The Homebrewing Experience

Free beer, for a lot of college kids like me, is a good impetus to do just about anything. It got me to write this article. Actually, I think it was the other way around: I was told that if I wrote an article, Id get a free beer-brewing machine and the products thereof. Whatever the case was, I got beer, and my editor got this article.The Beer Machine (its actual name) is a product of Canada, which sounds like a good start to me. After all, the Canadians make good whiskey, so good beer didnt seem out of the question. When my roommate and I carted it home, we procrastinated a couple days before actually opening the box and assembling the thing. It was a relatively simple process, and the final product looked like a plastic beer keg, except smaller. Small, in this case, meant that it only held about eight quarts of beer, which in retrospect is a lot. We sterilized it, checked the seals and CO2 pressure, added water, yeast, the contents of a silver bag labeled beer mix and sat back to wait. As my roommate and I put the beer machine together, I expressed several doubts about the quality of booze it would produce. First of all, the stuff in the beer mix made me wonder exactly what was going into my beer. It was ostensibly some sort of pilsner, but who could know? After I groaned about that for a while, I became wary of the short time it took to brew the beer. Everyone Ive ever talked to about brewing said making beer was not a short process, yet the Beer Machine proudly proclaimed that it could crank out a batch in 10 days. But I figured I was no expert, and I would leave it in the hands of the folks who made the thing.I let the beer sit in my pantry for six days to ferment. I did nothing particularly interesting during these days. Before I knew it, I was hauling the heavy miniature keg out, tasting it to make sure it wasnt sweet (as per the instructions), and putting it in the fridge for four more days to clarify and condition.Well, it didnt do either. Not much, anyway. On the 10th day, it was time to tap the beer, and see what happened when a Canadian company and two guys, who usually drank Lone Star, combined their efforts in search of cheap alcohol.We got what was immediately referred to as St. Helens Malted Ale. Theres a scene from the movie The Stoned Age involving less than impressive beer that came to mind:Hubbs (sipping beer and spewing it out): What is this, horse piss?Hubbs buddy (a pained look on his face): St. Helens Malted Ale. Spoiled rich boy beer.While I dont think the stuff we made was the beer of spoiled rich kids, Lone Star it wasnt. For one thing, it didnt even look like pilsner, which is usually pretty pale. It looked like a cloudy glass of Murphys Amber Ale, which, unlike what we brewed, is good.My roommate thought it tasted metallic. I thought it was drinkable in the same way that Miller Lite is drinkabletheyre both last-ditch beers. Another buddy of mine didnt think it was done yet. My buddy, Ted, tried a couple glasses. He summed it up the best when he told me he couldnt taste it anywhere in his mouth except the back, right before it hit his throat.Ive been drinking a couple pints of so-called St. Helens Malted Ale a day anyway. Its almost grown on me, but not quite. I think what bothers me the most was that I might have actually screwed up somewhere along the lineprobably during the pressurization tests. Im not sure, however, because my roommate and I both tested the seals and the pressure, and everything was fine. When we added more CO2 later though, there appeared to be a leak, which might have ultimately accounted for the flatness of the beer. (I believe I added too much CO2 at one time, which wasnt a good move on my part and makes me look even more foolish than usual.) The coloration and taste, however, are still a mystery. Did someone mislabel the beer mix? Should it have read knock-off ale instead of pilsner? Did I just screw it up?Nobody will ever know. Theres still about two quarts of the stuff in my fridge, waiting for someone to come along and drink it. Im drinking it slowly but surely, so its not going to waste. Even a beer like St. Helens Malted Ale needs to be drunk.But, Lone Star it isnt.

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