Further Research Into Tiswin, A Native American Beer

Despite dwelling in the desert for decades, I did not know the following about Saguaro cactus:

  • When a saguaro reaches 35 years of age it begins to produce flowers.
  • An adult saguaro is generally considered to be about 125 years of age. It may weigh 6 tons or more and be as tall as 50 feet. The average life span of a saguaro is probably 150 – 175 years of age. However, biologists believe that some plants may live over 200 years.
  • It is estimated that a saguaro can produce some 40 million seeds during its lifetime. However, few will survive to become a seedling. Fewer still will become an adult. The low survival rate of seedlings is due to drought, prolonged freezing and animals eating them.

These silent sentinels beneath Sol’s bright eye are impressive plants and can be adjuncts, or maybe the base, of tiswin, a Native American beer which I began writing about here.  Now, I know quite well that I am an amateur and novice in this field of tiswin and Native American life and culture. I have not made nor even sampled the libation as yet.  I’m collecting information. So, I apologize for any errors I may write. Please comment on this post (or any future ones) and let me know where I was wrong and give me some advice and guidance.

Tiswin seems to also go by the moniker “tesguino” (apparently pronounced tes-ween-o).  At first I thought the two names represented two distinct alcoholic drinks: 1) tiswin, a beer produced with corn; 2) tesguino, an alcoholic drink produced with fruit from the saguaro.  But I think that in actuality the twain are the same libation¹.  I also found the spellings “tezvino” and “tizwin” and references to “tulpi” and “tulapa.”  All seem to refer to a maize based drink to which other ingredients, such as the aforementioned saguaro, may be added².  Yet, adding to my confusion is this publication from the National Park Service.  In that brief brochure it mentions a “Saguaro fruit wine imbibing ceremony to bring the summer monsoon” performed by the Tohono O’odham people, a native nation you can read about here.  There is no mention of the name of this fruit wine, so it may just be me conflating two separate drinks.  The Saguaro fruit wine would be great to sample.

Another helpful article that has a brief discussion about tiswin is  Tepache & Tesguino, at Edible Baja Arizona. I believe it was that article that lead me to information on the Tarahumara Indians, also known as Raramuri, whom may best be known as the pinnacle of long distance runners. They, too, make tesguino and brewing it and drinking it is a spiritual act for them. They sound like good people.  “Their ancient theology was not based on dogma or abstract concepts; nor is their new Christianity. Rather it is a day by day practice of living in harmony with nature and their fellow man.”³  Of course, there are many that claim to do the same and the world is still the world we see today.  But I suppose that’s another story.

 The Raramuri say to one another bosasa which means “fill up, be satisfied, be contented.”†  Kinda like saying “cheers.”  Therefore, bosasa, beer friends!


¹ That confusion came from this source:  http://www.oocities.org/xxi1933/recipes-exotic.html.  It notes solely saguaro fruit juice as the ingredient in the drink.

² This is helpful index of native, undistilled liquours by American anthropologist Weston La Barre.

³ http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/1924-the-tarahumaras-an-endangered-species

http://www.npr.org/templates/text/s.php?sId=4532569&m=1

Flotsam, Jetsam and Me

Flotsam, Jetsam and Me

Black Butte Porter Cap

I like to feature bottle caps in some of my pictures. Something about how they are bent is intriguing. It’s a reminder of the cool physics and chemistry at work in the drink ready to be consumed. It’s also a symbol of craft beer; none of those silly twist-off caps here …




This picture also has a nice shot of the beer label. Some of them are intriguing such as this  from Speakeasy. Cool black and white skyline, a dirigible.  This label seems to reference the Prohibition time period, but also seems steampunk-ish.  Cool.

What?  There should always be plenty of bottle openers around.  I really like the ring opener.  I’ve made that and the blue multitool (with a bottle opener) part of my everyday carry (EDC).  There are probably one or two openers that I forgot to include in this picture.  Truly, it would be hard to remove the above noted bottle caps without a bottle opener.  I think they deserve to be included in the “tangential” category of this month’s Session.


Coasters are useful for protecting tables and also starting conversations.  We recently went to Las Vegas and met some new friends.  While at lunch, I noticed our host had several coasters on his table – all from craft breweries.  So, we had an instant connection and one source for locution.  Had a great time.

The coaster below was acquired at a Great American Beer Festival a few years ago.

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And one other interesting piece of detritus:

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Yes, a pallet.  And because it pleases me, I imagine it came directly from the Sapporo brewery.

Beer Glass Shape Alters How Fast We Drink Alcohol: Are You Drinking Too Much?

I have not decided how much to trust this yet; the studies are preliminary.  Still, might be a fun discussion.

Personal note:  it’s easy to assess volume when you restrict yourself to just drinking the whole growler.  Who cares about glass shape then?  You have a beginning and end.  Problem solved.  Thank you.

Drinking But Don’t Want To Get Drunk? Here’s A Trick.

Why Don’t I Home Brew?

For good or ill I began making calculations.

See, when people ask me if I’m still making beer my answer is “no.” They ask why. I say, “Just out of money and time.”

Let’s talk expense. During this past weekend and the one prior I’ve spent a combined total of approximately $70 on beer, either bottled or on tap at my local. I ran the numbers on the ingredients for a couple of Belgian’s I brewed in ages past and the total came to about $46. Let me now compare volume. I got about 10 beers for the seventy bucks. If I’d spent less money and made my own beer I could have had around eighty beers. Eight times as much beer for thirty four percent less cost. I wag my head.

Let’s talk time. On Friday’s I often arrive home from work around 2:30 or 3 pm. The wife comes home around 6. Then we spend a couple hours or more at the pub and at dinner. On Sunday I’ve been napping for over an hour and I’ve set up a regular beer event where a friend or two come to the house and we drink beer for two or three hours and have a nice little chinwag. Now, I don’t want to do away with either of those things. I don’t mind spending money or time on a date with the wife and an afternoon with the guys. However, with a little forethought I might be able to arrange my affairs and have one or two brewdays in a month. Honestly, I could turn Beer Sunday into Brew Sunday! I wag my head again.

Thus and so we come to the rub: what’s the real reason I don’t brew?

One reason is my lack of confidence. The last batch I brewed was a brown ale laced with cinnamon. I looked forward to it, although the brew day didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. Chilling the wort took so long. Far too long. The beer exploded due to an infection. It was disheartening. And the batch just prior to that didn’t come out so splendidly either. My quality had been diminishing. Some of it could be chalked up to aging equipment, I suppose. But I blame myself. I’ve lost confidence in being able to create decent art in a bottle.

Then, of course, I start to wonder if any of my beers were ever that good. People said they were, but, they were friends. Nice friends. The good kind of friends. Maybe they liked the beer just because they were good friends. Certainly, even if that were the case, that would not of necessity preclude further brewing. In fact, if I were a good friend myself I would continue in an endeavor that they found pleasing.

What else? I started brewing in 1997. There was not the prodigious amount of home brewing knowledge and equipment out there that exists today. In fact, that lack of copious amounts of zymurgical erudition made home brewing an adventure. It was like being on the frontier, blazing new trails, discovering indigenous styles of beer long hidden. Now, it seems that all the knowledge is out there and the adventure is over. Every other person I meet is a home brewer. That’s not really bad, either. It just means a loss of exclusivity, which is just selfishness and vanity on my part.

I resist the idea of spending money on my own hobby. Somehow it just feels selfish. I should spend that money on things for other people or household necessities or other bona fide needs.

How do I get past all this?

Order some extract. Some hops. A vial of yeast. Let it sit in my kitchen. Staring at me. Daring me to combine these discrete elements into a masterpiece. It’s not like I don’t want to do it.

So do it.

Do it.

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.

Black Butte Porter by Deschutes Brewery

In all my travels I have never drank a beer so … drinkable. It has an enviable pedigree, a spotless reputation, and a quotidian character.

B is for Black Butte Porter

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The Vitals
Brewer: Deschutes Brewery
ABV: 5.2%
Categorized as: porter

That Smell …
It smells like cream and orchards.

In Appearance …
Brown, like the edges of a Tiki flame or the bottle that contains it, with a head like the plateaus of the desert. It’s dirty white like my stucco after a monsoon rainfall.

But The Taste …
Caramel raisins. Browned toast with cinnamon. The wife’s kiss.

Join Me For A Plate Of …
Chipotle lime marinated steak and grilled fries with southwest seasoning.

The Conclusion of the Matter
This beer is a beer festival weekend, open and free. Or it’s late summer in ’88 with “Hysteria” cranked to 11. Yes, yes it’s Def Leppard in a bottle. Rock on. They haven’t hit the Adrenalize era yet, good thing. Black Butte is an erudite, worldly mentor speaking to you of all that can be.

Long live Black Butte Porter.