What’s in my Window #6: Woodruff

Preservation of the harvest is an important part of homesteading. Innovation in finding new things to harvest is also key to building hipster credibility. That’s why I have been drying wild-growing woodruff in my kitchen window. To fully understand the preservation and use of woodruff, I feel I need to back up and dive a little deeper into the makings of a hipster.

I have said before that a hipster makes you believe that he or she is an authority in just about any area of conversation. For those aspiring to become hipsters, this can seem like a daunting obstacle that would keep many from achieving hipster status. In reality, there are ways to skirt the actual knowledge needed for this and still retain an apparent level of conversational command. One way in particular that is used by many hipsters is to become well educated on a very niche subject. When you talk a lot about a subject that other people don’t really care about, then they will naturally assume that you know a lot about everything.

This rule applies especially to the topic of beer. Hipsters like to drink beer, but even more so we like to know a lot about beer. There’s a lot that goes into beer and beer-making, so instead of actually learning about beer, hipsters have gravitated towards knowing about very particular beers. I attribute the craft beer revival of recent years to highfalutin hipsters attempting to prove their beer knowledge by spouting off random facts about the then-small segment of beer manufacturing:

“I only drink craft beer. You probably don’t realize this, but to be a craft beer, it has to be made with only all-grain. The beer you’re drinking is made with all adjuncts and extracts.”

As craft beer (and the knowledge thereof) has become more ubiquitous, hipsters have struggled to retain their firm grip on this faux knowledge of the beer industry. This has led to the most obscure styles of beer becoming favorites of hipsters. Most notably, hipsters have espoused an enjoyment of sour beers to trump all other beer drinkers. Sour beers, such as the Berliner Weisse style, taste bad, and have a nose that reminds you of a rotting compost heap.

Here I admit my shortcomings as a hipster, since I like to drink beers that taste good. But oh the respect that is garnished upon the hipster that can proclaim “I love sour beers.” To the less learned beer drinker, this is thought of as an accomplishment and indication of a finer palate. However, these sour beers originally brewed centuries ago, were never meant to be served alone. Sweet syrups of sugary extract are added to take the edge off; usually the drinker is given a choice between raspberry or…wait for it…woodruff.

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And now we have circled back to what it is that has been drying in my kitchen window. Woodruff, or sometimes called Sweet Woodruff, is a traditional brewing ingredient that pre-dates hops. It happens to grow as a fairly common ground cover, and we found some in our backyard. Over the past years, I’ve been doing my best to propagate its growth to the point that I could begin to harvest it for brewing.

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As the woodruff dries, it gives off an almost unnaturally sweet vanilla scent. Just the small amount of clippings that I took filled our kitchen with its scent. I recently finished brewing a fall beer in which I added my dried woodruff at the end of the boil. After it dried, it weighed in at half an ounce, and yet it packed a powerful sweetness to the five gallon batch of beer I made. But even more amazing than the beer is my niche knowledge of the topic.IMG_0035

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Close Encounter of the Hipster Kind

No offense to other hipsters, but sometimes you can be real jerks.

Last week at my retail job, I was helping a customer purchase an accessory. Being the ever observant hipster, I noticed that he was wearing a Dogfish Head Brewery hat. I love Dogfish Head Brewery. I’ve been there a few times, I drink their beer all the time, I’ve read the books written by the founder Sam Calagione, and last year I was even able to have Sam give a taste to one of my home brewed beers. All this to say that I was happy to see someone wearing a Dogfish Head hat.

Sam from Dogfish Head tries my home brewed Honey Hop Amber Ale.

Sam from Dogfish Head tries my home brewed Honey Hop Amber Ale.

As part of the ringing out process, we like to email receipts to the our customers. This hipster’s email had the phrase “hop head” in it, which is beer jargon that refers to a person’s love of extra hoppy beers (hops are the ingredient in beer that gives it a bitter finish, and as such it is somewhat of an acquired taste). In noticing his email, I asked him if he was a fan of Dogfish’s 90-Minute IPA (an extra hoppy beer).

His response was smug and indifferent: “Yeah I guess.”

I did not let this discourage my enthusiasm for beer. I continued with a simple question: “Do you brew?”

His response smacked with arrogance: “Well I brew professionally.”

My previous dealings with hipsters have allowed me to build a tolerance for such unnecessary arrogance. In fact, in the moment I thought it was pretty cool to perhaps have the chance to meet one of the masterminds behind a great local brew. So I asked: “Where at?”

“Three places…” and he listed off three local breweries, each of which indeed makes a good beer.

But that’s not the point anymore. If you “brew professionally” at three different places, it means you aren’t good enough for any of those places to hire you full time. It means you don’t do as much brewing as you do mopping. It means you do exactly as your told and nothing more and nothing less. It means you have nothing about which to be arrogant, rude, or condescending.

Sure, all hipsters are arrogant or rude or condescending about something. But most of them have at least some right to be so. If you shave with a straight razor: be proud of that. If you built your own fixed-gear bicycle: be proud of that. If you can taste the subtle notes of goji berry in your single origin french-pressed coffee: be proud of that. I brew my own beer, it tastes really good, and I’m proud of that.

I also notice (as I reread this post) that I am proud of my ability to spot jerks in the wild, and I do so with such arrogance and condescension that I have removed my ability to speak about the above-mentioned multi-tasking hop-loving brewer extraordinaire. So I’ll stop right here and give a half-hearted apology, knowing that somewhere someone will be writing a blog about a rude and arrogant hipster they met, and it might just be me.