A New World

“The Brewer’s Backstory” – Episode 3

February 2001

The Brewer's Justice cover

Coming January 2016!

Jim Peters gave a quick, sharp whistle. The crashing response sounded as though a small horse was pounding up the staircase. He opened the door to his son’s darkened bedroom just as the creature–a hefty yellow lab–galloped into the hallway. At the bed, the dog burrowed her wet snout between the mattress and Brad’s arm tucked under the pillow.

“Go away, Millie.”

“Time to get up, buddy!” Brad’s father said in a tone that implied no choice.

Brad pushed the dog away. “I’m suspended. I don’t have to go to school.”

“You don’t have the privilege of going to school, but you’re still getting up at the usual time.”

Three weeks before the explosion, life had been awesome. It was his sixteenth birthday, and his mother took him to the DMV after school. He passed the driving test on his first attempt. His sister, a senior at Belmar High, had even baked him a cake. It turned out lopsided and she’d only managed to round up thirteen candles, most already used. Still, it had been an unusually nice gesture from Natalie. The next Saturday, he piled four friends into the old Blazer with the dented bumper, thanks to Natalie hitting a tree backing out of a parking space. He drove the guys to Extreme Paintball and bought their tickets using some of his birthday cash.

Then came the bottle explosion. As soon as they walked out of Applebaum’s office, his dad confiscated Brad’s car keys, along with his cell phone. He was grounded for the entire week of suspension, plus the weekends before and after. By the second Saturday, he was desperate. His mother had gone to Zumba with two friends. Natalie was at the movies. His father, who had recently given up on golf and started going who knew where on Saturdays, was heading toward the door with a big brown bottle and a can of nuts. “Come on,” Dad ordered. Brad tried to look unimpressed, but at that point, he would have gone to Zumba with his mother if she’d invited him.

“Ted’s the group guru,” Dad explained on the drive. “When I buy my brewing equipment, I’d trade all my golf clubs for a system like Ted’s, but your mother would have a fit.”

“Brewing?” Brad asked.

“Yeah, brewing. What did you think this was, a book club?”

“Brewing—as in beer?” A light snow began to dot the windshield as Brad let out a slow, respectful, “Cool.”

The homebrew club consisted of five men who met in Ted’s garage. A large space heater cast a meager warmth in the space that resembled a cross between Mr. E’s lab and the kitchen in the school cafeteria. Brad studied Ted’s “system”, intrigued by the unfamiliar equipment.

“I got the kegerator here three years ago” Ted said, pointing to a mini fridge with a bar tap on top. “I’d been wanting to try all-grain brewing when I saw an ad for a used mill on Craigslist. It just made sense to pony up for it, you know?” Brad nodded even though he didn’t understand.

“Course, then, I had to add the mash tun and the hot liquor tank.” Ted knocked his knuckles against two big aluminum pots.

Eventually another brewer arrived and Ted declared it was tasting time. When they were seated around the kitchen table, he glanced first at Brad then at his father. “Jim?”

“Just keep his samples small.”

It wasn’t Brad’s first taste of beer. Everybody at Belmar High knew about Mike Rutledge’s parties. Brad had gotten into one last year. He’d finished off a Bud Light and most of a Coors when the police pounded on the front door. He and Eric Villareal had barely managed to escape out the back door.

Ted’s beer, though, was unlike anything at Rutledge’s house. It smelled like flowers and maybe even oranges, Brad decided. Whatever the aroma, it made him want to taste it. The first sip exploded in his mouth—bitter, sweet, tangy and intense. There was more flavor in that one sip than in Rutledge’s Bud and Coors combined. He eagerly swallowed the next drink.

“Whoa, partner,” Ted said, and the other men laughed. “That’s my fresh-hopped IPA. Six varieties of hops in all. Don’t gulp it. Take your time and taste it.”

Brad held the liquid in his mouth for a minute before swallowing. The tastes lingered and shifted.

Soon, the pot-bellied guy, Jack, was asking why his own brews sometimes being too flat. Ted suggested maybe he needed to use more sugar when he bottled. Another man said to make sure he was capping his bottles tight enough.

Brad wondered why nobody was suggesting the obvious. “Can’t you just add a little more CO2 when you carbonate the beer?” he said, mindful of his newfound respect for carbon dioxide and Mr. Ebenholt.

Two men laughed. “Son, we’re homebrewers.”

“But your kegs are pressurized, right?”

Every man laughed. The flat-beer guy said, “I’m a basic homebrewer. I can follow that Papazian fellow okay—but Palmer’s over my head.”

“Brad’s going to be a famous chemist,” his father said, “if he doesn’t blow up the high school lab first.”

“Who are Papazian and Palmer?” Brad asked.

“The rock stars of homebrewing,” Ted answered, pulling a book from the pile on top of his refrigerator and handing it to Brad. “If you like chemistry, you’re gonna love these guys. Let me introduce you to Charlie Papazian.”

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