Monday, May 02, 2005

Cowtown KICKapoo Joy Juice

(yes, for longtime readers, this is a repeat. Sorry!)

My dad was an alcoholic. When sober, the nicest, funniest man you'd ever meet, but his personality took on a sinister tone when drinking. His father was an alcoholic as well. A mean, abusive drunk. Never knew my grandfather, he died when I was 6 and I have no recollection of him. My dad's two brothers were also afflicted with the family curse. Luckily, I seemed to have escaped the cycle of addiction. In his golden years, Dad stopped drinking. Maybe more to do with the fact that he could no longer drive (due to another family curse - premature macular degeneration) than a real zealous wish to recover, but I was glad of the positive change. The following tale is funny, but bittersweet at the same time for me to recall Dad's drinking years:

Dad used to work for Coca Cola Bottling Company. Thus, he had access to lots of empty bottles, a bottle-capper and other useful items good for the making of wine or home brew. He only worked there for a couple of years before getting hired on at the bomber plant, but by then, he was well supplied with the tools of the trade. Dad considered himself a Connoisseur of Beverage Brewing. He loved to cook, and he loved beer and wine. What better combination for making hooch?

Now, for the uninitiated, homemade beer and wine STINK. Fermentation is not a pretty process. Involves lots of crocks and hoses, and cheesecloth, and yeast, and constant attention. In the summertime, gnats were a lovely byproduct. I watched the brewmeister (aka Dad) with fascination. Who in their right mind would ever put this stuff in their mouth? In the evenings, he would check the progress of the bubbly elixir by drawing a few sips from the siphon hose. Then, deeming it needful of either sugar or yeast or whatever the heck else he put in the stuff, he would smack his lips and declare it was the best batch yet. Looking back, I had this ingrained fear that the Feds would come and incarcerate the whole famn damily if we told anyone of the little brewery in the den. An oath of secrecy added all the more mystery to my dad's hobby. Oh yeah, like no one could smell the stuff three blocks away?

Beer and wine have to reach a certain stage before you can bottle it. Basically, it has to "quit working". As I remember, this was a tricky part of the procedure. If you waited too long, the result was a flat flop, and if you got in a hurry and put it up "green" you were literally making weapons of minor destruction. One particular batch was of a dark beer that was promised to some ale-loving friends who were impatient to wrap their lips around a cold Coke bottle filled with an amber fluid guaranteed to put hitch in your get-along.

My folks were planning a family vacation that was in dire risk of being postponed if this recent connoction didn't hurry up and be ready for bottling before our departure. The friends were no help, they knew naught of bottling the stuff. So, the little ole winemaker decided it would be okay to pour and cap the beer, IF the friends would keep it cool and in a dark place. "Oh, sure! We will just put it in this bottom kitchen cabinet that never gets opened, and the house is cool from the new central air unit, " quipped the silly suds suckers (try saying that really fast). So, about 25 bottles were carefully driven to the new owners and gingerly tucked away in the nice dark confines under the countertop.

We left the next morning for the coast and a fishing trip. Pre-cell phone days. It wasn't until we returned that we heard about the explosion. Seems the brewsky was just not really ready for the bottle, and late one night the whole mess began to blow, one lovely beer after another. Blew the cabinet doors right off their hinges and blasted beer, glass and splintered wood all over the kitchen. At first, the family thought the Russians had finally started dropping bombs on us. Then, it came to them...the beer! The beer! THE BEER!

Many years have past since this escapade, but the story lives on in family gatherings. Moral of the story: Only the Irish drink green beer. Wonder how the heck they keep it in the bottle long enough for a decent swig?


tod said...

It's still a good story the second time around.

DarkoV said...

Second time around? I'm a guy (or so I've been referred to as) so if the first telling was over a week ago, this is the first time for me. You must be aging the other beer bottling stories until the fermentation is just right. Yep, a six-pack of these tales would just be about right.