Category: Homebrewing

Past its Prime

Sumerian bappir, reborn. I began with the beginning: the world’s first beer. After baking some Mesopotamian hardtack, I steeped it in hot water, mixed in some dates, added yeast, and forgot about it for a few weeks. A few weeks too long, as it turned out. Sumerian beer is best served fresh. Or better yet, more than fresh: unfinished, even. Unpasteurized, unfiltered, unsanitized—it turned sour fast. Screechingly, cheek-sucking-ly sour. (I’m in good company: Steve Inskeep ran into the same problem in Tunisia. He let his date wine ferment too long, or too hot, or both.)

Before IO-Star, before barrels, before bottles, beer was served straight from the fermenter, sucked through bombilla-like straws to filter out the grain husks and date pits. Think of it like sauerkraut (if you, like me, are the kind of person who thinks about sauerkraut): Beer just sat out, in the open, to be enjoyed as it fermented, and finished before it got too rank. Brewers would whip up a batch and start drinking it as soon as it cooled. The unfermented beer, called wort, was sweet and nutrient-packed. The party picked up over the course of a week or so as wild yeast kicked in and turned those sugars to booze. Thirsty neighbors probably drained the dregs before lactobacteria and other micro-organisms showed up to kill the buzz.

Fresh beer is great; 12,000 years later, it still has its devotees. There’s vinho verde and British cask beer. Kellerbier (flat) and zwickelbier (fresh and foamy) fills Franconian mugs. Bohemians have kvasnicový. The best part of any brewery tour is a sip from the bright tank. The best part of homebrewing is not having to wait.

Bubbly

“adventitious microbial flora”

Mouthfeel

I made bappir, a grain-and-honey dough patty (“bread” would be too generous) and brewed a beer with it. Baked for a few hours, the loaves turned brown as mahogany, and just as hard. Tastier, though. My friend Aaron said it tasted like health food, and for the Sumerians, it was. We worry about beer pairings—what goes with IPA? should a taquería serve Belgians?—and forget that beer was, and is, food.

Big Beers

I’d already written about celebratory homebrew (that wasn’t so celebratory), so for the holidays I decided to go with something more reliable, albeit less historic: giant beer bottles. My picks were arranged, in the paper at least, from smallest to most monumental. Fin du Monde, a house favorite and plenty punchy, seems featherweight compared to Stone’s Double Bastard, which comes in a three-liter totem, complete with a padlocked swing-top cap. You know, so you can’t sneak in a midnight tipple. I thought about sabering off the cap, like they did in the Times, but I didn’t want to waste a drop. This is beer, after all, not Champagne.

Relax, It’s Not a Cupping

Here’s a peek at our coffee-beer tasting at the Ritual roasting plant. Note: a Chemex is the absolute worst way to serve beer.

We are still deep in the spit-cup experimental stage, but on the right track. Still, after the tasting, the entire Ritual crew retreated to City Beer Store for a palate cleanser. Tough crowd.

Stay tuned for updates and recipes.

Stoaked

When we drove from Brooklyn to California, we took the essentials: brew kettle, fermenters, grains, beer books, a raincoat. Everything else we left in a storage unit. We were just in New York for a week of book promotion, and we visited our unit, flung open the door, and felt that strange relief you feel when absolutely nothing has changed. More specifically: when your barrel of beer hasn’t exploded over all your belongings.

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