A Modest Beer Proposal


beer“Are you going to Beerfest?” queried a frat-tastic friend of mine when referring to an event in Nashville, Tenn. actually titled The Science of Beer. His pop-culture moniker for the event brings to mind Germans guzzling from Das Boot and slobbering on the bare chests of lederhosen-clad vixens. Not quite what the brain trust behind The Science of Beer had in mind I’m sure. Still, the learning event didn’t exactly aspire to the level of quantum physics. This is the paradox of beer festivals. They are one of the only opportunities for the masses to be exposed to the glorious variety of beer beyond triple-hopped brewed, drinkability (insert BS mass advertising here) and for that I am grateful. However, they rarely resemble anything more than a high school kegger with tastier beer (… at least in the South, where I live).

If I sound like a judgmental bastard it’s because I am. I happen to be next of kin to a world class brewer and am in the beer business myself. I’ve dug my nose into books on the history and stories of beer and recently paid $70 to take an exam to become the 1,066th person to get a certificate proclaiming my expertise on the subject (god that sounded cool). I am going to get it framed soon and plan on having business cards made as well; I expect a serious boost in sexual activity directly after. So at least I have a solid foundation to be an a-hole right?

Now that you know I am legit, allow me to begin beating the dead horse. We must start with a history of beer and specifically our country’s. Beer is thought to be mistakenly (divinely?) discovered in the fertile crescent, possibly by Egyptians, who left some bread or grain out in the rain. This produced a stanky water full of fermentable sugars created by a halted germination from the grains that were then consumed by wild yeasts turning them into alcohol and carbon dioxide producing an au naturale beer. It would not be malty/sweet and probably tasted like garbage, but got you messed up. When a lucky fellow was bold enough to drink this concoction after a dare, he got a wicked buzz and told the Pharaoh’s wife he wanted to see her naked and woke up with cottonmouth (in the desert!) on top of the Sphinx.

I am sure it happened something like that. Or maybe the Aliens made it for us while they were building the pyramids and we only have until 2012 to enjoy it. Either way, ancient middle-Eastern culture is full of references to beer in art and literature so beer’s invention is credited to a similar happening. As time passed and the experiments went right and wrong, beer development reached its height during the Industrial Revolution in Europe. Various regions produced rich ales and lagers using indigenous materials producing regionally specialized brews. Chemical differences in water, varieties of barley, French microbiologist Louis Pasteur’s scientific breakthroughs with yeast, a fuller understanding of fermentation, and lots of late night text-messaging all helped the advancement of our beloved beverage.

Fast forward to prohibition in 1920s United States. Up to this time, brewing mirrored the great traditions of Europe, and towns dotting our countryside were full of artisan breweries. Prohibition brought an end to the livelihood of these small businesses, and destroyed our country’s beer culture. When it all became legal again, brewing and the beer business were determined by supply and demand — and frugality. Economies of scale began running their course, and breweries that made cheaper beer (and made more of it) put the artsier guys under.

Before long ad-campaigns were launched, additives such as rice and corn were thrown in — laughing in the face of the Reinheitsgebot (the German Beer purity decree) — and light beer was born (cut to Macaulay Culkin putting aftershave on his face in Home Alone: AAAAHHHH!!!!!!). Generations in the United Stated were raised without knowing the history of beer or experiencing the great culture surrounding it. Mass consumption took precedence over quality consumption; beer culture became drink ‘til ya puke and funny commercials. Too many people complain that “all this new beer out here doesn’t taste like beer is supposed to” and “I can only drink like 2 and a half of those and I am full.” Guess what sucker: Lite beer is actually the new style (if you can call it that), your stomach is weaker than a baby’s headbutt, and you get what you pay for — and you pay for what you get! These days, most people couldn’t tell the difference in a good beer and a pimple on a monkey’s butt. I don’t really know what that means, but I do know we have a lot of work to do.

5/6/2010 12:03:35 PM

Boscos, Yazoo, or Blackstone? Cause whichever one you work at/own, I'm drinking there with all the funny snobs. P.S.- I hope all is well. Don't let the flood get you down. You can always go tubin' through the Grand Ol Opery Hotel to get your spirits high.

5/5/2010 5:11:03 AM

Great write up! Do you know if the Science of Beer is featured in other cities? I'd love to check it out in the Philly area.

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