Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The time of the season

"30 degrees?! Where the hell did this heat come from?" - I've been hearing this same exclamation, in various forms, for the past three days since a heat wave has engulfed Israel. People are sweating and looking forward to Friday, when the heat spell will be over and temperatures will finally drop.

The thing that most people kind of overlook is that when temperatures drop again they will only go down  to the mid 20s, instead of the teens we've been enjoying thus far. Indeed, little by little, without us noticing, spring is coming. And spring means warmer spring weather.

Of course, after a long cold winter some warmth would be welcome. Especially if you live in the colder, snowier, parts of the world. But to brewers, especially lager brewers before the advent of refrigeration, spring also meant the end of the brewing season. Brewers in Germany, who have used the cold German winters to brew excellent clear lagers throughout the cold months knew that soon their fermentation rooms will be too warm to brew, and only the cellars and the deep caves in the hillsides will maintain a semblance of chill.

As Brewing season draw to an end each year, brewers at the time brewed one last beer. It wasn't for drinking right away, but rather for keeping throughout the summer. In order to make it last the months they brewed it stronger and a little hoppier than their traditional brews, and put it barrels that can be de-bunged when the weather got warmer. Then they put those barrels in the caves in the hills, and waited.

Spring passed, summer came, and the caves got warmer. Though they were still quite cool, the temperature had reached a level where lager yeast wakes up and starts to ferment again. There wasn't much sugar left in those barrels in the hills, but there may had been some, and the German brewers weren't taking any chances with their precious brew. So they would go down to the caves and de-bung the barrels, and relive the pressure that built up from the renewed fermentation, and waited.

Until finally, fall came, and with it the drop in temperatures and the new brewing season. The brewers went down to their caves and got the barrels out to make room for the new lagers they were going to brew. There wasn't as much of it left as they had originally put down, since a lot was drank during the summer, but it was still enough for a nice little party. The beer, called Marzen (because it was brewed in March) was served in carnivals, horse races, and fairs to celebrate the harvest and the new brewing year.

Later, in 1810, Price Ludwig and Princes Therese decided to marry right around the time of the celebrations. They bought up basically all the stock of beer that was in Bavaria for the wedding, and then invited the citizens to drink it all with them. The citizens loved this idea so much that they did it again the next year, and the next, and the next. And thus the Oktoberfast was born.

Nowadays, we have refrigeration and temperature control. We can brew lagers in the summer and light wheat beers in the dead of winter. Marzan, Oktoberfest, and Vienna beers have become nothing special. They've lost that sense of renewal of drinking that last beer from the past season and looking forward to the next new batch. The sense of time and season.

 Still, sometimes,  as the weather gets warmer and the thermometer starts climbing. There's a primordial brewer in all of us that looks up at the sky, and then starts wishing for a deep, cool, hillside cave...

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