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There is a five-gallon jug of beer fermenting in my apartment. I also live with six girls and can drink without impunity in my bedroom; in short, I am living every freshman boy’s dream.
Of course, I didn’t just fortuitously happen upon a magic jug of ale along the banks of the muddy Potomac, Moses in the bulrushes-style. Five gallons of beer require some serious forethought, but not an act of God. The genesis of this foray into home brewing took place in the waning months of the last school year, tossed around whimsically by my housemates as we pondered all the things one could do in one’s own castle. Phil, a friend, though not a resident of the soon-to-be house, was particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of a real live micro-brewery. So, at the beginning of this semester, he journeyed to the wilds of Virginia to procure a brewing kit from My Local Home Brew Shop. (Yes, the name lacks originality, but let’s cut them some slack—these fine Americans provide a patriotic service through their wholesale purveyance of hops and barley.)
Just to preempt any questions about the legality of my house’s little experiment, what is happening here is legal, as long as we don’t start selling the brews lemonade-stand style from our front porch (though in this economy, that’s tempting). In fact, home brewing is something of a mini-movement, with numerous groups in the D.C. metro area alone catering to the needs of domestic brewers, a demographic that is, from what I can tell from my internet research, largely comprised of bearded young professionals. D.C. Home Brewers not only has a website with a running list of District beer events and brewing tips but also holds monthly meetings—it’s sort of like a book club, except they don’t feel the need to disguise their weeknight drinking with heartfelt discussions of Jodi Piccoult’s latest paperback.
Basic brew kits run about $100, though Phil spent a little extra time and money in his search for the finest equipment—including a three week quest for the perfect heavy-duty stovetop pot. But, after weeks of mental and physical preparation, brewing finally got under way this weekend, with Phil and Laura (my housemate) commandeering our bathtub on Saturday night in order to begin their foray into this most ancient and time-honored practice of man.
Home brewing consists of roughly three stages. The first involves yeast preparation and malt mixing and boiling, the second is a nine to eleven day fermentation process, followed by bottling and an additional fermentation period of two to three weeks. Then, and only then, can one taste the fruits of such great labor, and to be honest, who wouldn’t be needing a brewski after all that trouble?
For now, our house beer remains in its infancy, tethered to its spot next to my desk while the mysteries of chemistry transform it from a bitter, poisonous concoction to what Martin Luther once called “the milk of the old.” If that’s what they’re going to feed me in the home, then bring it on; I only hope the nurse lets me drink my lager with a curly straw.
Crazy Straw Clare is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.