeasance. Good beer is pretty easy, so you'd better believe that when a major brewery releases a bad beer, they know what they're doing. They are insulting your taste and judgment as a consumer in order to make more money by using inferior ingredients.

Are you just going to take that? Thank goodness for the microbrew revolution.

For additional relevance, the megabreweries also promote deeply unsound industrial practices. You'd better believe they don't care where their grain comes from so long as it's homogeneous, which feeds a lot of money into irresponsible, fertilizer-heavy agriculture. They also, as anyone who is over the age of three and not blind and deaf must be acutely aware, voraciously exploit the American schizophrenic relationship with sex for their own profit in their marketing. In addition to simply being a bad cultural influence, there is no way that this practice could fail to increase the incidence of poor judgment in relation to consumption of alcohol and sexual behavior.

Drink good beer.

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