A Curious History – Can brewing be traced to childhood ?

Each homebrewer has his reasons for homebrewing, but what he might not realize is that his hobby may have something to do with his past. No, I don’t mean reincarnation or hypnosis. I’m talking about something in the psyche that can slowly develop or be triggered by an ordinary event.
I grew up in Newark, N.J. in a section known as Ironbound, named after the surrounding railroad tracks. My school, St. Aloysius, was in a former office building of the P. Ballantine & Sons Brewery donated to the church to help give neighborhood kids an education. The brewery was in full production at the time. It is here that I feel my inner self has been guided to the art and science of homebrewing. I was almost like a barley grain getting ready to germinate.
At St. Al’s in the fifth grade, I developed a fondness for that pungent aroma wafting in the classroom through open windows on the spring air. I was ever so careful not to get caught watching the busy workers and the noisy cans go by on conveyors.
My daydreaming about all that activity prompted Sister Rita to send a note home to Mom. I also remember being chased by the workers as my friend showed me how to get the overhead doors to move using a crushed ale can and reflecting light on the electric eye sensors. The mystery of what went on there made it all the more interesting.
Well, a year later, in 1964, my family moved to the other end of the city to the area of the kinder and gentler aroma of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. It wasn’t until college, while the regular American pilsners were being consumed, that I got an education in Ballantine India Pale Ale. In comparison to what I was used to, it was absolutely amazing. A fondness was developing. I began wondering about ingredients and their effect on the taste and aroma of different beers.
Years later many hearts were saddened to hear of the closing of Ballantine’s plant. Rumor has it that 12 giant wooden tanks of IPA were destroyed as the brew in its prime washed into Newark Bay. Ouch! The new Falstaff product is good but only a faint hint of the original.
All the excitement peaked in 1986 when I brewed my first batch. It tasted great. Things have been constantly progressing as I try new techniques, although I’m still waiting for that noisy clanking sound of cans going by. I haven’t quite figured out that process yet. Progressing from extracts to all-grain is rewarding because I can actually tell the difference.
These days the beautiful aromas I create invoke faces on my children only Sister Rita could muster as she passed out our report cards. Because of that, brewing days start with the departure of the school bus. With proper ventilation of the house and kitchen, the air seems clear by the time the bus pulls up again at the end of the day.
“Dad, were you making beer again today?” I knew it was coming.
“Oh, why? Can you smell something?” I ask.
“No there’s a thermometer sticking out of your back pocket.”
Phew! Lately they admit it doesn’t smell “all that bad.” Maybe there’s a new generation of homebrewers in the making.
Sometimes I get the chance to visit the sites of my childhood memories. The packaging plant, warehouses, towers and brewing buildings are still there, although occupied by other businesses. As a firefighter, there are times I zip past the Anheuser-Busch plant in the summer to get that old scent, albeit ever slight.
Looking ahead, I’m curious to see if history will repeat itself, as my young ones get older.
These days I try to recreate that legendary IPA. I know that being close is good enough.
Some day when I read my hydrometer for the last time and the homebrew tanks run dry, I’ll sneak a peek out the window recalling the clanging and remember how the smell of malt and hops can ignite a passion that lasts a lifetime.*

*Featured in Brew Your Own magazine October 1998,Vol.4.No.10

You, too, can learn how to make beer! We love to drink quality brews and that can include the ones you make yourself. Give home brewing a try. Avoid the hassles and find out how to do it outdoors. Outdoorbrewing.com is here to guide you through the whole process. If you want to start out brewing and have no idea what it’s all about, check out the Beginner Brewing Series. It’s an easy to follow read that is written for the novice and describes the process as I tell you how it’s done. Once you start, you will get familiar with the procedures, do it your way and get experience as you chalk up the batches. Always read as much as you can and you will advance at your own pace. Check out my tips in the various articles, use them and give me some feedback. In brewing beer, we like others to try our creations. Take the criticism as being constructive and hone your skills.
Do it! Join in now! We’re waiting for the next generation to start up and take over. We’re not getting any younger and need you to step up to the brewhouse. Someone is going to have to make our beer! And it’s you!

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply