Bottling Day

The Brewer's Justice cover

Coming January 2016!

“The Brewer’s Backstory” – Episode 4

February 2001

Brad grabbed the final bottle from the soapy water in the kitchen sink and began rinsing. A few stubborn patches of the original Coors label showed bits of the loopy o’s and the r. “Dad, does washing bottles always take this long? It’s hard to get all the soap out.”

“Unless you want to risk ruining your beer, yeah, it does.” Jim Peters pulled a handful of bottle caps from a bowl of sanitizing liquid and spread them on a drying towel.

“In that book your friend Ted loaned me, it says bottle washers save water and time.”

“There’s all sorts of fancy and expensive equipment out there.”

“Mom and Natalie are always asking what they can give you for Christmas.”

“Ted’s ex-wife gave him a bottle washer—the Christmas before she left him.”

Brad rolled his eyes and wedged the freshly rinsed bottle between the others in the dish drainer.

“Son, homebrewing fulfills a whole primal male-bonding need. Men in Bavaria in the 1700s didn’t have bottle washers, and they brewed outstanding beer.”

“They also had the Black Plague and a life expectancy rate of something like thirty-seven years.” Considering that he was only a week passed his suspension, Brad decided the comment had come off too smart-ass. “So what’s next?”

Mr. Peters pulled a large glass carboy from the center of the kitchen island to one edge. “We rack the beer from the primary fermenter—the carboy—into the secondary—that five-gallon plastic bucket you’re going to put in the floor.”

“Racking basically means transferring the beer, right?”

“Correct. First, grab that pan of water and sugar that we boiled earlier and pour it into the bucket. After that, you get to hold the siphon and hose in place as the beer moves between fermenters.”

When only murky dregs remained in the carboy, Mr. Peters asked, “Want to bump your homebrewing education up a notch?” He poured several ounces of watery sludge from the carboy into a glass. “Unconditioned beer. Have a taste.”

The liquid reminded Brad of the smoothies health freak Mary Beth Larsen brought to school and drank at lunch. He sniffed the glass and hesitantly downed a gulp. Bitterness, intense and acidic, overpowered every taste bud in his mouth and held them all hostage as he gagged. “God, that stuff is evil!”

“Isn’t it?” his father agreed. “You’ll be amazed at what a couple more weeks of fermentation in the bottle with the new sugar is going to do.”

“Couldn’t you just have told me that and skipped the demonstration?”

“Remember that father-son talk we had before your first dance in seventh grade?”

“I remember you lecturing me.”

“And it ended when you told me . . .”

Brad stuck the glass in the dishwasher. Who hadn’t said and done some stupid things in middle school? “That I’d learn a lot more making my own mistakes than just hearing about yours.”

“And you were right. If I’d told you that putting dry ice in a glass bottle and capping it might make the bottle explode or that unconditioned beer tastes flat and nasty, you wouldn’t have learned near as much. Let’s get this brew bottled and then we’ll start your real taste testing.”

“Will bottling take as long as washing and sanitizing?” Brad asked, sounding too whiny even to himself.

When they had forty-six bottles filled, capped and neatly lined in rows on the kitchen island, Mr. Peters pulled a beer from the refrigerator and poured several ounces into a glass he passed to Brad. “That’s a pint glass, by the way. Hold it up to the light and describe the beer’s color.”

This was so not how people Brad’s age drank beer. He stared into the liquid the way the drama kids did during school plays. “It has a rich,” he paused and threw out his free hand, “golden hue.”

Mr. Peters took a swig from the bottle. “Very funny. Gold or a little more amber?”

“Amber? Maybe kind of orange?” Brad guessed.

“Is it hazy?”

“Not really?”

“The opposite of hazy is bright.”

“Okay, it’s pretty bright.”

“And the aroma? Inhale.”

“Smells like beer. Good beer.”

“What does ‘good beer’ smell like?”

“I don’t know. Not cheap. Not like Coors Light or Budweiser.”

“You know what the kitchen smells like on the days when I brew?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s maltiness. Can you smell the maltiness in this beer?”

Brad sniffed and nodded.

“Can you smell something like oranges or citrus?”

Brad inhaled. “Maybe.”

“That’s the hops. They add bitterness. Now, take a sip and hold it in your mouth.”

Brad doubted that any of his Belmar High classmates stopped to taste the beer they chugged at parties. “Swish it around,” Mr. Peters said, “then swallow. Afterwards, concentrate on how your mouth and your throat feel.”

Brad followed his father’s instructions. He didn’t have the words to describe what he felt, which intrigued him. He swallowed and closed his eyes, listening to what his mouth was telling him. “It’s nice. I can taste the bitterness. In a good way. I feel the citrus, too.”

“Feeling the beer. That’s good. When the malt and hops work together, without one overwhelming the other, that’s a balanced beer.”

“I’m home.” The opening of the front door and his mother’s voice jarred Brad back to reality.

Mrs. Peters halted at the kitchen door, hands on hips, scowl on her face. “My God, Jim! It’s bad enough with you brewing beer and Brad getting in trouble at school. What are you two doing on now?”

Mr. Peters raised the bottle in salute. “Serious chemistry, Julia.”

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