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The Alchemy of Place and Taste in Santa Barbara Beers

Photo: Calcium carbonate from Santa Barbara's water left after distilling all night. Credit: Benjamin Kinzer/Pete Johnson

Synopsis by Cultural Anthropologist, Chloé Frommer. Fermentation is a cross-cultural, botanical food and beverage-processing technique that facilitates preservation, detoxification, digestion, and taste. With modernization, the visual appearance, aroma and flavor profile of some fermented products have also developed as very particular, stylized registers. But even before style, meaning was always-already invested in the selection of substances, process and consumption. In the case below, the social, geological and climactic features of Santa Barbara and the West Coast, are becoming more apparent in the fermentation of uniquely local variations on older, European beer styles. 

Ted Mills

It starts, like it always does, with hops, those exploded-bulb looking flowers of the trellis-climbing plant with the great name, Humulus lupulus. Add malt. Add yeast. Add technique. Add heat. Add time. And through a science that still feels a bit like alchemy one gets beer, Europe’s most famous fermented invention. Styles of beer display their origins: Belgian style (high in alcohol, malty), English India Pale Ale (more bitter from more hops and more alcohol meant it could survive the journey from England to their occupying troops in India), Kölsh (from Köln, Germany, and which is pale, dry, and bitter).

But as I sit here on a much-too-humid-for-autumn October day in Santa Barbara, keeping it local and drinking a beer from one of our many local breweries, it’s true to say that California has its own style of beer, even when that beer comes in many varieties, from light, refreshing lagers to dark, chocolate-y ports. Up and down the coast--and a little bit inland--California is brewing some very interesting beer, and it has influenced the craft brew scene across the States.

“There’s definitely a West Coast style,” says Josh Ellis, owner and head brewer at M. Special brewery, one of the many new breweries to pop up in Santa Barbara county in the last year. “It would be an IPA that finishes drier, has less of a malt backbone, less of a caramel flavor. it’s really about a beer that profiles hops, beginning, middle, and end.”

Hops--which are in the same plant family of the cannabis plant, and share some of the grassy aromas--give beer its bitter taste. The majority of beers use hops--but California *really* likes them. That hop-dominance on the West Coast comes from the abundance, cheapness, and availability of hops from Washington state, where varietals carry location names like Cascade, Mount Hood, Columbus and Chinook. At the beginning of the micro-brewery revolution in the mid-‘70s and early ‘80s, beer-makers starting with the now-defunct New Albion Brewing Company out of Sonoma and the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, the Northern California city north east of the Bay Area, embraced the hop, wanting to put their own spin on things. That’s led to some very strong beers, too, where alcohol content can be twice as much as your average light lager.

California also has a huge amount of breweries--around 550 in total, by Telegraph Brewery’s Brian Thompson’s account--because of the business-friendly environment.

“We don’t have to work with distributors, though we do,” he says. “You can self-distribute. There are fewer restrictions on alcohol limits and marketing.”

Self-distribution has allowed brew-pubs--where beer is brewed on the premises--to be major social gathering places for breweries. You can still grab a Bud Light if you want, but it’s just as easy to try a craft beer.

Pete Johnson, who owns one of Santa Barbara’s oldest brewpubs, The Brewhouse, only sells his beer through his location down near the beach in Santa Barbara. Partly that’s due to owning a different license--self-distributors can’t also sell liquor and cocktails at their bars, which Johnson has always done--and the prohibitive cost of the one that would allow such sales. “Sometimes I feel I’m not part of the brewing community,” he says, noting that when he opened there was only one other brewery in the county--Santa Barbara Brew Co--and now there’s 20.

Though Johnson agrees there’s a hoppyness to California beer, he loves to make all kinds, making small batches of Hefenweizen (a non-filtered beer that contains wheat) or red ales, which gets its color from the kind of malt used and has a sour taste.

Sean Lewis, author of “We Make Beer” a trip across America’s craft beer scene and former Santa Barbara resident, disagrees about how hoppy the Central Coast really is. He says the very hoppy beers are more a San Diego thing, like Stone Brewery.

“Central Coast beer, like Firestone Brewery and Figueroa Mountain Brewery, the things they win medals for, are really traditional style beers like pilsners and lagers.”

There’s also the case of Santa Barbara’s water, which tends to run hard. Brewers like Johnson makes a pilsner-style beer, but holds off from that description because the hard water makes it taste different. With Santa Barbara thinking of water during these years of severe drought, that might be nitpicking. Other brewers never mentioned water when talking brewing.

Photo: Brewhouse's "German Pilsener", in name, process, appearance, and aroma. But lacking the soft water that makes the taste of the original German style. Credit: Ben Kinzer/Pete Johnson

Sean Lewis also thinks that the craft beer revival started on the West Coast because of its geography.

“They were people who were able to go out and see the world a little bit more,” he says. “They were ones who had fallen in love with craft beer overseas so when they came back they started to make it themselves.”

Brewers tend towards the fraternal, and would rather help each other out than try to undercut the competition, which if it exists is healthy. In Santa Barbara most home brewers and owners of breweries are part of the 60-plus member Santa Barbeerians, which shares recipes and makes special beers in small batches for members to try.

Many brewers tend to be or have been engineers and scientists, tinkerers and those who love attention to detail. The Brewhouse’s Pete Johnson was a NASA engineer a long time ago. But he loves his job as a brewer. “

You have to love it otherwise you wouldn’t do it,” he says.

“People’s tastes have changed,” Johnson continues. “When I started out people would say my beer was too hoppy. Now when they taste my beer they say, that’s nice, but do you have something with more hops in it?”

Maví, una bebida refrescante del Caribe

Photo: Receta de Maví en Cocina a lo Boricua

Idioma: Inglés (English)

Sinopsis por Chloé Frommer, Antropóloga Cultural. La fermentación es una técnica de alimentos y de procesamiento de bebidas intercultural, botánico que facilita la preservación, la desintoxicación, la digestión y el sabor. Con la modernización, la apariencia visual, el aroma y el perfil de sabor de algunos productos fermentados, se han desarrollado registros muy particulares y estilizados. Pero antes de todo eso, siempre ha existido un significado. Productos fermentados simbolizan y materializan patrimonios cosmológicos específicos - que van desde grandes festivales ceremoniales a rituales aislados sagrados o situaciones ritualmente alteradas. En la siguiente presentación sobre el Maví caribeño, está claro que el contenido de alcohol, sustancia básica, e incluso los niveles de dulzura de una bebida también pueden ser cambiados radicalmente dependiendo de las

Roselyn Rodriguez

Maví es una bebida que se prepara desde cientos de años en la región del Caribe.  Es una bebida que se toma fría para refrescarse de las temperaturas de calor que suelen sentirse en un clima tropical.   Tiene muchos nombres: en Puerto Rico se le llama Maví, en República Dominicana se le llama, Mabí, en las Antillas y en el Norte de Venezuela, mauby o “pru”, del inglés brew.

No se conoce con exactitud el origen de esta bebida. Muchos dicen que su origen se remonta al tiempo de los indios taínos, los pobladores antes de la llegada de los europeos.  Y que éstos preparaban Maví como un té para curar enfermedades y/o como refresco. Otros dicen que es de origen afro-caribeño y que entró en Puerto Rico con los primeros inmigrantes de Haiti. También se cuenta que los inicios del Maví en Puerto Rico tienen que ver con los comienzos de la producción de caña de azúcar para el 1520.

Lo interesante es que a diferencia de otras bebidas donde se utiliza la fermentación para su elaboración, el Maví de hoy en día no tiene alcohol.  Existe un teoría de que el Maví originalmente tenía alcohol según Chris Maggiolo, un antropólogo de alimentos. Vea referencia en:

Los habitantes del Caribe eran conocidos por su bebidas alcohólicas hecha de patatas dulces rojas, las cuales llamaban: mâ'bi.  Los primeros colonialistas británicos la adoptaron y la bautizaron: "mobbie"  Para los británicos “mobbie” era un sustituto de la cerveza, que no podían obtener en las islas.  Con el tiempo, las bebidas importadas y el ron aumentaron en la región y el consumo de mâ'bi disminuyó entre los colonialistas británicos.  Pero las personas de escasos recursos y los esclavos continuaron preparando y consumiendo la bebida.

Según la teoría de Maggiolo, el cambio del Maví basado en la papa dulce y el Maví basado en la corteza puede haber ocurrido en la mitad del siglo 19 cuando una epidemia de gusanos diezmó los cultivos de la papa dulce.  Los residentes de las islas tuvieron que volver hacia el método de la corteza, como sustituto de la papa dulce. Se le añadieron entonces grandes cantidades de azúcar a la receta, junto con especias como la canela o la pimienta de Jamaica, para reducir la amargura, ayudar a la fermentación, y así aumentar el contenido de alcohol.  A principios del siglo 20, la disminución de los rendimientos de azúcar, así como tiempos de producción más cortos, pueden haber llevado a la versión de Maví menos fermentada, la versión sin alcohol que es común hoy en día.

Quizás debido a estas variaciones históricas, no todo el mundo prepara Maví igual. Puerto Rico tiene su propia receta que sido pasada de generación a generación en muchas familias puertorriqueñas.  He escuchado que en República Dominicana lo preparan añadiendo canela y otras especias.  En Puerto Rico el Maví tiene un color oscuro, mientras que en República Dominicana es de color calor, muchas veces también con un color marrón oscuro.

Es una bebida típica, que esta ligada muy fuertemente a nuestra cultura, tanto así que la cámara de representantes de Puerto Rico sometió un proyecto de ley para declarar el Maví como “bebida artesanal de Puerto Rico”.


Roselyn Rodriguez, Vox Orbis 2015


语言:的 (English)

(文化人类学家 Chloé Frommer)。发酵是一种跨文化的食物性植物和酒精的处理技巧,它可以使食物更易于保存、脱毒,便于人体消化并丰富口感。随着社会的发展,发酵产品的视觉外观、产品在香气和口感这两个主要方面也有了提升。但在此之前,发酵的意义也尤为深远。发酵产品代表并物化了特定的宇宙遗产——从大规模的礼仪节日到孤立、神圣的仪式,乃至在仪式上更改的状态。下面的这篇哲学文章讲述了发酵的酒精饮品启发了道教、穆斯林以及儒家诗人和哲学家的宇宙观——提出了自然与文化在本质上的统一。

作者:Dalibor Petkovic





图片:八仙瓷瓶,摄于洛杉矶郡博物馆。Ashley Van Haeften/Flickr




Dalibor Petkovic 为 Vox Orbis,2015 年



Maví - A refreshing, Caribbean drink

Photo: A glass of effervescent maví.

Languages: Spanish (Español)

Synopsis by Cultural Anthropologist Chloé Frommer. Fermentation is a cross-cultural, botanical food and beverage-processing technique that facilitates preservation, detoxification, digestion, and taste. With modernization, the visual appearance, aroma and flavor profile of some fermented products have also developed as very particular, stylized registers. But before all that there has always been meaning. Fermented products symbolize and materialize specific cosmological heritages – ranging from large ceremonial festivals to isolated, sacred rituals, or ritually-altered states. In the submission about Caribbean maví below, it’s clear that the alcoholic content, basic substance, and even sweetness levels of one drink can also be radically changed by material and social historical formations. 

Roselyn Rodriguez

Maví is a fermented drink that has been prepared for hundreds of years in the Caribbean. The exact origin of this drink is contested. It may have been a tradition of the Taino – people indigenous to the Caribbean, prepared as a tea with the bark of the maví tree (Soldierwood, Colobrina aborescens) to cure diseases and/or as a drink. Others say maví is of Afro-Caribbean origin, entering Puerto Rico with Haitian immigrants. Still others argue that mavi in Puerto Rico sprung up with sugar cane production (circa. 1520).

Photo: Maví tree (Soldierwood; Colobrina aborescens)

Unlike other beverages where fermentation is used for processing it, today’s maví has no alcohol (although it may have at one time. See reference:

There’s no doubt an interesting story here about how maví became non-alcoholic because Caribbean people had already been known for their alcoholic sweet potato drink called: mâ'bi. When the first British colonialists arrived they also adopted this drink calling it: "mobbie". For the British, mobbie was a substitute for beer, which they could not get on the islands. Eventually, because of rum and other imported drinks, the consumption of mâ'bi by the British colonialists decreased. But poor people and slaves continued preparing and consuming the drink.

A subsequent shift from the sweet potato-based, alcoholic drink back to the bark-based maví may have occurred in the mid-19th century when worms decimated a high proportion of the sweet potato crop (Maggiolo 2015). Residents of the islands likely returned to maví bark with sweet potatoes being less abundant. They then likely also added large amounts of sugar to the recipe, along with spices such as cinnamon and other spices to reduce bitterness, help the fermentation, and increase the alcohol content. In the early 20th century, lower sugar cane yields may have led to the maví we know best today – still sweet, but less fermented and, non-alcoholic.

Perhaps because of these historic variations, today not everyone prepares maví the same. Puerto Ricans pass their own families’ recipe from generation to generation. In the Dominican Republic, a variant - mabi  - is made with cinnamon and other spices and sold either in light and dark brown colors. Whereas in Puerto Rico, maví is always dark brown.

However you call it, maví, or mabi (mauby, or pru, English beer in the Antilles and in northern Venezuela) this fermented bark drink is taken cold to cool off in hot, tropical temperatures. In Puerto Rico, now we consider it our culinary heritage so much that the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico submitted a bill to declare maví as “the artisanal drink of Puerto Rico”. 


Roselyn Rodriguez, Vox Orbis 2015

Creando sabores: La perdurable historia de la fermentación de una bebida de maíz

Photo: Compartiendo historias, así como un poco de chicha morada (jarra de cristal) y algo de chicha de jora (jarra de cerámica). Ana Pearson.

Idioma: Inglés (English)

Sinopsis por la Antropólogo Cultural Chloé Frommer. La fermentación es una técnica de botánica de procesamiento de alimentos y bebidas intercultural, la cual facilita la preservación, la desintoxicación, la digestión, y el gusto. Con la modernización, el perfil de apariencia visual, aroma y sabor de los productos fermentados también se han desarrollado como registros clave específicos. Pero antes de todo esto, siempre ha existido el significado. Los productos fermentados simbolizan y materializan patrimonios cosmológicos específicos – los cuales se extienden desde grandes festivales ceremoniales, a rituales sagrados aislados, o estados alterados por aquellos rituales. La contribución a continuación se centra en la chicha - una bebida fermentada que puede depender de distintos ingredientes botánicos, así como una técnica tradicional de mascado con el fin de fermentar granos de maíz maduros usando la saliva. Dado que sólo las adultas mujeres están autorizados a desempeñar el muqueado (no más, ni menos) el muqueado también conlleva connotaciones acerca de la fertilidad.

Ana Pearson

¿Cómo es que, en un mundo lleno de placeres personalizados al gusto de las masas, todavía es posible encontrar belleza, significado y propósito en las cosas que desafían al espíritu de la época?

La respuesta, por más curioso que parezca, se puede encontrar en las formas tradicionales en las que la chicha - una tradicional bebida andina a base de maíz, usualmente fermentada- se sigue preparando hasta el día de hoy. La preparación chicha se abre una ventana al valor de la tradición, así como a su significado y propósito, en la imaginación colectiva de la perdurable cultura del Perú.

Nacida a la sombra de los impresionantes Andes peruanos, la chicha, a lo largo de los siglos, ha recorrido el Perú de la misma forma en la que un río recorre un valle, o de la forma en que la sangre corre por nuestras venas; llegando incluso a los lugares más pequeños, trayendo frescura y vida a todo alrededor.

Por ejemplo, en Lima, la capital del Perú, la chicha morada, un tipo chicha no fermentada a base de maíz andino púrpura, piña, canela y algunas otras frutas y especias, es la bebida dominante. Es que, a decir verdad, no existe una sola comida, hora del día o estación del año, en la cual un vaso fresco, dulce, y refrescante de chicha morada no sea recibido con gran deleite.

Sin embargo, mientras que la chicha morada se ha disparado en términos de su amplia disponibilidad, la expansión ha tenido un costo: la pérdida de algunas de las más ricas tradiciones culinarias, las cuáles se remontan atrás a varias generaciones.

Por otra parte, otros tipos de chicha, de esos que no sólo refrescan, sino que también dan a tantos platos peruanos ese sabor único y aclamado, continúan siendo preparados, y buscados, por su apego a los procesos de fermentación tradicionales.

Cuando era chica, recuerdo haber oído las historias que mi padre nos contaba acerca de la importancia de hacer chicha de la manera correcta Él era de Piura, una ciudad en el norte de Perú, donde no existe comida que esté completa sin una jarra fría de chicha de jora, la chicha fermentada por excelencia.



Photo: Mi hijo Diego y sus amigos, preparando chicha para una parrillada de domingo. Ana Pearson.

De acuerdo a estas historias, todo comienza temprano en la mañana, en el momento en que las mujeres abordan el mercado local en búsqueda de maíz perfecto. A lo largo del Perú existen tantas variedades diferentes de maíz que enumerarlos aquí sería desviarnos de nuestro punto. Solo recuerde: ya sea que se encuentra en uno de los calurosos valle al norte de Piura, o en la fresca ladera de una montaña junto a los poderosos Andes, escoger el maíz correcto--maduro, tierno y sabroso--sigue siendo esencial.

Una vez que el maíz ha sido seleccionado adecuadamente, los granos son separados de la mazorca, y se ponen a remojar en agua durante toda la noche, a fin de estimular proceso de germinación de los granos. Después de esto, los granos son puestos a secar y germinar durante unos tres días a la sombra de una de las esquinas de la casa, a fin de protegerlos de la luz del sol. Una vez que el grano ha germinado, la familia entera se reúne con el fin de secar el maíz usando solo la luz del sol. Esto sucede generalmente a un lado de la casa, donde los granos son puestos a secar sobre cubierta de plástico. Esto, también, toma aproximadamente tres días.

Tres días más tarde, los granos están listos para el molido: es hora de convertir los granos de maíz en harina un poco rústica, ya que no importa mucho si algunos granos se quedan sin moler. Una vez obtenida la harina, muy temprano en la mañana, el primer paso en dirección hacia una gran chicha es ir a buscar agua fresca. Entre más fresca el agua, mejor será el sabor de la chicha. Dado esto, el agua de río, fría y fresca, suele ser la mejor opción, siempre y cuando esté disponible.

Una vez recogida el agua, esta es puesta a hervir. Aquí, una fuente de calor constante es de suprema importancia. Ante esto, no debe ser ninguna sorpresa la creencia que buena leña hace buena chicha. En Piura, la leña de Algarrobo (Propopis nigra; algarrobo negro) es la mejor opción. Además de producir unas vainas llenas de una delicioso y nutritivo "miel", los Algarrobos también son conocidos por su gran fortaleza para sobrevivir en los áridos desiertos costeros y por su madera fuerte, que después de servir como leña puede reutilizarse como carbón para cocinar o planchar.

Desde la mañana hasta tarde en la noche, la harina de maíz es puesta a hervir bajo la cuidadosa mirada de las expertas de la casa: las mujeres adultas. Ahora, así como el calor constante es clave para preparar la chicha perfecta, también lo es el enfriamiento lento. Una vez que la mezcla de harina y agua ha terminado de hervir, el brebaje es puesto en tinajas de cerámica de boca ancha. Allí, la mezcla se revuelve continuamente con una varilla de madera gruesa y áspera.

Ahora, aquí es donde las cosas se ponen realmente interesantes: al mismo tiempo que las mujeres revuelven el brebaje, todos los granos que sobrevivieron al proceso de molienda son masticados y devueltos a la olla, en un proceso conocido como muqueado. Esto se hace con el fin de extraer del maíz todo el ácido que sea posible, así como para activar las enzimas presentes de forma natural en la saliva, las cuáles hacen posible el proceso de fermentación en primer lugar. Importante dentro de todo esto es el hecho que sólo a las mujeres adultas se les permite muquear. A las damas más jóvenes se les permite unirse sólo ocasionalmente, y nunca las mujeres más ancianas.


Ana Pearson, Vox Orbis 2015

Crafting Flavor: The fermentation story of an enduring, corn drink

Photo: Sharing stories over chicha morada (glass pitcher) and chicha de jora (ceramic pitcher). Ana Pearson.

Language: Spanish (Español)

Synopsis by Cultural Anthropologist Chloé Frommer. Fermentation is a cross-cultural, botanical food and beverage-processing technique that facilitates preservation, detoxification, digestion, and taste. With modernization, the visual appearance, aroma and flavor profile of fermented products have also developed as specific key registers. But before all that there has always been meaning. Fermented products symbolize and materialize specific cosmological heritages – ranging from large ceremonial festivals to isolated, sacred rituals, or ritually-altered states. The contribution below focuses on chicha – a fermented drink which can rely upon distinct botanicals as well as a traditional technique (muqueado) of salivary-chewing in order to ferment ripe, corn grains. Since it is only grown (not older, nor younger) women who are permitted to perform the muqueado, fertility may also be connoted. 

Ana Pearson

Why is it that, in a world full of custom pleasures tailored to the taste of the masses, one can still find beauty, meaning, and purpose in the things that fail to change with the spirit of the age? 

The answer, as unseemly as it may appear, can be found in the traditional ways chicha - a traditional, Andean corn-based drink more often than not fermented - continues to be prepared to this day. Preparing chicha opens a window on the value of tradition, its meaning, and purpose in the collective mind of Peru’s enduring culture.

Born next to the stunning Peruvian Andes, chicha has, over the centuries, made its way across Peru in the same way a river runs through a valley or the way blood runs through our veins, reaching even the tiniest spots, and bringing refreshment and life to everything around them. 

For example, in Lima, Peru’s capital city, chicha morada (purple chicha), a non-fermented type of chicha based on Andean purple corn, pineapple, cinnamon, and some other fruits and spices, dominates. For there is really no single food, time of the day, or season of the year, when a cool, sweet, and refreshing glass of chicha morada will not be welcomed with great delight.

However, while chicha morada has soared in terms of its widespread availability, the expansion has come at a cost: the loss of some of the richest culinary traditions, which reach back several generations. 

On the other hand, fermented types of chicha, the kind that not only refresh, but which also give so many traditional Peruvian dishes their unique and acclaimed flavor, continue to be prepared and sought after because of their adherence to the traditional preparation processes. 

Growing up, I remember hearing stories about the importance of making chicha the right way from my father, who was from Piura, a city in northern Peru where no meal is complete without a cold pitcher of chicha de jora, the fermented chicha par excellence.

According to these stories, it all starts early in the morning when women take off to the local market in pursuit of the perfect kind of corn. Across Peru, there exist so many different varieties of corn that listing them here would miss the point. Instead, remember whether you are in a hot valley in northern Piura, or on a crisp mountainside along the mighty Andes, selecting the right corn— tender, ripe, and hearty—remains essential. 

After the corns have been properly selected, the grains are separated from the cob, and soaked in water overnight, in order to jumpstart the grains’ germination process. After this, they are left to dry and germinate for about three days in a house’s shadowy corner, so as to protect them from receiving too much sunlight. Once the grain has sprouted, the family gathers together in order to sun-dry the corn. This usually happens next to the house, where the grains are left to dry on a plastic cover. This, too, takes approximately three days.

Photo: My son Diego and his friends, preparing chicha for a Sunday barbeque. Ana Pearson.

Three days later, the grains are ready for the mill, converting corn grains into very rustic flour, since it does not really matter much whether some grains are left without grinding. Once the flour is obtained, very early in the morning, fetching cold water is the first step in the direction of great chicha. The fresher the water, the better the taste of the chicha. Cold and fresh river water is usually the superior choice, whenever available.

Once the water is collected, it is put to boil. Here, a constant source of heat is of supreme importance. It should be no surprise, then, that it has always been considered that good firewood makes good chicha. In Piura, Algarrobo (Propopis nigra; black carob tree) wood is the superior choice. Apart from producing pods full of a delicious and nutritious “honey,” Algarrobos are also notorious for their resilience in the dry coastal deserts and their strong wood, which after serving as firewood can reused as coal for cooking or ironing.

From early morning to late night, corn flour is put to boil under the careful gaze of the home’s expert brewers: adult women. Now, in the same way constant heat is key for perfect chicha, so is steady and slow cooling. After the water-flour mix is done boiling, it is place is wide ceramic jugs. There, the blend is continually stirred at a steady pace with a thick and rugged wooden rod. 

Now, here is where things get really interesting: at the same time women stir the concoction, all grains that survived the milling process are chewed and put back into the stirring pot, in a process known as muqueado. This is done in order to extract all the acid possible from the grains, as well as activating the fermenting enzymes naturally present in saliva, which makes the fermentation process possible in the first place. Important in all this, is that only adult women are the ones who are allowed to muquear, with younger ladies joining only occasionally, and never elderly women.


Ana Pearson, Vox Orbis 2015

The Idea of Fermentation

Photo:  A cosmological unity between nature and culture is suggested by fermentation.Deckuf/Flickr.

Language: Mandarin Chinese (中文)

Synopsis by Cultural Anthropologist Chloé Frommer. Fermentation is a cross-cultural, botanical food and beverage-processing technique that facilitates preservation, detoxification, digestion, and taste. With modernization, the visual appearance, aroma and flavour profile of fermented products have also developed as specific key registers. But before all that there has always been meaning. Fermented products symbolize and materialize specific cosmological heritages – ranging from large ceremonial festivals to isolated, sacred rituals, or ritually-altered states. The philosophical essay below poses that fermented, alcoholic beverages inspired cosmological visions in poets and philosophers – Taoist, Abrahamic and Confucian – to suggest an essential unity between nature and culture. 


Dalibor Petkovick

The fundamental principle behind fermentation is analysis—the process that divides complex matter into its simple elements. Philosophy, on the other hand, is built on just the opposite principle of synthesis—it takes simple elements and combines them into a complex whole.

Perhaps it is this very principle that makes one of fermentation’s fruits, alcohol, so attractive to philosophers and poets. By drinking, they receive the simple elements of nature and the universe, and out of them build new laws and worlds.

I’m reminded of the Eight Immortals - a group of Tang dynasty poets and writers whose love of alcohol was perfectly described by their contemporary fellow, Du Fu, and his poem “Eight Drinking Immortals.” Each of the Eight Immortals, in their own way, drew inspiration from wine to write some of the most classic poems and novels of Asian and world literature that, to this day, still inspire so many.


Photo: Jar (ping) with Eight Immortals (baixian) Los Angeles Country Museum of Art. Ashley Van Haeften/Flickr

Perhaps humans and fermentation are emissaries of their own universes of nature and thought, which serve as bridges between the material and spiritual, natural and human, unconscious and conscious, wilderness and law, and that are, in the end, gathered in the simple image of a man and a glass of wine.

Perhaps it is this cross-cultural image of a man, fermented from nature’s idea of all beings destined to prosper, and a glass of wine, fermented from grapes—the universal symbol of heaven in Christian and Islamic mystical traditions, as well as prosperity and wealth in Chinese—that is trying to tell us that humans and nature are one, and that all humans are one being with the same goal. That goal, so much professed in all religions and philosophies and thoughts around our planet, and like in Confucius’ idea of the man, who by bringing mercy, compassion, and understanding to the world at the same time delivers upon this goal—of human prosperity.

Perhaps prosperity is the Earth fermented into a man and a glass of wine, with both ready to open, together, new worlds, new ideas, and new horizons that will bring well-being to humans and nature.


Dalibor Petkovic for Vox Orbis, 2015

Federweißer, One of the Perks of Autumn

Photo: Federweißer is a traditional German wine available only during the Autumn months. Frank Steiner/Flickr

Languages: German (Deutsch)

Eva Nagel

As a German native who has been living in New Zealand for nearly a quarter of a century, there is very little in regard to traditional German food and drink that I miss—until October comes around again. October, a spring month in New Zealand, still makes me think of thanksgiving celebrations, and Federweißer.

Federweißer or Neuer Wein—literally “new wine”—is the product of freshly fermented grape must. Only available in the autumn months and only in the wine-growing regions of Southern Germany—and some parts of Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France—Federweißer is produced in small batches. In many villages, traditional grape presses are still used. The must is stored in large wooden barrels where it ferments rapidly, turning the sugars of the grapes into alcohol. Federweißer translates as “white feathers.” During fermentation, yeast particles contained in the must whirl up, giving it the appearance of tiny, white, dancing feathers.

Photo: Federweißer is made from freshly fermented grape must and usually contains anywhere from 4 to 11 percent alcohol by volume. Dot Neilsen/Flickr

Typically, the product is sold with an alcohol level of 4 percent. Filled into bottles, fermentation continues and alcohol levels of up to 11 percent can be reached. Due to the production of carbonic acid during fermentation, the bottles should not be sealed airtight. Most Germans prefer their Federweißer sweet and drink it when fermentation has just begun. At an alcohol level of about 5 percent, sweetness, alcohol and fruit acids are in good balance.

Photo: Federweißer is traditionally eaten with Zwiebelkuchen, a savory onion cake. Hardo Müller/Flickr

Federweißer is also enjoyed for its health benefits. It is rich in vitamins and minerals and is said to have detoxifying properties. The delightful and refreshing beverage is often served with Zwiebelkuchen, a traditional savory onion cake. Along with colorful thanksgiving celebrations and cozy wine festivals, which remain popular with country and city folk alike, Federweißer is undoubtedly one of the perks of autumn in Germany.

Eva Nagel for Vox Orbis, 2015

Federweißer gehört einfach zum Oktober

Foto: Federweißer ist das erste Produkt der Weinlese und in Deutschland traditionell in den Herbstmonaten erhältlich. Frank Steiner/Flickr

Sprache: Englisch (English)

Eva Nagel

Beinahe ein Vierteljahrhundert lebe ich nun schon in Neuseeland und nur noch selten vermisse ich die kulinarischen Köstlichkeiten meiner alten Heimat. Jedes Jahr jedoch im Oktober - in Neuseeland ein Frühlingsmonat - denke ich mit Sehnsucht an die Herbstzeit in Deutschland, an bunte Erntedankfeiern und gemütliche Weinfeste, und an Neuen Wein.

Neuer Wein, auch Federweißer genannt, ist eine regionale Spezialität, die man nur in den Herbstmonaten und nur in den Weingebieten im Süden Deutschlands findet, sowie in einigen Regionen Österreichs, der Schweiz, Italiens und Frankreichs. Federweißer ist das erste Produkt der Weinlese. Frisch gepresst wird der Traubenmost in großen Holzfässern gelagert, wobei der in den Trauben enthaltene Zucker zu Alkohol vergoren wird. Übrigens, seinen Namen verdankt der Federweiße seinem Aussehen. Die im Traubensaft befindlichen kleinen Hefepartikel werden während des Gärungsprozesses aufgewirbelt, was den Eindruck von weißen tänzelnden Federn erweckt.

Foto: Federweißer entsteht bei der Gärung von frisch gepresstem Traubenmost und enthält je nach Reifegrad 4 bis 11 Prozent Alkohol. Dot Neilsen/Flickr

In Deutschland wird Federweißer ab etwa 4 Prozent Alkoholgehalt verkauft. Abgefüllt in Flaschen, die aufgrund der sich fortsetzenden Gärung und damit verbundenen Kohlensäurebildung nicht luftdicht verschlossen werden sollten, kann der Traubenmost einen Alkoholgehalt von 11 Prozent erreichen. Bevorzugt getrunken wird er jedoch meist süß und mit niedrigerem Alkoholgehalt. In der Regel befinden sich Süße, Alkohol und Fruchtsäure bei einem Alkoholgehalt von circa 5 Prozent in guter Balance.

Foto: Federweißer und Zwiebelkuchen ist die perfekte Kombination. Hardo Müller/Flickr

Neuer Wein wird auch wegen seiner gesundheitlichen Aspekte geschätzt. Neben einem hohen Gehalt an Vitaminen und Mineralstoffen wird ihm eine entschlackende Wirkung zugesprochen. Das belebende und wohlschmeckende Getränk gehört in Deutschland einfach zum Oktober, genauso wie die Erntedank- und Weinfeste auf den Weindörfern, die bei Land-und Stadtvolk beliebt sind und immer gerne besucht werden. Besonders gut passt zum Federweißen ein Zwiebelkuchen, ein herzhafter Blechkuchen aus Hefeteig mit einem Belag aus Zwiebeln, Sauerrahm, Eiern, Speck und Kümmel.

Eva Nagel für Vox Orbis, 2015