Misadventures in Home Brewing: Part 1
Ifyou know you aren’t good at something, try to be as bad as possible. Then if you fail miserably, you still succeed. That is the mantra I have adopted for my first attempt at home brewing. I will be bad at it (fantastically bad, I am sure); but I will push on, until I am either the best damn home brewer on Earth or until hell freezes over. Or until I suffer a terrible home brewing accident. Or until my wife says I’m not allowed to do it any more. Truth be told, I am confident I can eventually become at least a capable home brewer. It helps that my ambitions aren’t all that lofty – I just want to have one great recipe that I can do to perfection; something my friends will beg me to make again and again. And if a man doesn’t have at least one thing to hang over his friends’ heads, where is the pleasure in life? Perhaps there should be a second phase to my original mantra: As long as you can rub it in, it’s good enough.
The journey will begin with a store-bought brewing kit. I know, you think those kits are a rip-off and an insult to decent beer everywhere. But mine is different. Mine was purchased over eight years ago from a big box store. And it was made in China, where home brewed beer isn’t so much an art as it is a necessity – like homemade soap and hand-crafted chopsticks. Also, it’s been carefully preserved in my suburban Atlanta garage, which can attain temperatures as cold as ten below or as hot as whatever it is that melts iron.
Soon after I pull my weathered kit from beneath our unused bocce ball set, I suffer my first setback: I have lost the instructions. Undeterred, I buy a copy of them on eBay. That’s right, someone out there profits by selling defunct beer kit instructions. And these are photocopies, so the seller is confident demand extends beyond just myself. I don’t know what kind of entrepreneur this is, but I have decided he spends full days in a ketchup-stained wife beater and he shies from sunlight.
The kit’s contents are ominous. In addition to various packets of white powder that make me feel like I’m unloading heroine, there are two sealed bags filled with
what look like giant blocks of chocolate taffy. Unlike taffy, it has the composition of granite and smells like burnt grass. It is labeled malt, which I never considered might be a mined mineral until now. I also find a small packet of hops pellets that is indistinguishable from a small packet of rabbit pellets.
It strikes me, as I sort through the complement of plastic brewing hardware, that I have only the most basic knowledge of this entire process. I rotate a tiny measuring spoon, something that looks like a tube within a tube, and various cap-like objects in my hand and stare at them like caveman watching fire.
I may be being too hard on myself. I’m less like a caveman and more like someone who has transported here from 1973. I can grasp the concept of all these semi-familiar devices, but I am lost in their complexity. However, even this novice brewer can tell that, much like bell bottoms, the thing called the cubitainer makes little sense in any era.
By the name alone, I’m sure you can guess what a cubitainer looks like; it’s a glorified plastic box with a pour spout. Here is its official definition from the photocopied instructions: “a collapsible plastic vessel used for fermenting the beer.” The relative amount of space it occupies in the box reveals it as the central component of this brewing kit; a point that is reinforced throughout my eight dollar instructions. It’s cubitainer this, and cubitainer that. Fill the cubitainer. Empty the cubitainer. Blah, blah, cubitainer. I hate the cubitainer for no real reason.
I can easily imagine the prolonged meeting at corporate headquarters when the powers that be settled on the name cubitainer. No doubt, prior to this meeting an engineer had dubbed it either “1 gallon receptacle” to avoid confusion or “Monica” after the neighbor he was stalking.
VP of Marketing: “What should we call this square plastic thing?”
Engineer: “Uh. How about Monica?”
President: “We sell beer kits?”
Intern: “It’s a cube-shaped container. Cubitainer, duh.”
I guess I’m glad it was ultimately named cubitainer, and probably so is Monica.
At the bottom of the kit are a dozen peel-and-stick labels and a folded six pack carrier (you know, in case I decide to sell the finished product). There are also six glorious brown plastic bottles, complete with actual twist-on caps. For whatever primal reason, this excites me. Then again, I may have just ingested some of that white powder by accident.
I am not going to pretend that I expect big things from my first brewing adventure. To an extent, I just want to make sure I don’t stain our carpet or burn the house down. This is more about establishing a baseline to improve upon and to measure my progress. There is plenty of opportunity for disaster, ranging from embarrassment and a headache to stomach pump and a lawsuit, but that’s how it goes when one has settled in to do it badly.
By TJ Kuehn
TJ is a guest blogger here and he will be back with his next installment: “Part II: The first brew”. We hope you enjoyed this humorous look at home brewing as much as we did. Cheers!