Craft brewed beer has experienced a renaissance over the past several years; President Obama brewed his own batch in the White House.
That being said, it was surprising to many that the St. Olaf Wellness Center would hold an event dedicated to the subject. After the necessary “spiel” regarding the dry-campus policy, Bon Appétit Manager Randy Clay took the podium. While it became apparent to him that St. Olaf was not a genuinely “dry” campus, Clay thought it prudent to educate students on the value of quality rather than quantity, all the while showcasing the history and tradition of craft brewing.
Randy Clay was first inspired to brew when his wife bought him a home brewing kit. After moving from Colorado to Minnesota in the 1990s, he decided that if he wanted good, local beer, he would have to brew it himself. The craft beer scene in Minnesota has since exploded. The Twin Cities area is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s best regions for local brewing, alongside notables such as Portland, Ore. and Denver, Colo.
“I’m not a snob, but a beer geek,” Clay said. The difference is that the former will tell you what is good, while the latter is process-conscious, appreciating the quality of ingredients and combination of art and science that is beer brewing.
“Beer is like food,” he said. The process of making beer paralleled the rise of man and the development of the larger food system, including the development of agriculture. To overlook its importance is to ignore the history of human development. In fact, beer is mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest written stories.
While he considers commercial beer to be “well-constructed products,” Clay believes that in order to understand the processes of brewing, one must understand the seasonality and sustainability of particular ingredients, something his experience with Bon Appétit has undoubtedly fostered. For example, while one could always reach for a Budweiser – the embodiment of the American pilsner – a better alternative for fall would be a harvest ale or pumpkin beer.
While it may seem a foreign topic at St. Olaf, many other colleges and universities have craft beer societies. Kalamazoo’s Kalamabrew society and Carleton’s Hill O’ Three Oaks brewery are two examples.
“The importance of consuming a craft beer,” said Clay, “is that small-scale beer producers have more control over their alcohol content.” Increased alchohol content can be used to mask flavor, and he believes that this contradicts the point of drinking the beverage in the first place. A responsible beer drinker should be looking for a “dense array of flavors and aromas.”
One aspect of contemporary beer culture that irks Clay is that the price of commercial beer – especially at bars and restaurants – is often tied to the alcohol by volume ABV of the beverage, which “can be a dangerous mentality to have.” Needless to say, drinking from a keg is certainly not the best or only option for those in the party scene. As with food, it is always better to know precisely what one is consuming. Simply put, it is always safer to BYOB bring your own beer than take what is offered.
Clay advised students determined to imbibe to “watch the alcohol content” of the beer they consume. For more discerning tasters, he added that people should be aware of a changing palate.
“It’s like spicy food,” Clay noted. “Just because you don’t like it now doesn’t mean you won’t like it in the future.” There is so much variety in local beer; to relegate oneself to a particular style or brand would be foolish.
“Push the limits of what you try,” Clay said. As the old adage goes, “you may know what you like, but you only like what you know.”
Photo Credit: ANDREW WILDER/MANITOU MESSENGER