Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Thriving Population

I spoke with one of the Poughkeepsie brewer to ask a random question. His reply completely floored me; he asked, "Why not ask a brewer near you"? What did he mean "near me"? Had I travelled up the perilous trails of the Hudson Valley for no reason? There were men near me who knew all these magical concoctions? Had I stumbled onto some undergroundnetwork? Would I be invited? Was I already in? Just as I had gotten comfortable with being 1 of 2 in my quest, I found that I was a new member of a thriving population.

Buckets, Bottles, Scrubbers, Malts and Grain

I began to gather supplies like an ant when winter skies begin to set in. Buckets, bottles, scrubbers, malts, and grain. I knew that I could not embark on a journey like this alone. I had to find a like mind who would jump recklessly into the abyss with me. I found this partner in Helmut Hernandez, I man who was as steadfast as he was adventurous. His was a world of technology, while I was a man of the earth. To paraphrase Charles Dudley Warner, "Brewing makes for strange bedfellows."

Zen Meets Science

Having negotiated a lesson with the ale makes of Poughkeepsie, I was immediately taken by the process. It was the definition of Zen meets science. Though the ingredients could be of a great variety, time was always the stone steady constant. How long to boil, when to add this, when to add that. "This and that" were always the servant to master time. Even after all the work was done, the brew had to be set aside for the master to remind why he was in charge. Allowing the ingredient to intermingle for weeks or sometimes months at a time. There could and would be no attempt made to rush the process. The mix was ruled by its own calendar, just as it had been when each component of the concoction was created by nature.

I had stirred, poured, steeped, strained, cleaned and ask silly questions all with the skill of the novice I was. Their answers overflowed my mind as the aroma of warm barley filled my nose. There was talk of chemical reactions, precise weights, heating and cooling temperatures. Just when I thought myself completely mentally unprepared to embark on this lifelong journey; the chief brewer said, "First thing you always do when making beer, is have a beer and relax." The Buddha himself could not have spoken greater words of wisdom and assurance.

Just like the mix in the barrel, time would make me better too.