Archive for January, 2008

If I knew then what I know now….

January 30, 2008

So, I’m drinking some Piraat and quite enjoying it and wondering how did I get here (this is not my house, this is not my beautiful wife…), you know, getting to where one really enjoys a nice belgian ale over, say, the ubiquitous Budweiser.  Where does it come from?  I trace my lineage back to Three Dollar Dewey’s in Brattleboro, VT.  I went on to live in this town, but at the time I was visiting from Maryland.  The wife and I head up to see some friends and mountains and snow in March (just a few days mind you since I had to be at court on Monday but that’s another story).  Three Dollar Dewey’s was a run down bar on the edge of town that had one hell of a beer list.  After drinking with friends all evening, all over town, we end up at closing time at Deweys (oh, we’d made earlier visits during the evening) and I have this memory of trying to make sense of the beer list, what to have for that last beer of the evening.  Ray McNeill, friend of a friend and beer connoisseur, tried to talk me through it.  Problem was, Molson’s was extravagant to me at the time.  I don’t know what I ended up with, but I know that I didn’t like it.  The condition I was in was no condition in which to be venturing into Belgian beers.  Well, as I say, I ended up moving to Brattleboro and even working at Deweys.  Ray went on to open a quite nice Brewpub downtown (if you’ve seen “American Beer” that’s him playing cello and being quite witty and charming early in the film with a definite shift in tenor in the late-night scene soon thereafter–if you haven’t seen it by the way, I’d say see it) and I really learned beer from Ray.  Still not sure I got it by the time I left Brattleboro (my tastes were still far from out-of-the-ordinary, but I was certainly equipped with a real love of beer and the readiness to explore).  I wonder now how life would have been different if I’d had a real love of Belgians and other good beers when I lived in Vermont.  I’m guessing life wouldn’t have turned out that different, except that I’d probably still be in Vermont because I wouldn’t have had the money to move away–I’d have drank it away in those beautifully cloudy tulip glasses.  Ah, as the zen master says, we only see what we’re ready to see and the teacher comes along when we’re ready for the teacher.  Thanks Ray.

Beer decisions part II

January 29, 2008

So, in an earlier post I mentioned the trials of choosing suitable beer to take when visiting one’s beer-savvy friends. I chose a nice selection of beers I had not tried this last weekend, all in all good drinking. But the two that I was really excited to try let me down a bit. First, a recommendation at John’s grocery was the Unibroue “Terrible.” It was a solid beer, a dark brown belgian with fruity undertones. It was good but not great. In fact, its taste was quite similar to CBD’s last two bottles of Trappist homebrew that we were privileged to share–but truth is, I think CBD’s was better (mmmm, trappist homebrew good…). The Unibroue didn’t hold up past the first sip or two for me (Oh, don’t get me wrong, I drank it just fine). I also took a Green Flash tripel that I was really excited about. I had recently sampled their amazing IPA and was looking forward to the tripel, but it was a beer that didn’t quite come together for me. Or, as CBD said, “it’s trying too hard.” It’s a challenge to try out untested beers when really wanting to share the Wow factor. On the other hand, it’s still good to taste new beers with good friends. And really the quest for the wow beer flavor is nearly as important as the beer itself (did I just say that? Huh? Okay, we can stick with “nearly”) Besides, how often do you get to jam with the crazy miss madelyn?

Jammin with Madelyn

Yes, good times were had by all.

Why brew ale?

January 26, 2008

So, this temperature thing is much more difficult for lagers than it really seems. It’s rare that I have a space that’s in the right temp. range for lager yeasts. So I’ve been really excited that my garage has been hovering at 48 to 50 degrees. A little low, but in the right range. So, I brewed two beers (see below) trying to make use of the temps when I have them, and the temps outside dipped to 15 to 20 below over the last week. Needless to say the garage dipped a little more than 48 degrees. The last few days it’s been hovering at 35 which is great for lagering but certainly not for the first fermentation. So I brought the beers inside which kind of defeats the purpose. Ales I say are not only more to my style of drinking, they’re just damn easier.

Why Blog?

January 22, 2008

So, the truth is, I’ve kept this blog thing fairly quiet since I started, and I’m not sure why. I thought “oh well let me check out the technology, make sure I got it right,” but as you can see this is incredibly low tech so far. I type. I hit save. Done. So that’s not it. I also thought that maybe I wanted to get my blogging legs running before I spread the wealth. But that doesn’t quite do it either. How hard is it? I mean my last post was a paragraph about thinking about an upcoming visit with my friends. Come on, how tough is that? I’m a writer. It’s what I do. It doesn’t make sense for me to say I need to figure out how to write in this medium before I really let people know.

What I realize is that I’ve been trying to figure out why I want to write in this medium. Confession of the day: it was not that long ago that I looked down on blogging. I thought, “Oh great, just what the world needs, another blog…” But lately I’ve been reading quite a few blogs and I guess I’m starting to get it. The problem is that I was thinking large scale when I thought about the impact of the blog. No, maybe the world doesn’t need another blog (on the other hand, what does the world care?), but communities do. As I write, I find that I’m also reading differently. I am accustomed to reading articles which certainly offer important ideas and techniques for my teaching and other pursuits, but the blog offers people thinking through their content. It’s not necessarily polished (what one might call a rough draft? I do see this as a valuable space in which I might generate and play around with ideas that will develop as I go) but it’s in process. It’s thinking in the moment, it’s sometimes a testing out of ideas which seems incredibly valuable for writer and reader. So the blog seems not just some forum for expression (a term I generally despise in relation to writing) but, because this seems more in context of other blogs, I find I’m thinking more, often about things I wouldn’t necessarily think about (and sometimes things I think about all the time, like what good beer to hunt for next). And as I write I start to have particular people and conversations in mind. In other words, all the things that writing is supposed to do and–here’s the catch for me–all those things that I talk to my writing students about. I know all you new media, network bloggers and teachers already get this. OK, so I’m slow. But yes this has been an ah-ha kind of realization for me. I’m seeing not only the intersection of network and community the blog offers–both as practical and metaphorical–but I’m also seeing the potential pedagogical uses of the blog. I remember my first undergraduate writing class. I was asked to do such mundane things as write a “definition” paper or the classic “comparison” paper but nobody ever told me why. Who cares if I can define something? Why am I doing it? Ever since, I have worked very hard not to fall into that old trap. But I haven’t come up with a truly engaging pedagogy that lets students engage in the actual act of writing–as in an act of communication with other writers, readers, thinkers, people. I see the blog as a potential medium for such engagement and, so, I have gone fairly quickly from a blogging skeptic to someone who will use this as a tool in my next composition class (which starts soon so I have to really be on my toes here).

So, step two: time to try to give myself a bit more of a blog presence.

Important Decisions

January 22, 2008

Well, MB and I are off to see our good friends CBD and Erin and Madelyn this weekend. We don’t see them nearly as much as we’d like to, so it’s always a pleasure when we do. The pressure, though. How can one show up without some really interesting beers in hand? Oh, what to choose? A trip to John’s Grocery in Iowa City is in order certainly. But the pressure of good friends who love good beer, oh man, I tell ya…

It’s all the Yellow Dog’s fault

January 22, 2008

The blogging, of course. He talked me into it. Said something profound like, “Hey you can tell people what beer you’re drinking.” Hmmmm…

But more than that, the yellow dog recently turned me on to Bottletrek. Holy crap, now I’ve got Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale (among other Stone goodies), Green Flash Tripel and IPA, Pike Place IPA and more. Just like that. Snap your fingers and throw a little cash at the website (honey, sorry if we can’t pay the mortgage next month) and there is beer. I have been reborn. Cue the sunlight on mountaintops, the waves crashing on ragged shores, the hawk soaring spirals, the angels singing… OK, maybe not all that, but it’s damn close.

I’ll keep you up to date as I sample and order more.

Pine Leaf Boys

January 21, 2008

Good cajun music last night. I don’t know if they know that pines don’t have leaves, but the Pine Leaf Boys are some of the best cajun I’ve seen in awhile (and I know some of you might be thinking how difficult is that?–but I am a huge cajun fan and these guys rocked). Both traditional and funky at the same time. They, of course, learned that Iowa can be a sedate place, especially I suppose when it’s 5 below out side–none of that drunken hanging from the rafters screaming shouting dancing from the bayous here. As a friend of mine said, “No music makes me want to move more than this–yet I don’t.” I find this pretty true for me. I’m a head-bobbin’, foot-stompin’, doin’-just-fine-drinkin-here-in-my-seat-thank-you-much kind of guy. But for all those that say I have to dance to enjoy the music: I hold my appreciation of every kind of music imaginable up to pretty much anyone. Maybe the Koefod excluded. Dancing, remember, is a state of mind, and I dance just fine thank you very much. I do, however, find the sedateness of Iowa crowds a little depressing at times. One way or another, we should have torn the roof off that place last night. A pleasant night of great music nonetheless.

As many of you know I don’t feel a great deal of love for my current home town, but Legion Arts is one of the great spaces/organizations/states of mind of Cedar Rapids in particular, but really in all of Iowa–maybe even the country. Volunteer run, a fabulous arts space and a solid series of music fall through spring (no AC, so no summer shows). A lot of cajun, blues, world music, performance artists, etc. It’s a bit of Minneapolis lite for the midwest–we get many of the same shows as The Cedar in MPLS as artists work through the midwest, but without the long lines and thick crowds. Good stuff, even here in Iowa.

And Beer Number Two

January 18, 2008

Last week’s Pilsner production went really well. It’s been fermenting in the garage which has remained a perfect, and constant, 48 degrees. Ready to transfer to a secondary fermenter today.

I’m still in the extract phase of my brewal renewal. Today a Vienna/Oktoberfest hybrid–really another way of saying I want to brew an oktoberfest but with a little more bite to it so that it’s more seasonal for those late spring days. Yea, yea, yea, I know I could brew a Maibock as my seasonally appropriate lager, but truth is I’m not that big on Maibocks. I like my bocks dark and dopply. Hmmmm….. that gets me thinking….

Anyway, today. Here’s the recipe:

1/2 lb Carapils; 1/2 lb Roasted Malt; 1 cup 80 degree crystal; 1 cup Chocolate malt. Steeped at 160 degrees for 1 hour.

6 lb Northern Brewer Gold extract. 1 1/2 lb Munton’s DME. Full 5 gallon boil for 60 minutes.

1 oz Northern Brewer hops, 9.8% in boil for 60 minutes.

1 oz Hallertau hops, 4.2% in boil for 45 minutes.

1/2 oz Hersbrucker hops, 3.3% for 10 minutes.

1/2 oz Hersbrucker hops, 3.3% for final 2 minutes.

Two cups of Wyeast Oktoberfest blend yeast starter.

Ferment at 48 degrees.

It looks really nice but possibly a little too dark for the style. On the other hand, I don’t quite get the obsession with “style.” I guess I’d rather say it’s a little darker than what I intended.  But what I intended doesn’t ultimately fit a style anyway.  It’s what I wanted to drink. In the end,  if it turns out tasty and pretty then I’ll be happy–as always–regardles of what “style” it fits or not.

By the way, I love my King Cooker stove. I don’t know how I did stove-top brewing for my first few years. What a headache. If any new brewers read this, do yourself a favor and get yourself a propane cooker. NOW!! You will save yourself a lot of hassles and less than pleasant brewing experiences. Remember: less time cleaning up (as in when your wort boils over onto your stove) equals more time drinking! You can get a full five gallon batch of wort boiling in almost a quarter of the time it takes on a standard stove. Also, I know that Wyeast yeasts are ready to go from the packet, but I am a big believer in making a two cup starter. I find the difference in fermenting time can be as much as a day depending on the beer. You don’t want to overyeast your beer, but the quicker that fermentation starts the less time for any infections to occur. I’ve found with a starter yeast my fermentation is quite vigorous within twelve hours. Imagine a world without yeast?!


First Beer of the Year

January 11, 2008

So, time to get the brewing operation underway for the new year. I was going to start off with a Saison but two things: 1) I really want to make good use of the temperature in my garage right now to play with some lager yeast and 2) I’m a bit out of practice so I’m using extract rather than all grain. I’ll get to the Saison in a bit when I’m back into the swing for all grain. So, I’ve got two beers slated for today and this weekend or early next week, a Pilsner and a Vienna. I know the Vienna sounds like an odd choice but what I really want to do is an Octoberfest style but I think the Vienna will be a little less assertive malt which will make for better early summer drinking when this should be ready. But that’s next anyway. Today, the pilsner. Shooting for a nice clear, crisp Bohemian with a nice body of Saaz hops but not overly aggressive. That’s the vision at least. Here it is:

6 lb Pilsner Extract from Northern Brewer (a really nice Saint Paul homebrew store)

1 1/2 lb Dry Malt Extract

60 minute boil

Boiling hops: 2 oz Saaz, 3.2% and 1 oz Halltauer, 4.2%, in Boil for 45 minutes

Finishing hops: 3/4 oz Saaz for 5 minutes

Wyeast Czech lager yeast

My garage is running about 48 degrees, so that will be my primary fermentation temp once it gets going. I’ve got great hopes for this one; watch for updates here, same bat channel, same bat time.

What’s Up With the Polls?

January 11, 2008

So, I know that polls seem to mostly be at least close to what actually ends up happening in an election, but I’m usually mystified.  I understand their +/- percentage points, but it always seems to me that, given the small sample we’re usually talking about that such polls could easily be further from reality than such percentage points indicate.  New Hampshire was clearly a case in point on Tuesday.  But what I always struggle to understand is why the need for media to sound so sure about their polls.  Why is it that we need such assured predictions?  Especially when such predictions actually affect the elections which are being predicted.  That is, can we be sure that polls aren’t close to what happens in an election precisely because the election merely reinforces what the polls tell the voters?  As a recent Iowan, I have just experienced my first caucus and on the whole I’m less than pleased with the process (see below).  What I do think is good about the caucus, though, is that you can actually see support (or lack thereof) before you cast your vote.  How many people won’t vote for Kucinich (or whomever) if they’re told they don’t have any support?  If you walk into a room, though, and see people standing in a corner for Kucinich a possible voter might say, hmmm, maybe it is worth casting a vote.  The polls are the exact opposite; we are given solid predictions (which may or may not actually represent the larger populace) and most voters will cast votes accordingly.  The media direct our elections and thank god for New Hampshire to remind us of this fact–how many speechless pundits have you heard in the last two days?  They don’t know what to do now.  I actually heard several pundits admitting “I don’t know…”  Slow down media, take a breath, realize we don’t know and adjust your coverage accordingly.  We don’t need your predictions.

On another horrifying note, I realized this morning that for perhaps the first time I actually have agreed with Jonah Goldberg.  I’m with him: all the myths about Iowa being more prepared for the civic duty of leading the country into the elections are myths.  Until this caucus, Iowa averages 6% attendance at the caucus.  Do you really believe that Iowa is the only state that can muster such pathetic attendance for the all-important kickoff event?  I didn’t think so.  And the caucus system itself is outdated (and the notion that this is some long standing tradition that must be upheld is also a myth: the Iowa caucus is a relatively new phenomenon).  Move the leadoff geographically around the country.  Or, hold regional primaries which could also move.  We’ve already got Tsunami Tuesday.  Let’s break it down a bit more evenly and have a midwest primary, a southeast primary etc.  And shift which region goes first so that everyone gets a slice of the pie.   OK, I’m done with politics for awhile.  I’ve got a Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout going, mmmmm…..  Back to you later.