The cap came off the plain, brown bottle with a gentle hiss and I relaxed just a little.
“That’s a good sign,” I muttered.
It was. It meant that the beer I’d bottled two weeks ago, then shoved in my closet, was at least carbonated. The beer might taste like the underside of a park bench, but at least there were bubbles.
I took a sip. It was crisp, malty and a little sweet. Thanks to the refrigerator where I’d kept the bottle for a few hours, it was even cold.
Not bad, I thought.
This was by no means the best beer I’d tried this month (I’m pretty partial to the Clown Shoes Undead Party Crasher and liked the Anchor beer a lot), but it wasn’t terrible. If I ordered it blindly at a restaurant, I’d probably finish it.
If a friend gave me such a beer, I wouldn’t automatically think they had something against me.
About the worst I could say about my homebrew was that it tasted a little weak, like low-powered.
I had no way to gauge the alcohol by volume, but if I had to guess, I’d have said it was somewhere around a 3 — close to what you’d expect from a lite beer.
The taste reminded me of a lite beer, a lite craft beer, which is probably a thing, but lite craft beer sounds like saying artisan Velveeta or free-range, organic Diet Coke.
After I drank my beer, I waited. Nothing happened. I didn’t go blind, didn’t get a splitting headache, didn’t fall over clutching my throat. My stomach didn’t explode. I felt fine.
Later, I tried my beer out on a few friends, over dinner. Despite gently downplaying my own best efforts, everybody said what I did was fine, maybe sort of good. One friend even had a second bottle with dinner. He did this without me even offering and there were three other, better beers available.
I basked in the warm glow of success. Nobody spat the stuff out. Nobody got sick.
At the end of my pour, I put away all my beer brewing equipment. I washed and dried my buckets, put all my little brewing knick-knacks together and packed them away in a box next to my emergency supplies and an ornate, glass punch bowl.
I’m not 100% sure why I have a heavy, glass punch bowl. I am sure, however, that I’ve never used it for anything. We don’t make a lot of punch at my house.
I hoped to use the brewing buckets again, maybe as early as spring, ahead of grass cutting season, when a bottle of cold beer is really nice after several hours of pushing a lawnmower in the hot sun.
Jed Walkup with the Kanawha County Home Brew Club suggested beer making was more of a warm-weather hobby, anyway — at least it was if you brewed outdoors with a propane tank. Brewing with propane indoors is probably a bad idea.
Still, Jed let me know that “Learn to Home Brew Day” was coming up Nov. 7.
Each year, the American Home Brewers’ Association hosts “Learn to Home Brew Day” as a way to attract people to the hobby.
The website (homebrewersassociation.org) has recipes for brewing at home, step-by-step instructions and a checklist for things you’d need to get started.
I kind of wish somebody had repeatedly mentioned the website to me. It might have saved me some aggravation — though, as it turned out, I wouldn’t have learned as much about Martin Luther, who founded the Lutheran church centuries ago, as I did.
Brewing would tend to be a warm-weather hobby for me, since I couldn’t necessarily depend on the temperature inside my house remaining a constant or even comfortable temperature.
The brew needs a reliable 70 degrees or so to ferment, but I tend to keep the thermostat in my house set low, to just above freezing when no one is home. When it’s just me, I wear layers of T-shirts and sweat clothes around the house and hide under an old quilt.
It’s kind of a bad habit I picked up during a few lean winters, but I still keep the heat low unless there’s company, the dogs complain or ice forms on the inside of my living room window.
The pathological thrift wouldn’t make for a good brewing climate.
Also, I need to return the 5-gallon pot to Trinity Lutheran Church in Charleston. They were so kind to loan it to me.
Not that I’m working a membership drive for the Lutherans, but apparently Martin Luther was a beer fan, raved about his wife’s brewing and advocated adding hops.
In the 16th century, the Catholic Church held a monopoly on “gruit,” a mixture of herbs and spices used to flavor beer, which the church then taxed.
Luther resented this (among other things) and as part of his rebellion, he and his followers turned to hops, which were considered an invasive weed, as an alternative. So maybe Luther is the great-great-grandfather of the IPA.
Just as likely, he isn’t.
Besides needing a 5-gallon pot of my own, it’s going to take me a while to get through 42 bottles of beer. While my take on Northern Brewer’s Block Party Red isn’t all that bad, it’s not all that great, either.
With all the social distancing and a de facto ban on frat-house style ragers, winter might be a long couple of months.
I’ll need to pace myself.
The bottles will be saved, and I’ll brew again in the spring. This will give me time to find an old turkey fryer burner, McGyver a bunch of stuff from Lowe’s and maybe put in my first crop of hops.
With it being an invasive weed, I have a pretty good shot at coming up with a full crop. I’m taking that on trust. I’ve never been able to grow a decent crop of potatoes. The only vegetable I’ve had a lot of success with is zucchini, which would probably grow on the moon.
With time, patience and some expected misadventure, I might get to where I’m mixing and matching up grains and yeasts to make exactly the thick, malty beer I like.
If I get really good, I can work on designing a label and maybe give out six-packs of my own, superior craft brew to friends and family for Christmas.
As Jed said, “And it’s cheap.”
Maybe cheaper than zucchini bread, which has been my go-to gift the last couple of years.
In my wildest imaginings, I could see turning the clutter prone back room of my house into a home pub where friends could come over, share my latest brew and argue about everything but politics.
That might take a while.
Bill’s beer notes (local edition):
Big Timber Cake Smash: I have a lot of appreciation for Big Timber in Elkins and this Imperial Stout that was made with nuts, chocolate and coconut is an amazing after-dinner beer. With an ABV of 14 (about three times your average beer), it could also be a pretty strong sleeping pill.
Big Timber Cherry Vanilla Gose: Gose — pronounced gose-uh. A sort of sour/tart, fruity beer. I think I was looking for something closer to a cherry soda. This wasn’t it. Not a bad beer, just not something I’m into.
Country Boy Brewing Hazelnut Stout: A little stronger than your average beer, with a nice, nutty flavor (you taste the hazelnuts), this one had a smooth flavor, but was a little thinner than the stouts I usually drink. Still, a really nice beer.