The apartment is nearly silent tonight. I’m reading a collection of short stories, interspersed with a record of glitchy electronic noise that plays quietly until its side ends. I am focused on my chapter, my place. It fuels my forward momentum, and the record ends. The arm makes a mechanical CHUNK as it lifts and resets. The RPMs slow, stop. The chapter continues. The apartment is nearly silent. Nearly.
BLUG. BLUG. BLUG.
My most recent beer ferments loudly. A billion yeast cells float inside 5 or so gallons of wort. It is food. The yeast are alive, and they eat, and they get full and so they must belch, and fart, and shit. This is the magic of brewing a beer. BLUG. The food they eat affects the waste they leave. This is what will make an IPA, or a kolsch, or a porter. BLUG.
It follows a tempo. In the moment, it is steady. It sounds like hybrid of a clock and terrible indigestion. BLUG. BLUG. BLUG. It is soothing, comforting, and somehow enticing. I made this thing. The sounds of fermentation mean I did it right. BLUG. BLUG. To hear it now is to hear a train, steady rhythms moving something forward. The sound is consistent, the tempo strong. I did a good job.
This is my favorite time. I let the record stop, I put the book down, I stare at the cat, who is constantly curious as to what intruder is lurking, unseen, in our tiny living space. She is the protector of her domain, and every few weeks she must again grow accustomed to the sound of something unknown and present. To her, there is nothing but a sound and a mystery. BLUG. BLUG.
I finish the story I’m on, put the book down on the coffee table, and move over to check the beer. This is the first time I’ve mastered a blowoff tube, after the last two beers exploded all over the apartment. The constant BLUG is a wet sound, like an aquarium pump. I imagine a tiny diver with a hinge-face helmet, bubbles aerating and disturbing the goldfish. A tube runs from a bucket and down into a glass jar, full of water. Should the beer start foaming too much, the foam will run down the tube, into the jar, and then be tossed with little to no ceremony. Without this tube, the airlock might clog, creating pressure which will ultimately build and build until the entire lid reaches critical mass and POP! Foamy yeasty wort all over the walls, the ceiling, the books, the cat.
I speak from experience. BLUG. The blowoff tube represents improvement in my craft. BLUG.
It wasn’t always a BLUG. This is the first time it was BLUG. The last few beers were a tiny bloop.bloop.bloop. I am always proud of that sound, the signs of success. Months ago, I was taught to make a yeast starter. This ensures a more fiery, robust, passionate fermentation: that which creates the bubbles. It improved my product immensely. It created the bloops more quickly, more intensely. It created the hissssssssssssssssssssssss. It created the POP! But despite the mess, it created a better thing. Making a yeast starter was an improvement.
Sis was here right after I made my first yeast starter. I remember because I was feeling foolish, worrying about the bloop and the hiss in that moment. I was getting ready to go away for the weekend to the Ocean. The hiss had led to several pops already. There was a mess everywhere. I can’t hide that I am anxious. I worried about the mess. I worried about making a bad beer. I worried about looking like an amateur in front of Sis. I also worried about my hair and my shirt and my car and my cat and my fridge and my coffee, but especially my bloop and my hiss. Ultimately, I got some advice, put a towel over the whole thing, and just let it go. Up to that point, it ended up being the best I’d ever made. I remember thinking it absurd how worried I was about the things; but in the end, it was a fiery, robust, passionate anxiety that led to better results. I stopped worrying about my shirt so much. Everything continues to get better as we move forward.
BLUG. BLUG. It continues its song as I write. Every brew is like this: a momentary passion in my everyday life. It chugs away, and I am proud. The framboise that was my reentry into brewing: it did not chug for days, and so I repitched a yeast to make it strong. The kolsch that waited 2 days only to start its very first bubbles on Father’s Day, and so I named it Junior. The hefeweizen that blew the airlock so high it hit the ceiling and woke me from my slumber. BLUG. BLUG.
In a day or two, the tempo will slow. Then it will stop. This metronome, this meditative sound will cease, and I will feel that same soft sadness. I will, for just moments, truly miss it, miss its presence, miss its overwhelming existence. For just a moment or two, I won’t know what to do.
And then I will flip the record. I will pick up my book and start the next story.
But eventually, the stories will run out. The record will end. The calming sounds of a fermentation will slow, and quiet, and then they will stop.
And for now, in my life, I will only have that. Another book to pick up, to touch the prose on the page. Another record to play endlessly on one side. Another beer to brew, better than the last and with fewer mistakes; or rather, with newer, bigger, grander mistakes to look forward to.
BLUG. BLUG. BLUG.
The sound reminds me, just sometimes, of what it is to love.