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The Greatest Beer Ever ... I Think

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I was dancing with some gal who, remarkably, kept getting shorter — or maybe I was getting taller. It was hard to tell. Normally it takes a great deal of social pressure to get me to dance, but I was celebrating the creation of the greatest batch of beer in the drink's long, illustrious history — and I was only a sophomore. Murffbrau, usually a bit on this side of awful, had joined the greats.

For this batch, I'd pulled out all the stops, including getting a big stove-top pot, as opposed to trying to make the stuff in a bathtub.

While I worked, my roommate — we'll call him Alex — walked in with a bag of not-quite-fine brown powder and tried to sell it to me as cocaine. This was a little weird because I was never much of a drug guy. Although there was a lot of the stuff whirling around Tuscaloosa in those days, so I knew what it looked like and, if we're going to be honest, what it smelled like.

The young brewmaster in - headier times. - RICHARD MURFF
  • Richard Murff
  • The young brewmaster in headier times.

"It's brown," I said. "It looks like you crushed up a few Ritalin tablets from that bottle on your dresser?"

"Naw man. This is the real shit."

Alex was one of those people who acted and sounded reasonably normal until he got high. Actually, he didn't have to be high — the mere subject of drugs would do it. Mention the word marijuana and he'd sound like the pothead in some campy teen flick and develop a passable Keith Richards stagger. Then his mother would call and he'd sound like he'd just come back from the library.

I passed on the "cocaine" and went back to beer-making.

I'd bottled the wort and waited a few weeks for the Murffbrau to reach its regrettable potential, so I was ready to dive in. Which was about the time that Alex showed up. He called me "Bra" and managed to drag it out across two syllables, so he was full of drugs — or full of something, at any rate. As his sleepy-looking girlfriend drifted back to his room to take a nap with the lava lamp, Alex performed the obligatory head check to make sure there weren't any narcs hiding in the sofa, and dropped his voice. "We got a lot of 'shrooms. You shoulda come with. Wanna buy some?" He threw a suspiciously clean bag on the Goodwill coffee table between us.

Now, having a roommate who is a small-time drug dealer has its pitfalls, but at least it's bohemian and vaguely dangerous. Having a roommate who is a small-time pretend drug dealer is just stupid. I was sure the goon had gone to the farmer's market, bought a pillowcase of shiitake mushrooms for $1.40, and was now attempting to sell them for $80 a baggie. Which he swore was the "street value." Tuscaloosa had paved roads and internal plumbing back then, but nothing the urban vernacular would define as "street."

I'd had enough. "So," I said, opening the bag, "you wouldn't want me to do this?" I crammed several handfuls of mushrooms into my maw and washed it all down with a cold, chewy homebrew. Alex was still yelling about how much money I owed him, as I left for a mid-afternoon stroll.

I have a friend who still makes fun of the way I was dancing some nine hours later. I had reason to celebrate, though, for I'd just made the greatest batch of beer I'd ever made; that anyone ever had, for that matter. My technique surpassed those of German brewmasters in their lederhosen, Belgian monks in their cowls, and the English brewers in their tweed. The girl with whom I was dancing (who by this point was only three apples high) left me for some fellow who had not perfected the art of brewing that summer. But the great ones are always abandoned on the verge of triumph.

It was worth it — if only for the beer. I only wish I could remember how I'd done it.

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