Bread #12: Honey Beer Bread
In words of Raskolnikov from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, “Just a glass of beer, a piece of dry bread—and in one moment the brain is stronger, the mind is clearer and the will is firm!”
Within the context of this passage, the character’s deep in poverty and desperate for anything to quench thirst and tame his hunger. Even still, more than just physical relief, this meager meal provides a bright spot in an otherwise miserable day. For a single moment the burden of his financial troubles, his aggravation with the injustice of a previous transaction with a miserly old pawnbroker and his accumulating anxiety over the state of his affairs regarding his sister evaporate from mindsight. And in that moment he opens himself up to a tragic stranger who’s reflective of both his worst and best self and whose long-suffering daughter will eventually lead him on a path to redemption. Such is the power of something as simple as glass of beer and a slice of bread. Granted, this didn’t stop him from committing cold-blood murder along the way, but we won’t stray too far in that direction…
So what do we get when we merge the two? No better excuse to focus and enjoy the present moment as you join with a close group of family and friends and indulge in the complex flavors of bread born of a good brew. My brew of choice—a deliciously malty Kentucky bourbon ale which I think was very well served by this recipe for Honey Beer Bread.
The end result finely complimented my homemade cheesy potato soup with crispy pancetta as seen below:
It also ended being a perfect addition to the Broadway-themed dinner we had for our Tony’s viewing party which, as I’m writing about it, makes me realize how late I am on this blog post. My apologies! Below you’ll see the beer bread served a Welsh Rarebit and some local brews as an homage to Sweat, one of the best play nominees, alongside all the rest of the musical and play inspired offerings. I won’t go into detail about everything that was served but if you’re really curious, feel free to hit me up later in the comments section about it, and I’d happy to provide you with the complete menu.
To remind all the Broadway nuts out there and to inform those who probably don’t give a damn, Sweat explores the lives of blue collar workers in Reading, Pennsylvania who come together in a bar as they reflect on the impact the deindustrialization of their town, mainly the effects of job cuts, down-sizing, and the ever-growing rate of poverty. Huddled in a booth and cradling a cold beer, they consider the turns their lives have taken over the years because of it. Eventually, tensions rise between characters of differing race and social class as their previously suppressed views of each other bubble to the surface. And though there’s no definite resolution at the end, there is sense that these characters forced to face difficult truths they’d long ignored, will be pushed towards some necessary realizations about just how prevalent and hard-pressing these issues rooted in a long thought-to-be-confined-to history of racism, xenophobia, and economic turmoil are to the current lives.
This play opens during a particularly tumultuous time in our collective lives, when everyone seems in a constant state of high alert as acts of both foreign and domestic terrorism flood our purview and the political spectrum grows increasingly polarized. Fear and anxiety dominate the news cycle, leaving us always on the verge of impending disaster. We can barely take a moment to step back and consider the root causes before another wave of nonstop warnings about the deteriorating state of the union drives us closer the edge.
To say a glass of beer or a slice of freshly baked bread or any combination of the two can heal our societal ails (healing ails with ales—patented) would be both dismissive and reductive of the complexity behind these socio-political issues. But there is something in the act sharing a beer with a down-on-their-luck stranger from across the bar or breaking bread with a new neighbor who’s far from their homeland that creates an atmosphere of warmth and opens a conversation you wouldn’t have otherwise had. One that might lead to a more complicated less comfortable world view but also a strengthening of human bonds across the bounds of culture, class, and economic status.
Perhaps it’s no accident that both bread and beer tend to serve as tokens of comfort and good will as well as celebrations of community. Since their invention, bread and beer have always kind of lived in one another. According to Ray Tannahill’s Food in History, the discovery of beer most likely came about through the process of bread-making. Consider this passage:
At some stage in the Neolithic era people had learned that if, instead of using ordinary grain, they used grain that had been sprouted and then dried, it made a bread that kept unusually well. Something very like this was used in brewing. The Egyptian process was to sprout the grain, dry it, crush it, mix it to a dough and partially bake it. The loaves were then broken up and put to soak in water, where they were allowed to ferment for about a day before the liquor was strained off and considered ready for drinking.”
“Leavening, according to one theory, was discovered when some yeast spores–the air is full of them, especially in a bakehouse that is also a brewery–drifted onto a dough that had been set aside for a while before baking; the dough would rise, not very much, perhaps, but enough to make the bread lighter and more appetizing than usual, and afterwards, as so often in the ancient world, inquiring minds set about the task of reproducing deliberately a process that had been discovered by accident. But there is an alternative and even more likely theory-that on some occasion ale instead of water was used to mix the dough. The rise would be more spectacular than from a few errant spores and the effect would be easy to explain and equally easy to reproduce.”
—Food in History, Reay Tannahill [Three Rivers Press:New York] 1988 (p.48-52)
And as they’re accessible to most given their affordable nature, it no wonder bread and beer are two of the most universally enjoyed and, as a result, commercialized food items available.
With that said, though perhaps I’ve already worked to sell you on the pair already, I give you copy on an imaginary ad for this deliciously wonderful combination:
The drink of college friends on a back porch remembering the days before a steady pay. Of winding down after a hard day moving out your childhood home, your college dorm, your first apartment, your last day’s rent and first day’s mortgage. Of good faith in the future and for ol’ time sake.
The sustenance of the vagrant soul searching for call back to home. An offering of good will to the displaced refugee, the hopeful immigrant, the weary traveler. A form of communication between an old way of life and the new frontier.
A pint. A loaf. And all we pass along with them, we offer out of friendship and fellowship. We enjoy for comfort and community. We share in celebration and solace. And in these moments, we are open.
Whether grounded, aimless, or passing between the world knew and the one we want— we drink. we eat. we connect. We find the common threads that bind us, the ties that free us.
Beer Bread—Discover the Link Between.