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!