Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Making Beer on Katrina's 4th Anniversary

I spent quite a bit of time researching planned commemorations around New Orleans to mark the 4th anniversary of Katrina this Saturday. I'll bike with the kids to the annual event at the Katrina memorial on Canal Street, it's not too far from our house. Bells ring from 9-10:30 AM to symbolically memorialize the moment when the various levees broke. After that, I thought about going to the Hands Around the Dome or the Second Line in the Lower Ninth Ward. I though about making a sign and standing in front of the Army Corps of Engineers headquarters. Instead, I think I'll stay at home and make some beer.

I used to be an avid home brewer. I made a wicked IPA, a great nut brown ale, a solid ESB and some fun seasonal beers like pumpkin stout and Cubbies Curse (only my sister Chris knows about this). I also made batches of beers based on recipes from the ancient Near East. I published a few articles on the topic of ancient Near Eastern beer, the best two of which were "Beer and Its Drinkers: An Ancient Near Eastern Love Story in Near Eastern Archaeology and "Baking and Brewing Beer in the Israelite Household: A Study
of Women's Cooking Technology" co-authored with my friend Jennie Ebeling in the book The World of Women in the Ancient and Classical Near East.

But all of that was before the flood. I haven't made any beer since. Come to think of it, while New Orleans was flooded and I lived upstairs during the chaotic weeks of late August/early September 2005, the most dominant part of my diet consisted of warm beers that I had previously brewed. I even thought about living for a month with ancient homebrew as my only food source in order to prove that beer was a super-food, which it is and was, of course. I thought I could use the tragedy to benefit my academic field. My mind was a bit scattered back then. It wasn't too much home brew. It had much more to do with listening to the radio and hearing people panic because they were trapped in their house and soon to die. It had much more to do with seeing drowned people whom I had known and seeing families pulling elderly relatives in flotation devices to higher ground. It had much more to do with the complete breakdown of civilization, to seeing the Causeway Concentration Camp. That place could have used some home brew, to be sure.

So today I learned that there is a homebrew shop called Brewstock that has opened on Oak Street. I used to frequent Brew Ha Ha on Magazine Street but they haven't been open since the flood. My home brewing equipment was on our second floor 4 years ago, and it survived, but has been packed away and stored under our house. Here is a picture of it taken minutes ago:
So Saturday I plan on going to Brewstock and making a beer to commemorate a tragedy. Of course there is a long history of alcohol used to acknowledge death and disaster, from "Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (Isaiah 22:13) to gang bangers pouring out a 40 oz beer for dead homies. I think it will be healthy to commemorate the levee breach by doing something that will return my life to the way it was before the flood, to what people here call a "return to normal." I'll make beer and in about a month drink it, but still, not an hour of my life since August 29th, 2005 has transpired without thinking about Katrina and its tragedy. I remember so vividly after a windy night standing outside my house on August 29th at about 9 AM and speaking with my neighbors on a dry street about how we had "dodged the bullet." I'll make sure to give those neighbors one of my Katrina memorial beers.


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