One of my hobbies is homebrewing. Lately, I've been considering what it would mean to brew during an extended grid-down scenario. I thought I'd write down some of my musings, in case it would prove entertaining (or, even informative?) to others...
Before I get into the challenges of ingredients, equipment and process concerns, the obvious question one might ask is: why bother? As anyone who brews knows, it's a lot of work: a lot of cleaning, lots of lifting heavy objects, lots of heating and cooling. It's also time-consuming; a typical brew day for me goes from 10am to about 4-5pm, and while some of that is spent waiting for fluids to either heat up or cool down, almost none of it can be completely unattended. It also consumes resources: a 5-gallon batch typically uses 10+ pounds of grain (or 6+ pounds of extract), and between 6-10 gallons of water (potentially more for cooling, if ice or a coil is used). And all of that is just brewing the wort, then there's fermenting and packaging (bottling or kegging).
So in a scenario where time and resources are precious, why would you use some of that time, or some of those resources, on something so arguably frivolous as brewing beer? What benefit could there possibly be for all this work? Seems like a lot of hassle for beer...
Dude! It's beer!
In any kind of survival scenario, or indeed any high-stress situation, keeping up morale is crucial. When things seem desperate, it's easy to let negative emotions carry you to dark places. The best medicine is often laughter and camaraderie, and what better "social lubricant" than beer? It's bubbly, yummy, and not too intoxicating (well, depending on quantity, of course).
There are also lots of potentials for barter. "What's that?", you say, "Barter for beer?!?" Absolutely! Other people you encounter will undoubtedly be experiencing similar levels of stress and desperation. Running low on toilet paper? I bet you could convince someone to accept a bottle of your kind IPA for a roll of TP. Or a gallon of diesel or petrol, perhaps? Maybe even a couple cans of beans, or some rice? A handful of shotgun shells? Some fresh garden-grown tomatoes?
There's also a secondary barter possibility: spent grains. Chickens, pigs, cows, ducks, they all love the taste of spent grains. One of my neighbors trades me some of her chicken's eggs, in exchange for my spent grains. Some farmers even pay breweries for their spent grain. Similarly, spent hops make an excellent mulch, retaining soil moisture and keeping down weeds (some research suggests it is a natural herbicide!); some might even suggest that they make a good after-shave, although that's definitely debatable (and my wife would lead that debate)... The trub also makes a great fertilizer. What wonderful uses for things that otherwise would essentially be considered a waste product!
And then, of course, there's just the coolness factor. I mean really, how cool would it be to be the only brewer in an apocalypse? Zombies everywhere, and you can still raise a glass!
Of course, it might be a bit more difficult attempting to brew on a sailboat...
(Stay tuned for part 2, which will be all about ingredients...)