This is an episode of the Living Proof Brew Cast.
I opened a Mendocino Seasonal Bock since it was part of the six pack I was drinking this past week to earn the ridiculously hard to acquire Six Pack Badge on Untappd. In addition to being a great Spring beer, it is from a brewer whose other offerings, including their Imperial barley wine, I have very much enjoyed. John’s beer choice was informed more by our topic, Batch 666 from Appalachian Brewing Company. Both beers may have been different points of a similar and very tasty continuum. John’s favorite, the Ayinger Celebrator, also falls on this same spectrum of malty, sweet beers.
John set up our topic based both on his recent TV viewing of prepper shows and a conversation we had some time ago with friend of the podcast, Chris Miller. The idea is that being a home brewer may be of great advantage should we reach the end of civilization. I added that even barring a complete collapse, there are some advantages during more run of the mill disasters. That was certainly the case during the spate of storms we’ve had over the last couple of years in the greater DC area.
As home brewers, it isn’t just our equipment that is useful. I explained how home brewing really cultivates a strong spirit of ingenuity. The sort of invention that helps save a beer can also be well applied in normal disasters as well as the end of the world. That includes both the use of what we have to odd ends but that the product of our efforts has value beyond just a tasty drink. John suggested fuel is a nature next step and that reminded me of the conversation I had right before the show with Andrea, my wife, about how she’d prefer spirits. Without a government, during the apocalypse, there wouldn’t be any barrier to home distilling right along with brewing.
John expanded on the even greater breadth of values that distillants would have, not just for fuel but also for medicinal purposes, for barter and more. I suggested that having a still as well as a setup for brewing would grant the survivalist a lot of flexibility. You could push your various kinds of sugars to different applications depending on what you have and what you need.
Teasing out something John said about recipes for disaster, I posed to him the question of what sorts of beers, specifically, would be best in primitive surroundings. He immediately thought of wet hopped, harvest beers. That plays into the limitations that would apply in terms of the ability to properly dry hops for long storage. Big beers, of course, also naturally fit the bill as the alcohol helps keep the brews stable. John also wondered what we might end up trying if hops weren’t available.
Speaking of alternatives begged by the situation, John then thought about perhaps harnessing solar power as that would allow you to save your fuel for other purposes. There is a huge resonance between that idea and a story I saw a while ago of an artist/researcher who built a solar powered laser cutter and a 3D printer that fuses sand. Really, though, the input into mashing and boiling is agnostic of fuel or energy source. We are lucky that in extremes, we are only limited by the amount of heat we need. John mentioned Growlers‘ stein beer as an example, wood fired and using stones for thermal transfer. There was also a very old story we shared on the blog, of early Celtic trench beers, also wood fired but not even as sophisticated as stein beers.
We finally hit on one of the best understand advantages of brewing in uncertain circumstances, that it is a good way to handle water that isn’t entirely potable. Boiling is of course a requirement of brewing but the conversion to even low alcohol, small beers helps with keep those liquids safe to consume for a long time. The storage isn’t just limited to the finished product or the larger vessels we have, John shared a great idea of using cleaned long necks and a capper to easily make safe water more portable. That parallels a story he shared about macro brewers using their production lines in past disasters as a means of making safe drinking water more accessible.
This whole turn of the discussion made me think of the way many craft brewers are greening their endeavors. That sustainability works now for lessening environmental impact but in a resource constraint situation, means they are that much more efficient and self sufficient. The idea of such a brewery as a stable effort made me think of how a well established one, even at the end of the world. could act as an anchor to rebuilding societies. John expanded on that in terms of many more of the inputs and outputs of a brewery can help with reviving a collapsed community, whether that be to improve soil, help with water management or even contribute to the basic food supply by enriching the breads that can be made.
Chooch interrupted us to share how to give cheers in Estonia.
John’s before the break point about maximizing energy made me think about Vernor Vinge’s recently updated series in his Zones of Thought universe. The new sequel to Fire Upon the Deep, The Children of the Sky, deals with with a collapsed human society on an upcoming alien society and their partnership, rebuilding and improving. In that instance they combined some high tech, a microwave gun, with some ancient tech comparable to the way Romans heated their homes. New Belgium, as another eco brewer, is part of an amazing tradition, past and on into the speculative future.
John then shared one particular prepper technique to capitalize on the high energy density of rice. It made him wonder about the applications of that well preserved packet of 5 gallons of rice but also what benefit might be derived from carefully storage of whatever grain is available. That made me think of how good storage can make the minimum level sustenance so much more affordable for a good amount of time. I did wonder if malting and storage would be affected by the lack of technology, that we might naturally end up making darker beer and spirits. John reminded us how the lightest of beers, pilsner, was originally an accident that introduced an alternative to the previously much more dark, rich beers before then.
We hadn’t touched on yeast but my wife had that question of how brewers at the end of the world would get ingredients. Hops, water and grains are fairly obvious but so long as you can get a bottle conditioned beer, you can krausen yeast from that, much like cultivating a mother sponge for sourdough. This made John think of the close relation between baking and brewing. I suggested that started with a single yeast variety that may not be best for beer, it would not take long to evolve that strain and improve it. A single strain useful initially to beer and bread could very rapidly produce two or more that work better for each specific end product.
John reminded us how the short generation time of yeast leads to a quick domestication even of wild bugs in the environment. Many brewers moving into second hand breweries face a challenge of eradicating the old brewers strains so their own particular strains can stand a chance and contribute as desired to the new house style. Yeast has clearly been co-evolving with us as long as the more obvious domesticated animals we think of. What Sam Calagione was able to do to produce Ta Henket is a testament to how much the cultivated yeasts stick around in the environment. It serves to remind us that the deep history of brewing, the modern abundance we enjoy, and the far future really are all tied together.
John then thought of the various yeast varieties he has really enjoyed using. In particular he has been thinking about lagering, something I may be able to offer up my sub-cellar for. We then transitioned into a quick brewing update on our latest, the second iteration of my dubbel recipe. Since we were speaking of yeast, this beer provided an appropriate update given the strong yeast contribution to the recipe. I suggested anything from New Belgium as a bottled example of this anyone should now be able to try.
John closed with a great philosophical thought that ties together so much of what we talked about throughout this whole episode.
You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.
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