Living in the Information Age has been fascinating and a little frightening as we hurtle faster and faster into a world that has always been the realm of science fiction. The tools at hand now are not only furthering the advancement of our technology, but helping unveil the mysteries of where we came from. But, that still leaves the question of where I am going with this? Well, the answer is beer, that is where I am going, thousands of years back with beer, and who knows how far in the future.
Beer has been a big part of my life, it has been for pretty much all of my adult life. In learning about civilization through the millennia I find it fascinating to consider that beer has been a big part of a lot of people’s lives. I love to try and imagine what life was like for Sumerians in 4000 BCE or life in ancient Egypt, with completely different social norms, laws, language and culture, different belief systems, technology, interaction with each other and with nature. But, despite everything being different from what we are familiar with, the idea of sitting and drinking a fermented grain beverage through a reed straw is pretty relatable for me. We have seen that nearly everywhere people have settled, spent time in one place, and harvested grains and other food together, they have made some version of beer. The question has arisen of whether beer brewing has been an offshoot of agrarian civilization or possibly the other way around, perhaps civilization has come about where people have set up their brewing operations.
As Americans we all hear about the pilgrims from England landing at Plymouth Rock due to a shortage of ale. Apparently, there is some truth in that story, but interestingly, when they did land there in 1620 there had already been a brewery in operation for eight years opened and run by the Dutch in what was to become Manhattan. In Scandinavia, Hungary, and Scotland “magic sticks”, yeast logs, and panrings were heirlooms passed generation to generation in brewing families.
There is evidence that witch trials of medieval Europe were a cruel business move to persecute enterprising brewsters and take over their market share of local sales of ale. We still recognize the business attire of these industrious women when Halloween comes around: tall black hat, broom, cat, attending her cauldron / brewkettle. We have seen the ancient Greeks pooh-pooh beer in favor of a much more dignified fermented grape drink, and the Romans adopt that opinion and steer it into a source of pride and, conversely, disdain for the “barbarians” at their borders. Well, Rome fell and beer brewing and drinking spread further into its territory, but we do still sense distant echoes of this bias of sophisticated wines over low-class beer, barbaric.
Where am I going with this? Not sure, I just find it fascinating to imagine these parts of human history with a beer in hand among fellow humans doing things humans, it appears, have pretty much always been doing - making, trading / selling, and enjoying beer.
So where are we now? I feel like we are in a very interesting place in history. As the industrial revolution and Green revolution led to drastic life changes for nearly every human on Earth we are now very much starting to feel the effects of this new age of information. As far as beer is concerned, everything is moving faster and faster. New beer styles are developed every few months or so and brewers have direct communication with all of their customers available to them. Despite vast technological advancements over the millennia the process of brewing is actually relatively similar to how it has always been. If anything, packaging for beer has seen the greatest advancements. Cans work really well at holding beer - lightweight, stackable, and recyclable.
So… we decided to pull up to the 21st century and can some beer. This was actually a little ways back in 2020.
We had been bottling our signature beer brands and brewing more and more fun one-offs for draft. The time had come to mix things up a bit and broaden our packaged offerings. We would periodically launch an ale and a lager together in 16oz cans. Sometimes they were recipes that we loved and had enjoyed making and serving on draft in our tasting room and selling out to the market, sometimes they were new experimental and I got to feel the stakes rise as we brewed bigger and bigger batches to can off. We called this series Top Ferment / Bottom Ferment - old brewing terms to describe warmer, fruitier ale fermentations and the cooler, crisper lager fermentations, respectively. These terms have been used since a time when a lot less was known about yeast and different yeast strains were first being isolated as monocultures from the more crude mixed cultures that had been used (via yeast log, etc.) up to this point. This was all possible by the enlightening studies of Louis Pasteur’s germ theory, humanity’s first foray into microbiology changing the course of the field of medicine forever.
Interestingly though (you know where I am going with this) Pasteur, in his experiments, was solely focused on beer, his groundbreaking work being titled Études sur la Bière…
The Top and Bottom Ferment series has been a blast for us and has helped a lot in developing new recipes and new styles of beer to play around with. I guess you could call it a celebration of beer and its role in human history (a seemingly pretty big role). In this series we have brewed a number of traditional, old-world beer styles as well as a few new ones that have been wonderful for us to see where the craft of making beer is going while considering how far it has come.