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Because my roommate and I have nothing better to do with ourselves, but somehow found the motivation to pull this off, we made a trip to San Francisco's home brewing store to pick up a starter kit and our first batch of ingredients. I will admit up front that, as a novice entering the brewery wood for the first time, I was nervous upon entering the store. Much like going to the local record store to pick up that hot new album after it has already been out for a couple of months, I was sure that the workers would shame me and secretly chuckle at my perceived ignorance and lack of experience.
Luckily, the two workers didn't look like they were aware that the sixties had ended, so any ability to pick up on my naivety was in serious doubt. From the looks of these guys, a marijuana-growing store seemed more apt, but I guess as long as it comes from the earth, Jah will be happy and grant his blessing upon thee. Whatever. Twenty minutes, seventy dollars, and quite a few giggles later, my roommate and I emerged from the store with all we would need to make five gallons of West Coast Pale Ale.
That's right, five gallons. I thought this would be fun. An entertaining lark to take part in a process I had enjoyed the fruits of so much, but never really understood. Instead I was making shrewd business moves by making five fucking gallons of beer with nothing more than a small amount of investment capital, a few hours of my time, and a twinkle in my eye. As ridiculous as this all seemed, nothing topped carrying two seven-gallon buckets, a bunch of plastic hose, and a few bags of assorted grains home on a crowded city bus. Sure, that old lady looked like she could have really used the seat that all of these devices were piled on, but in three to four weeks she's not going to be getting me drunk, so she can stand.
The first thing we realized when we got home is that you can't brew beer without drinking beer. A quick trip to the store and we were well on our way fuzzy peripheral vision and dreams of the fantastic flavors and aromas that we would soon be cooking up. And cook we did. Boiling large amounts of water, steeping a bag full of grain, and re-boiling the concoction while adding hops and sugar resulted in five gallons of a dark brown liquid, which we promptly put to fermenting in the dark confines of the hall closet. Overall, the whole process took about three hours and only required sterilizing everything really well, waiting while things were brought to, or cooled to, the right temperature, and doing my best not to burn the house down or melt the flesh from my bones by drunkenly spilling three gallons of boiling water on myself.
After the cookery came the really hard part - knowing that there were five gallons of beer in the closet, but also knowing that I must wait if I wanted my efforts to truly pay off. After a week, the liquid was transferred into a new bucket, leaving the bottom of the original container covered in a layer of hops and yeast sediment. That layer of filthy sediment was promptly transferred to a thoroughly rinsed orange juice container, which was then transferred to the top of my refrigerator, where it sat for the next month because everyone was too lazy to throw it out.
A week and a half after brewing, the brew is ready to be bottled. It helps to figure out how you are going to bottle it ahead of time. A potential fight was averted when my roommate and I reached an agreement on twelve ounce bottles after we compromised between my desire to make forties and his plan to fill up the bathtub and soak for two days in the finished product. Things really got surreal when we started the bottling process. Within half an hour, I had fifty bottles of beer sitting in my kitchen. A big bucket of brown liquid is one thing, but the move to bottles signifies that your time and effort were worth it.
Almost. After bottling, the beer requires two more weeks in the glass to achieve the right amount of alcohol and carbonation. But to be completely honest, unless you have the willpower of a seventy-year-old virgin nun, a couple of bottles will be gone before the deadline. The few outlaw sips aside, this final period of beerosis is a perfect time to consider how you will announce your product to the world. One route would be to have a swanky tasting party filled with refined palates and clever observations. Affixing a classy fake mustache to one's upper lip is a surefire way to take on that extra look of refinement, which in turn will give your brew an intangible but certainly perceivable additional touch of crispness. Another appropriate coming out party for your grainy liquisnak would be to have your pride and joy, the product of all of your hard work and time, poured into a funnel right before rocketing through a plastic tube and into someone's throat in a matter of seconds. With this latter type of social engagement you will be able to tactilely enjoy your beer the next day when the soles of your shoes stick to the linoleum in your kitchen. Shunning all social contact, I planned my consumption along a third route; trying to alleviate my crippling depression by plowing through as many bottles alone as I could in my dark bedroom, curtains drawn.
On my list of lifetime achievements, cracking open that first ice cold beer, wrought from my own hands, ranks somewhere above graduating from college, but just below the first time I got laid. In my short life the wisps of condensation, slowly bringing the bitter aroma wafting into my awaiting nostrils, is the closest I have come to the sweet smell of success.
An aspiring global adventurer who cut his teeth on the sandy beaches and dirty bitches of Southern California, Kevin Alfoldy now spends his non-vacation days in Brooklyn, New York, where he occasionally finds the time to rub the crust out of his eyes long enough to contribute reviews and feature articles for LAS. A longtime staff member, Kevin also captains the tattered, often half-sunk raft of EPmd, our irregular column of EP reviews.
See other articles by Kevin Alfoldy.
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