Fog hung in the air as I crossed the Susquehanna headed to an undisclosed location in Harrisburg. After circling the well-lit blocks of historic Midtown for what felt like a small eternity, I found a spot to park. It was perfect. It had plenty of space and was the last spot behind a “no parking” sign, meaning I could pull right in. Behind me were the flickering orange lights of the Harvey Tailor Bridge, their effect magnified by the low hanging mist that clung to the river.
I pulled out my camera, wiped dust from the lens and fired off a series of shots. The timing of it all was nothing short of serendipitous. Just as I leveled my camera, a pair of people floated along the walking path next between myself and the bridge. Their silhouettes added a scale to the frame that allowed the finished photograph to look as incredible as the moment felt.
Luckily their gate wasn’t quick. I was left with just enough time to dial in my settings & grab my shots before they disappeared into the encroaching darkness. To be honest, I am torn between the two variants. I like the road in the foreground, as it makes it feel like two distinct worlds. But I also like the scale created by tilting the camera back and really showcasing the height of the trees.
Decisions. Luckily in this instance I don’t have to decide. I’ll just show you both.
It wasn’t too far of a walk to get where I was going. And I had no trouble getting there. The brightly lit streets of modern Midtown are a far cry from the dimly cast streets of not-that-long-ago. I opened the unlocked front door and headed to the second floor via a staircase obscured in shadows. A single line of light shined from beneath the door. I approached cautiously, creeping on each step as if they contained some kind of magic sensor that would alert the inhabitants of my presence. I arrived on the final step, slowly extended my hand to the door, and gently pushed it. The door swung open slowly, revealing a room lit by a single lamp on the ceiling.
Behind the swinging door were two of my good friends, Nate & Sam. And they were fixin’ to brew up some beer. Sam had never brewed beer before, and Nate had only marginally more experience. But what they lacked in training, they made up for with their mutual ambition to craft fine beers.
Before the water was even put into the pot there was a knock at the door. In entered Andrew, aka Ol’ Andy, aka El Gigante. He’s tall. I guess this is as good a time as any to state I had no real parts in the evening. As I wasn’t there to brew beer, but rather there to hang out with mis amigos. Plus I thought it’d be a perfect time practice my photojournalism. Usually my posts contain photography that is somewhere between travel, art, photojournalism, lifestyle, landscape, still life, or what some may call, “inconsistent”. I have never hid the fact that inspiration is what presses my shutter. I don’t press the shutter, the shutter presses me… maaaan.
Openly admitted by all, the brewing setup was a bit south of ideal. The heat source was a Bass Pro burner primarily designed for deep frying turkeys. It came equipped with an auto-shut off timer that triggered every 15 minutes. From what could be discerned, there was no way to disable it. Plus there was no heat regulation. It burned balls-out the whole time. Regardless they donned their rubber gloves, uncapped their distilled water and poured it into the voluminous sanitized stainless steel pot.
After a brief struggle getting the burner lit, a problem solved by Andrew, things were off to the races. The burner sounded like a fighter jet was flying inside the room, which quickly became hot and much more humid. It went from south central Pennsylvania in late March to Thailand, anytime. Well maybe not Thailand, I’ve never been there. But somewhere real hot and real humid. Like uncomfortably so.
After a couple of rounds of adding stuff, letting it boil, then adding more stuff, it was finally time to cool the whole thing down. Apparently after the beer is all finished cooking, I mean brewing, it is best to cool it down immediately by running cold water through a copper coil that is placed in the soon-to-be-beer. The plan was to move the readied concoction down one flight of stairs to a spigot that was compatible with the copper cooling coil.
And just like that everything was ready to be moved. Sam opened the door. Nate grabbed the pot and waddled through the doorway down the dark stairs towards the spigot.
There was an urgency in the air, and also a slight whiff of confusion and hops. Nate & Sam worked quickly to get the sanitized copper coil into the beer with cold water flowing through it. Unfortunately after running the water through the coil for a few minutes, Sam realized the water was hot.
That tap was only hot water and there was no compatible cold water spigot any where on the floor.
No need or time to complain.
Nate grabbed the pot. Sam grabbed the buckets. I grabbed the coil.
We headed down yet another flight of stairs, this time to a room in the basement that looked like it was decorated by Buffalo Bill. The only thing missing was a hole in the floor with someone covered in lotion. Slightly hunched over, Nate hastily backed through the door, oven mitts clasping the pot that sloshed below his waist.
This time the guys checked the water line to make sure it was cold. It was. They hooked up the cooling coil and water began to flow. Then whoops. “Contaminated” water began sprinkling into the carefully brewed brew. A loose seal was to blame. Nate cut the water and Sam tightened the suspect seal, then cooling resumed. Once the beer was at the correct temperature it was time to hump it two flights of stairs and get it into a container for fermentation.
But before the beer could be put into the container, they had to sanitize it. They raised a large white plastic bucket full of sanitizer to a red funnel that sat atop the glass bottle they planned on using for fermentation. They carefully poured the sanitizer from bucket to bottle and watched as the bubbles clung to the sides. They twirled the bottle to ensure proper sanitation and emptied it of sanitizer, or so they tried.
After pouring out the liquid, the bubbles remained. Neither of them were comfortable pouring beer into a container with so much sanitizer still in it. They made a game time decision. They would use the large white bucket for fermentation. They emptied the bucket of sanitizer and were much happier with the amount of residuals.
With one fell swoop both of them grabbed the pot of beer and poured it into the freshly sanitized bucket. They stirred the beer a bit more and took some readings. Then they placed the lid on the bucket and sat it in a dark corner for fermentation.
All in all it was a good experience for everyone involved. Nate & Sam got to get their first batch of brewing out of the way. I got to practice photojournalism. And we all got to kick it and enjoy the evening.
If you recognize Nate & Sam, you aren’t crazy, they are two mainstays at one of Harrisburg’s legendary taverns, The Midtown Tavern. They do plan on selling it eventually, but being beer connoisseurs themselves, they realize they have a long way to go before their beer is something they’re ready to share.