This future is a strange place. Today I built a moveable open fermentor. I’m adjusting my process in how I go about making this beer constantly, and I finally got up the nerve to jump off the little cornice that I’d been coaxing myself towards since I began this project. Some background:
The general idea for The Ale Apothecary is to create an alternate reality using beer as the dazzle camouflage. For the beer brings camaraderie, and with camaraderie comes trust. With trust, we of the ‘collective population’ can inspire each other and accomplish gigantic tasks like, for instance, how things get done.
I mean, how things really get done.
Many things that the our current country/world/culture offer as ‘normal’ are completely ridiculous. This statement is so completely true that I don’t even have to mention any of my favorites; you’ve already thought of something. It’s here that I’m trying to engage my little business as an activist-business. ACTIVIST-BUSINESS??? Dang, that’s going to be the title of this post!
Years ago, generations ago, we lived relatively un-pampered lives. We understood our lives as far as they reached, which generally wasn’t very far. But within that small space, we knew how to exist in a way where we utilized survivor skills common to our ancestors from thousands of years prior. From forever ago. Something happened, however. With the growth of industry and technology, we have crossed over a threshold (into the future), where we can exist regardless of the world around us. This is not reality, as our foods and plastics don’t fall from the sky, but they may as well have.
My personal belief is that industry and technology could completely solve the worlds’ problems (i.e. utopia), but they don’t and they won’t.
The Ale Apothecary shows up now, cracking it’s oaken knuckles. At least, in my alternate reality:
Some time ago in our recent history, you’d have heard that Old Man Arney had a good batch come off and you’d go see him. He’d talk about this year’s weather, some strange animal sighting, and how his son had finally started taking over certain aspects of the operation.. You’d look past him, into a strange world of vats and vessels, steam and foam. He’d hand you a jug and you’d hand over some meat or honey or flour. In whatever country, whatever year, and whether grape, honey or barley, you’d walk away thankful for this relationship (Just as Old Man Arney shared with his family, over the meat).
Fast-forward to the future that we reside within, and back to ‘art-over-industry’. How do we hold on to these things that have brought us this far? For better or worse, I’ve designed this business to provide experiences that will hopefully allow us a choice of holding on to it or (k)not. Take the champagne knot, for example (pg. 300, yes this comes from ‘Practical Pharmacy Knots’, if you can believe it). Along with the beer knot and other closure methods, most people knew how to manipulate string in a very functional way. Here at The Ale Apothecary, we have engaged in the practice of tying the champagne knot as our closure, simply to help remind us that prior to the late 1800’s, this method was used for hundreds of years. It’s simple, cheap and it makes you use your hands a bit.
Besides, then you know that a human being actually touched it, which is nice! Unfortunately, we don’t have time to delve into man-vs.machine, but I do have something for the proletariat masses out there. This was a video made WAY BACK, but it oh so eloquently describes my affection and concern for machinery taking the place of man. Enjoy music by Cock & Swan as well as Corespondents.
So, back to the open fermentor. Forever, beer was made under ‘mixed fermentation’ conditions, where multiple yeasts and bacteria all contributed to the overall flavor profile. Since the late 1800’s, after the isolation and discovery of a single-celled organism called yeast, brewers and vintners began describing all other non-yeasts and even some types of yeast as ‘spoilage’ organisms. From the historical window that Belgium gives us (think Cantillon, possibly the world’s best beer), I prefer the influence and unpredictability of these critters. However, I don’t live in Belgium where folks know what’s floating around in their air or have generations of experience to draw upon. So, the big deal is this: my open fermentor will allow some contribution from the wild space around my brewery starting next ferment! Just to be perfectly clear: there aren’t many micro-organisms that can live in a beer environment. The low ph, carbon dioxide, hops, and alcohol actually make a pretty inhospitable place to most airborne bacteria. Pathogens cannot live in beer, which is why in the middle ages folks drank beer instead of water. The brewing process actually can purify putrid water (think boiling) but people didn’t know this. All they knew is that beer was very, very special. Nowadays, everything can be ‘the best’. Usually it can be that way ALL THE TIME due to programmable machinery, computers, automation, etc. What the inclusion of these so-called ‘spoilage’ organisms create is an opportunity for chance. Most beer out there today is outcome-based, meaning there is a target to shoot for. Styles like IPA, porter, hefeweizen, etc. determine the outcome, which is known on the day the beer is brewed. Here, at The Ale Apothecary, we are trying to create a situation much like traveling without an itinerary, where being in the right place at the right time can make an experience that transcends reality.
Holy crap. Enough, Paul Arney!
OK. I don’t know if you realized that I was buttering you up or anything, but I’m going to ask you for some feedback. We’ve begun our Ale Club, and one of our goals is to over-deliver on that particular product. Coincidentally, my ‘Art over Industry’ campaign encourages me to seek out the art form within every project and opportunity. Hence, I am looking into making this creative writing/reading experience part of the overall package. The blog would still exist, but would become more of an invitation to get involved with what we’ve got going on, dates and very specific public info. What I’m proposing is the creation of a subscriber-type of system where you folks would pay $2.50 a month in compensation for one or two of this type of thing per month. My question to you is would you do it? Ale Club members get it for free, of course. What I like about this idea (besides the financial encouragement to write) is that it supports our activist-business model and that our focus is larger than the beer itself.
Would you do it? Is this content worth $2.50 to you?
(No NPR jokes, please.)
June 2nd, 2012 at 8:39 am
It’s worth it to me. I plan on being a member already, but if I wasn’t I’d pay $2.50/mo for the newsletter and updates you pump out. A fan
June 2nd, 2012 at 6:56 pm
Thanks, Joshua! The reality is that ‘customer input’ really drives the direction of any business. If our customers want the beer sans story, I’ll drop spinning yarns. However, I’m hoping that the story is important as well, because as we talk about history & actions, we’re creating and living our own story. This is where I think we have room to influence others; by sharing stories through personal relationships. Our futuristic digital age is extremely useful for this, right?!
June 4th, 2012 at 6:58 pm
I’d absolutely do it! As someone about to leave a career in the technology world for brewing school I’m not sure I can pony up for the full club membership but $2.50/month to follow this idea is well worth it! The thoughts you’re sharing above are a huge part of why I’m leaving my current career…
June 7th, 2012 at 6:19 am
Paul, its amazing reading what you so wistfully can put down in words. The industry, beer, your battles. I think there is full value in what the blog has to offer. It’s been great being a part of the Apothecary’s growth through those storys. Would it be a newsletter, a web page, stickers? Would there be updates, posts on functions? What would, say, somebody in Delaware get out of it? I totally love reading your posts but we get to hang out too. Ben Shirley,,,, signing off,,, love you PaUL
June 20th, 2012 at 5:03 am
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