Homebrewing is on the rise. You may have read the New York Times article; you may have friends who’ve started their own nano-breweries; or you may have recently paid a visit to your local brew shop, on the prowl for brewing supplies yourself. What’s behind this trend?
Homebrewing ought to be thought of in similar terms as other food movements — such as locavores, Slow Fooders, or Michael Pollanites — that through whatever culinary doctrines they embrace create and savor food that has a story and deliberately take a step back from the frenzy of "modern" life, if only for a short while.
I think that good food (and bad food) tastes and feels better when it has a history. I enjoy listening to cheese makers extol the virtues of such-and-such cheese, and how it’s made with morning milk from Andalusian goats while I omnomnom samples. The Cambridge World History of Food is a behemoth I dream of one day reading, and then quoting with ease. Food is fun because you can share it with others, and admire wonderful phenomena such as the proportional relationship between a food’s umami-ness and its gross-out factor. I find that without such cognitive associations, many foods are, simply put, just food.
Although I have difficulty remembering how things taste, I could probably tell you a lot about what I ate for Christmas dinner five years ago. Perhaps it is because certain people's brains are programmed to remember events in terms of food (where I was when I ate this, etc…). Like many foodies, my life’s chronology is marked by food events. Foodies like to talk about food, and at the top of the ladder of culinary one-upmanship is, “I made this myself. Try it. It’s good.” This could be one of the reasons that spots in butchering classes are hard to come by, everyone seems to be curing their own bacon or making cheese, and my co-workers habitually toss around ideas for the next food truck they dream of starting.
I love telling and hearing stories about my food; I should be able to say the same about my beer. For some reason, we’ve been slower to give drinkables their deserved prominence in the pantheon of storied food (oenophiles excluded, of course). Thankfully, homebrewing is giving people the tools and experiences to change that.
I started playing brewmaster in college after some friends and I decided that it: 1) would be fun, 2) would probably taste good, and 3) would likely enhance our social cachet.
After we consumed our first batch and tumbled headfirst into making our second, I realized that I wasn’t after the beer per se. Yes, beer is very good, but I took greater pleasure in the memories that were associated with the homebrew. Like scrubbing the floor and walls of a friend’s heinously dirty kitchen to get it clean enough to brew and eventually bottle in. Like the beer bottles my roommate snatched from the river of stale beer cans, greasy pizza boxes, and unidentified fermenting liquids in our apartment complex’s recycling bins. Like the crate of live crabs that magically appeared in my kitchen for crab-n-beer night that neither I nor any of my roommates had any idea what to do with. Or perhaps it was the glorious day I found a clone recipe for a favorite beer, and the creeping thought, “I could have five gallons of this!” changed my perspective on life.
So get out there, make some good beer, visit a local nanobrewery, share the fun with your friends, and enjoy.
Photo Credit: MacKinnon Photography