Beer is as old as human civilization, and probably one of the main reasons we as humans decided to settle down and become farmers. Upon that first taste of fermented grains and the effects bestowed upon the imbiber, humans have had a very intimate relationship with beer and the brewing process and realized they could not have this wonderful beverage by remaining hunters and gatherers. Everything from farming practices, plant genetics, religion and early tax codes were influenced by the production of grain and the malting and fermentation processes. At first beer was considered more of a food, rather than just a beverage that made you feel better (although that was a nice side effect). Being that early beer was laden with yeast, protein, minerals and vitamins, beer literally was liquid bread, and also a vital source of clean water due to the fermentation process. Beer was used as a means of paying common laborers as much as it was used in celebration in the halls of kings. Throughout history beer has played an important role in the shaping of our society and communities, and to this day it is still inspiring governments, corporations, and poets alike.
Until recently (recent being the last couple hundred of years), beer was mainly a cottage industry, brewed within the household or small community and consumed by those same people. There have always been exceptions to that rule, larger breweries have been around for a long time usually coinciding with a larger urban area (think London). With the advent of the industrial revolution and the harnessing of coal-powered steam engines (for the factories and the railways), breweries were able to exponentially grow and provide beer to an ever larger segment of the population. This one point in history can be looked at as the start of the decline of the original home brewing cottage industry. Sure there were households that held onto family recipes and continued to homebrew, and the rare small town brewery that was able to survive, but the majority of brewing switched to highly efficient, urban breweries producing millions of barrels of beer per year. This is essentially where we are today with a few exceptions. Anyone reading this blog who lives in America knows that up until the last ten or twenty years, beer in America was pretty awful. Gigantic corporations were and still are brewing beer that has no flavor or unique characteristics that are meant to appeal to a mass amount of people. Budweiser, Michelob, Coors etc… are all essentially the same piss water that most people think is beer. Thankfully, starting in the mid 1980’s and continuing to this day there has been a craft beer revolution. It started very small with breweries like Anchor and Sierra Nevada out west in California, Summit and Boulevard in the Midwest, and a handful of others throughout the nation. That revolution has now grown and you would be hard pressed not to find some kind of craft beer in your liquor store or local pub. For as welcome and wonderful as those well crafted, flavorful beers are, my preference in beer still lies with home brew.
I brewed my first ever batch of beer when I was a failing, eighteen year old college student. A friend of mine gave me some very basic home brewing equipment and ingredients, so I thought I would give it a try. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was eager to learn so I brewed up that first batch in the common kitchen in the dormitory basement. I fermented the batch that spring in my dorm room closest, flunked all my classes except for level one canoeing, and got a job on an organic CSA. I cracked the top off my first bottle shortly after that and was surprised that it actually worked. It tasted pretty good, had carbonation and I think I probably caught a buzz. I wish I could say that I have been brewing ever since, but sadly that is not the case. Through a number of moves, that original equipment was lost and about four or five years passed before I brewed again. Since then I have learned an awful lot about beer and some of the chemistry behind it, I have built up a nice collection of brewing equipment, and have developed a greater and more mature appreciation for the beverage we call beer. This is the first installment of posts that I am going to dedicate to that holy beverage and it’s production on the small, home brewing scale. Cheers!