Around the bend: Home brewing leads to ‘ale-itism’
This winter, I made my first batch of home-brewed beer. I only wish I had done it sooner.
Until a few months ago, I never thought of beer as something you could make yourself. Then I heard a radio show about home brewing and learned that (a) beer does not, as I had always vaguely assumed, come directly from some stream in Latrobe, Pa., and (b) making your own beer is a relatively simple process, requiring little equipment and only a few ingredients.
I am notorious for engaging in time-consuming ways to make things that are readily available in finished form at any supermarket. So why not beer?
As it turned out, the hardest part of the process was breaking into the ranks of home brewers, an educated but insufferable bunch. They look down on inexperienced brewers. They dismiss all commercial beers, even award-winning craft brews, as barely drinkable. And they outright gag at the mere mention of any beer that has ever appeared in a Super Bowl commercial.
They’re beer snobs.
The first beer snob I met was the proprietor of the home brew supply store I called to place an order. When I mentioned this was my first time making beer, he turned immediately hostile. He seemed to find me, an ignorant outsider, unworthy of his infinite knowledge and extensive inventory.
“For my fermenting bucket, should I get the 5-gallon or 6-gallon?” I asked.
“That’s up to you,” he said.
“Um, then I guess I’ll take the 5-gallon.”
“Seriously? OK, fine, it’s your money.”
We played this game for several minutes, with him refusing to give me advice but disparaging everything I considered ordering. I couldn’t figure him out.
I wondered if maybe there was some secret beer snob password I had to guess before he’d do business with me. So I started shouting random words, like “Constantinople!” and “Glockenspiel!”
The tactic worked indirectly; it threw him off just long enough that he accidentally let slip the basics of what I would need. I then yelled, “Kumquat!” triggering in him a moment of confusion during which he inadvertently took my credit card number and confirmed my order.
I now know I shouldn’t have taken his attitude personally. Almost all the home brewers I’ve met are card-carrying members of the Beer Snobs of America club. I encountered their disdain through every step of the brewing process.
They questioned the quality of yeast and variety of hops I selected. They shook their heads at the style of bottle capper I bought. They even rolled their eyes at the brand of sanitizer I used to clean my bottles.
At one point I mentioned my plan to design some cute labels with a catchy beer name, like “Jessie’s ‘Give ’Em Ale’ Home Brew.” The beer snob I work with blanched when he heard this.
He said home brewers don’t trivialize their product with labels. At most, he said, they scribble the date on the bottle caps using a Sharpie, so as not to appear too eager. (Though home brewers may obsess about every tiny variable in the brewing process, they apparently don’t want the world to know just how uptight they are.)
In spite of the legion of beer snobs working against me, I somehow managed to turn out a fantastic batch of beer. My unlabeled (but secretly cutesy-titled) ale is a beautiful amber color. It has a nicely balanced, mildly hopped flavor, and it goes down smooth. It’s possibly the best beer I’ve ever had, although I know any beer snob who tried it would take a sip, shrug and declare it “passable, but inferior” to their own brand.
I don’t care. Now that I have some confidence in my beer making, I can’t wait to make more. Before you know it, I’ll be using beer terms like “wort” and “dry hopping,” talking earnestly about the pros and cons of secondary fermentation, and analyzing hydrometer readings like a pro.
I encourage anyone who likes good beer to give home brewing a try; it’s easier than you think. And if you need any pointers on getting started, feel free to give me a call.
But call soon, while I’m still new at this. My Beer Snobs of America membership card could be arriving any day.