Thursday, March 3, 2011

Brewing During The Economic Collapse

Having a homebrew usually takes the edge off of most of my worries and I've got a lot of worries. But there is one concern I have that is so large that it can't be reduced with a delicious home made malt beverage. I'm talking about the current financial crisis that looms menacingly just beyond the horizon making advancing strides to crush what's left of the American dream.

Now, I don't harbor a lot of American dreams, just the right to brew my own beer and I'm getting this horrific feeling that the economy may impede my efforts to have my dream and drink it too. Every day I listen to the news of the economy and my mind jumps from the current fiscal meltdown to the inevitable related consequences which then leads me to fear this will end up limiting my access to homebrewing. For instance, the revolt in Libya leads to oil shortages which leads to increased costs of gas which means higher grain prices because of higher production and transportation cost which then trickles down to grain shortages and the retail price of malted barley being prohibitively expensive. Or, the U.S. dollar loses it's promonence as the high standard of currency in the world and soon becomes worthless, requiring wheelbarow loads of it to buy a loaf of bread which leads to local families shuffling jobless through the dusty potholed streets of Santa Cruz like those skinny 1930's depression era Okee's in Life magazine. Bleek.

My mind runs these same kind of scenarios regarding hops, yeast and even heat sources. I consider the cost of propane doubling or tripling and even the rent on my apartment could become so high that I end up living in my van. A van with an empty gas tank I might add. How do I brew my beer then? The point is, it could be a pretty grim and difficult future very soon and so I spend untold amounts of time in my head devising strategies and plans for brewing after the introduction of American austerity measures take place. Paranoid? Maybe, but it makes me feel better playing out the mental preperations so that if it came down to it, I could brew a batch of something with little to nothing and still call it beer.

Hops.
As an apartment dweller, is growing my own even an option? I have a large tub on the patio with a rhizome in it as I write this. It looks weak and meager with little sign of growth. This is the first time I've tried growing hops. They've been so inexpensive recently, why grow my own? But now may be the time, if for nothing other than to ease my mind.  I understand it takes a couple of years of continuous growing and dying off before it produces flowers, and I worry that this depression may expand too quickly for my hops to take hold in time. I might become homeless just as my plant comes to fruition. Through my van winshield I squint through my tears to see the new tenant that just moved into my appartment ignorantly hacking back the vine I'd placed such hope in. I could increase my odds of success by not keeping my rhizome in one basket so to speak. Recently, fellow homebrewer Shane mentioned guerrilla hop planting which I thought was a very good idea. Sneaking about in the middle of the night discretely planting rhizomes in not so obvious places in peoples yards or on the freeway meridians or public parks. Dangerous yes, although the real risky business would be later during guerrilla hop harvesting.

Yeast.
Because I'm cheap, I already salvage and reuse my yeast and am pretty familiar with washing yeast but I'm beginning to believe that a full-on lab is in order. The cost associated with purchasing yeast may be minimally effected by the economy but not having access would obviously stop the brewing all together. It's best to act with prudent caution. I think creating a small lab equiped with a few critical tools used in isolating specific wild yeast strains that fall from the sky would be wise. Perfect for small batch testing of new wild yeast strains and if proven tasty, for propagating into pitchable quantities. Being able to produce a yeast colony from nothing is important. At the same time, it wouldn't hurt to stockpile a large quantity of US05 dry yeast packets, say, two hundred or so.

Fuel.
The next challenge is actually brewing the beer. Let's say propane and natural gas are too expensive or supplies are rationed? How about wood fire as a heat source. It has been employed for thousands of years maybe it's time to revisit the days or yore. There are techniques for boiling wort with heated stones too.

It may be time to learn from history and rediscover how beer was brewed before the advent of propane and electricity and refrigeration.
Without propane or natural gas and maybe electricty blackouts, it could be that an old fasioned wood fired kiln is in order. Collecting firewood would be a pain for someone with my bad back but the fence around my patio looks inviting. Seriously though, a brick enclosure that could contain a burning fire below and support a keggle on top would work pretty well. The other option is preheating stones in a fire and periodically adding those to the wort has been shown to bring it to a boil and proven to produce some quality beers in the past. Right now, propane is a lot more expensive then natural gas. Unfortunately, my apartment doesn't have any outside propane. Although, this brilliant idea just occured to me; adapt the gas log lighter in my fireplace to accept a fitting that could be attached to a very long hose, one long enough to snake out through the back patio door to reach my brew rig. I'll have to give this some more thought.

Malted Grain.
This is the tough one. The hops and yeast part of the equation are solved in my mind but again it comes back to malted barley. I haven't been able to come up with a creative solution for a shortage of malt. My best bet is to find a farmer that grows barley that would be willing to trade or sell it cheap. Raw barley is pretty cheap to begin with but malting (and I have some experience here) is a labor intensive and a high energy enterprise to say the least. If push came to shove I'd do it but I wouldn't like it. In the mean time, I've started making connections with some of the vendors at the local farmers market in order to trade homebrew for fish, meat, and eggs. Honey and fruit are possibilities to augment a short supply of barley and these are also at the market that can be bartered for, but I haven't come across anyone selling grain. When the dollar is weak, bartering one real thing for another makes good sense, and beer is of serious value.


There are a lot of people at this very moment stock piling food and water in their basements or wherever to last a couple of years. Taking a point from them, creating a survival stash of beer may be in order. Based on my current consumption of homebrew I would need... oh let's say, four hundred gallons to get me through a couple of survival years. Possibly three hundred gallons if I ration or then again five hundred may be needed if the future environment is particularly bleak.

I don't think I'm alone here. If you have survival brewing ideas to share with the Beer Diary.... readers, please leave them in the comment section. Thanks and good luck.

3 comments:

Mark N said...

I'm right there with you. I've been making paper logs out of newspapers and stockpiling them for fuel.

I use this gadget; http://www.gizoo.co.uk/Products/EcoFriendly/EnergySaving/BriquetteMaker.htm

As well as fuel for boiling the wort, they could come in handy as building blocks for a shelter, in the event of becoming homeless. Also good for throwing at people intent on plundering your stock of homebrew when times get tough. Indispensible.

Beer Diary... said...

Mark N.
Great ideas, especially the part about throwing at plunderers. Funny!

Russ Tarvin said...

I have always thought that if I could brew after the ______ (enter favorite, ie. zombie, nuclear, biowar, beiber, etc../) apocolypse then I could survive well. Well, brew and make cheese (don't ask, I don't even know for sure myself). Think of it, after days in the wasteland, people would pay at least half a chicken for a beer. So I would be interested in knowing how to carry on my homebrew after the collapse.

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