Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Personal / Stories / pk by Age / FLEX Net Years /
2006 05 31
This module will recount my serving my home brew to an old beer-drinking buddy around 1970, so that’s where I’ll locate it among the chronological of my personal stories: though actually I think I’ll also talk about beer in general and perhaps also introduce my buddy in particular.
I think I remember sampling beer, my face in the foam, in very early childhood. I very definitely remember getting sick as hell from helping myself to my father’s lo-ball as a toddler. I’m certain that I was fifteen the first time I ever opened the ice box and popped a brew for myself: my mother wasn’t home, I was thirsty, and one can of Ballentine ale was all that the fridge held. I distinctly remember being barely able to finish it. Within months of that incident my friends were all downing brews to beat the band. Our bellies would rapidly expand so that a six pack wouldn’t fill them. By age sixteen our beer parties also accommodated rye and scotch whiskies, by seventeen some were snooty about gin. The football hero a year ahead of me ran over people like a truck when he was sixteen. By the time he was seventeen his beer belly wouldn’t let him see past his knee. The medium is the message and my medium was devotedly alcoholic.
It wasn’t until I was teaching college though that I became exposed to home brewing. The Colby College faculty, certainly the English Department, was replete with Thoreau wannabees (among whom, at that time, I was not one). But I was a beer drinker. More than a few of the teachers in the English Department, the Art Department too, come to think of it, brewed their own. Several who didn’t, talked about it. And my best skiing buddy, Dr. Kueter of the German Department, not only brewed his own but bragged that his new digs had fine pure well water. Hubie was willing to show me: I became anxious to see.
I watched Hubie start a six gallon batch, using mail-order materials from Oregon. I mailed off my own order. I just had city water, and no cool basement, but what the hell, I was in Maine: a rather coolish state.
Competitive breweries go to considerable expense to condition their water (brewer’s liquor) and to control their brewing environment. Temperature counts. But I’ll skip ahead and confess that even in super-heated New York apartments which could nearly cook the beer while it was brewing, I still got very drinkable results.
OK, jump to the story. Back in the Apple I run into my old high school friend. Hey, you oughta try my home brew.
Hilary, young bk, and I are back in her old apartment on Riverside Drive at 116th Street. Brian Carey arrives for the evening, his moustache and beard fully suiting the Lotus Élan he’d left parked below. I seat him at the table. I proceed with my ritual.
I produce two chilled German steins from the freezer, the kind with the hinged pewter lids. I’ve also cooled the table centerpiece, our home-crafted clay pitcher, kilned by one of the Colby art-wives to a beautiful blue-gray glaze. I select one of the 26 ounce (Coke) bottles of my home brew from the refrigerator, careful not to jostle it: you don’t want the yeast sediment clouding the beer (and giving you the trots).
Brian watches. I decant the brew into the pitcher. I’m steady enough of hand that the last bit of clear beer is nearly decanted before the first bit of sediment nears the precipice of the lip of the bottle. I allow not more than a micron of dead bottom-yeast to pollute the pitcher. Ah: look at that head! The pitcher is topped by several inches of foam. I lift the pitcher and fill Brian’s mug, then my own. I sit.
Brian allows the rigamarole without comment. He lifts his stein to his lips, tastes. His gorgeous red beard twitches no more than the expression on his face changes: carefully controlled. No comment.
A disaster. He hates it. Oh well. I like it. I drink my brew.
Minutes pass, in silence, before Brian again reaches for his stein. This time his expression is less rigid. I can see him tasting the foam, the liquid, tasting the air around it … quick-smacking his lips like a guppy, a moue of annoyance around his lips.
Pause. “Interesting,” he pronounces.
Yes. All tastes are acquired. (Is a taste even for mother’s milk natural note? Hard to tell.) No one likes beer at first: and even once we singlehandedly support Budweiser, what do we think of our first sip of Guinness? of Becks? of Berlinerweisser? And I make no claim that the best of my home brews were ever Guinness, or Becks, or Berlinerweisser. My beer was very hoppy. Very clear, clear as Miller’s. Not too too alcoholic. I used a hydrometer: I controlled the final alcohol content (and had few to no exploding bottles). I made mine a little stronger than the commercial beers but only a little. This was not malt sherry, you wouldn’t be paralyzed by your second glass. Furthermore, my brew was NOT pasteurized. It contained living yeast, however careful I was to leave the sediment undisturbed while decanting. (Hell, the guys from the Colby Art Department drank their home brew right from the individual bottle, sediment mixing in with every swig.) SOME yeast still lives in the beer, and until your guts become accustomed to it, yai, what a stool-loosener. (My beloved Catherine‘s old age might have been far more comfortable had I been able to feed her some home brew.)
More minutes passed before Brian took his third sip. After that though he finished his first stein at something closer to a normal pace. “May I have another?” he asked.
Over the following hours the two of us finished off a case of the 26 ounce bottles. We were roaring drunk. Even so, he was alert enough not to let me drive his Élan. He did though take me sideways through the insane hairpin turn which defines the north edge of Grant’s Tomb. Then he dropped me back at 116th and vroomed off. I know he survived because I’d still run into him over the years. Indeed, in 1979 my art gallery was directly across the street from his bar. (He wasn’t the owner, but did have an interest.) West and East corners of West Broadway at Spring Street.
I loved brewing: except for one thing: sterilizing the bottles by hand. Going primitive has its drawbacks as well as its pleasures.
First I got all my ingredients from Oregon; finally I wound up buying everything I needed from the Milan Laboratories. (Wouldn’t you know it? It was on Spring Street, just off West Broadway.)
Now there was a great old fashioned enterprise. They specialized in doctoring the wine efforts of Little Italy locals, but also sold beer equipment, malt, hops … and spices! Eventually I bought all my spices from Milan Laboratories. Many a New Yorker know that business only because someone in the family kept a quality telescope available to the public on a stand on the sidewalk. Days you could get a much enlarged gander at the World Trade Center. What a shame the old owners ever had to die. The sons took over, jettisoned the wine doctoring, had a Cain and Abel war, divided the store, sold little tourist crap, went kaput.
Germany Survival Bible
The inspiration for my getting to this story this morning was a fabulous series from Spiegel Online: specifically the beer part of their Germany Survival Bible. You want to know the difference between lager, Pilsner, ale, dunkel, hells … beers? Go to that beer link and enjoy.
I have only one experience of wine making: also from that period. I ordered a wine kit from Oregon, the makings for four gallons. (For beer I typically brewed the same six gallons as Hubie: inverted my sugar too (reducing it to glucose).) The wine story is funny enough itself.
For your first batch of anything, you must be patient: like horticulture, like fishing … You have to be ready to bottle when the wort is ready, then you have to be ready to let it age. Oregon said that my wine would be drinkable in a couple of months. I believed the instructions.
With great eagerness I unstoppered the first bottle. It was awful. I’ve seldom tasted a worse wine. (We were in Hilary’s mother’s big NY apartment for the year Etta had been transferred by the UN to Geneva. Etta wanted her place looked after. Why not? We enjoyed the vast extra space.) Calvinist to the core, waste a sin, I suffered through the remaining bottles. Hilary never had sip number two of my beer, Hilary never had sip number two of that wine either.
I drank that damn wine down to the last bottle. That is, I forced myself to drink all but the last bottle. That single (26 ounce Coke) bottle of wine then got transferred back to 116th Street, then to 103rd Street: the FLEX pad. Years are passing. Finally I decided to rid my closet of that last Coke bottle of my poor wretched wine. I was dining alone. I popper the top: like by beer, my wine bottles were capped, not corked. I decanted. I sipped.
My knees buckled. Sitting in my captain’s chair, my knees still buckled! That wine was glorious! That wine was great! That wine was as fine as any I’ve ever tasted!
It needed to age! That’s all. I would have let the whole four gallons age if only Oregon had given me the correct, patient, instructions.
Now: that was pk’s first and only attempt at wine making. Yet, in time, I had a gourmet result! (Gourmet, by the way, means having a fine appreciation for fine wine and fine food. If you just love fine dining and don’t care about the wine, then you are a gourmand, not a gourmet.) (Thus, now-teetotalling pk is a gourmand. I haven’t been a gourmet since high school: all that beer, all those martinis, making me indifferent to the red stuff. At sixteen I could tell a Medoc from a Saint Émillion. At eighteen I could still tell a Schaefer from a Rheingold. But keep pouring down the booze and after a while you can’t find your ass with both hands.)
Imagine how good a product could be made with environmental controls, no budget problems, your choice of ingredients, expertise consult-able … But I swear, whatever you spend, in a store, you will never taste any wine better than that last bottle of mine. Am I deluded? Or is mass-marketing compromising us? I vote for the latter. You want the great baker’s bread from his home kitchen; not from his factory.
A decade or so ago I read a consultancy handbook that told a funny story to the point. Gal is famous for her bread. People beg her to put in on the market. She does. Great success, rapid expansion. Soon her bread is no better than anything else in the stores. Still, it’s business. Personnel executive interviews eager beaver for quality control. Applicant says first thing he’d do would be to make good bread instead of crap. Exec hires him. By the way, the kid asks, What did you do before you became head of Personnel? I was the head of Quality Control.
The kid would learn soon enough: sell a lot of bread, sell a lot of crap. The problem isn’t in the personnel; the problem is in the scale of the enterprise. Back in the 1950s when the smart thing to do was to make fun of shitty American cars, my very smart friend said that Detroit had engineers just as good as German engineers, that Rheingold had brewmeisters just as knowledgeable as any in Germany, England, Ireland … That wasn’t the problem. In fact, he said, Budweiser DID make great beer: in small quantities: and the executives drank it themselves. The father of that friend could, when he wanted to, serve Scotch to make you happy to die. He’d buy the entire production of some little distillery in Scotland: their whole year’s output! They didn’t have to label it, worry about marketing, blend it with something … Everything went into the quality.
In the same vein: a few years ago I grew my own tomato plants. The tomatoes were tiny. Oh, but the taste! The nourishment! Not is a century has a store sold such a tomato!
Brian Carey has been mentioned a few times at K. I shall now begin to coordinate those mentions, few of which may previously have named him.
In high school I settled into a single bunch of regular friends. I came to see that cliques formed by gender, by ethnicity, and by class. My clique was the upper crust male Protestants. We could be friends with a Jew, but they weren’t in the clique. We could go to the movies with the son of an Italian laborer; but they weren’t in the clique. And absolutely no girls. There may have been more than one male Protestant upper-crust clique, there may have been more than one male Jewish upper-crust clique. There were a lot of Jews in Rockville Centre: if not 50/50, then 60/40. Guys who expected to own a gas station drank in one bar, we, expecting to be engineers, doctors, lawyers, executives at least, drank in a different bar. Anyway, I’ve got my group.
One day one of my best friends excitedly says that he’s met some new guy in town, we have to invite him to a party. That was Brian Carey. He’d been kicked out of his school in New England for stealing a car. His parents had moved to put him in a new environment, give him a clean start. His father was a fancy engineer: in charge of building Kennedy Airport as a matter of fact (though it wouldn’t be called “Kennedy” for another several years yet). Brian was a year behind us in the school, but we adopted him with relish. (Hell, two in our clique were age-odd anyway: Roger was the class ahead of us, Dick was older but still in our class: with his younger brother Charlie.) (Sometimes Dick was my best friend: handy, cause he could drive at night way ahead of the rest of us, was the first to have his own car …) So Brian becomes a regular at our beer parties.
Then we all go off to college (except Roger): leaving Brian still in high school. The following year Brian goes off to Notre Dame.
I’m home for Christmas holidays. I happen to glance out one of the front bedroom windows and see a bearded guy walking up the walk. Hey, it’s Brian. The beard can’t fool me, I know him well. Unmistakable walk, bearing … shoulders, shape of the skull … Brian has been kicked out of Notre Dame. Or suspended. They want him to take time off, to mature.
Nonsense. You have to know the story.
Brian was studying architecture. His design prof raised an important question: Can a building be designed to be burglar proof? It’s the same question as Can a locksmith design an unpickable lock? Brian and his South Bend drinking buddy took the position that any building designed to be burglar proof should be enterable by any other architect: if he’s smart enough. Some other locksmith should be able to figure out how to pick the locksmith’s lock. Brian and friend decided to prove their belief by making an appearance within the just opened burglarproof dormitory at Saint Mary’s College, after hours. He and his buddy sat in the bar, no blueprints available to them, but imagined Well, the dorm has to have air conditioning, doesn’t it?
So they found the air conditioning system, unbolted their way in, stuck their heads out of a vent into the third floor hallway, said “Hi,” and evacuated.
Now: did Brian and cohort get a special prize for their design class? No. The nuns at Saint Mary’s threatened the girls with excommunication as well as hell fire if they didn’t rat: ID the perps. Girls are not famous for their spunk, they ratted.
So Brian moves into the Apple with me: in my famous junkie pad. (I didn’t know any better than the cops that it was a junkie pad.) He thinks he’ll skip returning to Notre Dame. He can get an architects license after seven years working for an architecture firm: only a couple of years longer than the architecture course, and he’ll be making money instead of spending it. Sounds reasonable to me.
Brian designed that famous bar on West Broadway and Spring by the way.
Living with me, Brian infected me with his Frank Lloyd Wright mania. Now I already liked Wright, but it wasn’t an obsession. Brian and I decided to employ his South Bend strategy to visit the Guggenheim museum as it was being constructed. We didn’t have to find the air conditioning though: the door was open.
I hope the visitor is familiar with my deschooling attitudes and my role in trying to deschool the world. Institutions typically betray their charter, schools punish initiative, wouldn’t know intelligence if it bit them on the coo. In this world the Yahoos rule: rule by Yahoos, for Yahoos. In a better world, Saint Mary’s would have a plague commemorating Brian’s demonstration of the dorm’s vulnerability. And NYU would have a statue of me.
Talking about Carey here I should confess that we had not remained good friends: hadn’t been close: for a decade already before I invited him over for my beer. I once came onto a girl he’d regarded as his. I’d known he had seen her, but I hadn’t thought of them as together. So I feel only a little shame over that incident. (Also: I’d been drunk as well as horny. That’s no excuse, but it does explain a bit. I’m really not sure what I should have been aware of.)
But there had been another incident as well that I do feel enormous shame for: but that should be told in its own module. coming soon. In any event, I never stopped liking Brian; he did stop liking me.
More Carey stories have occurred to me since I scribbled the above. Who knows how many I’ll wind up telling in this or related modules? One I’ll mention now, with no time for details:
Brian Carey was shown, looking damn good, in a movie that played in more than a few decent theaters. Given time, I could ID the film maker, and probably the name of the film: “East Village,” Experimental …
Brian inherited from me my addiction to the White Horse Tavern. He became even more of a fixture there than I was: at his own table with his own friends. (He was directly into the Celtic side of things: owned by a German or not, The White Horse was clearly a Celtic bar in terms of clientele: Scots, Irish, Welsh, Breton …) Brian fit right into Tom Clancy’s table as the Clancy Brothers assembled from around the world there, adding extra voices to Tom’s long-familiar solo.
Next thing I know Brian is living half a block from the White Horse, on Perry Street, just off Hudson, the very next block south. He’d taken up with a waitress from the Lion’s Head.
(That too felt half-inherited from me. When Carey roomed with me on Morningside Heights, my “girl friend” (never invited, never not around) had blond hair down past her cute round bottom. Now this waitress, the Lions Head at Hudson and Perry, the Whitehorse at Hudson and 11th, has straight fair hair arrowing for the carpet well past her waist: well past.
So I’m sitting in a theater to see a Godard movie or something. Some weirdo local movie has been thrown in to add a second title to the bill. And there, all of a sudden, is Brian and his waitress roommate, both dressed to the nines, she in high heels, Brian with a tweed jacket AND a vest, are sauntering around Washington Square Circle, attending one of the regular weekend folk assemblies, going on since before I knew the square, going on since Woody Guthrie … Ah, but this is the 1960s: and cops are everywhere to beat up anything with hair. Brian, well dressed or not, had his magnificent auburn Celtic beard, the girl had blond-blond-blond hair, but to the pavement.
So there it is on film. Brian Carey being whacked by the cops’ billy clubs. And here the Irish thought that behavior had been left in Ireland! or left at the Five Corners, with Boss Tweed.
Years later there was still a word here, a word there, that the city might pay up, give the beating victim subway fare.
All tastes are acquired:
My one time belief is now contradicted by new science. See the article Study shows taste for meat and fish inherited. Ah, but then my former belief had been contradicted by my still earlier belief!