I like to word hiatus, it’s a nice highfalutin word meaning took a break, goofed off, or did something else and I’ve spent the last six months largely doing something else. The main reasons for the hiatus were twofold, first I spent a fair piece of it under the weather and its amazing how much being sick takes out of you. Secondly the gruelingly unpleasant political process, the depths that it reached and how it politicized every discussion ruined anything positive I could find on Newsvine. On the days that I did feel halfway decent I’d open up the Vines and by the time I was done reading my frustration and irritation factors sucked what energy I did have right out of me. I did seed a few things but by and large I didn’t miss it at all.
Sadly, it actually helped.
My first diversion was playing with the internet productively, I set up a site for a group my wife belongs to and another for a group of my daughter’s, then I moved a fantasy writing and gaming group from MSN to its own domain, beating MSN’s announcement that they were closing groups by a few months. Then I built my own site, so not only am I person I’m a domain now. Then I polished the first third of a book to final draft form and had a few friends critique the hell out of it for me, the second third will start the same process soon.
Among the many things I researched for accuracy was beer, ale and mead-making techniques. This led to what many of my friends think is an odd hobby for me, homebrewing. In a normal year it’s not uncommon for me to drink as many as four adult beverages a year. Yes, I said a year. There’s a few reasons for this, there’s usually a few reasons for everything with me it seems, but first I spent most of my adult life on call, I’ve been called in to work for all sorts of reasons at all hours of the day and night over my entire career and I couldn’t reconcile myself to telling people counting on me that I couldn’t report for duty because I’d been drinking and couldn’t drive. I have a firm policy, if I have a drink I do not get behind the wheel, period. Secondly, for many years I was on medications that wouldn’t allow me to drink because of risk to my liver if combined with alcohol. Despite the fact that I exercised my liver strong when I was younger I really don’t mean it any ill will. I don’t want to shock anyone, but my drinking has skyrocketed up to 2-3 beers a week now.
Growing up the beer of choice was of course Budweiser, because Bud was what everyone could agree on mostly, but over the years I discovered that I really didn’t like most of what people call “American Beers,” Bud, MDG, Miller, Coors, the usual suspects, and it was worse when you took Old Pissqawkie or Pissqawkie’s Beast (Old Milwaukee and Milwaukee’s Best) into consideration. I like heavy gravity dark ales, preferably with an emphasis of malt over hops. More beers and ales have come on the market over the years and I’ve discovered I like a few of the newer craft breweries, New Belgium, Pyramid, Laughing Dog and New Glarus to name just a few.
Part of the reason that I emphasized that I don’t dislike American beer above is that I don’t, a good American beer can compete with any beer made anywhere in the world. England and Canada are considered by many beer snobs as the home of “good beers” but considering that Canada’s #1 selling Beer is Labatt Blue and England’s best seller is Carling (yes, as in Carling Black Label), both beers that smell like they were used to wash skunk from a dog I maintain that bad beer is universal. For that matter, Budweiser is the biggest selling beer in the world, now what does that say for global taste?
(pausing to savor a sip of New Belgium 1554)
So, I started brewing. My first project was something indescribable, it was an experiment with mead that didn’t call for any special equipment, and since all of my brew gear was on order I tried it out for a start. Honey, orange slices, raisins and bread yeast. Quite frankly it reminded me of some swill that was made while I was enjoying the desert climate somewhere you don’t need to know about. Raisin Jack has livened up many locations in the world for unfortunate GI’s doing the world tour on the Uncle Sam plan. Club Med it ain’t. Well, sometimes it is, but I digress. That went down the drain. Ditto an experiment with a fermented lemonade.
Next came a cider, its potent as hell right now, with an alcohol in the 18% range because the (real) yeast sucked every drop of sugar from it. Natural sugars and a half pound of brown sugar to boot. But, its not bad at all, the fact I can drink it before aging is a good sign , I’m going to back sweeten it with apple concentrate because it’s too dry, for now its clarifying to get all of the cloudy elements out, but the color its turning is gorgeous.
Second on the list is another hard lemonade, it too went very dry and I added sugars back into it because though it was an interesting flavor lemon wine isn’t going to please Mrs B. She doesn’t care for wine in any form that I’ve found. Its now carbonating and I’ll be cold aging it for about a month to let the flavors mix and learn to play together.
My third project, that’ll be waiting for a few months before I consider bottling and aging, is a cyser. Yes, you read that correctly, cyser is a melomel, a marriage of cider and mead. It’s a mix of five pounds of honey, dark brown sugar and cider to make a two gallon batch. I sampled it after a few weeks and the flavors were already blending with a faint undertone of young alcohol. Wow! When this one ages out its going to be something else.
Finally is a braggot, which marries mead and ale. For a five gallon batch I mixed 12 pounds of honey, brown sugar, dark malt grains, and hops. When its all done it’ll hit about 13% alcohol and have complex mix of flavors combining maltiness, sweetness and bitterness. I sampled it when I racked it to the secondary fermenter and even now it has an interesting flavor.
My future projects are going to be homemade root beer, a heavy gravity root beer ale, and I’m thinking of a Scottish 80 shilling Ale. I’m not sure why, but everything I seem to put together, except the lemonade, has been high gravity, a fancified term that means it has a lot of fermentable sugars and malts in it. When you put a hydrometer in it the numbers come out high, water has a specific gravity of (SG) of 1.000, your “average” beers have an SG of 1.050, and most things I’ve put together have been in the 1.095 – 1.105 range. High SG = higher alcohol, depending on the final gravity reading. Which is why I’m looking at the 80 Shilling, a nice dark ale, malty with light hops and low gravity.
Anyway, I’ve beer-nerded enough for now and I have a beer to finish, with a turkey sandwich I think.
© 2008, Tim Boothby. All rights reserved.