Archive for January, 2011

Blizzard Brewing

January 31, 2011

I knew if I started brewing toward spring (see my last post) then maybe we’d get some good winter weather. Sure enough, a blizzard is rolling into the state. We may be just on the north edge of real snow accumulations, but this could be a pretty good one. Right now they’re saying about 10-12″ here. That’s not a bad way to start February, a little excitement to help carry us through the winter.  The snow has just started this afternoon and should kick in tomorrow and go through wednesday morning.  But I’m still on a spring brewing kick. I’m off to Africa here in a few weeks, so I’m stocking up on some beers that can benefit from a few weeks of secondary aging so I can bottle when I get back and have beer ready for spring. This one’s a light session beer, a low alcohol farmhouse style that should be great for those warm spring days when I’m getting the garden in shape–I can already smell that wonderful compost and dirt.

For now, here’s today’s recipe:

— 0.5 lbs Gambrinus Honey Malt, steeped  20 minutes in 1 gallon 170 degree water. Sparged with a gallon room temp water.

— 6.3  lbs Pilsen malt syrup
— 1 lb Pilsen dry malt extract
— 1 oz German Tradition hops, 6.9% (60 min)
— 1 oz French Strisselspalt, 2.9% (15 min)
— 1 Tbsp Irish moss (15 min)
— 1 cup malto dextrin (15 min)
— 1 oz French Strisselspalt, 2.9% (5 min)

— Wyeat 3725 Bier de Garde (special release).
— 1 oz calcium carbonate for yeast, aerated well.

OG: 1.043

I’m pretty excited to try this Wyeast (I tasted my starter and frankly it was yummy just by itself–can’t wait to see what it does with malt and hops in its mix). Might have to save some and do a few brews out of it if it works well.

Enjoy the blizzard everyone!!

Brewing Toward Spring

January 26, 2011

I should say that I generally love winter.  I love snow; I love real cold, snow-crunching days; I love fires and stews and dark beers; I even like shoveling (now that I’ve moved away from my huge, sloped driveway that was a beast to take care of even with a snowblower). But it does tend to get long. So I look forward to exciting weather along the way, the next deep freeze (usually accompanied by one of those brilliantly clear skies that makes everything crystalline) or the next snowstorm. But this year we’re in the deep doldrums. We missed the big snowstorms that hit Missouri recently, and now my friends and family on the East Coast are having yet another huge storm today. Here it’s been gray now with no hint of sunshine or snow (although the gray skies certainly look like impending snow) for weeks, a long stretch of rather depressing gray, raw wet days. Blah. So, with no weather to help make the winter go more quickly, there’s only one thing to do: start thinking about spring. And of course what better way to do that than start to plan what we’ll be drinking in, say, April.

Today’s brewing session is a kind of hybrid beer. I read recently a recipe that was a cross between a biere de garde and a steam beer (the recipe really seemed like a lighter, less hopped steam, but if they want to call it a biere de garde I guess who am I to stop them?). I’ve taken the idea and added a bit of German hop, pilsner profile to it and come up with a recipe I think will be a nice early spring drink–but not really fitting any profile I know. The beer is also designed to age well in my “Beer Room” during my trip to Africa. The temperature should be just about right in there for lagering in March, so I’ll let the beer age a bit, bring out the malt profile, bottle it when I get back and then have it ready for spring drinking.

Here goes:
— 0.5 lbs Dingemans Aromatic
— 0.5 lbs Gambrinus Honey Malt
1 1/2 gallon 170 degree water, 20 minutes; sparge with 1 gallon room temp water.

— 7 lbs Pilsen dry malt extract (60 min)
— 1 lb honey (15 minutes)

Hops & Additions:
— 1 oz Hersbrucker, 2/4% (60 min)
— 1 oz Czech Saaz, 3.9% (60 min)
— 1 oz Czech Saaz, 3.9% (30 min)
— 1 oz French Strisselspalt, 2.9% (10 min)
— 1 oz French Strisselspalt, 2.9% (1 min)
1 Tbsp Irish Moss, 15 minutes

— Wyeast 2112 California Lager
— Add 1 Tbsp Calcium Carbonate and aerate vigorously

We’ll see how it goes. I’ll let you know how it tastes when it’s done. On another note, I bottled my Double IPA yesterday and it tasted damn drinkable before it even got to the bottle. Looking forward to sampling it in about 10 days.

Cheers to spring and beer on the patio!

Happy MLK Day

January 17, 2011

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, there are people out there much better prepared than I am to speak of politics and race, so I generally don’t go down that road here (I’m much more inclined to write about beer after all). Yet, there’s no doubt in my mind that MLK day remains an incredibly relevant and important day if for no other reason than this country seems to need a serious dose of historical literacy. This is true not just specifically about race, but about any of the hot-button racial, ethnic, religious, political rhetoric that divides “us” and “them.” (for instance, anyone who thinks the current debates about immigration are anything new, try seeing what founding father Benjamin Franklin had to say about the dangers of Germans in Pennsylvania and how they would affect “us”, among any other fears of the “other” that have plagued this country through its history–always interesting to hear these debates in the midst of a country of immigrants defined by its diversity). If at least for one day, MLK day at least allows us to pay some attention to this history–yes, it’s only one day and in the end doesn’t really change anyone’s attitude (a holiday that ultimately preaches to the choir) but it’s something.

All the issues at play are beyond the scope of this blog. Yet, I’ll add just a few items to the day’s discussions:

First, a quote. Far too many in the King legacy to give justice to his eloquent and moving rhetoric, so I choose one in a seemingly random fashion:

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and consciencious stupidity.”

Second, a poem. Here, too, the pool to draw from is immense. So I simply choose one of my favorites, a poem by Audre Lorde:


is the total black, being spoken
from the earth’s inside.
There are many kinds of open
how a diamond comes into a knot of flame
how sound comes into a words, coloured
by who pays what for speaking.
Some words are open like a diamond
on glass windows
singing out within the crash of sun
Then there are words like stapled wagers
in a perforated book – buy and sign and tear apart –
and come whatever will all chances
the stub remains
an ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
breeding like adders. Others know sun
seeking like gypsies over my tongue
to explode through my lips
like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
bedevil me
Love is a word, another kind of open.
As the diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am Black because I come from the earth’s inside
Now take my word for jewel in the open light.

And, finally, a song. Here, too, the pool is vast. Back when the Street Parade radio show was still running (I want to believe the radio show will return, but not for awhile) I used to dedicate several shows running to music relevant to the holiday. Some great stuff. Hard to choose, but this year’s choice for your listening pleasure is a Solomon Burke tune. Enjoy:

Our Hearts Are Broken…

January 13, 2011

I concur with President Obama’s words here; such senseless violence is always disheartening. I wasn’t going to write about the Arizona tragedies. There are more capable, qualified writers to handle such matters and I thought I’d leave it in their hands. I don’t pretend to be a political commentator (or at least I try not to pretend); beer, music, and poetry is more my world. Yet I can’t seem to help myself.

First off, I do not think that this is any individual’s fault–we can’t put this on Sarah Palin’s shoulders, or Sharron Angle’s, or any other individual’s. But wouldn’t it be a sad state of affairs if such an incident doesn’t at least cause us to reflect on the culture surrounding the event? I have been wondering why it is OK for the Right to attack, for instance, the rhetoric of hip-hop and rap as having very dangerous, tangible consequences in terms of violence and misogny, yet in this case we can’t try to point out equally dangerous political rhetoric. And don’t get me wrong; I think dangerous political rhetoric is pervasive on all sides–it’s not just the domain of the Right. But it is the Right in this instance who wants to argue that it’s inappropriate for such societal self-reflection even as they have engaged it for decades.

Those of you who know me, know I’m no fan of Sarah Palin. A friend of mine astutely said today that the current debates around political rhetoric were actually a chance for Sarah Palin to be a hero. If there were ever a chance for her to stand up and show her true leadership abilities, this was it. She did not have to claim responsibility for this event; nor did she even have to say she was wrong. What she might have done that would be leaderly, though, would be to say that such an event does in fact warrant a high level of social and political self-reflection, to simply say maybe she has crossed the line and she should give it some thought considering the seriousness of this event. By doing that, she could then point out that this is the responsibility of everyone: regardless of political persuasion, we should be investigating the kind of society we create by the way we engage in political discourse. What kind of world are we helping to create? She could help begin this kind of self-reflection and discussion without having to admit to any wrongdoing.

Instead, we got Palin comparing her situation to that of the Jewish community facing “blood libel,” the justification of centuries of horrific persecution of the Jews. Really Sarah? Is that really your situation? It’s like you almost went out of your way to prove your point that the language you use need not be responsible. As if to say, “you want irresponsible hyperbole, here try this one on.” I’m not saying that the Left and the media isn’t engaged in its own irresponsible rhetoric, but this was an opportunity for Palin and what we got to my mind was inexcusable.

It’s as inexcusable as Sharron Angle suggesting that people could rightfully take up “second amendment remedies” to current political situations. Look, the idea of the second amendment is not about a way to remedy political ideas you disagree with; this isn’t what the Founders meant. They were talking about tyranny, and when a party was rightfully elected to office and is still supported by a large portion of the population (even if the left lost seats in the last election, it’s not the overwhelming landslide the left wants to believe. Isn’t the Senate still Democratically controlled? The simple fact is we are a politically divided country. I don’t think anyone at this point can garner a true mandate) then we can’t call it tyranny; we call it political disagreement. So who in their right mind would say that someone like Angle suggesting these “remedies” is being responsible? The problem is that somehow actions can be judged quite clearly. No one disagrees that the Arizona shooting was wrong (well, no one disagrees whom I really want to talk to). But somehow the first amendment makes any judgment of speech off limits. We can judge and criticize speech, though, even if we guarantee the right to be irresponsible. OK, Palin has the right to say what she has said; Angle has a right to say what she has said. But it doesn’t make it responsible. An incident such as this is a great opportunity to at least think about these things. We should absolutely allow any speech, but does that mean we can’t at least say “this is the kind of speech I think is irresponsible,” or “this is what I think civil discourse should look like?” Or do we throw our hands up in the air and say freedom of speech, freedom of speech, as if that means we can’t criticize.

The real problem behind much of the rhetoric that I see isn’t necessarily the violent imagery behind it. It’s the insistence on an us and them mentality. There is a “real” America and the others (regardless of the fact that the “others” are half the population–thus the divided politics). There are “real” Americans who need to “take back” their country. From whom? The very implicit notion here is that those who don’t fit a particular image or political idea of America do not have any right to the country. And this is where the notion of tyranny comes in: if these “others” have gained control, then the real Americans are being governed by aliens, by non-Americans. This is the rhetoric that needs to change. Because as long as one side of a political argument is allowed to feel that they have the monopoly on the American identity, they will feel righteous in the cause of violence. And that’s just downright scary.

Act and Empower

January 7, 2011

I’m happy to say we’ve just confirmed travel plans for me to travel to Uganda with the non-profit Act and Empower. This non-profit is working to improve the lives of the marginalized and impoverished Batwa pygmies. I’m not sure where my work will lead me, but my plan is to collect stories from Batwa villages, folktales and contemporary experiences. My good friend Kurt Koefod is coming too to document the Batwa in photographs. Together we hope that we can put together a collection of stories and images to help bring their plight to greater awareness. It’s a very exciting adventure and I hope we can do at least a little good. I am sure over the next months I will blog about this experience a good bit. In the meantime, please take a look at the website here. They’re doing good, important work.  With little education, no land, no social or political power, and a nearly 50% mortality rate for children under 5, the situation for the Batwa is critical,  so please give if you can–a little bit can go a long way.

Reading on Sabbatical

January 6, 2011

Here it is readers, your chance to help me design my courses. One of my goals over sabbatical is to read some new work to help me reinvigorate a few of my classes. At the top of my list are two classes I’ll teach next year, Contemporary Poetry and Advanced Poetry Writing. I of course have a huge list I know that I can draw from and I’ve got a pretty good working list of things I want to read that might be useful for the course, but I’m hoping people might suggest some things so that maybe I get pushed in some new directions. Go ahead, all you avid street parade poetry readers: what do you like? What do you think I should be reading/teaching? And blah, blah, blah as far as debates over whether it’s “great” poetry or not (whatever the heck that would mean)or whether it serves some ideological agenda or not. What do you think is fun to read, or what would be fun to explore in a classroom?

The Year in Beer

January 1, 2011

Yes, I’m a beer geek. Just the other day I rated my 700th beer on ratebeer. If you don’t know ratebeer, you’ll probably say, “oooh.” If you do know ratebeer, you’ll say, “eh, OK, whatever.” I mean, there are thousands of raters who are over the 1,000 mark and many who have crossed the 10,000 threshold. I’m just out there in the middle with thousands of other raters, drinking our beer, taking notes, jotting them down and moving on. For what? I’ve been asking myself. I know that no one else reads such ratings and I’m not writing them for others. But for me? Well, I have become more and more aware that my ratings of a single beer can vary quite dramatically from one tasting to another, so how helpful are the ratings for me? The descriptions themselves become more about filling out the character-count for the rating to be posted than actually meaningful anymore (how often can I say citrus or pine or grass or dark fruit etc?). I’ve also found that the comparative aspect of ratings has made it almost impossible for me to give a score higher than 4.5 (and that’s pretty damn rare). Higher than that needs to be almost perfect in each category: aroma, appearance, taste, palate, and overall. So, does that Mikkeller look better than that Stone? Hmm, not so sure, so give it a 3 out of 5. “Overall” becomes this sort of catch-all category to really give the final number where I think the beer belongs–but the numbers seem dictated by my original ratings as I find it harder to rate some much higher than the quality beers I started with. I could go back and re-evaluate them all, but who the hell would have the time or desire to do that? So I’m back at the question, what’s the point? Why this desire to catalog all these beers. Is it just to say “I’ve been there?” Maybe. See, I’m cool.

I’ve previously argued that ratings ought to consider price in their evaluations–a 4.0 beer may be a great find at $7 and a really poor find at $15–so I’ve started to include that in my own ratings so I can remember what really seems worth shelling out the money for. But even that seems silly since I don’t carry my ratings to the store with me, so when do I look them up in order to be helpful? Well, yesterday I was talking with some friends about all the great winter beers that we love. I drink well at Christmas time. So I was trying to remember what good beers I enjoyed last year at this time and went back to that point in my ratings and realized what I suppose I’ve known all along: what ratebeer really is is a kind of diary/travelogue. So many important events in my life involve good drink and good food (yes, I can no longer pretend to be a radical, having clearly sunk into a bourgeois lifestyle for good) so keeping tabs of the beers I discover is also a round-about way to keep track of experiences. As I was backtracking to last winter, I flashed by the brewpubs I found on my travels over last summer which brought lots of good memories to mind. I remembered trips to visit friends and family as well. It’s a different kind of photo album. With that in mind, I thought that this year’s best of list would be my top ten beers of 2010 with “top ten” status being a combination of quality of beer and quality of experience. I mean, one reason my ratings probably would vary so much from one tasting to another is that context is an important part of the equation. We’ve searched for years for a port that MB would like, but the truth is the times she has enjoyed port have been when she’s enjoying an evening with friends at a restaurant or another festive setting; at home, she finds she doesn’t really like port. There are beers I’ve loved only to later discover that I don’t really like that much (though the discrepancy isn’t like MB with port–it’s more likely that I may love a beer once then later think it’s a really good beer rather than a great one), so I’ll give up on the rating as an actual rating and simply consider them memories. Here’s a snapshot of 2010:

10. Summit Imperial Pumpkin Porter: Summit has a great place in my heart. I’ve loved their pale ale from the day I first moved to Minnesota some twenty years ago. It’s not the most outrageous beer, but it’s very well crafted, clean, straightahead ale and it’s been there for some great moments in my life. Their other beers however are pretty hit or miss (more miss than hit). Their “unchained” series has been a real hit, though. Their most recent unchained is this pumpkin porter. It’s delicious. I discovered it on a visit to minneapolis in early December to visit friends. I sampled it first at W.A. Frost with the Koefods and proceeded to drink it throughout the trip. Yum.

9. Town Hall Masala Mama.  Same trip as the Summit. A frigid, snowy night, and MB and I at Town Hall Brewery getting some snacks and beer in a gap between visits to different friends. Crowded, noisy, with a really great beer and sweet potato fries. Just my kind of happy hour.

8. Green Flash Imperial IPA. Holy crap, this beer had the most intense fresh hop flavor I’ve perhaps ever tasted. I mean ridiculously fresh. A big fluffy white head that just wouldn’t die. Enjoyed this one over Thanksgiving weekend in our new Mount Vernon house, feeling nice and warm with this big be and our toasty fireplace roaring.

7. Central Waters Illumination. This is a really big beer, tons of malt and hops. I’ve had some decent Central Waters beers before (they’ve got a nice coffee stout) but nothing like this beer. This was great and it tasted amazing when I discovered it in a bar in Stevens Point on my way back from an artist residency on Isle Royale. I was tired and really in need of some good food and beer. This hit the spot.

6. Mikkeller Single Hop Amarillo. I actually blogged about the price of beers using another single hop beer as my foil, but the truth is it’s a really good series of beers–and I love the Amarillo. I had this one at the Lincoln Wine Bar when I got back from my trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. I was worried that it would be tough to come back to Iowa after two weeks out in Rocky Mountain, but it felt like home to go to the wine bar, listen to some great live bluegrass and drink this beer.

5. Dogfish Head World Wide Stout. This is just a ridiculous beer. Not much more to say about it. Had this one during my visit to Maryland for my Mom’s 80th birthday party. Kind of a tradition now when we get to Maryland to go to the Gaithersburg brewpub with Mom & Dad for a few pints.

4.Dieu du Ciel Equinoxe du Printemps. I’ve been loving what this Canadian brewery has been doing. And this is an excellent beer. Shared this with my friend Matt at his wine bar one slow day in early spring, a cloudy rainy day but really nice in the bar. This was right after we’d put an offer on a house in Mt. Vernon and it felt good to share this beer and feel comfortable in our new town.

3. Twisted Pine Imperial IPA. Had this one on tap at the brewpub in Boulder Colorado. I stopped here when I first got into town on my way to visit my cousins before I headed up to Rocky Mountain National Park. I was tired and a little dazed from the drive and it was baking hot outside, but I had the bar just to myself for a bit. I had their IPA which was nice, but when the bartender realized I was a beer geek he had me sample a few that weren’t actually on the list yet. This Imperial was great and a perfect start to this trip.

2. Rochefort Trappistes 10. This is perhaps one of the finest beers I know. I’ve had it before but it’s been a long time. I had this one on my birthday, a freezing cold night in February when MB and I went to Iowa City to spend the night, have a nice meal, and enjoy a few beers at one of our favorite places, The Sanctuary. I splurged on this and my birthday felt quite complete.

1. Stone Russian Imperial Stout. Another ridiculously good beer. We drank this to toast in the new year last year, just me and MB and a roaring fire and a bottle of Stone. This was when we resolved to make some big changes in our life over the next (now the last) year, most notably to move out of Cedar Rapids to Mount Vernon, a resolution we managed just as we planned. This was a perfect year to help us start a new chapter in our lives and to signal a good year. It was a great year indeed and we’re hoping the next one is as well, for all you Street Parade readers as well.  Happy 2011.

Honorable mentions: Mikkeller Beer Geek, Sierra Nevada Southern Harvest, Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary, Bells Batch 10,000, Mikkeller Santa’s Little Helper 2010 (many raters say this Mikkeller should be cellared for a year. I get their point that it can certainly hold up for cellaring, but to say it’s unbalanced or too sweet to drink now is just downright silly. Drink it!).