Bartenders pull on dozens of taps, a kaleidoscope of amber and golden colors flow around the dimly-lit room, foam covers our upper lips, and empty glasses clink on the table. In between buzzed rounds, we indulge in one of humankind’s favorite pastimes: beer.
God damn, we love beer. It sponsors million dollar sporting events, initiates many questionable adulthood rights of passage, and gives us an out to that party invitation that asks everyone to bring a dish. In recent decades, however, the notion of beer as a carbonated beverage that leads a flat reputation has changed dramatically. A revolution of realization has swept the food world, giving rise to the notion that anyone with an opinion on taste can create and experiment with their own brewing, and brew with hundreds of different flavors and aromas. Millions no longer accept the simple declaration of “I’ll just have a beer”.
I went to school in Fort Collins, CO, where beer was the lifeblood of the community. Breweries and bars depended on the production of micro brewers, and thousands of patrons depended on those brewers to churn out interesting tastes to go along with their buzz. It’s difficult in an area as such to not become immersed in the semantics of the brew, whether you understand it or not.
Little did I know at the time, but it was a regular occurrence to toss around words like “hoppy”, “dry”, or “intense”, without really knowing at all what I was talking about. Sure, I knew IPA meant it would have a bite to it, that a stout was sort of flat sometimes, and that a brown ale was supposed to look…well, brown. Beyond that, I was blissful in my ignorance. I knew I loved beer, and that was pretty much it.
After having worked at the Brooklyn Kitchen for a few months, I decided to quench my parched knowledge of brewing by attending a home brew class with our brew master Ray Girard. It was in this class I learned that my limited vocabulary and knowledge of the subject ran far deeper than I had originally thought.
Immersed in a swell of language referring to “hydrometers” and “original gravity”, I considered that maybe this whole beer thing is better left with me staring at a case of cold ones in the corner store. But as class went on and we smelled the roasted malt steeping on the stove, there was an air of empowerment in the kitchen. This wasn’t a class to realize how ignorant you are; it was a class to realize your potential as a creator.
With a freshly printed dry Irish stout recipe, a vial of yeast, and Ray’s reassurance, I headed to my kitchen to sink or swim in a sea of wort. After the steeping of malted barley, the chilling of the wort, the obsessive monitoring of fermenting temperature, the bottling, the waiting, waiting, and waiting, it was finally time to drink the finished product.
I snapped the cap off with a hiss, slowly poured it into a pint glass, and watched the head of the foam grow to the edge. I’ll tell you what, friends, I couldn’t help but feel proud what I had created. It looked like beer, it smelled like beer, it tasted…just alright. The carbonation was there, the flavor was pleasant and present, but it just wasn’t fully coming all of the way through. For some reason, though, in the coming week, I found myself cracking open more bottles, offering some to friends, and returning back to what I had done and what I may have done wrong.
As I sit here writing, I’m wondering what I can do next time to change the outcome of this beer. To be quite frank, I now find my somewhat drinkable first home brew to be delicious. I created this beer and the best tasting stout at the bar down the street can’t take away the delicious taste of DIY creation. I realize now that the thrill of the home brew isn’t all about the finished product. The home brew is about the process, the experimenting, and the satisfaction of creating something you love. Maybe my next batch will be my new favorite beer. I already can’t wait to for another day of brewing and I hope you have the time to try it, too. Cheers.