Brewing one’s own beer helps the conservative settle back into a habitual patience and a dedication to process and institutions that are assurances of good government in any republic…
For the Christmas of 2016, I recommend you get the conservative in your life a homebrewing kit, such as the starter kit available from Northern Brewer. Now, before you click away because your conservative is a teetotaler, has a taste only for the kind of merlot served at the dinners of conservative academic conferences, or who just drinks good Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, hear me out.
Sure, you can homebrew and drink the results yourself, but you can also brew beer for your friends and loved ones. There are few things more truly conservative than giving away the produce of one’s own hands and toiling for friends will keep the brewer’s imagination on healthy communions to come.
But, beyond the beer, the lessons one can glean while homebrewing will be more valuable than ever in the months ahead. It may help keep your conservative politically balanced and properly focused in the months to come as we transition into the unknown world of a Trump presidency and Republican dominance in Washington. Let me offer homebrewing as an object lesson for being conservative in modern American politics.
First, the mega lesson of homebrewing is conservative, indeed. By homebrewing your conservative will be taking part in an ancient practice. Our ancestors didn’t buy cans of barely-flavored hoppy water at the supermarket. Instead, they brewed their own from grains grown on their own farm or nearby. Or they purchased or traded for it with neighbors or were given it for their labors. Brewing beer in one’s own kitchen and fermenting it in the basement calls one back to those ancient ways and reminds one of the vital connections that unite the generations.
As we come into 2017, however, it might be the process of brewing your own beer that holds the most value to the conservative. For the great temptation to come in 2017 will be the eternal temptation of efficiency and the greed of pent-up policy desires. Republicans now have control of both Congress and the American presidency. Not all their policies will pass muster as conservative, but enough will that many conservatives will rally to the cause. After eight years of the Obama presidency, conservatives are hungry for policy change. We are in danger, however, as Tocqueville warned us all democrats are, of falling into the trap of seeking the goal without scrutinizing the process.
Globalization has put the finest beers of the world as close to us as a quick trip to the liquor store. Mass production has put cheap beer into nearly every grocery store and most gas stations. The great temptation we will face in 2017 is allowing our greed for policy gains to trump our fidelity to constitutional norms and Madisonian deliberative government. We will be tempted to permit President Trump more leeway to use his “phone and pen” than we did President Obama. We will be tempted to encourage Congress to pass legislation quickly and maybe even to eliminate long-standing norms and processes that stand in our way. But when your conservative turns to brew, let him remember that good government is not efficient government. Let him remember that liberty is long in the winning and thrives when the government remains within its proper bounds, observing its proper procedures. To paraphrase James Madison in The Federalist Papers, the more policy is discussed, deliberated and frustrated along its path to fruition, the more likely we are to have good results.
Like good government, homebrewing is slow and takes time. Like all things human, homebrewed beer can’t always be predicted and can go very wrong when one takes shortcuts or is otherwise impatient. In its simplest form, the homebrewer steeps the malted grains, adds the hops, stirs in the extract, and cooks the raw ingredients. This liquid becomes the wort that must be cooled and then added to a fermentation bucket with more cool water being added. The proper yeast strain is sprinkled on top before the bucket is sealed. The elections of 2016 functioned to prepare the wort of government within the institutional buckets of the Constitutional order. Now it’s time to cool the heat and get to work.
Within hours, the yeast come to life and begin their own work. They eat the sugars in the wort and transform them into alcohol. The wort becomes beer as bills become law. Like politicians who occasionally need to emerge from their deliberations to vent in front of cameras or on Twitter, the yeast casts off carbon dioxide, which is released slowly out of an airlock to keep the pressure from building up and risking an accident. Like types of legislation, different beers take differing amounts of time. A simple British Bitter might be through the first fermentation stage in a week, for instance. But, I would buy your conservative a dark stout or perhaps a Belgian Quad to remind him that good legislation is slow legislation. Both will take considerably longer to ferment and then to mature.
The Northy 12, an attempted clone of the world-famous Trappist masterpiece Westvleteren 12 will take a few weeks in the first fermentation (think House of Representatives). Then another three months in a secondary fermentation (think Senate) before its put in bottles for at least another few weeks (think president’s veto period). Preferably, though, this complex Belgian-type strong ale would bottle condition for at least six months. In brewing, time is essential to allow proper flavors to develop and also allow the impurities and less desirable particles to fall out.
This is the process of good legislation, too. Ideas germinate and legislation is drafted. Legislation is debated and honed. Objections are raised, research is done and bad ideas fall away while new ideas are added. After a time, if all goes according to our Founders’ plan, we are left with good legislation that will be more likely to do good and less likely to do harm than if one person (president, party leader, Supreme Court Justice or talk radio host) or one party was considered to have a mandate and quickly and immoderately enacted their will.
Like brewing, our Founding Fathers gave us a complex system that takes time to turn raw ingredients into a worthwhile finished product. Our Founders warned us of the dangers of quick decision-making and Alexis de Tocqueville later came along to give strong warnings against a democratic peoples falling in love with their own desires and undermining our vital institutions in order to get what they want most efficiently. We should also remember the lessons of the Obama mistakes—policy passed by one party or through simple executive fiat will be overturned just as simply when the tides of fortune change.
True conservatives have long understood these basic truths and are best when they insist on constitutional processes and institutional norms even when the temptation is strong to cut corners to get the policies and people we want. Perhaps a new home-brew kit will help the conservative in your life settle back into a habitual patience and a dedication to process and institutions that are assurances of good government in any republic.
The author wishes to dedicate this essay to Colonel Tom Russell-Tutty (U.S. Army), who is currently serving in the Middle East but who homebrews when he is not on deployment.Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.