As the cab pulled up to SweetWater Brewery, I knew there would be trouble. But for whom?

SweetWater tasting room on any given Saturday

The first sign was the cars parked anywhere they could squeezed into. Then there were all the people swarming around the building and filling the tasting room to overflow. And then the parking lot had maybe a dozen gas burners going with people huddled around the steaming pots.

I hadn’t a clue what I’d gotten myself into.

Steve from SweetWater had invited me to brew a beer for the cask festival. Seemed simple. They had a couple of base beers and each invitee just had to trick theirs out and make something interesting. I set my sights on a classic porter and got a homebrewing friend, Keith, to give me some direction. I thought I was in good shape.

The night before the big brew-in, as I left my home for dinner, I got a call from a local homebrewer to inform me that most of the ingredients I’d requested wouldn’t be available. Our plans went out the window, and imagination had to take over.

Boiling the wort

Have I ever written about how different homebrewers are? Well, they are. Their confidence and knowledge (real or imagined!) is unflappable. On the fly, this homebrewer and I came up with a totally different concept, shifting from classic porter to a holiday dessert beer. He also changed some of the amounts I’d requested.

Then I got in line to get my supplies. Yet another homebrewer reviewed my list and made a few changes, again suggesting different quantities. (With each revision, they seemed to get bigger.)

Finally, I’m out in the parking lot, joining the group boil, with my little pot and my bag of ingredients. My ignorance attracted a whole collection of homebrewers and provoked quite an argument about amounts and techniques.

Filling the cask

So, in a few weeks, March 20th, 2010. 6:00 PM-10 :00 PM, SweetWater will host a cask tasting and people will get to vote on the best.

By the end, I had some powdered malt for body and richness, quite a bit of Golding hops for aroma and bitter, some cloves and cinnamon to go with star anise, and some English yeast, I forget the strain.

During the open house at the end of the brew day, I distinguished myself with my efforts to bribe as many potential judges as I could find, as I was also doing my best impression of a stand-in bartender. Now that was a gas—though I was I busted about my bad pours.

Serving up pints at Sweetwater

If you come on the 20th, don’t miss the Dank Tank. It took over my brain half way through the second pint. Then vote for my beer.