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Brewing Trouble: How to Drink Beer and Save the World

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  • Kemp Hiatt, Jr
    From AlterNet.org... Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World By Christopher O Brien, New Society Publishers (November 2006), 275 pages
    Message 1 of 3 , Apr 1, 2008
      From AlterNet.org...

      Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World By
      Christopher O'Brien, New Society Publishers (November 2006), 275 pages

      Beer, like so many other products, is largely in the hands of giant
      corporations. Therefore, drinking beer can often enrich the same
      systems of power we as activists are fighting against. Fermenting
      Revolution: How To Drink Beer and Save the World by Christopher
      O'Brien is a book about how the people can take back the brew and join
      together in saying, "If I can't drink good beer, it's not my revolution."

      It is satisfying and rebellious in this increasingly corporate world
      to make your own beer. In Vermont, homebrewing and microbrewing is a
      state-wide past time; a 2005 census shows that there is one
      microbrewery for every 32,792 people in the state, which is the
      highest number of microbreweries per capita in the country. As many
      people know, beer drinkers can be activists in how they choose and
      make their own beer. Interested in changing the world through
      drinking?Fermenting Revolution can serve as a kind of bible for the
      beer activist that's bubbling inside each and every one of us.

      In Fermenting Revolution, O'Brien presents a people's history of beer,
      allowing the reader to feel connected to beer activists centuries ago.
      The author explains the scientific process of brewing in an easy to
      understand style, avoiding what he calls "Beer geek-speak." The book
      goes into the important role women have historically played in beer
      making, and how people can take on corporate globalization by making
      and drinking their own beer. It's time to get to the home fires brewing!

      A People's History of Beer

      O'Brien starts his book out by taking us through the long and
      intoxicating history of beer. It is in Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq,
      where first emerged the trade of beer and barley. The need to
      cultivate crops for this important product may have been the initial
      reason for the settlement of the world's first human civilization. In
      Babylonia, where beer was safer to drink than the canal water, barley
      and beer were used as a form of currency. O'Brien argues that the
      foundations of modern society are built on, well, beer. Beer has also
      played a central role in the world's major religions. The author
      suggests that a down-to-earth Jesus who "made a point of associating
      with ordinary folk" would probably have preferred the common beverage
      of beer, rather than expensive and elitist wine. "I rather like the
      image of Jesus as a long-haired, beer-drinking rebel, welcome to crash
      any party so long as he was willing to conjure up a bottomless supply
      of beer. Rock on, Rock of Ages!" O'Brien writes that the typical image
      of Buddha with a round belly suggests the spiritual figure may have
      been a regular consumer of beer. After all, the Buddha "encouraged
      abstention from intoxicating drink and drugs" but didn't totally
      discourage consumption. And none other than Saint Nicholas (Santa
      Claus) is listed by the Catholic Church as a Patron Saint of Brewing.
      With stories like this linking beer to religion, O'Brien argues that
      "sbeerituality" needs to be put back into our drinking culture in the US.

      One manifestation of beer's role in modern spirituality is the local
      bar. The author writes that the bar can act "as a bridge between the
      sacred and secular domains." O'Brien says that in bars in Asia, it's
      often common to see a nearby altar with alcohol as an offering.
      Similarly, worshipping ancestors is often common at bars in the US:
      "It's the picture of "Old Joe" hanging behind the bar. "Joe" built the
      place in nineteen-hundred-and-something-or-other, and now after his
      death, he offers his blessings or his disapproval to what goes on in
      his sacred beer-drinking place."

      A recurring theme in Fermenting Revolution is the role women have
      played in brewing and beer culture throughout history. Some of the
      earliest signs of beer show that women were primarily the brewers, and
      later the tavern owners, that supplied beer. This meant women
      historically played an important role in society through their control
      of the beer industry. For example, O'Brien tells us that Viking women
      in Norse society at the end of the first millennium were the only ones
      allowed to brew beer. According to law, brewing equipment could only
      be used by women.

      As time went on, however, women around the world were pushed out of
      brewing by men who felt threatened by the power wielded by women
      brewers. O'Brien calls himself a "femaleist": he believes that beer
      brewing has empowered women in the past, and has the potential to do
      so now. "More women brewing and drinking beer would help correct some
      of our socially constructed gender imbalances." He laments the fact
      that today the beer industry is dominated by machismo: "Women of the
      world, greedy men have stolen your beer and its time to take it back."
      However, one hopeful example O'Brien points to is Ethiopia, where the
      homebrewing industry is still strong and is largely controlled by women.

      Another sign of hope is Vermont. According to an article in the
      VT-based Seven Days newspaper, women are no strangers to micro-brewing
      in the Green Mountain State. Vermont's Trout River, Rock Art and the
      Alchemist Breweries all have women as co-owners or presidents. At
      Otter Creek Breweries, there is a woman CFO, brewer, packing manager
      and labeler.

      Another widely discussed topic in Fermenting Revolution is the
      influence beer has always had on politics. Some interesting passages
      in the book describe early American history when rebels encouraged
      boycotts against English beer, using the phrase, "Homebrewed is best."
      Shortly after the founding of the nation, it was common for
      politicians to reward their constituencies with beer at the polling
      stations. Often there was only one polling place per county, so after
      traveling such a distance to vote, the citizen wanted to be rewarded
      with a drink. Here O'Brien argues that "Given the dismal voter turnout
      levels in contemporary American elections, perhaps this strategy might
      be readopted? One ballot, one beer."

      Think Globally, Brew Locally

      For centuries, beer was brewed primarily at home in unregulated
      settings with home-made recipes. When corporations began making beer
      for profit, a lot of the culture and spirit of the craft was lost. Yet
      O'Brien believes that corporate "globeerization" can be fought through
      "beeroregionalism." While corporate control of production centralizes
      beer power in the hands of a few, Beeroregionalism, as defined by
      O'Brien, is a return to local production and community. The author
      argues that the craft of making beer should be cherished as an
      ingredient in community-building, not as an assembly-line method of
      making money. The author walked the talk at the 1999 World Trade
      Organization protests in Seattle. Though there's a picture of book of
      O'Brien dressed up as a turtle with some other friends at a march, he
      admits he spent a lot of his time in the famous brewpubs of Seattle
      rather than in the streets.

      Though O'Brien explains that three companies control over 80 percent
      of the beer industry in the US, there are an estimated 250,000
      homebrewers in the country, and the numbers are growing. Not only is
      homebrewing a fun activity to do with friends and family, but brewers
      can choose organic products to use as ingredients and not rely on
      corporations for their beer. O'Brien also reminds us that brewing at
      home cuts down on fossil fuel consumption in that homebrew doesn't
      rely on gas for delivery. In Vermont, we have a variety of organic
      products to use in our brewing, as well as a whole host of
      micro-breweries to choose from. (For those who want to learn how to
      homebrew, pick up a copy of Charlie Papazian's easy to follow book The
      New Complete Joy of Homebrewing, published by Harper Resource).

      Every reader of Fermenting Revolution is likely to find something that
      strikes a personal chord with them. For me, it was a history of the
      tin beer can. My grandfather was an avid recycler of beer cans in the
      college town he lived in. He was able to save tens of thousands of
      dollars from the nickels acquired over decades of digging through
      garbage bins and salvaging cans after college parties. O'Brien tells
      us that in 1959, Bill Coors, the owner of the beer company which
      carried his last name, developed the first seamless aluminum beer can.
      His colleagues in the industry laughed at him even when he asked
      people to return the cans for a penny a piece - but it worked! O'Brien
      writes that using a recycled can utilizes only five percent of the
      energy required to produce a new can from scratch: "Recycling one can
      saves enough energy to power a TV for 3 hours."

      Fermenting Revolution is not only informative, with pragmatic
      suggestions on social change, but it is fun to read. This
      mind-expanding book will make you thirsty for justice, and a good
      organic, homebrewed beer. Readers interested in self sufficiency and
      homegrown products should pick up a copy of Fermenting Revolution and
      get things brewing.
    • alibabagrl@aol.com
      In a message dated 4/1/08 8:44:03 AM, khiatt37@hotmail.com writes: O Brien starts his book out by taking us through the long and intoxicating history of beer.
      Message 2 of 3 , Apr 1, 2008
        In a message dated 4/1/08 8:44:03 AM, khiatt37@... writes:

        "O'Brien starts his book out by taking us through the long and intoxicating history of beer. It is in Mesopotamia, modern day Iraq, where first emerged the trade of beer and barley.
        O'Brien argues that the foundations of modern society are built on, well, beer.  Beer has also
        played a central role in the world's major religions."



        I wonder what O'Brien says about how the Muslims in mondern day Iraq are not suposed to drink beer or any alcohol.  A friend of my bosses who is from that part of the country said that their holy book says that they can't drink alcohol on land, during the day or in public, so they have secret floating rafts for drinking in the dead of night.  Some people just put their feet in a tub of water while drinking in their house at night.  Fascinating. 

        -A



        **************
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      • Steve Heden
        Good book. I saw this at Whole Foods in Bellevue about a year ago. Seattle City Library has a copy. It drags a little toward the end .. but you can always hunt
        Message 3 of 3 , Apr 1, 2008
          Good book.

          I saw this at Whole Foods in Bellevue about a year ago.

          Seattle City Library has a copy.

          It drags a little toward the end .. but you can always hunt and peck
          your individual chapters .

          Cheers .... ,

          --- In seattle_homebrewers@yahoogroups.com, "Kemp Hiatt, Jr"
          <khiatt37@...> wrote:
          >
          > From AlterNet.org...
          >
          > Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World By
          > Christopher O'Brien, New Society Publishers (November 2006), 275 pages
          >
          > Beer, like so many other products, is largely in the hands of giant
          > corporations. Therefore, drinking beer can often enrich the same
          > systems of power we as activists are fighting against. Fermenting
          > Revolution: How To Drink Beer and Save the World by Christopher
          > O'Brien is a book about how the people can take back the brew and join
          > together in saying, "If I can't drink good beer, it's not my
          revolution."
          >
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