That First Brew

I came across a bottle of my first brew the other day, poured it, and thought of old times.

All Goes Wrong Ale, I came to call it; December of ’09. Lehman Brothers was dead at this point, and it seemed the Big 3 were bleeding out in the snow. It was a fucking cold winter and I wasn’t on the best of terms with some of my people, so that I had to sleep in my car a couple of times.

This shit, meanwhile, was fermenting in a Rubbermaid in my nephew’s storage locker, where his parents put all his things as soon as they sent him to college. It was also, after they sent me from their couch, where they’d put that makeshift carboy of mine and a few of my jackets which I never saw again.

When I got the call from my sister, I thought she might be inviting me back to stay with them again. No hard feelings. Let’s work through this.

But an hour later I was out in a field of storage lockers. Cold rain spat sideways in the wind and I felt cut to the bone. Laura had the storage open and her car on. She stood behind the blue rubbermaid, which was sealed with a ring of gorilla tape at the seam, with her hands on her hips.

“I can’t believe it’s been in there all this time,” I said. I took out my knife and went down on one knee.

“You’re not opening it here,” Laura declared. She bent over and glared into my face. Short and fat and serious, that was my sister.

“It’s beer,” I exclaimed.

“I’m not going to be here when you open it and I’m not leaving until you’re gone.”

Her radiator fan kicked on and her RPMs jogged. Realizing that she may never forgive me, I felt an existential fear. Existential fear always helps me to see the future with great, misleading clarity.

“I think you have some jackets of mine, too,” I said, rising.

She stood by the door while I went to a stack of boxes in the corner.

“Is this my stuff?”

“I don’t know.”

I opened the top box and a little green army-man clung to some tape dangling from the cardboard lip. I glanced behind me and Laura was staring out into the rain. Under the pile of army-men was a plastic Captain America shield. Under that, a Gameboy. And under that, a letterman jacket from the high school that Laura, her son, and I had all graduated from. I pulled it out of the box and shook it out, looked at its front and back. There weren’t any dates on it, just a varsity wrestling patch.

As I walked past Laura she saw the jacket and frowned.

“Is that yours?” she asked.

“Yes,” I assured her.

When she reached out to take it I gave it to her without hesitation. She examined it, maybe suspected, but didn’t say anything. She handed back the jacket and I understood that we would never be friends again, that this would be the final straw, the climactic scene in a whole series of stories about my fuck-ups and her pain.

In the moment I decided I felt all right about that, but knew down the road that there would be regret.

“Don’t call me for a little while, okay?” she said.

We hugged, and she helped me lift the Rubbermaid into the back of my Honda, and then we parted. I was bottling the beer when I heard she’d been in a car accident. The day before I cracked the first bottle open to try All Goes Wrong, I learned she’d woken up from her coma but had suffered significant brain damage.

“She doesn’t remember much,” my nephew told me over the phone. He sounded eerily relieved.

All Goes Wrong has the bouquet of a malty IPA infused with sourdough bread. The head is tall and dry. It tastes like rocket fuel. I don’t know exactly what I did wrong, but I did it gloriously wrong. I could not finish the pictured beer. I poured it down the drain, and regretted ever opening the bottle, because even if it was the worst beer I ever made, I’m pretty sure that was the last bottle of it that I had left.

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