Okay, I think I’m getting it now. The more I read about starters, bigas, sponges, and poolishes, I can see how working with yeast is like gardening. Starting with tiny seeds you can create bounty, flavor, life. This is why baking bread is so much more than following recipes and measuring amounts. Because yeast is a live organism, the bread-making process is dynamic. To be a true master of bread, you should be a shepherd, not a dictator. Yeast needs to be fed, encouraged, and loved to truly transform it into masterful bread.
The second thing I’m getting is that beer brewers must be a lot like bakers. In fact, Peter Rheinhart mentions in his book, Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers, that beer is liquid bread, and bread is solid beer. When I work with poolish, I love to lift the bowl cover after a full day of fermenting and smell the richness of it. It doesn’t smell of yeast and flour and water—it smells of life, just as when you rub the leaves of a tomato plant or crush lavender leaves in your fingers. I imagine brewers get the same satisfaction smelling a vat of malt. No, it doesn’t smell like beer, but it smells like progress, like life.
Man, I want a beer right now.