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Why beer?

It’s once again the first Tuesday of the month, so I’m going to be tackling this month’s Session: the shared beer bloggery event where everyone writes on a single topic each month. This time it’s hosted by Baltimore Bistros & Beer, and is titled Why Do You Drink?

sessionIt’s easy to find article after article on the internet telling us that alcohol is bad. As beer bloggers it’s safe to say we all disagree. Let’s take the opportunity as a group to tell people why we do drink and how it improves our life for the better. I know the default answer a lot of us fall back on is “it’s nice to sit back with a good beer after a stressful day of work”, and while that’s true, I’m looking for answers that aren’t so obvious to people who aren’t fans of our hobby. Beer is bigger than a liquid “chill pill” or we wouldn’t have gone about setting up a blog and dedicating so much of our time discussing it. So, what is it that compels you to drink and what would your life be missing if beer was no longer an option for you?

Beer is not a drink

Well, I mean, okay, yes, technically that’s exactly what it is. But it’s more than that. The reason I love beer so much is that it’s so much more than just something I pour in my face hole when I want to feel wobbly.

Beer is science

One of the most important components of brewing is yeast. Yeast is a microorganism, a living creature with different strains, even multiple genera. Beer is microbiology! Usually you want Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but occasionally you also add something from the Brettanomyces genus: Brettanomyces bruxellensis, perhaps. You don’t want any of the Lactobacillus genus of bacteria, unless you do (think Mr. Superfantastisch).

There’s also chemistry involved: the aforementioned yeast ferment the sugars into alcohol. The mashing process involves pH, temperature, beta amalyse, alpha amalyse… and in case you can’t tell, I don’t fully understand it. Higher mash temperature = fewer fermentable sugars = sweeter, lower = more = drier. That’s about as far as I ever got.

Then there’s the fluid dynamics involved in a properly balanced draft system: the length and inner diameter of your tubing will dictate what pressure you’ll need to push the beer from the keg to the tap. Counterintuitively, if our jockey box is pouring with more foam than we’d like we need to increase the pressure.


Beer is cooking

What is this if not a chef stirring a pot?

What is this if not a chef stirring a pot?

There’s the obvious facet of this: there are many cookbooks dedicated to cooking with beer, and even more to pairing it with food. Beer pairs better with food than wine, yeah I said it, come at me bro.

The act of brewing itself, from recipe formulation to the brewday, is essentially cooking. Experienced brewers are akin to chefs, being so familiar with the ingredients used that they can make adjustments on the fly, create grain bills out of thin air, detect the variety of hops used in a beer. I admit to never having made it past the cookbook stage: give me a recipe and I can recreate the dish. (Here it is important to note that Rudy does the brewing, not me)

Beer is adventure

Just two weeks ago I was in Maryland, experiencing new things. Not only is beer something to do while you travel, it is sometimes the reason for the travel itself. On Friday I went to Mister Goodbar for our cask festival and sat with the Buffalo Beer League folks at the bar. While we chatted they poured over a map of the state, planning out their weekend of beer: should they go to Ommegang first and drink their way back, or use Cooperstown as the capstone of the trip?

Beer is also an adventure in itself. You don’t have to go farther than the closest beer store to be explosed to a plethora of new experiences. Hoppy pale ales, malty and roasty porters, complex and fruity Belgian ales. Sour beer, British beer, German beer, historical beer (talk to any longtime member of the Niagara Association of Homebrewers about their steinbiers, or — if you want a visceral reaction — the ill-advised Egyptian beer). I’ve dedicated myself to beer for nearly seven years and have only scratched the surface. There’s so much to do, so much to see, so much to drink.

Beer is creation

I have a near-desperate desire to be creative. The problem is, I’m not very artistic. I created the layout of this webite, which is the pinnacle of my design abilities. I can’t draw, can’t sing. I could play the drums pretty well if I put some time into it, maybe.

But I can make beer. A day’s worth of work, a few weeks of waiting, and I have made something where before there was nothing. I would give away bottles of homebrew with glee, because look: I made this.

(and yes, I love this blog so much because writing is the one creative act I feel I can do well)

There were also the physical creations I’d make while homebrewing. I turned a Rubbermaid cooler into a mash tun, 50 feet of copper tubing and some pressure fittings into an immersion chiller. Everything was from detailed diagrams, like the recipes they were used in conjunction with, but still: this is mine. I made it with my hands. For a computer nerd, it was a refreshing experience.

Beer is history

Beer has been made for at least 7,000 years. That’s a pretty big timespan to cover. The details of brewing have been especially well recorded in the past few hundred years, as anyone who’s read Maureen Ogle’s Ambitious Brew and what I consider the spiritual/logical successor, Tom Acitelli’s The Audacity of Hops, can tell you.

If you don’t care about history that’s fine! You can ignore it and enjoy beer perfectly well (the same can be said for every other facet I’ve discussed so far). If you want to, though, you’ve got a rich history of primary sources to pore over, looking at the rise and fall and change and development of beer, its styles, its methodology.

Take, for instance, the Albany Ale Project: did you know there was a distinct style of beer made in the Hudson Valley? In Pete Brown’s Hops & Glory you get part travel diary, part history lesson as he recreates the journey a cask of IPA took from Burton upon Trent to India. After years of reading Shut Up About Barclay Perkins I’m glad to see Ron Pattinson release a book, The Home Brewer’s Guide to Vintage Beer, which reproduces recipes and styles using historical records.

Beer is community

It should come as no surprise to longtime readers when I say that I have some anxiety issues and am generally a shy, introverted person. And yet: at the Art of Beer last week I couldn’t walk 10 feet without saying hi to someone I knew, or having someone say hi to me. I’ve had trouble leaving bars before because of all the goodbyes and handshakes along the way.

The Beer Goddesses at the Southern Tier brewery

The Beer Goddesses at the Southern Tier brewery

That may sound self important, and it doubtlessly is, but it’s also incredibly wonderful for me. And it’s not just me: I’ve said many times that brewers and craft beer lovers are the friendliest people on the planet. If you love beer, or think you do and are just getting started, you’re one of Us. Sit down, let’s have a pint and talk.

There are the Beer Goddesses. The Niagara Association of Homebrewers, the Sultans of Swig, Junkshow Brewing. The Buffalo Beer Geeks, the Better Beverage Society, the WNY Beer Club, the Buffalo Beer Tasting Club. Or the patrons at any good beer bar you go to.

Do you know why I drink? Because beer lovers are just friends I haven’t met.