Now, I'm quite certain that the four of us are not alone on the matter of beer fixation.
At last count, there were more bartenders in this town than topless dancers, which - if supply and demand is a viable indication of the recreational marketplace - should stand as incontrovertible proof that, given the choice, men would rather waste all their money on booze.
I don't mean to brag, ladies, but considering the continuing Main Line stripper scandal, I believe this qualifies as a desirable quality among males.
Not that U-Brew is absent its charms.
Tucked innocuously next to a rental-car office, the brew-on-premises store (known as a BOP) lures passers-by with the sweet smell of boiling malt that I swear tickles the senses more intensely than the cheap perfume that the G-string girls apply by the quart. Inside, a row of eight copper brew kettles steamily await their patrons. Use us, they seem to say.
The four of us are awakened from our trance by the voice of Joe Coady, the brewery manager.
``So, you guys wanna make beer?'' he says.
Mr. Weg, the guy married the longest among us, already has his credit card out.
``Not yet,'' says Coady.``First you have to decide what kind you want to brew. Dark, light, sweet, bitter . . . ?''
``Hoppy,'' I say.
Most home-brewers find that hops are the easiest way to get extra character in recipes at BOPs. They pump up the aroma and give your beer that bitter taste you feel on the sides of the tongue.
``Hopheads, huh? Check out the Mother Superior ale,'' says Coady, nodding toward a desktop computer monitor.
The brewery maintains over 100 recipes in its database. Customers can find something for every taste, from a typical American lager called Common Sense to a brain-cleaning barleywine named Olde Lobotomy. With a few mouse-clicks, we had a printout of the Mother Superior recipe.
When I brew in my kitchen at home, it's a morning-long adventure of spilled ingredients, boil-overs, rattling pots and pans and a sticky film of goo on the floor. Thankfully, Mrs. Sixpack is an understanding supporter of my hobby, no doubt because the result of this messy endeavor is a darn good brew.
U-Brew spares you the mess. The work space is uncluttered, the ingredients are handy and those lovely brew kettles make cooking a snap.
There's a down side to the orderliness, though, and that's the absence of the soulful bonding the home-brewer develops with his beer after carefully cooking the batch on his own stove, in his own pots, with the wonderfully sensuous smells of his brew filling his own home. If you can't taste the difference, you aren't a diehard beer lover.
Coady, apparently noticing the disdain on my face, shoves a pint glass into my hand and points me to the beer fridge. U-Brew is home of Gravity Ales, the fine local micro that produces both draft and bottled ales. Brewers can buy a glass for 5 bucks and drink their fill of three different ales that are always on tap. I go for the kolsch, a light, almost-fruity ale that's a thirst-quencher after a day of work.
I take a big sip and remember the words of Charles Papazian, whose book,``The Complete Joy of Home Brewing,'' frequently advises its readers,``Relax, have a home brew.''
So we get to work.
Dave - whose beer pedigree consists of living next to a bar in Wissahickon - fills a measuring cup with whole barley grain and dumps it into a mill for grinding. This will go into a cloth bag and steep in 154-degree water, like tea leaves. Cooking at that temperature for about 20 minutes, the grain's sugars are extracted and readied for brewing.
Next, Weg - himself a home-brewer of questionable repute - measures the malt extract. This is the sticky stuff that invariably gunks up everything within reach. Remove the tea bag of grains, add the extract and turn up the heat to full boil.
We make our only mistake when we put Hoot in charge of the hops.
This, remember, is the single most important ingredient of our brew. We'll use varieties from the Northwest called Willamette, Mount Hood and Cascade; their flowers are dried and compressed into pellets that look like rabbit food.
Hoot, who will drink anything but feels more at home with a Yuengling, grabs the pellets, weighs a couple hundred grams, then tosses a few into his mouth for good measure. Bad move. Within minutes, he is reeling. His face is green, his eyes are spinning and he's talking crazy, I tell you.
This is Rule No. 1 in home brewing. Smell, but don't taste, the hops.
Down one brewer, we struggle on. We carefully time the addition of other ingredients. We prevent the dreaded boil-over with some quick work on the steam controls. And an hour later, we have our wort (rhymes with squirt) - an amber liquid that is cooled for the all important pitching of the yeast.
This is where U-Brew has its biggest edge over home brewing. The 200-plus-degree liquid must be cooled quickly to about 78 degrees; any warmer and you're liable to kill the yeast before it begins its job. And if you do it too slowly, you risk contaminating your beer. I've built all kinds of wort-cooling contraptions at home and once even tried to do the job with a couple of those blocks of artificial ice you keep in the freezer. The blasted things cracked open and leaked foul-tasting blue liquid into my brew. In contrast, U-Brew has a handy piece of equipment that magically dropped our temperatures within seconds.
From here, we turn over the beer to Coady, whose staff will add another dose of hops as the beer ferments. This step is called dry-hopping and though it doesn't do much for the taste, it adds plenty of garden-like aroma to your brew. Few mainstream brewers ever bother with this step, but it's how the guys at Manayunk's Yards Brewing Co., for instance, get so much hops aroma into their ESA.
Two weeks later, we return for the bottling. We call ours Bad Dog Big Guy Bitter and slap our computer-made labels onto cases of empty bottles I've collected.
The whole affair cost about $150 for seven cases of beer and about four hours of work, including the bottling.
The beer? Glad you asked.
We figure its alcohol content at 5.5 percent - just the right strength for a bitter. Because U-Brew adds carbon dioxide, the beer, though young, is immediately drinkable after bottling. By the end of the week, its taste has rounded out. It's a decent drink, the kind of beer you would sip while watching the Flyers on TV.
But certainly not the kind of beer you would drink while watching bust-enhanced dancers jiggle 'round a brass pole at your local sleaze-a-rama.
America U-Brew has two area locations, at Front and Spring Garden streets, 215-627-BEER, and in the 'burbs, at 1000 W. Lancaster Ave., Berwyn, 610-725-2518. First-timers and other skeptics can get a taste of the BOPs' brews at monthly beer-tastings on the last Thursday evening of each month.
Joe Sixpack takes a stab at the world of radio tomorrow with Jim Anderson of Beer Philadelphia. Tune in to WNWR/1540-AM, 10-11 a.m.
Joe Sixpack appears every other Friday in Yo! Weekend, and he's featured in the Philly Life section of Philly Online (www.phillynews.com). Contact the People Paper's brew bard by snail mail (Daily News, Box 7788, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101) or via e-mail (email@example.com).