Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Beer and Philosophy?: An Attempt Through the Self

Ok, How to start this... after having my self-reflection in the last post and getting over my hangover, getting back on a few beers at The Local yesterday and finishing one of my favourite books in the process, I was awoken this morning at 4:30am with thoughts buzzing around my head, and so am back again to see where it takes me this time.

Putting alcohol and philosophy together is nothing new. I think it may have been the Greeks that would get drunk and start philosophising, probably much as we still do to some degree today. Also, I have already spoken of Michel De Montaigne in previous posts, regarding his philosophical views 'on drunkeness'. However, he also said 'to philosophize is to learn how to die', which in one sense may not be good to then connect to beer, but I see it as that it is just a sense of things outside yourself, and how you relate as an individual life form with a finite time to experience life. Seeing I had my moment purely 'within' myself in the last post, without the hangover I can now look beyond, and take that reflection elsewhere. Still, as the human condition is to be aware of our own awareness, these thoughts on beer have to stem from the aspects I see in myself and the world around me which is why I have put 'An Attempt Through the Self' in the title. I am not drunk at the moment, and so not 'out of myself' in these musings. Apologies to those that have already lost interest in this post, at least you know not to go any further.

So, the book I was reading was Fritjof Capra's 'The Web of Life', and as well as bringing up aspects similar to the carbon tax we are in the process of debating about at the moment (this book was written 15 years ago), some other aspects jumped up at me that had me relating it to myself, and the beer nerd in me.
As well as the diversity in beer I brought up the other day as a powerful principle of mine with beer, the interconnectedness of it was also highlighted to me through the example of nature in the book. It is probably why this picture showing both of these aspects of beer made such an impact on me the first time I saw it. The other thing that came to me, which is just symbolic, is that in nature the four elements of air, earth, fire and water (sorry for sounding like an episode of Captain Planet) can also be seen in that there are four 'elements' of beer (yeast, malt, hops and water). The 'potential' I spoke of in beer the other day, and relating it to life probably came from this unconscious thought that as these four elements of nature brought out so much diversity of life now, and all that have represented life in the past, with four ingredients in beer, we also get a great deal of diversity available, but also the connectedness of similar styles coming from these four basic ingredients. This picture could almost represent the tree of life in beer, with kingdoms (lager and ales), species, etc.
The four ingredients themselves add a simplicity to beer, as it was probably by accident why the first beer was ever brewed. Grain left in water with some air-born yeast (a type of yeasting still used in lambic style brewing today via open fermentation), and next thing you know, you have beer. This 'natural' aspect of beer has probably been one of the things that has attracted me more as I have come to learn about beer. As long as the yeast has sugars and the conditions to survive and grow, they will make alcohol, and alcohol can make us walk funny, Horray!
Taking this approach to beer, I probably need to talk of the life given to beer through yeast. While it is not aware it is making alcohol, we can create an almost symbiotic relationship, like we have with the many bacteria we already have in our own bodies. We can feed yeast what it needs to survive and we feed off the waste product of alcohol. It may not be symbiotic in the true sense that we need to survive off it's waste product, but at least we have seen a value to it that lets us appreciate its existence, even if we only really see if for our own gain in alcohol. Ok, that argument is pretty weak, but there are plenty of people in beer that cultivate their own yeast (ok, it is not like owning a pet), and with alcohol aside, yeast impart a great deal of flavour to a beer, which I think people need to think more about than the alcohol.
Just on alcohol, I have to say I agree with Montaigne that alcohol can harm our mind, body, others and our relationship with ourselves and others. While it generally has a lower level of alcohol than many other sources, beer is abused widely, and I guess the respect I have gained from beer is something else I want to impart while promoting it. Beer is something that has been part of humanity for such a long time, yet with our way of generating life within our species, each generation has to relearn, and unfortunately some don't. I have made my fair share of mistakes with alcohol and beer, and been lucky enough to survive, and sometimes silly enough to make the same mistakes again. But I guess coming back to what I wrote in the previous post, beer was not about getting drunk for me. Sometimes in the moment where the high of having alcohol and the social situation drives you to have more, I was outside of myself (not that it is an excuse), but having learnt more of what I can enjoy from beer, I can have my own 'highs' without it being purely through the alcohol, and is probably why I never really got into drinking beverages of higher alcohol. I get so much more from the flavours, smells, textures and feelings other than drunkenness, that drunkenness is now more a distraction from enjoying the beer. The main problem I have now though is with so many different beers to try, I inadvertently start to get a bit tipsy, but at least realise that is happening and can choose to stop, through the experiences I have had with beer.

Anyway, back to the nature of beer, the diversity from simplicity is what I also enjoy when I see the potential that I do in beer, as it only takes minor changes in the yeast, malt, water, hops to bring out a completely different beer. Therefore, there is a level of complexity going on behind this simplicity which can seem a bit contradictory, but is something that keeps us beer nerds intrigued. This simplicity even goes into brewing. In the usual household, the only addition you need is a fermenter (just a barrel with an air-lock) and you can make your beer at home, as I have for a few years now. This simplicity then allows for the accessibility I also spoke about in the previous post. The adventure of brewing I also brought up then also makes sense, as another aspect of that diversity through simplicity brings flexibility of what sort of beer you can make. The adventure also comes from that little question of what will happen. While brewing has become a bit of a science, and brought with it the use of added ingredients and chemicals to try and control the output of the brewing process, at its heart there is still that little bit of uncertainty for me, which I enjoy, and is probably why I have liked experimenting with beer. There is a robustness to beer and the process of brewing that can allow for many things to be added the affect certain aspects. Still, as you can see from above, for myself, I wish to keep it as natural as possible, and not rely on a quick fix through advanced science.

This then brings up a point within me of patience. As some will have noticed through this blog, my steps into working with beer have been slow and may show a lack of ambitious hunger. I have already been very lucky in life, and so from it felt that lack of desire to get any more than I need. While all this may show someone that I am very self conscious, I am hopefully only conscious of my own development as a person, and not greedy for possessions. Beer in itself is a fleeting thing, once you have drunk it, all you have is the memory of the sensations you had while drinking it (which I try to put down here) and a vessel that beer came in. Anyway, back to patience (see, I even have the patience to allow myself to go off track with my thoughts), beer needs at least a week to ferment, and if their is bottle conditioning, you can be waiting a month from wort to drinking beer. Even when we were advised with our Russian Imperial Stout to let it sit for 3 months after bottling, I did not have too much trouble waiting for it. My love of stouts means that letting them sit and mature a bit in the bottle is not unusual, and I even have beer sitting in my bedroom that have been their for years. Yes, there is a question of timing it right to open a beer, but having that patience (and having many other beers to try while you are waiting) is something I can relate to with the beers I like. The Moo Brew Vintage Imperial Stout sits for 9 months in Pinot Noir barrels before it is bottled, and I have let some sit for a year after that, and still going. It is only the excitment of wanting to see what it tastes like that makes you want to open it, and that is mainly for our home brews anyway, to see what we have to learn. Time can be that missing ingredient, or it may be that there is more than the sum of it's parts in beer, or maybe I am having a systems thinking wank.
Ok, so I have internalised too much by now to make this generalistic and allow people to relate to. Maybe I only wish I could to keep spreading the word of beer, seeing I have reached this level of understanding with it. So maybe my attempt has failed, just as my attempt to make a great chocolate stout has never quite made it, but at least we develop a bit more with each attempt. Through this I think I have come to understand more my own interest in beer and why it has become what it has to me. I think taking a naturalist/ecology approach to beer is something others have seen value in as well through this blog, as one of my most read posts is on the environmental impact of beer. I look forward to come back to this topic, as have started finding examples of breweries with an environmental conscious (like Brooklyn Brewery).

Anyway, the comment button is there for those that want to complain about another idiot blogger trying to relate too much with little understanding on the topics brought up within and outside beer. Still, I hope for most, this is just another way to look at beer, and help them develop their own respect for it.

Beefy (who would take anything seriously a bloke calling himself Beefy has to say on his beer blog anyway?)

PS: Just reached 4000 hits for this blog, and this is our 180th post. Hooray!


jayelde said...

"diversity from simplicity"...I love that! It is so true, so brilliant. It is indeed the concept that I find also find so captivating about beer...so I'm right with you there.

You should TradeMark the phrase, it would make an awesome tag-line for a craft brewer.

m said...

all i can say is wow>>>