One of the wonderful things (I think) about living history museums is that they teach things that you can’t necessarily learn from books. Of course, books are our bread and butter when we’re learning about history, but actually seeing the clothing, feeling the weight of an iron, hearing the blacksmith clanging, and smelling the wort boiling—that gives knowledge of a very different type.
It’s a more personal perspective on history. Research is absolutely essential for setting up the framework and building a background base of knowledge, but living the history, whether for hours or years, connects you to it on a very human level. And what you connect to, you remember.
My knowledge of beer comes partly from books and articles, partly from touring other breweries, partly from listening to Ed and my fellow Beer Experts, and partly from watching Ed work. Reading the books means I’m always learning new things, but if I’d stuck to the books alone, I wouldn’t have a favourite part of the brewing process.
That’s right. I have a favourite part. Can you imagine having a favourite part of the process if you’d never set foot in a brewery? Oh man, we’re still at the mashing. I can’t wait to turn the page and read all about the sparging again!!!
(I jest. It’s all interesting. I will happily read stacks of books about beer. My point is that you’re still learning from a distance—seeing it unfold with your own eyes is hugely important too.)
This is why I love giving the brewery tour. There’s nothing better than talking about Victorian public houses and taprooms….when you’re actually standing in a mid-Victorian taproom. I love seeing people’s expressions when they step into the mill for the first time and get a sense of how huge and sophisticated it really is. And of course, all the pieces come together in the brewery itself, as we walk through the process. A lecture or an essay giving the exact same information would still be useful, albeit with fewer witty asides.
But seeing it all for yourself—that’s another type of learning entirely.
So what is my favourite part?
My favourite part is when Ed transfers the wort from the brew-kettle to the cooling ship. Again, if you’d only ever read about brewing, that might seem like an odd choice.
Let me explain.
When the wort comes out of the brew-kettle, it’s boiling. So, before we can add the yeast, we have to cool it down (as I say on tour, “Yeast is a living organism. How would you feel if I chucked you into a pot of boiling water?). Bucket by bucket, Ed takes the wort from the kettle and pours it into the cooling ship, which is a wide copper bath set atop our casks. Actually, first the hops get strained out through the hopback, but I digress.
Boiling hot wort hits the relatively cool copper….
And the room fills with steam.
It’s difficult to see at first. Just a few wisps of steam curl around the lip of the cooling ship. But as Ed adds more wort, the steam thickens. It swirls outward into the room, eddying around the vent over the brew-kettle. Eventually, it drifts to my perch behind the bar. By the end, it’s difficult to even see Ed. As he carries the last few buckets up the step-stool, it looks like he’s climbing into cloud.
And this is why we do what we do.