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Brewed for the Brood

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Two years ago, Darryl Hickey's family consumed 38 gallons of beer on Christmas."Well, Christmas and the surrounding days," he corrects. When he recently heard that they'd be returning for the upcoming holiday season, his head was set into a mighty worry.

But unlike the rest of us poor bastards here in Miami, Darryl won't be cramming a shopping cart with cases of bland yellow swill from south of the border.

Instead, he'll take up a long wooden spoon (fashioned in the wood shop) and wander out to the garage and adjoining shed. He'll set gutted kegs upon flaming burners, scour a catalog of long-refined recipes and spend hours stirring hops, malt, wheat, honey, fruit, spices, and one of thirty different kinds of yeast into sweet extracts. He will pour the resulting brews into jugs or bottles or kegs and, once again, the Hickey clan will drink like kings.

Now, he sits at the end of a long wooden table at the Titanic Brewery and Restaurant in Coral Gables —just a stone's throw from the Hickey Family Home Brewing & Meadery. (His house.)

Eight glowing, ruddy faces drink and chat around the table —members of the Miami Area Society of Homebrewers (MASH), of which Hickey is the president. They meet here on the third Monday of every month

It is 7 p.m., a half hour before the meeting officially begins. The eight in attendance have come early to eat. Hickey is by far the largest in the group, carting an almost muscular beer gut within his hulking rugby frame. A neon green hop flower adorns the expanse of his chest. He smiles easily and laughs mightily.

He played the game all throughout Europe, repairing airplanes as he went. When prowess on the field got him an invitation to the pub on the English squad's official ship, Hickey found that beer could be magnificent. "In 1999, my wife bought me a kit for Christmas. She said, 'You're always bitching about the beer. Brew it better'." And he did.

At 7:30, Hickey picks up an aluminum clip board and announces the upcoming Walk the Line Barley Wine competition in Deneida —"if anybody's got entries, send 'em in now."

Then comes the moment of truth: the Beer of the Month. This month's challenge: Belgian Dark Strong Ale. Hickey reads aloud the official specifications from a printout: mouthfeel, color, flavor, appearance. In its Overall Impression, it's meant to be "complex, rich, smooth and dangerous."

Hickey's only competition tonight is Russell Everett, a law student at UM. Everett is principally interested in making beer, cheese and global justice (he's studying international law). His beer tonight, fermented during in the heat of hurricane Katrina is sweet and powerful.

Hickey takes a gracious victory by one vote. He smiles and more bottles come out. Two Witt beers (from a ten gallon batch Everett whipped up for a post-election party) are enjoyed by all. A successful Tuesday, by all accounts.-Calvin Godfrey

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