Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On Beer

Just one more difference between Anglicans and some conservative churches. We drink on occasion. Almost any occasion, actually. We are not ashamed of it. Jesus wasn't, so why should we be? Remember that wedding in Cana with the wine? That was a lot of wine he made. A whole lot. Go back and read the story, and realize those urns contained gallons of wine. Strong wine. The kind they usually diluted before drinking. Wedding parties went on for days back then. And no, it was not "new wine" -- i.e., grape juice. No one has a grape juice steward. And no one says something like, "Most people serve the good grape juice first and then wait until the guest have had their fill of it and can no longer tell the difference. But you have saved the good grape juice for last!"

And then there was that Passover thing. Only someone who has not been to a Passover meal (I mean a real one in a Jewish home or community, not that Christianizing crap some churches do) would claim Jesus used grape juice there, or did not drink it. The number of cartwheels and hoops you have to go through to reach that conclusion are absurd. Let's just take it on face value this time.

The reason we can be certain Jesus drank? Because water was unsafe. The ancients did not understand bacteria. But they did know that fermented liquids were not going to kill them (no cars on the roads to worry about). No wonder virtually every culture developed some fermenting process.

Drinking too much could get you in trouble, to be sure (see Noah), but drinking wine was still safer than drinking water. And Israel had grapes to spare more than grain, so wine was more plentiful than beer.

Well, we have both grain and grapes, although so many fields got planted with corn that we had a hops shortage last year. Just another fall out of the too-quick rush to corn-as-fuel binge we went on. If you noticed your local microbrew not serving up as much of you favorite double IPA, that's why. Things have settled out a bit now.

So it has become brewing season for me. FIRST INTERLUDE: Before I go any further, I should point out that, yes, I do work with college students. And yes, I am extremely careful about who gets to have any of my homebrew. I'm not kidding myself about whether those under 21 drink or not, but I like my job, and a I like being able to get a job. And anyway, I don't particularly like the drink to get drunk culture of undergraduate parties.

That said, have you noticed how many guys will cook things on the grill but not in the kitchen? Or maybe they will make chili or spaghetti sauce, but not potato salad or peas. And forget about those guys ever baking. All that measuring and precision seems beyond them.

Well, take a trip to your local homebrew store sometime and just listen. It's all about measuring grain, which brand of yeast works best, the bitterness of various hops, and extract versus all-grain brewing. If beer is 'bread in a bottle' then there are a lot of guys baking out there.

Ever since I began making beer, I have learned how many friends either have also been brewing or want to start. And brewers will talk endlessly about their last batch and what they will do with the recipe next time to make it better. Mind you, there was a period in time (through the 1990s) that home brewing was cheaper than buying a quality brew. Not any more. We can rightfully claim that we do it for the unique tastes we can produce. But, really, it's a lot of fun.

And truthfully, brewing beer smells great! And saying you brew your own is big time bragging rights, especially when you show up at the party with a few varieties. Which is why some of us obsess on getting labels made. Or setting up a separate area in our home (I gave my realtor a six pack and told him to find me an extra room. He not only found the room but a second refrigerator so that I could begin brewing lagers!).

SECOND INTERLUDE: I need to point out that no one brews beer to get drunk. It's too much work, and brewing in 5 gallon batches would have you working all the time. If an alcoholic is sad when the last beer is gone, let me tell you that homebrewers are almost distraught when we reach then end of a batch. That last bottle or two can stay on the shelf in the refrigerator for weeks just to say we still have a little of that batch left.

Now, there are plenty of women who brew beer, though I don't think I have ever seen one in the homebrew store without a guy who is also clearly into it. There is clearly a male culture about all this. Which is funny because, apart from a little heavy lifting, it's really cooking - serious cooking. Like the kind that people who make homemade candy have to do, checking temperatures and precise measuring. Well, there is a little bit of added science in measuring specific gravities, but really, it's cooking. Which means we should never be allowed to get away with claiming we don't know how to follow a recipe.

And the great thing is that the skill bleeds over to other items. I am making my second batch of wine right now, which has a few extra steps but doesn't have the time on the stove. And my hard cider recipe, which is truly easy--if you want a true English cider, not that sweet junk you find in the market, make your own--is a favorite among friends. And my great research project has been figuring out how to make a gluten free beer for people who have those allergies. And my next big project is mead.

So, I have a double chocolate stout brewing now, and a shiraz fermenting. A chili IPA is probably next because that is easy and fairly quick. And I'll be wearing my "What would Jesus brew?" T-shirt when I brew it.

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