Sunday, May 23, 2010

Interdependence and Mindful Brewing

In an effort to further elucidate what is truly meant by "interdependence" and the interconnectedness between the outside world and oneself, the venerable and prolific Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has - by now, famously - framed this understanding in the context of a wooden table. This is the same Thich Nhat Hanh, mind you, who founded the Order of Interbeing in 1966 and whom Martin Luther King Jr. nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize back in 1967 - and if the current Internet following holds any weight, we'll see him nominated again this year. But anyway, back to the table...

According to Thay ("teacher," as his students are apt to address him), a table's existence is only possible due to the existence of things in the "non-table world," i.e., the forest where the wood was grown and subsequently cut down, the carpenter responsible for crafting the actual work, and the iron ore utilized for nails and screws. Although, for Thay, it's much more than this: one mustn't forget the carpenter's parents and ancestors, as well as the natural elements - the sun and rain - that made it possible for the trees to even grow. The point of this clarification? Well, think about it like this: do these elements really still seem to occupy what we labeled as the "non-table world" in the preceding statements above? No - good, you noticed - and that's the point. When the actual reality of the table is grasped, one will see in the table itself all those things that would otherwise have been labeled as occupying the "non-table world." Take any one of these components out of the picture? You're eating on the dining room floor tonight, folks. The resulting understanding? Just as with the table in Thay's example, which is seen as being fundamentally interdependent and interconnected to the rest of the world, so are we - and everything, for that matter. In other words, the table is connected to everything seemingly outside itself and so are we.

So, what's this got to do with brewing beer? More importantly - for those of you considering the further implications of Thay's example - what am I getting at? Well, let's first tackle the latter real quick. The deeper message involved here is that one should contemplate the assembly of one's own person in the same manner as the table. Without going too far into an academic discourse, this assembly, in Buddhist thought, is understood as being that of the "five aggregates" - bodily/physical forms, feelings, perceptions, mental functionings, and consciousness - the "objects" constituting everything and everyone, in varying assemblies and corresponding combinations. At death, these are dispersed back into the cosmos of which they are and naturally remain a part, to only then be reassembled thereafter; everything is in a constant state of impermanence. This is why, for Thay, there is no cycle of birth-death-rebirth. What is being born? What is dying? Nothing that wasn't already in existence. Nothing dies or is ever born, in the traditional understandings and implications of these terms. An object/person/thing only changes form. There is no rebirth - there is only "continuation." The idea, then, is that one should meditate on oneself until one is able to see the presence of "one-ness" in his or her own self - when one sees that the universe and one's own life are actually one. Just like the table and the "non-table world."

Still with me?

Okay, back to beer - which you may feel the need to pop open right about now. To better suit us here, I'd like to frame this same understanding and example, that of the wooden table, in the context of brewing (that goes for drinking our beloved concoctions too). The next time you brew a batch of beer (or consume), reflect on those elements that we would typically categorize as occupying the "non-brewing world," without which we would be incapable of brewing: the ingredients (grains, hops, etc.) and natural elements responsible for their growth, as well as those individuals responsible for their cultivation; the clean water with which you brew; the steel or aluminum out of which the metal pots used are made; the plastic (and preceding polymers) used to construct your buckets and hoses; the sand, and thus glass, used to melt down into your bottles and carboys - and the list, quite simply, goes on indefinitely.

We cannot, of course, forget to extend this to the parents and ancestors of the brewer(s); the soil out of which the brewer's ingredients poked their little green heads into this world; the micro-organismic world of yeast and bacterial strains - which in and of themselves occupy quite the microcosmic universe - as well as those who procure them; and those primordial beings who first noticed something rather odd - yet tasty and sweet - but elating, albeit spiritual, about the elemental exposure of their sublunary gruel meals. Is there really such a thing, then, as the "non-brewing world?"

"To cultures that have felt the life force of plants or of brewing, who have felt themselves make a deep connection with that life force, brewing is not a science - it is an art filled with the actions of the sacred." - Stephen Harrod Buhner, Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers

When we take these things into consideration, and contemplate on the nature of actions and objects that may seem, at first, to be so incredibly divorced from the world-at-large, we open ourselves up to be able to more fully understand and grasp the interdependence and interconnectedness of life on this planet. Now, more than ever, this is a crucial task. The recent events in the Gulf of Mexico, the devastation that tumulted Haiti and Chile at the onset of this decade, the global levels of poverty and overpopulation (thank you, various television shows and "specials" seemingly glorifying this, by the way...), the worldwide hop shortage (yes, and there are vast economic dimensions to this too, folks), and our depleting natural resources and clean water should all come to mind, among many (sadly) more. As we struggle with these kinds of so-called "global issues," we must bring our concerns and fears back into each moment and be mindful of our own present actions and existence - that they and we affect, and are necessarily affected by, more than we may otherwise choose to believe.

"To be in touch with the reality of the world means to be in touch with everything that is around us in the animal, vegetal, and mineral realms. If we want to be in touch, we have to get out of our shell and look clearly and deeply at the wonders of life - the snowflakes, the moonlight, the beautiful flowers - and also the suffering - hunger, disease, torture, and oppression. Overflowing with understanding and compassion, we can appreciate the wonders of life, and, at the same time, act with the firm resolve to alleviate the suffering. Too many people distinguish between the inner world of our mind and the world outside, but these worlds are not separate. They belong to the same reality. The ideas of inside and outside are helpful in everyday life, but they can become an obstacle that prevents us from experiencing ultimate reality. If we look deeply into our mind, we see the world deeply at the same time." - Thich Nhat Hanh, Interbeing

Brewing beer is no less viable an avenue for contemplation and mindfulness - nor should it be, given the heightened importance it has in our lives, specifically. Moreover, I'm particularly delighted by the efforts of commercial breweries in this direction (some of which I have previously discussed here); e.g., New Belgium Brewing, Wynkoop Brewery, Brooklyn Brewing, Ska Brewing, Saint Arnold Brewing, etc. These are commendable models, and serve not only the communities in which they are directly situated, but the rest of the world as well.

We can look to Thay's example of the table, or my appropriation of the same example to beer and brewing, but the point, however, is hopefully clear: only when we grasp the true nature of reality (that of interdependence and interconnectedness) can we truly live each moment and effectively enact change and understanding.

So, the next time you sit down and devour a nice Mexican dish, while imbibing in a refreshing pint of Serrano pepper pale ale, or sip at a glass of Weinhenstephaner Vitus weizenbock, while contemplating the bottling of your clove hefeweizen later this week, do so mindfully - and enjoyably so - as I know I will tonight ;-)

Peace and Love!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Serrapale Ale 2.0

Ahh...there's just something so delightful about the perfect combination of a good Mexican dish and a refreshing beverage. The beverage, of course, is what we're specifically concerned with here. Last year, I brewed an American Pale Ale with Serrano peppers for Cinco de Mayo. It turned out incredibly well too, and is probably, to this day, my favorite batch. It's the first beer I had some of the members over at CFHB try last summer too (you'll recall that from an earlier post), which they all loved and said would have won a medal if I had entered it into the most recent competition at the time. Well, I did it again...and there's no "ooops" involved (get it? yeah, I crack myself up) - I'd been looking forward to doing so for quite some time.

The recipe was followed as closely as possible this second time around (which is an original recipe, might I add). I had to use a different brand of LME, though (Breiss), and I added two extra peppers (although, the addition isn't really noticeable). I also had a higher/healthier yeast pitch rate too. For those of you who weren't filled in on this last year, I hadn't made a starter, pitched from a 25-million cell Wyeast "smack pack," with a gravity around 1.060. It took almost 48 hours to really get going (in other words, I really lucked out in terms of escaping a potential contamination/infection). Fermentation kicked off within only a few hours this time (those of you following the posts on my Tumblr page can view a fairly crude video I shot of the activity about 18 hours in). I'm in the market for a chest freezer to convert, so I can control my fermentation temperatures better, especially as the summer is officially approaching...but I really need to get that immersion chiller I've been talking about for months now built. Ice baths are getting old. Here's a shot of me sparging the partial mash:

Okay, so here's the scoop:

Original Gravity: 1.061
Final Gravity: 1.014
ABV: 6.3%
SRM: 15.5
Calories: 201

It's very tasty, just like last year; real smooth and silky, everything is perfectly balanced, with a strong pepper aroma (subtle taste, though). It pairs wonderfully with tacos (obviously), but we're thinking a couple of steaks with some sauteed peppers might do the trick as well. I, of course, already put some into a homebrew competition, which is actually taking place this weekend:
Hogtown Brew-Off. I tossed some of the Apfelwein and Cran-Apple cider in as well. I'll see how it does, but I'll probably save some to at least toss into CFHB's Sunshine Challenge later this year too.

Well, I'm going to get one more batch in before the summer semester starts up next week. Tonight, I'll be brewing a basic hefeweizen with a little bit of clove added; I used a very small amount in my Holerin' Brown Ale, and it really came through. I'm thinking it will be a great complement to the already "clove-y" character of the yeast strain I'm using as well...we'll see. Either way, should be a nice, refreshing brew for the hot summer months ahead., you all are probably wondering about the Berliner Weisse... Yeah, I was going to be brewing that next, but I really want to get that chest freezer, and want to make sure I have the proper time to dedicate to planning that recipe out and giving the fermentation the attention it'll need (the simpler recipe tonight is sort of a stand-in until the end of the summer semester, which will be in about six weeks). It's definitely still happening, though, and I can't wait!

I'll try to get something posted soon, regarding this next batch, and the results of the competition this weekend.

Peace and Love!