Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Bears and Beer

Weeks ago I went to a knit and crochet festival at the Mall of America. Lots of booths, lots of free information and even lessons, and LOTS of people. One place was selling little kits for knitting Teddy bears, the completed bears to be sent to a post office box and then to Africa to be distributed to AIDs orphans. I bought the kit, because the pattern looked easy – it was – but it has taken me until now to get the darn thing finished. And while it’s a long way from being really well done, it’s also an attractive little toy. I wish I were a better, and more importantly, a faster knitter. Maybe if I’d chosen the kit with a pattern for crocheting the bear . . . No, I’m even worse at crochet than at knitting. I’d like to make more of these bears, and I’d like to add some of the decorative effects other people have made, such as hats and skirts. Will I? Probably not. Still, I’ll keep the pattern; I’ve got a lot of scrap yarn. Here’s the web site for anyone interested: http://www.motherbearproject.org/

I’ve been studying beer. As I mentioned in a previous post, I need a way to bring my main suspect and the murder victim together in a quarrel, and since his sole interest seems to be getting drunk, I am giving her a bar. But my books being set in cozy-land, the bar couldn’t be the usual dark, smoky (well, formerly smoky) place where hard-handed sons of soil and factory gather to share bitter stories of crop failure and lay-offs. Instead, Leona Cunningham will be partners with Billie Leslie in a “brew-pub,” a combination beer-only bar and small-capacity brewery. She makes fringe beers: dark ales, porter, German-style lagers and barley wines in a brewery set-up that takes up nearly half of her brew-pub, which I am calling The Barleywine. Barley wine and porter have a higher alcoholic content than ordinary beer, which is what attracts the attention of Bryan Brecht, my doomed alcoholic.

But all this means I have to learn about making beer.

Beer is a very old beverage. The ancient Sumerians, who invented writing, wrote about beer. Brewing beer is described in ancient Egyptian wall paintings. It’s hard to believe its age when you visit a modern brewery, with its temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks, specific-gravity measurements, and exotic machinery such as calandria and plate heat exchangers. Of course, experiments in brewing beer using the most antique methods generally produce a drink that is appallingly awful. It’s a wonder the custom of brewing survived these early experiments. The basic recipe is simple: dampen barley and let it just begin to sprout. Then roast it, crush it, and put it in a pot with water. The roasted grain is called “malt” and the mix is called “mash.” Boil the mash for a few hours, which will convert the starch in it into sugars. Strain out the solids. The remaining liquid is called “wort.” The wort is heated again and the flowers of a plant called “hops” are added, along with other flavorings if desired (licorice was recommended in an eighteenth-century recipe). The wort is cooled and poured into a vessel that can be closed, but with the ability to exhaust gasses that will form without letting contaminants in to join the fun and spoil the flavor. To the wort, add yeast. For the making of beer there are at least sixty varieties of yeast, each with its own talent. Yeast will turn the sugars in the wort into alcohol and gas, making the wort into beer. This takes awhile; after about three weeks it is merely “green beer,” cloudy and tasting of malt. It needs to go into bottles or barrels for several months to complete fermentation. (Note: if you follow the above recipe, you are not going to get something wonderful; the process is far more complicated than that (lautering, anyone?) if you want a delicious, refreshing, intoxicating potable every time.)

Am I going to try making beer? No. Why should I, when local liquor stores and micro-breweries offer numerous varieties for far, far less than the equipment I’d need to make my own (probably) cloudy, smelly, vile-tasting beer?


zhadi said...

Bears and beer...that's a great title for a book, let alone a post!

Monica Ferris said...

You think so? Somehow I think it needs a pair of boots in there as well: Boots, Bears, and Beer. Sounds like something my brother-in-law would read. LOL

Cathie said...

hi, happy to have found your site. i am currently reading "Hanging By a Thread" and really enjoy it. I design needlework patterns so was very HAPPY to have found your books at B&N. Very fun stories. Will it be okay if I put your blog address on my blog?

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