Malt Does More...

Malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man
A. E. Housman

Housman's rather cynical appraisal of the relative merit's of poetry and beer may, or may not, be the appropriate verse to introduce readers to "The Catholic Beer Review." Now, it may not be immediately apparent why a beer review ought to be Catholic, since the pleasures of beer are available to pagan and Christian alike. Yet, as G. K. Chesterton noted, "Christianity is the only frame which has preserved the pleasure of Paganism." And since the Pagans were kind enough to discover the genuine pleasures of beer, it is up to good Christians to preserve that pleasure and pass it along. Hence a "Catholic" beer review may indeed be appropriate.

The point of Housman's poem is that beer is a false justification of God's ways. He continues:
Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world's not.
And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
The mischief is that 'twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I've lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.

And yet, I can offer something about beer-brewing that proves, to my pagan mind, why malt does indeed offer convincing proof that God does indeed love us. In the process of brewing beer, there is a critical temperature. It is the temperature of the "sparge" water, the water used to wash the sugars out of the barley malt, and it must be 167 degrees. A few degrees lower, and you won't get all the sugars, a few degrees higher and you will get unpleasant tannins along with the sugars.

Yet, in the days before thermometers, which include most of the days during which mankind, Christian and pagan alike, have brewed beer, how did they possibly know when the water had reached that critical number? Boiling point is easy to find, but boiling water will ruin the wort. So how did they know? As it turns out, there is a sudden change in the reflectivity of water just at this critical temperature; that is to say, you can detect the change in temperature just by looking at the water, no thermometer required. Now, one can invoke mere coincidence to explain this. But to invoke coincidence is to reject not just God but science. For if we can attribute such miracles to coincidence, then we never need look for the cause of anything. And I think it quite reasonable, nay, quite scientific, to attribute such an amazing "coincidence" to the care and concern of God for his creation.

If you have wasted your life drinking the tasteless products of Budweiser and Coors, I suggest the Catholic Beer Review as an introduction to some new pleasures of the palate, and a new lesson in the love of God.


8 comments:

Iosue Andreas Friday, September 14, 2007 at 1:28:00 AM CDT  

Cheers! A wonderful post indeed.

It makes me think that the dogmatic teetolalism of Muslims and many Protestants is evidence that they don't fully understand the Personhood of God.

Vertigo Saturday, September 15, 2007 at 12:08:00 PM CDT  

mmmm...Beer!
~Homer Simpson

Maybe Homer understands the Love and Character of God more than most evangelical protestants.

John Médaille Saturday, September 15, 2007 at 4:46:00 PM CDT  

Maybe Homer understands the Love and Character of God more than most evangelical protestants.

The absolute bestest Simpson episode is where Homer and Bart convert to Catholicism and Marge, Ned, and the Reverend conspire to rescue them from the clutches of the Pope. Maybe beer predisposes you to Catholicism, and hence Homer does understand, as you say, the character of God better than Ned.

P.M.Lawrence Sunday, September 16, 2007 at 11:51:00 PM CDT  

You might want to look at the various words for this sort of thing that we got from the Greeks. Some end in -ology, and were fairly rigorous even in their beginnings. Some end in -onomy and at least lent themselves to categorisation if not to systematisation.

Words ending in -urgy were downright arts, depending - in those days - on what seemed like mumbo jumbo and on just who was carrying it out. Zymurgy was for brewing and metallurgy was for metal working. People found out much later that muttering certain phrases led to certain timing of cooling, say, and using a skilled smith meant that he unconsciously spotted how hot an item was or unconsciously took just a certain amount of time doing things.

Anyhow, forging iron had very similar problems of getting a precise temperature. It is as likely that skilled brewers and brewsters got their temperatures right by unconscious timing of cooling rates as by spotting the behaviour of light. For instance, they might have done something like "pour a gallon of boiling water onto a pint of mountain stream water on top of the malt, and then sing a little song about beer before siphoning off the liquor".

John Médaille Monday, September 17, 2007 at 10:48:00 AM CDT  

Anyhow, forging iron had very similar problems of getting a precise temperature. It is as likely that skilled brewers and brewsters got their temperatures right by unconscious timing of cooling rates as by spotting the behaviour of light. For instance, they might have done something like "pour a gallon of boiling water onto a pint of mountain stream water on top of the malt, and then sing a little song about beer before siphoning off the liquor".

Interesting observation. This means that they used two things that we find difficult to do: sight and song. We no longer make our music, and we have difficulty seeing the world. Isn't it a great irony that a "scientific" society has lost the ability to see things as they are.

Maybe "malt does even more" than Milton realized.

Danby Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 1:32:00 PM CDT  

Not so much forging iron, when you can tell everything you need to know by the color. More in the really rarefied arts of heat treating steel. In the process of tempering, steel is first quenched from a red-hot state to room temperature by immersing it in various fluids. Typical are water, salt-water, oil, and in Arab countries, the abdomen of a slave. The speed of the quench and hence the initial hardness of the piece are dependent on the boiling point of the fluid.

Once the metal is quenched, it must be tempered. The quenched steel is super-hard and very brittle. By re-heating to a few hundred degrees, the brittleness is alleviated. At the same time the hardness is reduced. The amount of temper is directly dependent on the temperature to which the steel is heated. The range is from 400 to 700 degrees F. How do youknow you have the right temperature?

God loves us and wants us to make tools at the forge. That's how. If you polish the piece, and heat it in free air, you will see a rainbow effect run over the metal. It goes from blue (least temper) to yellow (most temper). The rainbow is caused by the iron atoms in the surface of the steel taking up various numbers of oxygen atoms. Each of the colors in this rainbow corresponds exactly to a different usable hardness. So, for various purposes, you temper to a different color. A knife needs to be quite hard, so you heat the blade and cool the piece when it turns blue. A chisel needs to be quite tough, so it is tempered to a yellow. Except a cold chisel (for cutting cold iron), which is tempered to yellow at the struck end and blue at the sharp end.

Coincidence? I think not.

P.M.Lawrence Wednesday, September 26, 2007 at 8:27:00 AM CDT  

I was thinking of the entire range of iron working, and clearly I didn't distinguish enough in my description. But there is more to it than just the temperatures involved, in particular the timing. So, for instance, using horse urine that has been air dried to double strength allows faster quenching than straight water, because filaments form and bubbles are kept down - they hold the water off the surface and slow the cooling. It also gives you nitriding, from the urea.

The colour trick isn't quite enough, particularly when you want to have a piece with different hardnesses in it. The trick for a razor was to make it with flat surfaces while it was comparatively soft, then hollow grind them to make a slight concavity on each face. Then the hollows were filled in with clay, and when that was dry the whole lot was reheated and the exposed edge was allowed to take up more carbon. Finally the whole lot was quenched in double strength urine, and the clay was removed. The parts nearer the edge had more carbon and nitrogen and more of the hardening from the quenching since the clay slowed the heat loss further away. Hardening the edge made it easier to sharpen with a strop, since the hollow was worn back more than the edge. It resisted blunting better, too. But how do you assess the heating stage? You don't have the colour to go by, with clay covering the metal.

And you still need judgment and timing even if you can see the colour, since you can't see it during the heating but only when you take the piece out. What it's really doing is telling you afterwards if you got all the previous stuff right - training your timing and judgment. You can't use it very easily for feedback on the current piece - especially if you have poor light, as you often have in higher latitudes.

There's a fascinating trick the sagas describe for (we now know) getting the phosphorus out of bog iron: make a sword, file it down and mix it with meal, then feed it to hungry ducks; make another sword from the droppings, and so on three times. The New Scientist once described a successful test of this using chickens.

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