Brewing Day

“The Brewer’s Backstory” – Episode 5

March 2001

The Brewer's Justice cover

Coming January 2016!

Brad Peters’s first brewing day had arrived! He had worked through most of the brewing book that Ted, his father’s friend, had loaned him. He had asked questions and made notes on the answers at the last meeting of his dad’s homebrewing buddies. He was totally ready to slide into the driver’s seat.

He stared, almost hypnotized, into the dark, roiling liquid and steam that rose from the five-gallon brew pot. He gripped the two-foot long handle of the brewing spoon, stirring round and round. With all the work and attention to detail involved in brewing day, he wasn’t about to ruin everything by letting any sticky malt extract settle to the bottom and burn itself onto the pot.

“Aw, for the love of Pete!” his father muttered.

“Whoa, Dad. What’s up?”

Mr. Peters waved a small packet in the air and heaved an exaggerated sigh. “I forgot to check the date on the yeast when we were in the store. It expired two weeks ago. I’m going back. Think you can keep things together here?”

How often did his father actually admit he’d made a mistake? “No problem. Take off.”

Mr. Peters glanced at his watch. “Ten minutes till the second hops addition. After that, give it five minutes and then start the chilling.”

“Got it.”

When the garage door clunked to a close, Brad pumped his fist in the air. “Yes!”

Outside, the sun shone bright in a cloudless, deep blue sky. A scraggly mix of flowers he couldn’t name pushed through the light layer of snow in the backyard, reminders that spring had begun in Colorado. Two weeks ago, he had helped bottle his dad’s previous batch of beer. Today he was experiencing the first step in brewing. As Mr. Ebenholt always said in chemistry class, “We learn best by doing.”

He looked around the kitchen. Sanitized equipment—the upside-down glass carboy in its drying stand, the hydrometer in its flask, the plastic funnel and all the rest—filled the island and the counter top where his mother normally prepared meals. A beautiful, organized mess.

His phone rang in his jeans’ pocket. He pulled it out and glanced at the caller I.D. “Holy crap!” He let it ring two more times before answering in a laid-back voice.

“Hey, Vanessa. How’s it going?”

“Hi Brad. Are you busy?”

“In the middle of a homebrew, but I’ve got time.”

“A home what?”

“I’m brewing beer.” He continued to stir, barely aware of his arm and the spoon he held.

“You’re sixteen. Isn’t that illegal?”

“I brew with my dad.”

“You must have like the coolest dad in the world.”

God, the tone in her voice. Was she flirting with him? He pictured her twisting a lock of hair between her fingers the way she did in English class. She had a way of flipping her ponytail back so that it landed on his desk. Or on the notes he was taking. Or brushing against his face. She was one of those females who smelled like the shops where girls bought soaps and creams and whatever they bought that made them smell irresistible.

“My dad’s okay. What’s happening with you?”

“I’m like flunking Chemistry. I thought you could maybe help me.”

“What would Kevin the starting quarterback and the varsity football team think about that?”

“Who cares what Kevin thinks? We broke up.”

“Broke up?” Brad echoed. Just last weekend, he’d seen Vanessa and Kevin hanging all over each other at Eric Villarreal’s party.

“Yep. Done. Over. Finito.”

Brad set the spoon on the counter and wandered into the hallway. Upstairs in his room, he dropped onto the bed and listened to Vanessa’s voice. Her chem questions were simple enough to answer. The stuff Mr. E did in a year with the regular classes, he covered in less than a semester in Advanced Placement Chemistry. Brewing beer and talking with a flirty Vanessa Keller. Could there be a sweeter Saturday afternoon? They discussed the English assignment, then Vanessa’s role in the school musical, and how boring Brad’s suspension had been.

“But it gives you a certain bad boy status, you know?” Vanessa said. She asked if they could meet for coffee and more chemistry help. Ca-ching! Brad felt the floor began to vibrate softly beneath him. The hum of the rising garage door directly below his room jerked him back to reality. “Oh my God, I’ve got to go. See you at ten tomorrow.”

He flew down the stairs and into the kitchen where he found his father cutting open the vacuumed-sealed pouch of hops pellets. “I’m so sorry, Dad. I got a call from a chem student who was desperate for help.”

“Dammit, Brad. I leave you alone for twenty minutes. I come back and you’re nowhere near the kitchen. You didn’t even add the hops.”

After the chemistry lab explosion, the suspension and his grounding at home, lying was probably not the best option. “Dad, imagine if, when you were sixteen, the hottest girl in your entire class had called on a Saturday afternoon and asked for your help.”

“I would have fought back my hormones for one tiny minute and told her I had to rehydrate my yeast.”

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