Heading out for some R and R this weekend

Packing the girlfriend up, with some supplies and heading out to the desert this weekend. Just an overnighter. Would love to spend more time out there, but don’t have everything ready yet, and I really don’t want to have to deal with setting up the tent in the dark. Will get some sleep tonight and head out in the AM. Gonna take some of the loud toys, have a couple drills that I would like to run through. And I finally got the reloading presses up and running.

Got the California Common racked into secondary, where it will be for the next two weeks. Still getting the hang of the all grain system… my efficiency is through the roof, attenuation is above average too (this may be because of a lower mash temp, will check it out on the next batch). I think I will get the Cabernet Sauvignon kit mixed up and started next week.

Been a busy week. Only made it to yoga once. A bit bummed about that. Will have to go at least three times next week. Only road the bike to work once, it was raining off and all a good part of the week. *sigh*

And now… off to make dinner. Have a great weekend!

Oh, almost forgot, picked up a new book by Tom Brown “Tom Brown’s Field Guide: Nature Observations and Tracking” Going to be reading through will out in the desert.

Neighbors being noisy and Terry Goodkind… odd mix… don’t ask

Why do the neighbors think that I want to hear their music at 10 o’clock at night?  Not sure if they are in their car, waiting to pick someone up or what…  I can’t even tell what kind of music it is… maybe traditional Vietnamese.  Now… normally I would enjoy the music… on weekends there are a couple of neighbors who really like to crank it, but that’s on the weekends… and not 10 o’clock at night…

I guess I will start the next book in the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind, “The Pillars of Creation”  If you haven’t heard of Terry Goodkind or his series of books, I would highly recommend them.  The books are the inspiration for the TV series “Legend of the Seeker”.  If you have seen the TV show and enjoy it… you will be blown away by the books.

Good night all, happy reading

Brewing hops

What is a hop?

For many, the extent of their knowledge of hops is from the ads they see on Sunday while watching the games.  Miller lite boasts that their beer is “triple hopped.”   To be honest… I really have no idea what that really is.  Budweiser claims to use “seven types of hops”  Whatever their practice is, hops are in beer and here to stay.

Hops are a perennial vine that is usually grown on trellis’.  The flowers of the hops vine are picked after the develop and start to dry.  They have a resinous texture to them and have an aroma that is something you have to smell.  Generally pungent, grassy, citrusy, and/or earthy.  The plants prefer to grow in upper latitudes, 35-45 degrees north in the northern hemisphere and the same south in the southern.  Each spring the vine will pop out of the ground and can grow up to two feet per week.  At the end of the growing season, each fall, the vine dies back to the ground to over winter and then the process is repeated.

Hops are available to brewers in three somewhat traditional forms and more recently a fourth form is available.  Hop extract, which I will not go into today.  The most common type used for homebrewers and many commercial brewers as well is the pellet hop.  The hop cones are shredded and compressed into little pellets that are sold by the ounce or by the pound.  Your average 5 gallon batch of homebrew will have between half and ounce and up to a full pound for some of the more extreme IPAs (India Pale Ale).  Next week have whole hops, which are exactly as they sound, the whole cone is dried and used in the beer.  The third and less common type is plug hops.  Plug hops are the compressed whole hops into a plug, generally used for late additions to the boiling beer or wort or used as a dry hop addition, added after the boil is done and the beer is aging.

The varieties of hop are many.  Just about every continent, except for Antarctica has them.  Europe has a few varieties that are called “Noble hops”.  These hops are traditionally used in German, Belgian, and Bavarian styles of beer, where the characteristics the brewer is looking for is an earth, piney, non-citrusy flavor and aroma.  By comparison, many of the varieties that have been developed and are being grown in the US are very citrusy or smell/taste of tropical fruit, such as pineapple, papaya or mango.  Others have flavors of apricot or blueberry.

Hops are generally added at three main points during the process. The first addition is the “bittering” addition.  The boiling of hops in beer isomerizes the alpha acids in them, or makes the bitterness soluble in water… the bitterness stays in the beer.  The next addition is normally in the last 20 minutes of the boil, this is called the “aroma” addition.  This is the “in-between” addition.  The alpha acid in the hops isn’t fully isomerized and the flavor somewhat driven off.  The final addition is normally in the last 5 minutes of the boil up to and including after the heat has been turned off…. the “flavor” addition.

There is one additional addition that I purposefully left out… they “dry hop”.  Dry hoping is the addition of the hops after the initial fermentation.  The character that the beer receives is different from the previous mentioned additions.  Some people believe that dry hoping is a waste of material.  Others will not brew a beer that does not have at least a little dry hopping.  Personally, I think it is a style option.  Before I mentioned IPA.  Dry hopping was started in the colonial days when England was shipping beer to it’s soldiers in India.  The beer was not faring well on the long trip around Africa on it’s way to India.  So brewers started adding hops to the casks to help preserve the beer.  It worked!  Hops have a preservative characteristic to them.

So… there you have it, the basics on hops.

Why I brew beer and make wine

The big push to get me started on making wine and eventually beer was listening to Jack Spirko on The Survival Podcast.  Jack covered in a couple of separate episodes the basics on brewing beer, and some of his personal recipes.  He had also talking about making honey wine or mead.  My good friend’s father had some old beer making equipment he had not used in years, and said that I could have it as long as I used it… and boy have I put it to good use.

I started off making mead.  Dissolve some honey in water, add some yeast, and let it go until it stops bubbling.  Piece of cake… really… that’s all there is to it.  I thought it turned out pretty good… it was a bit rough on the flavors, but I was so excited about the drink I had just created, it didn’t last but a month.  As it turns out, like red wine, mead doesn’t really come into it’s own until about two years, upwards of 5-10 years.  I now plan to make some about every 6 months, so that I have enough in rotation to be at it’s drinking best.  This is now made possible by the fact that I brew beer too.

I started brewing the beer (which was really my intention from the start) just under a year ago.  I bought an ingredient kit from a local shop and followed the instructions on the half page of paper that came with the kit.  I had already purchased a book about brewing over a year prior, How to Brew by John Palmer.  I hadn’t scanned the book much before I had started, so as I cleaned up from making the first batch, I grabbed the book and started reading.  The first thing Palmer suggests you do when you buy a kit is to throw away the instructions… DOH!  Artists don’t just start with all of the techniques required to do their best work, they work at their trade and hone their skills.  Making beer is the same way, you can’t just learn everything you need to now from half a page of paper.

Like many hobbies I have picked up over the past couple of years; gardening, cycling, the shooting sports, I tend to get pretty heavy into the extensive knowledge of others who know the subject.  With brewing, I have now ready several books.  I listen to several podcasts that special in brewing.  I have started growing my own hops.  So, not only do I get the satisfaction of enjoying something that was created from my brain and by the labor of my hands, I also get to enjoy many of the “micro-brew” styles of beer that would cost you $5.00-$10.00 each at a bar… for a little more then a quarter apiece.

As I had mentioned yesterday, part of the whole process is a bit of a mediation for me.  I work on and envision what will be created in my mind before I create it.  I focus myself.  I try to envision the tastes.  I clear my mind and stop worrying about things I don’t have any control over.  And then… I get to drink the product of my labor… how cool is that?

If you have never made something and shared it with someone, I would recommend it.  The look on someone’s face when you hand them a beer and tell them that it is homebrew… priceless.  That is a bit of happiness.

So, why do I brew?  Hmmm… ahhhh…. that taste right there.

Vow of silence?

I am reading Brew Like a Monk by Stan Hieronymus in my quest for information and techniques to make myself a better brewer.  Stan touches upon the myth that all monks take on a vow of silence.  Stan states that this is not true, only that monks only recognize the importance of silence in their everyday lives, they certainly do not take a vow as such.  There are times when it is polite to allow others the privacy of self reflection or prayer or… whatever it is you need to do to center yourself.

What really catches my eye is that Stan states that we should all recognize silence in our lives.  How many of us actually take the time to contemplate, to reflect, to imagine our lives?  Why have we moved away from what it is that makes us human?  I think that with this rush to keep up with the Jones’ down the street, we have thrown to the wind what is most important.

For me, on this day, it is visualization of the beer recipe.  The ingredients, the procedures, the end result, all part of this… mediation… if you will that is brewing.  Maybe this is what Stan was touching upon… or rather, what the monks had taught Stan when he was writing the book.  Focus on what you are doing.  Do it to the best of your ability.  Don’t half ass it.  Do it, do it right, and be proud of it!  And to hell with what anyone thinks. (ok… that was not a very monastic thing to say, I will now go and be silent…)

So, raise a pint… to silence… Op uw gezondheid!  (cheers for us English speakin’ folks)

Heading out for a weekend

Grabbing a couple of friends and my girlfriend and heading out to the desert spot next weekend.  This may be the last opportunity before the heat decides to show up and makes it unbearable out there.  With the changes that have gone on at work, it will be nice to get away for a couple of days.  Been camping at this spot for close to 28 years.  It has become that sort of spot that is like an old friend, that you just know so well and it feels right in their presence.

I imagine this will be a fairly usual trip.  Pack up the tent, the “camping box” (I’ll do a write up on that build in a future episode), the band sticks, a cooler of home brew… and my new “Bushman” by Cold Steel.  Also taking along a new book; Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking.  Note sure how much I will be able to use this out in the Mojave, but we will certainly give it a good whirl.  Might be able to dig up some wild edibles or lord knows what else.

Will have the usual camp fire, might even break out the didgeridoo on this trip.  The only real expectation is relaxation.

Take a load off

One thing I try to do just about every day is to sit and relax, clear my mind of the day’s troubles and reflect.  I believe that our culture has bread all of us to think that we must constantly rush, add more stuff, complete one more task or not stop for just one minute.  If you mention to a co-worker that you sat out on your porch and listened to the birds, or watched the clouds go by, or… sipped a glass of wine, whatever… they would look at you like and think or say “are you getting into that hippy meditation crap?”

In our grandfather’s and great grandfather’s day they often times would sit and relax.  Partially because at the end of the day… there was no smart phone or tablet, or TV… heck, many didn’t have electricity in the house.  Work stayed at work.  When you left work, you went home.  Maybe you grabbed a couple fishin’ poles and the kids and went down to the lake.  You decompressed.

Why do we insist on rushing?  Take the time with loved ones.  Enjoy their company, enjoy life.  We only get one, each day that goes by can’t be taken back.

For your own health, for your sanity, for those you care about, take time to decompress.

Relaxation can even be the cat sitting in your lap purrrrrrrrring away.