I probably should have known something was up when the place didn't have a name on the door. I'd driven in from Tuscaloosa and went to one of those blank, nondescript office buildings that look like they used to be a hotel. According to the Bob Wayne song, "Everything's Legal in Alabama," this should have been fine. The truth is, no one ought to rely on outlaw country singers for legal advice. The brew supply shop didn't have a sign because home-brewing was illegal in the state until 2013. I was in college long before 2013.
Murffbrau was an institution, started at the University of Alabama by my brother and — when I inherited the equipment — continued by me. It was flavorful and unfiltered. A little chewy for some, but it tasted like carbonated bourbon and was a mild hallucinogenic.
When most people say a beer is unfiltered, craft beer lovers mean a modicum of cloudiness and say things like "It's authentic." Murffbrau was, well ... Have you ever had that live kombucha where the label tells you NOT to shake it up because you don't want to disturb that half an inch of settled, all-natural sludge at the bottom? With this stuff, that's what I mean by "unfiltered." You really needed to pour the stuff into a glass slowly, to leave the crud in the bottle. Later you could use the leftover stuff to spackle drywall.
While Murffbrau was top-fermented, serving it chilled was ill-advised. Frigid is more like it. Cold temperature is an effective hedge against an awful-tasting beer. It doesn't do anything to the beer as much as it does to your taste buds. Getting the temperature right — that is, to very, very cold — was crucial. This is hard to do in the shower.
In the working adult world, problem drinking is relatively easy to pinpoint. You might be able to hide it, but the mere fact that you are covering up your drinking makes the problem fairly obvious. In the undergraduate world, with its weird schedules and persistent lack of reality, this is trickier. A beer at lunch isn't much of a red flag, but if you didn't wake up until 11:30 a.m. ...
It's okay to tie one on during the weekend, but if the weekend starts at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday. ... Well, you see the slippery slope. We had a general rule of thumb to tell whether someone was just having a drink or if they were drankin': If you brought booze into the shower, it was pretty damn clear you were on a mission. The parameters of said mission may have been hazy, but you were on one, dammit!
So there I was, standing in the shower, in exactly what I came into the world wearing, with a pewter tankard balanced precariously on the soap dish (I'd been banned from breaking any more glasses in the shower), when in walks someone from down the hall who took one look at the scene and disappeared, only to come back with a Murffbrau of his own. And this story, I realize, is getting weirder in the retelling.
Getting back to the point, I stocked one of the old Dr. Pepper machines from the early '60s with Murffbrau because it was fortifying and I'd told the girls that my pewter mug was stylish and clever. The hitch was that if brewing your own beer in Alabama was illegal, the selling of it must have been more so. But I just couldn't resist. Because unless you were from California, in those days, craft beer meant homebrew. If you got sick of Miller or Bud, you were on your own.
Sure, today's crafts, made in sterile conditions by people who know what they are doing, are better by every conceivable metric, but there really was something satisfying about owning your beer. Of course, we'd do well to remember the last line of "Everything's Legal in Alabama": ... "just don't get caught."