Friday, December 26, 2008


This post is simply a reminder that next Friday is the 23rd Session. On January 2, 2009, the beer bloggers of the world (those that care to, anyway) can mass blog on the same topic. It's like a beer version of the Borg: resistance is futile! This Session will be hosted by Beer and Firkins and the topic is the contrast between old and new that dominates the end of the year news and entertainment programs every late December. Only this time it relates to beer. Quite simply, what will you miss most in the beer world from the past year and what excites you most about the beer world in 2009? Again, the chosen items may be specific beers or simply beery events, people or breweries.

Those Blogs who will be contributing should post their links on Friday as a comment on this blog or as an email to Brewmiker[@]

Have fun and tune in on next Friday for all the links to beer blogs around the world!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Extreme Brewing

A friend wanted to brew a beer. We decided to do it at my house. A week or so later the temperature had dropped to single digits with a biting wind and over a foot of new snow was on the ground. Oh well. That's Winter brewing in Michigan!

Art and I brewed ten gallons of beer on Monday night. The temp really was 9 degrees Fahrenheit! We started at about 5 PM and finished around 1130 PM. It was an unusual brewday...

We ran out of propane and Art had to go pick up some more. While he was gone I transferred the strike water into his mash tun and started the mash. When he returned with propane (and a couple of beers!) we got right to work...on trying the new beers he brought. One was a Scottish IPA (Belhaven's Twisted Thistle) and the other St. Peter's Old-Style Porter. We tried the IPA first. It was surprisingly good and surprisingly hoppy! It poured a dark golden color with a fine white head. The aroma was hoppy and floral with earthy notes. The taste was sweet caramel and biscuity with a strong floral, spicy hop finish and aftertaste. It was very drinkable at the surprising 6.1% and well-balanced. I really liked it and so did Art.

The St. Peter's Porter was next. I didn't expect much because I'd had their IPA and, probably due more to its age and being lightstruck (green bottle), it was not enjoyable at all. The porter was another story altogether. It poured a dark brown and had a beautiful tan head on it. The aroma was chocolate with roasty notes. Tasted a delicious chocolaty coffee with roast and some very slight hop character. the mouthfeel was not too heavy for a porter but full enough to respect. I found it an altogether enjoyable porter and would drink it anytime I wanted a good English porter.

Now, by this time we were about ready to sparge so sparge we did. We got a little less than 11 gallons from the sparge, so we added a little sparge water and resparged. After all this was over we had enough beer and began to heat to boil. No problems so far. We had enjoyed some new beers were playing pinball in between the little jobs requiring our attention and listening to a nice shuffle on my computer.

After the boil we went to turn on the (outside) hose to chill. Now, I keep my white RV water hose inside until it's time to chill just because I know Michigan Winters. Still, I didn't expect the faucet to be frozen. It was. I took my Mapp torch out and started to gently heat the faucet so that I could turn it. After I got to that point, I had to heat the faucet further back to unclog the ice that was keeping it from releasing any water. After a few chilly minutes working gently on this job we were able to get the chiller going! Pheww!

Then it was time to drop the wort into the fermenters. The wort had chilled to just under 80 degrees and we were anxious to end this long brewday in such extreme conditions. We got everything situated and turned the handle on the ballcock...Nothing! Back to the torch. A few moments of gentle heat supplied the answer and we were racking!

Long story short, we got a good ten gallons of 1.067 wort in the two fermenters and pitched starters of Scottish Ale and Belgian Dubbel yeast into each. Should result in a nice Strong Scottish Ale and a Belgian Dubbel. I'll try to remember to supply tasting notes, here.

Merry Christmas, all!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A-B Normal

Permit me a bit of a rant, here. I am really tired of the carping about the big commercial brewers by craft beer snobs. Oh sure, I'm one of them but I try not to act so "above the station" of the masses and their preferred drinks. Of course I recognize the fact that most of the B-M-C (Budweiser-Miller-Coors, the American Light Lager triumvirate) offerings (insert the appropriate Molson, Warsteiner, Fosters, etc. for countries outside the U.S.) are less adventurous and more concerned with selling volumes of their product than with producing small batches of handcrafted beer but that doesn't make their product "bad" or "undrinkable" as is commonly asserted by my beer snob buddies out there. In fact, if truth be told, it makes their products extremely "drinkable".

I've recently seen some activity on a couple of the craft beer forums and talk groups to which I subscribe, concerning the merits (or lack thereof) of Anheuser-Busch's American Ale. Now, I'm not saying A-B's American Ale is a great beer or that it should be praised for being more flavorful than A-B's normal offerings, merely that some of the criticisms hurled at it are unfair and mislabeled. I've read-on one of these forums-that it tastes like Bud Light. That's absurd. I've read that it was brewed with "drinkability" in mind. That is probably true but the writer was using the term derisively, as though "drinkability" was an invented, marketing term that meant little or nothing (think "fahrvergnugen"). The term does have some meaning and the truth is that (I'm sure many craft beer drinkers will agree with me, here) American Ale isn't exactly all that "drinkable".

What exactly is "drinkability"? Of course, at its very heart the word means consumability, right? If an item is drinkable, it possesses the qualities that allow the item to be drank. Of course, that would mean liquidity, potability, temperature appropriateness, etc. It is not that definition that is being used in the Bud ads and it is not that definition that we tend to use when describing beer. Drinkability refers to the different aspects of a beer that make it easier to drink. This is also what A-B is talking about when they describe their beers as "drinkable".

I like to view this quality as displayed in a continuum of different beers. A Bud Light is very drinkable. It's light, refreshing and not too filling or chewy. Of course a good English Mild is similarly drinkable, while supplying something the Bud Light doesn't: flavor. At the other end of the continuum, a good English Barleywine is certainly delicious, chewy, intensely flavorful and filling. It is certainly not a session beer, though it may invite another (but not many). I hate to say it but this type of beer does not have "drinkability". Do I prefer them to their more drinkable cousins? Usually, but not always. If my bar had the recent Mild I brewed, that would be my regular beer!

Is this simply a marketing term invented by A-B for their ad campaign? No, it isn't. I have seen the term used by beer writers as knowledgeable as Gordon Strong, in the newest issue of Brew Your Own, for example. To further illustrate this, I'll let you in on a little secret: the bar I frequent most often is a beer desert. I mean by this that they sell only the most common B-M-C offerings, for the most part. The exception to this is the summer offering of Bell's Oberon. I go to this bar because it is close to my home, it offers the NTN trivia game I love to play and there are many of my friends there to meet (OK, the owners and serving staff are real cool, too). I don't go there for the beer (There! I said it!). I say this to explain that their replacement for Oberon this Fall was "American Ale". They thought this would make the beer geek (that's me) happy. Well, I was underwhelmed, even though I hadn't tried it, yet. So I got a glass and it wasn't a bad beer. It had some residual sweetness and definitely a more chewy mouthfeel than most B-M-C offerings (I really don't notice any hops, though) could say it had an ale character. I had a few over the course of the evening and didn't mind it at all.

I have tried to make this beer my regular beer when at this bar but I really can't because it is too "strong" for that purpose. It is less drinkable than B-M-C and is too flavorful, heavy and has too much alcohol to drink it as if it were a session beer. Now, I would drink the Oberon that way, even though it is stronger, but that's because Oberon tastes better and is more "drinkable" (due to its enjoyability, not it's gravity or mouthfeel). I switch to Bud or Bud Light if I'm going to have more than a couple.

American Ale is not a bad beer but it is far down the list of even the big brewers' beers for me. I would greatly prefer an Amber Bock to it and perhaps even a Killian's, too. Both of these beers are more enjoyable for me to drink. Given my druthers I'd have a good craft-brewed beer but that is usually not available to me in the beer desert (I need an oasis!). Both of these beers is also more "drinkable", as well. I mean this both in the sense that they are less filling, less chewy and "lighter" but also in the sense that they invite another, which is an even more important aspect of drinkability.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Adventures in Taylor (and Lincoln Park)

Lapeer Area Brewers made a road trip on Sunday to the Southwestern Detroit suburbs of Taylor and Lincoln Park. We visited Adventures in Homebrewing, where we bought several corny kegs and assorted other homebrewing products and Fort Street Brewery, where we sampled some great beers and fine food.

Adventures in Homebrewing has a great deal on Cornelius kegs. They sell used, pressurized, five gallon ball-lock kegs in decent shape for $17.99 apiece. That is about four or five dollars cheaper than the prices elsewhere. They also have a great selection of all the little items homebrewers need in their hobby and a whole bunch of the items we are all wishing for! Their prices for equipment were generally very good. Their prices for yeast and grain were beatable, however. Still, the overall experience was pretty darn good, as you can see from the shot of the club members leaving with their swag.

Fort Street Brewery was a great experience. Brewer Doug Beedy was present and as hospitable as any brewer I've ever met. He took the crew on a tour of the brewery and answered all questions with ease. We learned a lot about the brewery and it's short history, as well as the beer served there. We even got a chance to sample the newest of the Twelve Beers of Christmas, the 8th beer, "Hearth Ale". Doug described it as being brewed with eight different malts plus orange and lemon peels. It was a complex mouthful but not too heavy or harsh to have a few. We sampled it right out of the fermenter! It was a mahogany colored beer with excellent malty, bready flavors, with a hint of dark fruits and some hop spiciness. Yum!

I had two pints while there and sampled a few of the other available beers. There was not a bad beer ion the bunch. The first beer I tried was "Gentlemen, The Queen", an Imperial Engllish IPA. It was wonderful! If I didn't notice the glow I got after only about half the pint, I would never have known it weighed in at near eight percent ABV. The aroma was flowery and earthy hops. It poured with a slight, tight white head which dissipated quickly. The flavor was heavenly hop-charged, with a very flavorful, near perfumed hop presence. The sweetness was just enough to balance the 101 IBUs, and was bready and toasty in nature. Not exactly what one would think of when drinking an English IPA but it certainly was good! I can't remember the bittering hops used, but the flavor and aroma hops were E.K. Goldings and Fuggles. They were more pronounced and spicy than I would have guessed, though. All in all, a very fine beer!

The second beer was a lager brewed with Barley, Oat, Rye and Wheat malts, called "4X4". Interesting, to say the least! I love the spicy character, rye brings to beer and this one was no exception. The crisp, clean character of the lager beer only enhanced this effect. I liked this one a bunch, too.

Doug showed us his brewery and we saw many an interesting item that will soon be served to the lucky patrons at FSB. Two casks held highly hopped creations that were spiced with two different herbs. One was spiced with Astragula (i guess this is a root with some medicinal qualities)and the other with Angel-something or other. I do remember Doug say that he added hop additions every two minutes until he passed out, or something like that...Here's one of the firkins:

The food was interesting bar fare accentuated with such rare gems as Scotch Eggs, sauerkraut balls (check the menu)and pierogis. I didn't hear a bad comment from any of the ten diners there that night. In fact, while food was being eaten I didn't hear anything! Below is a pic of my pizza, Imperial IPA and Scotch Eggs on the right. YUM!

In short, good people, great service, great beer and a very nice location made this one of my favorite brewpubs to visit. If you are in the neighborhood, you MUST stop in! Check out Doug's Wall of Foam, if you do. It's a wall of posters created for the beers he makes. Very unique and creative.

The craft beer scene is certainly alive, here in Michigan! This is just one great example!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Road Trip!

The Lapeer Area Brewers are opting for a road trip in lieu of a meeting this month. We will be visiting a homebrew shop in Taylor called Adventures in Homebrewing and a Brewpub in Linclon Park called Fort Street Brewery. These businesses are a good hour and a half from Lapeer, so we don't get there often if at all.

AIH is building a great internet business and has attracted a lot of us by the great prices on items like reconditioned corny kegs and the like, while recently expanding into fabrication of brew keggles and sculptures. Check out their website for a good view of what they have to offer. They recently moved from a location in Dearborn to the current Taylor address. The site is big and promises to be a better venue for this thriving business. Currently, though they are trying to fit things into the new digs and straighten out the moving mess. I hope to post some pics and a review of the operation after our visit on Sunday (I was there a week ago to get a used corny, so I cheated).

Fort Street Brewery has about three years in the location, which once "was an empty lot that at one time or another had been a pharmacy, diner, farm, and the boyhood home of Preston Tucker", according to the FSB website. The brewer, Doug Beedy, has a great reputation in Michigan craft beer drinking circles. The establishment seems to be well-received for beer, food and atmosphere. To give you an idea of what type of brewpub this is, they are currently serving the Twelve Beers of Christmas, a specialty beer on the average of two per week leading up to the New Year's Day, 12th beer offering. Two of the most recent offerings thus far (as described by brewer Beedy)are
The 6th Beer of Christmas, "Garde jusqu a Noel" is a delicious French
biere de garde style. It's dark, mysterious, and deceptively strong.
The 7th Beer of Christmas, "Seven Elf Monks" is a little bit like the
legendary "When Monks Get Drunk" it's light, mysterious, and obviously
strong (clocking in at 8.8% ABV and 100 IBU's).

There is also a cask conditioned ale tapped (yeah, with a mallet!) every other Thursday!

It sounds like my kinda pub! Too bad it's 75 miles away! At least we'll get to sample it once a year or so. Stay tuned for the reviews of this establishment and their beers, coming soon!

Monday, December 08, 2008

The Session #23

It seems that change is a theme the entire world is dealing with at the moment. Hope for a better future seems also to be on the minds of many. The topic for the next edition of The Session, hosted by yours truly, will be a New Year theme. I would like to write about the yearly mix of the hope for the new rising out of the ashes of the old, as it relates Specifically, what will you miss about 2008 (feel free to list your tasting notes, if that item is a particular beer) and what do you expect will excite you most in 2009 , in the "Beer World"?(again, if that is a beer, what about it is special and worthy of being excited about?)

As always the theme is a suggestion and is open to your interpretive manipulations. Your treatment can be a list of things, one of each, or a philosophical approach to whether or not there can be something "new" in the "Beer World". Predictions for the coming year are certainly not out of the realm of possibility, nor are elaborate treatments of the past year in beer.

The Session takes place on Friday January 2, 2009. Have fun and send your responses (or links to them) to me in an email (Brewmiker [@] a comment to this post.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Beer Freedom

It's The Session, beer blogging on a common topic, and this month it's "the repeal of Prohibition." See all the links soon here.

When I first thought about the topic for this month's Session, I thought about the eerie numerological aspects of the topic. The 18th Amendment being repealed by the 21st Amendment, the legal age of drinking being 18 and 21 in different States and countries, etc. Oooh! Scary! The beauty and symmetry of the concept was completely undermined by the fact that this is the 22nd Session, though. Oh well.

Then, I thought about celebrating the repeal of Prohibition and I got all giddy because...well, because I just happen to enjoy celebrations, in general. Of course my conscience wouldn't allow all that enjoyment without some thoughtful reflection (curse you, conscience!), so I began to wonder what exactly we were going to be celebrating, after all. Is it the end of Prohibition? The ability to drink beer? The revitalization of the brewing industry? I settled on something a bit more general: freedom, itself.

To this end, let's start with the absurdity of an Amendment to the Constitution that outlaws drinking alcohol. Talk about restricting freedom! It boggles the mind. Of course, the Constitution doesn't mention drinking but from what I've read, the development process involved more than a little of alcoholic fuel. I'm also willing to bet that if the Founders had ever imagined some dolt (or some great number of dolts, to be even more unbelievable) would even think of trying such an outlandish stunt, they would have enshrined the right to drink alongside some of our other enumerated rights in one of the first ten Amendments (My vote? Right after the right to bear arms...).

When the right to brew, sell and transport beer was revoked (drinking was actually not prohibited!), there was a very vibrant brewing scene in the United States. There were tens of thousands of breweries in this country before prohibition. Only a few dozen survived the 14 year prohibition. In fact there are probably less than twenty pre-prohibition breweries still in operation today. Almost all of those breweries made lagers, exclusively. Some produced ales. Some produced a range of lagers that would be considered interesting by today's standards but most of today's craft beer fans would consider the beer scene rather dull by comparison. Of course that was no reason to ban them!

After years of alcohol-fueled organized crime, which produced criminal elements that threatened our freedoms and livelihoods but also produced enhanced law enforcement entities and tactics which continue to threaten our freedoms and livelihoods, this farce of an Amendment was repealed. Yay! Interestingly, ten States never ratified the 21st Amendment! Michigan was the first State to do so on April 10, 1933. While I am proud of that fact, I would be much prouder if my State had been one of the two that did not vote for but repudiated the 18th Amendment (kudos, Rhode Island and Connecticut!). This act was something to celebrate more because of the wrongs it corrected than the rights it conferred. I like to think that we all had the right to brew, sell and drink beer as one of our unenumerated rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (hoppiness?).

As a homebrewer, there are actually reasons to celebrate Prohibition, rather than its repeal. Prohibition caused an explosion in the hobby of homebrewing. People brewed beer because they couldn't find any to buy. Like the homebrewing of old times, it became a necessity. The beer produced was often barely drinkable but did produce the desired effect. I imagine there were a few families who worked out pretty good brewing techniques and recipes, some of which may have become family-recipe-heirlooms, but I can't cite an example. Still, the homebrewing scene did not actually flourish under these conditions. Quantity did not equal quality, so to speak. If it had there would have been a variety of malted grains and hops available on a commercial basis, instead of the ubiquitous cans of Blue Ribbon and bags of sugar that everyone remembers hearing about. Given enough time, though, it probably would have grown much more sophisticated.

Fast forward to the future, after the 21st Amendment was passed and prohibition was repealed. Hooray! Breweries started up again and people began toasting their good cheer with the, now more consolidated and consistent, Light American Lagers being legally brewed in this country. Homebrewing went away for a long time. As a homebrewer and a craft beer lover, this was curiously a "dark age" of beer in America (why do we celebrate the Pre-Prohibition Pilsner, if it wasn't somehow better than the post-Prohibition Pilsner?). I'm all for celebrating the repeal of that onerous Amendment but we all need to realize that the repeal did not revitalize the industry as much as consolidate it. The few inventive breweries that existed before prohibition were largely wiped out by the 14 year hiatus. What survived was the thin watery light lagers that we know today. These beers competed for years and years with each other trying to carve out market share with clever ads, against nearly identical beers in different cans.

What I truly celebrate is the freedom produced by a vibrant society that enjoys the more refined and varied styles of beer that are being produced by the craft beer industry, today. Obviously, it is-at least partly-financial freedom that fuels this explosion in beer appreciation. Good beers are extremely expensive compared to mass market beer. Yet, even in these tough economic times, enough people are purchasing them to allow big expansion in the industry. Look at the dozens of 400 barrel fermenters laying outside the Bell's Brewery in Comstock, Michigan (one State recession, anyone?) being readied for installation if you don't think the industry is thriving. People have the time to enjoy good beer and the money to buy it, as well as the time to invest in learning about the subject to better appreciate it. A "nasty, brutish and short" existence this is not!

Homebrewers are no longer brewing out of necessity. They brew good beers because they enjoy the fruit of their labors. They enjoy the artistic elements in brewing and the pride in a job well done. They enjoy the fact that they can produce an excellent product that rivals any commercial example at home. They also would not be able to expend the time and efforts at such a trivial matter without financial and physical freedom. Oh, it's still true that beers brewed at home are cheaper than their counterparts purchased in a store but that's not the real reason homebrewers brew. The differential is not that great. Homebrewers brew because they enjoy the hobby and they want to become better brewers.

So, rather than simply celebrate the end of prohibition, which actually stifled artisinal brewing and homebrewing, I'd like to celebrate the freedom embodied in the act of ending so onerous a restriction on free individual expression. My celebration on December 5, 2008 will salute the flowering of free societies in the world which allows us all the freedom and leisure time to enjoy great craft beer and the homebrewing hobby as we now do. Now we have craft brewers that use the imagination and freedom that a vibrant and free society allows and encourages, to produce beers that continuously inspire and astound us. They are artists of fermentation and deserve all the wonderful rewards that such work receives. The craft beer industry and the homebrewing hobby have enjoyed such fantastic success that it seems impossible that it can continue to grow and expand as it does. Is there a craft beer/ homebrewing bubble that's about to burst? I hope not!

So, when you celebrate the ratification of the 21st Amendment on December 5th, as we all should do, celebrate the slow and inexorable march to individual freedom that it exemplifies and not just the right to brew beer again. And realize that this march is far from over. We have a long way to go but at least we can enjoy great beer during the march!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


All homebrewers have a list of screwups they can recount. The dropped carboys, ingredients discovered "leftover" when the brew day is done, the timing issues, and many others may come to mind. These aren't the things we like to admit to, much less recount to others in a blog, but I feel compelled to mention one that just simply irritates the heck out of me and this one is a week old!

Last week I bottled five gallons of beer with beet sugar. I also assisted a fellow homebrewer with his ten gallon bottling day. I checked the recipe on Beertools (I love that program!), and discovered that the recipe called for some 8 ounces of sugar to prime the batch. Now, since I was only bottling half the batch, you would think I would be smart enough to actually split the amount of suggested sugar in half and use that amount to bottle my five gallons. Well, then, you would be WRONG!

I decided that, instead of measuring the sugar by volume, I would actually weigh it. This would offer a much more precise method of measurement so that the carbonation would be more precise. Or, so I thought. I marvelled at the large volume of the sugar, remarking at how it was a full cup of sugar or more. "Wow", I said, "that looks like a lot of sugar. Maybe it's too much. I don't want bottle bombs!" So I intelligently poured out a little before I put it into the pot of hot water. So much for precision! Never did the fact that this was much more sugar than I have ever used to bottle a five gallon batch of beer before-in over eight years of brewing -ever cross my feeble mind!

Then after actually bottling the beer, I went to Art's house and assisted him in bottling his. You guessed it. I weighed the seven and a half ounces of sugar and used that amount for EACH of the five gallon batches we bottled. I really don't have an excuse for this. I knew all along that this was more sugar than should be used but the fact that I had taken the data from Beertools, left me assured that it was correct. Of course it was. Even Beertools could not keep me from doubling the amount of sugar they prescribed!

Later in the day, I realized my error. I knew that not only was I in trouble but that I had made potential bottle bombs in Art's house as well. I told him what I had realized and suggested we pop the tops and recap. This might release enough pressure to save the bottles from blowing and the beer from being wasted. I advised Art to keep his relatively cold while I kept mine room temp and 'sperimented a bit. Over the next couple of days I did just that. In one case I had a gusher the second day after bottling. I recapped and checked it again a day later. Another gusher. The same bottle third day? Gusher. I thought I might need to put on my hockey helmet to open these beers! I realized the plan would NOT work.

I called Art and we decided we would just pour all the beer into fermenters and let it finish out, then re-bottle. I went and bought a fourth Corny keg and put mine in there! If I want to bottle, I'll bottle out of the keg. Art put his into two carboys. When he says he's ready, I'll go and assist him in bottling his with the correct amount of sugar, this time. It's only right for me to do my penance!


Saturday, November 08, 2008


I racked the latest beer-the Mild-into kegs today. For the first time, I used carboy caps and CO2 to force the beer out of the carboys and into the kegs, through the "beer out" connection of the kegs. This method results in a beer that has never encountered the air. I have noticed an irritating off flavor in some of my beers over the past couple of years and believe this flavor comes from molds or other wee beasties in the home. This racking method is meant to minimize any such effects. We'll see.

After racking the beer, which was supposed to finish at 1.009 specific gravity, I force carbonated one of the kegs and had a couple (of course!). I was pleasantly surprised. It is exactly what I was hoping for. A mild (in alcohol) beer with a lot of flavor! The beer pours a wonderful, clear mahogany color, with a fine beaded, tan head. The hops are barely noticeable, both in the nose and in flavor/bitterness. They are homegrown Nugget and Cascade, so they are not true to style, but they suit me just fine. There is an abundant grainy/toasty flavor, with a good dose of coffee and chocolate (I love this chocolate malt!). The beer, though carrying some dark fruitiness, is not sweet at all but stands up well to the hops in malt complexity. A roasty finish makes the beer seem drier than it is. It will be a bit better in a week or so but it is quite tasty right now!

While the working title of the beer was Lapeer Mild, I've decide to call it something a bit more exciting. Henceforth, this shall be known as King Henry V's Barley Broth, in honor of the great English King and title character of the Shakespeare play. Henry V was an heroic King who defeated the French at Agincourt and married the French princess, Catherine of Valois, uniting the crowns of England and France (The Hundred Years' War).

The play, famous-at least partly-for the St. Crispin's Day Speech, is the final part of a tetralogy of plays devoted to 15th Century English kings. The speech Henry V delivers before the battle of Agincourt to rally his troops against long odds has been mimicked and reflected in so many different theatrical and cinematic performances, it has become an archetype. Two more common modern examples would be the rallying speeches of the President (Bill Pullman) in the movie Independence Day and William Wallace's (Mel Gibson) rallying speech from Braveheart.

My beer's title is a more obscure reference to a speech by the Constable of France in Act III, Scene IV, where he laments the ferocity of the English warriors:

Dieu de batailles! where have they this mettle?
Is not their climate foggy, raw, and dull;
On whom, as in despite, the sun looks pale,
Killing their fruit with frowns? Can sodden water,
A drench for sur-rein'd jades, their barley-broth
Decoct their cold blood to such valiant heat?
And shall our quick blood, spirited with wine,
Seem so frosty? O, for honour of our land,
Let us not hang like roping icicles
Upon our houses' thatch, whiles a more frosty people
Sweat drops of gallant youth in our rich fields,-
Poor we may call them in their native lords!

To which, the Dauphin replies:

By faith and honour,
Our madams mock at us, and plainly say
Our mettle is bred out, and they will give
Their bodies to the lust of English youth
To new-store France with bastard warriors.

Now, perhaps the French knight from Monty Python's Search for the Holy Grail would have a thing or two more hopeful to say but Shakespeare hadn't invented him yet. I believe this passage refers to the virtues of beer versus wine, though I can't prove it.

Grain Bill:

14 Lbs US 2-row
1 Lb US Crystal 60 L
1 Lb US Chocolate Malt
1 ounce Nugget 60 minutes
1 ounce Cascade 10 minutes
2 teaspoons Irish Moss
White Labs WLP002 English Ale yeast
OG: 1.036
FG: 1.010
ABV: 3.55%
Color: 19.36 SRM
Bitterness: 21.8 IBUs


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Teach A Friend To Homebrew Day 2008

Today is Teach a Friend to Homebrew Day. Bet you didn't know that! I registered my house as Official TAFTHBD site #130 and had a few friends over to brew. You see them relaxing around the brewing beer to the left. We brewed twenty gallons of beer today! Art brewed five gallons of an American Wheat Ale with coriander and orange peels and five gallons of a Belgian Wit with coriander, orange peels and Morrocan preserved lemons! You can see it filling the carboy in the second photo on the page. Two other Lapeer Area Brewers are brewing either today or tomorrow, as well.

I brewed ten gallons of a simple English Mild. I strayed from the guidelines a bit as I wanted to use my own homegrown hops. My US Kent Goldings would have been the best choice but there were too few of them again this year so I opted for the American favorite, Cascade. I bittered with Nugget and added a pound of light Crystal malt for malty balance. In a few weeks I'll do a tasting and record the results, here. The beer came in at 1.036 OG and is otherwise "down the middle" of the style guidelines. It should be about 3.5% alcohol by volume; a nice session beer.

We had a great time today brewing, swapping stories and drinking homebrewed beer and cider (Thanks Brandon!). My lovely wife made a tremendous pot of Texas Chili (made with Venison Stew Meat that I butchered last week). OMG! Some homemade pita chips and a bit of sour cream and the spicy chili made for an excellent meal to top off a great day. And since I started at 6 AM we didn't finish cleaning up until after 6 PM, we needed that extra pick-me-up! I think that's what TAFTHBD is all about, really.

The Mild is to the left, there...

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I just picked the last of my hops. These are the Nugget Hops, a high alpha acid hop, used mainly for bittering. They may have a future inside some big, bold beer lurking somewhere in my brew-brain. I figure I got over a pound of dry weight hops out of this one! The final tally will come after the drying process, but it looks like I finished with over fifty-five ounces of free hops this year! My freezer is full and I need to brew...soon!

I just checked out the winners announcement from the Great American Beer Festival in Denver this weekend. Once again, Michigan's fine breweries were scarcely mentioned. It seems pretty weird that only West Coast breweries seem capable of winning in any of the APA/IPA-type categories, when there are exceptional IPA-like beers produced by brewers all over this country (Hopslam, Two-Hearted, Hop Devil, Dogfish Head, Flying Dog, Magic Hat, etc.).

The good news is that, for some reason, Redwood Lodge is always well-received at the GABF. They won the best small brewpub award, as well as a couple of Gold Medals (for Sweet Stout and Dunkel). Congrats to Bill Wamby and his crew! Detroit Beer Company also won Gold for their Detroit Dwarf (Alt), Bastone won Silver for Dunkel and Jolly Pumpkin won Bronze for Saison.

What I want to know is, where are all of the other great breweries from Michigan? Do any of you readers actually think that those four breweries are the best that Michigan has to offer? I'm not dissing these four breweries (I'm a lifetime mug club member at Bastone's, and am a frequent customer of all of them), I'm just saying there are other breweries here that make beer as consistently good or better and never get any awards at this, the greatest of the beer festivals. That seems strange if not wrong.

Short's Brewery, Arcadia, Bell's, Founder's, and many, many other fine establishments in this Great Beer State seem to be up against the West Coast Bias.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

AHA Rally At Bell's!

What do you think about an event that combines a great bunch of friendly, creative and fun-loving people, a really interesting and exciting venue and the best damned (commercial) beer in Michigan? Well the latest American Homebrewers Association membership rally was just that kind of an event! It took place in Kalamazoo, Michigan but started off with a tour of the Bell's Brewery in Comstock, Michigan, about six miles away from the site of the rally, Bell's Eccentric Cafe.

Fred (one of my Lapeer Area Brewers buddies) and I went to the rally together and we enjoyed the beer, the special guests and the camaraderie very much. We met Brandon, newest L.A.B. member, and his lovely wife Melissa, at the brewery tour, and hung out together the rest of the day. The tour was pretty cool. We saw the entire Bell's operation learned about the bhistory of the brewery and all the changes that are even now, still taking place. We were greated upon arrival by the sight of two dozen extremely large cylindro-conical stainless steel ferementers, piled all around the building. These, we were told during the tour, were 24 brand new 400 barrel fermenters! Each one of these fermenters will hold over 12000 gallons of delicious Bell's beer! They are to be installed in the next week or so. I forgot my camera but many others didn't and I believe you can see some one hundred photos or more of the tour and the rally at this website (courtesy of Mike Obrien at the Ann Arbor Brewers Guild-thanks for the link Mike!)

The Michigan Homebrewing community was well represented. I saw Fred Bonjour, Jeff Renner and Jeff Carlson and many, many other excellent homebrewers who contribute mightily to the homebrewing scene here in the Great Beer State. The host for the event was Larry Bell, the guy who started the craft-brewing revolution in Michigan and its most successful practicioner. The guests of honor were AHA founder and homebrewing Godfather, Charlie Papazian and his lovely wife Sandra. The fact that I forgot my camera or even that I forgot the tattered, dog-eared and wort-stained eight-year-old copy of The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing, by Charlie Papazian, that I was very excited to present to the author for a signature, won't surprise any of you that actually know me but that did indeed happen! I got my Pontiac Brew Tribe hat bill signed, instead, though, so no worries, mate!

Speaking of the Brew Tribe, when I met Larry Bell for a picture and to thank him for the party, he took one look at my hat and said, "I have one of those"! I calmly tipped up the brim and asked if his was signed by Charlie Papazian, and he said, sheepishly, that it was not. Noticing my cup was empty just before the photo was taken of Fred, Brandon, Larry and me, I asked Larry, who had a nearly full pale ale in his hand, for a little fill up. He happily obliged with a tip of his cup and we shared a Bell's beer together. Hey, I mooched a beer off of Larry Bell!

A good time was had by all and the AHA increased in numbers again, thanks to the generosity of Bell's Brewery, the founder of the AHA, Charlie Papazian, and the efforts of the Michigan homebrewing community!
I hope to get some photos of this event added to another post, soon. Until then, cheers!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hops Harvest Begins!

Picking began the other day with the most ripe of my four hop varieties, the Hallertau. They were actually just a bit beyond optimum ripeness but should be just fine as they are not brown or crispy, yet. The harvest should yield a few ounces of this fine German hop for my next wohlschmeckend (Tasty) brew. The picture on the right is a full screen-door-sized screen which I suspended from the ceiling to dry the hops on. Looks loaded, don't it? I went into the garage yesterday and the smell is intoxicating!

The next variety that will be picked will be the U.S. Goldings, though there will be precious little of that. These just are not thriving. Maybe I'll get an ounce but I doubt it. The next variety after that will be the Cascade. That variety will make up for the lack of Goldings. I should get several ounces of Cascade hops. The final pickings will be the high Alpha acid hop, Nugget. Again, there should be plenty of these to go around! Fortunately, these varieties all mature at different times, so there is time to pick and dry one variety before the arduous picking begins again.

All told, this will be my best hop harvest ever. That's great because as many of you know, the hop shortage has made my farming hobby a near necessity!


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Beer Snobbery or It's About Time?

Being a generally "Blue Collar" guy, I have always had a bit of a schizophrenic association with my "tastes". What I mean by "tastes" are the sensory qualifications and quantifications that result in what I like (e.g., I enjoy this type of food for this reason or, I like this type of beer/wine because of this taste or other factor). There is no doubt that some items taste better or provide better examples of what makes them "good" than other examples. For instance, there are few people who have trouble deciding between a good filet mignon or a round steak. These are two very different cuts of meat. Leaving aside the price, who would take the latter over the former? The same applies to any other discriminatory exercise.

Over the years I have determined that my tastes run to the expensive. By that I mean I enjoy the best of all experiences and they are usually the more expensive of each variety of "experience". I like good bourbon, good cheeses, good food and good beer. One of the reasons that I am a homebrewer is that I can make good beer that would otherwise cost me a fortune! This elitist attitude runs counter to my upbringing and my generally populist attitude to what most people would regard as "snobbery".

Which brings me to discuss a new wrinkle on beer snobbery: the Cicerone. This program is the brainchild of Ray Daniels, well-known beer writer and former Executive Director of the American Homebrewers Association. Ray has been a leader in the craft brewing revolution in America and, like many of the people who love great beer and want to see it properly appreciated, saw a great divide between the way people think and talk about wine/food pairings and the way they don't think and talk about beer/food pairings. Ray thought-correctly, I believe-that beer should hold as high a place on this food-pairing issue as wine, if not higher. After all, there are many, many more flavor combination possibilities to beer than could possibly be wrung from wine. The culmination of Ray's ruminations and discussion of this topic is his Cicerone program.

A Cicerone, then, is the beer equivalent of a sommelier. A sommelier, or wine steward, is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, commonly working in fine restaurants, who specializes in all aspects of wine service. A Cicerone, then does the same job with beer. Is such a profession necessary? Well, just ask yourself if you have ever wanted a more knowledgeable waitperson when trying to decide on an appropriate beer at a restaurant. How many times have you asked a waitperson if they have any craft beers, and they offer you Heineken or Beck's? Ask for something specific and you get an answer like, "Oh, we have some of the dark, heavy stuff like Guinness but I really don't like dark beer..." Obviously many waitresses and waiters know very little about beer, which can be frustrating at times. But does that necessitate a highfalutin idea such as the Cicerone?

On the one hand, I would actually pay a bit more for my food and beer, and tip a bit more for my service, if the server had the knowledge and experience guaranteed by the Cicerone program. It would be a welcome relief from the normal, "Sam Adams is our most popular import"-type waiter. On the other hand, beer is the common man's beverage. The very idea of sniffing a beer and worrying about whether it would go well with a nice smoked Gouda seems a bit snooty, doesn't it? We don't need no stinkin' Cicerones!

Finally, there is another angle that makes me a bit apprehensive about the program. The money angle. Ray Daniels has trademarked the term Cicerone (at least as it applies to a beer server) and is selling certifications. Now, this is a free country and free markets rule-believe me I love the entrepreneurial spirit, here. But, there's a little something self-serving about inventing a term for a beer sommelier, using your beer author status and standing to promote it, and then cashing in on it as a profession. Am I off base, here?

I took Ray's sample test and scored 8 of ten (got confused over Scottish/Scotch Ales, yaargh!). If the test is representative of the certification process, I would probably pass without studying at all. Does that make it an elite program? Probably not. Does the certification mean that your server at the pub/restaurant is much more knowledgeable than most? Almost certainly.

I guess the beer world is open to all new twists and certainly beer servers could use more education. In the end, I am of two minds on this subject. How about you?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Hoppy Birthday, America!

I decided to grow my own hops for homebrewing back in 2001. I grew Fuggles back then. Unfortunately a few years into the project, I found I needed a new septic field and the old hop plants did not survive. In 2004, I planted four new varieties: US Goldings, Cascade, Hallertau and Nugget. These are doing very well, now. In the picture above and to the right, the plants are just beginning their new lives. The picture was taken on May 19, 2008.

I have been using my own hops for beer for several years but this year, due to the hop shortage, I have decided to use my own hops exclusively. It will save me a bunch of dough! I have made several ten gallon batches this year, using only my own hops!

Next year I plan on extending the trellis by adding a central pole and running the hops up that to a height of near twenty feet. It may make it easier to keep the different hop varieties from getting tangled up together. I should also divide some of the roots. If I do, I will have them available for others interested in the hobby (stay tuned!).

The second picture shows the hops as they look today. The flowers are fuzzy little things at the moment but will morph into hops cones in the next week or so. In August they will ripen and I will pick and dry them for freezing. I will record the process this year for the blog. Each variety ripens at a different time, just to make things interesting!

So sometime in September I will be able to celebrate Hop Independence Day!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Happy Birthday, America!

On this anniversary of the founding of our nation, the birth of self-rule and the creation of the Hope-there's that word again!- of the world, it is essential that we reflect on what made this experiment work and why we need to return to those principles before the experiment fails...miserably.

"That government is best which governs least." This quote by Thomas Paine really sums it all up for me. Individual freedom and restrictions on governmental power are what made this country the astounding success of the enlightenment and the bright and shining example towards which all free-thinking peoples have aimed over the past 232 years. Those principles are threatened today by an attitude and ignorance that would have astounded the Founders and made them question the sacrifices they made to create this system of governance.

Think in terms of the finishing words of the Declaration of Independence, where the signers pledged to each other, "with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence", their lives, fortunes and scared honor. These words were not written or pledged in a hollow fashion. This political rhetoric is wholly different from that of our current crop of political functionaries. These men actually risked their lives, their families lives, all of their possessions and their "scared honor" in pledging to overthrow the rule of Great Britain and create a new nation and form of government. Many lost some or even all of these during the course of the war. But the cause prevailed.

Examining that cause today is somewhat disappointing. We seem to have gotten so far afield of our founding principles that the resulting colossus is almost unrecognizable. With full-time professional legislatures, the near elimination of "state's rights", an imperial presidency, taxation beyond any sensible measure and a budget and fiscal attitude that can only be described as ridiculous, does anyone think the Founders would recognize their creation in our current condition?

Every day, all around this country, full-time, professional tax-spenders are creating laws. And with each new law there is a new tax, a new criminal or a new deficit. Why is this the norm? Why do we now shrug and say, "Oh well. That's just the way it is"? These kinds of tyranny would have resulted in open rebellion two-hundred years ago!

We as a citizenry are at fault. We have taken to settling for unprincipled and unethical politicians that appeal to our basest instincts in order to gain office and retain their power. Most often these people count on our collective ignorance or our prejudices and differences to maintain and expand their power. The ignorance of the population regarding the incredible brilliance of our form of government and what trials and tribulations went into creating it is perhaps why these attitudes are so prevalent.

We have accepted schools and colleges that teach social diversity and politically correct rewrites of history, rather than the Truth. My children, who graduated over the past five years, did not have a Government or a Civics class. In place of this, the system offered a class called, "American Democratic Institutions", taught by teachers that couldn't pass the simplest test on the Constitution. We have accepted cults of personality, rather than good public servants. We have accepted an intolerance of religion rather than a tolerance of all faiths (including no faith). We accept hyper-sensitivity to all of our differences, rather than celebration of our much more considerable similarities.

Everyone should take the time to expand their knowledge of our Founding at this time of the year, if not at other times. Teach your children what they will not learn in our public schools. Talk about freedom and the principles of small, effective government and elect people who are principled and ethical, from the local dogcatcher to the President of the United States. If that movement ever catches on, the Founders might think the experiment was worthwhile after all.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

What's Happening

First off, I want to apologize for the dearth of posts over the past few months. I've been busy and I also have been blogging at Right Michigan, so the posts have been missing in action. That doesn't mean I haven't been busy at making beer, though. So here's a rundown on what's been happening on the brewing front:

The two lagers I made late last year were entered in a couple of contests. One was the National Homebrew Competition, the largest homebrew contest (by far) in the world. Click on the link to see the results (I won a second place in Dark American Lager). Just click on first round winners and find me in the Great Lakes Region and wish me luck in the Second Round!

The second competition was a local one, the World Expo of Beer homebrew competition (the first year of what I hope is a long-lasting tradition). This one took place at the Frankenmuth, Michigan, World Expo of Beer, an annual beerfest and commercial competition. I have attended several of these festivals over the years and have judged at least twice in their commercial competition, where commercial brewers vie for medals in several beer categories. I also judged in the competition I entered, though not the actual categories. I took two second place awards for the two lagers I entered. My new homebrew club took several medals and overall was very successful. Now, if we only get a few other members to enter competitions, we could rock the Michigan homebrewing world!

I made an Irish Red Ale in May and an American Amber Ale a few weeks later. I tried a taste of the IRA, yesterday and it is scrumptious. A malty, yet crisp example of the true Irish Ale (not Killians, which is a lager that masquerades as an Irish Ale). A friend wanted a brew to serve at his daughter's open house and this was what I cooked up. I will be bottling the other five gallons, today.

I should also rack the Amber Ale into a secondary this week and see how that tastes, eh? Stay tuned...

Sunday, March 09, 2008

A Republic, If You Can Keep It

OK, people, here we go again! All you're gonna hear about (at least from the Clinton faction) is that "every vote must count". You'll be hearing about disenfranchisement of different segments of the community and how the sanctity of our democratic process rests on the "one person, one vote" principle. All of this because of the I-75 corridor cancellation. Michigan and Florida failed to play by the DNC rules and held their primaries early. The candidates agreed to follow the rules and not campaign in those two states. No one figured the vote (and elector) totals would be this close and actually make those two states...important. Oh well, now they are. They could be so at any time. So, really, isn't the calendar placement of each state's primary a wash? More on this later...

Essentially, the entire problem rises from the idea that the primary system unfairly boosts the importance of the states whose primaries occur the earliest. Historically these are Iowa and New Hampshire, with a few others thrown in over the years. The argument (and it's a good one) is that these states enjoy an importance far beyond their meager populations in paring down the number of candidates early in the primary races. I see nothing wrong with this but most do. The Founders did not plan on our nation being infatuated with "democracy" when they crafted our Constitution. They warned specifically against the tyranny of popular opinion. The idea that some of the less populous states might have more power than their population dictates would not have fazed them in the least. In fact that is the entire reason behind such facets of our system as the electoral college and the assignation of at least one U.S. Representative per state, regardless of population.

We are a nation of laws. That was the lesson of the 2000 debacle in Florida. The laws were violated by the Florida Supreme Court in favor of the argument that our government is a democracy. The Florida Supreme Court knelt at the altar of "the will of the people" and decided that that concept overruled the law. Even the U.S. Supreme Court failed to firmly establish the fact that this concept is unfounded. It is not the will of the people-in the form of a popular vote-that decides our governmental makeup. We are a republic, not a democracy.

The rule in the primary system-and I would be happy to entertain arguments that the entire primary system is wrong and serves to do nothing but maintain the power of the two dominant political parties, but that argument is for another day-is that you follow the party and their rules for the primaries. When Michigan and Florida violated those rules, they were told their delegates would not be seated. "Well, they won't really do that", said the party faithful in those states. "They can't do that, it would disenfranchise all those voters", said the pundits. So they went right ahead and had their primaries early. They never expected them to count for much anyway, it was the principle of the thing, you know. They WILL take Michigan and Florida seriously in the next election, by golly!

Now, I understand that there is a good argument that this primary process does not necessarily give Michigan and Florida their due. But the outcome in this year's process is the exception that disproves that point. You can't have it your way every time. Now what do we have? I love the fact that this mess is stirring up dissension in the ranks of the Democrats, because I disagree with their agenda on almost every point, but it could just as well have been the Republicans who were in this mess. Then I would have been upset. Of course, with a candidate like John McCain, I'm not sure the Republicans have a candidate in the race, but that, too is another argument for another day. The point is that we didn't play by the rules, the rules were explained to us before we changed our primary dates, and we did it anyway.

Look at the deliciousness of this situation! Those people who most favor the idea that "every vote should count" and that we have a duty to ensure that no voter is disenfranchised (including felons, illegals and dead people), are actually hollering for disenfranchisement! Obama's folks think the results should stand and those delegates from Florida and Michigan should not count. He is winning without them and counting them would only hurt his position. Hillary-the only person on the ballot in Michigan-wants those votes, even though she agreed not to campaign in Michigan and (it could be argued) shouldn't have even had her name on the ballot. We all know that a Clinton is not beyond quibbling over the definition of "is", if it might benefit their political ambitions.

Watching Debra Wasserman Schultz and Debbie Dingell on Fox News Sunday this morning was so much fun! First of all, is there a congressperson any more dingbatty than Ms. Wasserman Schultz? I would put her against anybody for the least rational, most ditzy congressperson award. Thank you, people of Florida, for electing this entertaining goof! I don't watch American Idol, so I appreciate a good laugh every now and then and watching her squirm over trying to sound dignified and reasonable in debating this situation was much better than watching the latest untalented hack get reamed by Simon! In contrast, Debbie Dingell looked reasoned and intelligent! People, if a popular vote can elect people such as Debra Wasserman Schultz, is that not in itself an argument against such a system?

Obama is going to be forced to argue against seating the delegates from Michigan and Florida. He is going to argue FOR disenfranchisement! Should be fun! Hillary is going to be forced to argue that blacks and young white college students in those two states should not have a place at the table of national politics. That should be fun! What will be the compromise in this decision? What Solomon-like carving can make both sides "happy"? Is a "win-win" even possible? I would argue that it isn't, because people are under the impression that the mechanism of the vote is the same as on American Idol. The most votes wins. I'm sure most people think that is not only morally right but also technically and legally correct. Well, it ain't.

Here's a novel idea and one that you WILL NOT hear anyone arguing for; not in this age of "every vote must count", anyway: Why don't the Democrats allow the two state legislatures to elect their electoral college electors? That's the way it was originally meant to be, anyway. It would be a return to original intent. It would allow the people's elected representatives to choose the electors who will vote for their President and Vice President. Article II, Section I: "Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector." What could be more fair and true to the concepts set down in our Constitution?
Oh, wait a minute. We're talking about the Democrats, here...
Never mind.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Freedom and our Constitution

I have been engaged in a very comprehensive class on our constitution for the past three weeks. It has been very enlightening. Two days a week for two and a half hours each class, we study the origins and meaning of our nation's constitution. I count myself as one of those who knew quite a bit about this document before taking the class but I've really learned a lot. I am also much more attuned to vacuous and inaccurate statements about our nation's origins and form of government from elected officials, judges and politicians. For instance, how often do you hear completely ignorant statements alleging that the US is a Democracy or that the Supreme Court determines the "law of the land"? I used to hear them all the time and not flinch. Now, it's like a punch in the gut!

I recommend everyone spend a day at their local court, watching the proceedings. Watch as your fellow citizens are brought forward and dealt justice by the criminal justice system. See the attention to the rights of the accused, while the system grinds them under its wheels. It is a sad state of affairs, indeed! Think about phrases such as "innocent until proven guilty", "effective counsel" and "a jury of your peers", while watching the spectacle. This exercise should be mandatory for all voters. You might learn some respect for the poor and the cheaply judged in our society.

I had occasion to be in Lapeer's district court the other day and watched the proceedings with a fresh view towards constitutional rights, especially those of the accused, and what I heard and saw was frightening, indeed. Now, I don't mean to say that we don't have crime problems in this country or even in my county of Michigan but the troubles we do have are far less serious endangerments to the public than some of our solutions.

The judge was ruling on the sentence for a young man's second offense drunk driving conviction. The attorney had mentioned that, though it was the judge's routine to give jail time to second offenders, he hoped an exception could be made in the present case. The judge responded by saying that in over twenty-five years he had always given jail time for second offenses. He wanted this known because if the defendant left the court upset at getting jail time, and spoke with others, he would find that there have been no others in his court in similar conditions that haven't also received jail time. He was consistent.

Now, in essence, what the judge was saying is that he doesn't rule on such issues on the basis of the case's individual merits, but rather based upon a preconceived standard that is immutable. If this is the case, why do we need a judge at all. Use a computer database. Plug in the case details and out comes the reliable, consistent sentence. And this man is proud of this policy! His statement reminds of the policy of "zero tolerance", which I equate to "no brainer". Zero tolerance means that in every case, the same result should accrue, regardless of the individual aspects of some potentially very complex cases. Think about this for a second. That judge is saying that over the course of twenty-five years, never has an individual case come before him that did not deserve the sentence of jail time. Not once!

Take also into account the fact that in today's society, for good or ill, a person can be convicted of drunk driving based upon having an alcohol content in their system equivalent to having consumed three beers in an hour. Those are normal, American light lagers, by the way. Now, that might not faze you, but maybe this will. If a person is convicted of two drunk driving offenses-even if they both are reduced to "first offense, impaired driving"-the next time they are charged with any alcohol-related offense, it will be a felony! Even if fifty years have passed between the second offense and the third! No mercy and no tolerance!

Add to these alcohol-related offenses, the new issue of marijuana-related driving offenses and you have a potentially serious new criminal-producing system in Michigan. The new law prescribes "Impaired Driving" and "Driving Under the Influence" charges for people who are pulled over and found to have any level of THC in their system. Of course, the problem with this law is the issue that THC, the intoxicating ingredient in marijuana, can remain in ones system for as long as a month after using marijuana. This means that one may be completely NOT under the influence of the drug, and still test positive for it. The courts will hold you accountable for this violation under the law. If an over-exuberant police force, seriously aggressive towards the local youth population, wants to ruin a young man's life, this law makes it pretty easy to do so, doesn't it? It might be pretty easy to determine the types of kids that are driving around your town, who are more likely than not, marijuana-users. Pull them over and arrest them for suspicion of DUI. Take them down for a blood test and, voila, another dangerous doper off the streets! Never mind the fact that marijuana-influenced drivers are not exactly a public menace these days. Never mind the fact that these kids may not even be under the influence of the drug at the time they are tested. We are talking "ZERO TOLERANCE" laws, here folks.

Later in the day, while I observed the court proceedings, I heard the same judge address a young woman who was there on a hearing for her violation of probation. She had been tested by the probation department upon her arrival at the courthouse that morning and had been found to have alcohol in her system from the night before. This was, apparently her sixth such PV. The judge asked her if she had been drinking the night before with her boyfriend. She said that she had. He asked if they lived together and she answered that they did. He asked if her boyfriend was also in his court for an alcohol-related offense and again, she answered, "Yes". The judge commented that they were perhaps not good for each other and pondered, aloud, whether he should issue a court order that they be separated. Now, if that's not nanny-state behavior, I don't know what is!

This judge was willing to tell this young woman who she could live with! Because they drank alcohol together! Alcohol is still legal in this country, isn't it? Even in Lapeer County? Does it worry you that a judge thinks it is not only his right to tell a person whether they can drink in their own home (a legal act for all adults) but also with whom they can live? Is that freedom?

You don't need to be a constitutional scholar to know that is wrong...

Sunday, February 17, 2008


I was reading an issue of Popular Science, the other day and it included an article about a daring caver and exploration specialist, named Bill Stone. He has a company named Stone Aerospace and has been something of an anachronism for years: that rare combination of reckless egomaniac and prophetic seer that produces men and women who actually change "the world as we know it". I could write all day about the fellow but a simple talk he gave recently says a lot more about him than my words could convey. What I am more interested in is the future of this type of thinking and the benefits of going much more boldly, where man has never gone before, than our current government-dominated thinking allows.

You'll see from Bill's company website that he has put his money where his mouth is, so to speak. You'll also see that he has experienced some success, which in turn, garnered him OPM (other people's money), an essential element for anyone's vision. He has even convinced NASA of spending some government money to fund a few of his more adventurous projects. He is convinced, however, that it is private entrepreneurship which holds the most hope for extraterrestrial exploration. While NASA is stuck on slow, stodgily safe and incrementally planned missions, funded by the government, Stone and his counterparts (like Bert Rutan and Richard Branson) see the necessity to take bold chances to get where we need to be in time for the successes to fuel further explorations. And, yes, it is just as likely that failures will further the process as successes. Bold action is required, though and that is most assuredly not NASA's M.O.

Here's to adventuresome explorers who blaze the trails that produce a future that will ensure, not only the continued flourishing of human endeavors but our very survival!


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lager Days

The last two beers I made, including the one I am actually brewing right now, have been lagers. I don't make many lagers but I don't really know why. I LIKE lagers, so why don't I brew them more often? Well, for one reason, they take a long time to ferment and condition. I am impatient and want to drink my beers ASAP! For another thing, they require cool temperatures to ferment. Living in Michigan, cool temperatures should be no problem, right? Well, it's not that the temps aren't cool but that they aren't consistent. For years, now, I've had that problem solved through the use of an external thermostat on my lagering fridge.

Lager fermentation occurs at much cooler temperatures than ale fermentation. For instance, the Classic American Pilsner I made a couple of weeks ago, started off at 60 F and was quickly dropped to about 48 F for the complete time in primary. After secondary is nearly complete, I will drop the temps down to near freezing for a month or so for cold conditioning, then bottle a few bottles from the kegs.

CAP recipe:

16 Lbs. German Pilsner Malt
4.5 Lbs. Flaked Maize
1 Lb. Light German Crystal Malt
1 Lb. Flaked Rice
2 Lbs. Rice Hulls
2 oz. Hallertau (60 Minutes)
1 oz. Hallertau (15)
.5 oz.Hallertau (4)
2 teaspoons Irish Moss (15)
Pitched two half gallon starters of WLP 840 American Lager Yeast

I tasted it at rack-off to secondary and it was good, real good!

Since my fridge is full, this new dark lager will be fermenting in my (currently cold) basement. It is hovering around 50 F, now in the brew room. I hope it stays there! It is a clone of Lowenbrau Dark, but I made it a little bigger and a little hoppier (of course using Cascade hops will change it as well). It should be pretty interesting, to say the least.

Here is the recipe:

16 Lbs German Pilsner Malt
5 Lbs. Crisp English Malt
2 Lbs. Belgian Carapils Malt
1 Lb. German Caramunich Malt
.5 Lb. English Chocolate Malt

1.5 Oz. Homegrown Cascade Hops (60 minutes)
.5 Oz. Homegrown Cascade Hops (15 minutes)
2 teaspoons Irish Moss (15 minutes)

10 days at 50 F
rack to secondary and lager at 38-40 F

Cold condition for a month after fermentation is complete. This beer was made from leftover grains, homegrown hops and used yeast. It cost me a total of $5.95 for ten gallons of beer!

The next lager I make is going to be a bigger, maltier beer. Probably a Marzen (or Oktoberfest), followed by a Doppelbock on the Marzen yeast cake...Oh yeah!

I wish you all could taste this!