This is an episode of the Living Proof Brew Cast.
This episode was an experimental Friday night recording. Whether you choose to believe it or not, John only edited this episode once. He explained he wasn’t going to edit at all but we couldn’t make it all the way through the recording without losing our train of thought at least once.
While John struggled to uncork his beer, I foreshadowed the idea at the core of our topic, by describing my Friday after a doozy of a week. I was able to indulge a taste for dubbels that no doubt arises from the anticipation of bottling my next homebrew. I did manage to enjoy a new to me beer, Ommegang’s Abbey Ale Dubbel. This continued into the beer I selected to pour out for the recording, Flying Dog’s Disobedience. As it happens, my description of the beer from earlier in the week inspired John to pick up the very same beer for this podcast. This beer reminded both of us of some of the first beers we really enjoyed, that opened us up to the beer quest, from Chimay.
John set up our main topic, inspired by our unusual recording day. He explained his upcoming milestone on the beer quest, since he started using Untappd around last Balticon. Not that he drank one unique beer a day, but on average, by the upcoming Balticon, he will have done so on average. He then dug into the role ritual serves in marking key demarcations, even as simple and humble as the end of the week. I observed how it is natural given our deep history with beer, wine and spirits that they would natural play a role in at least these kinds of rituals. That says nothing about the mildly mind altering properties of alcohol, how it can have a direct physiological contribution to our experience of important times and processes.
The initial take on the topic made me think of the god of doorways, Janus. John expanded on that point, about how the forward looking and backward looking figure is a clever, useful, even ironic trick. John recently read and was discussing an article about drinking and creativity, continuing in the vein of elevated or altered states. I interjected a cautionary note, that ritual in this context may serve a responsible purpose, to respect the intoxicating potential of alcohol and help avoid abuse. It made me think too of writerly advice from our friend Cory Doctorow when asked how he is so prolific, that you must avoid using alcohol, or any substance, as a crutch, something without which you cannot do creative work.
John pointed to another excellent example, the spiritualization of steel and sword making in Japan. He explained how this parallels my thought about success, that ritual helps maintain process and rhythm for consistent outcomes. This ability can be related even to homebrewing, to the same end in terms of helping us consistently exercise our craft.
He leapt from there to the writings of John Shirley who wrote about gray zones. These are areas where usual laws have no hold which provides a release for societal stress, like the safety valve on a pressure cooker. Ritualizing these needs in a social context, he suggested, can help exercise them safely. There are many examples easy to find, from tail gating to the sharing of any number of beverages other than the alcoholic ones on which we tend to focus, like tea or mate mate.
John touched on an idea I had been considering since we settled on this day appropriate topic. Rituals, in my experience, have to be alive, subject to adaptation and change as our lives progress and the factors in them which inform ritual also change. I offered an example from my life, from a job past, where we had a tradition of sharing single malt Scotch regularly on Fridays. When I left that job, even before I left, I moved on to other ways to observe the end of my week. There is a continuity in my persistent desire to share and explore, as well as mark a boundary in time at the personal scale.
John dug a little more into my current tradition, of indulging in a big bottle of beer now on Fridays since it allows me to explore a wider variety of beers than if I limit myself to small bottles. I had been limiting myself to buying big bottles only to share, occasions that occur much less frequently. John explore a bit of a tangent around his experiences returning to Roots Market rather than going to his usual Pinky’s and Pepe’s. We cannot say enough good thinks about Roots and what they represent. They even had a great suggestion to John, that we leave out some fliers near their beer cases about the podcast.
A verbal flub of mine, welcoming all the different dietary approaches led a further tangent about artificial DNA. We are both fascinated by the potential of this technology. In retrospect, something that didn’t even occur to either of us while recording, beer itself could be described as one of the earliest forms of biotech. The robustness of synthetic DNA and the possibility of debugging biological systems are tantalizing, especially how it may feed back into the science of yeast cultivation.
I finally managed to lead the conversation back to our discussion of how the size of a bottling impacts variety. Finding ways to indulge in large bottles as well as small is a boon, especially at places like Roots that have an especially good selection of big bottles, many of which figured into our earliest episodes. The idea of pleasing variety made me think, of course of Calvert Wine and Spirits which we love to visit while at Balticon. Speaking of, in many ways that event typifies a lot of the state of mind we’ve been circling around, in terms of memorializing changes in context, surrounding and socialization as well as the opportunities to share experiences, especially of beer, in new ways.
John related the increased variety to how older norms of modesty, much like the constraints of our county’s wacky distribution system, mean that we are more easily thrilled, like glimpsing a flash of ankle. He reminded me of a similar discovery Andrea, my wife made, while out of the county, an hour or more away visiting a friend. The suboptimal selection in the county and how we struggle to find new and tasty brews to try made us both think about the role of sacrifice.
Mentioning Balticon several times, it finally sunk in what an excellent example in many ways this event is of what we’ve been discussing. It only comes once a year. We work there on familiar things in new surroundings, with different people, and learn entirely new things. So many of the friends whose acquaintance we renew almost exclusively at this convention are also such epicureans, affording us the opportunity for example to enjoy new shared experiences. John described a story we wish we had managed to record with Nathan Lowell (whose story telling prowess you can enjoy for yourself at Podiobooks) of the simple, traditional joy of making beans. That story made me think too of how many of these foods and experiences around them involve a lot of what we had been discussing throughout the episode.
We wrapped up by coming back to our impressions of the beer, especially as it has opened and warmed throughout our discussion. John compared it to a recent experience with his cousin, Kat Scratch Beaver of the Rage City Roller Girls, at Tuscaroro Mills. Her husband shared a thoughtful, small ritual that invites the yeast and other sediment in bottle conditioned beers, abbeys and others, into the taste.
We closed with an invitation to find us and share beer and stories at Balticon.
You can grab the flac encoded audio from the Internet Archive.
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