Su Lum: Slumming
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
On Monday night, I had a small early supper with my daughter Skye and my friends Ellen and Hilary, during which I announced that I needed a funny story for this week’s column.
I usually have several column topics waiting in the wings, but this week I had been distracted by other tasks, and suddenly it was deadline time and I was drawing a blank.
“Why don’t you write about the pistol falling into the homebrew?” Skye suggested.
“I might have written about that years ago,” I said, “and, besides, I just wrote about guns last week.”
We have these occasional awkward family moments when it turns out that neither of my daughters has read my column in the past week or even months, occasionally spurring me to write revealing things about them in the hope that their friends will nudge them, saying, “Did you see what your mom wrote about you this week?”
My kids have busy lives, and we all have thick skins, and the pistol story is pretty good, so what the hell.
The trailer we lived in on our wilderness homestead in Alaska was tiny – 8 feet wide by 33 feet long – not big enough for a proper brewery, but we were motivated by poverty and thirst.
Our homebrew supplies consisted of a hydrometer (telling you when to bottle the beer), 70 quart-size bottles scavenged from the dump, cans of malt and hops, yeast and lots of sugar (20 pounds per 20 gallons of water!), water hauled from a distant spring, a bottle capper and boxes of caps.
The ingredients were poured into a 30-gallon plastic garbage can, which took up the major surface of the small table in the kitchen area, leaving precious little room for hacking up moose roasts and kneading bread dough.
To compensate for the loss of space, we turned the lid upside down on top of the can, making a handy concave surface to put things on – gloves, hats, books, home-rolled cigarettes, bones for the dog, Skye’s toys, sometimes resting place for Pooh the cat and, usually, Burt’s pistol, holster and ammo belt.
Given the close quarters and wilderness existence, nasty little surprises were routine, but it was a real oh-my-God moment when Callie, who lived with us as unpaid hired hand, discovered that the catch-all lid had tipped over and dumped its contents into 25 gallons of steeping homebrew.
We were perilously close to the last quarts of the previous batch, and this batch would be ready to bottle in a couple of days. Dumping it out and starting over was out of the question, while roiling up the sediment at the bottom could result in future explosions.
We didn’t know how long the pistol and other unknown detritus had been in the drink – less than a day but more than a few hours. As gently as possible, Callie, on a small stepladder, fished out the holster and ammo belt with a wire coat hanger while I held the flashlight. Soggy mittens and scarves – fortunately not the cat – were lifted out, and then we called it a day and hoped for the best.
Burt cleaned the pistol, which was none the worse the wear for its dunking, and when we uncapped the first bottle of the tainted brew, we all agreed that it was the best batch ever.
Su Lum is a longtime local who thinks we weren’t very fussy back then. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
Sean Beckwith is taking advantage of his column space this week to inform the public of the Best in Jest.