Beer Journaling

2016

December 21

-somewhere in the desert

The Week draws close now; the Week of willing sequestration wherein I will eschew all social things.  Responsibility will be a shadow seeking life at high noon.  I shall be a veritable hermit reveling in silence and nothingness.  Now, family is inviolable so my immediate relations will still have access to me.  I have not yet decided how this will affect my relations with John Barleycorn at the local malty grotto.  But I know I shall be in the company of beer whether by visitation of the local, rushing the growler, or my own fine home brew.  Mayhaps I’ll take the time to re-examine beers I have rejected in the past.  The dreaded industrial beers.  Since I’ve been told these past two years that I am a “beer snob” and “self-important” and “judgmental” I feel it may be time to Star Trek my beer universe.  Does “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” hold true in the vast frontier of beer?

It seems, to be sure, that home made neck oil will rule the day.  At home I have two batches bottled and waiting.  One is called Shistory and it is a black(ish) saison.  The black pepper is unmistakable upon warming.  The other beer is called Old Ben and it is a clone of Guinness Stout, without the well known nitrogen.  It is slightly creamy and a little toasty and very tasty.  In addition to drinking said home brewed beers I’ve got ingredients shipped for to make an additional two batches.  One of those batches will be a modification of the stout mentioned above, Old Ben.  Instead of using stout malt for the base I will use Rahr 2-row.  I am intrigued to discover what the difference may be, however subtle.  The other beer will be a Belgian blonde produced with pilsner malt and flaked barley and a Belgian yeast.

 

 

The Role of Beer Books In Contributing to Beer Culture

The Role of Beer Books In Contributing to Beer Culture

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” ― Haruki Murakami

I don’t really know who that author is; I found that quote on Goodreads. It seems a good fit for The Session this month. The beer blogging Friday host Joan Birraire posited this for a subject:

“The discussion at hand is “The Role of Beer Books”. Participants can talk about that first book that caught their attention, which brought them to get interested in beer; or maybe about books that helped developing their local beer scene. … I believe that their importance for the beer culture makes books worthy for another Session.”

I am certain that the “culture” referenced above is not of the sort found in the pages of this book: Yeast: The Practical Guide to Beer Fermentation.   It would refer more to this kind of culture: “the ideas, customs, and intellectual and artistic conditions of a society or group.” – This definition contributed by Vocabulary.com. The following are the books that have influenced me and that I feel added to the ideas, customs and intellectual conditions of beer and brewing.

Do you remember the Star Trek episode, “A Piece of the Action?”  Yes, the one where Kirk and Spock get to act like caricatures of gangsters from the 1920s (it also introduced the geniotic card game, fizbin, but that doesnt play into this story, so never mind that part). The entire species on the planet the Enterprise crew was visiting had been influenced by a single book that a previous starship had left, Chicago Mobs of the Twenties.  So, Joy of Homebrewing is that book for home brewers. It has influenced, maybe not the planet, but a huge percentage of the home brewing population. Just a few days ago I was commanded to follow the Papazian Mantra – relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew – and that’s, what, about thirty years post-publication! Good show, Mr Papazian. The book is full of great advice and technique, to be sure, and it has a little history, and certainly it contains the home brew philosophy that many of us live by, especially on Brew Day. As far as importance to culture, I put it at numero uno.  

  • A side note: the Trek episode reminded me of this treasure from Retroactive*.  (Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, Black Bridge – Def Leppard Friday’s should be a Thing!)

As far as quick reference goes, Miller’s book, Brewing the World’s Great Beers is fantastic, in my opinion. It is categorized in sections for extract, partial mash and all grain, quickly lays out the basic grist bill and instructions for all the basic beer styles. It’s often where I start in recipe formulating. I like the sparse nature of the book, too. No fluff, just beer stuff; knowledge at your fingertips. Like the JoH above, this book has served me well for years of successful home brewing and has survived two children, several dogs, and lots of Brew Days. 

I am enthralled by Belgian beers so it was a lot of fun to read Brew Like A Monk. There are recipe breakdowns throughout, but also brief histories of breweries and the philosophy of the brewers. I am more beholden to beer styles than I realized, though I like to consider myself more creative than to be restricted by rules since they are, like time and reality, just societal constructs and from what I got out of this book the monk brewers are not interested in styles. They make a beer over and over and know it and treat it like a living thing that must be cared for. As far as culture of beer goes, it seems to me that these monks possessed a proto-Papazian RDWHAH thinking.

Randy Mosher enjoys uncovering the arcane secrets and tastes of beer, firing the desires of other brewers. I’ve only read Tasting Beer, but it was enlightening. It again provided some history and discussed the derivations of various beer types. I’ve also been able to hear some of his talks from the home brewers convention. He seems to be always searching for beer knowledge and wants to correct inaccuracies in technique or folk knowledge or wherever so that all can enjoy true beer. 

History flavors culture. At least, it gives us context which is vital for insight into character, decisions, goals. It is the first step to subtext. You can navigate life without being aware of context, but it just makes you appear egotistical, foolish or a bully. No finesse. So books like Ogle’s help provide context to the beer world. Ambitious Brew was a fun read about brewing history in the United States. It provides a glimpse of the goals of those we refer to now as Big Brewers. What stood out to me was their need to expand. Expand. Expand. Take over. Etc. Now, a century later they still expand, by buying independently owned breweries. Stop helping them do that! I think books like this can serve as caution tape for craft brewers who are huge. While it’s nice to have good beers available nationally when do you draw the line between beer passion and building empire? I remember a time when it was the thing to mock Bud for being the SAME product from one end of the country to another. No character, as it were. Now I can pick up a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale anywhere and it’s gonna taste the same – granted its still a better taste than Bud. Before all the proverbial hackles are raised, this is not any kind of indictment, I am not qualified to make a judgement like that about brewery business and goals. What I’m really saying is history books can add to beer culture because it can make us discuss beer ethics. Ethics are the reason I choose to avoid big beer whenever possible. It’s not the taste, it’s the … context. It’s also why I prefer to drink at a local brewery whenever that’s an option. Speaking of local:  this will be out soon, Brewing Local.

To all the beer book authors out there: Thank You. Your work is being appreciated. You are affecting people’s thinking about beer. Cheers. 
—–———–

*A cover, I know. Sweet.  

Mergers and Takeovers:  Has the Beer Revolution Been Completed?  Did Someone Win?

It seemed like it was all about love and art; love for taste and character of true beer and the art of creating it. The zeitgeist of activism seemed to cloak the revolutionary struggle between small breweries and the behemoth corporations. Craft brewers gave the world IPAs, saisons, ambers, chocolate stouts, sea salt gose, browns, etc. craft breweries, such as Four Peaks here in Arizona, pushed legal boundaries for production and capacity for craft brewers. 

And then …

Then they started selling out to the mega corporate brewers. Now, takeover after takeover concerns me. Of course, it can be argued that this signals the fact that AB has recognized that we all want good beer. They see the growing numbers of craft beer. Now they want a portion of those increasing sales and are providing distribution to said good beer. So, good beer won the revolution.  

It just feels so icky. 

Were all these brewers just in it for the money? Have they now become the enemy they allegedly fought? Now I am forced to decide: is it about the beer or the philosophy? If the character of these craft beers does not change, if they hold onto the quality and the vision that made them great beers, must I abjure them solely because I disagree with their business model? 

It feels like it’s just about the distribution now and, thus, the profits.  (That seems to be indicated here).  They want their beers all over the country. And, on one hand, why blame them for that? That’s what business is all about and so, on one hand, they can’t be faulted. Interestingly, this is the same capitalistic tumor that afflicted Busch and Pabst and Uihlein and Miller and their ilk at the beginning of the 20th century. They wanted their products all over the nation and ruthlessly pursued that goal. They all did make a solid and consistent product. A product, mind you, not a craft beer. The quality is good, consistent, stable. They have a lot of scientific and marketing resources to throw at their beers. They were in the manufacturing business and were successful. 

Corporate resources and national distribution. I suppose in the beer world this can be seen as the achievement of the American Dream. A small business struggled, fought, created and now has the opportunity to be globally recognized. Success! I guess. It all depends on your definition of that word. 

In regard to corporations and resources, I wonder also how this will help or hinder the raw materials vendors of barley, wheat, and hops? Or the yeast labs? I assume they will still sell the same volume, unless a consolidation of beer recipes occurs at AB’s new breweries or a reduction of offerings is enforced. Doubtless, AB has purchasing contracts and pricing agreements with many of those vendors. So, if they are selling domestic grains at lower prices to AB and higher to other smaller breweries, will that change now to the standard AB cost for the breweries just purchased? I am not a professional brewer and am not familiar with all the pricing structures therein, so I wonder. I wonder, too, how this might affect the home brewing markets. And what about corporate decisions to use GMOs? Oh, super, now the conspiracy begins. 

The world is becoming more and more homogenous it seems. Now the choices in the beer market will be given us. We shall pick from amongst what “they” tell us to pick from. Like good little drones we will say, “behold what many beers there are.” The free market. 
Hiwever, another thought is – what if the beers do not change? What if operations at the breweries don’t change? If Kiltlifter remains Kiltlifter, why should I not drink it on occasion? What makes Four Peaks less of a destination if it remains essentially unchanged?    But some comments by the creators of Four Peaks makes me worry.  They say here that “the beer will improve.”  So they are toying with the recipes?  

That really is the question. Will these breweries remain unchanged? If the taste of the beer is the same, well, what am I whining about? Isn’t it all about the beer?  That leads also to darker questions. If these craft breweries can become part of a corporation and retain their inherent goodness, does that indicate that the beers the corporations have been brewing all this time are actually acceptable products and I’ve just been swept up in an emotional boycott of their business practices? Is it time to rethink my viewpoint on those beers? Dear God, am I going to start drinking AmberBock again?

My solution to avoiding those latter questions is twofold.

Drink Local

A nano brewery in your hometown is most likely not owned by a giant corporation. (Right, Tim, right??) It is the place that creates beers you can only find at home, locally. The white whale beers. Additionally you are supporting your local economy. You’re paying people you know. The people at the brewery are making beer for people they know. At least drink there until the place gets so big it wants to go corporate. 

Drink Your Own.

This whole takeover and merger fiasco fuels my desire to home brew. That is the only true craft beer. Home brew is truly unique, it has true character. It an expression of the home brewer. Yeah, that means at times you get some wonky beers. But some times you also get irreproducible masterpieces. Those beers will be the stories that live on. 

Nor were they brewmasters, and so came to the brewhouse without any firm ideas about how the beer ought to look or taste.

   – Regarding nineteenth century brewers Pabst and Busch and Uihlien. 
Excerpt From: Ogle, Maureen. “Ambitious Brew.” Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (www.hmhco.com).

iBooks. This material may be protected by copyright.
Check out this book on the iBooks Store: https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewBook?id=541706469 

Oculto by Broken Barrel Brewing Company

Oculto by Broken Barrel Brewing Company

I’ve had this sixer for weeks now. I know nothing about the brewery it comes from. It says it was aged on tequila barrel staves. Those are the wood strips that comprise a barrel’s body. They couldn’t age it IN a barrel? Just on the wooden leftovers. 

Hey … is that like beechwood aging?

I may throw up. 

That Smell
It smells like honey, then flowers, mostly sugar. But after a second, when those dissipate, the tequila breaks through like a dirigible ascending through cumulus clouds. 

In Appearance
The beer is preternaturally clear, hypnotically beautiful to stare at and yellow gold. The head is vanilla white and thin and short lived. 

But The Taste
So, it has the synthetic lemon lime flavor of Sprite and wispy cola-like gaseous stuff rises from body at the first gulp. The body is sticky, but not as light as I would’ve imagined. Then there’s the sugar. Have I mentioned the sugar? It’s just so … there, everywhere. It’s too much. There must be half a barrel of agave syrup dumped in each bottle. 

Join Me For A Plate Of
Sorry, I got nothing here. 

The Conclusion Of The Matter
There’s something that bothers me about this beer. It’s packaging is the first clue that something is afoot. It’s eye catching, a skull with bluish eye sockets. It comes in a clear bottle but exhibits no off smells. It has a twist off cap. Bad signs, to me. 

It’s called Oculto, referencing the occult which seems to be an obsession in this country. The word can also also mean “concealing”. What this beer is concealing is just what the heck it’s supposed to be! Even after drinking six of them, I don’t understand it. 
So it’s not tied to any style, comes in a clear bottle with a twist off cap and doesn’t know who it is but begs people to drink it. This has got to be a corporate beer. Gotta be. I cannot in good conscience recommend it. And it takes forever to drink. 

Rumors of a New Podcast

I have seven podcast subscriptions. Three of them are monthly magazines, two are dedicated to language, one of those being the podcast version of A Way With Words, a brilliant show that utterly changed the way I viewed grammar and dialect.  Number seven is Mission Log, a show all about Star Trek. Yes, I am one of those Trek geeks.  I binge-listened to this show for weeks. Now I’m current, forced to listen to one episode a week. It’s torture. 

Podcasts are cool. Some of them. They suffer from the same issues that plague any kind of media. They need to balance useful content with the right amount of time and have appealing hosts. There are some good shows listed in this article over at Big Think. In fact, that article was what sparked my desire, again, to do my own podcast. Just ask my family – periodically I obsess over having my own show and recording it and editing it and … they just roll their eyes. I understand totally. 

But I’ve just always loved the idea of having a radio show. I have done a little audio editing some years ago using Audacity. Thought it was great.  Of course, the problem is that I just like the recording and editing side of the whole podcasting venture. What’s that?  Oh, the show needs content?  Oh. Right. The great hangup. Content. 

Well, whatever, I say!  While visiting the studios of Last Minute Audio here in Kingman I chatted with the guys there about doing a podcast. They had no objection to allowing me to use the studio, I just couldn’t use their equipment right now. Perhaps in the future, they say.  I think they agreed to let me in simply because I bring beer.  

Did you know that you can do a podcast using beer, an iPhone and Garage Band?   Well, maybe you can. I hear that a beer related, time wasting, mildly entertaining podcast may soon be available. Don’t know all the details, but who knows what can happen when beer is involved. 

The Kegerator’s Mini-Me: SYNEK

The Kegerator’s Mini-Me: SYNEK

When first I read of the SYNEK beer dispenser my impression was that it was an instant beer brewing machine; an abomination, in other words, Frankensteined from Mr Beer and Keurig for the mad consumerism of the West. I dismissed it out of hand, believing that real beer requires the patience and vision of an artist. Still do I believe. But this SYNEK is not the bastardized contraption I took it for.

Here’s the basics: it’s a mobile beer tap. You know the kegerator, no doubt. Well, that’s what this reminds me of in miniature. The company has specially designed cartridges – bags, really, kinda like the bladder in those back packs you can drink from – that you fill. The cartridges can keep pressure and, evidently, refrigeration for thirty days.

The cartridges can be filled at any brewery that has the necessary adapter. Several breweries are on board already. Home brewers can also fill the cartridges with this adapter. I think this could be cool for home brewing. Fill two or three bags with your own brew and you’re stuff is on tap, draught quality home brew from counter top or poolside or grill side, etc.

SYNEK is heralding the end of the growler age. Much is being made of the thirty day period as a grand improvement over the now old fashioned big brown growler. I’m not totally sold on this point. See, a growler doesn’t last a night at my house. The wife and I both love craft beer. The growlers don’t have a chance. Or, I’ll fill for a dinner party. Again, they won’t last a night. So, the 30 day time frame is irrelevant to me. I’ll only get two nights out of it. Craft beer sitting in my house for a month? Nay, nay.

But then I think of home brew again and this thing becomes palatable. A brewer could buy for or five bags (they are not reusable, they will cost you every time you have to buy one) fill them up with a batch and have home brew for a month. The 30 day time limit starts with the first pour. Cartridges can be switched out whenever you like. Halfway through, etc. carbonation will hold.

As I write about it this sounds better – from the home brewing perspective. And it’s a gallon sized bag compared to the half gallon growler. I’ll have to see what my local will charge me for it. I could fill a couple bags and have a couple weekends stored.

I haven’t totally decided about it yet. But that’s just zymurgical atavism in my personality. The Folks at SYNEK have a kickstarter program running now. there’s a few days left. Oh, and he name is derived from the word “cynical”. Gotta love that.