Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Taking Root

Erin hard at work in her gardening clothes;-)

Enemies meet eye to eye

Company Shops Market

Golden Hops

      Luckily the last few weeks have been temperate.  The rain has helped water our crops, and our hops are finally starting to take root and explore the sky.  We have already enjoyed some lettuce from Erin's garden plot in Gibsonville, as well as the mescalin(sp) in ours.  After sitting in a few pounds of strawberries from Julie, Erin's mom,  I decided to get creative.  I dehydrated most of them, making a great addition to tea Erin made last night from our mint plant outside.  I let them dry out a little bit too much, so snacking on them isn't the best, but mixed in a tea releases that sweetness and aroma you look for in a summer drink.  The other 11 strawberries were used in my second home brew, an Autumn Amber Ale.  It was impulsive, but I boiled the strawberries for  the last ten minutes of the brewing process, and then steeped them for another fifteen before pulling out what I could with a sanitized spoon.
       I can smell the sweetness in my fermentation tank, a promise that there's not only good balance between bitter hops and sweet berries, but also plenty of sugar for the yeast to consume.  My air-lock, which is a one way valve letting CO2 out and keeps oxygen from getting in, was dismal at first, compared to my first brew.  After research, I've decided I will implement some chemistry skills and follow the process using my hydrometer instead of watching for bubbles.  My OG, or original gravity reading is the cornerstone for this experiment.  It is essential to record the initial amount of dissolved solids in your wort, so you can track the decline in consumed sugars as the yeast goes to work.  Water has a specific gravity of 1, and the closer you get to secondary fermentation or bottling, the closer you want that reading to be to 1.  Generally you are between 1.080 and 1.020 with beer, and with wine you should be a bit closer to one due to higher ABV, or alcohol by volume.  Spirits may read below one, because of alcohols buoyancy being less than water.  Think of a boat in the water. If its salt water, it'll float higher than fresh water.  The amount of dissolved solids prop the boat up higher, thus letting me know there is a higher specific gravity.
       My goal is to brew 100% from non extracted malts like a real brewer when my brother and his wife come up to visit.  The addition of the second home brew was that I crushed my own grains, which I did with a pint glass.  This releases the nutrient rich endosperm, but also leaves the husks of the grain behind to help filter during the boiling process.  It was an important step to learning the process just a little bit better.  I learned how to read a hydrometer correctly, and became more familiar with the equipment I'm using.  Sterility is so important, it eases your mind for the next three weeks while your beer brews.  You never want to doubt cleanliness, because a brewer's mind tends to wonder with the eminent "what went wrong" frame of mind.
       All this has been my free time.  I have gotten close to forty hours a week of work at the co-op now, after busting my ass for a month, in hopes of moving my way up their local ladder.  I am passionate about whatever I do, and am beginning to see the big picture at the store.  In the produce department, where I spend the majority of my time, I am building relationships with the local farmers that bring in our vegetables, as well as our fruits.  I also dabble in the meat department and have met a few folks from Braeburn farm, where we buy lots of really good meat.  They are located 25 miles from the store.  The importance of this local movement is our future.  I am beginning to change the way I think and eat.  Do I get a dollar cheeseburger at mcdonalds, or do I buy a two dollar samosa made 5 miles from where I purchased it?  The result is that one I don't feel like shit from eating garbage, but I've also put money back into my community, not some corporate monster that I'll never have the pleasure of meeting.  This job goes right along with my new found passion of farming, gardening, and brewing.  I am so lucky to have a beautiful fiancee that knows so much about local sustainability as well as gardening and farming.  Erin is an invaluable resource while I experiment with all this earth work.  Erin got accepted into a yoga instructor school in Greensboro, which I think is such a step in the right direction for her.  She is meant to make peoples lives better, and I can't think of a better way for her to start off doing that.  When we had a partner yoga session many moons ago, I felt the power of Yoga, and how important the connection with yourself is,as well as your partners, while you prop her up with your legs while on your back.  This summer will be great, and we're looking forward to getting the ball rolling on our wedding plans, which have seemed difficult due to our own lives needing planning.  We are both ready to get married, but we want to do it right, and we want it to be at a location where we can have our friends and family from out of state visit without long flights and road trips!
       So as it is now, I have set up the new place and it is finally becoming a home.  I have plenty of space for dogs and friends, so let me know when you want to come crash for a while, the doors are always open!  Have the best week of your life, and always extend a helping hand to a stranger in need :-)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Lands End->Fire on the Mountain

     Sometimes you gotta grab life by the hand and shake the hell out of it.  The first time I felt the power of a fourteen dog team in the woods of Northern Michigan, I understood that power and strength are no match for the greater forces at work.  With the snow hook planted deep, a hitch fashioned for quick release, and a steady mind,I prepared myself for the future and its consequences.  Lunging forward towards wild, these beasts "pop" the first brake, pulling myself and the sled tightly against my fastened hitch.  I found myself too far in to go back, so I sprung out at the hitch undoing her safety loop ready to two-step back to the wooden sled. I would not be on time for departure though, even though I was completely focused and present.  Maple the lead dog led his running partner Oz clear into the known.  I chased, jumped, grabbed on, slipped, let go.  I learned two things that day; you can't catch fourteen dogs that are working as one, and you can never let go of leading life with your hands on the wheel.
       So I decided to apply at the Co-Op in Burlington.  Red Oak was a myth, I did enjoy interviewing though.  The guys that worked there were very nice, but I guess that type of brewery is not where I'm meant to be.  The day I found out Red Oak was out, I was one week into my first home brew.  I've since drank and shared just about all of that batch.  I think it came out so good for my first time brewing beers!  Three important qualities I was searching for in "Burlington Brown" were 1. Head Retention 2.  Carbonation(natural) 3.  Taste(bitterness).  They passed, and though top of the keg versus bottom are somewhat distinguishable, I enjoyed making it the whole way through.  I can only drink two, I tried three but fell asleep.  Pretty powerful at 7.5%ABV, It's gonna be sad to see her go!
       Those beers and a 3 of fresh picked strawberries from my future mother-in-law, are all that reside in my new home's fridge.  Well, there is some out of date dairy from work that I'm experimenting with.  Tut and Ketza have found their favorite corners, squirrel outposts, and puke spots in the house and have settled in nicely.  I've painted, caulked, touched up, patched, and cleaned this rental home.  All the skills I learned working for Sedona Homes LLC in Michigan got my engines revved for some grout work and window blind cleaning.
       I'm close to my job, got a bike from my bro, and got a great beer review from my Dad, who tried his one of two beers for the year last night.
  Music, Family, Love. Three most important folks.  Love is blind, Love is distant, love is close, love is divine.  When ever possible you should love someone.  At the simplest level you should treat everyone with as much respect as you think you deserve.  When I meet close minded people I am intrigued by their commitment.  I myself lack that commitment in some areas of my life, and wish I could use an expression to analyze, evaluate, and regurgitate the appropriate response.  I feel it is time for us home brewers, beer lovers, hopsters, and us self proclaimed adults to be that change.  I'm gonna start by hooking Tut and Ketza up and running them around the block on my neeewwww bike.  The weather for now holds low in humidity and lows in the high 50's. It's the perfect temperature to ferment some water- logged wort.
       Erin has met some great new people, our garden is blooming, our love is strengthening.  On this day I don't miss Alaska, for Alaska is right here in my heart, and has taught me how to be a man of the new interior's frontier. I end with a poem, the first of many I promised in earlier posts.  Wait, that wasn't the poem, neither is this, I'll just end with a toast.  Toast!

Summer delivered us a pardon,
A tree branch lends a hand.
The roots beneath begin to harden,
We have the mountains, oceans, and sand.
But nothing will beat our first garden.