Friday, January 17, 2014

The dangers of excessive thinking

If, like me, you find that the drinking of beer at some point leads to the brewing of beer, which leads to talking about beer and thinking about beer excessively - a sad decline I could have avoided if I'd only stuck with the drinking - at some point, you'll start talking about the beginning of beer. People have talked about the beginning of beer since, well, the beginning of beer, so there's a lot of stories about, although oddly we don't know which story is the right one. Perhaps if we hadn't been telling so many stories and paying attention we would know exactly how it happened.

With the coming of this advanced age of scientific achievement and technical rigour and shiny machines that go ping and stuff, you'd think we'd have worked it all out and really know how beer began. But no, we're still telling stories, more stories, often just as unconvincing and disreputable as the stories told by earlier, more drunk people, but far less entertaining.

I recall watching part of a documentary about beer creating civilisation where one scientist claimed that beer originated by early humans putting beer 'in a collection vessel'. A 'collection vessel'. Right. Couldn't he have just said 'a pot?' The early humans then went off and did early human things while somehow the barley got wet, then sprouted, and then leached out sugar into the water, and then began to ferment.

A recent theory about the origin of mead that I read contained some similar rather silly speculation: the earliest mead maker was mixing honey with water to make it flow better, and gathering it in an animal skin bag, 'perhaps' speculated the writer, to take back the honey to the 'alpha' human. Who knows just why he wanted to drag in this piece of half-arsed sociology and anthropology into his speculating about the origins of mead, but at any rate, the theory itself is as simple as some folks put water and honey in a bag and then some yeast came along. Which could just as well be how it happened, but on the other hand, if we really want a farfetched origin story, why don't we turn to the drunk, dangerous, and much more entertaining ancient Scandinavians:

The gods had a dispute with the folk which are called Vanir, and they appointed a peace-meeting between them and established peace in this way: they each went to a vat and spat their spittle therein. Then at parting the gods took that peace-token and would not let it perish, but shaped thereof a man. This man is called Kvasir, and he was so wise that none could question him concerning anything but that he knew the solution... when he came upon invitation to the abode of certain dwarves, Fjalar and Galarr, they called him into privy converse with them, and killed him, letting his blood run into two vats and a kettle. The kettle is named Ódrerir, and the vats Són and Bodn; they blended honey with the blood, and the outcome was that mead by the virtue of which he who drinks becomes a skald or scholar.

So: the Gods make a man out of spit, and then the blood of this man of spit is mixed with honey to become mead. Got that? Spit appears again when we read the following from The Kalevala:

'Thou, my golden-breasted marten,
Thou my son of golden color,
Haste thou whither I may send thee,
To the bear-dens of the mountain,
To the grottoes of the growler,
Gather yeast upon thy fingers,
Gather foam from lips of anger,
From the lips of bears in battle,
Bring it to the hands of Kapo,
To the hands of Osmo's daughter.'

"Then the marten golden-breasted,
Full consenting, hastened onward,
Quickly bounding on his journey,
Lightly leaping through the distance
Leaping o'er the widest rivers,
Leaping over rocky fissures,
To the bear-dens of the mountain,
To the grottoes of the growler,
Where the wild-bears fight each other,
Where they pass a dread existence,
Iron rocks, their softest pillows,
In the fastnesses of mountains;
From their lips the foam was dripping,
From their tongues the froth of anger;
This the marten deftly gathered,
Brought it to the maiden, Kapo,
Laid it in her dainty fingers.

"Osmotar, the beer-preparer,
Brewer of the beer of barley,
Used the beer-foam as a ferment;
But it brought no effervescence,
Did not make the liquor sparkle.

For those who didn't bother reading that to the end, it basically says that in order to get the first beer ready, "Osmotar, the beer-preparer" orders for some wild-bear spit. There's also an oak chip and cones from the fir tree and a magic squirrel and bee involved in there somewhere, to be honest I can't remember it all in detail. Still, you're not going to get that from a chap who habitually talks about 'collection vessels' and honey being collected for 'alpha humans', are you?

I don't really have any other examples and it's too hot to think of a proper way of rounding this post off, so instead I'll just

UPDATE! - By the way. Beer poetry here!

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