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Old 03-22-2007, 05:54 PM   #1
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Brewing good beer is a tough process. Sanitation is Key.

How, then, did those guys back in the ancient days of brewing produce quality beer in open vats with their family "brewing stick." Wouldn't the beer get infected?

 
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Old 03-22-2007, 06:05 PM   #2
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Well, tbh sanitation is really only part of the story. The process itself, if done correctly should inherently form self protection against problem areas. In open fermentors, the Krausen itself acts as a large protective layer. The proper conditions in the primary fermentation lead to good yeast growth. Once the yeast activity is dominating the process, it tends to push out other competing microflora etc. Also, the production of alcohol and the drop in pH lead to less than favorable conditions for some critters. This is of course an oversimplification.

In addition, most places have yeast strains that have been around for centuries and those strains are very well acclimated to that geographical location. Also, there may have been many batches that were 'infected' with such things as Acetobacter and/or Lactobacillus. The real key to interpreting this 'infection' is that it is a thing to be desired in some styles. The Lambics were born out of this very idea. My guess is that the folks got used to the idea that this process is what happened when they made beer and enjoyed it for what it was.

So I guess the idea of what 'quality' beer is needs to be defined in a sense. This isn't to say that they all made good beer back then either and perhaps some of the steps we have made in brewing beer have led to a more consistent, stable product.

If you look at the following link the chart "General Fermentation" gives a brief introduction to the conditions necessary for various bugs:

charts
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Old 03-22-2007, 06:06 PM   #3
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Sanitation is one of those things that homebrewers obsess over that isn't as bad as all the obsession makes it seem.

In fact, one could argue that those old 'brew paddle pitching' days (that brew paddle was once the primary vector for the yeast to enter the brew) proves that all you reall need for sanitation is quality tools and lots of water.

Sanitation is one of those terms taht is often misused. It doesn't mean 'nothing but sanitizer has ever touched this' or 'these thigns can't possibly have anything at all on them'. It means that there are no singificant amounts of any contaminant harmful on it. How much is 'significant'? That's the real debate.

I'd argue that 'significant' is the point at which there is a real risk that the contamiant can impact the beer or the persons who consume it. The hard part is quantifying that, since that level of contaminant is so small as to be functionally indetectable to humans.

And this is why I think people obsess over it. Since there is no functional way to detect this problem, people overengineer the solution to the invisible problem.


Off topic, sorta: This behavior is typical of humans, by the way. Apply the same logic to other 'hidden' dangers and you'll see that communities of people frequently engage in this practice for a wide range of things, from the insignificant to the really and truly dangerous.
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Old 03-22-2007, 06:07 PM   #4
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think of beer like dogs . . . before there were pedigrees and breeds there were dog, then people started breeding select qualities of certain dogs to get "better" dogs.

before there were ales, lagers, pilsners, stouts, porters, etc there was beer . . .
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Old 03-22-2007, 06:14 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Pumbaa
think of beer like dogs . . . before there were pedigrees and breeds there were dog, then people started breeding select qualities of certain dogs to get "better" dogs.

before there were ales, lagers, pilsners, stouts, porters, etc there was beer . . .
That's prbly an excellent point. Most articles/info that I have read about historic brewing techniques and recipes stress the difference between the end result of that process and the various beers that we brew today.

 
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Old 03-22-2007, 06:18 PM   #6
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I'd be willing to bet that, if we were to teleport an ancient master brewer from the 1500s to now to discuss beer he'd be f-ing amazed at the accuracy of our home brewing processes but still be familiar with what we're doing. (Setting aside any discussion about industrial beer processes--- that woudlprobably kill him. "you make how many thousands of gallons per year and it all tastes exactly the same?")
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Old 03-22-2007, 06:23 PM   #7
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Think about the alternatives : local water/sewage mix; unpasteurized, unrefridgerated milk (if you could afford it); or seasonal fruit juices and clean water sweetened with sugar. You'd go for juice and sweet water right?

No matter how bad it was, they liked it. And it's not like any of them would say "This tastes like band-aids" or "this tastes like soap".
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Old 03-22-2007, 06:25 PM   #8
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Sort of OT, but this is the reason we are deathly afraid of 'midnight soil' in this country. But look to places like China where they have successfully been bridging the consumption cycle having used it for centuries. We of course in the US are way too sophisticated for such folly. Instead we have created other means of dealing with our waste. The system itself is not designed around those natural processes that would otherwise deal with it.

To bring the point back around, in those age old open fermentors, it was basically setting up proper conditions for good yeast growth and lettin 'er rip. I was reading somewhere how that in Belgium some of the officials began pressuring the producers of Lambics to 'clean up' their cellars because there was just too many cobwebs and how it was unsanitary. Well the wild yeast for fermentation have basically inoculated the webs, dust, etc. and are what are responsible for the spontaneous fermentation. Also the spiders themselves were the watchmen against things like flys and all those critters. Thankfully iirc, they were never made to totally clean up.
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Old 03-22-2007, 06:27 PM   #9
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Beer back then the beer just sucked compared to what we have now. Infection was just part of the berwing process. Sometimes it was less of a problem other times the beer became undrinkable. That's why they tried to soothe the beer goods back in the days.

It wasn't until the late 1800s that brewers started to understand infections and started to pay attention to sanitation. That's when the beer got better.

Kai

 
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Old 03-22-2007, 06:41 PM   #10
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Way back when, they were all makingitgood. We should totally go back in time and EAC their asses back to the 16th century.
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