As part of our new My First Beer series, we invite you to submit your story for posting to firstname.lastname@example.org. Today we're honored to post our first reader submitted story. Our thanks go out to Mark Mitchell.
My first beer was actually a "craft" home brew
As a kid growing up in Indiana, every summer vacation we would make our annual pilgrimage to go visit my Grandparents and Great Aunts and Uncles back in Beckley, West Virginia. We would usually try to coincide our visit with visits from My Uncle Jack (my Dad's brother) and Aunt Eleanor's family from Georgia, And my Aunt Nancy (my Dad's sister) and Uncle Jim's family from Maryland, all converging on my "Granny's place" mid to late summer. When we did ALL make it in to visit at the same time my family would stay with my Great Uncle Jack and Great Aunt Madge, who raised my mother in nearby Harper Heights. And every summer part of that visit would be to spend at least one day fishing with my Great Uncle Wilson and Great Aunt Marie (my Granny's sister). They were both avid sports-persons (can you even say sportsmen these days, when it also refers to a woman?), who fished and hunted all the seasonal game available in the mountain state. I had been going out with my Dad and my Uncle Jack on these fishing outings since I was about 8 years old. We would fish various places, below the dam on New River and Flat Rock lake being a couple of my Uncle Wilson's favorites. Days of fishing began early, either out in their john boat or shore fishing. But come mid-day it was time for one of Aunt Marie's famous fishing lunch feasts.
She would always have a basket full of massive sandwiches and either a bowl of her mustard potato salad or her famous coleslaw. She would offer me a root beer while the rest of the "fishermen" drank some of her home made beer in Ball mason quart jars. She grew her own hops, hanging on the trellis off the back porch of the old family home on top of the mountain above Beaver, WV, and made a batch of beer each summer just for these special occasions. After 2-3 years of participating in this ritual mid-day feast I began to ask about the beer. It was usually a little cloudy and you could see "stuff" floating in it. But Dad and Uncle Jack always smacked their lips with an appreciative "Ummmm" when they took there first drinks each year. (As an aside, you should know that my Dad and Uncle grew up in a tee-totaling family, Granny didn't approve of "drink" in the house. But in later years she did tolerate my Uncle bringing in a 6-pack occasionally when visiting, and later, the rest of us heathens too.)
Now I do remember specifically, I was 12 years old (this was back in the summer of '64, yes...I'm old) and we were fishing below the dam on New River that day. We already had a good stringer of yellow mud cats waiting for that evenings usual fish fry at my "Granny's place". We had pulled the boat in to a rocky bank and were preparing to indulge in yet another one of Aunt Marie's fisherman's feasts. As the food was being distributed I noted a series of nods between my Uncle Wilson, Aunt Marie, and my Dad, but had no clue. When she went to the cooler, expecting to be handed my usual root beer, I instead received a cold mason jar, just like my Dad's. It was full of a lightly clouded and particulate laden golden yellow elixir. I asked my Dad, "Really ?" and he just nodded. Aunt Marie cautioned me to be sure to tip it slow and to drink it through my teeth, I didn't want any of the solids to get through. Serious instruction to be heeded, especially when coming from the Great Aunt who made this wondrous brew. With anticipation everyone watched as I carefully unscrewed the Ball jar lid and ever so slowly (as instructed) tipped the jar up to my pursed lips for that first drink. The ensuing rush of the bitter tang and mellow smoothness twisted my lips, widened my eyes and put a mile on my face as I smacked my lips and let out the obligatory "Ummmmm" to jovial laughter and a pat on my back from my Uncle Jack. I had joined the ranks of "the fishermen" with that first swallow. I continued to nurse the beverage with my summer sausage, tomato, and lettuce sandwich, with some of Aunt Marie's mustard potato salad. I don't recall if I actually finished the whole quart that day or not (somehow I doubt it), but I do recall that Uncle Jack laughingly told the story of being the afternoons entertainment that evening at our catfish dinner, much to the chagrin of both my Mother and Granny. I think all the other "fishermen" were in trouble that evening.
From that time on, until I was about 18, and our days of fishing ended with the advance of age and infirmity of my Great Uncle Wilson, and the intrudence of "other" interests of my own, I was a full fledged fisherman on those family outings. Always enjoying Great Aunt Marie's beer, a treasured libation through those years, going from mysteriously forbidden to anxiously anticipated in my youth. That alone made it special. But as my tastes have improved and experience expanded I don't think there will ever be another beer quite a important, or tasty. as those first "Great Aunt Marie's Ball Jar Beers".