Thursday, December 5, 2013

Time for a rant

I've got to take a minute here to rant a little.  This is the biggest problem with the "craft beer" movement today.  Not the opening of a nanobrewery or two.  Not the ditching of the "Flagship Beer" business model, nor of embracing diversity.

What's got me peeved is this:  Look at the list of beers they're making.
  • An Imperial Stout aged on chestnut;
  • A Double IPA aged on vodka-infused ash spirals;
  • An English Barleywine that comes in gin-barrel and bourbon-barrel varieties;
  • A wormwood-and-basil Saison;
  • A sour wheat ale infused with coriander, salt, and lavender;
  • A Scotch ale with figs and spices;
  • A Belgian Strong with peaches.
These are all big beers (possible exceptions being the Saison and the Wheat), and they're all "zipped up" with a bunch of other flavorings (chestnut? Coriander, salt, and lavender? Wormwood and basil?).

Now, don't get me wrong.  There's nothing at all wrong with making something out-of-the-ordinary--heck, I've done it a time or two, with mixed results.  I have no problem with a brewery wanting to make something like this part of their regular lineup (I'm looking at you, Dogfish Head...).  Where I draw the line, though, is making this the only thing in your lineup.  Nowhere here is there something "sessionable;" even if the alcohol punch was low enough to allow it, there's too many other flavors going on.

What I'd like to see is a whole raft of brewers getting the basics down first.  Make a couple of styles repeatedly, until you do them well.  You've really got to know your ingredients, and your equipment.  Once you have some of that, start ratcheting up the difficulty, and make more difficult styles.  Now and again, for fun, do something frivolous or over-the-top, but try to have a firm handle on the base styles first--it's amazing the amount of complexity that can be found in even the simplest beers.  (SMaSH brews are still fascinating to me...  Once things in my "brewing life" are much less up-in-the-air, I'm going to set back in to the SMaSH brews to really get a firm grasp on my homemade ingredients.)

What I'm trying to say, I guess, is that in the scheme of things, I'd rather be finessed by the subtleties of a well-made Bohemian Pils than hit over the head by another Double Imperial Strong Ale With A Handful Of Overpowering Spices.  Call me crazy...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Brand New Day

Or, perhaps, "another day, another brew."  But neither one quite fits.

The first brew day at the new place occurred yesterday.  I had to purchase a new mash paddle, as the old one went walkabout at some point during the move; this required calibrating the markings on it. (I've got marks for half-gallons and gallons up to ten, from the base of my 10-gallon kettle, on the mash paddle.  This makes for easy volume determinations...)  This, in turn, meant that I ended up starting almost an hour late--and, what with being out of practice, and doing things in a new location, it went longer than I would necessarily have liked otherwise.  Still, beer was made.

My planned brew was an Altbier.  I managed to miss pretty much every number I was trying for (mash temp, initial volume, final volume, gravity, etc.); in the end, beer was made.

I think that part of the reason for the low efficiency/original gravity was due to a poor crush from my LHBS; I've got a new mill (the old one was damaged in a fall shortly after my last brew day, just over 2 years ago), but I don't have it mounted yet--I'm debating whether to try to find a table, or to just build one--I'm leaning in the latter direction.  I'm also debating whether to go with a pulley system similar to what I had before, or move to a direct-drive; in this case, I'm leaning towards the former.  (Each has its pros and cons; in this case, it's probably better to stick with what I know.)

Still, lessons were learned: try to find (or build!) a manifold with quick-disconnects for the various water supply requirements (filling the HLT, going through the chiller, cleaning up)--switching between them is less than ideal; go back to the crush at my old LHBS (or, failing that, build a new mill-stand); work on/in BeerSmith to personalize my gear profile, to better model how things should/would run. 

The next brew day will be in early December, and I can't wait!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Barley, Round II: One-Month Check In

Okay, the winter barleys have been in the ground for about a month now, and it's time for a check-up.  They're doing fine; I'd put overall growth at almost a foot.  I gave the growing plants a "haircut" about two weeks ago, clipping them from ~9 inches down to ~4 1/2; my reasoning for this was multifold: a) the deer did it (and more severely!) last year, and it didn't hurt them a bit; b) I wanted to suppress any excessive tillering before the first frost, to promote having a more established root system; c) something had been sleeping in the tall, lush "grass", and I wanted to discourage it; and d) some high winds were making things "lay down" a bit more than I liked, and I wanted to minimize whatever damage might occur.

A more experienced farmer might allow point "b" as sensible, and the rest as unnecessary/irrelevant, but there it is--I couldn't come up with a good reason not to, and had at least 4 reasons for doing it.  Regardless, they bounced right back within about a week.  (For the curious, whatever had been laying down in the barley--possibly a rabbit, squirrel, or chipmunk--stopped.)

The deck on the Undisclosed Location has been completed--well, all the decking is down, anyway.  I've still got the pergola to build, as well as steps and possibly a handrail or two.  Additionally, I'm looking at a smaller stoop out of the side-door from the UDL, with a ramp down to the decking, but that will require the removal of a few trees.  I've also got to get moving on trash removal--the debris-pile from the various construction we've been doing has reached ridiculous proportions.  Still, progress has been made overall.

It is with this in mind that I'm calling for the first Brew Day at the new house: November the 16th.  I haven't yet decided exactly what I'll brew, or any further details than that; I do plan on there being pictures, which will naturally find their way here.  Details will be forthcoming, so stay tuned!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Barley, Round 2

Well, the Autumnal Equinox has come and gone, and with it the "four-to-six weeks before first frost" mark for my area.  What does that mean?  Time to sow the winter barley!

As I write this (the 28th of September), the barley has been in the ground for just over a week.  Again, two varieties of winter barley: Maris Otter, and Halcyon.  I put down roughly 200g of each seed, using one of the garden planter-boxes.  I added a thin mulch layer, and have watered every other day for a few minutes (enough to soak the soil); I'll keep up with that watering regime (less days when it actually rains) until I start seeing reliable predictions for the actual first frost.  (About then, the grain will go 'dormant' for the winter.)

Since the seed was planted in the garden area (near the house), as opposed to out in the field ('far' from the house), I've been able to keep an eye on them.  That, and having an electric fence I can put up have made it less likely to suffer from deer predation (as happened last year).  Watching the seed chit, then sprout, then grow, has been fascinating!

Here's what we've got, a week into things:


That's the Halcyon on the left, and the Maris Otter below, on the right.  (Yes, there's a bit past the PVC pipe where it'll be hard to distinguish between them; since Halcyon is a descendant of Maris Otter, and since they're ultimately going to be malted together, I'm not terribly worried about it--I may, in fact, simply mix the two together next year.)

That looks roughly like 100% germination, or quite near enough.  If I get as good a harvest next year as I did this, I should end up with about 17lbs of each.  (Call it 15lbs, to account for inefficiencies in harvesting, etc.)  Not only would that get me set up to be "malt-sustainable" after one more harvest, it gives me more time to acquire the equipment I'll need for the larger-scale growing.

My hops didn't fare as well, this year: my "retired" Cascades are fine, but the Willamette was the only variety of "new" stuff that did well enough to give me hope for next year...  The Magnum may have survived, but the "new" Cascade and the Sterling both thoroughly croaked.  I'll replace them next spring. They'll have better access to sunlight, as I've got a number of trees to take down; I'll also be better able to "baby" them along.  (Not to mention getting them in the ground earlier than I could, this year.)

Ah, progress...

Friday, September 6, 2013

Down an Unbeaten Path (Part I)

A popular contest in the SCA Arts & Sciences community is to do a "sheep-to-shirt" project--going from raw fleece, through cleaning, combing, spinning, dyeing, weaving, measuring, cutting, and sewing, to a finished garment.  Wouldn't it be cool to do a "rock-to-cup" project?  Start with ore, smelt it, hammer it out, then work it into some type of artifact?

So, I started looking into where copper comes from.  I've got plenty, to be honest--having recently re-plumbed my house, and removed all of the old plumbing still in the basement from the last re-plumbing, there's lots of old copper pipe sitting in the Garage, awaiting its trip to the recycling facility; I could "save" some of it by melting it down myself--but I'm getting ahead of my story...

Good sources of copper ore include malachite and azurite, both semi-precious stones.  Well, not having the funds available to buy enough of either, I began casting about for alternatives.  As luck would have it, I found a YouTube video on making your own copper ore, from common household ingredients.  The process involves dissolving some root killer (copper sulfate) in water, then adding baking soda.  The sodium bicarbonate reacts with the copper sulfate to give copper carbonate, water, a little sodium sulfate, and a whole lot of CO2.  The copper carbonate crystals will precipitate and settle out of solution--and what is malachite, but copper carbonate!  A little coarse filtration and drying, and there you are.

What is required then is smelting.  Again, YouTube to the rescue!  Another couple of videos demonstrate "Bronze Age" and "Iron Age" smelting.  Dig a small hole, add a blow-tube ("truyere") with a bellows; build a charcoal fire.  When it's going well, toss in your crushed "malachite" (copper carbonate dust/powder), add a little more charcoal, then cover the whole thing (you need a reducing environment, with minimal oxygen, else you'll end up with black copper oxide).  Let it go for a few hours, working the bellows the whole time, then let the fire go out, and the whole thing can cool.  Dig through the ashes at the bottom, and hey-presto!

All of which seems a little primitive.  You can also put your ore, with a little charcoal, into a crucible, put a lid on it, and heat the whole thing up, then pour it into a mold (or cast something with it--I've got the soapstone for it...).  Much cleaner!  But I don't have a crucible... So, a little more research is in order.

(To Be Continued...)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Almost seems backward

Yes, it's been a while since my last post.  Summer around the homestead is a busy place--there's a yard, garden, and impending orchard to manage, as well as fields and fences to tend to.  Wood has to be cut & split for the winter.  Not to mention the repairs on the house--new siding and windows; plus a lot of interior work (the entire house re-plumbed!).

So what seems backward?  Well, the whole cycle of barley.  The winter barley gets planted in a bit over a month, give or take--late September to early October, or what would be "harvest time" for most normal crops.  Then it's harvested in late Spring/early Summer (June or so), about the time lots of other things are just starting to grow...

I've been "threshing and winnowing" my harvest from last year, with an eye towards exactly what my usable yields are, and how much tilling I'll have to do in a week or two.  I use the terms "threshing" and "winnowing" guardedly; while technically, they're accurate for what I'm doing, they also somewhat overstate the enormity of the project, or lack thereof.  The threshing is being done by hand, literally--I'm just grabbing handfuls of grain ears, and "grinding" them between my fingers.  Most of the grains fall from the stems; the awns make a horrible mess, and a lot of the work is done.  (This is a process best performed outside.)  Once I've gone through it pretty thoroughly, I take a bit more time and pick off any stubborn grains from the stems (I'm sure there's a technical term, but it escapes me at the moment).  Then I spend a bit more time hand-grinding the grains, just to break up the remaining awns & chaff.  Afterwards, I either wait for a breezy day, or plug in a fan, then it's picking up the grains by handfuls, dropping them back into the container.  The breeze (or fan) blows away the light "chaff", letting the heavier seeds drop back into the bucket.  It's one of those things that I know makes perfect sense, intellectually, but it still amuses me to no end that it works as well as it does.

Next year, after I've had a bigger harvest (knock wood), I'll have to step up my game a bit; I'll probably actually get buckets for the grains (not the smallish plastic boxes I've got now), and the process will undoubtedly take more time.  Still, that's a concern for next year.  For this year, I've got lots of other things to keep me busy.

First, there's the hops.  I've got to find some time, probably this weekend, to harvest the Cascades from my "retired" bines (the only ones that produced--go figure).  The new bines weren't expected to put any out, granted; I'm going to have to replace the Sterling, at least, as they seem to have died over the Summer.  (I'll see, come Springtime, whether any of the others have made it--they're okay, thus far, but Winter may do them in.)

I'm doing what woodworking I can, given that I don't have any power tools to speak of, nor time to really use them. (Okay, I've got the tools, but I need to get to work on the Undisclosed Location before I have a place to put them--and it still needs electricity, etc...)  I've been doing some whittling, and I've found some images of a really nice carved chair that I'd like to take a stab at recreating/modifying.  I've also been toying with the idea of having a bit of fun with the carvings--maybe do a couple of pieces as inlays.  The fun lies in selecting the woods to use--some more-or-less 'exotic' woods will fluoresce under blacklight, which raises the possibility of some interesting "special effects."

Another interest that I hope to delve into is metalworking--particularly coppersmithing (and probably silversmithing, eventually).  I'd like to try my hand at raising a bowl or two, and maybe some cups, as well as possibly doing some chasing and/or repousse, then there's enameling...  The copper got me to thinking, though (always a bad sign)...  (To Be Continued)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

More harvest

And now, it's hops. Specifically, my Cascades--the "retired" ones, transplanted from their barrel into the ground.  They're not quite as tall as they'll probably get after another couple of years; easily 10' or so, but these plants have reached as high as 20' in the past.  Still, it looks like I'll get about a half-pound of "wet" hops from them--translate that to *maybe* two ounces dry.

The "new" hops, starting this year from rhizomes, are finishing out at about 4' tall, and not putting out burrs at all.  This is fine--as first year plants, they need to build their root systems.  Next year, hopefully, they'll really take off.

In other news, I've been playing around with water analysis, using inexpensive "home-testing" methods (as detailed here).  If I'm doing this right (and there's no guarantee that I am), I've got well water that is comparable in hardness to Plzen (that is, *extremely* soft).  I come out under 40ppm alkalinity as CaCO3, whether I'm testing filtered tap water, or water straight from the well (via the hose). What does this mean for my brewing?  Put simply, I can make whatever the heck I want.  Light-colored Pilsner-style lagers? Check (pun intended).  Darker, roastier beers?  A few water additions, and check.  It's not like starting from reverse-osmosis water, where you have to add stuff to get *up* to a Plzen profile, but at least I've got a good starting point.

A couple of things I'm thinking about, with regards to the water situation:  I'm still planning on getting a lab report done, at this point mostly to double-check my results.  If the lab says something different than what I've found, I'll believe them faster than my own results; I probably messed up the procedure (or the math) somewhere.  Also, in the long run, I intend to use collected rainwater, which will also be very soft (certainly softer than my well water).

Work on the Undisclosed Location is proceeding.  I've got over half of the decking down on Dante; once I finish that, and get a couple of ash trees cut down, I'll put up at least some of the pergola, then it'll be time to work on the roof.  That, fortunately, doesn't look nearly so dire as it once did; I've got to knock down an old, tottering chimney (saving the brick, of course), then patch a couple of spots (a new roof panel and some solder), and that's good.  Then it will be on to the doors...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Harvest time

Well, some of it, anyway. The winter barleys--Maris Otter and Halcyon--are completely harvested. I got most of it last weekend, but left a few stalks to finish "curing"/drying; they were retrieved yesterday. I'll probably gather the Bere barley this weekend, while the Hana probably needs another week or two. Overall, from sowing the first seed, it's been about nine months; by the time it's done, it'll probably be ten months overall, for all the varieties. My yield looks pretty good: starting from 5 grams of seed per variety, I've got at least several ounces of each: Maris Otter (the only one I've done any real processing on) came to a little over 10 ounces, prior to threshing/winnowing (maybe 9 ounces, when all is said and done). With that sort of yield, assuming similar results the next few years, I could get about 28 pounds per variety next year--enough to "play" with malting some, and replanting for sustainability.

Actually, at a that rate of increase, only 8 pounds and a bit (total!) is probably enough to plant and be sustainable, figuring roughly 20 pounds needed per batch (10 gallons), and no more than 20 batches per year (legal limit), that's 400 pounds; add back in the 8 pounds to re-seed, and it's pretty close. If I just re-plant everything, then from the 9 ounces this year, I'll get 28 pounds in 2014, then 1400 pounds in 2015... And that's per variety; I don't have enough field to pull that off.  Barley has an "optimal" seeding rate of about 85 pounds/acre; sticking to a manageable amount, about 1/4 acre, and planting ~5 pounds of each variety is much more reasonable...

The hops are, of course, another issue entirely. Their harvest season doesn't usually start until August, as the days start getting a little shorter. My "retired" Cascades have a number of burrs and some early cones; their root system was significantly larger, of course, than the new rhizomes. So far, there's not much to report with them--the bines were savaged by groundhogs a couple of weeks back, but are rebounding. I've set up cages to protect them; I wasn't anticipating a harvest from them this year, anyway--they need to get established. Next year, however, I'm hoping will be productive. We'll call it a few ounces this year, and (optimistically) about a pound next year; time will tell.

In other news, I've got about 1/3 of the decking on the deck of my future BierGarten ("Dante," the deck on the Undisclosed Location).  I expect to have it done before the end of July; general clean-up and debris removal will probably be going on at the same time. I'm debating right now whether to get a separate power line/meter run, or just to extend the 100A service from the house (it has a 100A service and a 200A service; don't ask why). I'm planning (hopefully) on taking down the chimney in August/September, and making roof repairs around the same time. I've also got to patch the holes in the walls; once all that's done, I can start storing some of my equipment out there. Still quite a bit to go before it's even 50% usable, though.

In the meantime, the main house is getting a new outside over the next week--exciting, but also an unholy mess of preparations and the like. And we're taking the next step in "dismantling" the utility room this evening, the better to re-build it (better and stronger) over the summer...  What fun!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Grainy goodness!

It's amazing, the difference a week will make.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we have grain!  It's a long way from ready for harvest, but it's getting there...  This is the Halcyon; the Maris Otter is probably another five or six days behind it.  The Bere is growing rapidly, but is still probably about a month and a half away (at a guess); the Hana is right behind that.




Here are my "retired" Cascades, climbing up their tree, with tons of Alehoof all around:
Ah, spring...

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Who's Got Herbs?

Teaching went well last weekend.  The class was smaller than I might have liked, but that was largely a factor of the size of the event.  I've submitted proposals to teach the classes at University in a month; we'll see how that goes.

One of the topics of my classes is medicinal beer.  It would appear that at least the Germans were adding medicinal herbs to their beers, using them to transport whatever healing qualities the herbs were thought to carry.  I don't recall ever having heard of this actively being done in period--although I may have seen a reference to it somewhere, probably about the Saxons.  Still, it stands to reason; they were using wine for the same purpose, and cordials (hard alcohol) were meant as medicine, not for their taste.

Some of the herbal additions seem reasonable and logical--they're pretty standard herbal medicine, even today: Balm for stress reduction; Eyebright for eye ailments.  Fennel for coughs.  Ginger to settle the stomach.  Some others seemed odd, but I can go with it: oak leaves as a diuretic. Juniper against poison.  Still others were downright odd, if not dangerous: Salvia for the teeth (?); Pennyroyal as a decongestant (!).

Other "indirect" remedies include washing one's face with wheat beer (good for the skin); beer warmed with oil and/or butter in the morning, as a laxative; table beer (very low alcohol) boiled with fresh hops to ease a toothache.

There were a couple of things I'd like to try, just to see--not for their medicinal purposes, but because the idea sounds tasty.  Rosemary beer.  Cumin.  Anise...

In other areas, while "making the rounds" of stuff growing around the farm, I found an interesting little gem:

That would be a plant known as Ground Ivy, or Creeping Charlie.  Back in the Medieval period, however, it was commonly known as "Alehoof," and was used by the Saxons as part of a typical gruit.  I've got piles of it; quite a bit is growing around the "retired" Cascades, appropriately enough...  Some experimentation will definitely be in order, just as soon as I can get brewing again!

And while I'm thinking about it, my barley:
That's the Maris Otter on the right, and the Halcyon on the left.  The Bere and Hana are hidden behind these...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Published!

Well, sort of.  At the least, two of my recipes are in a much more trafficked area than my website, and my name is attached to them. This turn of events is thanks to a friend of mine, known in the SCA as Sorcha Crowe, putting together an article on six-row barley for Zymurgy.  She asked me if I had any recipes using six-row that she could use, and the rest, as they say, is history.

As luck would have it, my "historical" barley (the Bere) is a six-row.  Its progress in the field has been impressive--given another month, it may catch up to the winter barley in growth.  The Hana is still plugging along, but hasn't really been as productive, which is somewhat disappointing.  (Overall, I'm not as impressed with the Hana as I would have liked--its germination rate seemed low, and now it's not growing as well.  I may try selecting the better seeds, to try selecting for a better-adapted variety, but that's a multi-year process...)

I have, at this point, most of the holes dug for the pier footings, to which I will attach a deck, and from there a pergola for my hops.  I hope to get the footings poured in the next couple of days; if I'm successful there, I should have hops in the ground after this weekend, and not a moment too soon.  The Sterling rhizomes have put up shoots, as have the Magnum and one of the Willamette.  The Cascades are lagging a bit, but if need be I can get a cutting from my "old" plants (which have reached their climbing strings, and are progressing as hops will do).

In the meantime, I think I have my class notes finalized for this weekend; I need to find a free minute or two to make copies of my handouts.  Atlantian University has found a site for a Summer Session in June, and my Lady Wife and I are combing our schedules to see if we can attend and present our classes (she teaches classes on Russian clothing).  Right now, things are looking positive.

On another positive note, I'm hopeful that I'll be able to actually brew something by late summer.  Probably not "inside" in the Brewhouse, nor on a nice, shiny electric brew-rig, but brewing nonetheless.  There have been a number of people ask when I was going to start back up; for now, that's the best I can offer--"soonish."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Some observations

The biggest problem with growing barley, I'm finding, is observing the progress. On the one hand, brewing is a hobby for the patient--it's all "hurry up and wait," after all. On the other hand, watching barley grow is rather like--well, not to put too fine a point on it, it's like watching grass grow.  (Makes sense, really, since that's exactly what it is...) At least with the hops you can see progress on a daily basis.

So, everything has germinated. The Maris Otter and Halcyon are nearing the tops of their "cages". The Hana and Bere are a ways behind that. I'm disappointed with the germination rate I got from the Hana in the field--of the 30-40 seeds, I've got maybe ten sprouts. (All of the Hana in the planter came up--it's likely a soil issue, rather than a seed issue.)  The Bere is happy both in the field and the planter, with its second set of leaves up and the third set looking not far behind.

In the meantime, with less than two weeks to go before their introduction, I'm feverishly going over, revising, and correcting my class notes for the Medieval German Beer classes.  There are three, tentatively titled: "Period German Brewing Practices," "Medicinal German Beers," and "A Period German Pub Crawl."  Thus far, the corrections are primarily fixing typos, and making sure my facts line up.  Of the three, I'm happiest with the Pub Crawl; it's entirely possible that in the future I'll fold the Period Practices bit into that one for a "mega-class".  I'm hoping to have some medicinal herb people in the Medicinal Beers class, and to make it more of a discussion group.

Part of the fun for the Pub Crawl was looking at the various local beer names--"brands," if you will.  A friend of mine was commenting on the wide variety of beer names available at the local liquor superstore, and the humor value in many of them... Well, our ancestors were no different in that regard: Butterfly, Toad, Choir Finch, Mosquito Mustard, and Raving Man are among the less vulgar names.  Some of them describe the feeling, or aftereffect, of the beer: Body-blow, Rip-Head, Blow-the-Man-Down.  The Lubeck offering of "Israel" was so named because of its strength: "People strive with it as Jacob wrestled with the Angel."  ("Israel" is from the Hebrew for "wrestles with God".)

Surprisingly, only a few of the beers were familiar to me, in terms of historical offerings: Gose, Israel, Broihane, Alt Klaus, Joben, and Mumme. Of those, I have only ever tasted commercial Gose.  (Mumme has become non-alcoholic, while Broihane morphed into a Pilsner, apparently.  I have practically no information whatsoever on Alt Klaus or Joben.)  Bock was not mentioned as such, although it was present if you know where to look--it derived from the name of its town of origin, Einbeck.  Indeed, it was searching for information on period "Einbeckisch Bier" that led me to the sources for my classes.

I'll try to update again, either as "teaching-day" approaches, or soon after... And, I promise, pictures of barley (and hops!) will be forthcoming before long.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Progress, and progress...

Spring seems poised (at last!) to, well, spring, and things on the homestead are moving along nicely. All of the "special" barley (the Maris, the Halcyon, the Bere, and the Hana) is planted; my "old" hops are in the ground, and the new rhizomes are on their way.

I'm waiting on dryer weather to combine with a "free" weekend (or afternoon) so that I can "scalp" a bit of my field with the mower, then sow the Conlon barley over a chunk of it, and some wheat over the rest. (The wheat isn't for brewing necessarily, but for bread.) In the meantime, I've also put ten or a dozen or so of each of my "specialty" barleys into planters, which I'm keeping a careful eye on. This way, even if something catastrophic (deer! groundhogs! rabbits! birds!) happens to the plots out in the field, I'll have seed-stock to try again.

My "veteran" hops (Cascades, two rhizomes, in about their fourth year or so) have been "retired" to the area reserved for the future herb garden; they've got a nice tree to climb, and a west-facing vista (looking over the barley field, as it happens). The "new" rhizomes--two each of Cascade, Magnum, Willamette, and Sterling--are on their way, and I should have them before the end of the week. This, of course, means I have to put the spurs to my efforts in building the Biergarden/Hop Trellis/Deck on the side of the Undisclosed Location; I think I finally have the equipment I need, and the plans worked out to do it. As is my wont, there will be several materials runs, but by and large it looks pretty straightforward, knock wood.

Work on my new brewing rig (and Igor, my electric rig controller) has been placed on the back burner for a little while, as life on the farm has shifted towards better weather and other activities. Over a week was "eaten" in building a fence to keep in Bacchus the pup (a Great Pyr, who at 7 months old is around 100 pounds; he's a great dog, but tends to wander if he's able, and he gets "selective hearing" if he's not ready to come in when called...). Vegetable gardens and the like are also becoming going concerns. I'm still hoping to be able to brew--if only in a primitive fashion--by this fall.

I've got my teaching notes worked up pretty well for an event at the end of the month; as I find time, I'd like to start posting my observations on that stuff here, as well. So much to do, so little time...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Waiting for Spring

Ah, the New Year.  It always brings such promise...

I'm in a sort of holding pattern at present, mostly because Springtime is still two months away.  My growth-plots of winter barley (Maris Otter and Halcyon) are apparently happy idling away the winter months, luxuriating in the sunlight, not growing (yet) due to the cold (the high yesterday was 26 degrees F; it's not supposed to warm up much this week).  The spring barley (Bere, Hana, and Conlon) are waiting for slightly warmer weather.

The hops, likewise, are dormant.  My Cascade rhizome(s) is/are awaiting the spring thaw, so I can transplant them in the actual ground somewhere they can thrive.  I'm busy plotting and planning for several other varieties, the better to (eventually) become a little more self-sufficient in my brewing.  My current thinking is for Magnum, Sterling, and Willamette.  They all supposedly do well in hot climates, which is what I have in the summer...  Those, combined with my current Cascade, will cover my favorite brews, and then some.  I may sub Tettnang for the Sterling, but I haven't decided yet; regardless, I will likely get several Magnum rhizomes, as I really like them for bittering.

No, I've got no way of measuring the Alpha %, but neither did our ancestors, and the beer came out just fine.  My product will be a bit more seasonal than the commercial stuff, but that's a bit of what "artisanal" is about, right?

My "new" brewpub building (dubbed "The Undisclosed Location")--a barn on the new property--is in dire need of overhauling, but I'm waiting for the weather to get back to at least a balmy mid-40's to get started.  The first projects are roof-patching, filling some holes in the walls, doing some other wall patching, cleaning out the interior, and putting up a pergola on the west side of the building (facing the field and valley).  The pergola is going to be the "open roof" for what will be my Biergarten, and act as poles/trellis for the hops.  Further plans include replacing the sliding "front" door, and re-building the "lean-to" structure on the "back."  I've also got to arrange electrical, in some way shape or form--again, after the weather warms a little, I'll call the power company to see what we can arrange.

In the meantime, while I wait for the time to be right with all of the above, I'm busy translating my medieval German beer text (Heinrich Knaust's Funff Bucher).  I'll probably post dribs and drabs of it here and/or on my website, as I get more of it translated.  I'm hoping to eventually make it into a full-on Atlantian University class, in which case I may drop the notes and photos to the website for more universal access; I'll certainly keep folks updated as I work.

That's all the news for now; I hope to have a couple of photographs next time, the better to document the transformation from "extremely messed out barn" to "full-on brewpub."  Cheers!

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