Every time I homebrew, I eat a bunch of the ingredients. I scoop big soggy spoonfuls of spent grains from the mashtun and scarf them down like a heaping helping of Frosted Flakes. I nibble on hop cones and pellets, immediately regretting the decision as my mouth is berated by bitter fury. I’ve even sampled the yeast, which I cannot in any way recommend.
All in the name of knowing my ingredients better. I’m still, to this day, amazed that four relatively basic foodstuffs can ultimately turn into something as complex and complete as beer. So today, I’m going to shrink myself down (using my macro lens). Aided by my friend, J. Cousteau (no, that’s too obvious…we’ll go with Jacques C. instead), we’ll journey deep into the heart of the beer, discovering the natural beauty hidden in what some people may regard as simple ingredients.
You ready to go Jacques?
20,000 Leagues Under the Beer
We begin our journey as all who inevitably give into their wanderlust do, lost in fields of grain that blow sweet starchy scents across the nostrils of the soul. The endless plains of husks split and broken mimic Grecian ruins, bygones of a time lost to time, myth and legends seeping from their cracked remains. Every story ever told over a pint dwells in the history of this American 2 row. What do you see, Jacques?
Ze grain, she is beautiful and enigmatic, like a mermaid with a fish face and human legs.
Um, yes. I guess. Well said.
But beer never stays in one state too long; dry becomes wet, sugar becomes alcohol, the beer itself ultimately graces our toilet bowls as blessed urine. Next we move into the sea of mashtun, that veritable Aegean trapped inside a red Igloo™ cooler.
The water swirls together with the simple sugars. Frothy bubbles rise as the near-scalding water sucks the starch from the grain with time honed practice and honored tradition. The mash paddle breaks up doughy balls, setting the saccharides to work.
Ah, ze mashtun, ver ze hopes and dreams of all ze sugars come together. Bath time for ze dirty soul of la bière.
Dirty bath time indeed.
As the grains are baptized by almost boiling, we explore the other ingredients. With Jacques help, I cast a net out across the beery world, hoping to ensnare the most lupulus of the humulus, to pull from the deep hop fields of Yakima Valley.
We find half a pound of pure paradise.
Ze hops, zey look like ze shit of a horse.
What? No. These are decadently aromatic Citra hops pressed into pellets. They burst with fragrance, singing a bitter song to balance out their grapefruit guise. They are the beating heart of the beer, arguably the most distinctive ingredients in the sweet concoction…
Regarde comme de la merde.
The grain is spent now, all its energy taken by the water, two separate spirits now joined as one in wort. It pulled its content and color from the medley of different malts, and after an hour long soak is ready for its long roil.
Ah yes, zis is when we sink deep into the liquid embrace. In ze wort we can return to ze womb, be one, again, with mother ocean.
Now you’re just being creepy.
To float free in ze stomach of life is all man seeks. Ze bière, she washes over us like crashing waves. She is bottled ocean, twelve ounces of jeux de vie.
I’m starting to regret bringing you along.
Sulfides soar skyward as the propane feeds an hour long boil. The beer is on the air, in the smells, in the wispy silks of evaporating wort forever disappear into winter’s chill. Some call it the angel’s share, some call it tragic but necessary loss for the cause. I call it the herald of the ale, the vanguard of a two-week war to be waged in white buckets and glass carboys.
Nope, not sniffing the yeast. Not with the whirfloc tablets or Irish moss, either. Where can an old French dude wander off to in a beer?
Oh. There he is.
Ze airlock, she bubbles with ze zest of life. Like millions of fishes saying hello from ze ocean floor, ze bubbles show the world below ze surface. It is truly magnificent.
Yea, totally. I was just thinking that exact same thing. Thanks for the insights, I think.