Sadly, I’m not a big beer drinker. And I say sadly, because I seem to be surrounded by people who really know and love their beer. My sister’s fiancé, Joel, is a brewer at the one and only Great Lakes Brewing Company, and my good friend, co-filmmaker, and current roommate, Alex, is experienced in the art of home brewing- he even took an online course. So between them it is as if I’ve been adopted into beer culture.
For the most part this has worked out well enough. They’ve been able to get past my comments such as “I think my favorite beer is Coors Ice- Coors Light poured over a big glass of ice,” and I’ve been able to ignore their Indiana Jones like reactions in beer shops to a rare “one of a kind” find. But this weekend a connection was made – I have now become a beer “forager.”
It all started a few years ago- Alex had discovered wild hops growing near Colorado Springs. He had seen it for a few years and after many smell tests found when it would be most ripe for harvest. It just happened to coincide with this past Saturday, so Alex, Maddy (Alex’s girlfriend), Dan (another beer advocate) and I hopped into the car.
We arrived at a familiar running spot, and started hiking up the road keeping our eyes peeled for what I perceived to be these “illusive” hops. On the way, I found my eyes (and mind) wandering away from the task at hand, to the crags and rock walls along the path, wondering which I could climb. I pointed an especially nasty looking one out to Dan, (an experienced climber) wondering if I’d be able to attempt the route while being securely roped up. Reading my mind he declared: “That’s about the limit of what I’d do without a rope!” Instantly I was in disbelief and awe for it was 100 feet of near vertical and overhanging rock. We continued on, me pondering Dan’s skill level and the rest of the group searching for the still undiscovered hops.
The trip was not without treasures. We did stumble upon a rare squirrel that looked like a cross between a bunny and the devil. We photographed the demon and moved on.
Throughout the search, I was completely ignorant to what hops looked like and imagined us gathering long stalks of brown wispy wheat-like plants. Our prospects weren’t looking too good until finally Alex spotted the “elusive” hop.
I could not have been more surprised. Rather than brown, tall and thin, it grows as a vine and has little buds ranging from ½ to 1 inch long. We smelled them and were mildly impressed but moved on to see if there were more.
BOOM- we found the bumper crop. A small pine tree was covered in them.
And despite the excitement of our find, I was still pondering Dan’s declaration about the rock climb, so before we reached the car I convinced Dan to try and “free solo” (climb unroped) his peak, except that I was horrified when he actually took up my challenge and started up. I thought my stupid dare was about to lead to the witness of my friend falling onto the sharp rocks below. Luckily, fear or reality got the better of him and he decided ascending in sandals sans rope was not the best plan.
The adventure continued as we drove way out east of the mountains to the plains. The homebrew store was a combination of a warehouse and bar. Across the street was a strip club. We entered the store and Alex and Dan rummaged around, selecting their special ingredients (malted barley extract, yeast) and tools (tubing, buckets). Alex and Dan already had much of the gear but after two batches of last year’s brew had resulted in explosions, Alex wanted new tubing to prevent another round of infection, which he speculated might have been caused by wild yeast entering the beer.
The owner rung us up and delighted in informing us that tax was only 4.7% – we were out of the city now where tax was 9.8%!
“Gotta love being right on the border” he joked. “But the winter was a drag, snow plow didn’t even plow the street.”
“But you gotta love that tax,” I told him, “hell, I bet you’ll put the plow on your truck and make your own path.”
He gave a hearty laugh, it appeared I hit the nail on the head. (I wondered if he had a deal with the strip club guy).
Fast-forward to the next day and our cottage was transformed into what could easily be mistaken for a meth lab. Tubes, and buckets everywhere with a big vat of wort (beer before it has fermented) on the stove.
Alex and Maddy did most of the actual brewing, while I hung around on the sidelines, watching in wonder. Now, after all the excitement and activity, for once I can honestly say that I’ve never been so excited to crack open a beer. I’ll let you know how it goes in 4 weeks!