It smells like bread. It’s hot. It’s humid. Everyone’s perspiring.
My co-worker, Laura, and I are at the Brew Keeper in North Ridgeville. Our assignment from the editor sounds like a Zen riddle written by Barbara Walters: Brew an officialCleveland Magazine beer, one that fits the publication.
If this magazine were a beer, how would it taste?
Brewmaster Mark Wise is puzzled. His job is beer, not metaphor. We bounce tastes and adjectives around — “complex,” “dynamic,” “sweet but still biting” —then try samplers from the bar. We choose an Irish amber ale — sophisticated, yet with broad appeal, we tell ourselves; neither too thick nor too light; good (but not acquired) taste.
Relieved, Wise hands us the recipe and sets us free to measure out five kinds of barley (Step 1). We sneak in a little extra roast to enhance the coffeelike taste.
Wise pours our barley into the mill (Step 2). The grains fall into big straining bags, and we drop them into our preheated kettle (Step 3) like massive tea bags. After a half-hour (at the bar), we put on thick rubber gloves and squeeze the bags dry, measure out malt extract syrup (Step 4) (thick as molasses) and pour it through a strainer into the kettle.
As we brew, it becomes clear that this is almost exclusively a male pastime. “Most wives wouldn’t put up with this,” one customer comments as Laura and I walk past, assuming we’re a couple. Three guys who’ve lost control of their kettle, which has stopped boiling, are told to start over. Two pull out cell phones: “Time to call the wives,” one says.
While Wise adds steam to our kettle, we measure out the hop pellets (which look disturbingly like rabbit food). Over the course of an hour, we add the hops in three batches (Step 5), one with Irish moss to make the beer less cloudy. Wise cuts off the steam, lets the kettle cool, then adds yeast. Our work for the night is finished.
Three weeks of fermenting later, we return to bottle our beer (Step 6). In two hours, we’ve filled six cases with 72 22-ounce bottles. It’s time to share what’s left in the keg. We fill sampler glasses and hand one to Wise. He sips and thinks.
“Roasty and malty at the same time,” he declares. Success!
“I love the aftertaste. It’s almost like coffee,” says the bartender, Rachel Stewart. (That’s the idea!) She praises the head of foam and the lacing it leaves on the glass. She takes another sip. “It’s smooth,” she says. Why, thank you.