Overrated – Homemade beer and wine

Ned Bitters

Ned Bitters

This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … homemade beer and wine.

If you want to grill a hamburger at home, do you buy a cow, tend to it, slaughter it and grind your own hamburger meat, or do you run over the nearest grocery store and buy a packet of ground chuck?

That’s what I thought.

And if you want some nice creamery butter to slather on a toasted bagel, do you buy another cow (one with udders), tend to it, hand milk it and then …well, I don’t even know what steps are involved in making homemade butter, because when I want butter I go to the same grocery store where I buy ground chuck and buy some factory-made butter. It’s delicious and perfect and – best of all – easy. In this modern-day age of convenience, toiling away to make homemade food isn’t laudable. It’s stupid.

So why the hell are people still making beer and wine at home? The best homemade beer is not better than the skunkiest Pabst Blue Ribbon. The best homemade wine is not better than the soon-to-be-barfed Maddog 20/20. Yet some pretentious people still insist on crafting their own. Trust me, all you basement beermeisters, you’re not the next Auggie Busch or Adolph Coors. You’re the high-maintenance friend who is quickly becoming the no-maintenance ex-friend, what with the way you keep subjecting us to your home brewing shenanigans.

I could see this need to improve on the quality of beer if the nearest liquor store was stocked with only those three American lite beers that sponsor every sporting event in the country. Those beers are perfect for those nights when you want to chug 12 Coors-Miller-Bud Lites and scream at referees, 19-year-olds who miss free throws and any Pittsburgh Pirate. They’re good for mass consuming, but they’re not going to overwhelm anyone in the taste department. Most times, when you want to actually enjoy a beer, you want something with balls.

That is why your friendly liquor store owner keeps his refrigerators stocked with delectable brews like Stella Artois, Bass and Sam Adams, just to name three of the 40 or more brands of imports and microbrews you can choose from, finely-crafted beers made by master brewers after years of tweaking and perfecting recipes. I assure you that these beers are vastly superior to the swill you concocted from that mail order kit you bought yourself last Christmas.

I’ve tried a couple of these homemade beers. Somehow, I was able to finish an entire glass of the stuff without vomiting. What did they taste like? Add some yeast to water, stir, drain through three slices of whole wheat bread and drink. There, you’ve approximated the homemade beer tasting sensation.

While the taste of these beers is painful enough, the more excruciating part of the process is having to listen to the epic saga of “How I Made My Homemade Beer,” a tale more endlessly tiring than a Ben Stiller movie. You are subjected to a dissertation on yeast ratios and hops quality. A thesis is presented on the basement fermentation process. Barley is discussed – with great seriousness, I might add. Listeners are edified on proper bottling techniques.

None of this conversational torture ensues when beer is procured from – novel idea alert! – the liquor store. If anything, there might be an anecdote to share about the 12 people pissing away a fine afternoon (and their kids’ school lunch money) while losing at, I mean playing, liquor store Keno. Perhaps you can tell me a mildly amusing story about the underage girl who stomped out of the store in sexy, underage indignation after getting carded. The telling of these little narratives might take a minute each, and if you know how to tell a story, you will entertain me and I will enjoy listening to you as I drink the Sam Adams purchased on this trip, Sam Adams that was brewed not by novice you but by the professionals at – you guessed it – the Sam Adams brewery. You’ll note that nowhere in these anecdotes is there any mention of how the beer was brewed or bottled. You simply picked it out of a cooler and paid for it. This is how it is done in modern society.

Making homemade wine might be even more absurd. You can buy highly drinkable bottles of wine for under $20. So many countries make so many good wines that two superb bottles of Italian (or New York or Argentine or Chilean …) red wine can be had for what it cost to ship that homemade wine starter kit to your house.

The presumptuousness and ego involved in this home winemaking is galling. Real vintners spend years or decades or even generations cultivating grape vines, analyzing soil content, measuring the acidity of grapes and living with a hyper-awareness of relative humidity. But Carl from Tupelo thinks a little basement tinkering will result in a wine that can outclass the sublimely subtle product put out by people who have devoted their life’s work to serious craftsmanship.

A few years ago, my in-laws’ neighbors brought over three bottles of homemade wine as a Christmas present. My in-laws, being the polite people they are, indulged the Ernest and Julie Gallo of upper West Virginia by asking these modern-day renaissance rubes a series of questions about the home winemaking process. Their need for attention sated and their pathetic egos duly massaged, these artisans of the grape left with chests swelled, their pretension validated. My in-laws then promptly gave the wine to us. We gave all three bottles to my brother and his wife, who drink, shall I say, a lot of wine. Three years later, the unopened bottles are still in their wine rack. I can understand why. They’re not even the color of real wine. One is yellow, the other pink (not rose) and the other, I swear, magenta. (The wines, not my brother and his wife.) I might use them to dye Easter Eggs, but I would never drink them. Perhaps my brother is just saving them for a rainy day, “rainy” meaning “apocalyptic.” (And to him, apocalyptic does not mean mushroom clouds and zombies fighting for human food. It means empty liquor store shelves. Or running of out of store-bought wine after closing time.)

If you want to waste your free time on a hobby like home brewing, have at it. Just spare the rest of us (“us” being the people who get our beer and wine from actual liquor stores, this being 2011 and all) your boring stories of how you made it. Don’t regale us with the details of how you’re going to improve your next batch, and – please, for the love of Mr. Molson – don’t ask us to try some. I know you think you’re being magnanimous by offering some of your homemade merlot, but all you’re really doing is making us whine.

Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at teacherslounge@hobotrashcan.com.

  1. Milhouse44 April 5, 2011
  2. Ned April 6, 2011

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