The New Complete Joy of Homebrewing

The book that actually deserves credit for my interest in “brewing” is Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury–but I’ll save that for another day. When I was still in college in 1989 at San Francisco State, I had my very first microbrewery beer. “Old Scout Stout” was the first microbrewed stout I ever tasted, at now defunct 20 Tank Brewery. There should be a  golden shrine or a plaque at that location. To this day I will never forget it, and also the topic of a future blog post. It was a whole new world of beer–one that I had some inkling that once existed, something I had been waiting for, and now brought into my reality.DSC_0427.JPG

When I graduated in 1991 and moved back to San Diego to live with my mom, I visited the long standing Beer and Wine Crafts in El Cajon, CA, and bought Charlie Papazian’s The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing, touted then, and deservedly so, as “The Home Brewer’s Bible.” I read the book through, practically on the way home, telling my mother along the way what a great book this was going to be. It was so exciting to think that once I got the $50-$60 needed to buy the equipment, I’d be able to make my own beer–any beer I wanted.

First published in 1984, I had in my hands the revised and updated edition of 1991, the book that most home brewers in that semi-early era got them hooked. Charlie’s conversational, almost hippie personality shines through in his writing style and underscored by his mantra, “Don’t worry, have a homebrew!” You know home brewing is a relatively new thing when in the introduction, there’s the heading “Is it Legal?”

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There’s also a Preface written by the late Michael Jackson (the beer Michael Jackson) who I was familiar with by watching his “Beer Hunter” TV series shown on PBS. That show is worth seeking out by any means necessary. I have my (ahem) “copy”.

Papazian walks you through everything you need to know to get started, but does so in a warm, inspiring style that gives you confidence that while there may be some bad beer brewed now and then, what you are embarking on is a divine path towards your own greatness.

The very first beer I brewed was based on “Wise Ass Red Bitter” which I know I tweaked just slightly so I could feel as if it were my very own. It turned out, like many early extract beers, not exactly what I expected but, by God, it was beer and at least mildly enjoyable. For a home brewing book of 1991, looking back through it, it is surprisingly broad in its recipes, touching even on mead and lambics. It encouraged you to be adventuresome, inventive, and pick yourself up if something didn’t go exactly right.

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Penthouse? Really?? Any Penthouse readers inspired by this review to start home brewing? I would love to hear that story!

Now over 25 years old, sure it is a little dated but I know there is a later, updated edition out there. Still, this book was all I used for 20 years, most of that pre-Internet (or at least pre-blogs, YouTube, beer forums where every question is at the touch of your keyboard.) This was the book that graduated me from malt-extracts, to using specialty grains, to using mini-mashes where I completed the magic of turning grain into sugar.

There were a couple stretches where I didn’t brew for a year or two. One time I resolved to never bottle again and wouldn’t brew until I got a kegerator system. And then I discovered Belgians, namely Affligem Tripel and St. Bernardus 12. NCJOHB was the book that taught me how to brew my very first batch of all-grain beer, and I haven’t looked back since.

While I have acquired other books that help immensely, I still reference NCJOHB here and there, and it’ll never be supplanted as my favorite. After 25 year of shaping my ability to brew beer, how could anything knock it off its perch?

What better beer pairing for this book than one of your own! In this case I’ll be having the last of a year old batch of Chocolate Stout with Smoked Paprika Peppers, while I brew up a new one. Recipe and gallery below. As this is not a “how to brew” blog, I’ll keep the process minimal.

Recipe:

7lbs 2 Row American Malted Barley
2 lbs Carapils/Dextrine Malt1 lb Dark Munich.5lb Crystal 120.5lb Kiln Coffee Malt.5lb Carafa III.25lb Whole Black Malt.25lb Black Patent.5oz Nugget Hop pellets3.3oz Luker bittersweet chocolate.
2-6 whole deseeded smoked peppers–I used paprika peppers I grew.
White Labs Cal Ale yeast I. 1L starter.

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Heating mash water.

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“Dough” is in! Love this part.

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Enzymes doing their thing.

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This is how I vorlauf–passing a couple gallons of wort back over the grain bed.

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My sparging is a very…embarrassing set up. You can see the reflection of the colander I pour the hot water through to sprinkle over the top. Low tech, but it works and provides is a nice, quiet intimacy with my wort.

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Gettin’ all boilt up.

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Boiling.

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This is the block bittersweet chocolate I use. Makes great hot chocolate too.

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Last bottle of last year’s batch of same beer. As you can see, surprisingly no head retention issues with using block bittersweet cocoa. Stout with a hint of cocoa, a hint of smoky heat. Yum.

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Two “Adventure” Stories by Joseph Conrad

Before the Internet, there was TV. Before TV, movies, and radio. Before that, books and maps. Like many young boys growing up in the heart of Europe, maps of the world still suggested vast mysterious blank territory. While photography was prevalent in Conrad’s time, imagine what it must have been like to form all your knowledge of the Indian Ocean, or far away cities like Bangkok through words, maps, and perhaps an illustration or two. It’s inevitable that romanticized notions of sailing adventures are going to fill your spirit. In these two stories, Conrad takes that naive, youthful hunger for adventure (albeit from different points of view) and clubs it over the head.

I first read “Youth: A Narrative” in my Modern Library Giant Edition of Famous English Short Stories. For me, I could go to the table of Contents, star “Youth” numerous times and write “All-Star among all-stars”, but I don’t write in books.

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I read that collection front to back and will likely be going back to that edition in the future. I later purchased a thin Penguin Classic by Joseph Conrad, Youth and The End of the Tether unaware that the “Youth” story was the one I had already read. I would take this little paperback to the beach. I work at home for my insurance job, and during the heat of the summer (without a/c) I would barely be able to make it until 4:15pm when I would grab my backpack already pre-filled with my towel and gun it down to the beach. 4:15pm may seem late to go to a beach, but really it’s the sweet spot to me. Still warm, but not so hot you’d get fried, and when the Pacific is warm it doesn’t matter if the air temp drops. The beach begins to clear, but there is still plenty of people watching to do along the boardwalk, and there’s nothing better than to unwind with a book after a cooling dip in the ocean, or a session of body surfing if the waves were right.

Past “beach reads” for me included Proust, Hemingway, Dostoevsky, David Foster Wallace… not typically light fare. But a thin copy of Conrad was just right last summer, and as I began to read (soon realizing it was a re-read) “Youth: A Narrative”, I began to salivate. It was like eating lobster (or anything else you love) for the second  time. Both are good, but the second go around benefits from the anticipation of it. “Youth” in short is about a young 20 year old English sailor with dreams of seeing Bangkok on a leaky ship with a cargo of coal. “To Bangkok! Magic name. Blessed Name.” There are problems with the ship from the get go, forcing that excitement into an endless waiting room. The ship has to be towed back into port multiple times for repair before even starting. “It seemed as though we had been forgotten by the world, belonged to nobody, would get nowhere.”

When they finally do get on their way, a smell soon begins to waft up from below. “One would have thought hundreds of parrafin-lamps had been flaring and smoking in that hole for days.” The cargo had caught fire, but due to lack of oxygen perhaps, it’s a slow, menacing situation dragged on by days. As the days of the voyage wear on in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the crew tries to figure out how to extinguish the slow burning mess. Days pass, it gets worse. They pass another ship but the ship’s captain refuses assistance. The fire grows beyond control and the crew has to seek safety of longboats away from the ship, which eventually becomes a flaming torch.dsc_0426

Once the ship is gone they row for days toward “The East” finally reaching land. “And this is how I see the East…a high outline of mountains, blue and afar in the morning… strange odors of blossoms, of aromatic wood, comes out of the still night–the first sign of the East on my face.”

“Ah! The good old time – the good old time. Youth and the sea.”

“…our weary eyes looking still, looking always, looking anxiously for something out of life, that while it is expected is already gone – has passed unseen.”

This is one of those incredible stories so rich in language and specter, I could re-read again and again. It is a universal story of youth– of seeking something in life with an expected outcome, and having that outcome be something completely unforeseen. Such is life.

It’s only now that I realize that I read this story of youth and the sea at the same beach that I had been coming to since the youth of my 20’s, repeating each year some reclamation of a youth long past. 20 years in the future this too will be a youth spent “anxiously looking for something.” Maybe that’s the magic of this story–it’s just so painfully universal that try as we might, we cannot fully appreciate the current moment, whether they be joyous or times when all hope seems to be lost.

Just a note on the book cover. I believe in book covers. A book’s cover will forever be burned in the memory if it is a good book. You see the cover’s image each time you pick up the book, and as you progress through the story, if the work captures you, so too should the book cover. It should add something vital, as if you couldn’t imaging anything else. That’s why the cover of this edition is such a mystery–in an unfulfilling way. It is a detail from “Moonlight View From Istana, Sarawak, Borneo” by Marianne North. Not to knock the work itself, but in which way exactly it relates to these stories, I’m unsure.

At 30 pages, “Youth: A Narrative” is just and excellent, classic English short story about sailing the seas with dreams of the exotic East, and one I am sure to re-read again.

***

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From Paul O’Prey’s Introduction

If “Youth” is an adventure story concerning the broad expanse of the sea and an open vision of life, Heart of Darkness is a horrific spectacle about the fecund interior, literally and metaphorically. The word “Congo”, especially if spoken in 1890, suggests to the mind an uncharted place one enters with no guarantee of exiting. For me to expound on the mastery of one of the all-time great works in the English language, or add in some meaningful way an insight that hasn’t already been said… forget it. I’ll be brief.dsc_0410

Heart of Darkness is a brooding tale beginning with men aboard a yacht, quietly taking in the setting of the sun at the mouth of the river Thames, waiting to embark on some journey. One of the men, Marlow, contemplating the river Thames hundreds of years prior, when the first Roman naval commanders captaining a trireme up the river into the heart of “savage England”, begins his tale of a journey into the the heart of the Belgian Congo, in search of a rogue company agent, Kurtz. This takes place during the indefensible height of European colonization, when the loot of resources at any cost far outpaced any ethical consideration of the colonized. Up river we go into the canopied, deep interior in search of the legendary Kurtz, the mysterious man who “sends in as much ivory as all the others put together.”

Conrad was a major figure in his time, and this is the novella he will be best known by. It wasn’t until my second and third readings where I began to appreciate the language, the journey into the interior or man, the devastating truth it speaks of men. It is frankly the ending that makes the story so crushing for me, where Marlow is visiting the wife of the late Kurtz. There as the sun sets in the room, he deceives her of Kurtz’s true last words, ‘The Horror! The horror!” allowing her to believe in love, that his last uttered words were her name.dsc_0415

If you were to pair a beer with Heart of Darkness it would have to be the dankest beer your could get your hands on, an Old Ale inoculated with Brettanomyces  and left for a few summers to condition in a Mississippi swamp. It would have to be a joyless ale, of wet cardboard and suggesting of the reclamation of life that goes on at the jungle floor. But, as we are alive, a Samuel Smith’s Taddy Porter will do to hearken back to turn of the century English Porter, and, if nothing else, as a tip of the hat to Progress and the modern world, flawed as it may be.

I have not read Conrad’s novels. Even Paul O’Prey, who writes an excellent introduction for this Penguin Classics edition writes, “Conrad was a much better short-story and novella writer than novelist.” That may be the case, but it didn’t stop Modern Library from coming up with multiple Conrad novel titles. As far as I’m concerned, on my deathbed I need only these two stories.

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Inside jacket excerpt from Youth and The End of the Tether

Sierra Nevada Oktoberfest: Fall is Back Beer

Sierra Nevada’s Oktoberfest 2016

 

Somehow, someway, Sierra Nevada’s past seasonal Oktoberfest beer releases have slipped past me, except for their 2015 and now 2016 releases. Sierra Nevada says they collaborate each year with a different brewery for their Oktoberfest seasonal beers. This year it’s Mahrs Bräu of Bamberg. I must say that it looks and tastes almost exactly the same as last year’s, and that is to say that it tastes delicious!

The neck label on the bottle states they used Record hop varietal–as a finishing hop per their website, “a nearly forgotten German-grown hop.” That very well may be, but don’t expect to discern some hop characteristic you’ve never tasted before. This is a German lager, very crisp and well balanced between malt and hops, the color is a sexy and stunning gold. There is little hop aroma, but the flavor is traditional German noble hops. Almost like a double German Pilsner or a bock, this 2016 Oktoberfest beer is really something to celebrate. In general I’m not a huge fan of the Märzen style, which may explain why I may have passed over prior Oktoberfest offerings. They’re a little too nutty, caramel and orange-peely for me, which is why Sierra’s 2015 Oktoberfest grabbed my attention, and thankfully they’ve stayed in the same lane with this year’s collaboration.

Sierra Nevada’s website suggests German Weisswurst sausage or Roast Pork—couldn’t agree more. The German Weisswurst or Wisconsin style white bratwurst, which I usually make this time of year, would be my preference, with some sauerkraut and rye bread slices. Here I had the Czech rye bread I bake, some Hungarian smoked paprika salami I made, and some smoked paprika cheddar, which I also made. My sauerkraut took a wrong turn this year and had to be tossed to the compost—otherwise I’d be having some. The mustard is Amora—a French Dijon I first had in the Czech Republic and immediately fell in love with.

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Sierra Nevada also suggests a cheese pairing of Mild Cheddar or some Butterkase. My guess is Whole Foods or a good cheese monger might have the Butterkase—actually if you live in Wisconsin or Midwest that may be in your grocery stores. In San Diego—not so much. Sierra’s desert pairing suggestion is Apple Strudel with fresh whipped cream. I would deviate here slightly but generally completely agree… I once accidentally discovered that a good German lager is a perfect match for apple crumb pie. My mother gets her “Transparent” variety apples every year from Ohio—they are slightly tart and Champagne-like.

Drinking Sierra Nevada’s 2016 Oktoberfest is like pouring liquid gold jewels down your throat. I will make one recommendation. This is a beer best enjoyed cold, and finished within the first few minutes of pouring. You don’t have to chug-a-lug, and you can always pace yourself in between, but this beer’s sweet-spot is right after pouring.

Lastly, after a hot San Diego summer (although this year wasn’t too bad), perhaps the best thing about drinking this Oktoberfest beer is that it serves as a little friendly reminder that crisp cold nights are on their way, and that Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale is soon to follow.

Sweet Thursday. John Steinbeck

 

Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck is a follow up to Cannery Row, set in Monterey, CA in the post-war 1940’s. I’m going to start off my blog with this book because it may be the first “adult” book I read for pleasure, way back when I was 16 or 17. It’s certainly the longest held book in my own collection. I had read adult books assigned to me in school, but reading just for pleasure? I always loved reading, but school reading assignments generally satisfied that need. I borrowed this paperback copy, along with a couple others, from the library of family friends. The front cover is entirely loosed from the book now, but I keep it together because the artwork is evocative of that California school of artwork in the mid 1950’s. The back cover is lost.

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Inside the front cover of this Bantam Classic edition is written, “JOHN STEINBECK is one of America’s major writers. His work is closely identified with his native home, Salinas, California, and reveals his deep concern and love for humanity… He is one of the very few authors ever to win world-wide recognition during his own lifetime.”

The novel is about Doc’s (literally a scientist/doctor who spent the war treating V.D.) post-war return to his Western Biological lab in Monterey, and the life of whores and tramps living in the remains of a collapsed tuna cannery town. Returning from Cannery Row are “the tramps” Mack, Eddie and the two Whiteys, the prostitutes who live at the Bear Flag whorehouse, and Suzy, a girl who makes a home out of a huge empty boiler. Beer and whiskey abound, but doesn’t slow Doc’s desire to pursue his marine life studies, primarily of octopi and starfish. Missing is Lee Chong, the grocery store owner who Doc would buy his beer from in Cannery Row.  Suzy becomes a love interest for Doc, but he’s torn between work and love—the analytical, scientific mind versus the human need for love. “Lonesome! The low voice cried in his gut. No one to receive from you or to give to you. No one warm enough and dear enough.”

At 180 pages it’s a quick, light read that is comic, and romantically coastal Californian from Monterey down to La Jolla. It’s the first time I ever heard of eating sea urchin (uni in sushi restaurants).

“He brought a tin box from the fork of a tree, took out a loaf of French Bread. And sliced off two thick slices. Then he brought the sea urchins from a dripping sack, cracked them on a rock, and spread the gonads on the bread. ‘The males are sweet and the females sour. I like to mix the two.’

‘I’ve tasted them,’ said Doc. ‘The Italians eat them. It’s about as strong a protein as you can get. Some people think it’s aphrodisiac.”

Sorry, writers writing about food always gets me, but it’s the kind of book that paints a vivid picture of the tide pools, the lab full of slides, aquariums and pipettes, rusted machinery and decayed shacks of a once thriving industry now rotting in the salty ocean air. And in the character “Mack,” Steinbeck creates a perfect cohort and drinking partner for Doc—equally intelligent but clearly self-“educated” about the world, while Doc’s education is scientific.

Steinbeck occupies a strange place in American Lit. He won the Nobel Prize for Grapes of Wrath for chrissakes, yet despite a long string of several well loved (and well regarded) books and stories, he doesn’t quite seem to get the same respect in universities as the other American titans. I suspect this may be because Steinbeck’s writing style didn’t exactly break any molds the way Hemingway or Faulkner did. But as the inside flap of the book attests, his work is rich in humanity and emotion—usually concerning the experience of the poor and their making do with what they have. And he did it time and time again.

I have re-read the book a couple times since I was 17, and Doc’s study of apoplexy concerning octopi is woven into the story of my third novel. Unfortunately I don’t think this particular copy would survive another reading, but would I spend a rainy day reading this joyful and sad novel again? Absolutely. And anywhere I have driven up and down California, and over the desert mountains, his stories and characters roam on.

 

Beer Can Collections: The Silent Victims of Divorce

When I was five living in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, my two older brothers already had several near-complete coin collection books. I gave coin collection a go. Eh, I had a need to be different, so with a mini rock hammer began collecting rocks. That lasted a couple weeks before a brother with a “valuable” coin collection told me my rocks were worthless. They were. They were only landscaping rocks some dump truck poured out onto our condo lot when the development was built a couple years prior.

I don’t know the first beer can I ever collected, but living next to a recreation area where grown men played in softball leagues, and at a time when you could drink beer, smoke cigars, or chew tobacco out in the open, once I had a few cans on display, it was off to the races. 1976. The Bicentennial, and yes, while the current craft beer mindset would look at that year as smack dab in the Dark Ages, it was also a Golden Age of beautifully packaged, mass produced American Lager. Budweiser, Genessee Cream Ale, Blatz, Busch, Schlitz, Olympia, Hamms, … Tall Boys, short cans, old church key cans, pull tabs… I had them all. I can still smell the stale beer and chewed tobacco smell of being arm deep in trash barrels to fish out an unadulterated can while my dad was on the mound pitching softball under the lights.

Once at my aunt’s house down in Youngstown I nearly flipped my lid when discovering a buried TROVE of real old beer cans with conical tops and the old style Budweiser lettering. When packaging changed, I had to have the old as well as new.

Like cigarette packaging, I was mesmerized by the colors, the names of beers: Milwaukee’s Best, Colt 45, Rolling Rock, and Olympia. Each summer we would go on fishing trips to Canada, sometimes way up in Quebec, and on those long drives my eyes would be peeled for cans along the road, Molson, Labatts, and Moosehead. Each brewery put out two or three products, and sometimes in unique sizes. My beer can collection grew into a beautiful pyramid, rising up against my bedroom wall. Breweriana ran in my veins. This despite my dad never being much of a beer drinker at all. The only time I recall seeing beer in the house was for a party after his softball team won a championship.

My white whale for some reason was to find a can of Carling’s Black Label that was in good condition. Something about that red can with the black field, and the name, “Black Label” as if it were the finest product that could be produced, made it the can to get. I had everything else I could get my hands on by picking them out of the trash or on the side of the road, but I could never get that one can of Black Label.

This went on for years, not months. When I was 8, my mother decided that living on the same side of the Rockies as my father did was not going to work. She decided that we would move to San Diego, CA. Our belongings were packed up for a Mayflower van, and essentials loaded into the car. The details of the fate of my beer can collection are lost, but needless to say it didn’t make it. Somewhere 80 feet below some Cleveland dump, my flattened, partially dissolved collection returns minerals to Earth.

I am SO freaking tempted to buy beer can collections on Ebay, discard the cans I never had, and slowly recreate my masterpiece. I would know though that I had cheated. They wouldn’t be my cans that I slowly gathered like a curator at the Smithsonian. And besides, it’s not like I would add on to it. With half those brands gone by the wayside, or worse, “Iced” and “Lime-A-Rita-ed,” maybe it’s best to leave my collection where it rests today, like a rock star who went out at the peak of fame.

Certainly there’s no need to be nostalgic for the product itself as it’s still on the shelves and serves its purpose. But even with the new drive for microbreweries canning their beer, and admittedly with some occasionally good packaging, it’s not the same. Breweriana is nostalgia. Maybe in 20 years I’ll be kicking myself.

Then again, wait till I show you my coaster collection.

 

Why in the world?

“You should start a blog.”

“Just what would I start a blog about?”

“Anything! People read and follow all kinds of stuff!”

Consider this a test to that theory. I’ll make it hard on myself by mashing together two things that pair quite well, but tend to attract two separate audiences. Beer, not exclusively craft beer, is one set of people, and books, with an emphasis on the stuff you read or were supposed to read in high school/college, is another set. I love beer. I love books. So sue me. I won’t entirely disregard wine, but as a home brewer for 20+ years and a casual collector of books, I’m going to be talking about books while pairing it with a beer. Or maybe just beer, or just books. Sometimes books on beer!

I am not a professor, nor do I even read as much as I would like. But I do have more books that your average household (a low bar, I know), and I have read nearly all of them. The plan is rather than rehash what happened in a 500 page novel and give you a Lit 301-worthy take on it, I will take a different approach. I’m going to select books from my own library and write anecdotally about what I thought of the book, about the edition itself, maybe where I was physically and mentally when I read the book. What was going on in my life? What does it mean to me now? Where does it take me? And while I do that, maybe I’ll elevate the discussion with some sophisticated beverage.

About the title of this post, “Why in the world?” The answer lies in the fact that I currently loathe my job. I sincerely hope it is truly the nadir of who I am. Please let me not be a near middle-aged insurance underwriter working for a company that fully embraces the micromanagement strategy. I always wanted to be a writer. I have written three unpublished novels, and numerous screenplays with (dare I say) great dialogue but horrendous premises. It very well may be that I am simply not talented enough at what I want to do with my life, or that I just don’t know how to market what I do. Fine. Wherever I do land on the scale of talent as a writer, I can assure you I’m better at it than calling elderly people and telling them I’m cancelling their home policy because their roof is old. That being the case, if you’ve ever tried to get a “corporate” writing job, you will be asked for writing samples. Enter this blog.

So the following will be stolen moments of my life to share with you not one, but TWO things that for decades have brought me joy and inspiration.

Let’s on with the show!