Witches’ Brew

Last night, in a light rain, Susanne and I traveled to the northern part of the city to attend a class on beer making. We’d originally heard about this through her subscription to Groupon. It’s the case that Susanne has gotten just a wee bit addicted to Groupon and Living Social, in part because she likes to explore new things, and living in a city for 6 months, heck, we’re all about the exploration. But truth be told she also really loves a good deal, so seeing a half-priced value really makes her take a moment and reflect on how much she’d enjoy or need the thing/event in question. She’s not as trigger happy as my mother was when QVC hit the airwaves, and our house suddenly started filling up with tacky Italian statues and music boxes. But cooking classes, creperies, and city tours? Those are appealing to her.

The home brewing store is tucked into what looks like a third of a regular strip mall, as if the original builder got tired of making a structure, ran out of money, or both. All five spaces in front of the store were occupied, certifying that there are at least five residents of Seattle who want to be nowhere else on a Saturday evening than next to a fridge filled with yeast and hops. On the shelves were all kinds of tubes, bottles, glassware, and liquid containers, and in the back of the place, the raw ingredients for any kind of beer one could want to make. If the owner wanted to convert to a bread bakery all he’d have to do would be to install an oven. And as there’s a restaurant supply store one block away, that doesn’t seem like much of a challenge at all.

Other than my intrepid spouse, all of the attendees were men. And not just men, but manly men. Men who gut fish and don’t flinch. Men who flex their biceps to show they’re doing well, because to give a thumbs up just isn’t enough. Men who can pull off tights.

As such, there were a few sexist remarks to start us off on our journey into grain fermentation. Because you can’t have fermentation without the men. Men, don’t boil the water over because your wife will never forgive you. Don’t worry, this isn’t like actual cooking, even though it looks just like cooking. I rolled my eyes to myself and knew that the guy spewing this didn’t really believe the schtick he was selling. He did seem a little nervous, as if this routine was how he usually sold the idea of beer making to whatever manly mass had assembled, and he wasn’t ready for someone like Susanne to be taking it in. I didn’t see her send any daggers his way, but after a few minutes, he just started talking about beer.

Recipes call for 5 full gallons of water, whatever grains are needed to create a specific type of beer, light or dark malt or some other sweetener, special beer yeast, and one of a huge variety of hops that come in leaf form or as pellets. Because I don’t relish the idea of putting something that looks like gerbil food in my beer, even though he swears the final taste will be the same, I bought hops flowers at the end of the evening.

I’m not that excited to cap 50 bottles of beer at the end of this process, but the capping tool is fun, and it’s another large investment to get a keg. So it’s bottles for now.

We sat and watched the whole process; other than the occasional pouring in of ingredients, it was just a lot of heating and stirring. Not as exciting a process as say, making caramel, and only a couple of rungs better than watching paint dry. Perhaps indeed this was more the fishing channel brand of masculinity, I then it occurred to me: why are so many men’s interests really slow and boring? NASCAR: hours and hours of watching cars race around the same track. Baseball is long stretches of literally, next to nothing, punctuated by the infrequent hit to first base and the even rarer home run. Furniture building shows put me right to sleep. Even soccer, which men adore by the bazillions, is just a bunch of people running around a perfectly lovely lawn and once in a while, the ball makes it into the net.

I’m going to get creamed for saying this, I know, but I’m starting to wonder if machismo isn’t a really complicated cover for Leave Us Alone and Let Us Be Boring.

That said, beer is worth 180 minutes of stirring.

 

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6 Comments on “Witches’ Brew”

  1. Q.V.
    November 7, 2010 at 8:52 pm #

    I saw a bottle capper someone had put out on the street. I wanted to take it, like I wanted to take the glass carboys and save all my beer bottle, because I know it will happen someday, but I don’t need another project that takes up space, even if it will get me beer in the end.

    Enjoy!

    • evmaroon
      November 7, 2010 at 9:00 pm #

      I was happy to see that it will take up less space than I thought it would, so yay for that. I think the big trick will be getting 5 gallons of water up on the stove. Other than that, I think it’s pretty simple, it just requires a few uninterrupted hours of time. But hey, maybe everything I make will be skunky. Who knows?

  2. IrishUp
    November 8, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    Hah – two beer posts, and now you know what it takes to lure me out of lurking!

    I had some friends who did home brewing for a long time. Overall, the results were pretty good, and definitely got better after the first couple of tries (I will pass on your earlier advice – no bacon!). But alas, skunked beer happens even to the best of them. I heard Jim Koch, who is the founder of Sam Adams, give a terrific interview on beer making, and even with SA’s resources, it happens at a low but not entirely preventable rate.

    Incidentally, Jim Koch does all kinds of really cool things – he encourages all SA employees to become beer-makers, and the SA special flavors are developed from contests he opens up to employee and non-affiliated home brewers alike. They get to go to their local SA micro-brewery and co-master (if that’s a term) their beer, too. Also, during the great hops shortage in 2007-2008, he released a bunch of SA’s hops reserves, but ONLY to independent micro-brews, to help keep fellow brew masters in business. To be sure, it also helped to prevent microbeer price increases and maintain the micro-brew market share, which both benefitted SA, so it wasn’t COMPLETELY altruistic, but he also did not sell to, say, Coors for the best price. Also, I found this little tale of a refund because of a skunked bottle very cool:
    http://www.areasontocook.com/2010/01/why-we-love-samuel-adams/

    My marine-science geek friends are fond of this blog post. It’s the research vessel version of the M.A.S.H. 4077 still: http://www.southernfriedscience.com/?p=1419

    Yay for beer making!

    • evmaroon
      November 8, 2010 at 1:08 pm #

      I’m so thrilled that you commented, IrishUp! And I’m really glad to know that about Jim Koch. Our “instructor” the other night told us that the vast majority of hops are grown right here in Washington State, which made me happy, because can’t we all see me with two cross-pollinating hops plants in my back yard once we move back to Walla Walla? I hear they may take over the entire plot if I let them. Okay, now I’ll check out the links you posted. Yay!

  3. jess s
    November 9, 2010 at 1:47 pm #

    How much longer are you in Seattle? I wonder what other groupon experiences are on the horizon.

    • evmaroon
      November 9, 2010 at 1:52 pm #

      We’re here until early January. We have groupons to a couple of restaurants we have yet to use, but no classes or anything like that. Susanne is on the prowl, however, so I’m sure we’ll have more experiences to share. And we’re going to attempt some beer making as soon as we’re back from going out of town tomorrow. Denver, here I come.

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