Monday, February 20, 2012

the human side of industry

I don't know what it is about homebrewing, but I am hooked. Hooked in ways few other farm hobbies have captivated me. I like to bake okay. I enjoy sewing and embroidery when the mood strikes. I can knit for hours at a time...but homebrewing has a sort of subversive style to it I just can't shake. It makes you feel special, a member of a secret society or tree house club. When you have finished a batch and are priming and capping the brown bottles (adding sugar for carbonation and sealing the metal pry-off caps) it feels like you just did something you weren't supposed to do. Not a guilty feeling, not a naughty one either. Just a feeling of industry rarely felt in your home and you get the sense you just did something only places with smoke stacks and assembly lines were supposed to do. Kind of like a seamstress with a heavy duty sewing machine that can make jeans and has a rivet machine. She did at home something assembly lines, factories, and machine folk can do, not us civilians in apartments and homestead kitchens? And yet, when I go to the fridge there next to the bottles of Guinness or Saranac are my bottles, just as hoppy, carbonated, alcoholic and frothy. I was the recipe and the factory. Makes you feel rich.

It's kind of intimidating at first. You need special equipment, some minor discipline in regards to sanitation and measurements, but generally it is a potion and a promise. You mix up your cauldron of wort and add your herbs and spices and then through the bubbling toil and trouble of the yeast you will get a totally changed substance. A little buzz, a smile, and sigh in a bottle.Pair that bottle of homebrew with a banjo or fiddle and you have a woman so happy she might float off her fireside log.

After all that hop-homily, I just wanted to share here that the workshop went well. Even though I had four last-minute cancelations that left us with only 9 people to brew and grind sausages with, it was an educational and busy day. Possibly the most tiring workshop I ever held. I think because both brewing and sausage making requires such preparation, presence, (and then clean up) that you can't rest. It is the ADD adult's dream hobby.

As for the workshop scene, it was a good crowd. A combination of friends new and old. Patty and her husband Mark arrived, a thank you barter for her time teaching me about becoming a competent driver. Melina and Robert of Smyler Farm, a vegetable operation down in Hudson. There was also Stacey and her Husband, a recent vet back from a tour in the Middle East (many thanks were shared) and good friends Elizabeth and Weez, a married couple from the berkshires who always bring a fiddle and guitar and liven up any scene. Oh, and me.

We started out with homebrewing, spending time going over sanitization and setting up your kitchen to brew. Between video clips and short talks we started up a batch of sweet stout, beginning with soaking a bag of specialty grains in the big 5 gallon stainless steel kettle over the stove. As the hour went on we added malt, lactose sugar, and hops. Even when you are not "doing" anything with beer you need to let it putter along at an observed boil. While it did its thing we dine on a lunch of my standby, winter chili (thank you Tasty the steer) and cracked a few local brews as well.

We regrouped to talk meat. I showed the folks how to soak the pig intestines in warm water, how stretchy and tough the casings were. I passed around a piece and folks tore and pulled at it. The I got a combination of pork and beef and the spice mix for a beer and cheddar brat and we set to work putting on plastic gloves and sinking our hands into a big ol' pryrex bowl of meat stuff. Then when the two worlds of flesh and spice seemed to know each other fairly well, we loaded meat into the heavy grinder and hand cranked the meat into a long attached tube that the casings covered. Meat was fed through into pudgy little sausages and many off-color remarks were made. It was impossible not to giggle.

The afternoon slipped away into a combination of conversations, brewing bottling, and a small factory of shared work. At one point I was running around getting more bottles out of the cabinet to sanitize while Robert and Mark were grinding away with a heavy cast-iron Weston grinder/stuffer while Stacey was helping cap and Weez was running past with more to set up in the living room in pretty rows. It was a flurry and a frenzy. Everyone worked, everyone helped, and in the end we had brewed give gallons of sweet black beer, bottled another five of a coffee stout porter, and made a plate full of giant brats for folks to ziplock and take home to cook up for dinner. All around me was the human side of industry. People who used their kitchen, hands, stoves, cranks, and cappers to create a viking feast of meat and ale. It felt hardy. It felt primal. It felt good.

And I now raise my glass to you.

photos by melina smyers


Blogger quiltaholic said...

I have never made beer - but I remember the sausage making parties from when I was a kid. It was my favorite of all the work-frolics my dad and his buddies did. Making sauerkraut came was a close second. Fresh Cabbage and salt in a 30 gallon crock, Yummo! :)

February 20, 2012 at 11:40 AM  
Blogger Matt_Middleton said...

My wife and I are planning to make beer after an upcoming trip. I've made cider before (well, from juice anyway, not the real deal), and it's a blast!

February 20, 2012 at 12:03 PM  
Blogger Julia said...

I feel a similar thrill making jams out of wild fruit. A fun outing to collect free fruit, hand-me-down jars, and a bag of sugar makes for a very sweet and lovely cupboard to gloat at. I've never in my life bought jam, and hope to keep it that way!

February 20, 2012 at 12:04 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth from the Berkshires said...

That's the same subversive thrill I get whenever I create something that makes us less dependent on the grocery store, the drug store, and the clothing store. Top thrills include: knitting my first (and my second, and my third, and my fourth, and you get the idea) pair of socks. Concocting herbal salves and tinctures for myself and my wife that are better than any over the counter remedy at keeping us healthy. (Not to mention the witchy atmosphere in our living room where the jars of potions in process hang out.) Baking a crusty artisan loaf of bread that includes local CSA grain that I ground into grain myself.

This is the life I choose, too.

(And Jenna, thanks for not mentioning that I had to go hide in your living room while the sausage-cranking was going on. A bit too graphic for this innocent girl.)

Elizabeth from the Berkshires

February 20, 2012 at 12:21 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth from the Berkshires said...

*ground into flour

February 20, 2012 at 12:22 PM  
Blogger Bex said...

So glad that went well for you all. It sounds like a grand time.

February 20, 2012 at 12:32 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

My dad made beer for awhile. He even grew hops in the back yard (those plants may still come back each year, I'm not sure).

He had a keg that he sawed the top off of, and he would do the boiling outside, weather permitting, to spare the house from that particular odor.

February 20, 2012 at 1:03 PM  
Blogger Bovey Belle said...

I haven't made sausages for quite a while now, but they're great fun. Gets expensive when you have to buy in both the hog casings AND the meat, rather than having it come from a home-raised pig.

Beer-making was my husband's province. Wine-making is mine. There is a mysterious alchemy about wine-making, having the brew bubbling away like something demented in the demi-john. Taking fruit from the garden or better still, from the wild, and turning it into a drink which really TASTES of the fruit that went into it.

February 20, 2012 at 2:03 PM  
Blogger Bovey Belle said...

Oh and Julia - I agree with your about the jam making. Magic!

February 20, 2012 at 2:04 PM  
Blogger Paulette said...

I know the feeling you describe. Stepping away from purchasing everything one needs is so satisfying. Making paper, binding one's own books, or making soap - this type of activity is truly rewarding. Thinking about home brew.....

February 20, 2012 at 6:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We just finished some beer as well - it's in its primary fermentation container, bubbling away softly behind me as I type this. Beer is more of my husband's thing, but I help. Mead is more mine - with his helping. It's a great way to spend time together. Picking up a second gallon of local honey on Wednesday to make our batch of mead, hopefully this weekend. Glad you had a great workshop. Maybe one day I'll make it up a few states for one.:)

February 20, 2012 at 8:04 PM  
Blogger admin said...

Sounds like the perfect combination for a workshop, glad it was a great time with good company. Can't wait to see if my first batch of homebrew terms out. Your right, couldn't put my finger on it but it does have a bit of a subversive feel.

February 20, 2012 at 8:52 PM  
Blogger greendria said...

This is a great post. I feel like I was there after reading it. thank you

February 23, 2012 at 11:11 AM  
Blogger maplestory said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

February 27, 2012 at 1:11 AM  

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