Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

August 3, 2009

Beer Diary:

Beer On The Brain

When you spend every waking minute thinking about beer, you tend to see it in the unlikeliest of places.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
I spend an awful lot of time thinking about beer. Basically, it’s every waking moment. (But I don’t dream about beer. Curious …) I don’t think about actually drinking beer all that much—in fact, it’s usually only when I’ve got a pint sitting right in front of me. Instead, I’m thinking about making beer, the history of beer, beer’s place in culture—you know, beer’s whole deal. Needless to say, when you spend this much time thinking about the concept of beer you tend to spot beer’s footprint in places where other people wouldn’t have the faintest clue it was there.

A few months back I was reading a history book called Boudicca: The Warrior Queen. In short, Boudicca was a Celtic queen who led a revolt against Roman occupiers in 61 AD in what is now modern day Britain. The book dwells a lot on what Celtic culture was like back then, especially the mysterious Druids, who were sort of like priests, if in a totally pagan sense.

The author talks about a mostly preserved body from the period found in the peat bogs. Historians speculated that the man had been sacrificed quite brutally by the Druids (his head had been bashed in three separate places, he had been strangled, and his throat had been cut). What caught my attention, however, was the analysis of the man’s stomach contents, revealing his last meal: what appeared to be burned bread and grains of mistletoe pollen. The author assumed this burned bread was part of a Druidic ritual meaning to represent the burning of a wicker man. That supposition was pretty tenuous at best, especially since it was clear as day to me that the sacrificed man’s last meal was, in fact, beer.

Farfetched? Not remotely. First off, that wasn’t burned bread in the man’s stomach, it was roasted grain. Back before the industrial revolution, barley was malted over an open fire—meaning a lot of it got charred. And cheap metal strainers that home brewers now take for granted to separate their mash from the wort wouldn’t be invented for another 2000 years or so. The Celts probably used coarse weaves of wicker to lauter their mash. Which means more than a little of the grain—some of it charred—got into the final product.

Then there’s the mistletoe, which seemed to completely perplex the researchers. But to anyone who read Randy Mosher’s Radical Brewing, it was simple: mistletoe was used as a spice to counter the maltiness of the beer. In other words, it was a hop substitute, since hops weren’t widely used until at the very least 400 years later. So, my dear Watson, it’s blazingly clear that the man got a last meal of roasty ale before being clubbed, throttled, and sliced, then pitched unceremoniously (or, I guess, in this case, quite ceremoniously) into the bog.

But I see evidence of beer’s impact in even more obscure reads. Take a book you may or may not have heard of, known colloquially as the Bible. A good chunk of it follows the travels of a dude named Jesus, who has all kinds of wacky adventures while heeling and toeing it around the ancient Middle East.

The Bible, as you might not know, was originally written in Aramaic. It wasn’t until it was translated by the Greeks that it was widely read. And the Greeks, being fans of rotten grape juice, translated all mentions of “strong drink” as “wine.” And since the region where Jesus was born and did the majority of his travels was the birthplace of beer, it’s a distinct probability that Jesus and his buddies drank beer instead of wine—or, to be more exact, a braggot, maybe even brewed with date syrup.

So, remember that whole passage where Jesus is at the wedding reception, and the hosts run out of booze, and Jesus saves the day by turning water into, ahem, “strong drink”? The writers probably took a little creative license, or the story got a little changed over all the retellings and translations. The gist of it is still intact, but all logic dictates that what really happened was this:

Fermentation itself was viewed as a minor miracle back then, since know one really understood how or why it happened.
The wedding hosts—dumbasses—run out of beer. Jesus’ mom asks him to help out, because she knows he can. He shrugs, a little put out, because it ain’t his problem that the folks throwing the wedding are tightwads. She insists, and tells a couple of servants loafing nearby to help him out. So they head over to Jesus’ place and grab six stone jars full of beer. Beer that Jesus made himself. By turning water into beer—the miraculous art of brewing. Understand? Even the densest Philistine can see that Jesus was a home brewer.

They haul the home brew back to the reception and plop it down in front of the MC. He takes a sip, and says, “You were saving the good stuff for last, huh?” Since the hosts, double dumbasses, most likely bought shit beer.

Fermentation itself was viewed as a minor miracle back then, since no one really understood how or why it happened. And Jesus’ brew was so damn good it “thus revealed his glory.”

If you think about beer constantly you can read between the lines of history and decipher the secrets conspiratorial Greeks and close-minded researchers are keeping hidden from us. Washington Irving famously said, “Those who drink beer will think beer.” So, keep drinkin’, keep thinkin’, and beer will set you free.

Today is the feast day of St. Arnold, patron saint of beer.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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