Carroll County Times

Naptown Pint: I didn't set anything on fire with my first homebrew

Last October, I received a simple message: "[Naptown Pint], here is another Naptown beer event you may have missed." It came from a guy named Nathan Waters and included a link to something called "Brews by the Bay."

Brews by the Bay turned out to be an Annapolis Homebrew Club event hosted at the Annapolis Maritime Museum – now one of my absolute favorite venues in town. After looking it over, my attendance at Brews by the Bay seemed like a no-brainer: I was going to get to drink delicious, locally-made beer right on the water, with some music and pizza thrown in the mix.

Twist my arm, right?

At the time, my craft beer obsession was still in that awkward toddler phase – feeling its way along the walls, while drooling and eating crayons. But I did know a little bit about homebrewing.

Let's take a ride in the Wayback Machine for a quick history lesson.

Following the Revolutionary War, our founding fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters embarked on what some considered to be an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, due in part to the introduction of spirits with a higher alcohol content. According to W.J. Rorabaugh, author of The Alcohol Republic, we were definitely consuming more alcohol than the English and the Irish at the time (USA! USA! USA!), but we were still on par with the Scots and the French.

The fear that our collective alcohol consumption as a nation was contributing to things like unemployment and familial abuse, however, took hold. And over the next 125(ish) years, the United States would see a temperance movement ebb and flow onto the national stage, gaining strength each time it reemerged as a political movement.

Temperance reached a fever pitch at the turn of the 20th Century, and on January 16, 1919, Prohibition became the law of the land with the ratification of the 18th Amendment. Although it should be pointed out that Connecticut and Rhode Island were definitely the state equivalents of Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club, as both states rejected the amendment – fight the power!

Fourteen years later in 1933, Congress saw the err of their ways and did a "Whoops! My bad!" pivot with the ratification of the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition. This was an awesome milestone, to be sure, but the sale and distribution of alcohol was still mired in red tape since states were left to their own devices regarding implementation.

Fun fact: Mississippi was a "dry state" up until 1966!

So where does homebrewing figure into all of this? Following the 21st Amendment, the one thing Americans still couldn't do was brew beer for themselves at home, without being subject to steep excise taxes.

It wasn't until 1978, when President Jimmy Carter signed H.R. 1337 into law that this was changed. This "act to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1954," stated "…any adult may, without payment of tax, produce beer for personal or family use and not for sale," subject to regulation and production volume limitations, of course.

Much has changed since then, and for the better. Many say this spunky piece of legislation was one of the major catalysts that helped usher in the modern era of American craft beer. Heck, in 2012, President Barack Obama brewed what is believed to be the first-ever beer brewed on White House grounds – a honey ale, the recipe of which is available online.

As I stood on the deck of the Annapolis Maritime Museum last October, I was admittedly awestruck. Up until that point, I had no real context for the Trivial Pursuit-like knowledge I had acquired on homebrewing and other alcohol-related legislation. It was just a bunch of information that could be easily memorized from flash cards.

But as I sipped on the efforts from the Annapolis Homebrew Club, I began to understand why homebrewing is so flippin' cool. And when I got home, I gushed to Patrick about the event. In fact, I wouldn't shut up about it.

So, six days later, he presented me with a homebrew kit from Annapolis Homebrew – not to be confused with the club that hosted Brews by the Bay – in honor of my 31st birthday.

And it has sat in our kitchen untouched (and silently mocking me) for the last nine months. Oops.

Here's the deal, guys: I'm a walking disaster. I trip over everything and nothing at all. At lunch with some friends last Friday at Davis' Pub, I managed to knock over two different full cups of soda on two different tables in less than five minutes.

So the thought of me homebrewing, something that requires precision, planning and, most importantly, flames and boiling water, seemed like an intriguing, but ultimately terrifying idea. But I could only put it off for so long.

After two missed appointments with Nathan for a brewing day – the first due a scheduling conflict, and the second because I fractured my ankle before I could even get there (seriously) – I finally made it out to his house to take my first stab at homebrewing this past Sunday.

Although some might say my fractured ankle was a devious conspiracy perpetrated by my own subconscious to once again avoid facing my fear of homebrewing, I'm now quite thankful for Nathan's patient persistence in retrospect. (Thanks, buddy.)

The day was not without its quirks, of course. I told them I had a cream ale kit, when in fact it was a cream stout kit. And then, thanks to another brilliant oversight on my part, we put the specialty grain bag in five gallons of water, when the kit was designed for a one gallon batch.

But these missteps, instead of spelling doom and gloom for my homebrew, ended up being an opportunity to collaborate with those around me – the very same folks who inspired this adventure to begin with. Under their expertise, we crushed more grain, added some coconut sugar and Northern Brewer hops to create what will hopefully become a beer we've named "Jackie Brown's Unbroken Ankle."

"Jackie Brown," because it's now a brown ale instead of a stout (also Pam Grier is legit), and "unbroken ankle," because it's a miracle I didn't break my other ankle either on the way to brewing day on Sunday or during the brewing process itself.

It seemed funny to us at the time.

Anyway, after a full, sunny afternoon of brewing, boiling, lifting, listening to music and drinking good beer, all while hanging out with friends and a couple of adorably rambunctious pooches, I siphoned our cooled-down creation into a five-gallon jug called a "carboy."

And by some miracle, it actually looked like beer. I don't know why that felt like such a big accomplishment, as it could still end up tasting like total garbage, but for now, I feel content: I made something that resembles beer.

I always say that one of my favorite things about beer is how a thoughtful, handcrafted brew is snapshot of the people who put their heart and soul into it, because they have so much control over every step of the process.

Yes, Jackie Brown's Unbroken Ankle could end up being a FEMA-designated natural disaster. No matter what happens though, I'd like to think that it's the sum of all the amazing friendships that were born out of the intersection of my journey with beer and my life in Annapolis, the town I am lucky enough to call home.

But still, fingers crossed that those friendships are tasty.