Saturday, March 20, 2004

Busch whacked

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I recently made beer. More specifically, I recently brewed two gallons of a substance that resembles beer in two aspects only: it is vaguely yellow and it is also moist.

For most every Christmas since even before I reached legal drinking age, I’ve subtly hinted to my loved ones that I wanted a beer-making kit. You are likely familiar with the objects in question. They’re sold in the manlier zones of your friendly neighborhood department store.

They usually look like a plastic parody of a wooden barrel, complete with decorative dimples that are made to resemble knotty wood grain. There are a few deceptively simple steps laid out on the side of the box, with something to do with chemistry, blah blah blah — but the easiest part is the last step: “Enjoy!” There’s a frosty glass of pure, foamy brew on the side of the box. It’s sort of like the sumptuous seven-course meals pictured on the box of a TV dinner.

I’d see these kits in the stores and salivate noisily down my shirtfront.

I never flat-out asked anybody to buy me a beer kit — no indeed. Instead, I threatened to buy other men in my family the beer kits. This is called “psychology.”

“You know what I should get for my dad?” I told my wife several times. “A beer kit. Every man loves beer kits.”

“You sure he’d like it?” she said. “Those seem too complicated.”

“Yes indeedy. I don’t know a single man who wouldn’t love a beer kit.” I nodded reflectively and added, “You will note, dearest love, that I am a man.”

This went on for some years. I eventually threatened to buy one for every man in my family, and most of the women.

“Who wouldn’t love a beer kit?” I once said to my wife at a department store, giving one of the boxes a sexy look. “Maybe this Christmas I’ll get one for my Uncle Bruce.”

“You don’t have an Uncle Bruce,” she said.

I rubbed the picture of the beer glass on the side of the box. “Beer genie?” I whispered. “You in there?”

My wife didn’t take the hint. I would have hired a skywriter if this winter hadn’t been so cloudy. But a few weeks later, I found a beer kit under my tree for Christmas.

“Santa got my letter!” I exclaimed, opening the box and running my fingers along the barrel. It was a kit made by Mr. Beer, and how proud Mr. and Mrs. Beer must be.

I reached inside and found a tiny envelope the size of a Sweet and Low packet and began weeping. “No way! No way! I don’t believe it!” I checked the label and found that my suspicions were correct. “It’s yeast!” I cried.

Mr. Beer came with everything except the buzz. I read the helpful instruction guide carefully. It includes a short history of brewing, strangely beginning not with the invention of beer in ancient Egypt, but during Prohibition. It also mentions this: “In 1978, the U.S. Congress ... permitted the production of beer for personal or family use, not to exceed 200 gallons per calendar year in 2-adult households.” In practical terms, I would have to use Mr. Beer more than 80 times a year, and so resigned myself to a life of crime.

One day not long ago, I cleared a whole day to brew and put on my Coors hat. I actually have a Coors hat. I followed the instructions to the letter, mixing water in a saucepan with glop, then adding a can of other glop. I put ended up with a pot of orange liquid that smelled like hot laundry smothered in vomit.

“I can’t wait to drink it!” I cackled. I studied the Mr. Beer book while I sprinkled in the yeast, occasionally giggling at the word “flocculation.” (Look it up — it’s worth it.)

For the week it took to brew, I planned out my next steps. Once my beer was ready to bottle, I thought, I would probably name it and design bottle labels. I considered several options: Half-in-the-Bag Brew; Busch Cassidy and the Sundance Beer; Dan’s Fall River Fall Down By The River Zippy Pale Ale; and my personal favorite choice, bottling it in ceramic jugs marked with “XXX.”

I wondered once in a while if it would taste good.

“I’m hoping for Sam Adams,” I told my wife as I examined a clear plastic bottle of my gorgeous brew, “but I’ll settle for Miller High Life. If it’s anything like Schlitz, it’s going down the drain.”

“It doesn’t always come out right the first time,” she said.


I opened the first bottle — it gushed out like a dam breaking.

“It’s carbonated!” I said.

Then it kept on gushing. I held the bottle over the sink. Foam poured out like lava from a grade-school volcano science project. Ten minutes later, it was still foaming. I poured myself a glass.

The glass was full of foam. Way down at the bottom was a tiny bit of yellowish slime.

“Down the hatch,” I said, and as I held it to my nose I felt my beard start to catch fire.

As I said before, I did not make beer. Instead, I produced some sort of acidic chemical that could be remarkably effective at reviving the unconscious — precisely the opposite effect I wanted. It’s like Schlitz, all right.

I’m dumping it all down the drain, and pretty soon I’ll analyze my data and try again. In the meantime, Mr. Beer and I are on the wagon.

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