The craft beer scene is an interesting one, as I discover more every day. After years of blundering through beer festivals and embarrassing myself at beer dinners, I’ve learned a lot of strange things. These interesting tidbits I’ve accumulated over the years will probably blow your mind, so cover your furniture with plastic and strap your helmets on. Here are the top five most bizarre things about beer.
5. Yeast, that microorganism that makes the alchemical wonder known as beer, is a fungus. We all know this beautiful little single-celled organism creates alcohol and CO2, but yeast also is chock full of B vitamins and supposedly is good for digestion. All that from a tiny germ that is distant cousin to the mushroom, or whatever ungodly thing is growing on your bath mat. Seriously, you should wash that thing.
4. Craft beer brewers don’t fight one another. No matter how hilariously fun it would be for Foolproof and Crooked Current to lob insults and projectiles at each other from their respective breweries in Pawtucket, the truth is that craft brewers are more comrades than competitors. Rather than trying to drive each other out of business, most microbreweries help each other. Newport Storm might have been the first RI brewery, but they’ve helped all the little startups that pepper the Ocean State get on their feet. Some competing brewers are friends who spend time together socially. I think it has to do with respecting the craft, and with recognizing in each other a wild, independent spirit and true dedication.
3. Bottles spontaneously explode. Some people don’t even wait an hour before cracking open their bubbly, let alone a year or more. But there are some brews that not only can, but do, sit around for years at a time. Many Belgian ales and high-alcohol beers can sit in their bottles for many years with no ill effects. Of course, many of those are bottle-conditioned, so there’s still live yeast in those bottles eating sugar and producing CO2. So every once in a while, if you have a large collection of rare, vintage beers, you might be minding your own business when suddenly — BANG! The CO2 buildup makes the bottle explode. While this isn’t something that happens regularly, some bottles do crack open at the bottom and become brown, fizzy rockets that crash violently into the first thing in their path, leaving behind a vapor trail of sticky beer.
2. Until the 1600s, nobody knew how beer happened. Yeast is a microscopic organism and we didn’t have microscopes for most of human history, so beer fermentation was considered an accident of nature or a blessing of the gods. People knew something was happening and that old beer could jump start the batch of new beer, but nobody really understood it. Enter the microscope, which led to our understanding of microorganisms and cast light on the mysterious process of fermentation. But don’t actually shine light on anything fermenting. Yeast works better in the dark.
1. Beer used to be the drink, and domain, of women. That’s right, the man’s manly drink is actually very much NOT. Originally, beer making was considered the work of women, and the mysterious nature of its creation might have led to the image of witches huddled around a bubbling cauldron. That cauldron was probably filled with beer ingredients. Beer was also considered a woman’s drink; men would lean toward mead or wine, since it had a higher alcohol content. It used to be common practice for pregnant women and nursing mothers to consume beer, largely because it was cleaner than water, having been boiled and kept bacteria-free by its light alcohol content. It was also given to children under the age of 3 for the same reasons, which made their precarious balance and coordination more so. Now before anyone starts feeding beer to young mothers or children, please understand that we now have pasteurization and water filtration systems, eliminating the need for getting your 2-year-old drunk, no matter how hilarious the mental image.