Surely it couldn’t be that hard to brew your own beer, Dad thought A cold beer sure would be refreshing after a long, hard day at work. With five children and lots of bills to pay, there wasn’t much leftover cash for nonessentials like beer.
After studying beer brewing in the A-C volume of our Encyclopedia Brittanica (this was pre-Google days), Dad deduced that it was doable on a small scale.
We five children became his assembly line. The older two (my pre-teen sister and I) helped by reading him directions and pouring and mixing ingredients. Except for the offensive odor of the hops and malt, we considered the beer-brewing process novel and fun.
My two brothers helped with fetch-and-carry jobs. The youngest child, a two-year-old still in diapers, squatted over the manual bottle-capping machine, which Dad taught her how to use. She methodically put each filled bottle on the base of the capper, positioned a metal cap at the top of the bottle’s neck, then pulled down the long handle, which pressed down the cap and crimped its edges to hold it down. I could see the crease of concentration between her eyebrows, but she seemed quite proud of herself. It’s a good thing there weren’t any child labor laws back then.
Once all the bottles were filled and capped, we helped Dad carry them down the steps into the dark, dank basement, then went back upstairs to let the beer ferment and mature.
It wasn’t long before we began to be awakened each night by explosive bangs and the sounds of glass shattering coming from our basement brewery. It was like trying to sleep in the middle of a battlefield.
After the racket died down, and we hadn’t heard anything for a few nights, we gingerly picked our way down the steps into the basement. It stunk like a 200-year-old saloon down there.
Picking his way through the broken shards of glass and stepping over puddles of spilled beer, Dad found a few unbroken and capped bottles. He carried them upstairs and carefully opened them one by one. In each bottle was a scant few inches of liquid. The rest of each bottle contained only layers of dirty brown foam.
The only consequences of Dad’s attempt at home brewing were his disappointment and the drowning of one basement-dwelling mouse (who died with a smile on his face). Also, unbeknownst to Dad, my sister had smuggled one bottle upstairs and hidden it in a dresser drawer, where it promptly burst and soaked an entire drawerful of her freshly washed underwear, which now reeked of beer. I believe she got grounded for that.