Tag Archive | bombast

One Drink Minimum: A Father’s Day and an author’s day

I was blue mouldy for the want of that pint. – unnamed narrator, “Cyclops” episode of Ulysses

June 16, 2013 was Father's Day, the first I celebrated as a father myself, thanks to the arrival of this guy:

Fathers Day

This picture now has more Likes on Facebook than that one picture of that cat doing that spastic thing.

 

His mother insisted on taking me to brunch at Banger's Sausage House & Beer Garden, one of my favorite beer spots in Austin. Although I balked at first – as much as I love being a father, I'd just as soon celebrate in my own quiet way and not have anyone make a fuss over me – I agreed, and started my day with a Stone Double Dry Hopped Ruination IPA and then a Dogfish Head Sixty-One (also known as 61 Minute IPA – a less-than-accurate moniker that implies more hops than can be detected in this blend of IPA and Syrah grape must). The beers were great, and the food was good too even though Banger's was out of the one thing on the menu I really wanted: the “Irishman's Hangover Cure” – basically an English breakfast with black and white pudding (US readers: despite the name, those are sausages). A mighty meal, I'm sure, but unavailable on account of a shortage of black pudding (how a hypertrendy brew-and-grub spot in downtown Austin runs out of blood sausage is beyond me, but okay). I settled for an elevated Eggs Benedict instead, a dish that has never disappointed me.

It really was a shame about missing out on that Irish breakfast, though, because June 16 was also Bloomsday to fans of Irish novelist James Joyce and his magnum opus Ulysses. Observed each year on the anniversary of the date the novel took place – June 16, 1904 – it's a spectacle in Joyce's native Dublin, where participants and spectators don boater hats, eat kidneys, and participate in readings, re-enactments, and other themed events at parks, pubs, museums and locations mentioned in the novel. We've celebrated Bloomsday in my house for the last four years with Irish food (no kidneys, thanks) and stout by pints, with one exception in 2011 when we actually went to Dublin for it.

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My wife Lisa and me at Davy Byrne's pub in Dublin, June 16 2011.

 

Readers who remember my St. Patrick's Day post may recall that Bloomsday is one of the three days a year that I consider myself “Irish by bullshit”, and I toast to Joyce with at least one pint of Guinness and a Jameson nightcap. Granted, although Bloomsday is big in Dublin and recognized in a handful of American cities, it doesn't have a reputation as a hardcore Irish drinking occasion like St. Paddy's or your average Irish funeral. It's seen as more of a sophisticated affair. In Dublin two years ago, I got the impression that Dubliners view it as a society event. Most of the costumed participants looked like upper-class types, the cream of Dublin's social/academic elite doing their duty for an event that is important to the city, regardless of whether any of them have any meaningful personal connection to Joyce's work. Most of them were sipping wine.

Wine. Irish men and women in pubs in the city where Guinness and Jameson were born, gathered to celebrate an Irish cultural hero, and they were drinking … wine. A nod to protagonist Leopold Bloom ordering a glass of red wine at Davy Byrne's pub for his afternoon tipple in the “Lestrygonians” episode of Ulysses? Perhaps, but although I did see a few glasses of red in Bloomsdayers' hands that day, most of them were drinking white.

Snooty? Maybe. Pretentious? Most likely. But don't be put off by that, or by the fact that your English-major roommate in college used to drag you to bars on Thursday nights and forced you to listen to him debate his friends on the topic of James Joyce's work using words like ineluctable and dropping references to secondary sources like the most boring deleted scene from Good Will Hunting. Never mind all that. Ulysses is a damned entertaining book full of laugh-out-loud hilarious moments. It's a great read to enjoy while drinking and is full of interesting details about the life of the turn-of-the-century urban Irishman drinker. It contains several references to “Guinness's porter” (a description that may confuse today's beer geeks, until we realize that stout was considered a substyle of porter until the 20th Century). There's an extended sequence of drunken hallucination in a brothel written as a play script, complete with cross-dressing, and a memorable scene of a sexy barmaid working the … ahem … “polished knob” of a tap handle with delicate hands.

Oh yeah, that's the other thing. Ulysses is full of dick and fart jokes. In my opinion, that makes it perfect for dads everywhere. Why not combine it with Father's Day? So I ended my day with a miniature Irish feast for Bloomsday.

Not long after Lucian's birth, I kegged an Irish-style dry stout that I brewed in late March (first discussed in the above St. Patrick's Day post) and named it Anna Livia Dry Stout in honor of a character from another Joyce novel, Finnegans Wake. The recipe for the brew can be found here in my new recipes section. I brewed the stout as a substitute for Guinness specifically for this occasion, and it didn't disappoint: deep black and roasty, dry but with a touch of sweetness in the middle and a robust mouthfeel that I found wanting the last time I drank canned Guinness Draught. Best of all, Anna Livia came in at a very sessionable 4% ABV. The only thing that was lacking was the trademark tang that Guinness achieves by adding a little bit of soured beer to each batch. The next time I make it, I'll try to recreate that effect by adding a little lactic acid to the wort. Sure, it's cheating and I don't generally like to add extraneous ingredients, but seeing as how the alternative would be to use sour beer and risk infecting my good equipment, I think I can make an exception.

To go with the stout, we had cabbage braised in the same stout with bacon, and a selection of cheeses: Irish cheddar, Gorgonzola (in honor of Leopold Bloom's Gorgonzola sandwich from Davy Byrne's), and English Red Leicester (not a Ulysses reference but great cheddarish cheese that reminds me of my time in the British Isles).

I also baked a raisin-free soda bread from this recipe from IslandVittles.com. Of course, I substituted Anna Livia for the Guinness. Though I've been baking bread for a couple of months now, this was my first soda bread. It was so good I will be making it again: crumbly and sweet, an excellent counterpart to the Gorgonzola. And the leftover slices were spectacular with butter and honey a day later.

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Not quite the culinary equivalent of a James Joyce novel, but easier to get through in one sitting.

It was a great way to spend a first Father's Day, and I got off light in that I was able to divert much of the fuss away from myself and onto one of my favorite annual geek observances. It also gave me a great excuse to brew something special for the occasion, something I'd love to do again in the future. But with Father's Day falling the day before Bloomsday next year, I think I'm going to need a new angle if I want to do a Father's Day brew.

Anyone have any Father's Day brews they'd like to share the recipe for? I need your ideas! Only 364 days left to plan.

 

Parenting: it’s like brewing a person

On April 9, my son Lucian was born.

Less than 1 day old.

Far be it from me to claim I’m an expert on the subject after doing it once, but the months leading up to the birth of a first child are a whirlwind. Preparing for the birth is like a new hobby, one that fills only a weekend or two per month early on, but quickly escalates to every weekend and eventually every day. Months pass quickly, measured in weeks between ultrasounds, the impending due date consuming more time and mental bandwidth as the trimesters tick by. There’s a nursery to paint. Furniture to pick out and assemble. Classes to take. Bags to pack for the hospital. As our due date of April 22 approached, the to-do list kept getting longer, and we sacrificed other pursuits – social life, writing, movie night – in an attempt to reach our goal of being “ready” by April 1 so we could a) leave for the hospital at a moment’s notice, and b) relax and enjoy the last few weeks of our pre-parental life before we took the big plunge.

I also prepared a number of activities to “keep me busy” during my four weeks off from work. I formulated a couple of special homebrew recipes: ready to brew. Made substantial progress on mapping out the plot of my novel: ready to draft. Worked with my screenwriting partners to complete the first draft of a feature screenplay: ready to edit. And I stocked up on DVDs and books to watch/read in my downtime.

I’ll pause here to give a moment to my readers who are experienced parents. Please, laugh derisively at my naive delusion.

By April 1, we were a little behind schedule on the prep-work but not too far behind. We were all ready to buckle down and get it done in time for April 22. Then suddenly, boom. Lucian came 13 days early, smacking me in the face with a +2 spiked club of reality. I’m still shaking my head, trying to clear the ring of stars and chirping birds circling me.

It’s amazing how quickly I transformed from “me” into this new version of me that exists primarily to serve as one half of a round-the-clock life support system for another human being. In my rare contemplative moments, I think back to those last frantic weeks of expectancy with nostalgia, like memories of a relaxing vacation.

Don’t get me wrong. The instant I first laid eyes on my son in the delivery room, a profound and inexplicable emotion anchored in my psyche immediately. I was literally overwhelmed, almost hyperventilating as my brain refused to believe what my heart felt – that there was a new person on this planet, that I had co-created him and would co-author his formative years, and that I loved him in a way I never realized was possible. I wouldn’t trade that feeling for anything, and I’m glad he decided to come 13 days early. Someday, many years from now when our days together are numbered, I’ll look back and be thankful for the extra time.

But with all that said, the last nine days have challenged my naive assumptions of what raising a newborn would be like. That stack of things to “keep me busy”? Collecting dust. I haven’t read anything that’s not baby-related. I haven’t written (until now). I’ve watched a little TV, but seeing as how it takes 4 hours to get through a single episode of Game of Thrones or Mad Men, I don’t think I’ll be making much headway on that stack of DVDs. And as for the pipe dream of scraping together eight consecutive hours to brew beer, well, I barely even have time to drink a beer.

But I dove in head first, learning the right way for each new paternal task with zeal. Every time I tried something new, I looked it up in at least two baby books and online to see if I was doing it right (I’m not bragging; it was a crutch and a hindrance). I filled my head with so much information it eventually just started dripping out of my ears unused. I soon got overwhelmed and started making mistakes: confusing Lucian’s hunger cry for his diaper cry, chilling his sensitive butt with a frigid baby wipe, failing to shield his eyes from the sun for every microsecond outdoors. Every mistake left me feeling sick to my stomach and afraid of the next mistake, certain the baby wouldn’t survive two weeks in my care. What had I gotten myself into? How stupid was I to make him cry for literally hours in the middle of the night, while I racked my brain trying to figure out what was wrong? I was clueless, in over my head. The worst father in the world. I almost welcomed the idea of Texas Child Protective Services busting down the door of my house at 4:00 am, declaring me unfit for parenthood, and taking Lucian away to someone else who could raise him right. Unlike me.

And then one night, four or five days ago but a lifetime away, was my dark night of the soul. Listening to the earsplitting (I now know what this word means) cry of my frustrated newborn, terrified that any new minute on the clock might mark the breaking point for this poor innocent creature mistakenly entrusted to my ignorant care, I wished only that I could be somewhere else. Anywhere, anywhen, back in time, off in space, a place with bright sun and serene air and good ale on tap.

The thought of beer, coupled with a crippling fear of failure, triggered memories. I remembered my first forays into homebrewing, those exciting but terrifying new days filled with similar fear and self-doubt.

For my first few homebrew batches, I sought validation for every choice I made online and in the pages of the beginner books written by Charlie Papazian and John Palmer. Was I mixing the extract and water enough? Was I cleaning my steeping bag the right way? Were plastic carboys really fine, or was I going to oxidize my brew? Was I wasting my time, and would my beer end up tasting terrible? Was I the worst brewer ever, and should I just give up?

But I wasn’t, and I shouldn’t, and I wasn’t wasting my time. I was learning on the job. It was a painful, arduous process that was nonetheless absolutely necessary. The beer wasn’t perfect, but it was far from terrible. And as I got more and more experience, I realized that so much of homebrewing was not about right vs. wrong, but just about choices. I learned to be comfortable with the choices I made, knowing they were the right choices for me – at least at the time – and for nurturing the best possible beer out of my homebrew setup. I learned to have faith that even if I made little mistakes that needed to be corrected or even apologized for, the beer would be fine.

An epiphany began to blossom in my head. I looked down at my screaming, red-faced infant son and smiled. I remembered Charlie Papazian’s oft-quoted advice to new homebrewers: Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew. And I did.

Well, I didn’t have the homebrew until the next day, but you get the idea. As I drank that homebrew, I reflected on how raising a newborn is not entirely different from homebrewing. Sure, it’s a much bigger commitment and the stakes are waaaay higher. But it can be approached in the same way.

Relax. Don’t worry. Enjoy your child.

Nine days in, I’m still making mistakes and I’m still stressed out – sleep deprivation will do that to you. But amazingly, I’m starting to get the hang of it. I can tell the difference between a hunger cry and a diaper cry. I’m guessing with sufficient accuracy when Lucian needs feeding or changing, and when he just wants to suck on a finger or listen to white noise. I’m starting to feel like I sort of know what I’m doing when it comes to the basics, and I’m enjoying experimenting as I figure out how to parent more efficiently. I feel myself on the verge of a stage of parenthood analogous to being an intermediate brewer: straying from established recipes with my own adjuncts and flavors, controlling variables in my own way, putting my own twist on process and technique. And I realize the beginning wasn’t so bad. It didn’t take long at all.

Someday, though I’m sure it’s a long way away, I’ll level up to advanced, “all grain” parenting. I’ll have enough knowledge and experience to have my own ideas about how to make my child happy. I’ll be the one dispensing advice and recommendations to my friends who become parents after me. I’ll still screw up, of course. But with the wisdom of experience behind me, I’ll view my mistakes as something constructive; to paraphrase James Joyce, “portals of discovery”. I’ll screw up and fix it and clean up and apologize and analyze and solve the problem to become a better parent in the future.

And someday, I’ll pass that knowledge on to my son, perhaps over a pint of a well-crafted homebrew that he may someday brew himself.

Welcome to life, Lucian. For now, keep doing what you’re doing. Cry if you have to, but sleep when you can. You’ll need your rest. Brewing is hard work, and we’ll be doing it together soon.

Here’s one for the English majors

Last night when reading Mitch Steele’s book IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale, I came across this excerpt from a poem by British poet A. E. Housman which Steele used as a chapter epigraph. I recognized two lines, which will be familiar to many of my readers:

Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think.

Spot the familiar lines? I’ll explain just in case. The quote “Malt does more than Milton can / To justify God’s ways to man” is referenced frequently in beer culture. It appears on T-shirts and in books, and is quoted endlessly on websites dealing with homebrewing and craft beer.

It’s one of those quotes we use to validate our passion, to reclaim some respect in a world that doesn’t always understand our love of beer and occasionally confuses us with the common alcoholic. With such quotes, we seek to remind the world that many drinkers are also great thinkers: from poets (Housman) to politicians (another famous quote is uncertainly attributed to Benjamin Franklin) to philosophers (ditto, Plato).

The Housman quote has always caught my eye because of the reference to John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which Milton wrote to – in his own words – “justify the ways of God to men”, something Housman appears to claim beer can do even better. I’m not Milton’s biggest fan, but I’ve read and enjoyed Paradise Lost and was always impressed that Housman seemed to echo one of my beliefs: that a good beer is a work of art as inspiring and enlightening as the world’s great stories. But I never read the rest of Housman’s poem until today.

So imagine my surprise when I read the last two lines above: “Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink / For fellows whom it hurts to think.”

Wait, what? Did Housman just say that ale is for guys who can’t think?

I was shocked and confused. I felt unfairly ridiculed and indignant. Was Housman calling beer drinkers morons? Was the malt/Milton quip actually intended as a mordant satire of the self-professed mental acuity of beer drinkers Housman saw as deluded, stupid oafs? Worse still, had beer lovers around the world been bandying this quote around proudly but out of context, little realizing that if Housman were still alive he’d be laughing at us behind his awe-inspiring mustache?

Beer guys aren’t smart? Preposterous! I mean, we all know someone who fits the Hank Hill profile: a canned-lager guzzler of simple tastes, few words and fewer thoughts. But that’s just a guy who drinks beer. A beer guy is a different breed of cat entirely. Beer guys are typically nerds of a unique variety: walking encyclopedias of zythological wisdom, holding databases worth of information in their heads about beer styles, hop profiles, and personal tasting notes collected over years of self-study. Many of the smartest and most educated people I know are beer guys, and are also brilliant in other unrelated professional/creative fields. And that’s not even counting the many scientifically-minded beer writers I don’t know personally, but who have amazed me with complex descriptions of brewing chemistry and biology in terms far beyond the comprehension of my degree in English literature and classical studies.

Which brings me back to Housman, and the fact that if there’s one beer-related skill I learned in college (let’s qualify that with in class) it’s how to analyze a poem about beer. If I wanted to understand what Housman was trying to say, I needed to read the poem in its entirety. It’s entitled “Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff” and the complete text of it is here. It’s from a collection of poems entitled A Shropshire Lad, and I’ll spare you the chore of getting through a full analysis of the poem. I’ve written enough of those for one life.

The gist of it is that some drinking buddies complain to their poet friend that the poems he recites are depressing, and they’d rather have him sing a dancing song to cheer them up. The poet replies that if they want cheer, they need look no further than the beer in their cups. But he cautions his friends that the joy gained by drinking is false and temporary, and once the buzz is past, the harsh realities of life remain. Poetry, he says, should be somber, to inure oneself against these harsh realities.

The poet doesn’t have anything against beer or the people who drink it; in fact, he’s a lover of it himself. He calls it “livelier than the Muse”, and better than Milton at showing humanity a fleeting glimpse of the divine. The “fellows whom it hurts to think” are all of us – beer guys, wine guys, even guys who don’t drink. He’s not saying we’re stupid and it hurts our brains to think, but that we are human and it hurts our souls to think about the world’s imperfections.

And so my short-lived indignation on behalf of my fellow beer nerds proved unnecessary. Far from making fun of us, Housman offers a poignant, if somewhat sobering, message on the role of alcohol and art in our lives. All things considered, it’s a pro-beer message, though with a warning that beer offers only a temporary distraction from reality (but what else can we ask for from the sensory pleasures of food, drink or entertainment?).

But in context, the quote isn’t quite the joyous celebration of beer’s awesome power that I thought it was, and I bet I’m not the only one surprised. It’s a valuable lesson in the importance of learning the context of anyone’s words before we go around quoting them.

Vote for Progress … hops

Saturday was Learn to Homebrew Day in the USA, and today is Election Day. To honor both events, I did what any patriotic and pedantic zyme lord would. I made beer.

I called it Colonial Progress Ale, and it’s something between an English bitter and an English brown ale. “Colonial” comes from the fermentables, adapted from a recipe I envisioned for a colonial-style ale during a trip to Philadelphia earlier this year. I ended up with:

  • 6.5 lbs American 2-row
  • 1 lb Victory malt
  • 8 oz Flaked wheat
  • 8 oz Flaked oats
  • 1 lb Molasses

Each of these ingredients was chosen for a reason, starting with American 2-row malt as the base. Wheat is common in colonial ale recipes, including one attributed to Thomas Jefferson. Victory and oats I had no historic precedent for, but I added them for body in the finished beer, along with some bready/biscuity flavor (Victory) and silky smoothness (oats) to accentuate the English-inspired malt profile. I mashed at 153°F for medium fermentability, counting on the highly fermentable molasses to dry the beer out.

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The mash begins.

Ohhh, molasses. A common ingredient in beer in early colonial Philadelphia (according to a quote from William Penn), I can eat the stuff right out of the jar. But I was nervous about using it after reading John Palmer’s tasting notes ranging from “rumlike” and “sweet” (woohoo!) to “harsh” and “bitter” (ergh). But further research online suggested that harsher flavors were associated with fermenting mineral-rich blackstrap molasses, not the regular unsulphured kind. I went with regular, and added them at the beginning of the boil with high hopes.

The “Progress” part came from the hops: one ounce of 6.6% AA Progress at the 60-minute mark for bittering, and another quarter ounce at 15 minutes for flavor. Progress is a UK varietal related to Fuggle hops, a good choice for English-style ales.

But that wasn’t all I added to the boil. Hops were available to some colonial brewers, but apparently not all that prevalent, so other bittering herbs were common. My original plan was to use horehound, but I realized the medicinal flavor might overpower a low-gravity ale. I thought of rosemary, but was talked out of it by the sages (ha, ha) at Austin Homebrew Supply. I landed on:

  • .25 oz Juniper berries (crushed in mortar)
  • .5 grams Sweet Gale (dried)

I added the herbs in the last minute of the boil and let them steep during cooling and whirlpool. I may add more later during conditioning.

The wort had an OG of 1.046, a true session ale for the upcoming winter (insert witty apropos Valley Forge reference; I can’t think of one). I pitched the slurry from a 2-liter starter of WLP008 East Coast Ale Yeast – reportedly the Sam Adams house strain – in keeping with the colonial theme. I set the fermentation chamber to an ambient 65-68°F, a little warmer than typical to coax some vintage ester flavor from this low-flocculating yeast.

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Fermentation underway after 24 hours.

By this time tomorrow, the future of the United States will be written for the next four years. But regardless of whether my guy wins or not, I’ll have something to look forward to: a beverage in the tradition of the first beers brewed on American soil. Beer has always been a part of American culture, even before there was a United States, and from #1 on down to #44 many presidents have been homebrew aficionados: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were homebrewers and Barack Obama bought a homebrew kit for the White House with his own money. And beer remains one of the few things people can agree on regardless of personal politics.

Don’t forget to vote today, no matter who you’re supporting. Red and blue be damned. We can all party together in the colors of the SRM scale.

Rogue Ales: Losing their relevance?

I’ve got nothing against Rogue Ales. I actually owe them a lot. Living on the West Coast in the early aughts, their beers inspired me long before I was a homebrewer. That smirking libertine on the bomber label, enticing me with interesting names like “Dead Guy Ale” and unique ingredients like hazelnut and soba … these things helped awaken me to the possibilities of what beer could be. I don’t drink Rogue often anymore, but that’s mainly because I drink so much Texas beer. (Coincidentally, I bought a bomber of their Chatoe Rogue Single Malt Ale this week. I wasn’t crazy about it, but I think it was mishandled in shipping. Two bottles in a row were gushers.)

But when I saw this story about a new beer in the works called New Crustacean, fermented with yeast harvested from the beard of Rogue Brewmaster John Maier, I had a pretty strong reaction. There isn’t one part of me that sees this as a good idea. (Hat tip to Heather Null for sending me the story.)

I’m all for experimentation, as long as good flavor is the ultimate goal. Brewing is not an abstract art; the point is to make beer that people will drink. Not that Rogue can’t make a perfectly drinkable beer with beard yeast, but just because something is drinkable doesn’t mean anyone will drink it. So I feel like this beer, at this time, is the wrong idea.

The ick factor doesn’t bother me. I realize they’re not throwing a sprig of John Maier’s hair into every batch. This is yeast propagation we’re talking about here. With the help of White Labs – a name in the brewing community that I trust implicitly – they’re isolating the yeast using science that I can’t begin to understand, and reproducing the strain under sterile conditions. So I’m not worried about the fact that “OMG beard yeast beer sounds gross!” and if anyone reading this is worrying about that, please don’t.

And I’m not worried about some mysterious X-factor in those microbes, either. We’re talking about a guy who’s worked in a brewery every day since 1989; there’s probably more beer yeast in that beard than there is in the air ducts at Rogue. He may even have hop bines in there for all I know. In fact, I’d be willing to put money on that beard yeast being at least 90% genetically equivalent to Rogue’s proprietary house beer strain, Pacman. Besides, we’re always told that nothing can live in beer that’s harmful to humans, and I’m pretty sure the biologists at White Labs know the difference between a viable strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae and the Ebola virus. So whatever it is, it ain’t gonna kill us.

What bothers me is the message this sends to the non-craft-beer-drinking world. This is obviously a niche product. Few people are going to want to drink beer made with yeast from some dude’s beard, no matter how safe or sanitary it really is. I’m not just talking about the masses out there with their cans of industrial lager. Even craft beer lovers are going to be split on this idea. What Rogue is really telling the world with this gesture is that they’re catering to the extremists: the hardcore beer geeks with their T-shirts from nanobreweries you’ve never heard of, who brag about driving all the way to Russian River to get this year’s Pliny the Elder before it hits stores, all the while laughing over the rims of their pints at the craft beer neophyte at the end of the bar sipping on a 60-Minute IPA. The ones who always have to be more cutting edge than you about their beer habit and would slurp tripel from every goatee, vandyke and ZZ Top in Oregon to prove it. At best, Rogue’s beard beer is a stunt; at worst, it’s an exclusionary tactic executed with pomposity and self-aware irony.

Is that their right? Sure, but all brewers, commercial or hobbyist, are ambassadors of our craft. Anything that brings new beer lovers into the fold helps our craft along. And anything that alienates potential newcomers, or that portrays beer fans as snobs and weirdos, is bad for breweries’ business, and makes it harder for homebrewers to get friends on board. Why risk all that, why do it to the industry and the community, just for a publicity stunt and some bragging rights that no one really wants?

At the end of the day, they can do what they choose, and I can choose not to support it. But it does make me wonder at Rogue’s relevance in the modern craft beer industry if they have to grasp at stunts like this to keep moving. Maybe years ago, they were an unstoppable innovative force, but they’re not the only rogues on the block anymore: now we have Dogfish Head, Jolly Pumpkin, Mikkeller, and others who wow us every season with their originality and marketability … and don’t have to be, as that fabled beer peddler Moe Szyslak once said on The Simpsons about post-modern art, “weird for the sake of weird”.

One Drink Minimum: Blues at Red’s and some Pink

Things have been pretty busy for the last week between the day job and writing, but on Thursday evening I was able to take a little break from it all. The occasion was a performance by former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, performing the group’s legendary album The Wall in its entirety. Before the show, I stopped at Red’s Porch in south Austin to enjoy “half pint night”, where the featured beer was Oskar Blues Deviant Dale’s IPA.

This was a spectacular beer. The color is a bright, vibrant orange that I suspect comes from the addition of Victory or dark Munich malt to the grain bill – my money’s on Munich, but as of writing this I haven’t had a chance to confirm it online. The aroma exudes grapefruit and pine, and is the freshest hop presence I can remember smelling in a beer. Late hop additions? Definitely, though I haven’t looked into which ones (and I’ll admit I’m not quite able to tell them all apart by smell and taste just yet). But when the glass was put down, it smelled like someone was holding a bag of fresh hops under my nose. I wanted to dive in.

Once it hit my palate, what surprised me most was its incredible smoothness. They call it an Imperial IPA, but at 8% ABV it’s right at the bottom of what I’d consider the appropriate alcohol range for the style. To be honest, it doesn’t even taste that strong. But as I kept drinking, it also became apparent that the beer is nearly perfectly balanced: its 85 IBUs are perfectly countered by a lotof malt sweetness, but without being cloying. For a hop bomb, there’s no resiny or medicinal quality that I can taste. The mouthfeel was just right, refreshing but not too dry. This is a brewery that knows how to make an IPA, and I’d drink it all day long. Luckily, between Lisa and I, we drank four of the half-pint glasses, and have a nice set to remind us of the experience.

Lest anyone be concerned that the concert was an afterthought after such a sublime dinner-and-drink experience, rest assured that it was not. I’m a raving, drooling Pink Floyd fan, and every time I’ve seen Roger Waters live (four times now, twice with this production of The Wall) he puts on a great show. He has an uncanny ability to connect intimately with a crowd of thousands – even in a university basketball stadium, and even when performing half of his show from behind a wall of cardboard bricks – no small feat for a rocker who was once notorious for his feelings of alienation from his bandmates and animosity for his fans (which inspired the album in 1979). But to paraphrase his song “One Of My Turns”, he has grown older, much less colder, and seems to be having a lot of fun. Or at least as much as is tasteful, given the very socially conscious themes and images of the show. He jumps around. He dresses in costumes. He pantomimes the lyrics. And he thanks his audience over and over again for letting him do it at his age. Reading between the lines of his comments to the audience, it’s obvious that Waters sees his touring now as a kind of therapy: no longer feeling isolated as he did when he wrote the album, he’s reinterpreted the story to shine a spotlight on those who feel isolated all over the world due to political and social injustices. To call it a concert is to do it a disservice: it’s a work of performance art and a heartfelt call to action to make the world a better place. It’s bombastic but honest, grandiose but personal.

A perfect balance of sweet and bitter in an unexpectedly subdued Imperial IPA, and a balancing act from a performer letting go of his darkest memories by reliving them. I’m wondering if that’s not a coincidence; if in fact that kind of balance is present in everything great. In any case, it was a fantastic intermission in an otherwise exhausting week.

I hope to be back on track with more posts later this week. Until then, prosit.

A Vigorous Starter

My name is Shawn, and I’m a homebrewer. I’m also a home meadmaker and home ciderer. In other words, I make my own alcoholic beverages.

There are those who prefer the term zymurgist, since it covers the making of all types of fermented beverages. I admit I like the sound of the word, which comes from one of my favorite Greek roots: zyme, a noun meaning the stuff we now know as yeast. But according to the dictionary definitions I’ve read, a zymurgist is a scientist who studies the chemistry of fermentation, not just a dude cooking up hooch in his backyard. I’m certainly not a scientist; and aside from a burning passion for a good sci-fi story (I make those too) and a screaming man-crush on Neil deGrasse Tyson, I don’t think of myself as having a scientific mind. Rational? Yes. Logical? I hope so. But scientific? By Ninkasi, I fear not. So I tend to avoid describing myself as a zymurgist.

But I’m not just about cooking up hooch in my backyard, either. The first time I explain that I’m a homebrewer to someone I’ve just met, I often get asked a question like, “I bet you make some pretty strong stuff, huh?” with the same sly wink that Snuffy Smith used to get from neighbors lauding the potency of his corn squeezin’s. The person asking is usually surprised to learn that the answer is No. The strongest beer I’ve ever made was about 8% alcohol by volume (twice the strength of Bud Light, but there are countless commercial craft beers in the 10% range, and many that are even higher). The strongest mead I’ve made was 14%, not uncommon for a wine. For me, homebrewing is not about getting hammered. In fact, it’s rare for me to drink one or more alcoholic beverages every day in a single week.

For me, homebrewing is about making something that I can share with my friends, that makes us relaxed and sociable and happy. It’s about history, about being part of a tradition of preparing fermented beverages that goes back at least 9,000 years. Many ancient civilizations, from the Sumerians down to the Romans, had deities of brewing and alcohol. The individuals who prepared these sacred beverages were shamans, respected elders; because they alone held the secrets by which grain and honey and grapes could be transmuted into an elixir that was healthy (in moderation) and brought people together in friendship, that led thinkers to new ideas and awakened the creativity of artists.

That’s why I’ve jokingly started calling myself a zyme lord. Sure, it’s bombastic and silly (Doctor Who fans will get the joke). But it also sounds ancient. Noble. And it alludes to the power that a brewer has in a society: the power to bring people together, to create a work of art that many people can come together to appreciate through shared experience, but each be affected in a profoundly different way. Brewing is a kind of storytelling, in the language of grain and hops, honey and fruit, water and yeast.

In this blog, I’ll write about what I’m brewing and what I’m drinking. I’ll share recipes. I’ll also write about how brewing intersects with my other interests: fiction, film, food, and others. I hope you enjoy reading it, and if my stories help you find your way to new ideas and awaken your creativity, then that’s the most a zyme lord can hope for. Prosit!