Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Typical Brew Day

My day begins with the mile or so walk to the brewery. I follow a series of roads that run alongside a shallow river that skirts the center of town. Now, during the rainy season this river is brown and moves quickly towards the reservoir that spreads out past the old train depot. Discarded litter, plastic bags, dirty diapers and rotten vegetable matter all get transported by the rush of the tainted water along with voluminous amounts of dog shit that joins the parade as run-off from the cobbled lanes. But during the dry season it's tepid flow slows and turns to the neon yellow/green color of radiator fluid and emits a smell that can only be described as a combination of swamp gas, raw sewage and burning hair all of which it may actually consist of in part.

San miguel is built in a canyon and I navigate to avoid the steeper hills but the last few hundred yards to the brewery can't be avoided and I labor to finish my walk. Once I arrive (if it's a brew day) I immediately start heating the mash water. I want to start quickly because this is going to be a a long day. My personal best? Ten hours. The day before, I weight out and milled all the grain, prepared the water chemistry and weight out the hops needed to brew four batches of beer back-to-back.

Within moments of prying open the squeaky door to the brewery the next door neighbor boy "el nino", I don't know his real name, shows up looking for work. His hair is mussed and eyes look sleepy, evidently just having sprung from his bed. He has started wearing black rubber boots like mine and he has an expected look in his eyes of pesos and root beer. Usually I send him away with "no trabajo hoy". but when he arrives in the afternoon there's usually something I can task him with if nothing more than having him squeegee the brewing water off the tiled floor into the street. I pay him about ten pesos an hour which judging by his excitement is good money for a 9 year old Mexican boy. He knows which tap on the refrigerator is root beer and asks if he can fill himself a plastic cup worth and then says in English "thank you" after I say it's o.k.

On this day I'm about halfway through my work and I've got twenty gallons of wort in the plastic fermentor when I hear a commotion outside. I look to see yet again, a dead man laying on the sidewalk. A small group of people are gathered around, one person is fanning his face while another cradles his head in her lap. It appears the general belief is that he can be revived but I've seen this mans expression before. His languid, slack jawed resignation and slightly grey appearance tells me he's not here anymore. Soon, someone who seems to be a doctor shows up and has the assembled shuttle the heavy body into the shade on the other side of the street as if that may be the remedy. Finally an ambulance arrives to take him away and it's all over. I go back to my task of brewing, I look up at the thermometer reading on the wall clock, 98f. Two more batches to brew today.

Finally, it gets to be that time during the brew day when I can crack open a 'short fill' and spend a moment appreciating the fruits of my labor. Today it's an Imperial IPA. The clarity and straw colored effervescence draws me into my first bitter/sweet taste and I immediately recognize why the customers demand this beer. One even went so far as to compare it to Ballast Point's Sculpin IPA. Am I flattered? Yes, I admit it. I look out the front of the brewery onto the street, the Mexicans walk up and down the stone pavers peering in as they pass with surprise and wonder at the gringo with his kettles and burners, emitting steam, heat and aromatics that come when brewing beer. What are they thinking? I don't know but I speculate that they're saying to themselves "I could do that. I could make money doing that." They have no idea of the price you pay for really only what amounts to the reward of great beer. It's not about the money (or lack of money) at this level, it's about making ends meet to brew more of the same.

In the end, the fermentor is full and rolled back into the cold room, the cleaning done and the chiller is soaking in caustics. I gather myself up for the walk back home. I'm exhausted and mildly drunk from an accumulation of beer samples but feel satisfied with the efforts I put in.  A good days work.

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