in which my son and i bottle our beer

I walked down the hallway toward the guest room, and started talking before I got to the door.

"Hey, I just looked at my calendar, and I miscalculated when we should bottle our beer."

I stepped off the wood floor of the hallway and onto the soft carpet we just had installed. I involuntarily squished it between my toes.

Ryan was sitting at the desk, headphones on, playing WoW.

"Hey!" I said, loudly.

He kocked one can off his right ear with the back of his hand. "What?"

"I miscalculated when we are supposed to bottle our beer."

He clicked the mouse around the screen. Numbers floated around the screen, words scrolled through the chat window in a blur, and for the millionth time I tried and failed to see the appeal of the game.

"Oh? When do we do it?" Click click click.

"Today. It's been three weeks, and our specific gravity hasn't changed in three days."

"Dude!" He spun around in his chair. "That's awesome!"

"I know, right?!" I noticed that some words had joined the numbers, and a bunch of little things were running around his player thing. "Aren't you going to, um, die?"

"No, I'm really high level. I can handle it." He said.

"Oh … well … there's a lot going on there and … numbers … are …"

Now I know how my dad felt when I tried to explain how awesome it was that we killed a Lich in D&D when I was 12.

"The important thing is, today we're bottling our beer." I said, "so we need to sanitize our bottles and everything."

He grinned. "Okay. Give me a minute."

"A minute minute, or an I'm-playing-a-game minute?"

"Sixty seconds." He clicked the mouse again and pushed some keys on the keyboard. A flurry of numbers danced around and some graphics that looked like blasts of Eldritch power shot out of his guy into something that sort of looked like a monster.

When I roll dice and do this in my head, it's awesome … but I just do not get this at all. I thought with a mental sigh.

I walked on down the hall, came to a door, and looked inside.

"Sorry, you'll have to put your boots on if you want to come in here," a guard in a tie-dyed shirt and nothing else said.

(I may have made that last bit up for my own amusement.)

Forty-three seconds later, Ryan joined me in my office.

"You killed that guy?"

"Yeah."

I searched my memory for dialog from The Guild.

"Did you make some … epic … loot … um … drop?" I asked.

"Nothing epic, but the other guys got some decent stuff." He said.

"Did you get … a … loot?" I picked up a six pack of bottles in each hand.

"No," he said, patiently, "there wasn't anything there I could use." He picked up a case of bottles, and we walked to the kitchen together.

"Well … um … awesome!" I said, secretly proud of my ability to fake it through the conversation, and grateful that Ryan didn't call me out.

As we began washing our bottles, I realized that we only had 30, about 20 bottles less than we'd need for the whole batch.

"I thought we drank more beer," I said.

"We did, but that was at comicon," he said.

"Oh, that's right." I plunged some bottles into the sink and let them fill with water.  They sank to the bottom and I picked up some more to join them.

"I'm actually looking forward to going back to college, because it'll give me a chance to detox my liver after spending the summer with you."

We laughed. "Hey, these beer bottles aren't going to empty themselves," I said.

"And we can't just pour them out, because that would be alcohol abuse," he added.

"See? This is what I'm talking about. Clearly, I've raised you right."

Once the sink was filled with bottles and my hands were dry, I counted one more time, just to be sure: we were about a case of bottles short.

"I'm going to run over to the homebrew shop and pick up a case of bottles. Do you want to come with me?"

"No, I'll stay here and finish washing these. I want to get the labels off the Sierra Nevadas."

"Okay. Be right back."

I drove to the homebrew shop in Eagle Rock. The man who we first talked to three weeks ago was working. I asked him for a case of 12 ounce bottles, and when he rang me up, I said, "I don't know if you remember me, but my son and I came in here three weeks ago. You talked us through the whole brewing process, and helped us get our kit and first batch of beer together."

"Yes! You looked familiar, but I couldn't figure out why." He said.

"Well, today we are bottling that batch, and I wanted to thank you for being so kind and helpful. I was so intimidated by the idea of brewing, if you hadn't taken the time to explain it to us, I probably wouldn't have had the courage to start."

He punched some numbers into the register, and I continued. "My son and I have had an absolute blast brewing since then. We've made a one gallon all-grain IPA, we've made ginger ale, and we've made two kinds of bread and dog biscuits with the spent grain. We've had this wonderful father/son activity, and it's meant the world to me."

He smiled.

"So … um … thank you, for that," I said, realizing that I'd been rambling.

"You're welcome! It's my pleasure. Once you figure out that it's really just some basic steps, it's not that difficult."

"I know! We're going to make a couple more recipes, and then we'll build something of our own."

I handed him some money and he said, "that's the best part. You can experiment with different kinds of grain to get different styles, and you'll have all kinds of fun figuring out how to make a brown ale and then a porter and then a stout, or whatever you want to make."

"We're keeping a journal, and I've read the Papazian book and the John Palmer's book. I just got the recipe book in the mail this morning, and I'm taking it on location next week so …" I realized, again, that I was rambling. "I guess what I'm trying to say is 'thank you for introducing me to something awesome to do with my son that I also know is going to be a passion of mine for the rest of my life."

"You're welcome," he said, kindly. He handed me my change and my case of bottles, and I headed back home.

"I just finished," Ryan said when I walked into the kitchen, "and I need to break for lunch."

"No problem," I said. We ate some food while I rinsed the Oxy Clean off all of the bottles, then we filled our bottling bucket and added some StarSan. For the next half an hour or so, we sanitized the bottles by hand, and set them out to dry.

"99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer," Ryan sang, softly, "you take one down, put it on the ground, and then you have to sanitize the bottles again."

I laughed. "Yeah, this is ponderous, man. It's fuckin' ponderous." Is Don on the phone? Get Don on the phone! And where are those pictures I was supposed to see today?! "I think we should invest in a kegging system."

We talked about quantum physics and this story we're writing together while we worked our way through the bottles. When we had about ten left I said, "You know, maybe this isn't so bad. I mean, it's something we're doing together, right? If we weren't doing this, you'd be playing WoW and I'd be reading Reddit. I'd much rather spend this time with you, washing bottles and talking about stuff, then doing anything else."

"Yeah," he said, "me too."

Finally, the bottles were all sanitized. We let them dry, then covered them with foil to keep out the bad stuff. We boiled our priming sugar, put it into our sanitized bucket, and then siphoned the beer out of our carboy and into the bucket.

"Holy shit," Ryan said, "that smells and looks like beer!"

I pinched the siphon and grabbed our hydrometer tube thing. I put some beer into it and handed it to him. "Go ahead and taste it," I said.

He took a sip, and I watched a thoughtful look pass across his face before being instantly replaced with joyful excitement. "OH MY GOD IT IS TOTALLY BEER!"

I shared his excitement as I put the siphon back into the bucket, and let it continue filling. We checked the temperature and took a gravity reading. "It looks like it's 1.024," I said. Ryan concurred. "I think that means we're going to end up around four percent or so, which I think is pretty okay for this style of beer."*

"I don't care what percent it is, as long as it tastes good," he said.

"Are you sure you're in college? I asked. I took the hydrometer out of the beer, and set it carefully on the counter. Then, I sipped the beer. "It is totally beer," I said. "I'm so proud of us!"

The bucket finished filling, and we moved it up onto the counter. We grabbed a cooking pot out of a drawer, and put some bottles in it. "Ryan, would you like to fill our first bottle?" I asked.

"Why yes, yes I would."

He put the siphon into an empty brown bottle. When it pressed against the bottom, a valve opened up, and beer began to fill it. When it was right at the neck, he took it out, and I rested a cap (sitting in our no-rinse sanitizing solution, of course) on top of it. Paternal pride swelled in my chest, and threatened to push something out of the corners of my eyes.

When he finished the rest of the bottles, we moved them to the counter, refilled the pot with empties, and then filled them. We repeated this process until we had bottled just about four and a half gallons.

"Okay, let's cap these little beauties!" I said.

I held the first bottle steady as Ryan put the capper onto the top, and pressed the handles down. He lifted it away, and we both just stared at it for a few seconds.

"Dude," Ryan said, "that's our first bottle of beer!"

Earlier that afternoon, I'd bought some 1/4 inch round stickers at the store. We'd loaded an OpenOffice document and made a sheet of 24 for each of us that said California Pale Ale in our own font and color, so we'd know which beer belonged to whom. I picked up Ryan's sheet of labels and stuck one of his stickers on the bottle.

"I want you to have the first one," I said. I don't know if it was as important and meaningful to him as it was to me, but when he thanked me and carefully set it to one side, I thought that maybe it was.

We capped all of our beers, putting labels on as we went. We numbered the first ten bottles because we're nerds and we like to do that sort of thing. Then, we were finished. We looked at the counter in my kitchen, covered with bottles that were filled with beer. Our beer. Beer we had made. Together.

"I love that we did this," I said.

"Me too," Ryan said. "Is it two weeks, yet?"

I smiled. "Nope. But it will be two weeks before we know it."

When that day arrives, it will be bittersweet for me. On one hand, we get to try our beer for the first time, but it also means that Ryan will be going back to school a day or so later. But I'm looking forward to getting on Skype with him in a month or so, and through the miracle of technology, having one of our beers, that we made, together … and as far as loot goes, that's pretty epic at any level.

* After writing this, I checked my notes and looked at all our charts and conversion tables. Surprise! I misread the hydrometer. We were actually at 1.018, which should come out of the bottle between 3 and 4 percent ABV. Or I was right, I'm going to have an exploding, beer-filled closet in a week. I'll just play the waiting game until next Friday, and then I should know.

Okay, waiting game sucks; it's time for Hungry Hungry Hippos.

165 thoughts on “in which my son and i bottle our beer”

  1. This was awesome. It make me want to a) start blogging about my days with my daughter, and b) start brewing beer. Of course my daughter is 2, so her preferences on ingredients would lean towards bananas and ketchup. Also I’d get arrested. Maybe I should look into yogurt home brewing kits.

  2. “Me: I wrote a blog post about us today. Ryan: I know, I read it. I loved it. Epic loot is epic! Me: I … have something in both of my eyes.”
    Shoot, there’s something in both of MY eyes now!

  3. Hey Wil, Welcome to the obsession!
    Isn’t it great to have Eagle Rock brewing supplies as a local?
    (Kegging beats bottling every which way from Tuesday.)
    We should brew together sometime.
    Cheers!
    John

  4. I am a hard core geek and still play D&D with some of my friends from teenage years who are scattered throughout the states (via Fantasy Grounds II + Skype).
    I never tried WoW mostly because I was afraid I might get addicted to it. :)
    Wil, did you ever look at the MMORPG Dungeons & Dragons Online? It isn’t exactly like pen and paper, but it is similar enough that it doesn’t feel foreign. My dad isn’t a gamer and my son is too young, but I can totally fantasize about having a father and son team take down a lich. :)

  5. 
    TypePad HTML Email
    You can get a basic set up for under $100.00: two buckes
    with airlocks (one with a spigot at the bottom for bottling), a siphon hose, a
    hydrometer, a hand-held capper, and bottle caps. I was fortunate in that my
    college roommate worked for a beer distributor and I got all of my bottles
    for free. Do not use twist-off bottles.

  6. Do you actually recall conversations with this much clarity, or do you reconstruct the gist of it when you write? Just curious. Great post – as usual. :)

  7. Ok, it’s bugging me -
    “I guess what I’m trying to say is ‘thank you for introducing me to something awesome to do with my son that I also know is going to be a passion of mine for the rest of my life.”
    Should there be an ending single quotation mark?
    And I concur, do you remember the convos with that much clarity or do you take writer’s liberty with it? ;-)

  8. There’s a ton of great comments on here, and unfortunately I don’t have time to read them all.
    If no one mentioned it, a bottling tree and a sulphiter make the sanitizing process for the bottles much easier. My dishwasher is never empty/clean enough to use it for bottles.
    Another great tip, if you don’t mind drinking tons of Grolsch, you can save money on flip-top bottles and avoid the extra step of capping.

  9. awesome! I'd love to talk with you about designing beers and making my own recipes, once I have enough experience to do that sort of thing.

  10. doh! Yes, I missed a single quote there. I'll go back and fix it.
    I am surprised by how clear my memories are when I start writing. I can actually hear conversations replayed in my head when I write them down. If only my brain worked that well when I try to remember where I put my keys…

  11. Just wanted to say, as a non beer drinker – I really enjoyed reading this. Very cool to see the father and son project come to fruition. It reminded me of when my brothers got into a wine making kick quite a few years ago with my Dad. I came up to visit and they had all of these bottles of strange concoctions all over the house…and then a batch of something that went horribly wrong and instead of becoming ginger ale ended up tasting like vodka and was almost as potent.
    I remember taking a few sips…getting one hell of a buzz and remarking to my brother that if could remember how he made it, he’d probably make a lot of money. ;)

  12. I haven’t homebrewed for a decade, but dude, you need to start collecting Grolsch bottles.
    1) Capping is easy – just swing the ceramic top back on
    2) 16oz bottles mean fewer to clean, less bottles to fille
    3) 16oz bottles mean more for you when you’re drinking them!

  13. I’m a lurker on your blog, sometimes reading, never commenting. But today my husband says something about you home brewing and I must say “Yay!!!”
    Just took my BJCP exam today for judging, and though I mostly help my husband with his brews and rarely brew myself, I have great enthusiasm for it and I’m glad you do too! It’s so rewarding.
    Can’t wait to read how it turned out.

  14. I absolutely, to my very soul, HATE World of Warcraft. It very nearly ended my marriage 6 months before it even started. My husband tried desperately to get me interested, but after the billionth time of saying that dinner was ready and have him wander in the dark kitchen a FULL 8 hours later, asking where it was and discovering that it was 2 in the morning, dinner was over and put away and that I had been in bed for 6 hours because I worked at 5 in the morning, my patience for that game ended. His douchebag friend got him back into it a while back and the same shit started over again. This time, we have a 2 year old and he has a wife that has NO patience for that Stupid Fucking Game, as I have labled it. Yeah, he’s not playing it anymore.
    As for brewing beer with your son, awesome! Sweet story too.

  15. Yep, I live in La Crescenta. There are some great brewing clubs in the area too if you are interested.
    No pressure. Homebrewers are low pressure folk. Well, most of us anyway.
    Brew Strong,
    John

  16. What a lovely story. My favorite part is at the homebrew store, when you talk to the guy like you’re on the other side of the table at ComicCon.
    (At least, that’s how I sound when I’m talking to someone on Celebrity Row. )

  17. As the son of an avid home-brewer who has been making his own beers for about 20 years, these posts have been a fascinating read. I managed to pick up a thing or two while watching my dad brew, rack, and bottle his own beers. Grolsch bottles are the best, by far, since they are infinitely reusable and can stand up to the pressures. Also, if you have the dishwasher space for it, you can put your bottles in there with a scoop or two of sanitizer. Makes the bottle-washing experience so much easier.

  18. No way! I grew up in La Crescenta! I love living in this small world.
    Thanks for writing your book, and helping me understand what I'm doing. I'd love to give you a bottle of our beer, when it's ready.

  19. Heh, I had forgotten how long to let the beer age. Thanks for reminding me that it’s actually 2 weeks.
    Also, at 1 week don’t forget to play spin the bottle with your beer to make sure the yeast doesn’t cling to the bottle sides. While your bottle is upright, hold it by the cap and just spin it sharply once 180 degrees. This sharp motion will drop any lingering yeast. Do this step too if you’re making ginger ale or root beer.

  20. I think my post got eaten, but I mentioned that it’s also a good idea (Prior to cold crashing or before the second week of fermenting) that you should spin your bottles to keep the yeast from clinging to the sides of the bottle. Simply grab your bottle by the cap and twist 180 degrees once and quickly. This sudden force will dislodge any yeast. Good idea to do this with Ginger Ale and Root Beer brewing too.

  21. Jacking the thread somewhat….
    Jesus, Boss. You used to be a mudder, and the spam of numbers and names sends you into a fugue? We OG find that…surprisingly normal. I can’t keep up with it anymore, myself–and if you start throwing sparkly graphics into the mix, I think I may as well take a nap and start reeq’ing.
    Anyway, back to beer! Sweet, blessed beer! BEER!
    The wife and I recently moved from NC to OH, and I’m betting my first pathetic attempt at homebrew (in a 85+ F apartment) will go much better here. I’ll drop a note once things get up and running.
    Oh…and since I’m a chemist, you can be darn sure I’ll be anal about keeping notes!
    JSc

  22. I don’t drink beer enough to really see myself homebrewing any time soon. But it would be really cool to see a post about you suggesting beers for people to drink because you became a BAMF beer expert.
    You know, between blogging, working on awesome TV, showing up to PAX and other cons, and being a better example of fatherhood/husbandhood(?) than many other “Hollywood” people. (Just goes to prove, you want to have a meaningful life, LIVE IT YOURSELF.)

  23. I’ve been following your blog for a while, and the beer brewing epic with particular interest, and I figured it’s time to pipe up. I’ve thought of brewing beer off and on, particularly with my father, who used to do it when he was young (and made brandy too, I believe, though we won’t talk about that too much cause it’s illegal here in Denmark… heheh). You should know, dear Mr. Wheaton, that you have officially inspired me to finally get going on the beer brewing project with my dad this fall/winter. I’m 24 but living at home after a couple of years of studying abroad left me with very little money (and the job situation here is tough, very tough). I love my family but it’s difficult living at home when I’m used to my own space; maybe if my dad and I have a common project it’ll ease things a bit.
    *clears throat* Okay, now I’m rambling. In summary: thank you. I love following along on this story and I’m really excited to get going on my own brewing project now. Internet research, here I come!

  24. If you plan on continuing to bottle, I recommend you get these two things. A vinator and a bottle tree. You just put some star san in the vinator, and a couple pumps later your bottles are sanitized. I use a spray bottle with star san in it to spritz anything I can’t easily submurge in the bucket, like the bottle tree. Cheers!

  25. Hi, Wil!
    Something you should consider with your future batches is proper aeration of the wort prior to pitching the yeast. Often one of the reasons fermentation stops is because there isn’t enough oxygen available for the yeast at the start.
    I’ve found the best way to deal with that is to sterilize a paint stirrer, attach it to a cordless drill, and buzz the heck out of the wort for a couple of minutes before you pitch the yeast. (Brewing plus power tools?! RAWR!!)
    Then keep the fermenter at a consistent temperature until primary fermentation is complete. I set the fermenter in a laundry tub filled with water. Then I use an aquarium heater and air pump to keep the water temperature steady. It works great.
    Also, my Dad is 80 and for Father’s Day this year I made an Irish stout recipe for him and he brewed it in his kitchen. It was the first time he had ever brewed and we had a blast together. Last week we shared a couple of bottles. ::sniff::

  26. I wish everyone in SoCal had your beerxpertise… I just went to a wedding around lake arrowhead, the “beer” choices were: budweiser, bud light, bud lime and coors. Really?!?!

  27. While I was a head brewer at several SoCal brewpubs (Huntington Beach Beer Company and the former Riverside Brewing Company) I noticed that except for a few bright spots (Port Brewing, maybe Stone, TAPS, my breweries…) SoCal beer culture is somewhat…stunted. I never figured out why–there really isn’t any reason for it and when the beer down there is on it’s *on*. Now I live in Oregon. It’s better here.

  28. Reading these posts has made me want to start brewing my own beer. If nothing else, to design my own labels.
    So, did you go to the beginners’ class, or just jump right in?

  29. If after two weeks you find the beer isn’t carbonated, don’t fret. Just leave it alone and come back to it in another two weeks or so. I’ve been home brewing with some girlfriends for almost a year now and we’ve lost tons of flat beer down the drain thinking we had gone wrong somewhere. It was only after I had left what I thought was a bad growler of beer on the counter for two months and decided it needed to go down the drain did we finally figure out that bottled/growler beer is taking a bit longer than we thought to carbonate. Good luck and I hope it turns out great!

  30. I wonder what the law says about selling the beer. I would pay $50-$100 for a bottle from #2 to #10 (#1 means way to much) I am sure the law has something to say about selling it though. Oh well.

  31. Hey Wil,
    Just had a random thought, I (and I’m sure a ton of people that read your blog) would love to see you and Ryan make a single six pack of beer and auction it off for Child’s Play. I would TOTALLY bid on that, just saying. I know you are friends with Penny Arcade (aka Mike and Jerry), and could totally make that happen.
    PS – I’m not trying to be all dickish and volunteer your time for stuff, I know you are seriously busy. I just thought it would be neat. If anything this random “thought” has reminded me I need to donate again this year. -Mike

  32. Like. I'm only in L.A. for a bit visiting family, we'll be back to Michigan soon and there is no shortage of excellent beer/breweries there. Would love to visit Portland someday.

  33. You’d have to be really careful with that, ’cause the TTB (Tax and Trade Bureau, the AT part of ATF that didn’t get spun off into Homeland Security) frowns mightily on anything that comes even close to homebrewers selling their beer.
    What you might do instead is look up a friendly local brewery and a local homebrew club, set up a homebrew competition with the entry fees as a donation to Child’s Play. Winner could, for example, have their beer brewed by the brewery as a seasonal special. If I had a brewery running at the moment, I’d totally help sponsor that.

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