Written by Craig LaBan, Philadelphia Inquirer Restaurant Critic
As someone with a weekly drink column who’s always in quest of the next great sip, variety in my glass is just a way of life. In the past decade, I’ve almost never ordered the same bottle twice. The notion of having an entire keg of one beer to consume in my home, then, has always been the ultimate nonstarter every time I thought about tackling home brew.
And then Devin and Meg Griffiths moved in down the street. Within merely a few days, these outgoing newcomers from Texas (he’s a postdoc fellow in University of Pennsylvania’s English department) already had a steady stream of happy neighbors coming through their home. The reason? Aside from her fresh-baked apple strudels and his pit-smoked Texas brisket, Devin is also a devoted home brewer. Nothing draws a friendly crowd like a well-stocked Kegerator.
“Yeah, home brew goes a long way as far as neighbor relations,” said Jason Harris, owner of Keystone Homebrew Supply in Montgomeryville and Bethlehem. “People form friendships with neighbors and they brew together.”
Brew together? Of course! My home-brew Yoda had finally moved in down the block and I was eager to become his malt-stirring Jedi Knight. It was about time I got my hands into some hot wort. (That’s the liquid steeped from the porridgelike mash of malted barley to be fermented into beer.)
I had inspiration not far away from Suzanne Woods, who’s both a beer writer (a.k.a. “Beer Lass”) and the regional sales manager for Sly Fox Brewery. She had just collaborated with her brewer boyfriend, Chris LaPierre, to create a beer in her honor at Iron Hill’s branch in Maple Shade, a saison-style ale with pink and green peppercorns dubbed “Saizanne.”
“A lot of people who do what I do don’t know what’s going on with the beer – they could be selling copiers and pencils,” said Woods. “But if you’re going to be in this, you need to dedicate yourself to beer. You need that intimate experience with the beer. Because when you understand the process, it has to make you appreciate what’s in the glass a little more.”
“Plus, musicians always name songs after their girlfriends,” she added. “He should at least name a beer after me.”
Griffiths is no stranger to romantic brewing. He crafted a peach-and-pecan maibock for his wedding, in honor of his Texas bride. I, of course, had different intentions for our first co-brewing adventure: a beer for our crawfish boil, the block’s annual gather-round-the-table feast on lip-numbing Louisiana critters.