Beer

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A steel bike and a glass of beer

Don’t miss it, guys. Ferment Change is back again with a month’s worth of events on the east side of the San Francisco Bay, all of them supporting urban agriculture and food justice projects. One of the choice items on the list is the Tour de Ferment, a bike ride around Berkeley and Oakland to visit picklers and homebrewers in their homes. It’s a great chance to see workshops, to taste what people are making, and to pick up tips. I’ll be talking about homebrewing sake, and my pop-up beer dinner crew Eating About Beer will be demonstrating some beer and food pairing tips.

And as a big bonus, none other than fermentation guru Sandor Katz, author of the seminal book Wild Fermentation, will be coming along for the ride. I’m sure he’ll add extra depth to the answers to any questions that come up along the way.

The ride is May 22, so consider this your advance notice. It’s going to be popular. Sign up and find out about the rest of the month’s events at the Ferment Change website.

And speaking of Sandor Katz, I let Thanksgiving go by without mentioning the profile of Katz and the fermentation movement in the New Yorker. It’s a great article that brings together a lot of info about how fermentation helps us digest, why live-fermented and unpasteurized food could be better for us than sterilized food, and the ways that our intestinal cultures may influence our health (the short version of one example: In one study, skinny mice became fat after receiving a transplant of intestinal bacteria from fat mice, and from fat humans,too.) It’s behind the paywall, but it’s worth the $6 to read it if you don’t have a subscription. In the spirit of the Tour de Ferment, I’ll leave you with this excerpt describing Katz’s workshop, which is surely every pickler’s dream kitchen:

We were standing in his test kitchen, in the basement of a farmhouse a few miles down the road from Hickory Knoll. Katz had rented the space two years earlier, when his classes and cooking projects outgrew the commune’s kitchen, and outfitted it with secondhand equipment: a triple sink, a six-burner stove, a freezer, and two refrigerators, one of them retrofitted as a tempeh incubator. Along one wall, a friend had painted a psychedelic mural showing a man conversing with a bacterium. Along another, Katz had pinned a canticle to wild fermentation, written by a Benedictine nun in New York. A haunch of venison hung in the back, curing for prosciutto, surrounded by mismatched jars of sourdough, goat kefir, sweet potato fly, and other ferments, all bubbling and straining at their lids.

And in case you’ve been wondering—Awesome Pickle lives! Some personal stuff has kept it on the shelf for a while, but the ideas have been fermenting away and this site’s mission is fully preserved. Expect more helpings, more often.

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One of the benefits of being a home brewer is that you have license to try a lot of beer, and a lot of different kinds of beer. After all, you’re not just drinking for pleasure, you’re doing it as a hobby, even if your hobby happens to be a pleasure. In the last few years a new kind of beer store has popped up to help beer lovers discover the many styles of beer, a lot like wine bars and tasting rooms have done for wine drinkers.

Say you want to know more about what distinguishes a Kolsch (which is in the bottles above, photo by the inimitable Phil) and a Helles than Wikipedia and BeerAdvocate can tell you? At these stores you can taste the difference. With education as their goal, they stock hundreds of kinds of bottled craft beer and keep a constant rotation on the tap. They’ll recommend beer and food pairings and they tend to be liberal with the free samples, too (that’s not a promise though—your mileage my vary.) An article I wrote about five of these tasting rooms for beer came out today in the New York Times.

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To make chicha beer, you start by chewing up corn and spitting it out. There was a skeptical article this week in the New York Times about Dogfish Head brewery’s attempt to make a chicha-inspired beer. It sounds like a lot of work, and it looks like it, too, from this video:

If you want to try it on a smaller scale, there’s a recipe in Katz’s Wild Fermentation. And if the idea of chewing up all that corn sounds like no fun (or just gross), there is a very comprehensive non-chew recipe at LocalHarvest which includes a 1947 Harvard Botanical Museum leaflet on the topic! Foodies will be happy to learn that you can even make wheat-free chicha homebrew out of quinoa.

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