Updated: Jan 1
My mother has always had an adventurous spirit, so it was with only mild surprise that we received the news that Mom had just invested some money in our names (my sister and I) in a new business concern in Boulder. Boulder Beer Co, started by a couple of physics professors at CU, became Colorado’s first craft brewery, and the 42nd licensed brewery in the US. The founders were floating a penny stock offering, (basically the crowd funding of the late 70’s and early 80’s) to build a “real” brewery, and move production out of the old goat shed they were brewing in in Hygiene, Colorado. The news was exciting, and I was intrigued, and curious.
The year was 1979, Jimmy Carter had just made home brewing legit, and home brewers in Colorado were just starting to “relax” as the someday to be crowned prophet of home brew, Charlie Papazian would say. It was in this fizzy moment in time that I happened to stumble across something at our local Safeway that would forever change my life. Sitting in the dairy section, in what looked like an oversized milk carton was a golden yellow box and written in large brown letters was the name Bach’s Beer. Curious, I examined the Bachs further and read, “you are holding the equivilent of over 2 cases of beer for a fraction of the price bottles. Make your own beer in the comfort of your own home.” At a paltry $2.99, I thought, what could possibly go wrong?, and I promptly marched up to the counter and purchased my Bach’s.
Bach’s beer turned out to be a carton of pre-hopped dried malt extract with a packet of red star yeast inside, and a cursory list of necessary equipment and instructions. It seemed simple enough, all I needed was a 5 gallon bucket and lid, a small piece of tubing and a plastic cup. A quick trip to the local hardware store, and I was ready to begin my adventure. Now, I was only 16 at the time, and too young to purchase beer, the drinking age for 3.2 beer in Colorado at that time was 18, but nobody said anything about “making” beer. Dubiously justifiing my actions in that I was earnestly exploring chemistry, I pressed on.
Most everyone that has ever homebrewed, can recall the “thrill” of their first batch. For my part, it was an experience I’ll never forget. I slowly disolved the malt extract in water, and as it began to boil, what I had on the stove would soon resemble the science fair volcano that I had made in 5th grade. Much of what started in the pot, slowly erupted, and was quickly all over the stove, the counters, and the floor before I could get the electric burner off and quell the vesuvian mess.
I spent an hour brewing my Bach’s beer, and 3 hours cleaning up, little realizing that this is exactly what professional craft brewing is all about. I had no hydrometer, no thermometer, no scale, nothing a modern home brewer could imagine being without, and yet somehow the magic happened anyway. Now watching an active fermentation in a glass carboy is better than watching a Christmas special on TV when you’re 6, but watching a fermentation in a opaque 5 gallon bucket is a non starter. However, I did marvel at the bubbling of my simplistic fermentation lock, and when it ceased, I concluded my beer was ready to bottle in the 20 or so Old English 40’s I had collected.
The finished product was a hazy, heavily sedimented affair with virtually no body, a fizzy carbonation, and a bizarre and somewhat horrible taste. Naturally, I loved it. I enlisted friends to taste and critique my brew, and most agreed that after you “muscled your way through the first one”, that it became almost palatable. I brewed several more batches of Bach’s brew before it disappeared from the shelves, and my foray into home brewing would have to go dormant. It would be another 4 years before Charlie Papazian would release his “Complete Joy of Homebrewing”, and 6 more years until I would brew again.