Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Man's Best Friend...Yeast!

When it comes to creatures great and small, I consciously avoid the tendency to anthropomorphise. But I have to admit that the lowly brewers yeast has a special place in my heart that makes me change my reference from 'that' to 'them'.


Sometimes I include myself in their ranks and refer to a colony of yeast as 'us'. Weird, I know. But we are a team right? Doing a job side by side like shipmates, me the Skipper and them, little Gilligans.


As I consider the workings of the yeast that ferment my beer, I have to give them a lot of credit as co-creators. For possesing what appears to be a collective intelligence that directs the part they play in my quest for good beer. The behavior that I refer to is that which seemingly recognizes and responds to its environment by taking into account the volume and sugar gravity of the wort. This ability would seem to require a thinking brain to formulate the needed calculations for projected colony growth. But with an intellegence not like ours the yeast exhibit a unique knowledge of the microscopic world that they occupy. It is outside my understanding and I am impressed with it's perfection.



When I introduce a colony of yeast to my freshly brewed wort, a syncronistic pattern of co-existent partnership falls into place. I play my part on the macro level as a brewer creating a source of sugar and the yeast carry on the process doing their part to transform the sugars ending with a final product that is our combined artistry. The mutually beneficial development of this collusion of man and yeast is ancient and symbiotic. This relationship is one that can only be described as 'divine'.


I feel I owe yeast a dept of gratitude because they are my partners and because they were here first. They deserve my respect at least, if not reverence. But how do I repay my dept to them? I use them and then pour them down the driveway and hose them off into the gutter, or worst still, simply dump them down the drain of the kitchen sink.


Do I feel shame for these acts? Sometimes, along with regret for not being a better partner, not living up to the bargain I struck with them to work together, forever. Unfortunately, the ugly cycle is repeated almost every week and the abuse continues. I know, I could avoid this disservice by salvaging them or washing clean and storing them for future work together, but they grow so quickly. I am only one man, they are billions of souls multiplying exponentially with only one mission, to ferment my beer. Do they love me? I don't think so, I think they selfishly yearn to be fed without regard for my feelings and maybe in spite of them, so I tell myself. I rinse them down the drain, partly out of laziness and also because I don't think they care that much, maybe not at all.
But they are smart and yes, a little bit cute. They know enough to propagate their colony to just the right size to match the volume of sugar in a batch of wort. They know how long to multiply and how long to ferment and when to relax and settle to the bottom of my fermenter. They know these things.


Sometimes I imagine them looking up from the bottom of my fermenter into my face as I stare down at them after racking the beer off. A beer that they so obediently fermented. They have no eyes but I believe they see me and whisper amongst themselves "will he feed us or will he kill us!". It saddens me that they can read my mind when I decide to kill them. Kill, it sounds so horrible, I'd rather say 'throw them away' but even that doesn't quell my guilt. Normally I don't anthropomorphise, this is true, but with my good friends the yeast, I have to be honest, they are like brothers. Brothers I end up killing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very well written piece! I too like yeast, and not only brewer's yeast. I also love the yeast that makes my bread rise. Wonderful little creatures they are!

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