Issue February 19, 2008

Mug Shots: Gravityheads, unite

For some, gravity is the fundamental law, although gymnasts defy it on a daily basis. Astronauts do their work in its absence.

    When it comes to beer, gravity can mean either a process or a measurement.
    A gravity pour is when a beer is dispensed from an old-fashioned British keg called a “pin” or a “firkin”; in both cases, the container is nestled on its side, a hole is punched in an aperture on top, and the beer pours from the spout below by gravity alone, without the assistance of a pump.

    As a brewing measurement, “specific gravity” quantifies the density of dissolved sugars in the wort. The “original gravity” reading comes before fermentation, and later, after the yeasts conclude their blessed activity, the “final gravity” calculation is determined. In broad terms (the efficiency of the fermentation matters, too), the higher the gravity, the higher the alcohol content of the finished beer.

    As in most other areas of human experience, the silent majority of beer drinkers (“liteweights”) remain dutifully anonymous, while the cantankerous minority defines itself according to its chosen fetish. Accordingly, for as long as craft beer has blossomed in America, those who adore the bitter properties of hops have been known as “hopheads.” In like fashion, a “gravityhead” savors the superb flavor extremes embodied by high-gravity lagers and ales.

    Old Ales and Doppelbock; Barley Wine and Imperial Stout; Trappist Ale and numerous other funky Belgian specialties — all are situated within the typical gravityhead’s sweet spot, and this range has continued to gloriously expand during this golden era of experimentation and innovation.
    Don’t forget that “gravity” has another dimension, one etymologically culled from “gravitas”: dignity or sobriety of bearing, importance, significance.

    Density of fermentables, dignity in bearing, seriousness of purpose … all true. Just make sure to call a cab.

Roger Baylor is co-owner of the New Albanian Brewing Co. in New Albany. Visit www.potablecurmudgeon.com for more beer.