“Dog Collar Ale” did not turn out the way it was supposed to.
Something went wrong. It might have been during the half-hour cooling process, or perhaps had to do with the constant temperature changes in Matt Nicholas’ Rosenfeld Hall dorm room.
Or, it could have been the fruit flies. They definitely could have contributed.
Whatever it was, something was off with Nicholas ’05 and Justin Kan’s first batch of dorm-brewed beer.
“There was an aftertaste,” Kan ’05 said. “It’s worse than Miller High Life.”
The collegiate pursuit of beer is normal; the pursuit of high quality ale — not so normal. But for a growing number of college students, disgust with the light yellow liquid that passes for beer at parties has driven them to take matters — and barley — into their own hands.
Thanks to a proliferation of online instruction and retail sites dedicated to the process of home brewing, it has become easier than ever for college students to produce the fermented beverage of their dreams. A relatively small investment — a large pot, a fermentation tank (“carboy”), some tubing and ingredients — and the average frat boy can transform himself into everybody’s best friend, much to the pleasure of his tastebuds and the chagrin of his liver.
Nicholas and Kan got their initial capital from the dining services rebate checks handed out during the strike. Inspiration came from Nicholas’ brother.
“My brother does it and he’s pretty good at it,” Nicholas said. “It was the best beer I ever had.”
The two went online, bought the necessary equipment and ingredients, and began preparing their first batch. In a cramped dorm room with no kitchen, things turned out to be a little more difficult than they initially thought.
The cooling process, supposed to take five minutes, took more like a half hour. The temperature changes of the room probably didn’t help, nor the small portable burner they used to heat the brew. In the end, it wasn’t even worth creating a label for their used Sam Adams bottles.
“It was a pretty bootleg operation,” Kan said. “The reviews were not positive.”
Although Kan and Nicholas did not have a good first brew, one junior in Branford ended up the hero of his social circle for his “Never Fail Ale.”
“People in college have a really skewed idea of what beer is,” the Branford junior said. He declined to give his name because he is still underage. “Most people are like, this is the best beer I’ve ever had, when really it’s not that great.”
The Branford junior said although he made more batches over the summer at home, he has only brewed two batches at school: a cider and a beer.
Most students are curious when they hear that he brews his own beer, he said, although some are a little worried about actually trying it. The reviews, however, are generally positive.
“Some people are really gung-ho about it, and are like — ‘Wow, this doesn’t taste like urine,'” the Branford junior said. “And then there are the people that tentatively taste it and are like — ‘Oh, it’s OK.'”
But, he said cramped rooms make for a difficult brewing process.
“To be honest, it’s really hard to do on campus,” he said. “It’s really time consuming and takes up a lot of space.”
The junior said he is certainly not alone in brewing his own alcohol — most of the people in his chemistry lab have tried at least once. But, he said, the number of college students dorm-brewing are out-numbered by far by young singles in their mid-20s to mid-30s.
And with the difficulties of dorm-brewing, many who try probably become discouraged, like Nicholas and Kan. The two vow not to try again until they have a kitchen.
“From now on, I’m sticking to going to Richter’s,” Kan said.
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