The Birmingham & Black Country Wildlife Trusts invited me to brew a special beer for International Dawn Chorus Day. They started Dawn Chorus Day in the ’80s and it has become an annual international event. The idea is that you get up early and listen to the environment come alive as birds wake up and start singing. It’s a celebration of spring, but also a call to pay attention to the urban wildlife and natural environment around us.
I have a doctorate-level education in Earth and Environmental Sciences, and I can quantify the value of ecological services provided by natural systems and their elements. But I also appreciate the intrinsic value of connecting with the natural world. I spent many years as a political activist and community organizer, volunteering my time to protect precious natural resources from destruction and educating people on the often misleading and sinister policies enacted by elected officials in an attempt to greenwash the truth of corporatocratic greed.
My style as a brewer relies heavily on natural processes. Biological, chemical, and physical processes, all interconnected in the making of beer, are often ignored or poorly understood by many brewers. Some have an uncanny intuition that makes up for their lack of knowledge. But for many, the result is: bad beer. Not bad because I subjectively dislike the flavors; bad because it’s not the best beer it could be. I can drink a beer I don’t care for but will not hesitate to acknowledge the craft that went into it. But too many beers are bad because no artisanship went into them.
Anything that undergoes fermentation is transformed by billions of organisms – usually yeast but it can also include different species of yeast and various species of bacteria (as you get in sour beers). The brewer is a warden for this microcosm. She has to provide the raw materials (nutrients, water) and maintain an ideal environment (temperature, darkness, protection from contamination) for these microorganisms do to their jobs properly. Understanding the biochemical processes that take place along all stages allows her to use better judgment over the timing of additions, transfers, and flavor combinations. The yeast take care of most of the important work, and understanding their life cycle and requirements only makes the brewer better able to keep them happy and healthy.
However, there are shortcuts some brewers take to speed up the natural cycles. I eschew these shortcuts because they don’t allow the yeast to finish their job. The tradeoffs are beer with off flavors, overcarbonation, or profound mediocrity. That’s why my beer can take a long time to produce, compared to other microbreweries. I don’t rush it. I produce finished beer less often, and that means fewer sales and lower revenue, but it’s worth the quality I get in the end.
All this to say that most of life on this planet has been around a lot longer than humans have, and they have co-evolved over eons to create these highly complex and efficient natural processes. Nature is the ultimate engineer and humans should look to it for inspiration to emulate its ecotechnology more often. Unfortunately, we usually look for other, quicker, ways to do something for which we already have a blueprint, and the resulting option creates environmental degradation, pollution, and a lot of waste – and, in the case of beer, not very impressive results.
Too many people live their lives fearing nature, or even hating nature. They don’t like dirt; they don’t like bugs; they are afraid of stepping in something gooey or getting bitten and they obsess about mowing their lawns and killing weeds. But all these factors have a role in ecological processes that keep this planet habitable. They have no idea that 90% of their bodies are not human cells but other microbes.
It’s a good idea for everyone to drop everything and just appreciate nature once in a while. It’s too easy to forget what’s out there, and without what’s out there, there is no “here.”
This beer was brewed to benefit the Trust – they will receive 100% of the net profit from sales of the beer. I chose something that would be very springlike – bright and sunny with fresh flavors. I brewed a Belgian-style blonde ale with chrysanthemum flowers and a special Belgian yeast strain from Bastogne, which produces a crisp, dry, and slightly acidic flavor. It’s a cloudy beer – the yeast strain does not settle out of the beer easily and it’s unfiltered and alive – and this gives it a comforting, soft, almost creamy mouthfeel. The chrysanthemum flowers are an unusual addition that provide that fresh, herby, outdoorsy characteristic I was looking for. A spring tonic type of beverage is common in all cultures; elixirs are brewed from some of the first plants that appear in the spring. I made it bubbly to make it a bit festive, as well as being appropriate for its style. It’s a strong beer – 7.2% – but approach it as you would a wine, with food or on its own, and you’ll be all set for nature appreciation.
Spring Calling will be ready the last week of April and will be distributed to shops just in time for Dawn Chorus Day (May 3). It will be available only in bottles.