Review: A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Yes, I am aware, you cannot drink a book. We’ll get back to beer reviews soon enough. But today, something a little different: a book review.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage is not a new book and most people to whom I sing its praises have at least heard vaguely of it. It’s no wonder: the first fifteen years of the new millenium saw a wave of culinary anthropology/history books hit mainstream shelves. The Food Network’s popularity may be partly to blame for this, but it’s certainly nothing to be unhappy about. If people develop a passion for food and reading and reading about food, I’m all for it.

History of the World in 6 Glasses

It is the year 2006. With farmers’ markets cropping up all over, a new generation of celebrity chefs hitting the airwaves, the slow food movement picking up steam, and more and more depressing news about the obesity and diabetes epidemics coming out all the time, people were rethinking their relationship with food for a number of reasons. The term Locavore would soon be coined and the anti-GM and organic farming movements were fairly well-established, even if not mainstream.

Enter Tom Standage, British journalist and history buff. Known for using historical analogies in writing about science and modern technology (see his more recent work, 2014’s, The Victorian Internet), Standage looked backwards at six beverages that deeply influence the development of both ancient and modern economies. Somewhat ahead of the curve (before Michael Pollan’s beloved The Omnivore’s Dilemma was released), he researched and penned a book that would teach a casual reader a little bit about economics and a lot of about food.

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image from prezi.com

A History of the World in 6 Glasses addresses the role that beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola played in the rise of empires, both ancient and modern. It is well-written and accessible and never really drags (unless you’re just not into non-fiction at all, and then perhaps this is not for you), though Standage’s style isn’t exceptionally humorous or light as some other pop culture historians’. This is not a deep dive history text, nor is it extremely focused on the beverages themselves as food items – rather, it skims the surface of world history using these drinks as focal points with which to examine macroeconomics.

I enjoyed the book thoroughly and found it to be a great beach read a few years ago. It’s never too complex and always stays relatable to the average reader. I highly recommend it to anyone with an itch to learn more about what we drink and why.

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Review: Uinta Ready Set Gose

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I made too much risotto. Way too much. A problematic amount of risotto. I have some regrets. I mean, I don’t regret the delicious garlic risotto with kale, only the quantity that my idiot brain thought would be a good idea. It’s going to be every meal for a week at this point.

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I had to open some white wine to make the dish, so I started with a glass of that – no sense in wasting it! After that, I moved onto a beer – this Uinta Gose that I was really excited about. I love gose beers! Sours and other sorts of bright beers really keep my palate interested.

This beer is brewed with salt and coriander and Uinta describes it as compared to a refreshing coastal sea breeze. It pours a hazy, honeycomb gold with no head. It smells wheaty, sort of like white bread from a big name brand smells. There are definite notes of lemon rind, which the can mentions in its description. There’s also a bright, peppery yeast smell to be found.

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The first sip is good. It’s a balanced gose with some bright and salty notes. There’s maybe la little spice or peppercorn at the tip of the tongue. It’s complex, but not overwhelming. There’s peppercorn and lemongrass coming through as it warms up – it also gets more sour as this happens. There’s a mildly savory finish with that salt on the back end.

The pucker on this beer grows as it comes up to cellar or room temperature, which is odd but delightful. I love a good sour. I would absolutely buy this again.

 

 

Beer 101: Fermentation

I know I’m skipping around a little bit (after all, there are several steps that come before fermentation in the brewing process), but it’s kind of because fermentation is my favorite. After all, it’s responsible for some of the best-tasting things in life: beer, wine, cheese, and chocolate to name a few. It’s a  crucial step, chemically, as it creates the alcohol that we all enjoy (presumably you enjoy alcohol – you are on a beer blog).

Beer 101 Fermentation

Photo from uncommoncaribbean.com

The Basics

Fermentation, at its very simplest, is the chemical process by which yeast converts the malts‘ sugar (glucose) into ethyl alcohol and C02 gas – this yields both the alcohol content and the carbonation that make beer, well, beer.

 

We’ve explained a little bit that temperature is important for this process, depending on the kind of yeast being used and the beer style that is being made – an ale needs to be kept at 68 degrees Fahrenheit for about two weeks and a lager needs to stay at 48 Fahrenheit for about six weeks. This process creates a lot of heat as a byproduct and so the container in which the fermentation happens generally needs to be carefully cooled.

To avoid contamination by stray, wild yeasts, fermentation tanks are generally sealed off from the air with only a small vent for the CO2 buildup to exit the tank.

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The Details

I’m no chemist, so I’m not going to go into that level of detail! However, there are some interesting things that go on during the fermentation process that need to be addressed. Yeast basically works in two stages during fermentation: the primary stage and the anaerobic phase.

In the primary stage, the yeast consumes all of the oxygen in the cooled and aerated wort mixture. During this stage, sterols (which are a type of cholesterol that make up part of the yeast’s cell wall) are produced. These sterols allow the cell wall to be permeable so sugar and alcohol can move in and out of the yeast cells; they also allow the yeast to survive in an increasingly alcoholic environment

Once that oxygen is gone, the yeast moves into the anaerobic phase, during which most of the sugars in the wort are turned into ethanol and CO2. Additionally, flavor compounds like esters (fruity notes) , diacetyl/ketones (butterscotch notes), fusel alcohols (responsible for a hot or burning sensation), and other chemicals that can make or break the flavor of a final beer.

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Other Uses for Fermentation

Cacao seeds must be fermented (often out in the sun, on large tarps) before being dried and then roasted in order to create the chocolate flavor that we know.

In winemaking, fermentation begins naturally when the skin of grapes is broken and the wild yeast on them and in the air begin the primary fermentation stage, turning sugar in to alcohol.

Fermentation happens several times along the journey from milk to cheese, developing flavors and even creating the famous holes in Swiss cheese.

The workhhorse of bread making, yeast-based fermentation creates the textures, flavors, and rise in bread doughs.

Pickles, sauerkraut, kimchee, and more can be fermented during the pickling process, allowing natural bacteria to create acids needed to preserve foods.