Thursday, May 18, 2006

Pop Goes The Pop

Thanks to this post by JeanC for the memories, and the inspiration...

When I was a kid (pre-teen), my parents decided to make our own root beer -- for some reason, everyone in the family loved the stuff. The recipe was printed on the label of the bottles of Hires' Extract.

My sibs and I were over the moon -- our own pop factory, right there at home! We couldn't wait. We volunteered to help (try getting a kid to do that these days, eh?) -- wash bottles, do the sugaring, even capping the bottles (a job my dad expropriated -- too much leverage needed on the capping machine for a kid).

As the oldest, I already had some experience with the process. My parents had been making their own beer for a couple of years, and I had previously been drafted as bottle-washer and sugarer (sugaring is measuring and inserting a small amount of sugar directly into each scrupulously clean bottle before the raw brew is siphoned into it -- the extra sugar helps the brew "work" a second time).


Everything went just fine up to, and for a few days after, the bottling. Directions said to store the capped bottles on their sides in an out-of-the-way place for a couple of weeks to let the brew "work." Being a non-alcoholic brew, there was no yeast, but there was carbonation happening.

Now, seeing how excited we kids were, my parents knew they had to store the stuff out of the way. I mean, really out of the way. Because we, as a family, were no longer the only ones anticipating the first successful batch. We had, by kid grapevine, alerted the entire military base that my parents were making their own root beer. So naturally, every kid on the base wanted to be there for the first unveiling-and-tasting, if only they knew when that was. Consequently, our house was almost under seige all day, every day, by kids who wanted to look, and touch, the magic bottles.

Being grown-ups, my parents knew that the only place they could store the root beer was where no kid could reach it. In fact, they supposed that if it was difficult for an adult to reach it, it would be impossible for a kid to reach it.

So they stored the newly-capped, long-necked beer bottles in their cases on top of the kitchen cabinets. With the caps facing out. In the middle of summer. A long, hot summer.

You know where this is going by now, don't you?

It was a U-shaped kitchen, with cabinets on three sides, on top of which were ten dozen bombs waiting to go off.

And go off they did. Beginning in the kitchen at about two o'clock one hot summer morning. And not ending until after eight o'clock that same morning in the middle of the driveway, where we (and somehow, most of the neighboring kids) all gathered in a mournful circle as the last intact beer bottle gave up its struggle and simply popped its cap just like the previous 119 bottles.

My dad dusted off his hands and started throwing bottles and brew-soaked cardboard boxes into the trash. We kids were willing to pitch in, but my dad was concerned about our being cut on some of the bottles that actually broke rather than just blew their caps. So we gave moral support instead. And heaved a collective, sad sigh as the last bottle crashed into the garbage.

The pop machine was broken. No home-made root beer. What wasn't coating the kitchen ceiling, cabinets and floor was trickling in little streamlets down the driveway and soaking into the grass -- where I have no doubt that the ants were throwing an orgy at all the sugar.

My dad, though, was no quitter. He just looked at all us kids and said, "We're going to need twelve dozen more beer bottles." All those faces lit up like beacons in a fog. "I'll pay a penny a bottle. No cracks or lip damage. Fifteen cents for a dozen if you bring 'em in the box. Twenty cents if they're all washed and clean."

You want to clean up the neighborhood of empties? Try out-bidding the bottle-return depot and turn the kids loose.

The next batch of root beer was wonderful. I can still taste it more than forty years later. Maybe one of these days, I'll go buy a bottle of Hires Extract and see if that recipe is still on the label.


Blogger JeanC said...

Mmmmmm, root beer. I'll have to try my hand at that too :D

Great story, I can imagine the disappointment at seeing all that wonderful root beer splooging all over the place. Great idea of your dad for getting new bottles, gives the kids something to do, recycles bottles and everyone feels like they had a hand in the next batch :D

I remember one time my dad made stout. He wanted to store it in the crawl space under the master bedroom (there was an access hatch in the closet), mom said absolutely not. So he stored it in the garage. Summer time in northern California just south of Sacramento. Hot, hot, hot. Neeldess to say, the sounds of exploding stout bottles was interesting. The garage still smelled of stout 10 years later when the sold the house hehehehehehe

Thursday, May 18, 2006 11:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Ian Scott said...

I've been making wine for some years - never had that happen to me yet, touch wood. One of things I would LOVE to do is make my own root beer. I'll have to see if I can find me some Hires Extract.

Thursday, May 18, 2006 1:10:00 PM  
Blogger DazzlinDino said...

LMAO...good one, I've got one for ya....

My dad decided to make a homemade cough syrup one time, made mostly of real honey (we had a couple hives on the farm) along with god knows what else. It was actually pretty good. I was about 10 at the time.

When I was 16, Dad sold the farm, making a killing at the time, about $1200 an acre (it's runs around $400 now.) When we were clearing out the house, we came across this bottle in the basement, a glass jug kinda like you see hicks drink moonshine from in the movies. A problem occured when we went to move started to shake !! It shook for about five minutes then stopped, and would shake anytime we tried to move it. About the fifth time we managed to get it out the front door, outside temperature - 34 degrees Celcius. While we were having a beer, it started to shake on it's own.

The cork flew out, crap flew everywhere, the bottle made about three circles, flew over a three foot hedge, and put a nasty dent in Dads brand new truck. Dad's beer came out his nose, and then he proceeded to.........cough his lungs out........

Thursday, May 18, 2006 3:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Ian Scott said...

That's funny, Dazzlin!

Friday, May 19, 2006 9:07:00 AM  
Blogger Dez said...

We had a similar experience with homemade Hire's rootbeer one hot summer in Vancouver, shortly after my daughter was born. My wife still tells horror stories about it to this day.

Enough bottles survived to make it worth the mess, but we were never brave enough to try it again.

Saturday, May 20, 2006 11:46:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thats a funny story.;) i would be upset if that happened to me and my family.. if i were one of the kids, i would ask if we could try it again but do something different with the recipe so that the bottles would'nt blow-up again..

Wednesday, March 07, 2007 5:32:00 PM  

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