Commercialism has won yet again. Hundreds of years of knowledge, tradition and craftsmanship has been replaced by economic sensibility. Originality, uniqueness and integrity have been pushed aside by bean counters and their bottom lines. They are all betting that YOU can’t tell the difference, and are laughing all the way to the bank.
Sadly, they are right. You probably can’t even tell the difference. Perhaps you are not even worthy to read further. Perhaps you should go drink a Rickard’s Red or some other mediocre beer and forget you even heard of open fermentation. Cut your losses while you’re ahead. Ignorance is bliss. Click the home button on your browser now. I am not kidding, do it now.
You still here? Great. Fasten your set belt and lets talk about the nuances of open fermentation. No other word can strike fear and awe at the same time in the heart of a brew master. Search the web and you will not read anywhere about its endangerment in any of the headlines. It is a silent battle seemingly without opposition. Or so they thought…
First, let us get some of the tech details out of the way. In the brewing process, traditional open fermentation takes place in relatively shallow vessels which naturally encourage the yeast to fall to the bottom at just the right time. The fermenting wort (pronounced wert, don’t ask me why) or beer is not under any head pressure as the yeast faithfully does its work, which allows the resulting carbon dioxide and other non-quantifiable agents to freely and happily dissipate into the surrounding environment. This delicate process preserves the full flavors and complexity of the beer and lends a softness or silkiness to the mouth feel and overall flavor profile. In the modern tall brewing vessel (called conical fermenters) preferred by accountants and business advisers (as they take up less floor space) are many times taller. Thus, the carbon dioxide developed during fermentation rises in greater distances, in effect purging the flavors as it goes up and out. In addition the yeast is very slow to drop which alters the flavor profile. Ok, enough with the tech talk.
Why should you care about all of this? Great beer. Don’t like beer, OK, fine, nobody is perfect, but it still involves you. Please read on. It is about integrity, nuance, originality and the quality of life. It’s about the little things. You know, the things that at the end of a day make a difference. It’s about not letting commercialism continue it rampant destruction with total disregard to tradition and craftsmanship. Take heart, not all is lost, for the battle is not over yet.
It is of great interest that the famous British Bass brewery whom not too long ago replaced their traditional open fermenters with the new shiny closed conical ones, (and thus became the infamous Bass brewery) now seems to be suffering remorse. They are now attempting to preserve the open fermenters that produce the wonderfully soft, delicate and malty Czech Staropramen lager. A true lager at its finest. The other more famous Czeh brewery Budvar began replacing its open fermenters with stainless steel, but happily stopped. Another victory. Sadly the once great Pilsner Urquell has abandoned completely its famous wooden fermenters and reduced its yeast from five strains to two. I know, I know, oh the horror of it all! The much revered beer and scotch expert (at least by me anyway) Michael Jackson sadly reports on his Beer Hunter web site that, it has lost some of its complexity and its malty fullness of flavour.
Some adventurous American micro- breweries and brewpubs are now taking up the cause by embracing open fermentation. These beers are notably more complex and intriguing than their new fan dangled conical fermenter brewed counter parts. (I have always wanted to use fan dangled in a sentence.) You too can join the cause, How?
Try spicing up drab and mundane conversation about HD TV with random references to open fermentation accompanied with an increased heart rate and a glazed look in your eyes. When someone expresses concern about the environment, you may kindly add: “Perhaps you should be just as concerned with the extinction of open fermentation.” Or, “Excuse me, where were you when Bass killed open fermentation?” We could make up bumper stickers that say: “Friends don’t let friends play with conical fermenters.” Ok, may by we need to work on that last one, but you get the picture. Hey maybe we could get the esteemed filmmaker Michael Moore to make a heart-wrenching documentary about the subject. I am sure we can find a brewer in Cuba that practices open fermentation. I could even shed a few tears for the camera while nursing my 100% open fermented home brewed euphoric Imperial India Pale Ale.
Plus, just think of how you can become an instant beer snob and impress your friends by asking the brew master or server at your local brewpub if they practice open fermentation. Stay original… drink original beer.
While no one was looking, under the cover of darkness, the magnificent Italian hand built La Marzocco machines were replaced one by one with fully automatic computerized press-a-button versions. (This took place in thousands of Starbucks across the land.) This is the day when the romance and theater of Starbucks died.
This disturbing trend is taking place on many levels of society.
Many argue that removing the human (error) factor makes for a more consist product and increased customer satisfaction. But really, truth be told, it is because of training costs, speed of service and efficiency. Not bad things in themselves from a overly worked Barristas point of view. (The solution for a busy store is to have two to four machines and double the staff, like they do in Buenos Aries. Really, they do.)
However they are ignoring the romantic factor. Where is the romance and theater of pushing a button? Where is the skill and passion of the Barrista?
For a quick lesson in romance, look to the humble Volturno. One of the things that the Italians brought with them to Argentina was this little stove stop espresso maker. (Made internationally famous by Bialleti.) While not true espresso and I am not comparing it to espresso, it deserves a place in every coffee lovers arsenal.
We brought ours back from Buenos Aires, a national brand called Volturno. Although it mostly gets it use when we travel, there are still many a days when we when we opt for the intense room filling aroma and the seductive whisper it makes to tell you when its ready. Where Bialetti has compromised to appease the North-American hordes by making a stainless version, the humble Volturno still uses the time honored and tested traditional aluminum which gets better with age.
Simply follow a few simple rules handed down from the old Italian bubbas. First, you need to condition the pot before use by brewing a pot with just water, then a second time with coffee that you leave sit overnight. The second rule is to never wash the inside with soap, just rinse with hot water and air dry. This way you do not want to disturb the coating left by the oils in the coffee. The third rule is to pile the slightly coarser than espresso grind coffee in a mound with the peak passing the top of the filter basket. This way the coffee will be compressed to just the right amount for optimum extraction.
While these basic rules seem to defy normal coffee logic, in the Volturno they unexplainable work. Enter the romance factor. While producing good coffee is based on scientific principals, fully automatic press a button espresso machines can never compute nor replicate the romance (human) factor.
Those old Italian bubbas know best. Please leave button pushing to accountants and Starbuck Barristas. Stay original… it’s only human.
They call it limited edition posters, err… I mean prints. It’s bad for the art world. It has less to do with art and more to do with rampant commercialism. The frame is usually worth more than the print. But the artist has signed it you say. Sure if the artist becomes world famous and dies some horrible death, it may well have some value, but it is not and never will be original art.
Remember when people were buying all those limited edition wildlife prints, because it was a “good investment.” Hmmm, when did limited edition prints or any art for that matter surface on the New York Stock Exchange? (Maybe that will be the next trick of publishers after they learn to pronounce giclee properly. More on gilcees in the future…) It was however allot of fun listening to people justifying why they paid $1000 for a poster, explaining how it is not really a poster, it’s a “limited edition” copy. Maybe a few prints have increased in value, but most have not, and others are garage sale and flee market specials.
However, all of this is besides the point. Art by nature is original. There is a fine line between selling art (which is good for you and the artist) and commercializing art. (Which is bad for you and the artist.) Please buy art because you like, or rather, because you love it, you can’t stop thinking about it and you can’t get it out of your head.
If you can’t afford original art, then go to Ikea and buy a nice cheery poster print and put it on your wall (no really we mean it!), and if you feel the need, then sure, go ahead and take out the magic marker and sign your name away. Hey why stop there, why not number it 314 of 10,000. And remember, don’t call it a poster, call it a “print”.
Stay original… buy original.