There are four main ingredients in beer- water, yeast, hops, and grain. From this combination, there are endless possibilities that yield a world of tastes and flavors, looks and feels. There's always a new discovery or realization about the combination of these four variables. Our human nature, our definition of community and the evolution of civilization has placed an important value on the process of brewing beer, which wouldn’t be possible without specific emphasis on the reactions and metabolic processes of yeast.
Before the advent of microscopes, people didn’t know what made beer work. We attributed it to the Almighty. Once we were able to see the cells, we still couldn’t understand how to classify and identify them. We kept asking our pre-1900 selves, what makes it all work? Science made the metabolic processes real and solid. It made the production of beer a series of conscious decisions that were intentional and not left up to the cosmos. We found that there are hundreds of yeast strains. Each with their own personality. We also found that each yeast cell can only fill itself on a certain amount of glucose to create the desired reaction - fermentation. If hundreds of millions of yeast cells do their job, we have properly fermented beer. Raw wort doesn’t taste nearly as good as a fully developed product that has had an opportunity to come together and mature. Similar to the way an effective community functions, each person adds something to the mix to make it more viable, more complex, more interesting, and more diverse. When each community member does their part, we make a better place.
Before we knew that yeast was a primary determinant in the making of beer, we relied on the Reinheitsgebot of 1516 (the German Beer Purity Law). At that time, there were only three ingredients in beer: barley, water, and hops. After yeast’s discovery and understanding of its impact on beer, this ingredient was added to this still relevant Beer Purity Law. This was a critical shift in the knowledge and process of making good beer. The Reinheitsgebot was credited as one of the first consumer protection laws ever created. Side note – super important in today’s political climate to emphasis that Craft beer still cares about your health. Beer is regulated for consumer advocacy first, because of how it affects all of society. More on beer’s impact on civil society in another blog. Ahem, now where was I?
Louis Pasteur made the connection in the mid-1800s that yeast is a living microorganism responsible for the conversion of sugars to ethanol. You remember that guy, right? He also made the polio vaccine, pasteurization process, and invented the biochemistry profession. Yeast is a part of the field of biochemistry. The more we know about this crucial ingredient, the more we are able to temper the flavors of beer. Before the advent of biochemistry, tradition and adherence to protocol is what made beer recipes replicable. But now, in American Craft beer, we push against this tradition but we still respect its principles.
Making Better Beer
To be able to abstract, you have to know the basics. Replicable structures have kept our beer, our community, and our society functioning and moving forward. We’re wary that a little knowledge can be more dangerous than knowing none. With this in mind, our approach to beer and to community means that we’re always curious, listening, and taking in as much as we can to become better while maintaining a consistency of quality and making the space and place of the brewery and our beer, better. Through engagement and participation, each member adds her voice to the conversation.
Our SMaSH beer is a perfect example of choosing the best of the few variables we have control over – malt and hops. It is beer in its most simple form. Even in those two variables, the chemical make up from batch to batch is different. Accommodating these cellular changes to create a superior and replicable product over and over again, is a challenge. It also exposes the best expression of those variables – the freshest hops, the best malts, the right water. But, science gets us only so far before we have to rely on taste, flavor profile and you, the consumer, to confirm we got it right.
We know we can’t control every variable. But as brewers, we choose our battles and are slightly obsessed with variables that we can control, to make the best beer. As a drinker of our beer, we know you have choices, and choosing our beer means that you have a certain appreciation of its history and future. It means making your ‘local’ a priority and taking pride in the expression of your community through its products. Sharing this experience with friends embodies the best of a long, long history of bringing people together to share ideas, journeys, troubles, and successes over a pint. Do Good, Drink Better.