Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bangers and Mash: My Beer Roots

Like many young men of my generation, my relationship with beer began at a tender age. During high school (and most of college), beer drinking was all about economy. A thirty pack of Strohs for $15.00? Perfect. A keg of The Beast for Friday in Cedar Village? Sounds good. Bud Lite, MGD, Rolling Rock (if I was feeling fancy). But those notions changed during my fourth (out of five) year at Michigan State, when I landed a spring semester internship in London, England. It was there, in village pubs older by centuries than the U.S., that I discovered there was more to beer than foam and hangovers.

David, the patriarch of the family I was living with (and a friend of a family friend), was old school. A plainclothes policeman with the London Underground who palpably disliked the French for their poor showing in WWII (and who inexplicably was a huge ABBA fan), David wanted me to leave England with an appreciation of the rich history of local English pubs.

We would wash down bangers and mash (that is Queen's English for sausage and potatoes) with a pint of cool (not cold) English bitter, and he would tell me how, traditionally, each village brewed ale that was unique to the contours of its geography, using local grains fermented by wild yeast, and consumed within walking distance of the source; a difficult concept to wrap your head around when you are used to roaming grocery store shelves lined with the same beer in store after store. He explained that hardworking Britons drank ales specific to a season - heavier, darker ales, like Porter, during colder months, and lighter ales, like Pale Ale, during warmer months. He explained that the silly looking cone shaped structures, visible all throughout the English countryside, were called oast houses.

I also had the opportunity to sneak off to Dublin and Amsterdam during my semester abroad and visit the Guinness an Heineken breweries. In the years since, I have toured a number of craft breweries (which are admittedly far less industrial and far more interesting), but seeing the process of beermaking in those beer "factories," from raw grain to the bottling line, was informative.

David was by no stretch an expert, but he helped me to see beer
in a different light. I began to think about the connection between the slender stalk of barley and the farmer who cultivated it from the land, the brewer who converted it into malt, and the denizen who quaffed it from his glass.

Since that trip, my relationship with beer has been transformed from one of convenience to one of respect. A grad school pal (thanks Eric) inspired me to begin homebrewing, and my wife, Elena, bought me a brew kit a from a great little shop in Willimantic, Connecticut called Zok's. Whenever I travel, I check to see if there are microbreweries en route, or brewpubs at my destination. I read brewing magazines (Zymurgy), brewing books (Papazian and Palmer), and brewing news (GLBC).

My goal is to use this space to detail my successes and failures in brewing, to share my random thoughts on things beer, and to connect with other like minded (or un-like minded) folks who are passionate about their brew.

NOTE: A foamy thanks to Señor Brew™, whose excellent blog, Noble Square Brewing, was the first brewing blog I followed, and who graciously pointed out my error (the first of many, I'm sure) in misremembering the actual use of oast houses. Does that make British David my Brian McNamee? As Señor points out in his comment below, oast houses are used to dry hops, not grain; and, sparging is a part of the brewing (not drying/kilning) process. Gracias Señor!



E-Kitten said...

Can't wait to hear more about your brewing adventures (and maybe participate in some of them?)!

rissykay99 said...

Well, I'll be happy to have you over for the beer brewing christening at the new house- but only if you bring your other half, so we can craft. :)

Señor Brew™ said...

Nice first post, and thanks for following my blog.

I don't mean to be a Señor Know-It-All, but Oast houses were built to dry hops, as it says in the page you linked to. Maybe your friend David led you astray. Sparging is the process of rinsing sugars from the mash (the mix of ground malted barley and hot water), and mashing is the process of converting the starches to the sugars. The moistening and drying is the malting/kilning process.

But it is cool that you are jumping in with both feet here--let me know if I can be of any help along the way.

Dionysum said...

First brew at the new place will probably happen before you get back to the state. However, I have two carboys now, so there's no reason for the second batch to wait for the first to be done.

You should check out my brothers brew blog, even if it is rather sporadic.