When it came time to return the keg of beer, I couldn't do it. There was still beer left in it. Lots of beer.
It was tough to tell exactly how much was left over, but using the old-knock-on-the-side-of-the-barrel routine, my guess was that the keg was half full. This was embarrassing to me, for several reasons.
First of all it meant that I had bought too much beer for the gathering of about 60 co-workers held at a colleague's lovely -- at least before we descended upon it -- Mount Washington home. Instead of the 13.2 gallon college-boy size barrel of beer that I took to the party, I should have bought the more sensible, mid-life size, the 2.75 gallon mini-keg.
Secondly, it meant that all those trend stories about people drinking less and going to bed early no longer referred to other people. They were now hitting close to home. The party was a roaring success. I was among the last to leave. And I was home and in bed by around midnight.
Finally, just as I try to eat every morsel prepared by a four-star chef, I felt an obligation to make sure that a keg of well-made beer is emptied.
The beer in the keg was good stuff, a lager called Marzen. It was brewed by Theo DeGroen's Baltimore Brewing Company, a brewery that had just won medals at the 1994 Great American Beer Festival in Denver.
DeGroen's Doppelbock beer won a silver medal in the competition for best bock beer in America. First place went to Samuel Adams Double Bock, made by the Boston Beer Company. Another DeGroen beer, its Weizen Bock, won second place in competition for best German Wheat Ale. First place went to a wheat beer made by Denver's Tabernash Brewing Company.
(The other Maryland winner in the competition was Colt Ice, made by the Carling National Brewing Company a division of G. Heileman with a plant in Halethorpe, south of Baltimore. Colt Ice won third place in the American Malt Liquor category finishing behind first-place Olde English 800 made by Pabst Brewing Co. in Tumwater, Wash., and Pigs Eye ICE made by Minnesota Brewing Company in St. Paul.)
I worried that if I went back to the Baltimore Brewing Company, a nationally acclaimed outfit, with a half-full keg, my reputation as a beer drinker would suffer.
Suppose one of the brewery crew picked up the keg and heard beer sloshing around inside it. They might ask me "Why did you leave half of this wonderful beer untouched? What kind of person are you? What kind of people do you socialize with?"
So to save face, I had to empty the keg. The morning after the shindig I retrieved the keg from the party house and lugged it to my back yard. I kept the beer cold and spent most of that day stretched out on the sofa, thinking of keg-emptying schemes. I thought about giving the backyard plants and the resident slugs a beer shower. Slugs love beer, even though it ends up killing them. There might be a message there.
This beer, however, was too good to use on the shrubbery. So I started asking acquaintances if they wanted some free beer. Most said "Yes!" That presented me with the problem of how to get the beer out of the keg and into my friends' homes.
I found the answer in the kitchen recycling bin, empty plastic milk jugs. My kids guzzle gallons of milk and toss the empty containers in a recycling bin. I pulled several jugs from the bin, washed them, and carried them out in the back yard to the keg.
The jugs filled up with beer and with lots of foam. I quickly perfected a foam-removal technique -- squeezing the sides of the plastic jug. This sent beer foam squirting of the jug and on the plants. The foam also hit a slug that was lounging on the bricks. After squirting out foam, I filled the empty space in the jugs with more beer.
It was tempting, but I did not, repeat not, dump any milk out of plastic jugs in the family fridge to make room for beer. I did, however, borrow several lids from full milk jugs. I covered these topless milk jugs with little plastic bags and put their lids on the beer jugs.
Even after filling the milk jugs the keg still had some life in it. I resorted to giving away pitchers of beer to neighbors.
It took me several days, but eventually I got the keg down to a level of respectable emptiness. When the keg was light and I could pick it up without groaning, I felt it was safe to return it.