Those who read this blog will note (if you even come by anymore!) that there has been a dearth of posts for the past year. I've been busy and frankly, have too much to do to post my thoughts in a blog these days. I did experience some special moments lately though that prompted me to write the following. If you read it and find that it may describe some similar feelings you may have with regard to beer and brewing, I would appreciate a response. Life takes us all on many different journeys but our common humanity never ceases to surprise me. There really is no new thing under the sun, as the Preacher sayeth. Merry Christmas to all!
In July, 2000, I began homebrewing. My wife bought the kit for me as a present from my sons, Michael and Andrew. It has been the greatest hobby I could have imagined. I've made so many great beers and so many great friends through this hobby, I really can't properly explain the joys it has given me and the gratitude I have for my wife for buying the kit that started it all on Father's Day of that year. I had brewed 19 beers by January 2nd, 2002. I brewed a kit beer that day from Things Beer. It was an English Barley Wine Ale called "Bear Ass Barley Wine". Original gravity was 1.118. Seven ounces of hops in five gallons of beer, it was a dark, heavy monster of a beer and I really enjoyed it. I doled it out on special occasions and saved as much as was humanly possible of that woefully small, five gallon batch until-in summer of 2004- I had only one bottle of it left.
Then disaster struck my family. My oldest son Michael, just out of High School, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He underwent a year of treatment and cleared the hurdles making him "cancer-free". I told him I would save that bottle of beer so we could share it five years down the road when he had been the obligatory five years cancer-free. Things being busy as they often are, the deadline came and went, and the Barley Wine sat on the shelf in my basement.
A couple of months ago Michael went to see about some pain he had in his neck and was told there was a growth in his thyroid. Immediately, all of the cancer fears came back! Extreme fear and paranoia gripped us all as we worried about the return of this killer to our home. I went to the doctor for a checkup and after several trips for follow-ups and specialist visits was told I had prostate cancer!
The lone bottle of Bear Ass Barley Wine sat patiently on the shelf.
Today, we went to the oncologist's office so he could give us his reading of the PET Scan Michael had a week ago. PET Scans are very expensive tests which show the presence of cancer cells in the body. We received the best news possible from Dr. Bikina: no cancer was found at all!
I decided on the drive home that we should celebrate the good news. I asked Michael if he felt like sharing the Barley Wine with me and he agreed it was the perfect occasion. We decided to toast that good fortune while we were thinking of it and were positive in our outlooks. I rushed downstairs to the cool basement and picked the bottle off the shelf, literally brushing off cobwebs in the process.
Now, I have brewed about seventy beers since I made that Barley Wine Ale back in 2002, and I really didn't know what to expect. I was a novice brewer and a novice taster of beers at the time. I do remember thinking it was something quite special (but, frankly, my family can tell you that I think that of most of my beers!). I cracked the bottle and there was no noise at all. I remember it being lightly carbonated when it was fresh but it was not carbonated now...Still, perhaps it tasted good. I poured it off into two Sam Adams glasses for Michael and me. A quick swirl and a sniff told me I wouldn't be disappointed!
The beer was very dark brown but could still be said to be very clear. The yeast cake at the bottom of the bottle was solid and did not move as I poured off the second glass and emptied the contents of the bottle. There were definite ruby-red highlights in the nominally brown beer. Holding it up to the lights, it was possible to see that the beer was clear but not quite possible to see through it.
It smelled very "sherry-like" at first, then a distinct black cherry aroma came through. Coffee and chocolate rounded out the smells that hinted at my first sip. No hops were noticeable in the nose. The first sip was loaded with sherry notes combined with a strong character of stone fruits. Black and tart cherries came most to mind, though plums would not be a bad description, either. There was a definite sweetness to this very strong beer (it finished at 1.028 in specific gravity), though it was decidedly tart in the finish. To round out the flavor profile of this complex beer, a very smooth and flavorful coffee and semi-sweet chocolate character emerged in the warming. I also detected a satisfying crisp, nutty finish.
Michael said it was the most complex beer he'd ever tasted. I can't in all honestly say that, myself (the beers and the years are piled much too high for me, in that regard) but it certainly was a special moment for us both. Andrew tried a taste and agreed it was most delicious. My wife, smelled it and passed on the tasting, shaking her head at the overblown importance we placed on the flavors and nuances of something so mundane as a beer(even a nearly nine year old beer!).
Oh, she "gets it". She's tried many a micro- and homebrew and has a pretty darned good palate for the stuff. It just isn't her passion, as it is mine. And that's fine. She knows that it's not the beer or even the appreciation of it that makes this enjoyable for me. It's always about the sharing and the camaraderie that beer brings.
I believe the prostate cancer was caught very early and will be completely excised in my upcoming operation. Michael has something going on in his thyroid that will need attention but at least it's not cancer. We have our share of health and family issues to deal with like most everyone else, I'm sure. Those things can be put aside for the Holiday season, to make way for happier times, with the "C" word (mostly) out of the picture. As I await my surgery in January, and enjoy a festive Christmas season with family and friends, I contemplate these things that make us happy and content. A warm house and family and friends enjoying laughs and conversation with a craft brewed beer or a cup of eggnog seems simple but combined they create the warm memories that we cherish through the years. It's the family and friends that really make these moments special. Still, mine will probably always include a beer...