A Vigorous Starter
My name is Shawn, and I’m a homebrewer. I’m also a home meadmaker and home ciderer. In other words, I make my own alcoholic beverages.
There are those who prefer the term zymurgist, since it covers the making of all types of fermented beverages. I admit I like the sound of the word, which comes from one of my favorite Greek roots: zyme, a noun meaning the stuff we now know as yeast. But according to the dictionary definitions I’ve read, a zymurgist is a scientist who studies the chemistry of fermentation, not just a dude cooking up hooch in his backyard. I’m certainly not a scientist; and aside from a burning passion for a good sci-fi story (I make those too) and a screaming man-crush on Neil deGrasse Tyson, I don’t think of myself as having a scientific mind. Rational? Yes. Logical? I hope so. But scientific? By Ninkasi, I fear not. So I tend to avoid describing myself as a zymurgist.
But I’m not just about cooking up hooch in my backyard, either. The first time I explain that I’m a homebrewer to someone I’ve just met, I often get asked a question like, “I bet you make some pretty strong stuff, huh?” with the same sly wink that Snuffy Smith used to get from neighbors lauding the potency of his corn squeezin’s. The person asking is usually surprised to learn that the answer is No. The strongest beer I’ve ever made was about 8% alcohol by volume (twice the strength of Bud Light, but there are countless commercial craft beers in the 10% range, and many that are even higher). The strongest mead I’ve made was 14%, not uncommon for a wine. For me, homebrewing is not about getting hammered. In fact, it’s rare for me to drink one or more alcoholic beverages every day in a single week.
For me, homebrewing is about making something that I can share with my friends, that makes us relaxed and sociable and happy. It’s about history, about being part of a tradition of preparing fermented beverages that goes back at least 9,000 years. Many ancient civilizations, from the Sumerians down to the Romans, had deities of brewing and alcohol. The individuals who prepared these sacred beverages were shamans, respected elders; because they alone held the secrets by which grain and honey and grapes could be transmuted into an elixir that was healthy (in moderation) and brought people together in friendship, that led thinkers to new ideas and awakened the creativity of artists.
That’s why I’ve jokingly started calling myself a zyme lord. Sure, it’s bombastic and silly (Doctor Who fans will get the joke). But it also sounds ancient. Noble. And it alludes to the power that a brewer has in a society: the power to bring people together, to create a work of art that many people can come together to appreciate through shared experience, but each be affected in a profoundly different way. Brewing is a kind of storytelling, in the language of grain and hops, honey and fruit, water and yeast.
In this blog, I’ll write about what I’m brewing and what I’m drinking. I’ll share recipes. I’ll also write about how brewing intersects with my other interests: fiction, film, food, and others. I hope you enjoy reading it, and if my stories help you find your way to new ideas and awaken your creativity, then that’s the most a zyme lord can hope for. Prosit!