Monday, June 2, 2014

Teff Beer Attempt - Step 2

In the last exciting episode, I had talked about my grain decision and promised to talk a bit about science versus art. But first, I'm looking at that title. Step 2, it says. I'm not sure how to break it to you but I'm not sure of how many steps there are or how to break it down in digestible blog post style. So, there it is. I know the end will be the drinking of the beer and the beginning the concept. Buckle up.

After picking the grain, (not literally, I picked it up at the store in the gluten free section) I wanted to see what had been done before so off to the internet we went. Yeah, that's when I started to realize something. Just like in cooking, recipes and approaches fall into some broad categories. There are the recipes followers, the scientists, the artists, and the goof offs.

The two more junior members of the homebrew band, note that I did not say artisinal or craft, are recipe followers and the goof offs. The recipe followers measure and follow the steps without any understanding, hoping for some insight to come along the way. Some are keeping decent track of what is going on so that when it fails, they can see where they deviated from the recipe. Often these failures will push the followers into more rigid following of said recipes or push them into troubleshooting mode. The second way leads to geekery. There are a lot of geeks on the internet.

The goof offs are those who want cheap, but not awful beer. These tend to be frat boys, handy men and friends of friends who had a friend who brewed this stuff one time. Good times.

Then there are the scientists, technicians and experimentalists, who measure and note take. Sometimes they have a very clear idea of what they are replicating and other times they are testing one or more parts of the brewing protocol. What happens if I overhop here or use this method for wort chilling? How can I tweak my setup to get the qualities I desire out of the beer?

Then artists. With the idea that brewing has been happening for thousands of years, the basic recipe hasn't changed. All that is left is ornamentation and experiment. Yes, you still have to understand basic techniques and science but beer is a living thing. Beer is beautiful. Brewing is art.

Look, those are quick and dirty ideas of what I found on the internet. Of course, being the internet, the scientists and goof offs are well represented. The recipe followers often show up in forums starting their questions with "I followed the recipe exactly but..." and the artists... Hmm, I found most of them writing books. Sandor Katz wrote a great book on fermentation, Wild Fermentation, that will put your mind at ease. It doesn't cover just beer, which is only a small mention, but all types of fermentation.

I am usually more on the technician side rather than the artist side but we all fall somewhere along that line. If you are a perfectionist, the problem is that there is so much information with a lot of it being bad ideas masked in technique. How do I know this as a novice? Cooking and fermenting other stuff. When I looked at the recipes, they offered little in technical matters cause it just seems so straight forward. Boil some stuff (okay not really boil), cool it down, add yeast, let them eat, bottle and add some more food for yeast to eat and then enjoy. My sons put it this way, I am drinking yeast poo.

But that process is not how beer was always made. And there is the rub. Having read historic recipes for all sorts of food including medieval bread, the technique of cooking and brewing was known to everyone so much so that the techniques were never written down. I fear that a lot of our homebrewing knowledge is of recent vintage. Sandor Katz' book and other older homebrewing books such as 'BEER Making For All' don't have the focus on styles and tight grip on process but really understand the whole idea from an historical perspective. The basic idea is that stuff rotted and people found the best way to get that rotting stuff to taste good. There is some theory that humans are scavengers and therefore like the taste of savory and sour goods because of it. That is a whole other discussion.

With all those concepts rolling around in my poor undersized head, I tried to figure out the best approach for me to get this teff brew done. I wanted to make sure I could understand what the grain would taste like. I wanted to make sure that I had yeast and hops I was familiar with. Also, the choice would have to be complementary to bring out what I thought would be the best from the grain. I chose some British hops (Williamette and Fuggles) and Belgian Golden Yeast. I'm not sure if I'll use a mix of the hops or just one. That'll be a brew day decision.

What's that? What style of beer will it be? And this is where we will part company. I'm not interested in the style. Style is a recent phenomenon to help consumers know what they are getting. It is a way to categorize beers of the world for comparison. It is a way for amateur brewers to enter into competitions and learn to make better beer. The home cook who draws from different cuisines and techniques isn't all that interested in describing their food in terms of naming the dish or determining the style of cooking. Remember, I am just a talented home cook at heart.

Thus ends part the second. In the next part, I take a trip to the store and then I wrestle and cry about the grains I chose. Hopefully there will be some real information that someone trying to brew a beer can use.
Other posts in this series: Part 1: The Big Idea, Part 3: Shopping, Part 4: Malting and Part 5: Mash and Boil.

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