When you start looking at things in terms of inputs, you start realizing just how much energy and matériel we throw at every little thing. Mostly it is to make it easier, but a lot of the time it appears to be lack of thought or mindless rituals.
Take homebrewing. The way that it is practiced nowadays is as a hobby. Cost really is no issue for these guys. I have seen otherwise sane people spend thousands of dollars on equipment and supplies to make beer that is little better than what my Grandma made in a washpan.
You see, by making the brewing a ritual, it become an odd religion, with what you put into it the important part, not what you get out of it.
(OK: Maybe it isn't all about homebrewing)
What I want out of the process is beer. I also would like to cut my costs for the beer to the lowest level possible for an adequate beer (American Lagers need not apply). In order to do this, I started looking at the inputs for beer.
Malt: Get grains, they are cheaper by a long shot. They also leave the energy intensive processing and shipping at a minimum.
Hops: Grow your own if possible (mine keep dying damn-it), if you have to, buy hop plugs in bulk, vacuum seal them with oxygen scavengers and freeze them.
Water: I'll leave you to your own devices.
Yeast: Try to get two or three batches out of each package. If you plan ahead a little bit, this shouldn't be that much of an issue. I try to put my fresh wort into the "leavin's' from the last batch. I have only had one batch get infected and tossed in 10 years. Plus the fact if you do this, the beers you make take on their own and your character. Using fresh yeast every time leaves you making a variation on a theme dictated by the yeast manufacturer.
Other Stuff: Irish moss is good to keep around. Clears up your beers nicely. Also see if you can buy up a bunch of corn sugar and put it aside. I am considering buying a 50 pound bag and vacuum sealing it as preps. I would also strongly recommend buying and storing an iodophore for disinfecting crap. I use B-T-F from National Chemicals. This is good prep thing as it can be used for sterilizing medical stuff and cleaning wounds in the case of an emergency (Though the manufacturer would disavow any such irresponsible use)
Equipment: You need:
- big pot,
- a big funnel,
- a glass carboy,
- an airlock,
- a bucket
- a bottle capper,
- a bunch of caps
- a bunch of bottles
Energy: Now you are getting to the real point of the essay. Beer was made as something alcoholic to drink that could keep for a while without killing you. You boil the wort (which kills germs) with hops (which keep the bugs from growing). But if you look at temperature profiles for sterilization and heat extraction of hop oils, the process occurs above 180 F.
So What I am questioning is whether or not all the ritual of boiling and fretting and complication is really necessary or merely a ritual.
As an experiment, I filled up my pot 2/3 full of hot water from the tap. I dumped in 13 pounds of cracked malt. I turned the burner (electric) on 3 and brought the temp up through 105F to 170F. This took about two hours. During this time the grain went through all the temperatures required for the α-Amylase and β-amylase to do their voodoo. When the temp reached 170F, I took off the wort, left the spent grains out for the critters, cleaned the pot, and dumped the wort back into the pot.
I then put the temps on high, brought the stuff up to a boil, threw in the hops, tossed in a tablespoon of irish moss, and put the lid back on. I then put some aluminum foil around the little spigot on the bottom of the pot, put saran wrap around the pot to keep it from sucking air as it cooled, and turned to heat off.
I watched the pot cool as I was doing stuff. It took almost three hours to cool below 180F. So it would appear to me that the heat was more than sufficient for sterilization and hop extraction.
I left the pot on the stove overnight to cool (cooling down 5 gallons of boiling stuff takes a bit of time, it was still at 80F when I came down this morning).
I came down in the morning, took the foil off the spigot (When I was boiling, the foil-wrapped spigot stayed over the burner, I figure that it is quite sterile in there) and decanted the boiled wort into a disinfected carboy and cast the yeast.
I'll tell you how it tastes in a couple of months.