• Several months ago I discovered the joys of brewing root beer at home. It’s fun. It’s just gently technical enough to require paying attention to what one is doing. It doesn’t cost that much. You get to buy neat toys.

    It is slightly easier – and more cost-efficient – to brew root beer in the late fall and winter. It is flat-smooth necessary to refrigerate your batch the day after you brew/bottle it. Brewers’ yeast operates quickly and deliciously to turn water, sugar, and different formulae of root beer flavoring into a glorious beverage that only intoxicates the tongue . . . not the brain.

    I know that because I brewed a late batch in the Spring. Just before a heat wave. I had been storing my brew in the shop, but the shop was no longer the temperature of the primordial cave . . . now it was the temperature of the Texas attached two-car garage. Damn. Now, I like the flavor of brewed yeast (and malted hops), and the flavor of hard root beer is, well, interesting, but there’s so damn much foam, it’s hardly worth it. So, after a dozen or so bottles, I gave it up as a lost cause.

    Today Kathryn asked me to help move one of her tables from her project room upstairs to the ostensible dining room downstairs. I use that word, because that’s what it’s been titled on the house plans; I don’t know that we’ve actually dined in there. (We’ve dinned often, but I don’t remember dining.) Under the existing folding table were two and a half cases (as in 24 bottles each) of petrified root beer. Those had to move first.

    Well, what a terrific opportunity to empty them, wash them, get them ready for winter’s brewing season . . .

    So I set the wine-cellar-dusty cases on the island in the kitchen, set up a five-gallon bucket on a waist-high stool for ergonomic efficiency, rattled around in a kitchen drawer for the church key, held the first bottle pretty much in the bucket, and popped the cap.

    Holy crap! That sonofabitch hurt!

    The bullet from a .45 caliber pistol has a muzzle velocity of 550 feet per second; this cap departed the lip of the bottle only marginally more slowly. It seriously smacked into my palm, which I had positioned to prevent any spewing root beer from splashing into the kitchen. Actually it blasted my thumb with the bottle cap and rang my eardrums with the “pop” of an M-16 set to single-round fire. My palm was recoiled just right to redirect the spew into my face, covering my glasses and ricocheting onto half the kitchen floor. General Swartzkopf’s “shock and awe” were present in my kitchen.

    Well. Damn.


    So I repeated the exercise with the second bottle.

    And got the same results.

    And a mop to clean the floor before I tracked it all over the house.
    And I rinsed and dried my glasses.
    And I blotted the root beer from the dome of my head.

    On the back porch, I opened bottle number three . . . maybe if I open them slowly the pressure will bleed off and it won’t smack my hand.

    Actually the pressure bleeds off by ejecting thoroughly fermented root beer into and out of the bucket, and, again, into my face and all over my shirt. Not all that slowly, I might add.

    So, since it’s gonna be that way, I figure the best way is to hook the tang of the church key under the crimped edge of the cap and just flip it loose with a twist of the wrist. And that actually works pretty good. (I know, as an English teacher, it should be “rather well,” but I’m a Texan, and “pretty good” is as good as it’s going to get right here.) More than 90% of the root beer actually went into the bucket and stayed there.

    After a dozen or so shots, the yappy little dogs next door and across the alley start commenting on my activity. The hell with them. And the neighbors they leashed in with. About two dozen bottles at a time is all the root beer a five-gallon bucket can hold . . . did I mention the foam? Better than Barb-a-Sol. It dies down after ten minutes or so, and you can open more bottles.

    My back porch sounded for a while like a gun range backed up to a kennel.

    But it sure smelled good.

    Life is good, y’all.