Welcome to the start of a new regular feature here at The Brew Site for 2012: Apocalypse Beer. This is a (mostly tongue-in-cheek) subject I’ve been thinking about for awhile and since nobody else appears to be doing it, I thought it was high time to tackle it. What follows is the introduction to “Apocalypse Beer” and I’ll be unpacking the concept over the next few weeks before getting into practical matters. Or as “practical” as post-apocalyptic brewing can be, I suppose…
Just what is an “apocalypse” anyway?
The original definition of the word refers to a writing or work which acts as a disclosure of hidden information, akin to a prophecy, and from the Biblical Book of Revelations it came to be associated with the end of the world.
Modern usage defines “apocalypse” to mean a great disaster, and commonly it’s viewed as leading to the end of the world as we know it. And while this sounds pretty straightforward, modern times and pop culture has given us a variety of apocalyptic scenarios to choose from:
- Zombie epidemic
- Meteor strike
- New Ice Age
- Technological collapse
- Nuclear war
- Epidemic/disease outbreak
- Environmental catastrophe
- Natural disaster
- The Mayan 2012 “end of the world”
- Alien invasion
Sort of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” for the end times, and shows that we have a (unhealthy?) fascination (obsession?) with the Apocalypse. Or rather, it shows that we have a fascination with the post-apocalypse, as much of the focus is actually on life and survival in the post-apocalyptic aftermath.
One of the most common visions of the Post-Apocalyptic world is one of a societal and often technological collapse, with survivors banding together to scavenge, forage, survive, and rebuild. Often they have to start from scratch. We get details of food (foraging, hunting, growing), defense (weapons, fortifications, building armies), building (shelter, agriculture, attempts to recreate “lost” technology), but one question has been repeatedly coming to my mind lately:
Where are the beer brewers?
“What!” you might be thinking, “the world has ended and people are struggling to survive and he wants to talk about something as frivolous as beer?”
Well, yes, and I’m going even further: I submit that the brewing of beer will be an essential activity in the post-apocalyptic world! I’ve (half) jokingly been known to say that “beer brewing will be the new currency” in the post-apocalyptic world, and while this might be a bit of hyperbole, I do believe the knowledge and activity of brewing will be vital. Here’s why:
- Potable water (or lack thereof): here we take a page from history and note that beer was often consumed instead of water because the water was unfit to drink while beer, being boiled and full of alcohol, was safe and healthy to drink. Brewing beer guarantees a safe source of drinking water (albeit flavored and mildly alcoholic) in the post-apocalyptic world.
- Nutritive value: beer, of course, contains more that just water; carbohydrates, vitamins, protein, and, yes, alcohol. Beer can in fact be so fortifying that Trappist monks would brew and drink beer (traditionally Doppelbock) as their only source of sustenance during the 40-day fasting period of Lent. Beer came to be known as “liquid bread” because of it’s nutritive qualities.
- Health and medicinal factors: aside from being a source of potable water, beer contains ingredients and has qualities which make it valuable as a (potential) health source. Hops, for instance, have anti-microbial properties, and other herbs or flowers that might be used instead of (or in addition to) hops may well contain other health benefits. Yeast is a valuable source of vitamin B and proteins. And there are a number of possible health benefits to be had from drinking beer in moderation, including reduced risk of diabetes, gall and kidney stones, strokes, and dementia, stronger bones, boosted vitamin levels, and overall cardiovascular health improvement. Health and wellness take on a vital importance in the post-apocalyptic world.
- Social currency: let’s face it, there’s a reason beer is called a “social lubricant” — there’s nothing like getting together with friends at the end of a hard day or week over beers, down at the pub or over a barbecue, and if you’ve ever been to a beer festival, you’ve seen firsthand how beer promotes camaraderie and lightens the mood. In a post-apocalyptic society this will play a vital role in keeping spirits up and keeping what’s left of society socially sane. Of course, if you happen to find yourself a vassal to a warlord or in a similar “Road Warrior“-esque scenario, you will have an invaluable social standing in his (or her) fiefdom as a brewer!
So while I believe that brewing beer will be a key element of both survival and rebuilding society (and I hope by this point you’re agreeing with me!), it’s also clear that brewing this “apocalypse beer” is going to be vastly different from brewing as we know it today. The basics are the same, of course, and if you have knowledge of how to brew already, then you’re already ahead of the game. But how will you brew in the post-apocalyptic world without gas or electricity to heat water? Or a thermometer or hydrometer to measure your beer at various points in the brewing process? Or even a kettle or bucket to ferment in?
How will you brew beer without access to malt or hops?
Right now in the first part of the 21st century there are a multitude of books and guides on how to brew beer — from a perfectly reasonable, civilization-is-thriving standpoint. But I have yet to see any guides to brewing from a survival standpoint, a collapse-of-society angle. To echo and paraphrase my earlier question of “Where are the beer brewers?” in a post-apocalyptic world:
Where are the post-apocalyptic guides to brewing?
The beginning of the answer to that question is what you are reading now: I’m tackling the subject of Apocalypse Beer and how to brew it. This will be the first guide to brewing beer after the world has ended.
Before we get started on the “how-to” part, though, we need to re-define our concept of “beer”. So we’ll be tackling that topic next.