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The perils of home brewing

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi

One time I decided to brew some beer at home, so I got some malt extract and made a big batch. When the fermentation is finished and you get ready to bottle it, the beer is totally flat so you have to add a little sugar back in and then cap it, so it ferments just enough to get carbonated again. Well, I made a mistake and used cane sugar instead of corn sugar or malt sugar. When I figured it was done, I took two six-packs and headed down to Mojave to share some with the guys I worked with at Southern Pacific. We had a Volkswagen Beetle at the time, and I parked outside the Mojave depot and left those six-packs in the VW. I was talking to a few of my friends when another guy came in and said, "Hey Rufus, your car is exploding!" It was a hot day and those beers were over-carbonating with the cane sugar and blowing up. I told him, "Don't open the car, you might get killed." I went outside and grabbed the only four bottles that hadn't blown up and snuck them into the refrigerator at work, and those dang things exploded, too. You weren't supposed to have alcohol at work anyway, and there was probably a rule against having beers blow up in the refrigerator, too. The beers that blew up in the VW put holes in the headliner that were still there when we sold the car to a local minister here in town. It's a good thing I wasn't sitting it when they started to go off, I mighta gotten hurt.

I learned my lesson about the cane sugar and after that I switched to corn sugar. I used to bottle the beer in big bottles, and I would take them down with me to the rodeo grounds in Tehachapi. I used to be the president of the Gene Clark Jr. Rodeo Association, and we held youth rodeos in Tehachapi, Arvin, Lamont, Kernville and other places. It was a youth rodeo, but of course it was adults working the chutes, and I'd give those guys my homemade beer – it was strong! There was a guy named Collins helping out at the Tehachapi rodeo, there by the Rock Pile and the airport, and he was a whiskey drinker, but he got ahold of some of my homebrew and overdid it. It took him out. We used to live off Tehachapi-Willow Springs Road, next to Fred Patterson, and one time I buried a bunch of beer in those big bottles to finish fermenting, and we moved and I never dug it back up. It's where the Benz-Visco Sports Park is now.

– Rufus Thomas