I remember as a kid growing up in the Midwest (Central Hellinois), the adults in my family were avid beer drinkers; so much so that I have an aunt whose nickname to this day is BLUE. Their beer of choice was predominantly PBR along with some Natty Lite. My old man would peel back the pull tab and either throw it on the ground where us kids would pick it up and use as a 2-piece launcher or as he did more often, he'd slip it into the can where it would precariously float around as a choking hazard. He would then grab a salt shaker and generously salt his beer as if it were a dried out piece of meat that was void of flavor.
This is what beer and beer drinkin' was to me as a kid. Oh, as most kids whose parents drank, I'd sneak a taste here and there....awful! Why would anyone drink that stuff on purpose? Gawd it was nasty; it's no wonder he salted the hell out of it! My dislike of beer led me to sneaking the old man's liquor instead! Now that stuff was the ticket! Hell yeah, this was much better than that rotten piss water the adults in my family drank. Yes, I was bit of trouble as a teenager; I still might be some would argue.
It wasn't until college that I began to find my taste for beer. On a poor college kid's budget, beer became the "drug" of choice...it was cheap, easily attainable (even while under age) and it could get ya hammered if that was your goal! My roommate and I would split the costs; we'd get a six of the good stuff (Miller Lite) and a case of the cheap stuff (Keystone). We'd start off with the good and by the time it was gone, the bad didn't seem to taste so bad! Don't get me wrong, I wasn't sold on beer. When I'd have a few extra dollars scrounged up, it would go towards liquor. Over the next 20 years or so, beer grew on me more and more. When I wasn't in the mood for a Captain and Coke (probably because of a recent hangover from it), I'd have a Miller Lite, Genuine Draft Lite or a Killian's Irish Red. About five years ago, I switched to Michelob Ultra then to Blue Moon and ShockTop with an occasional this or that for good measure. Nothing too edgy or creative...middle of the road stuff that I mixed in between Crown & Cokes.
But then it happened.
My best buddy introduced me to home brewing. He'd been at it for a year plus. He sang its praises...make beer to suit your tastes; endless possibilities with all the grains, extracts, adjuncts and hops. Never buy that off the shelf "crap" again. And you can do it at home on the stove or in the garage, driveway or basement! Please Darrell, tell me more, you have my attention! So I researched and I asked him 10,000 questions (probably more). I joined HBT and lurked for hours and hours. I wore Google's ass out from searching for home brewing answers. I bought countless magazines from my LHBS. Oh yeah, I was throwing around acronyms like I fully understood them and had been using them for years. I was getting hooked before I ever spent a dime on equipment. As you might guess at this point, I have a bit of an obsessive personality when I find something that interests me. The nectar of the God's was no longer Crown Royal, it was going to be beer that I created from scratch. I bought and downloaded one of the many recipe software programs and downloaded every free app from the iStore that I could find. It was now time to invest in the equipment, but what did I need? Ya see, I travel with my job as a consultant in the IT Industry. As such, I'm here for 3-6-12 months and then I'm off to there. At the time, I was in our condo in Clearwater. I had no access to a driveway, garage or basement.
I had an electric cooktop that was probably as old as the condo itself; at least 40 years old! I would be limited to brewing with extracts and steeping grains. Darrell sent me a link to a "starter kit" on Amazon and three days later the box arrived. In the meantime, I'd visited my LHBS and purchased a Witbier kit, bottles and miscellaneous other supplies that I was told I needed. Four days later, I was brewing beer! Five weeks later, I had (2) five gallon batches in fermentors in addition to this first beer that I was fixin' to taste for the first time. Now mind you, I had thrown a ton of **** into this batch...I was making magic in a bottle; well, (29) 22-ounce bottles to be exact...it had four different peels, coriander, sugar, honey, 3 different hops and then dry hopped to boot...it was liquid gold! WRONG! This **** was bad! I dunno if it was sour, if it had an infection or if was a combination of the 86 things I'd thrown into the mix? It tasted like ass! Hmmmm, I had 10 more gallons of beer on the way too; an Irish Red that I created based on a few IRA recipes that I found online and the other was a second attempt at a wit. Were they going to be this bad? What have I done? Damnit Rick, you big dummy!
Meanwhile, Darrell continued to poke fun at my propensity to get way out over my skis. Luckily, the Red turned out pretty dang good! The wit was drinkable but still not good. Sigh! Screw it, I did another IRA; a different recipe that turned out pretty good too. I also created a Chocolate Orange Stout (big at 10% plus) which turned out pretty damn tasty (IMHO) and should only get better with age. Then I started a Chocolate Raspberry Stout which is still fermenting in Clearwater. Since my first batch, I've toned down the adjuncts and have been paying more attention to percentages of base vs- specialty grains, hop additions, etc. Just as I was getting my feet under me and in a brewing rhythm, my IT contract was cut short and I had to leave for another job; this time Wichita! UGH! Damnit, it's cold there in February! I had to leave everything in our condo; all of my brewing equipment, ingredients (mostly hops and spices) along with my stock-pile of IRAs, stouts and not-so-good wits that I hoped would age into something better. The good thing is that when we head down for some sun and fun, I'll have plenty of beer to enjoy. Was my destiny as a brew master genius over before it began?
So I'm in Wichita and have no brewing equipment, no inventory of my brew and am renting an apartment with a kitchenette void of a range or cooktop...only a hot plate! Now what? How will I brew? This cannot be the end! More research! More reading! More questions for Darrell! Poor Darrell! Out of the blue last week, the solution popped up my Facebook page...a company was advertising its eBIAB system! You guessed it, more questions! More research! I exchanged several emails with the owner of the company (over the top helpful). After about two weeks, I think I've made my decision! Since I travel so much and can't count on 240v to power a bigger setup, I'm going to buy a 120v system that uses two 1500w elements incorporated into a 10 gallon pot. For fermenting, I'm going with a pair of 7.9 gallon conicals with stands. When this job ends, the entire setup will easily pack up into a few boxes and go with on my next adventure (hopefully someplace sexier than Wichita...no offense Wichitonians). I wanted professional, portable and reliable equipment that I could invest in and someday, be content with when my traveling is over and I am home to stay (sooner than later I hope).
"I said Wort....W...O...R...T"
Now you might ask Rick, when you're at a bar, taproom, microbrewery or pub what do you drink? Well my beer drinking friend, I'm trying every Irish Red, Stout and Porter on the board along with an occasional IPA (I'm trying hard to like them). I've almost entirely moved away from wheats and wits. I'm really liking all of these creative dark beers...if the stout/porter is enhanced with chocolate, bacon, fruit, syrup or dare I say a combination of the above, hell yeah, pour me a tall one or two or three! These are also the brews that I'll seek out at a liquor store...a few of my favorites are Deschute's Black Butte Porter, Samuel Smith's Organic Chocolate Stout and Moylan's Irish Red. In fact, last night as I sat at the bar of a local brewery in Wichita, I was having an Emerald City Stout when they brought out a small keg of experimental beer that they propped up on top of the bar...Smokey Bacon Stout. Yessir, pour me one, it's bacon after all! I'd tried a Bacon Maple Stout while in FL that was fantastic-more maple and less bacon but it was damn good. Last night's bacon didn't do it for me; too much of something and not enough of something else. Maybe next time fellas; keep experimenting!
As I sat at the bar drinking my beer, eating dinner and people watching (as I love to do when dining alone), it occurred to me that the evolution of beer both personally and socially in my lifetime has been quite dramatic. I've gone from a pull top PBR with salt to watching a group of beer aficionados huddled around a newly created bacon flavored beer; each sniffing it, swirling it, eye-balling it, lifting the glass into the light, sipping it, smacking and pursing their lips as they looked blindly into the ceiling (searching for the appropriate critique that would amaze and astound) and then back into the eyes of their buddies as each announced this well thought out opinion to a waiting, eager yet anxious audience of beer drinking peers; each no doubt and expert in his or her own mind. They'd pass the sample and repeat the process.
No longer is beer the working man's drink chugged from an aluminum can! It has evolved into a sophisticated, complex beverage that has ratings, critics, seasons, groupies, magazines dedicated to the art of brewing it, store fronts popping up every day selling home brewing supplies for us to create it and then there are hundreds of microbreweries launching as we speak each hoping to be the next big thing in brewing. Hell, beer even has appropriate glassware for each style. Are you kidding me? My old man is probably rolling over in his casket as he searches for a pull tab to launch at my head.
Last night's group was the beer drinking equivalent to a gaggle of yuppies clad in button ups, sweaters, khakis and loafers as they nit-picked a red cabernet's nose, vintage, grape and region of origin. Ladies and gentlemen, ahem, brace yourselves, we have evolved...beer has evolved...we're uptown now! Set aside your fancy glass, ask the bartender for a PBR in the can, raise it up and toast..."Here's to beer!" Now, feel free to spit, rinse and partake in that delicious Chocolate Covered Pretzel Stout that was so elegantly poured by that cute bartender who's likely younger than your kids! By the way, she has no clue what a pull tab is! Eyes up fellas! Cheers!