Microbial Brewery

Harvey Shaw



I made a barrel, one that fits in your hand, one that fits through your letterbox.

This project started with the Kveikring, documented in Norway as early as the Sixteenth Century, this wooden ring would be used to ferment beer. The intricate design allows for a larger surface area for the krausen (a layer of yeast found on fermenting beer) to be caught within and dried. This yeast-coated ring could store healthy yeast for months at a time, and be dipped in the next beer to start fermentation.

While this object looks weird and puzzling, the function it facilitates was once thought to also be weird and puzzling. Fermentation is weird, the ring facilitates an intermediary between knowledge and unknowns.

However, we soon began to understand it, and with knowledge comes control.

Louis Pasteur developed the idea of Pasteurisation, using heat to destroy microorganisms. While we cannot overlook the benefits of this method, his work saw microbes solely as the catalyst of disease, an enemy to the modern human. Disregarding the inescapable coexistence with microbes that our bodies function within.

Pasteurisation created the shelf-stable product. Beer could be bottled reliably and traded overseas. This abstraction of beer from its natural form created a product targeted for mass consumption. Along with other steps brewers take to eliminate any inconsistencies within the growing seasons for barely and hops, modern beer became a shy representation of the natural product it once was.

Would we even recognise it anymore?

While the kveikring didn’t always produce ‘good’ beer, the context around which it was used created an empirical understanding of the rhythms and processes we find within the natural world.

So perhaps by brewing beer, we can reinstate a true reflection of nature, something that was once well understood.

The object I made resembles a barrel, with an open-top. It fits in your hand, as well as through your letterbox. This barrel deconstructs, as a way of bypassing the restrictions of the Covid-19 lockdown, however, the assembly of this barrel also introduces an appreciation of the craftsmanship when it is finally able to hold water.

This object developed from sending the barrel to friends and teaching them to brew, into a service for a group of people to brew a beer that exists outside of the modern image it has become.

With one barrel, taken in turns, one person brews beer for the group. Once done, the barrel is dried and given to the next person, and the beer is shared between the rest of the group. With yeast being such a simple organism, it is likely to produce different results within different household environments, such as temperature, utensils, personal judgement, etc. So while everyone brews the same beer it’s likely to never taste the same.

This beer exists in the household and exhibits personality as well as true terroir. We move away from the pub and develop an understanding that beer is a natural product, and perhaps the role of the brewer is to facilitate the making of beer, rather than to control it. In fact, some people say that beer was discovered, and not invented.