It turns out that despite the rise of apps, the Web is alive and well, and that even in the face of Tumblr and Facebook and other platforms, people are still blogging. Who knew, right?
Several trips down various online rabbit holes (tabletop gaming, home grown tobacco, home brewers, pizza makers) lately have led me to some very interesting, dedicated, deep and motivated communities doing things they care passionately about. I think what these communities share are: personality traits that embrace life-long learning, an absence of fear when it comes to taking risks or trying new things, an ability to revel in DIY even when (or especially when?) it's imperfect, and most of all, a deep desire to share the things they do with others -- both inside and outside of their communities.
Anyone who has spent any amount of time here on my "b-side" knows that when we aren't being "legitimate professionals" in our day jobs, we are working (or at least trying to work) as amateurs in other parts of our lives: child rearing, pet owning, gardening, poultry raising, housekeeping, canning, cooking, baking, crafting, brewing, etc. Add to that list, things I like to dabble in, even if I'm not very good and/or may not have done them recently: spoon carving, knitting, sewing, wood working. Something you'll note about this list is that it's really stuff you'd have run into in a Home Ec (or Shop) class back in the day. (Sidebar: is what's lacking from our schools today, programs that help forge better connections with the world around us?)
For me, the thing I really love about all these pursuits is that trying them myself, or doing them regularly even if unevenly, connects me to the things in my life in ways that merely procuring their finished pieces does not. I used to hear an older generation say that in order to appreciate something you have to work for it or earn it. This was generally the counter-point to upper/upper-middle class individuals being "given" things. In any case, I don't think that a workmanlike approach is what impacts appreciation -- even full appreciation, though it's close; I think what they meant rather, is that in order to fully, really, fully appreciate something you need to ACTIVELY connect with and invest in it. Maybe it's semantics, but here's an example:
Whether gifted, purchased or made, the things that remain in my life -- which move with me, which I work to care for, to sustain, to keep around -- are those things (and people!) with which I have formed a bond. Maybe it's research or a book that resonated, travel that turned that item into a sentimental attachment, a connection with a person that carried over into the gift, or something I worked on myself and of which the work turned out objectively satisfactorily. At the same time, I've made a number of things myself that I'm perfectly happy to "surplus" (this includes "friendships"). For some reason, those items didn't have the strong connection even though I made them.
Ok, so who cares, right? Well over at HomebrewManual.com, John posts topics that he's thinking about and encourages the homebrew blogosphere to weigh in. The most recent session #71: Brewers and Drinkers, asks the question about one's relationship with beer and how it's made. "Do you brew," he asks. "If so why? If not, why not? How does that affect
your enjoyment of drinking beer?" For me, this was more about, what is your connection to beer and moreover, how do you forge connections you care about?
For what it's worth, to brew a simple all extract beer you need about 40 minutes of stove time, a food safe bucket, and the ingredients (malt extract, hops if they aren't in the extract, and yeast). From there, you need to wait a minimum of about two weeks before you spend another 90 minutes putting that into bottles, followed by another two weeks of conditioning the brew. That initial 40 minutes can be amped up to about 5-7 hours if you've jumped into all-grain brewing, which doesn't consider creating your recipe, procuring and milling grains, and adding steps like temperature control, secondary fermentation, lagering, etc. TL;DR, even for people taking the easy approach, they're spending more time with their beer than they would in the aisle at their bottle shop of choice, sometimes by an order of magnitude.
Therefore, if you brew (and if you blog about brewing you probably aren't taking the Olive Garden approach) does this connection that you are so actively attempting to forge with your beer change how you think about that object, the community that coalesces around it, and the way in which you interact with it? How has that connection changed your appreciation (or has it?) and what do you think about it?
I think a lot of home brewers -- especially long time home brewers with whom I've spoken -- have started at or near the elitest end of the spectrum and come out the other side, right back with where beer's proletariat roots began. (see: a recent rift in the homebrewing scene pitting "craft" vs. "crafty") Others are so wrapped up in their beer and "the movement" that they feel very strongly about those who they believe are trying to take it away (Miller-Coors, AB InBev) or those who are turning craft beer into some sort of classist dichotomy.
When I started home brewing, I was a wine drinker. (In case you're keeping track, "Do you brew?" Yes.) I have never liked spirits, but have always enjoyed beer. But for me, wine was where it's at. ("If so, why?") However, after several years playing with various types of fermentation, making the move to beer really upped the ante. It meant using some of my cooking skill, but adding things like attention to temperature control, gravity, pH, flavor profiles, standards, and much bigger equipment (my first 10g pot will arrive tomorrow, and I've used a propane burner outside off and on for a while now). In effect, it was a challenge of my abilities, and also a challenge to connect with my food in still more ways that I had yet to experience.
(How does that affect your enjoyment of drinking beer?) As a local foods supporter, I had long been drinking local beer and have avoided beer made by international conglomerate-owned breweries (with no misconceptions about their technical prowess, which is exemplary). But making beer meant supporting another local business (my Local Home Brew Shop or LHBS), spending MY time making more of what I consumed and less time just consuming it (though that's debatable -- which is to say, I'd lose that debate), and LEARNING! My first beer was below average, for homebrew.
Let it be said, home brewers make amazing beer. Do not judge homebrew by any home brewers first 10 attempts. "Average" homebrew is exceptional. Of my first 10 attempts, I had three wonderful beers, three iffy beers, and four good beers. Of my second 10 attempts, I had 8 wonderful beers and two good beers. Of the last five beers? Three, I would have entered into competition (Saison, CDA #1, California Common) and two I gladly included with Christmas gifts (CDA #2 and Belgian Strong). (I'm saving some for you Nate!)
Has that affected my enjoyment of drinking beer? Not all beer. But definitely, yes. It has matured my palate and caused me to understand what I took for granted. It cultivated awareness of the social history of beer as a beverage and an agent for social change and connection. And it makes me feel like I'm part of something larger than me -- which is a community of brewers, of free people, and of people who love to share.
So here's the thing: I do things that make me feel more connected. I don't do things that don't enhance my feeling of being connected. Beer doesn't make me feel more connected, but home brewing does. Also, I like making things, and I think (and this has been objectively affirmed) I make pretty good beer.
Happy New Year.