As Denny and I get deeper into this book, the stronger I feel the whole enterprise depends on your favorite definition of “experimental”. It means something different to lots of people. Do we mean experimental as a scientist means it? Carefully measured and designed explorations aiming to discovering an underlying objective truth? Do we mean it like an artist means it – the avant garde, the unexpected that in a brief exposure can expose a subjective truth and a deeper understanding of life? (Yes, we’re talking about beer, but jokes aside : beer is a thing that has been fundamental to human civilization becoming civilized. Look at how few words for beer exist across the glut of human languages – that’s linguistical inheritance for you)
The artsy side of things, the wildly weird and strange side of brewing is the sexy attractive stuff. We see it every time we pour a beer for friends. Which garners you more praise and looks of concern: “oh this is my pale ale” or “this is my Citra and mango infused Pale Ale aged on exotic hardwood”? That sort of thing is a lot of fun as I sit here and drink Stone Brewing’s “Farking Wheaton W00tStout“. It’s a gaudy 13% abv Imperial Stout with Rye, Wheat and Pecans blended with some aged in Bourbon Barrels. That’s just nucking futs and fun to roll around in.
But there’s the serious side, the science side. It’s less sexy, less flashy, but damned if it isn’t important. And here’s my point on why the science side is a critical piece of the book. I was born a full blown nerd. Ask my mom – when she wanted to get me to do something as a kid, my reward was a trip to the Science Center. I used to quiz people on what I learned. (Hey, wait I still do!) Some how my science side flourished even as I was raised in a family of literate types. (I kid my mom scrimped to be able to send me to science camps and university programs)
Naturally, for a kid of my bent, I wanted one of those 500 chemistry experiments in a box. Out of a fear that I’d blow the house up (who needs a chemistry set when you have a shed with lawnmower gas!), mom never did get me one of those kits. Of course, these days you can’t buy any chemistry sets or chemicals or anything else without ending up a suspect in a terrorist plot.
Instead of that magical box of fun, I was set loose in the kitchen. After some rudimentary training, I turned the culinary into experimental. The family suffered through quite a few iterations of things gone terribly terribly pear shaped. But it all was in the name of science. Now-a-days there’s the whole terrorist issue in play or maybe it’s a “cooking meth” sort of thing. Regardless, home science has taken a big hit over the years with people being shut out of a chance to make “magic”.
Brewing can serve as another outlet of science in the home. Mitch Steele of Stone Brewing (an odd coincidence I swear) lays out in his recent blog post – brewing is a process that requires planning and careful consideration. That same consideration and process is what’s needed when you think science – “what happens if” can only be determined if “everything else is the same”.
I’ve rambled, but it’s important that we keep a sense of scientific wonder alive and an understanding of it all. Otherwise, you can be as whack-a-doodle as you want to be, but it won’t teach you a thing. To that end Denny and I have got to remember that we’re trying to provide the reader a basis for experimenting both in the scientific and artistic sense.