I’ve needed to get this off my chest for awhile. A bee in my bonnet, so to speak.
Mead is at long last becoming a popular thing in the US, growing in the same way cider has been growing, particularly at brewpubs and among craft brewers in regions otherwise known for prowess in the fermenting arts. The trouble–as with cider, only worse because mead hasn’t had Strongbow and Woodchuck holding it up commercially for the last ten years–is that nobody knows a damn thing about it. Including, it seems to me, a lot of the people brewing it.
Mead is, or should be, a wonderful thing, sublime I dare say, magical even. Mead can be complex with rich mouthfeel like a port, but lighter-bodied and prettier. It can smell delicate and amazing, like all the flowers in the honey it was made from. It can send both palate and pate into flights of hyperbolic fantasy unknown since the age of bards and heroes.
Or it can be sickly-sweet, cough-syrupy, overpowered and unbalanced with ridiculous, unnecessary additives by well-intentioned brewers who as best I can understand don’t actually know what mead is supposed to taste like.
What’s it supposed to taste like? Read more
I bought and saved up beers over a couple months until I had 24 bottles of really good Michigan beer. I muled it (legally) over international lines. Then Scott, Raj and I and a crowd of other writers sampled and shared them all weekend alongside Toronto microbrews liberally provided by con staff, hotel bar and friends.
- Mill Street Organic, Toronto – a yellow lager, meh
- Steam Whistle Pilsener, Canada – very nice, crisp and authentic-tasting
- Frankenmuth Pilsener, Michigan – Not quite as authentically German-style but I like it
- Arcadia Loch Down, Michigan – a very nice scotch ale, 7% alcohol, round, easy drinking
- Bells Double Cream Stout, Michigan – reviewed earlier by Scott, decent but not mind-blowing.
- Growler of IPA from some local Toronto brewpub – spicy, earthy, citrusy, medium bitter, a kitchen sink IPA
- Smithwicks – Not nearly as good as the Arcadia scotch ale.
- Rickard’s Red, Molson – Not bad. Middle o’ the road.
- Bells Cherry Stout – We love the sour/stout combo. This as far as I’m concerned is the exemplar.
- Founders Breakfast Stout, Michigan – the gold standard
- Pilgrim’s Dole Wheat Wine, New Holland, Michigan – a huge 12% alcohol wheat wine with currant, plum flavor notes. Amazing, but would have been 100x better if I’d aged it 3 years first.
- Dark Horse Blueberry Imperial Stout, Michigan – The blueberry is almost all in the nose, so not quite a sour stout but still delicious.
- Mill Street Coffee Porter, Toronto – A tiny bit too much coffee for me in a porter this light.
- Atwater Block Bourbon Barrel Porter, Michigan
- A different growler of IPA from some local Toronto brewpub – Super-citrusy, aggressively bitter, a bit much for me but nice to sample.
- Motor City Brewing Works Hard Cider, Detroit – Best Detroit area cider I’ve had, dry, strongly effervescent, acidic, strong in tannin, with funky earthy notes from the yeast. Must buy more….
- 2012 Hot Pepper Chocolate Stout, my homebrew – This one had a pepper in the bottle, very fiery indeed
- 2011 Sweet Fern Scotch Ale, my homebrew – A 70 shilling ale flavored with a pinch of wild-harvested sweet fern, a spicy, woody perennial
- 2011 Cyser, my homebrew
- 2011 Honey Porter, my homebrew
And that’s just the ones I can remember!
I have finally upgraded to CO2 kegging my homebrew after seven years of doing without. Seven years of other homebrewers hiding amusement behind the bottoms of their imperial pint glasses. Seven years of worry and hardship! Did I use enough priming sugar? Did I clean those bottles well enough? Ok, it wasn’t that much hardship. I still got to drink good beer. But after clawing my way up the initial learning curve (and forking out the startup cash), keg beer already promises to be a huge leap forward in ease, simplicity and quality.
The internet was less helpful on the matter than I expected–a lot of overviews, a lot of filler, not enough detail. Though pretty much every single post I came across assured me I was soon to be “the envy of all your friends”. The most useful resources I came across were the brief but succinct kegging appendix in good old Papazian, the single sheet of instructions that came with the CO2 regulator, and the school of hard knocks.
While I sit back awaiting the fame that must surely accompany maturation, here, for the next person who goes looking, are the details.
- Those tall skinny kegs with black rubber tops and bottoms and stainless steel in the middle are called Cornelius or Cola kegs. They used to be used to dispense soda, they hold 5 gallons, now homebrewers use them. They’re cheap and easy to come by, $50 from a homebrew supply store. Mine came free from fellow blogger Scott. Thanks, Scott!
Cornelius kegs come in two flavors: ball lock and pin lock. You can use either or both, but you have to buy hardware specific to the flavor, which means if you got yours free like I did, you have to figure out what kind they are. The internet made this complicated until I understood what I was looking at and it became painfully obvious. Look at the thumb-sized cylindrical stainless steel connectors on top of the keg. There are two: one for pressurized C02 to go in, one for carbonated beer to come out. On a pin lock keg, the cylinders have stubby pins sticking out of the sides for the nozzle connector to grab onto: two pins for gas, three pins for beer. On a ball lock keg, there are no pins. I bought new gaskets for all the connections, 12 feet of rubber hose, various related widgets and etc for say $50.
- If you have a choice, which flavor of keg should you use? I can’t tell you how long I spent trying to get a straight answer on this from ye half-in-the-bag homebrew forums. I’ll make it easy: pin lock. With pin lock, you can tell the difference between the gas connection and the beer connection. With ball lock you can’t. Otherwise they’re both just as easy to procure and cost pretty much the same.
What the hell are all these little widgets for? The red plastic nozzles with gray or black bottoms hook onto the pin lock connectors. Gray means gas, black means beer. They look slightly different for ball lock, but the color coding is the same. The long thin metal tubes fit into the keg underneath the black connector for the beer to get drawn up through, and the short stubby metal tubes (see them in the lower right?) fit underneath the gray connector for the gas to enter through. Each keg gets five gaskets: one for each of the silver tubes, one for each of the gas and beer connectors (pin lock or ball lock), and one big one for the lid.
- Make sure the keg is full of primed beer and sealed, with both gas (with the short metal tube underneath) and beer (long metal tube underneath) connectors screwed on tightly by hand and the big o-ring evenly seated around the lid.
- Screw regulator tightly, with crescent wrench, onto full CO2 canister.
- Make sure safety valve is horizontal like in the picture, closed.
- Unscrew black knob all the way to open up the gas.
- Connect the nozzle below the red safety valve to some tubing. Connect the tubing to the nozzle on the red and gray gas connector. The tube has little metal crimping widgets (sorry, not shown) at either end to tighten that connection. They take a screwdriver.
- Connect the gray plastic part of the gas nozzle to the two-pin steel connector screwed to the keg.
- Pull out on the gray control knob on front of the regulator and turn it clockwise to open up the gas. The gauge on top goes up. Stop when it gets to 5 psi.
- get a spray bottle full of mild soap solution and spray it all over every single connection to make sure there’s no leaks. If anything bubbles, tighten it.
- You’re done. Go away for a few weeks. Buy an extra fridge ($250).
Sort of feels like writing lego instructions. So much for my brilliant plan to write short, succinct posts. Next time.
How much pressure? The regulator ($80) has two pressure gauges situated opposite the connections they measure. The left one measures the pressure in the canister ($150), 800 psi or above when full (less if you have a smaller canister). The top one measures the pressure in the keg. The gray knob on the front lets you adjust how much pressure goes into the keg. The red lever below is a safety cutoff. The black knob on top controls the gas from the tank–it always stays all the way open or all the way closed. So, the process is like this:
It took me awhile to wrap my head around the physics of all this, simple as they are once you get it. Gas goes into the keg through the short metal tube, causing pressure to build up on the liquid, which is in turn forced up the long metal tube and out to your tap. The two pin(or ball)-lock connectors each have a poppet in the top that moves up or down when pressure is applied. Press it in with your fingernail, and if the keg is pressurized, either beer or CO2 will come spilling out. Imagine my confusion when I pressed them and beer squirted out in my face from both! Stupid me, I had filled the keg up high enough to cover the end of the short metal tube! Gas could still get in and bubble up through the liquid, but when I pressed to get gas out, first it would have had to suck up all the liquid between it and the gas. Heh! The mop is the brewer’s best friend.
Hi all, I’m Michael. If you fit into the same tiny cross-section of sword/pen/pint-slinging we do, maybe you’ve come across Literary Beer, a blog series on homebrewing I used to write for Small Beer Press. Who knows, maybe I’ll write it again. In the meantime, what you need to know about me is that I really, really like cider, mead, cyser, lager, stout, an ancient style of herbed beer known as gruit, tequila, mezcal, bourbon, scotch, and all kinds of weird things in between, and may here subject you to ruminations on any of the above. I hope you enjoy.
I went to the Great Lakes Cider and Perry Festival last weekend. It’s held at Uncle John’s Cider Mill, among the farmlands just north of Lansing, Michigan. I brewed my first batch of Michigan cider, a cyser I bottled in January, with apples from Uncle John’s orchards. This year they lost their entire crop after the freak (read: new normal) 80 degree weather in March. The trees flowered prematurely, then the buds were all killed by frost–a tragedy. Cider made from this year’s crop will come dear, though that won’t stop me. Last year’s crop, anyhow, spent all this year maturing and was present and abundant in all its glory.
My old favorites Farnum Hill, West County and Albemarle were represented. I sampled ciders from Wisconsin, Oregon, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Michigan, Spain, France, the UK. It was awesome.
I got cheery with a British expat cidermaker living in Ohio (that’s him on the right in the silly hat) whose ciders were really satisfying, a classic English style I’d been looking for since I moved out here. Griffin Cider Works is his label–”Burley Man” was my favorite, 7.5-8% alcohol with rich mouthfeel and sweetness to balance.
I tasted a hopped cider from the much-touted Wandering Aengus in Oregon, which I expected to dislike (hops are for beer!) but turned out to be quite a pleasant, gently bitter reprieve from all the sweet and dry.
Maybe the best American cider I tried was a bourbon barrel aged maple cider from Crow’s Hard Cider in Michigan–a single keg made just for this event, not available in stores.
I sampled a whole bunch of Spanish ciders all from one importer, a most eye-opening experience. They were peppery and funky like Belgian farmhouse ales, but light and richly tart, like nothing else I’ve tasted. Of course! Because they’re made from apple varieties I never knew existed. I drool at the thought. I can’t really get excited about wine or hop regions, but something about cider apples does it for me. Comes of once having lived next to Clarkdale Orchards in Deerfield, MA. I will never eat better apples, unless maybe I go to Spain.
I hear after the tastings are over, the orchardists and cidermakers hang around until the next morning boozing and talking shop. That sounds like a pretty good time. Maybe next year I’ll try to crash, if there is a next year. I hope so.
by Michael J. DeLuca
I’m moving to Michigan from Boston. Inside a car on a hot summer day for fourteen hours is about the worst place imaginable to store beer, and glass is dangerous to transport at the best of times, so in advance of the move, I’m giving a way a lot of homebrew. A lot: gallons and gallons of glorious mead, cider, cyser, barleywine, ale and stout. And for the most part, all this wonderful beer I had been hoping to drink in seasons to come is going to non-homebrewers. I worry: my beers are my babies. I want my friends to treat them right, both so they can get the best of their new collection and so if I ever come back to visit I can mooch a bottle or two. Hence this primer.
Read well, and reap the benefits.
It has been a long strange road since the July morning in 2006 I showed up on Small Beer’s doorstep, was bustled inside and found myself crammed into a cool nook between bowed bookshelves, struggling and failing to turn down endless refills of green tea and squares of dark chocolate, making precious little headway with my stack of LCRW submissions due to the caffeine, the basket-hilted pirate letter opener meant to be wielded against envelopes, and the army of windup plastic robots and rubber Cthulus advancing on me from the bookshelves.
I fear I was not the most productive intern those first few months. I shipped books, transcribed Waldrop stories for Howard Who?, did battle with the wireless router, and composed inept ad copy for Mothers & Other Monsters. Somehow I managed not to get fired. Lucky for me I had homebrew in my corner. I think it’s safe to say after that first batch of wee heavy I could do no wrong.
Many uncountable cups of tea, paper cuts, trays of moldy lead type, pints of Bluebird Bitter and BBC River Ale under the bridge, now here it is 2011. Small Beer Press has been putting out amazing, weird books for a decade, and I’ve been “volunteering” here for half of that. All those nice photos of books posed with beer bottles? I took those. I made this website, and this one. Three Messages and a Warning drops in December, featuring my workman’s translations of Karen Chacek’s “The Hour of the Fireflies” and Garbiela Damián Miravete’s “Future Nereid”.
And now I am asked to brew a beer for the SBP tenth anniversary! It shall be my magnum opus. Kevin Huizenga (Peapod Classics, LCRW 16 & 23) did the above awesome artwork. (Ed.: also available on some t-shirts)
A crowd-pleasing pale ale has been requested for the occasion. Here goes.
Gruit—beer brewed with herbs instead of hops—is a lost magic art, thrust into obscurity and near-forgotten. But a few noble beer heroes have rediscovered its secret knowledge and now seek to bring its power back to the world. I’m taking up that banner.
Nobody will ever know exactly what real gruit tasted like, because—like the hypothetical wooly mammoth clone—it went extinct and must be resurrected. (Read about gruit’s checkered history in previous Literary Beer entry The Beer of Alchemists and Witches). There are lots of great, well-educated guesses out there, but the real work lies in experimentation: fresh/dry, boiled/not boiled, quantity, volume vs weight vs exposure time, herb flavors/properties/effects—it boggles the mind. The people who succeed at it have the resources and the patience to try again and again until they work out something great. Cambridge Brewing Company’s Weekapaug Gruit, Vermont Brew Pub’s Absinthe Ale and Amherst Brewing Company’s Heather Ale are examples of this. I’m not at their scale—I have to drink the beer in the bottles I have before I can brew more, if you get me.
I have patience. I’ll get there. But it’ll be a quest.
With me and brewing, the circumstance most likely to cause such a turnaround is the ready, cheap availability of superior ingredients. In January, I went to Guatemala—the cradle of Mayan civilization, and arguably the cradle of chocolate as a human institution. I brought back a half-kilo of cacao “beans”—a form of chocolate two steps removed from the least-processed chocolate you’re ever likely to encounter in this country. “What the hell is a cacao bean?” asked the customs official rummaging through my bags in Houston. I started in on the two-minute explanation; disappointingly, he waved me on before I’d got half started.
Read on for the two-minute explanation—but first, know that when I sat down to brew this beer, it was with the purest of aesthetical intentions in the Small Beer spirit: I strove for a beer that would as closely as possible resemble a bar of 70% raw cacao dark chocolate in liquid form.
Further exploits in my quest to brew surprising, delicious, unhopped beer like it was 1799. Or 999. See more about my anti-hop crusade at The Beer of Alchemists and Witches.
The idea for this beer came from Benjamin Franklin. More directly, it came from Yards Brewing Company’s Poor Richard’s Ale, itself an attempt at a modern recreation of a recipe Franklin penned in French while stationed overseas, which, translated, reads as follows.
“Way of Making Beer with Essence of Spruce:
For a Cask containing 80 bottles, take one pot of Essence and 13 Pounds of Molases. – or the same amount of unrefined Loaf Sugar; mix them well together in 20 pints of hot Water: Stir together until they make a Foam, then pour it into the Cask you will then fill with Water: add a Pint of good Yeast, stir it well together and let it stand 2 or 3 Days to ferment, after which close the Cask, and after a few days it will be ready to be put into Bottles, that must be tightly corked. Leave them 10 or 12 Days in a cool Cellar, after which the Beer will be good to drink.”
Great piece about the only woman beer inspector in the UK (thanks Michael, Erin!). Apparently 80% of women in the UK haven’t tried real ale. How is this possible? Ok, so stout is no longer prescribed when women are pregnant, but still, come on! Next round, here’s some advice:
“The other thing is that women are more sensitive to bitter flavours,” says Annabel, “so if a woman’s first experience of real ale is a very bitter pint, she may never go back to it.” Better to start with something more floral, such as Caledonian Deuchars IPA or Theakston’s Old Peculier.
If you came to the Manual of Detection release party, you may have had the chance to sample my latest brewing experiment, the Legendary Black Beer of Aaaargh!–a first attempt at recreating a long-extinct style of medieval herb beer, flavored, in this case, with rosemary and sage as a substitute for hops. If you were one of the intrepid few, I thank you. It came as quite a shock to me how many compliments the black beer got, considering half the reason for the silly name was the reaction I expected it to get. The experience has given me hope that people are a lot more open-minded about their beer than the world’s brewing industry would have us believe.
That in mind, I’m going to talk some about how and why this style of beer went extinct, and how and why I might go about bringing it back.
This is it, ladies and gentlemen. Until now, all my talk of beer and literature has been just that: talk. Finally, however, the opportunity has arisen to put my barley where my mouth is. Er…not that I haven’t been doing that all along. You know what I mean.
On Friday, February 27th, Jedediah Berry will be at Amherst Books to celebrate the release of The Manual of Dectection, a beautifully complicated novel about a clandestine detective agency and a meticulous clerk thrust unwillingly into a detective’s role. He does not, as would I, resort to drink under pressure… though there’s a fair amount of whiskey swallowed throughout.
I’m brewing beer for the occasion because home distilling happens to be illegal.
“Furthermore, we wish to emphasize that in future in all cities, markets and in the country, the only ingredients used for the brewing of beer must be Barley, Hops and Water. Whosoever knowingly disregards or transgresses upon this ordinance, shall be punished by the Court authorities’ confiscating such barrels of beer, without fail.”
—the Reinheitsgebot, a beer purity law, the first of its kind, enacted in Germany in 1516.
And now I’m going to talk about brewing with strawberries.
They’ll take away my homebrew when they pry it from my cold dead hands!
I admit I had to sweat to uncover any “literary” justification for the use of hot chile peppers in beer. I’m always on the lookout for something to top that fragment of Egyptian myth about beer-as-blood and the transformation of Hathor. Trouble is, belief in the mystical power of chiles originates with the Inca, who never bothered writing their myths down. So the best I can find in these latter days are third-hand retellings of the legendary founding of Cuzco, the Inca capital, by an ancestor god known as Ayar Uchu, Lord Chile, or vague hints that Inca priests forbade the use of chiles during funereal rites and initiations, doubtless out of fear that the warding power of chiles would prevent dead souls from reaching the next world.
None of which particularly deters me, the stubborn literary homebrewer, from doing as I darn well please. I like chiles. I like beer. Ipso facto.
Western MA being the land of maple syrup, and spring being the maple sap season, I thought I’d run a couple of experiments brewing beer with maple syrup. This is just the kind of decadent weirdness that homebrewing is perfect for. You’d be hard put to find a maple beer available from even the tiniest and most daring of commercial brewers, but for a homebrewer, all it takes is the will and a bit of thinking.
A record of my first experiments in brewing that most literary of all beer (though not technically a beer), ambrosia to the Greeks, bal-che to the Mayas, the gold of Midas, the honey-wine of gods and heroes—mead.
Let me just get the obligatory reference to a certain great English epic out of the way, and we’ll get down to business.
Then for Geatish tribesmen, close together all,
Was a bench made ready in the wassail-hall
There the stout-in-spirit went to take their seat
Proud of this their prowess. A henchman did as meet,
Mindful he to bear round the figured ale-tankard,
And pour to each the clear mead. Whiles would sing a bard,
Clear of voice in Heorot. Reveled there the thanes,
A host of happy heroes, Wederfolk and Danes.
For the adventurous: try it in the original.
Bottling is technical and tedious, nobody’s favorite part of the brewing process. So I’ll lead with the good stuff.
Ra came to where the beer stood waiting in seven thousand jars, and the gods came with him to see how by his wisdom he would save mankind.
“Mingle the red ochre of Abu with the barley-beer,” said Ra, and it was done, so that the beer gleamed red in the moonlight like the blood of men. “Now take it to the place where Sekhmet proposes to slay men when the sun rises.”
—from this great Egyptian myth retelling of the war-goddess Sekhmet’s transformation, via beer, into Hathor, goddess of fertility. Just pretend that jar of cobras on her head is a jar of blood-colored beer. Like an old timey St. Patrick’s Day!
In which I ramble about the history of beer in New England, and demonstrate the process of brewing up a batch of a favorite and storied style.
This is a Dutch family crest hanging in the cathedral in the city of Haarlem, The Netherlands. Note the kegs. And those little golden shapes being carried in the arms of the rampant lions are sheaves of barley. I wish I had taken more pictures of these. There were some with barley, kegs AND beehives.
It seemed I was a mite of sediment
That waited for the bottom to ferment
So I could catch a bubble in ascent.
I rode up on one till the bubble burst,
And when that left me to sink back reversed
I was no worse off than I was at first.
I’d catch another bubble if I waited.
The thing was to get now and then elated.
—Robert Frost, In a Glass of Cider
(For the start of my cider-making exploits, see Episode 1: Traditional Hard Cider)
Today, I noticed that the bubbles of CO2 emerging from the airlock on my jug of cider had slowed to a rate of one per minute, indicating that yeast activity had tapered off and the primary stage of fermentation was complete. Being careful to leave behind as much of the sediment as possible, I siphoned off the clarified cider into a clean glass jug. Mostly, anyway–right at the end I decided I couldn’t help myself and redirected the last ounce or so into a pint glass for testing purposes.
In an interview I once read in The Valley Advocate (a local Western MA arts paper), with regard to his experience starting Small Beer Press, Gavin quoted the following old chestnut: “How do you make a small fortune in publishing? Start with a large fortune.”
The same is more or less true of brewing beer. In the long run, it costs half as much to brew your own beer as to buy it, assuming you’re used to drinking beer of quality. But starting out as a brewer of small beer does require some investment in equipment. And the small fortune you accrue in savings over a long life spent developing the craft of making delicious spirits will be nothing compared to the matching spiritual fortune you will reap. The analogy to independent publishing begins to seem apt indeed.
In this episode I’m going to do some beer math (somewhat less accurate than tea math, but less jittery than coffee math, and more fun). I will lay out the financial requirements in gear and raw materials and graph that against the quantity and quality of the beer produced, in the hopes of helping you, the avid consumer of literary beer, to decide if you’re ready to brew.
(Episode 0 explains the conceit.)
The word ‘traditional’ is here meant to indicate that I’m not using added sweeteners (which could range from raisins to honey to plain white sugar, and would increase the resulting alcohol content) or other mitigating elements (such as campden tablets, fruit pectin, fruit enzyme or packaged yeast, which would ensure a more reliable fermentation, but would require me to expend more money and effort). This article gives a good overview of the terminology for the different styles of cider and their composition.
A caveat: I’ve been brewing successfully for awhile now, but I have never made cider before. What follows is largely an experiment (albeit a meticulously researched one), whose results will hopefully lead to further experimentation and refinement in years to come.
People not familiar with the publishing world tend to look at me askance when I tell them I’m an intern at a place called “Small Beer Press”. It’s the beer part that throws them, I think–knowing me and my fondness for froth, they suspect me (not unfoundedly) of jerking them around. And I must admit that upon first presenting myself at Small Beer Press, I was a tiny bit disappointed that beer didn’t play a more important role in the proceedings.
Well, I am here to remedy that.
Gavin invited me to blog about brewing. Brilliant idea! Can’t think of why it never occurred to me before, except that I’ve only been brewing for just over two years–a relative newbie compared to some of the hoary old beerheads with whom I consort. But given such a fine opportunity, I am more than happy to have a go at combining my two not-so-disparate passions–writing and brewing.
What, I have at times been asked, can the brewing of beer possibly have to do with the business of books? Ha! I am often inclined to respond (though I resist). Ha!
Fill with mingled cream and amber
I will drain that glass again
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chambers of my brain.
Quaintest thoughts — queerest fancies,
Come to life and fade away:
What care I how time advances?
I am drinking ale today.
–Edgar Allen Poe (copied from the bathroom wall of a pub in Washington, DC)
I most recently came across the term “small beer,” used in its original sense, in a lovely annotated edition of R.L. Stevenson’s Kidnapped that I picked up at a library book sale. The year is 1751. David Balfour, our orphan boy hero, arrives at the home of his last living relative, an uncle, only to be greeted with the blunt end of a blunderbuss and promptly sent packing. Not so easily deterred, and with no other ready prospects, our hero persists, and at last the old coot begrudges him a seat at his table, a miser’s share of homemade porridge, and half a pint of small beer from his personal stash. What does this mean, exactly? It means the old coot is too much of a miser to go trading his precious coin for a dram of the pale when he can cook up his own on the cheap. Homebrew!
As a synonym for homebrew, “small beer” went out of wide use in this country during Prohibition, when all beer was small beer because it was illegal, and nobody bothered making beer anyway because it was far more profitable to make hooch. Not until 1979 (tellingly, the year of my birth) did the brewing of single batch beer in the comfort of one’s kitchen cross back into the good graces of the Man. Since then, it has become popular to refer to small beer by its trendier synonym, “microbrew”.
It so happens that the independent publishing of striking and unusual speculative fiction has quite a lot in common with the meticulous small-batch brewing of delicious alcoholic beverages. First, that DIY spirit. Second, an under-the-radar uniqueness. Third, a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment.
And finally, an exhilarating hint of the supernatural.
My friend and beer ally Scott Andrews once pointed out the link between the fantastic and the alcoholic. Human civilizations have been built around the brewing of spiritous drink for four thousand years and longer, but the existence of yeast wasn’t discovered until 1680, and its role in the fermentation process wasn’t understood until the mid-nineteenth century. So from the drunk slaves who built the pyramids right up to the merry pumpkin-ale-brewing wenches of frontier New England, nobody really knew how the spirit was getting into the drink. You filled an open vat with soupy, starch-and-sugar-infused liquid, looked away for one waxing and waning of the moon–and by magic, when you looked back, the same stuff not only tasted better, it made a hard life easier to bear. Belgian monks in the middle ages attributed the fermentation process to an act of God. A myth dating from the Egyptian Early Kingdom conflates beer with the blood of Hathor, a vengeful war goddess who, after Osiris got her drunk, was transformed into a kind and nurturing goddess of motherhood and fertility. For most of the history of recorded literature, the art of brewing was a branch of sorcery.
Right then. Unless I get into my cups at the keyboard, that will probably be it from me as far as ruminations on the sublime nature of beer. Though if I come across any other great beer myths or beer lit, I’ll pass them along. And I’m not swearing off the occasional dabbling in beer history. But other than that, it’ll be DIY from here on out.
Up next: my first-ever effort at hard cider.