Off to Quaff

Thursday, February 03, 2005

A hobby I'm itching to start in earnest soon is home brewing. I have everything I need to start but time, which will remain in short supply for another few weeks. In the meantime, I've joined a home brewing club, which has turned out to be a really fun group of people. We meet once a month to conduct club business, which (oddly enough) includes sampling several examples of a different style of beer. (Follow that link to get an idea of how many styles there are!) I've been in the club for something like a year now, and have gotten to watch other members brew. A few months ago, I finally got most of the equipment I need, adding a small refrigerator from the in-laws after Christmas. All I need now is an external thermostat for the fridge, ingredients, a recipe, and, in the words of Bilbo Baggins ... Time! A free Saturday morning at some point in the next couple of months will see the launch my career as a home brewer.

Beer has come of age in the United States since Jimmy Carter made the single worthwhile decision of his presidency: to legalize home brewing. Since then, interest in home brewing has mushroomed and our nation's once-great brewing industry has finally begun to bounce back from the ravages of prohibition. As far as I was concerned, there was no such thing as beer in this country until microbrews and the better imports became widely available. In fact, I refused to drink beer at all until I attended college for a semester in Europe and finally had the real thing. To this day I refuse to drink the mildly alcoholic, diuretic soft dr-- I mean, tasteless lagers -- marketed as "beer" by the major big brewers. What would be the point? Believe me, I can wait for my next visit to the water closet. (And before you write me to tell me why you like Bud, this is my personal taste talking. And your words will only evoke pity anyway. Heh!)

Some home brewers have become professionals, like fellow Rice alumni Brock Wagner and Kevin Bartol, who started Houston's own St. Arnold Brewing Company. They make some of my favorite beer, and since they give tours every weekend at the brewery, I have a place to take out-of-town guests. I know the tour is good and I certainly don't mind revisiting the brewery from time to time. Their newest non-seasonal, Elissa, is superb and is my favorite India pale ale. This is high praise from someone who usually favors the various Belgian styles, stouts, and barley wines. This Christmas, I planned to get some of this for my brothers, fans of the brewery since a visit here several years ago, but everyone else apparently had a similar plan: the distributor ran out and there was none to be found!

Speaking of favorite beers, I just remembered that I wanted to blog my first (very succinct) beer review before I forgot it. Awhile back, I had my first Russian imperial stout, Czar, by the Avery Brewing Company. Talk about what, for me, was a best-of-breed beer! My short, sweet, and immediate review was this: "The iron fist of the alcohol is felt through the velvet glove of the mouthfeel." Perhaps the great beer critic Michael Jackson would approve! (Hmmm. I haven't been to that site in awhile. To look at it, he needs new material.... Eh! Go through it anyway. The man is a superb writer and conveys beautifully the pleasure to be had from a good beer.)

There is a huge variety of beer styles, which lends a sense of adventure to the enterprise of exploring beer. Beer, as beer should be made, isn't something to get drunk from, but to savor and appreciate with food, good conversation, or as a part of almost any other occasion. As Michael Jackson puts it:

Even if you want nothing more than simple refreshment, you could do much better than the familiar Foster's, Corona, American Bud, Carling, Heineken, Grolsch, Beck's and similar international-style golden lagers from Ruritania, Xanadu or Bongoland. People imagine that these beers are enormously different from one another, but they are all lighter-bodied, blander-tasting, distant impersonations of just one style: the Pilsner lager of Bohemia. None of these imitators is truly individualistic.

Far more refreshment is offered by the yeasty, fruity, acidity of a German-style wheat beer (identified on the label by the words Weizen, Weisse or Weissbier), easy to find in a supermarket but rarer in the pub. Or a more readily available, citric-tasting, pale "white" Belgian wheat beer like Hoegaarden. Or, if you can find it, a tingly, sweet-and-sour, oak-aged Flemish ale such as Rodenbach.

The quenching of thirst is not the main business of the pub. We often claim to be thirsty when we feel like a drink after work, but our real need is for relaxation and sociability.

Beautifully put! This is why I like a good pint, and why I steadfastly refused the bad ones of my youth.

-- CAV

PS (added 2-4-05) -- (1) Reader Raymund points out below that Carter also deregulated the airlines. I guess he was one good idea short of a hat trick! Thanks for pointing that out!

(2) I got carried away with my enthusiasm for beer and forgot to mention that I was heading out to meet with the brew club! My title might seem a bit odd without that!


2-4-05 Added a couple of notes as PS.


Unknown said...

Ah yes, the divine Michael Jackson (as opposed to the banal witch of the west who flies by that name)! Besides the beer reviews, also check out Michael Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch when you're in the market for another kind of fine drink.

Martin Lindeskog said...


I am on a secret beer mission...

Have you tested Nutfield's Black 47 Stout?

All the Best,


Anonymous said...

While I think Jimmy Carter is one of the worst presidents in US history (his fecklessness after the embassy was stormed in Teheran was the first domino to fall on the way to 11 Sept 2001), he made one other worthwhile decision--airline deregulation.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks, Martin, for the beer recommendation! I haven't encountered the stout you mentioned and look forward to trying it.

As for Adrian's mention of Jackson as a Scotch critic, I was already aware of that, and based on what I have found to be his inerrant taste in beer, I plan to do just what you suggest. (Come to think of it, this would be a good gift for my uncle.)

Finally, though we hate to admit Carter did anything right, we must give credit where credit is due. Thanks for pointing out Carter's deregulation of the airlines. Where would I be without Southwest over the holidays?

Galileo Blogs said...

Besides the airlines, Carter also partially deregulated railroads and trucking.

So, he did a hat trick plus a bonus goal! (I concur with your applauding Carter for his legalization of home brewing. Anything that can advance the art of making a fine beer is an essential element of being civilized, in my view.)

As for airline deregulation, I would give the real credit to the persistence of Alfred Kahn, who chaired the Civil Aeronautics Board before he successfully petitioned to have it abolished! He is not an advocate of laissez-faire, but he did make an effective case for deregulation of the airlines. Without his persistence, Carter would have left the airlines as they were.

Link on Alfred Kahn:

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you for the interesting link and the further info.

Between all this, President Bush, and the current field of Presidential candidates, Carter is in serious danger of losing his place as America's worst President.