Every year about this time for some reason I get the urge to brew a large batch of home made beer. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps it's deeply embedded in my DNA, some biannual farmer/peasant urge tied to thousands of years of festivals and the spring harvest. Maybe it's just Scottish genetics, like the time I tried to make a pot still in the garage with a large metal canister and quarter inch copper tubing. That isn't easy to do BTW. Make sure there's a burn unit in your town before you try, no shit. Those guys from M*A*S*H must have had theirs professionally made, because there's no way Trapper put that thing together without searing his face completely off.
That thing was made by N.A.S.A.
Anyway, every year around this time I get the urge to bottle 5 or 10 gallons of pale ale or porter or stout, and every year I successfully dissuade myself by reading the letter I wrote to a friend describing my initial foray into zymurgy six or eight years ago. Then PTSD kicks in an straightens me right out. Then I drive down to HEB and by a sixer of nice craft beer like a sane person. It's become a ritual. It wasn't so much the beer, that turned out fine, it was the extra-curriculars that left a lasting effect. I figure it's best not to risk it. Here's a copy of the letter.
So I get this beer making equipment for Valentines' Day. Big glass carboy, secondary fermenter, bottling bucket, auto-siphon, fresh malt, nice hops, black patent extract, etc. Four huge boxes of equipment. At some point I read somewhere that Champagne bottles make good beer bottles- they accept a beer cap and are heavy enough not to explode if you fuck up. There's a fairly good chance that I will do just that, so I figure the thicker the bottles the better. I calculate that I need twenty or so 22 oz champagne bottles to hold my five gallon batch of Dry Stout, and since the cheapest American champagne costs $ 3.50 or so a bottle, I should only buy a few bottles and try them out first to make sure the caps fit. For some reason I buy six.
So I have this 7 gallon aluminum pot liberated from my outdoor turkey fryer, which is now full of distilled water, malt extract, and grain "sparge", which is about as appetizing as it sounds. Out of sheer hubris I over sparge the grain bag forcing out all of the dark bits that likely should have remained in the grain bag. I figure karmically it will all work out. After applying the hottest combination of flames I can configure to a mixture that can only be likened to the consistency of HD-40 WT motor oil for what seemed like 7 hours to get it to boil, it occurs to me that I have to DRINK the champagne in order to use the bottles. I mean I can't just pour it out. That would be like throwing twenty bucks away. Thing is I don't even like champagne and this is stuff is rank. So I pour some into a big jelly jar and sip it, intermittently stirring my Quaker State in a disinterested manner as it refuses to boil.
I quickly become bored and wander around the house, sipping a jelly jar full of champagne. I throw a tennis ball against the wall 42 times and see if Gatsby can catch it once. He cannot. I return to the kitchen and eye my wort. No dice. I refill the jelly jar continue to wander about the house. At some point I turn on the CD player in the living room for some air guitar. I turn it up. Sip some champagne (this stuff tastes pretty good) from my jelly jar perched on the lamp stand by the couch. It occurs to me that there is a discordant strain behind the music. Curious. During the next track it becomes even more annoying, it doesn't really sound musical at all. Upon returning to the kitchen to refill my jelly jar I find Krakatoa sitting atop my stove in all it's glory. I am utterly non-plussed. I race back to the living room to turn off the music (the connection here is shaky at best, but for the same reason I have to turn down the radio while driving around lost I really need things to quiet down before any real decisive action takes place), run back into the kitchen and run smoove over my dog, who is also running through the house randomly, not because he understands what is going on, but because it is EXCITING!
Do Not Crash Into At Full Sprint. Seriously.
I untangle myself from my sprawling Great Dane, turn the fire off, and dump half a gallon of distilled water into the pot. All bubbling stops immediately, though the color remains jet black. Surprisingly, less than a metric ton left the pot, since unfermented wort seems to be mostly bubbles. I return the pot to the heat and watch it for what seems like 7 more hours for it to start boiling when it occurs to me I have misplaced my jelly jar. mother fucker. After fruitless searching I give up and open a new bottle, and pour most of it into a huge yellow plastic mug with FIESTA! written on the side with a picture of a smiling happy chili pepper. I consume the bulk of the mug during the remaining portion of the hour boil, only this time I am smart enough to watch the pot from the hallway while I play air guitar. Damn this is good champagne. My wife comes home at this point and is confused by the music that can be heard from the driveway, the furious boiling mess on the stove, the acerbic stench of unfermented wort filling up the cul-de-sac, and the slurred way I try to describe the miracle of fermentation. She is not impressed. I offer her a swig from my plastic FIESTA! mug with the happy little chili pepper on the side. She declines with a haughty look and retires upstairs.
Somewhere along the way I am cooling my wort in a huge ice bath in the bath tub that impresses the hell out of me, since I am probably the first person to ever think of this. Total genius. She appears downstairs, sipping on a small champagne flute. Hypocrite. I continue drinking my champagne with impunity after this display of sheer gall, and lose count. Several hours later (after having answered the door in a hastily thrown on robe (hers) and tipping the pizza delivery guy 5 dollars before running back upstairs to my completely inebriated wife) I complete the process by placing a massive carboy full of Stout in the corner of my basement. It is around 6 pm. The bottle caps do not fit. The house smells like a patchouli factory exploded. There is water all over the bathroom and some thick tar like substance coating the stove. I am on call tomorrow. My head hurts.
So let me know when you're headed back up, it's bottled and I want someone else to try it first.