Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

August 6, 2013

Water Quality still Medieval

Filed under: science, Soapbox, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 8:57 pm

Batch after batch of mead and brown-sugar based herbal beer was coming out tasting like band-aids. I moved my fermentation to the most temperature-stable spot in the house (under my desk, right next to the thermostat), switched from dish soap to hand soap to rinsing with water and sanitizing with hydrogen peroxide only, threw out my old bottles, and scratched my head.

Then, in Michael Pollan’s newish book “Cooked,” I came across a reference to band-aid flavored beer. A local brewer told Pollan that the flavor is caused by the chemical chlorophenol, and that lowering the fermentation temperature would eliminate it. Since I had lowered the temperature to the minimum my A.C. and cold-prone body could take, I knew that that particular solution would not work in my case. However, I did learn a highly specific tag for my problem, “chlorophenol.”

I used the search term in a homebrewing forum, and found my solution right away. It turns out that yeast make some phenols for their own metabolic purposes, and if there is chlorine in their environment, the yeast will incorporate chlorine atoms into their phenols. The chlorophenol products are typical of what the chemical industry provides for Lysol disinfectant and the microbial inhibitors in medical supplies.

Many of my beer and wine recipes call for boiling up some wort, but then topping up the fermenting jug with water from the tap. This is totally inappropriate — even the top-up water needs to be boiled to drive off the chlorine.

The water out of my Detroit tap is great by municipal water standards — not too hard, not too soft, nor too polluted — but it is chlorinated and tastes and smells kind of like a swimming pool. Now that the idea of chlorine in the water is linked in my head to the ruinous batches, mouthfuls of band-aid, I really don’t like the taste of my tap water.

I need to boil the water before I imbibe it — it’s no longer potable out of the tap in my view. Now wasn’t the point of chlorinating the municipal water supply to clean it up so that you wouldn’t have to filter or boil out the nasty things water can carry? Boiling won’t even remove the fluoride, which most Americans are overexposed to, which causes the softening of tooth enamel and potentially more serious problems (41% of 12-15 year olds suffer from dental fluorosis, caused by overexposure to fluoride through toothpaste and drinking water. Fluoride is also known to soften bone, cause diabetes and other endocrine problems, and decrease IQ, although this is not proven to happen with exposures typical for Americans.)

The more things change, the more they stay the same. I have to treat my water with the precautions as a medieval living in a horse-manure-filled, no-sewage-treatment-plant, cholera-infested city. As for the fluoride, that requires more sophisticated interventions (maybe the filter Alex Jones hawks on his radio show. Or mounting a political campaign, tilting against the dental establishment and the industries which sell their fluoridated industrial waste to the water department.)

Okay, it’s better than people dying of dysentery, and I don’t know of a better solution than chlorination. I’m just saying, boil all of your brewing water, and don’t take too much pride from the idea that you might be living better than a peasant living in the superstitious, technologically simple Dark Ages.

January 13, 2013

They put mind-control drugs in the drinking water.

Filed under: magic, Vinting — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — paragardener @ 5:55 pm

Imagine that your government mandated your drinking water supply be laced with a pharmaceutical agent — a drug that causes sedation, depression in a certain proportion of patients, loss of sex drive and sometimes male impotence. This would seem to be a vile New World Order scheme for cowing a sheep-like populace, preventing revolts and dwindling the population.

Indeed, the drinking water was drugged to control behavior among the masses. I’m not talking about the fluoride in your city water, though — I’m talking about hops in the beer, and the scene is Europe in the late Middle Ages / early Renaissance.

Medieval Europeans didn’t know how to sanitize water to make it safe, but they did know that beer was safe. They drank it all day long (although some of the beers were too weak to go to market today.) In the Dark Ages, there were many beer recipes in circulation… some called for malt and water only, but that was not most people’s favorite beer. Plain beer has no bitter element to balance the sweetness, and doesn’t keep as long as beer infused with bitter herbs. Other beers were brewed with juniper or wormwood, or with specific herbs to treat specific maladies.

The most popular beer was the one backed up by Church authority. In many places, the local monks held a monopoly on making gruit, a brain-bending combination of herbs such as marsh rosemary, yarrow, and sweet gale (Myrica gale.) The village people would pony up cash for the secret-formula gruit, and proceed to brew their own beer with it. Gruit beer is said to be stimulating and highly inebriating. To Protestants, the gruit system was a big problem, because 1) it supported the authority of the Church and 2) it was too much fun, too indulgent, and had to be sinful.

Their solution appeared in the form of hops. Very late in the Middle Ages, brewers were experimenting with hops as an alternative to gruit. Its main advantage was that it could be grown in one’s own beer garden, avoiding the priestly layer of secrecy and control. Hops is bitter and preservative, and it can be bred into varieties producing a decent range of different aromas. The downside of hops is that it causes sleepiness, weakens the male libido (through estrogen-like chemistry), and is contraindicated for depressives. It’s not an evil plant; the other side of the coin is that it’s good for menopausal symptoms and for people who suffer anxiety without depression.

Apparently, the side effects of hops were of no concern to the Protestants. I don’t think that they consciously set out to sedate people — it’s just that sedating people didn’t rate as a disadvantage. Hops was considered an anti-drug, the tame alternative to everything from heather to henbane. Hops was mandated into Bavarian beer in 1516, with the Reinheitsgebot or German Purity Law — the only ingredients allowed in beer henceforth would be barley, water and hops. The Purity Law would spread to many European nations and locales. To the modern Westerner, the Purity Law is an assurance that there is no cheapass rice or maize in the brew. To someone living almost 500 years ago, it meant something different… it meant that to drink something that was safe and dysentery-free, you had to dull yourself down with hops: that is a mass drugging of the population through the drinking water supply, no doubt.

This could be a sad tale of the subjugation of my ancestors. However, this story points to a wide-open new frontier in brewing… everything from pine branches to saffron has been used in beer. Yet we today rely almost exclusively on hops, even reflexively hopping beers with other spices added. There is no need to do so, especially with bitter herbs!

A homebrewer can easily buy some unhopped malt extract and brew it with the addition of any plant product they choose. The starting place for reclaiming our centuries-dormant brewing traditions has got to be “Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers” by Stephen Harrod Buhner. I will double-check his information for assurance of safety, as I am just too self-conscious to converse with plants as Buhner does, and therefore I need empirical data regarding safe dosage! This also raises the question of what I can brew into a beer, and just hand it to someone as a beer, as against when a beer becomes a “drug.” I suppose I shall have to embark upon a serious, long-term effort to bioassay these strange brews, using the researcher as test subject.

Meanwhile, the struggle between “puritans” and the free-minded goes on. The high priests of public health are considering what level of lithium to put in city water in order to reduce violent behavior. Wild people of the world, take some joy in the fight! It won’t end in our lifetime!

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