Matthew Keenan

Foam Free: The Key to Successful Kegger, published in Feb 435 South

by on Feb.17, 2014, under 435 South Columns

If it’s true, as they say, that America has a love affair with beer, then what can you say about the relationship that my generation has enjoyed with the libation best poured into a frosty mug?

When I was in high school, Kansas, unlike most states, had a legal drinking age of 18 for 3.2 beer, which encouraged a string of 18 bars in Kansas. Some, like Shawnee’s Merry-Go-Round, folded many years ago; others, like Mission’s Ruthie’s Key Hole, has evolved not one bit and still has a devoted following. KU offered students The Wagon Wheel, The Hawk and — my favorite — Louise’s West, which served beer in an oversized schooner. Quarter draws were commonplace. Back then, no one in the Western Hemisphere ever made this request of a customer: “Can I see your identification?”

Meanwhile, a separate culture developed from the bars. And that was the social function that was frequently outside, often in the country, with one word defining it: kegger.
But even a kegger had one major obstacle separating itself from a memorable blow-out.  And that was the challenge of proper beer flow. Keg foam can kill a western Kansas party quicker than a tornado warning.A kegger evoked images that went far beyond beer. It was an instant crowd for starters, and in western Kansas, brimming with open fields, beautiful sunsets and alluring nighttime skies, it was a harmonic convergence of all things good.

Trust me.

Avoiding it is no simple task. It involves an enormous barrel of beer placed in a sea of ice, a large CO2 tank, pressure gauges, hoses, attachments, valves and lines connecting with a tap. You needed at least a high school senior, and ideally someone back from college who had real world expertise. They would part the crowd, go to the front of the line, tinker with the valves, adjust the pressure and then — boom — beer. You’d tip your Solo cup, laugh, hug, and realize how lucky you were to enjoy an adult beverage at the mature age of 17.

But to have a kegger in the city? In the month of December, which is typically a dead zone for tapped beer? Unheard of.

Because some uptight mom was concerned about designated drivers? Hardly.

Rather, it was fear of damage to her macramé hanging planters, composite wood paneling and green shag carpet.

But the history books got a re-write on December 10, 1976. Officially, it was a journalism party, hosted by Eagle Scout, altar boy, and all-around teacher’s pet David Haberman. Unofficially, it was a kegger worthy of Frank the Tank of Old School fame. A social event to define the Class of 1977.

And we needed something to distinguish us.

“Panther Tales (the school newspaper) and Yearbook were to have a Christmas Party at our house,” David reflected  recently. “It was to be only the PT and YB Staff. A few people showed up, then more, and more.”

I was far removed from the journalism students, but that didn’t prevent me from joining their gathering.

“Back then, a keg cost about $8 with a $10 deposit,” Haberman told me. “I think we went through two. Before we knew it, the basement was full — wall to wall people. The stereo boomed, beer soaked the floor, my sister’s Christmas cookies were gone, and my parents were due any minute.”

It was an iconic party for the ages. And, shockingly, the keg flowed as if Haberman had received his tutelage from Adolph Coors himself. If I live to be 90, I will still remember that night — enjoying a fresh Coors while Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” blasted on David’s concert-worthy speakers. It was the golden age of cold tapped beer, well-nourished coeds and unlimited opportunities. I was a debater, a non-jock, a nerd. I went from dud to stud in minutes.

Likewise, Haberman’s social status spiked — the old school equivalent of gaining a thousand friend requests. Adding to David’s good fortune, his parents, Francis and Coleta — quite possibly the nicest people on the planet — arrived home and chuckled.

This party was over.

As with all kegs going empty, the beer had turned to foam.

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