Ramble On

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wisteria in Winter

During the winter, our neighbors at Wisteria Farm and Vineyard reduce the days and hours that they are open to one weekend per month, usually a holiday weekend – with the exception that if there’s good weather, they might spontaneously open, as they did during January (their next scheduled opening is Valentine’s Day weekend).  

I made a stop over there with Tessie both of the January weekends they were open, enjoying a glass of wine, a chat with Sue and Moussa, and a walk with the dog out into the pasture and vines.

They keep a flock of Romney sheep at the farm, and when the weather is as good as it has been this month, the sheep spend a lot of their time out of the barn in the pasture.  I’m always curious about how Tessie, the border collie, is going to react to them – I watch for some gene to stir in there and for her to figure out her ancestors would see the encounter as a job to be done.  Not a hint from the dog, but the sheep definitely know what’s up.

They lift, and stand watching the dog for signs that they should react.  They do bunch together in preparation for being shepherded somewhere.  But by the time they’ve reacted this way, Tessie has already moved on out down the path, heading out for the woods and the stream.  Her job is simple, to keep me company, I guess.

There’s no shortage of farm chores at the vineyard, and that’s what Sue and Moussa told me they spend a lot of their “found time” doing during the winter.  They’ll clear some of the back lot, for example, and last year’s canes need to be pruned down to the stock vines.  You can observe the progress in a vineyard by walking by the ends of the rows, where you’ll find a pile of old brush.

During my most recent visits I had a chance ask a few questions I’ve been meaning to get to – one regarding the lugs that we used during the harvest last fall, and a second about one of their vintages, the Merlot Wild. 
First, about the lugs – these yellow crates.  When you pick the grapes, these are used to collect them.  Next, the lugs are gathered and hauled back to the crush pad, where the winemaking begins. 

One of the chores I took on last fall was rinsing them off so that they could be used again for the next variety, or put away, as the case may be.  I noticed all of these vineyard names on the sides of the lugs and was curious about it.  Of course, WFV stands for Wisteria, but what of Mount Juliet, Glendower, Hat Creek, and the others that were mixed in?

I imagined that, like so many things, these were just old names of vineyards that were now defunct, or that perhaps had changed names – this is used equipment that you can find at auctions and similar sales.  

I thought that they might even have ended up here from Napa or Sonoma, or the New York growing area; however, a Google search revealed that these places still exist, and there are vineyards there – still in operation. 

Sue cleared up the puzzle for me.  There are a couple of markets and auctions for grapes, and they’re not always careful about getting the crates back to the proper owner.  So at “WFV,” they’ve ended up with a few odds and ends – note that Mount Juliet in particular has traditionally sold their grapes in bulk, rather than making wine with them.

As for the other question I had, it was related to what’s so special about the Merlot Wild vintage at Wisteria – is it something to do with the grape variety?  For this one, Moussa explained to me that what’s special about the vintage is that the grapes are fermented with the native yeasts that are present in the vineyard where they are grown.

From my brewing experience, I know that different yeast strains can contribute uncontrollable tastes to beer, so we try to manage exposure to wild yeast.  I understood that this was important in wine making too, so it surprised me to learn about an approach that used wild yeast.

Moussa said they are able to control for the yeast by limiting how often the grapes are sprayed while they grow, and especially within the last four to six weeks before they harvest.  This way, each berry collects some yeast, which stays with the juice once the grapes are crushed.  No further yeast needs to be added to ferment the wine, and it’s left to nature to contribute the unique flavor and character of this wine.

As I mentioned, the vineyard is on reduced hours during the winter, but they are opening from February 14 - 18.  There'll be chocolate fondue in the tasting room too - that's something to look forward to!  For additional information check their web page at: 


Monday, January 28, 2013

Pork Diaries: Last of the Pulled Pork (2012 version)

We’re getting close to butchering day on the new bunch of hogs, so Mary and I did a quick freezer inventory to start make room for all the port that’s going to be rolling in here in a couple of weeks.  To my surprise, there was still a four-pound blade roast left from last year, along with a few miscellaneous other cuts.  So on Inauguration Day last week I made some pulled pork.

My approach to this isn’t always formal, but for the most part I get consistent results.  I’m going to work a bit more on it though – I would like to get to the point that it comes out like what my team produced at the Smokin’ on the Tracks contest last September 
(link here:  http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2012/10/whats-cookin-at-smokin-on-track.html).  That was as moist and tender as I’ve ever made, and I would like for it to come out that way every time.

As far as last Monday’s grilling effort goes, for the rub I used three tablespoons of a mix that a friend gave me at Christmas, mixing in a tablespoon of light brown sugar and just a touch of cayenne.  I slathered that on and let it sit a half hour while I fired up the grill – it was ready shortly with the temperature topping out at around 325 degrees.

I put the roast in and let it cook for an hour or so, periodically opening the grill so that I could recharge the hickory chips.  Then I just let it cook on its own for another half hour, taking a temperature reading at that point.

I recharged the coals during this roast once, and I have a feeling that might be where I had some trouble.  The pork tasted fine, but it was a little more dried out than we like it; now that I think about it that might have been due to the large blade bone in there too. 

I’ll pay some more attention to that next time, but we still made a fine dinner out of it – putting it together with some kale and sweet potatoes.  I also had some home brews to go with that.  

Friday, January 25, 2013

Brewing the Vagabond Gingered Ale

For my fourth five-gallon batch, I decided to stretch my experience a bit and try a recipe from Papzian’s The New Complete Joy of Home Brewing (Amazon Link at the end of the post).  

I chose the Vagabond Gingered Ale because of the description below:

Vagabond Gingered Ale is a deliciously dark , full-bodie ale, with the gentle essence of fresh ginger.  The freshly grated ginger in this recipe offers a joyously refreshing balance to the sweetness of malt, counter-balanced by a judicious choice of hops.  The blend of the main ingredients offers a complex triad of flavors – uniquely satisfying for the vagabond brewers who journey to places that have no boundaries.

The recipe book I was using dates to the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, depending on the edition that you’re using.  So the first task for me was to convert the ingredient list in the book to something I can get from a home brew vendor – in this case, Northern Brewer.  This table outlines the approach and some of the substitutions I had to make. 

In the final solution, I went with the packaged volumes on ingredients – there is not a lot of variation, but it could be enough to change the outcome slightly.

I also substituted the hops that were included in the recipe with some that Dan had given me a while back – 2 ounces of the 2011 Cascade crop, and another 2 ounces of some Calypso hops he bought in bulk.  So there’ll be a little bit more of a hop taste to this to what was originally calculated, I guess.

Typical to the home brewing process, it took about 2 hours to do the batch, which came out as a beautiful dark color.  It’s not going to be a stout, but this will be among the darkest beers I’ve had in some time.
I’m also out of bottles.  So this batch is in the works for about three weeks – meanwhile I will order up some new ones.

Here's the link to the book (a newer edition than mine):

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bottling the Porter: 5.6% ABV

These are the new German bottles I acquired.

A few weeks back I posted about the White House Honey Porter partial malt kit Mary gave me for Christmas.  That post, which highlights two substitutions I had made to the recipe – I used local honey from Luray instead of the Wisconsin ingredient that was provided, and I used locally grown US Fuggles leaf hops instead of the Hallertauer that was provided, can be found here:

Siphoning into the bottling tub, where the
priming sugar solution is mixed in.
Bottling went along smoothly, with few issues to note.  The process takes a little while – probably two hours max, but I feel like I get done in less than that, including clean up.  Also, I got to use my new bottles that I collected from the new beer and wine store near work, which hold slightly more than a pint at 16.9 ounces.

Here are all the bottles I used for the batch.
Here are two photos of the siphoning from the carboy into the bottling tub, where the priming sugar solutions is mixed in, and of the bottle tree with the full schedule for this session.

As I did with the saison, I obtained the final gravity for this beer.  It came in at 1.012; with an O.G. of 1.054 I come up with a calculated alcohol by volume of 5.6 percent for the porter.  That’s decent, but much lower than the saison, which came in at 8.4 percent. 

Hydrometer reads 1.012 - a 5.6% brew!

As far as output goes, I bottled 625 ounces of the porter, just less than five gallons.  The following is the bottling schedule:
  • 7 quarts
  • 7 pints
  • 8 16.9 ounce German bottles
  • 7 22 ounce bottles

So I’ll give this two weeks to condition in the bottle, and it should be ready for a go.  Looking forward to that!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Following Up at Beaver Run Brewery

I was out running errands this weekend and one of them took me up to Sally and Dan's.  After a short visit with them, Dan wanted to show me some of the improvements he's made to the brewery set-up out in the barn, so we took a walk over there.

He has organized half of the main floor to be the brewery, and has begun building a wall to close off that section from more typical garage accoutrements, such as engines, fuel and the like.  He's close to finished with all of that action, with just a few more things to take care of.

Another new touch is the acquisition of a refrigerator for the space - it's actually a used one that a relative passed down, but it has cleaned up nicely.  When I checked it out, I found that the freezer was full of hops, much of them grown in his yard - the cascades, or by other local brewers - the US fuggles.

Now he has cleared out a lot of stuff that was left behind by the previous owner in the process of moving the brewery out to the barn.  One thing prominently displayed there now, just above the fridge, is a pair of caribou antlers Dan collected up in Alaska when he was working there.  I don't know the whole story yet, but we'll get to that.

I have a few posts about my own brewing efforts to put up, which I'll get to this week.  I bottled the porter, and brewed a batch of the vagabond gingered ale.  Those will follow forthwith.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pork Preparatory Period - 2013 edition

Over the weekend David let me know that it's getting close to the time to schedule the 2013 butchering.  We've settled on a couple of weeks from now, so I thought I might make a stop by the farm to take a look at how the hogs are growing.

They're all over 250 pounds.  I can easily see the weight gain on them from week to week, too - I might go through the photos I've taken this year to see how they've grown since they got on the farm back in August.

Chris and I got together for a little while over the weekend to discuss how we'd like to divide out the share.  Although I enjoyed the roast a lot this year, the trade-off of having them was less sausage and ground pork  He proposed that we shift some of the cuts this way, and I think it's a good idea - so we'll have the same breakfast sausage as last year, probably some brats, and then some miscellaneous ground pork that can be frozen and then spiced up into sausage later.

We'll also cut the pork chops a little thicker than I did last year, and we'll have a few other changes.  I'll post those when the time comes.

I also took a look around to see what was in the cooler at Public House Produce - a lot of apples and eggs. There was a nice fragrance in the walk-in from all the fruit in there.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Four More for Forty-Four

Barack Obama’s second inauguration, they say, is one where hope gives way to the practical business of running the country in a time of extreme partisanship.  In my short post today, that will be all I acknowledge of what’s going on in Congress or elsewhere as we debate gun control, the national debt, or immigration.  I’d rather spend some time reflecting on the historic moment as we observe MLK day and see our president rise to the challenge of his second term.

You can click on the link at the end of this post to see a number of posts about the inauguration in 2009, but today, I am going to simply repeat a few of the messages that I had posted there for a retrospective.  Whatever the future holds for the president today, it is good to take a moment to consider the hope of the past – let’s not forget that.  So here we go:

From Mom:
“As a senior citizen,I am once again having hope in our country. This is a great day in American History and I am very glad and proud to be an American today in History.”

From Dad:
“On inauguration day in 2001 and 2005, I was full of fear and worry, because I knew that the USA had made the wrong choice for leadership. Today, I am full of peace and joy because finally we have gotten it right! It is about hope and optimism not about fear and dread. The upcoming changes to our country and even to our way of life will be slow coming, but will be drastic, and will be the foundation of a new and lasting legacy of hope and security for us all.”

From Aunt Rusti:
“It has been a long long march. It was wonderful having Sterling here with me and sharing with him my joy. I remember getting together in a subsidized housing complex in 1955 and meeting Martin Luther King just one of ten or twenty Duke Students; I remember refusing to get married in the First Baptist Church in Greensboro unless Yank and Effie could be seated with my family; I remember hearing noises in the woods behind my house in Durham and peeping through the woods to a field with a huge cross burning and men in robes (1961); My list is long. But these just help to let you know how deeply thrilled I am that he proved himself to me and to others, we elected him, and we must work for and with him for changes.”

From Greg, my former roommate in Berlin:
James Joyce wrote a brilliant line in "Ulysses," “history is a nightmare from which i am trying to awaken." …time to wake up.

From Yiming, another USAF friend:
"As far as the inauguration goes, I have great hope for the coming years and am extremely impressed with the transition so far. I am mindful that 48 million Americans do not support what he stands for, though I'm sure he will win some of them over. “

And from my friend Janice, who posted after attending the Inauguration in person:
"All I can say is...Wow. Today was truly a once in a lifetime experience. There is no way to describe what this day meant to me personally as a young African-American woman and an American citizen. I'm so taken by what this man has created…A movement of hope and change, and a renewed faith for everyone. His sincerity and warm demeanor is contagious and it was evident in the crowd today. The idea that was so stunning, so phenomenal, so breath taking that all I could all say was ‘Wow.’ ”

I’ll close with my own words from that day four years ago – a sentiment I feel even now. 

We heard the call to action this week, the call to service. Each of us has to make a contribution in the days ahead. What is the best way to have an impact? What is the best way to make that contribution?

One thing is for certain, this is a journey with many steps. The most important one is this first one, the one we take today, when President Obama is inaugurated.

(The poster pictured is Shepard Fairey's great work, which became the iconic image of the first Obama campaign).

Friday, January 18, 2013

Dulce et Decorum Est?

I’m not going to get this post right the first time.  It’s one I have been meaning to put together for a while, and after reading a tragic obituary this week I have finally realized that it is time to put down a few thoughts about the veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and lingering injuries they continue to suffer after their sacrifice. 

More active-duty and reserve soldiers killed themselves last year than died in combat in Afghanistan.  I’ve known this for some time and have struggled with it.

The article I found was about Dr. Peter J. N. Linnerooth on a Time magazine blog, and the second paragraph was what caught my attention:

Few who wore the uniform in the nation’s post-9/11 wars better understood the perverse alchemy that can change the rush and glory of combat into a darkening cloud of anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress. But strikingly, all that understanding — and the knowledge, education and firsthand experience that nurtured it — didn’t save Linnerooth.

(There is a link to the article this quote comes from below, and the other sources I’ve drawn from today are linked there as well.)

The article goes on with quotes from friends, loved ones, and colleagues:  “Pete struggled with PTSD and depression after his deployment to Iraq,” an Army comrade says. “Pete is a good example of how serving in combat can change someone. Pete was one of us,” he adds. “He’s the first Army psychologist that I know who killed himself.”

Dr. Linnerooth continued to serve after his return from the war – he studied the effects of PTSD and depression despite the fact that he was a victim of it himself.  It played a part in the end of his first marriage, it may have guided him in a desire to serve his fellow veterans, and possibly was part of his drive to move on with a new wife and child in the last few years.  But despite everything that he understood about these issues, we’ve lost him too.

During my service, I was never called upon to perform in these circumstances, although some of my contemporaries were – in Lebanon and Grenada, which were the conflicts of the time, while others were victims of emerging geo-political terrorism.  And from time to time, an accident during our drills might cause a serious injury that changed a young person’s life forever.  But for the most part, even though we knew that there was a connection to our work and that we might be called to serve, war and loss were far from our thoughts there in Berlin.  

The distance only makes my feelings about these recent veterans more complex.  So I looked for additional commentary about Dr. Linnerooth’s suicide to try and understand it better, finding another blog about PTSD – one written by a VA psychiatrist, Rod Deaton, who works at the VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.  His post gave me insight, and again I was moved by his closing words:     

To the family and friends and patients of Dr. Linnerooth: I am so, so saddened. I wish I could have known him. I wish I could have enjoyed his soul. It is too much to ask a man who has willingly opened his heart during a time of War to keep opening his heart afterwards without knowing that someone who respects him, values him, and knows he is “OK” will, nevertheless, be able to tolerate that he very much does not feel “OK” and will consequently be able to sit with him, literally and metaphorically, until as much of the toxic soul poison has been cleansed out as possible.

A final blogger, this time Roger Cohen of the New York Times, reminds me that as Americans at home, we have not been asked to give anything extra to support our troops and veterans during these conflicts:

We have sanitized war. It is kept at a distance, hardly more real than a video game. … When a milestone is reached — 2,000 dead — attention flickers up.
But otherwise the war seems far away unless you are from a military family. Pilotless drones do ever more of the killing. The thing about robotic warfare is you can watch Afghans get vaporized on a screen near Las Vegas and then drive home for dinner with the kids.
To conclude the post today – I want to see Dr. Linnerooth’s suicide, and those of so many others, as a call to action.  I want to find a way to contribute to helping these veterans and their families to cope with what they have been through.  I will find some way to make a difference on their account, and I hope that you, reading this, will also find a way to take some action.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Working Breed

Tess and I went out to Hawksbill Cabin last weekend.  I thought it would be a good getaway, since we have the new kitten and it has been pestering her.

We had a good time, like when we saw the deer in Hawksbill Recreation Park on our walk Saturday night...check out that form, and "the eye" ... it's just naturally triggered when she sees a ruminant.

Or like when we were lounging in the sun on the brick terrace Sunday afternoon...

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tempelhof Videos

It's been awhile since I went back and checked on our friend Manfred's videos over on YouTube.

I had posted this link to a tour of the famous tunnels under the airport back in 2011.

I also came across this one, which is a must for anybody that was stationed at Tempelhof.  Manfred has really been quite generous in sharing all of these, I've really enjoyed them.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Small World of Tempelhof Airport

Bike riding along the old taxiway.  Also in this view - the
building at the end of the airport, near the radar tower,
known as Head Building East - my quarters were there
from 1984-1986.

Back in November, when I started looking into what’s happening at the old Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, I’d hoped that I would find out something exciting about the place where I lived for nearly five years from 1981 to 1986.  I did – the incredible urban park that is being developed there is a real breakthrough, and I was happy to know that when I get the chance to visit Berlin again I’ll be able to go out into the airfield and visit some places with fond memories.

Some of the "victory gardens" out in the airfield.  When I
lived here, there were some spaces available for this
purposes out beyond the runways.
I also hope to be able to spend more time on the business and technology aspects of what the city is trying to do with the space, but that will take more time for discovery before I can post much on it here on the blog.  In the meantime, I had a chance encounter here in my neighborhood with some folks that were familiar with Tempelhofer Freiheit – having been there as recently as last summer.

Our neighbors work in the education field, and their experience living and working in Berlin overlaps mine, beginning in the mid-1980’s just as my time there was ending.  They’ve since gone back a few times, and have had the chance to go to the park at Tempelhof to check it out.  They shared some photos with me – bike riding, picnics, victory gardens, and nature trails – it all looks pretty wonderful to me.

Tempelhofer Freiheit is obviously very popular for picnics!
I'll close today's post with my neighbor's photos.  If you're interested in my previous posts in this series, click on the "Berlin-Tempelhof" label at the end of this post.

There are interpretive signs for some of the reserved
natural habitat areas.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Sitting in the Dschungel on Nurnberger Strasse

David Bowie has released a new single – apparently it’s his first commercially available music in ten years.  As I write this, I’ve embedded the video in the blog’s header, but a link is below if it’s not there anymore.

(Note: I was stationed in Berlin in the early '80's - during the time of David Bowie's emergence as a global pop star.  My friends and I were fans, especially liking Heroes, and we knew some of Bowie's history in Berlin.  So from time to time we might find something that combined something about Bowie and something about Berlin - the day we spent walking along the Wall in Neukolln, for example.  These posts are marked with the label "Bowie Quest" and you can find them by clicking on the label below.)

The song was released this month, January 2013, in celebration of Bowie’s 66th birthday.  Much of it is reminiscing about Bowie’s time in Berlin, where he lived for a good portion of the 1970’s.  The title of this post is an early verse in the song.

Of course, I have a Berlin memory to share about this one.

There was a disco on Nurnberger Strasse that some friends and I used to go to from time to time, called The Sugar Shack (my Berlin years were 1981 to 1986).  In fact, that is the first place I ever heard Madonna’s “Holiday.” 

One time I was out with a friend on the way to The Sugar Shack.  Right around that time I had read something about Bono and the Edge hanging out in Berlin at "The Jungle," and then when we turned onto Nurnburger Strasse (about 2 blocks from KaDeWe).  We saw some very hip Berliners going into a building there, and we followed them in - we hung out for some drinks and then moved on to where we were headed.

It's a place I went back to a few times - there was a very good late night Trattoria across the street.  The video inspired a Wikipedia search, which says the Dschungel was at Nurnberger Strasse 53.  Clicking that address flies me to right where I remember the place.

From the looks of things, a lot of redevelopment has happened there on that street – the modern Ellington Hotel takes up a lot of the block. I suppose I’ll never know if I was really there at the Dschungel, that time and place, but I’ll go ahead and assume I was.

Here’s a link to the video:

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Brewing a Porter with Local Flavors

The specialty grains in a porter are
usually dark roasted, so you get a rich
brown beer with chocolaty flavors.

For my fourth and final post of the week, I guess I’ll press on with posts about brewing – very much at the risk of becoming some kind of boring beer nerd.  So here goes.

To begin with, one of the holiday gifts I asked Mary for was the White House Honey Porter recipe kit from Northern Brewer – described as follows:

This original recipe brewed by White House staff is both a callback to the favored beverage of our Founding Fathers as well as an opportunity to come together in an election year and share pint across the aisle.  More than just simply black and roasty, this porter builds consensus with generous applications of sweet caramel and toasty Munich malts, while moderate bitterness and a pound of honey lets all find common ground.  In a year of divisive politics, we think it’s especially important to remember what we have in common:  homebrewing!

She obliged, and I decided that I would brew it to celebrate the upcoming inauguration (although it won’t be ready until a week or two after – more like ground hog’s day).  

To give this brew a local touch I added honey from Luray,
a pack of US Fuggles hops a friend grew.
I also had a thought about doing something to make this one a more local brew – I posted a few weeks ago about the honey I acquired from some friends in Luray, specifically for the purpose of brewing with it (and I have enough left to try another recipe or two).  Then when Dan gave me some local US Fuggles hops that were grown in Luray, I figured I had a couple of items that would make the product unique, even though it comes from a recipe.

So, this was a stay in Alexandria weekend, and I took advantage of some time on Saturday to brew the porter. 

First off, as I steeped the specialty grains, I noticed the dark color coming up – and the aromas of the roasted barley with hints of chocolate. Great stuff.

When that was over, I followed the recipe, bringing the sparge up to a boil and adding the honey and extract syrups, and then hopping it on 15 minute intervals.  While a one ounce package of Hallertauer hops was included for the final application, that step in the process was where I substituted the US Fuggles.

The new wort chiller!
Just like Dan with his new plate chiller, I had a new gadget to try out as well – Mary also gave me a wort chiller.  

I coupled it with a siphon, since I don’t have a threaded sink to connect to, and cycled ice water through it a couple of times.  It reduced my normal wort chilling time by at least half, and maybe even by two thirds – it’s typically an hour long process to get the temperature from boiling down to less than 100 degrees. 

This chilling activity is a critical step because you can’t pitch yeast until you have the temperature down to an optimal level.  I usually shoot for 70 degrees but recipes vary.  I pitched the yeast and moved my ale pale down to the basement, where the beer will ferment in primary a week before I move it to the carboy for secondary.

Finally, all was said and done except for the cleanup.  I’ve been lucky so far:  no major kitchen mishaps, although it’s inevitable that I will have one. 

The final hops application, after the boil ended.
The minor one that happened this time was having the hose slip out of the filter set up I had on the ale pale, and a little bit of chocolaty-brown wort spilled out on one of the rugs in the kitchen.  And there were some spatters- but nothing’s worse for wear and tear.

The question stands about the name of this beer – I did use a recipe, but I made it my own with some key ingredients.  There is a White House out in Luray, just off of 211 near the Shenandoah.  It was used as a hospital during the Civil War, and there was a ferry there for a long time.  So I may just call this the White House Ferry Honey Porter, to acknowledge its local context.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Brew Day at Beaver Run Brewery

Dan repositioning the mash, just as I arrived.

As long as I am on the topics of brewing and distilling, I have a couple of posts that I want to put up – one about brewing with Dan at Beaver Run Brewery, the topic today, and one about the White House Honey Porter batch I made on Saturday.

Dan was fresh off of brewing the “Smokey Tail” porter that will be part of the tasting at January’s Blue Ridge Brewers Association meeting.  This would be the first time he brewed with his set-up out in the barn on the property there – he’s been getting that cleaned up in preparation for using some of the space that way.  It was cold, but still promised to be a great day of brewing, and with all the cooking and boiling going on, the barn would heat up quickly.

The new grain mill - a collaborative effort of some local brewers.
The first thing to know about the goings on at Beaver Run Brewery is that Dan has been brewing for a while now, and he’s advanced to being an all-grain brewer.  I’ve written about a few past brews under the Beaver Run Brewery label, at the end of this post.  He’s been very encouraging to me as I’ve taken up an interest and started brewing myself, so I jumped at the chance to join him after he invited me over for this inaugural brewing.

The day's hops selection.  The Cascade and Fuggles are local.
He had a version of the “Flat Tail” IPA on tap, and I got there just after the mash was completed.  That meant I missed the operation of the new grain mill (he used the residual barley from Copper Fox), but I was there for the sparge and to provide some muscle moving stuff around as needed.

In addition to the local grains, Dan used some of his own Cascade hops, grown on the property, and some Ultra hops that he and the other local brewers had acquired.  I’ve got a photo here of me adding the first hops after the boil started.

Adding the Ultra.
We enjoyed a couple of beers while the boil was going, and soon we were joined by Dan’s nephew and son as things progressed.  Each of them has some experience brewing as well and they offered some insights – and Dan’s son Chris had brought along a couple of specialty brews from the Capital Ale House in Harrisonburg that we sampled.

Getting ready to chill the wort -
the plate cooler is mounted to the table.

One of the coolest gadgets that Dan had to show off was a new “plate” wort chiller.  He’d taken some precautions to ensure that it wouldn’t clog up from the leaf hops by adding a couple of filters in the kettle.  Then we hooked the hoses up and brought in cold water from the well – it worked amazingly. 

The wort was chilled to around 60 degrees in one pass, which took only five minutes!  We decided that the wort was too cold to pitch the yeast, as a matter of fact, so Dan took it inside to his usual cellar to warm up overnight before pitching the yeast.  I still can’t get over how fast that particular task happened.

Into the carboy for primary fermentation.

The spent hops left behind in the kettle.
After the brewing was finished, Dan had about 6 gallons of wort, produced substantially from local grains, hops and water.  That means there is only one ingredient left to master locally in order to have a truly Page County Grown brew – the yeast. 

I think that one is going to take some work…but there’s no doubt it’s possible.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Saison at 8.4% ABV

(Woo Hoo)

At long last, Saturday was bottling day for the holiday saison ale that I began brewing in early December.  This was a seasonally featured offering from Northern Brewer called Saison de Noel.  I wanted to try something besides the typical ales I’ve been working with and the ad copy for this one sold me:

Deceptively dark and beguilingly complex, this holiday specialty is brewed in the tradition of Belgian farmhouse ales.  Unlike most saisons, intended to refresh and sustain farmers doing manual labor, this one is engineered to complement rich holiday fare and sustain you through long winter nights.  A generous malt bill with highlights of butter toffee, chocolate, dark fruit, and bread tangles with the earthy, spicy funk of Wyeast’s French Saison strain and a single addition of bittering hops to strike an evolving balance.

Now, there is a word of warning in there for home gamers – this one has the potential to reach 9% alcohol by volume (ABV) – it’s pretty strong, so my thinking on “sustaining you through long winter nights” should be translated into “you’ll finish one and probably want to knock off early” - "don't operate heavy machinery after this one." 

The beer started fermentation with an O.G. of 1.070, and it finished at around 1.008.  By my calculations, that means we’re sitting pretty at around 8.4% - and given that this is my first time doing that particular calculation I am satisfied that we are definitely looking at more than 8% and less than 8.5%.  I’m happy with that.

The strain of yeast used here – a liquid smack pack from Wyeast – was absolutely robust.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing already by the morning after I got this started in primary, and it was still going strong after two weeks, so I left it in primary for another week.  I then moved it to secondary for two weeks, and that brings us to Saturday, when I did the bottling chore. 

I’ve got some photos of the process here – the bottling tree, the hydrometer measurement, and the finished bottles.  With such a strong beer, I’m going to let it sit in the bottles for two weeks before I even think about moving them, and when I share them, I’ll be sure to let folks know it needs to rest in the fridge overnight before opening.

But for my part, I’m looking forward to this.  It appears it will be ready for opening around Inauguration Day!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Visiting Sperryville's Copper Fox Distillery

During October’s meeting of the Blue Ridge Brewers Association (there’s a blog link in the right hand column), my introduction to the group, as a matter of fact, there were several very interesting topics covered while we enjoyed sampling each other’s beers.  With several established hobby hopyards represented, the group had set out to find one of the remaining traditional beer ingredients locally:  barley.

A local farmer had committed an acre to growing an appropriate variety, but the group still faced the challenge of how to malt it.  A little research led to the discovery of the Copper Fox distillery over in Sperryville, where Rick Wasmund has an operation that uses Virginia-grown barley to produce several whiskey varieties. 

There’s more about Rick’s operation here http://www.oldtowncrier.com/archive/589-rick-wasmund.  

Rick brought some of the barley he uses with him and shared it with the group.  It is smoked on fruitwood, and several members are brewing porters with it that they will have ready for tasting at the January meeting.

Well, after all that back story, I really want to write about is visiting the distillery a couple of weeks ago.  My buddy Chris had come out with a plan to hike that weekend, but there were weather-related difficulties and we ended up canceling the hike.  Since we’d planned to go over to Sperryville anyway (we were going to hike Buck Hollow and the trail head is on US 211 just west of Sperryville) we decided instead to head on over to the “Copper Fox” Distillery – where Wasmunds Whiskey is made.

Tours are offered, but they’ve decided there is too much liability for giving tastings.  But here you can take a look around and see how the malting is done, see where the fruitwood smoking takes place, and then head over for the fermentation, distilling, and barreling rooms. 

I’ve been to places like this before – the Ansbach Uralt brandy plant on the Rhein River in Germany comes to mind.  But what made this special for me is the fact that it’s an all-Virginia product that is made locally to Hawksbill Cabin, probably only 15 miles as the crow flies from the house, a bit longer to drive.

After we met Rick at the brewing club meeting Mary bought me a bottle of the single malt, which I’ve been enjoying and sharing.  I’m happy to recommend the distillery as an outing – I’m looking forward to taking friends there from time to time.  And we’ll enjoy the whiskey too.  

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Page Valley Cycling Gives Back to the Community

Whenever I have the chance to feature the economic impacts of the active tourism events that take place in the Shenandoah Valley, and specifically in Page County, I’ll do so.  Chris Gould and the Page Valley Cycling team just put together the economic benefit of the four bicycle races that were held last year in a press release – I’ll reprint it in full below.  Not only does the press release highlight the positive impacts on the economy, there is also a listing of charitable giving made possible by the events.  It’s quite a list…

Page Valley Cycling Gives Back to the Community

STANLEY, VIRGINIA – Page Valley Cycling announced today that its 2012 events had a significant positive economic impact for businesses and community organizations in the county, with about 1,490
 bike racers and family and friends generating approximately $100 thousand in revenue on food, merchandise, and lodging. This continues a trend of increasing dollars spent each year in the county from Page Valley Cycling events, which in 2012 included the Tour of Page County Stage Race, Shenandoah Time Trail, Page Valley Road Race, and Luray Caverns CX bicycle races.

The positive economic impact is just one way Page Valley Cycling gave back to the community with its events. The club also launched a specific charitable effort and donated $3 thousand to Page One after its December 9th cyclo-cross event. This is in addition to a total of $5.5 thousand in donations to the Shenandoah, Stanley, and Luray Volunteer Rescue Squads; the music departments at both Luray High School and Page County High School; the Town of Luray Parks & Recreation Department; Shenandoah Heritage Society; Valley Star Farm’s “Trees for the Troops” Christmas tree program; and the Mike Fawell Memorial Fund, which was set up to care for the children of a Richmond-area bike race who died in a tragic training accident last year.

Specific findings from Page Valley Cycling’s post-race surveys indicate that:

• A combined total of 1,490 bike racers, family, and friends came to Page County for the various Page Valley Cycling events this past year. This is up from 1,100 last year. 

• Bike racers, family, and friends spent as much as $100 thousand throughout the county on food, merchandise, and lodging – this is up from $80 thousand last year, $56 thousand in 2010, and $40 thousand in 2009.

• About 80% of race participants spent a night or more in the county during the weekend of the Tour of Page County, and 33% of participants for the Page Valley Road Race.

• 89% and 87% of Page Valley Road Race and Tour of Page County participants, respectively, say they’d come back to the county for reasons other than the race. 

Page Valley Cycling promotes bicycling in Page County as a means of transportation, fitness, recreation, and racing. For more information about Page Valley Cycling and its events, visit our website at www.pagevalleycycling.com, or visit our Facebook page.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sled Run

I’d heard about snow out in the valley last week, and sure enough, when I arrived at Hawksbill Cabin on Friday that’s what I found – a couple of inches of base with a crusty glaze from sleet and freezing rain over the top of it.  Add a little snow plow drift at the base of the driveway, and I couldn’t get up the hill in the dark.

In daylight the next day, Chris and I postponed our planned hike and decided to do some other adventures, starting with a sled run down the hill.  We used the minibogs, the little miniature toboggan sleds that I got at a store in Arlington a few years ago.  There’s a photo of them here, and an embedded video of me talking about how we used to sled on these in the Harz Mountains of Germany before taking a test run on one of them below.

Now, apparently, I have bored my readers with a similar video a couple of years back.  That doesn’t make our sled runs down the hill any less fun.  In fact, as a reward for reading through this post, here is a blur video that kind of celebrates the fun: