For the this month’s Session, Jeremy Short at Pintwell asks us to write about how homebrewing impacts our relationship with beer. I started homebrewing five years ago, making 15-20 batches over that time. A couple of those brews were awful, most were OK, and maybe three times the malt, hops and yeast combined to somehow create something sublime, causing me to exclaim “Damn, did I just brew this?”. As you might expect, homebrewing removed much of the mystery from creating beer. From homebrewing, I discovered that beer was not created by magic, but by careful treatment of malt, hops, yeast and creating the right conditions to allow them to transform into beer.
I also learned that brewing beer is a royal pain in the ass. There’s always some object, large or small that needs to be sanitized. I spend long periods blankly staring at a pot of boiling wort and once the beer is brewed and the yeast pitched, I’m left with a messy kitchen to clean up. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy homebrewing. Formulating the recipes, enjoying the final product, and sharing it with others is all fun, and that’s what most people enjoy about homebrewing. But the not-so-fun parts, like all the cleaning and time consuming tediousness of brewing are things I can barely tolerate. For those reasons, even if I had more time, I wouldn’t homebrew that more often. I’m hardly what you’d call a passionate homebrewer.
Another hobby of mine is running. Most people say I’m a passionate runner, and they’re probably right. Running is often portrayed as basically moving your arms and legs around, feeling great and crossing the finish line with your arms raised in victory. It really isn’t that way at all. Running involves a lot of long runs, often done in the early morning in solitary anonymity. It’s critical to focus on running form to maintain efficiency and prevent injuries. One must also venture into lung searing oxygen debt two or three times are week in order to really improve. Sore feet and tired legs are daily parts of the deal, as well as the occasional unplanned discharged of various bodily fluids. At lot of people find running tedious, boring and highly uncomfortable. I love nearly every minute of it. (OK, maybe not the bodily fluid discharge part.) I’d have to agree this enjoyment of all things running is not really logical and my brain is uniquely wired such that I can’t sit still for five seconds. Still, there’s a lot of people out there just like me. I get together with like minded individuals Saturday mornings at 7:00 am to run a bunch of laps around a track about as fast as we can go. It’s our idea of a good time. Most people would consider this some type of torture.
Sure, a few brief times a year, there’s that thrill at the end of race crossing the finish line. But this is a small part of running, even if it is the end result of all the hard work. Of course, sometimes after all that work I have a bad race that produces disappointment rather than elation. It’s nice that running keeps the weight off and is good for my health, but this is just a nice byproduct. I enjoy the mental discipline of maintaining and concentrating on good form for over an hour at a time. It’s almost meditative and it’s hard to explain to those who incredulously ask, “You mean you actually like running?”. As for why I set impossibly high standards for myself and willingly engage in self-abuse, I’d like to keep that between me and my therapist.
This makes me wonder if passionate homebrewers actually enjoy the act of brewing, which when you think about it, is actually about as sexy as cleaning a toilet. Do passionate homebrewers find staring at the turbulent wort meditative? Does perpetual cleaning of the equipment create a spiritual feeling of ritual purification for the yeasts to do their thing? Is the journey of exploring an endless combinations of hops, malt and yeast before finding the exact combination to create the perfect beer the road to homebrewing nirvana? Or do homebrewing enthusiasts hate all the tedium and cleaning just like me but the thrill of beer creation overrides this in their brains?
Which leads me to wonder: Does passion for any hobby flow from its pleasures, or does it come from the rare enjoyment of it’s most mundane aspects? You tell me.