To New Friendships!

“The Brewer’s Backstory” – Episode 10

August 2003

The Brewer's Justice cover

Coming January 2016!

Brad awoke slowly. Eric Villarreal’s snoring wasn’t helping the dull pain in his head. Eric slept a few feet away in his own single bed, peacefully oblivious to the truckload of sunlight penetrating the thin curtain over the dorm room window directly in Brad’s line of view. He sat up and checked the phone he’d left charging on the small desk that would be his for the next nine months. 9:52, four hours until the start of CU freshman orientation. He pulled on the jeans he had draped over the desk chair last night and stuck his feet into the new flip flops. He grabbed his cloth toiletries bag and ventured into the hallway, shielding his eyes from the intensity of the fluorescent lights for the first moments.

“Morning,” he mumbled as he passed a guy he’d met yesterday whose name he couldn’t remember.

“Hey,” replied his freshly showered and towel-clad neighbor carrying a balled-up tangle of clothes.

The warm shower water felt good on his aching head. His body wasn’t in such great shape, either. He hadn’t been a big partier in high school, but by the time he graduated, he had visited the state of inebriation on various occasions. He’d certainly gone down that road last night at Zeke’s party, but hell, it was his first night at college. A solid breakfast in the dining hall and he’d be ready to go. Okay, given the hour, a solid brunch.

He was working his way through a mound of scrambled eggs, four slices of bacon and two pieces of toast when Eric showed up with his hands wrapped around a mug of steaming coffee. “What happened to the beer truck after it ran over me?”

“Never even slowed down,” Brad said. “I thought throwing up on the walk back to the dorm last night would have left you in better shape.”

“Have you seen Gina yet this morning?” Eric asked, easing into a chair opposite Brad.

“The Texas flirt with the hots for you? Dang, Villarreal, you didn’t waste any time.”

“Spoken like a true jealous man.” Eric blew across the surface of the coffee and took a sip. “You and her cousin Zeke looked like best buds last night.”

“We may be after Sunday.”

“Excuse me?”

“We’re brewing at his place.”

“No shit! He invited you to brew with him?”

“Told me to pick the recipe. We’re going shopping Saturday.”

“Dang, Peters, you didn’t waste any time.”

“It gets better. Zeke waits tables at Funky Flatirons.”

“The brewpub downtown?”

Brad nodded. “Where they need a busboy.”

“I can totally see the appeal of cleaning up dirty dishes and other crap strangers leave behind, but wouldn’t you have to be twenty-one?”

“Zeke says he’ll put in a good word for me and that they’re cool with under-twenty-one busboys.”

****

“American two-row pale malt, two five-pound bags,” the homebrew supply store employee said, sliding the second plastic bag across the counter. What yeast are you using?” Brad distracted himself by debating whether the tattooed woman on the exposed portion of the employee’s bicep had dreadlocks or snakes hair like Medusa.

Zeke consulted the shopping list Brad had written out. “Wyeast’s 1056 American Ale.”

“Right over here in the cooler.”

Brad wondered if the guy, or anyone else with ear gauges, could change them as easily as his sister took out and put on her pierced earrings.

“What about your hops?”

Nugget, Perle and Cascade. Brad knew the answers by heart. Technically, he probably could have gotten away with ordering and paying. After all, every ingredient was a food item. No alcohol involved—yet. Still, you never knew how a particular store, or employee, would react to selling to underage customers.

****

The house that Zeke and his three roommates rented probably hadn’t seen a fresh coat of paint in their lifetimes, but the fenced backyard with tall old shade trees was a great place to brew on a Sunday morning. The concrete porch was even covered, perfect for brewing on snowy or rainy days. Zeke had soldered together a wheeled cart with a propane burner and shelf space on the lower part. Above, he had created a sturdy frame and welded in the cast iron grate from an old commercial stove. He’d added a small work area in the remaining space. Now the propane burner hummed noisily, heating five gallons of water.

Brad cracked opened a journal filled with empty pages and jotted a few lines on the first page as Zeke emerged from the kitchen door with two tasting glasses of dark liquid. “My lastest stout, age with smoked wood chips. Whoa, new brew log?”

“New life, new log. Besides, I’m not sure I want my parents knowing this one exists.”

Zeke handed Brad a glass, checked the temperature on the brew pot then settled into one of two old green camp chairs. “My parents divorced when I was fourteen. My mother hated yardwork and made me do everything. She wouldn’t go near the tool shed full of old gardening crap in the back yard.” He paused and took a sip from his glass.

“Nice stout,” Brad said. “Smooth and balanced. I like the smoky flavor. To new friendships!”

“To new friendships,” Zeke repeated, touching his glass to Brad’s. “I started basic extract brewing when I was sixteen. Mom had to work every other Saturday which was great for my brewing and bottling schedule. I kept all my stuff in the shed under an old sheet. Everything went fine for about eight months until she came home early one Saturday. The kitchen looking like a hurricane had come through and there I was in the middle, stirring a five-gallon pot on her stove. ‘What the hell have you done, Zekey?’ she screamed. I got the whole nine yards of lecture. I let her rant for a while then told her it was kombucha.”

“No way, dude,” Brad said, taking another drink of the stout.

“Way, man. She bought it. Let me keep the carboy on the kitchen island, covered with a beach towel. She got into watching the fermentation big time, excited as a kid. When it was finally ready, she was totally psyched.”

“And?”

“She took one sip and gagged. She managed to swallow it, then said, ‘Zekey, I have yet to try a kombucha that doesn’t taste like hell. I guess if you like it and it keeps you out of trouble, you can keep making it.’ I was kind of a wild kid. I think she was happy knowing I had a hobby that was keeping me at home and busy. By the time she learned the truth, she just said, ‘Zekey, don’t do anything irresponsible.’”

“Your mother sounds like a cool lady.”

“She is, man. She put up with way too much crap from me.”

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