So here it is...the parsonage brewery (and--to the right--my poor old dog). Plenty of my friends and colleagues have gone off to UU General Assembly and so I have plenty of time to bottle beer...
You may be wondering what, exactly, this has to do with sustainability. It is a hobby, right? Perhaps it is a bit geeky and popular with a certain kind of GenX Burbanian male, fond of facial hair, hiking, and organic food, but (in spite of appearances lately) this isn't a food blog...is it? No, it isn't a food blog, but our relationship with beer is a good illustration of the importance of doing things ourselves.
Now, DIY is, of course, a cable channel which features "This Old House" like programs with plenty more product placements than is probably healthy. However, certain things we do ourselves naturally have a lesser impact on our environment. Gardening is one obvious example. What food we produce at our home cuts out the petroleum and money expended to bring our organic salad greens in from California. The same can be said for other things as well. One of them is beer.
Beer, like any food item, can be made from ingredients procured locally or from far away. In addition, it is a process that uses a great deal of heat and water. Also, most of those attractive cans and bottles at the package store are owned by a few conglomerates. This is true for some of those cute micro-looking things as well. Finally, what is brewed locally isn't always as clear as one might think. If you live where I do (New England, if you haven't already figured that out) your Sam Adams probably comes from Pennsylvania. Yes, Boston Lager isn't brewed in Boston. And that Guinness import? It really is imported...from St. John, New Brunswick. Which is the local beer? I guess it depends if you live in Northern Maine or Western Mass.
So I make my own beer. Usually at home in that crazy set up on my counter. I also have a small cooler for mashing grains and a big pot for boiling everything. I actually find the process quite relaxing. There is a rhythm to the whole thing. It takes time and slows you down. It makes you reflect and think about the task at hand, which helps you to focus on other things. In fact--like when I was writing my doctoral paper--I didn't drink much beer, but I sure did brew a lot. It is no mistake that even today some of the best beer in the world is brewed by monks.
The Parsonage Brewery is a one man operation and that is fine. However, one can also make this a social experience either at home or at a "brew-on-premises" place. The as-of-yet non-carbonated beer in my fermenter (on the right) is a wheat that I make every June or July in honor of my brother's anniversary. I am also bottling a Scottish Ale this week with some folks downtown at one of these neutral locations. It makes cleaning a breeze and you get to hang out. In fact, if you are a GenX Burbanian male of the type described above (or even if you are not. Women brew, too, you know) and live around here, chances are you will have spent some time at Barleycorn's.
So, in conclusion, it is locally produced (although one has to work when it comes to procuring local ingredients). It is a learning experience that makes you think. It is more environmentally friendly. It can be social and it makes you look cool to a certain crowd (shallow, yes, but everyone want friends, right?). Sounds like a good thing if you are a drinker. If you are not, might I suggest getting into sodas? They are also fun, take less time, and can be an all-ages project. On-Premises places often do kid's Birthday parties and there are plenty of resources for getting into the hobby.
Here are some important links:
The Joy of Homebrewing (this is the basic "how to" book, but it is best to do this with a buddy at first)
An article about soda
And Brewing TV. I recommend starting with the first episode. The most recent one is a confusing montage.
Oh...and finally those monks and the best beer in the world.
This is a picture of my brother's hops from last year.
And here he is harvesting. Note that this is not the wheat beer brother...though he has been known to make 'em.