[Editor’s note: For this week’s essay we’ve once again pulled out a relic from the archive of Slim Goodbuzz, who served as Duluth’s “booze connoisseur” from 1999 to 2009. Twenty years ago the Sultan of Sot spent an afternoon obstructing someone’s homebrewing plans and wrote the article below for the Dec. 25, 2002 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper.]
It all started about two months ago, when my neighbor came pounding on my door with a bunch of little pumpkins in his arms. By his report, the pumpkins had sprouted up without being planted, putting him in the unexpected position of having to come up with a use for them.
You see, my neighbor is a go-getter. He’s one of those people who actually mows his lawn, trims his hedges and shovels his sidewalk. He’s the kind of person who notices when pumpkins spring up on his property.
“Look at them. Just look at them. I didn’t even plant any seeds,” he raved to me in astonishment, as if he was holding eight little baby Jesuses birthed from the Virgin Mary’s garden. “What do you think I should do with these?”
“Make beer,” I responded, as if the answer wasn’t obvious.
“You can make beer out of pumpkins?”
“You can make beer out of anything but a rock.”
“Well, then I’ll make some pumpkin beer.”
I immediately offered to help, knowing that the go-getter would do all the work and I could do all the drinking. As the days and weeks went by, however, there were no more knocks at my door. That crazy cookbook-collecting wife of his must have talked him into pumpkin pie, I thought.
Then, suddenly, this morning, at the ungodly hour of 10 a.m., my neighbor returned to beat on my door. It turns out he’d spent the past two months reading up on brewing, and even traveled to the Twin Cities to get the fine materials needed for an all-grain pumpkin ale. And so, tired, bedraggled and badly in need of a breakfast beer, I head over to his place to learn just what the brewing process involves.
It turns out that making beer is a lot like washing dishes. Both experiences involve ceaseless scrubbing and rinsing, and both require you to play Black Sabbath at high volume. You have to play the Sabbath to keep in touch with all the machismo you lose while tediously sanitizing everything in sight. You’d think that in a manly process like making beer, a guy could (and should) wipe off pots and pans with the sleeve of his flannel shirt. If some tobacco spit gets in the wort, so be it. But, unfortunately, it’s really important that everything is as clean as possible when making beer. If it isn’t, you don’t end up with beer, you end up with skunk poison.
Quickly, we decide on a division of labor. My neighbor will run the show, sterilizing everything and making sure everything goes according to plan. His friend, Tom the Pilot, will take measurements and help with the heavy lifting. I will lean against the refrigerator, drink Summit and mouth off.
See, the best part about making beer is that you have to drink beer while you make it. “It takes beer to make beer,” is the ancient brewmaster’s proverb. And, it turns out, it takes a lot more beer than you’d imagine. From start to finish, this is going to be an all-day process. Always the planner, my neighbor calls up his brother-in-law and invites him over, instructing him to make a stop at Last Chance Liquor.
The whole kitchen smells great. Pumpkins are roasting in the oven, a big sack of malted barley is sitting on the counter along with the spices we will add to the concoction later. My neighbor and Tom the Pilot busily scour their hearts out, stopping every five minutes or so to wrestle with my neighbor’s two apparently sanitary dogs.
The brother-in-law shows up with wild tales about the Last Chance Liquor morning scene. “There were drunk people there!” he says, apparently not noticing the state of affairs here in the kitchen. “And it’s not even noon! The whole place reeked like peppermint schnapps!” He’s so excited that it takes a while for me to notice what he’s brought — one lousy 12-pack of Great Northern Porter for the four of us. This should last about 30 to 40 seconds. We gratefully accept the 12-pack, then turn him around to fetch more.
“And get us a bottle washer,” my neighbor adds. “It’s a little brass thing that you screw on the faucet to make extreme water pressure.”
“We don’t need it for bottles,” I add. “We just want to rinse out our colons.”
When the brother-in-law takes off, it’s time to start the mash — cooking the grain to make a syrupy extract. This is supposed to be done at a very precise temperature or something. To tell you the truth, I don’t pay much attention. It turns out my neighbor has cable, and there’s a Pee Wee Herman special on.
Eventually, brother-in-law returns, this time with a case of warm Huber Bock. And he’s even more ecstatic than when he left. “You should have seen it this time! There were three middle-aged women wearing sequined jackets and tiaras!”
Back in the kitchen, my neighbor is now using a rubber tube to drain the diarrhea-colored beer-to-be from one big white pail into another. The whole setup looks like some sort of Mexican public bath system.
Tom the Pilot, surprised to see me away from the television and back in the kitchen, decides to point out that I haven’t been fulfilling my mouthing-off duties.
So, back to work I go. “OK, two testicles and a fart walk into a bar…”
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