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The Art of the Brew

6000 years ago, in Mesopotamia, Ulushin was resting after a long day of building ziggurats. His neighbor, Namkuzu, was just finishing up his work with the crops for the day. Namkuzu was probably the first human to be named ironically by his parents, since he was dumber than a pile of sun baked bricks, such as those Ulushin used for raising temples to Marduk and office buildings. Now, Namkuzu had left out a bowl of barley which he would feed to his chickens or whatever animals they had back then. Unfortunately, the rainy season and his forgetfulness now meant that his bowl, left out in the Sumerian sun, had begun to ferment. While doing some yard work that evening, Namkuzu accidentally spilled this bowl right into his neighbor’s water pail. Typical. Not wanting to get into trouble, especially after the incident with the bees from the week before, Namkuzu said nothing and walked away. Two hours later, he was disturbed by a racket coming from outside. Ulushin had drank the whole pail of water and was going around asking for cigarettes and reminiscing about “the good old days”, singing Irish folk songs and generally behaving like a tosser. Beer had been born.

Of course we can only speculate on how beer actually came about, but it is a surprisingly good indicator for the level of complexity that a civilization has reached both culturally and technologically. Once you start to see party cuneiforms and beer pong hieroglyphics, you know that that culture had understood fermentation, brewing and all the technology that it entails, not to mention having domesticated grain. Beer is a bigger deal than most think.

Not to be outdone by ancient civilizations, Utropia sent out an agent to learn this ancient art, in a ritual that took place at The Arctic Room on Wednesday, April 13th. The course itself and everything it entails are organized by Ølakademiet, a group focused on creating and promoting beer related activities, such as brewing, tasting, pairing and so on. Classes take about 3 hours and take place across Norway. Our brewmaster on this occasion was the lovely Inga Greve, an experienced brewer and all around great teacher.

Illustration: George Stoica
Illustration: George Stoica

The course also includes a tasting segment, where you are given four different beers and taught about how to appreciate their taste and smell properly. It is amazing how much variation there is to beer, even more so when you find out there are over 800 factors that determine the taste. If you’ve never had a coffee stout for example, now is your chance (protip: replacing your morning coffee with said stout is still probably a bad idea). We were encouraged to discuss the flavors we can sense, and were also told how these tastes come about as a result of both the ingredients and variations in the brewing process. Food pairings were also discussed, and the rule of thumb we were given was “lett mat, lett øl”.

There are many tricks to brewing which aren’t written down anywhere, but only passed on from person to person, and courses such as this one are the perfect place to hear many of them. You can even take a more active role and help mix the malt or recirculate the water, all under the skilled guidance of a professional. Bring a notebook and a pen if you’re serious about brewing because there is A LOT of information to be gained. Our brewmaster also offered us details regarding the best equipment and where to get it. For obvious reasons, the process taking place right in front of us could not be completed in one evening, but the important phases were all covered.

Though the course takes three hours, it is very well broken down into segments. Also included in the price is a warm meal, combined with the delicious beers and the learning itself all adds up to a very complete package. On this occasion, we were only four “apprentices”, one of which had only brewed wine previously, and who surprisingly told me that beer is the harder one to make out of the two. Live and learn.

Overall, what you get for the price is completely worth it. The great thing is that you can even offer it as a gift to a friend. It’s a wonderful introduction to the world of beer brewing, a great way to learn something new, and a really interesting and fun way to spend an evening. Obviously, we cannot give details regarding the actual process, for that you have to attend the class itself. You can find all the details about signing up on Ølakademiet’s website (ol-akademiet.no), including information about where and when the courses are held. In closing, let me leave you with this piece of wisdom from the immortal Steven Hyde:

“I’m telling you, the government has a car that runs on water man. They just don’t want us to know, because then we’d buy all the water. Then there’d be nothing left to drink but beer. And the government knows that beer … will set us free.”

Text: George Stoica

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