Our First Attempts
Production - Good Times!
Dealing with Being Burned Out
Homebrewmaster Survivors Certificate
Here I sit at my personal computer. On the wall beside me is my framed Homebrewmaster certificate (more of this later), in the kitchen one batch of stout is starting to work (emergency supplies - am almost out of stock and need to complete a batch quick!), in the garage are four carboys of wine slowly clarifying and a batch of Scottish lager beginning its process. Beside me is a nearly empty glass of yummy apple wine - better go refill it now.
If you were to peer closely at the homebrewmaster certificate the date of award might strike your attention - 25 December 1960. The calligraphy of the certificate is still bright and clear, but the attesting signatures have long since faded away. So I claim a small, perhaps insignificant, place in the history of the art and mystery of homebrewing. But maybe the story will interest some of the current crop of apprentices.[top]
The story begins with a group of jolly graduate students at a western state university. To protect the guilty no surnames will be used and the university will identified as the only one (reputedly) to have the Christian cross in its official seal. I shared an old house (about to be condemned for a parking lot) with several other fellows - Paul, the ringleader, Tony, a music major turned photographer, Dick, another music major, James, whose major wasn't clear, and myself, a math major. Paul called the establishment "The House of Iveagh" and he placed several ads in the campus newspaper: "Men of the House of Iveagh are Men of Distinction" said one. The next ad claimed "Women of the House of Iveagh are Fascinating." The talk on campus took little notice of these tidbits.
In those days one did not begin to consume alcoholic beverages until one reached the mature age of 21 - at least I did not. But thereafter one was hooked. And, not even at a nickel for 8 ounces at the 'Poor Boys Bar' near downtown, did the budget provide alleviation for all the woes of higher education.
Paul somehow heard about a fellow who had a recipe for that marvelous substance - beer! It had never occurred to me that this could be made by amateurs. Indeed, it seemed as likely that I could have made milk as beer. Paul arranged a meeting at an off-campus coffee shop with this mysterious expert. After this many years his name has passed to oblivion, but his recipe has not. So here it is, from the Fall of 1957, straight to you! [top]
The Blue Ribbon malt can label made no reference whatsoever to any use in concoction of any beverage. Instead, as I recall, it referred to various uses in bread making and other such humdrum bakery projects. It also made no mention of any possible contamination by hops or other flavors not required for baking.
Modern homebrewers will immediately pounce upon the failings in the recipe. The most immediate failing, which no information could alleviate, was the lack of suitable yeast. We used baker's yeast, which fermented but produced a distinctively foul taste.
With recipe in hand we gathered the ingredients and supplies, brewed the ingredients, pierced the big cork for the tubing, and carried out the steps called for. Perhaps we were eager, perhaps we opined that the desert warmth would speed the process faster than the recipe allowed, and perhaps we were just plain thirsty. Anyway, after bottling and aging what we deemed the proper period, we opened the first of the bottles. These were quarts, by way, as we did not want to waste effort bottling dinky ones.
The quart of beer promptly gushed forth, much of it bouncing off of the low ceiling. What remained in the bottle was a few ounces of very murky substance. We looked at that, then at each other, and decided to chill the next bottle very thoroughly. But even chilling did not reduce the problem. So those of us who were desperate learned to open the quarts with a bucket handy to catch the upward rise of Old Facefull.
James, who abominated homebrew in any case, put this batch to its highest and best use one Saturday night when he did not have a date. When I came home from working in the Student Union about 11 pm he was in back of the house, drinking "real" beer and expressing his frustration by shaking a bottle and then flinging it against the brick wall. It is a wonder that none of the bottles exploded in his hand. But they did make a very soul-satisfying sound and smell show when they connected with the bricks.
The next batch was placed in the crawl space underneath the house to age after bottling. A week or so later some one reported muffled thuds coming from that direction. So, rather than risk our lives, we simply left that batch to commit suicide one by one.
Between the bottles flung against the brick wall by James and the batch that exploded underneath the house we found that we had an insufficient supply of empties. Besides, after several failed experiments, the investment in commercial supplies seemed more sure to produce the proper yield of relaxation and mellowness. [top]
There is a brief interlude in the story as I know it since I became fatigued and withdrew from school early in the second semester. The "Greetings" from my local draft board were arriving regularly every month, with an enclosed slip of paper saying "not this time - maybe next." So I decided to meet my fate and accept the inevitable. But (perhaps the medical examiner was generous) my poor eyesight gave me a medical exemption - and this after having been in the National Guard for several years! Ultimately I received my final discharge from the reserves, having completed all my military obligations despite being medically unacceptable.
That Fall I again sought improvement at the beloved seat of the higher learning. Paul had rented another house near campus (about to be condemned for a parking lot) and needed room-mates. This establishment was promptly dignified by the name of The Olive House as - by some strange coincidence - the street was both lined with olive trees and bore the name Olive Street. This house was well situated for girl watching and I am sure we had our reputation well established in the freshman women's dorm across the street. Also across the street was the new College of Fine Arts, another source of voluptuous views.
New roomies were Tom, a music major, Bruce and Chester, engineers. The new place had a real cellar, into which the brewing equipment went. Somehow (maybe by default) I was elected brewmaster. Between 10 October 1958 and 12 May 1959, according to the log kept at the time, we made (and apparently consumed) xxxvii (37 to you) batches of beer. The Christmas batch was made special by the addition of cranberries. Memory fails me as to the quality of the brew.
Needless to say, the five of us did not consume the fruits of my labor alone. Even in that antediluvian era several virginities were cured - but not safely in some cases! But that is another story.
The cellar housed the furnace which tried to keep the drafty old place warm. And it turned out to provide a fairly even temperature for brewing. I evolved a simple method for determining when the brew was ready for bottling: when the number of bubbles generated by our primitive airlock fell to three per minute or less. This rule of thumb, along with a rudimentary awareness of temperature solved the excessive carbonation problem. We attempted to solve the poor yeast quality problem by using the sediment of one batch to start the next. But the evolution of baker's yeast to brewer's yeast was painfully slow.
While most of us tried to avoid consuming the layer of sediment in the bottom of the bottle, Chester stirred this up and habitually swigged it all down. He said he was trying to develop a strain of yeast which would live in his stomach. Then just by taking a spoonful of sugar he could stay politely inebriated forever. He never published the results of his researches so his success is unknown.
But all things come an end eventually. Paul married Beth and moved out. I married Martha and moved out. Others found they had new visions of employment in the months following sputnik and went on to genuine careers. And so the merry company of The Olive House was dispersed. I took one of the 5 gallon jugs and continued brewing occasionally during the next few years in my itinerant career as a school teacher, but finally gave up. And along the way I became an aerospace engineer myself - another itinerant career.
Several years ago Martha and I came to an amicable parting and I found myself with a wife much more in tune with the sensual side of existence. And enjoying good beer is certainly included! So we accumulated the supplies and began making not only beer but a variety of fruit wines. The lemon trees in front of the house provide the ingredients for a great wine. So far the apple tree in back has not produced enough for both wine and the table.[top]
After all these years, though, the wording on the
homebrewmaster certificate still brings back fond memories of the
old college days. It is an impressive document which holds its
own among all the diplomas and other certificates. It reads as
The Olive House Company of Homebrewers
hereby confers on
James N. Churchyard
The Status, Style, Dignity, and Honor of
In accordance with his studies and achievements in making brews of the four major types: sweet, sour, flat and exploding; and in all other departments of Master Brewing with Special Honorable Mention in the Art of Consumption.
Done this 25th day of
December Anno Domini 1960
After all these years, I am sorry to say, the Olive House Company of merry homebrewers have lost touch with one another. So I would be delighted if any one connected with this story recognizes themselves and writes to me. And, when in the northern San Diego County area, drop by for a taste of the latest brew - but the apple wine is all gone now![top]
You can read elsewhere on this web site about the Fallbrook fire of 10 - 14 February 2002. When we fled the burning house we left behind 6 carboys and two plastic tubs of various kinds of wines: boysenberry, apricot and plum. They were nearly ready to bottle when the fire struck. The house burned, but the attached garage, where the wine was, suffered heat and smoke damage without actually burning up. But that heat definitely finished the fermentation! Later I tasted the contents and concluded that they were not only not damaged but of our usual excellent quality! The Homebrewmaster certificate is gone, all gone.
Our empty bottles had been stored upright in cabinets. So they were coated inside and out with a layer of soot (semi-burned plastic stuff). No bottles were available nearby, so we drove up to Orange County and bought about 200 22-oz. bottles, siphon tubes, caps and capper. Then on Sunday afternoon, 3 March, we bottled 159 bottles, about 27 net gallons of wine. We could not imagine how to clean the carboys in our temporary living quarters so we gave them to the local recycle activity. Hereafter, I imagine, we will use plastic only. But it does go up in a terrible black pillar of smoke.
The Boysenberry vines seem to be coming back, so when we rebuild and are settled back in production (and consumption) will continue as usual. [top]
While the original certificate is gone, daughter Ruth provided a second certificate which hangs in the same place on the rebuilt wall. It reads:
For having braved the
Santa Margarita House Fire
A loving family does hereby confers on
James N. Churchyard
Alberta Jane Parker
The Status, Style, Dignity, and Dubious Honor of
In accordance with their tenacity in withstanding the fire and their achievements in making fine brews with Special Honorable Mention in the Art of Consumption.
Done this 25th day of December Anno Domini 2002
An earlier version was published in Zymurgy: The Magazine
for the Homebrewer and Beer Lover, Vol. 9 No. 3, Fall 1985,
pages 20-21 Please send any comments or suggestions to the
author using the link at the bottom of the Al & Jim's Home Page.
Updated 1 April 2003.[top]
An earlier version was published in Zymurgy: The Magazine for the Homebrewer and Beer Lover, Vol. 9 No. 3, Fall 1985, pages 20-21
Please send any comments or suggestions to the author using the link at the bottom of the Al & Jim's Home Page.
Updated 1 April 2003.[top]