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Journals of an Insane Genius -- August 1999
I was privileged to inaugurate this years Monday Night Football season with two bottles of home brew courtesy of my friend Jimmie. Jimmie has been perfecting his recipe for several years now and the few bottles he gives away are highly sought after. I love the way the caps *pop* off of his bottles, like the beer just canít wait to be set free. While I enjoy home brew I tend to view it as alchemy and having heard too many horror stories of bottles exploding I am too chicken to try it.
I discovered the best home brew I ever tasted quite by accident after spending a long day hiking in the Chiricahua Mountains. The drive home took us past Willcox and the Leroy Air Field. Phil Leroy moved here from France about ten years ago and set up a business teaching people how to pilot ultralight aircraft. There's a contingency of people from work that own ultralights and the Leroy AirField is their Saturday hangout. When it gets too windy to fly they head into the hangar and tell war stories over a few cold ones. Since a few cold ones sounded agreeable after almost six hours of hiking we decided to drop in.
The war stories are already in progress, and weíre offered a couple of Labatt's in exchange for suspending our disbelief. A fair enough trade. Iím exhausted and the beer is cold. I comment that I think this is the finest beer I've had all year. That's when Phil Leroy's father, "Johnny" (I'm pretty sure that it's Jean, but nobody calls him that), starts talking to me about beer.
Johnny asks my opinion on warm beer. I point out that unlike most American beers, European beers actually taste better as they warm up. Apparently I've passed the test because Johnny sneaks off and returns with a few bottles of home brew. This is a treat, and if there's one thing I've learned it's to never, ever, turn down a bottle of home brew. After one sip I announce that I've changed my mind about which beer is the finest that I've had all year. This time I'm not exaggerating, Johnny's brew is incredibly smooth.
Some of the other guys chip in that this is indeed a good batch, much better than the dark one he made a few months ago. I tell Johnny to pay no attention to this kind of uneducated whining. "So, you like dark beer eh?", Johnny asks with a sly look in his eye. "The darker the better", I reply. Johnny disappears again and returns with two bottles that are filled with a substance that's darker than Coca-Cola. He explains that this is bottle fermented and that we need to give it a few minutes to settle before pouring it. His wife suggests that he take me on a tour of his brewing setup.
They take me into one of the back rooms of the hangar and there are cases and cases of home brew, each labeled with the recipe used and date it was brewed. He's showing me some of his equipment when I ask him what kind of hops he uses. "Oh here, I'll show you", he says with a big grin on his face. We go through another door and we're outside now. "You grow your own hops", I say with disbelief as I stare at the carefully maintained plants. Johnny grows five different varieties of hops and changes the blend and roasting time with each batch as he experiments. As we're admiring this he gestures towards another building. "I keep the bees over behind there. I only use their honey instead of store bought sugar", he says as if it's no big deal. No wonder his beer tasted so good. We finish the tour and I sample the dark brew. For the third and final time of the day I get the rare privilege of tasting the finest beer that I've had all year.