Alcoholics Learning To Brew

Dad sent me this story on alcoholics in Canada learning to brew.

Now that’s an interesting program on multiple levels, for me. First, you have an unorthodox solution to a problem.

But what I wonder about is how this knowledge will effect those in the program. I believe all knowledge is empowering and certainly making your own beer is going to be safer than behaving desperately and drinking things not meant for consumption. I wonder, too, if there’s a soothing effect, mentally; one doesn’t have to worry about where the next drink comes from, if you can make your own.

Also, I wonder if learning the skill causes them slow down and appreciate what they’re drinking. Because they have put effort into making the beer they are drinking might help give them a sense of pride, because they did it, and they’ll take the time to appreciate it. They might also stop to appraise the efforts of others.

If nothing else, this program seems to give those people something to do and a place to talk, with the ability to have more to discuss than how tragically their lives have curved.

It feels very counter-intuitive, of course and I’m glad there is more to the program than just ‘we’ll teach you how to homebrew’, but if it works then that’s amazing.

Whole Flower vs Pellet Hops

Sorry about missing Monday’s post everyone: I’ve been sick for a couple days and am just now recovering.

So here’s as neat video from the people at Victory brewing to illustrate why they use whole hops instead of pellets. Visually, the argument is pretty strong against using hop pellets.

Still, there are certain kinds of pellets, like Zythos, which are blends of hops and that means they can only appear as pellets. That might not appeal to professional brewers but it was certainly useful to me for a beer I made

Nevertheless, I have a feeling I won’t be using pellet hops too often, should I have the option to get whole flower hops.



BC Pale

I named this the BC Pale because it used hops that start with B and C.


You know, I think I’m going to start naming my beers in the style of Iain M Banks’s Culture novels. Why call this the BC Pale when I could call it Weight Of The World Crushes Atlas or Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home? Isn’t that more fun?

Plus, it means I don’t have to think up something ‘appropriate’, which is always a drag.

The beer? The beer is a pretty solid pale. I’ve nearly drank it all, so I think this will be one to come back to, perhaps as a partial-grain batch.

Brew date: 12.24.13

Steeping Grains:
1 lb C 120
1 lb Victory

Fermentables: 7 lb LME

.5 oz Chinook @preboil
1 oz Comet @ 60
.5 oz Bravo @ 60
.25oz Bravo @30
.5 oz Comet @ 30

Yeast Reused Hopworks Ale yeast-2nd

OG: 1.068

FG: 1.014

Note: Added 1/8th tsp Calcium Carbonate to water to boil to give water a more ‘traditional’ chemical balance.

Secondary 1.8.14
Bottled 1.11.14

ABV: 7.31%

Breakside Salted Caramel Stout

I didn’t hear about a stampede of people rushing to get this offering from Breakside when it first game out, which seemed odd. Salt & Straw are well known in the city for doing great ice cream and their salted caramel is considered to be excellent. When I told other, non-beer focused people, they seemed quite a bit more interested than they would about other beers I might talk about.

On the upside, I found some for a reasonable price and was able to pick it up. My first sampling of the stout took place at Breakside’s tasting room in Milwaukie, though, where I believe it was served too cold. It tasted thin and I wasn’t sure why anyone would go for this. My girlfriend liked it a bit more so when I saw the bottled version I figured I would give it another shot, this time letting the beer warm up.

There is lots of chocolate malt in the nose. A hit of saltiness at the finish–how the hell did they do that? Darker roast comes out as it gets warmer, so the beer veers more on coffee flavors as time passes.

There is a dry quality to the finish, too. The caramel effects seem pretty muted and it’s a lot more effervescent than I would expect for a stout. But it’s a good beer.

Needs to warm up though, for the flavors to come out. Unfortunately, I may have let it warm up too much? The roasted qualities of coffee start to override a lot about this beer and it became more one-dimentional with about 1/3rd left in my glass to drink.

As good as it is, it also seems temperamental, fragile. Nudge it the wrong way in either direction and it becomes surly and less pleasant but…when in the right temp range, it’s dead on good. Check it out.

Where I Want To Go: Crow Bar

It was, as these things go, a dark and stormy night, while on my way to the Crow bar a young fellow in dark clothes started crossing against the light, in front of my car, at the corner of Powell and Cesar e Chavez. For readers who don’t live in Portland, this would be the intersection of a highway and one of the busiest N-S pathways in Southeast Portland. I nearly hit the man, swearing as I passed by. Dude scared the shit out of me.

And I was furious at him. Nearly stopped the car to yell at him for being such a tool.

Stepping back from this moment at the Crow, drinking an IPA from Boneyard, I understand why I was so angry. He scared me and didn’t have a very good reason to do it. And while it isn’t difficult for me to imagine the consequences of hitting him, it is nearly impossible to figure out the impact it would have on my life.

Not too hard to figure the impact on his: at 35-40mph full on, I probably would have killed him.

He probably just walked on through the night and has no idea that he had a near brush with a car. Perhaps he doesn’t care; he certainly isn’t writing about it.

When I think about it, there’s more to my anger than being scared; it’s having responsibility foisted on me that I do not want. He would have died because his ego was telling him that he could cross the street regardless of the danger and I would be left holding the bag, fallout raining across my life and no Vault-Tec to hide in.

All because of ego. Or worse, damage to him that enabled him to cease to give a damn about his impact on the world.

I inhale the IPA deeply, orange zest wafting up, even several sips down. There is a weird cabbage smell in the bar but I can keep my head down and hide here, mouthfuls of beer and keystrokes giving me something to do aside from morbid pondering. Times like this I wish I had a book to read instead of an essay to write. Then again, it’s too dark to read in here (although a hoodied dude is giving it his all)  so I suppose I should be happy I have something to do.

Though when the crowd at the nearby pool table starts to sing 500 Miles along with the jukebox, I know what else I have to do: get the hell outta here.

On Expenses

I’ve got beer as an expense on my monthly budget-othewise god only knows how much I’d blow- and I’ve always felt that beer in the grocery store was far more expensive than it really ought to be.

There’s a mini-rant at the New School blog about this topic and the author asks people to chime in with reasons why beer is so expensive–and of course, nobody really has any clue. There’s some nonsense about ‘that’s what the consumer will pay’ but you know what? I don’t set prices for beer. Someone else does and there’s very few ways for me to know if I’m being screwed or not. What I can do is not buy that beer, because it’s too expensive and homebrew. However, that’s not an option for most people. They pay what the store tells them to: If they could get it cheaper elsewhere, of course they would do that. Consumers have a lot less power, I think, then most economists try to foist on us.

It’s suggested that Oregon’s distribution system for beer (which is examined, also at the New School blog, here) may be an accomplice in the high prices. I wouldn’t doubt it, especially as that system becomes more tightly controlled by one or maybe two corporations.

I’m happy to pay what’s fair but how do we measure what’s fair? How do I know what’s fair? I have to confess, I don’t know enough about the industry to say, all I can do is look at what information is available and say: something seems wrong about this.

Sorachi Ace Rye

I had read about a rye ale that used Sorachi Ace hops to give it a lemony quality, complimenting the rye and I thought: I can do that! I have made rye ales before and they’ve been pretty good. All I need to do is add in some Sorachi Ace hops and bingo! Right?

Not exactly. What I didn’t take into consideration was how subtle SA hops are. I should have hopped this more like an IPA, in order to get the effect I was looking for.

Instead, what I got is as solid beer with a heavy rye presence and maybe just a touch of the roasted quality you might find in a good Scotch ale. What there isn’t, however, is much-if any-of the qualities of the hops.

There’s nothing wrong with this beer at all…so long as you don’t know that I was trying to add in the Sorachi Ace qualities. I think I’d like to take another swing at this beer, because all the groundwork is done: it’s as good beer at base. That it didn’t come out the way I hoped is a positive sign for me and my work as a brewer, because this beer isn’t flawed, it’s just not what I hoped for.

I seem to be doing more beers like this, lately: they aren’t flawed, they just miss my mental target. I can build on that.

Brew Date: 12.8.13

Steeping Grains
3 lb 2 Row
2 lb C80
1 lb Crystal Rye

Fermentables: 3 lb LME

1/8th oz Cascade in preboil
1 oz Sorachi Ace @ 60
.5 oz Sorachi Ace @ 20
.5 oz Sorachi Ace @ 5

Yeast: Wyeast 1272 American II

OG: 1.054

FG: 1.016

Put into secondary on 12.18
Bottled 12.22

ABV: 5.14%

Where I Want To Go: NWIPA

There were blizzard warnings in Portland, starting on Thursday. Snow came, stayed, and blew around our city for two solid says, snakes of snowflakes weaving over the streets, piling up in odd places, eventually casting stasis on everything. Then the freezing rain came and nobody could make a move and after that, a melt showed up, giving us ice falling from tree branches, power lines, rooftops-concussions from the sky for free.

I stayed inside, having an aversion to frozen things hitting me in the head. After four days at home and just enough cabin fever to make it worth my time, I ventured out to NWIPA to get a beer. Snow is still everywhere, ice compacted on every sidewalk, slush and puddles on every corner.

I don’t miss Spokane much but I do miss snow, just a little bit. I used to make snowballs and now I can’t.

I order Crooked Fence‘s Sins of the Father and it’s very smooth. I can smell the roasted malt from the get go, possibly black patent malt? It’s awesome. While this beer is dense, with higher alcohol and lots of rich coffee oriented flavors, it feels light. The finish is effervescent enough that I think it helps it clear the tongue rather well. People might ask what good things are coming out of Idaho and this beer should be put on the list. It only improves as it warms up a bit, which makes my appreciation for the beer rise as well.

As I walk home, I scoop a handful of virgin white into my hand and press it between my palms. Crystals fly off between my hands like sparks as I press it again and again, trying to achieve a perfect sphere. The crunch in my hand as snow compacts into a weapon. I wait to see a car or a streetsign I can throw it at, let the glory set sail, no matter if it hits or not. I remember how it was when I was tiny, snowball fights in the schoolyard, ambushes on the way home, the last minute attempt to hit Mom when she called me in. The glow of a solid hit, shattering and crumbling on someone’s puffy jacket, or the cheer when you hit the face. The shock of getting hit in the face, snow in the mouth, ice slithering down the collarbone and a snap of action to try and keep it from getting under the coat, down the shirt.

I throw a few snowballs on the way home. Most miss. It still feels good.

Growlers Opening

I’m not sure what it all means but: I was invited to the Growlers opening event on Tuesday. Does this mean I am a professional…something? I don’t know, but it mostly felt weird because Growlers isn’t a bar, it’s strictly a growler fill station and my first reaction was; If you want beer to go, why not just buy a bottle/can at a store or a pub?

Talking to one of the owners, Jim Hillman, it became a bit clearer. He told me that their goal was to give people beer that, once they took it home, would allow them to have the next best experience after getting and drinking the beer at the brewery. To that end, he said, they even installed CO2 taps so they could purge the containers and keep the beer fresh, if unopened, for two weeks. That isn’t something I see at pubs, for the most part.

Plus, take a look at the beer selection:

There are 40 of them, ranging in style and including four cider taps. While there are some well known beers there, like Deschutes’s Red Chair, there are quite a few that I don’t see bottled. And while a whole lot of bars will do growler fills for you, I think it’s pretty neat that someone is dedicating a space to the idea.

It also feels Portland as all get out. First, there’s just the business itself, which is a weird enough idea that it feels like it ought to work. Then there’s the “bike lane” painted on the floor, so bike riders can just stroll on through. There is the emphasis on reusing your containers to keep the environmental impact low. On top of that, because you can only sample a beer at Growlers, no pints filled, no real on premises consumption, people walking down Hawthorne with their kids can bring them in, pick a beer out, and go about their day. There are even non-alcoholic beverages-I saw kombucha on tap- to pick up if someone wants that. There’s pretty much something for everyone.

What I was most curious about was the effect of not having a place to sit down. The thing about any bar or pub is the social element; we (mostly) don’t drink alone and Growlers doesn’t allow for such things. I asked if they were worried about that but the manager, Ruby, told me it was the opposite; people would come in, stand at the counter and start talking to each other and the staff about what to get. I’ve started many a conversation at a pub about just that subject and I think it’s cool that it has translated to a place like Growlers.


While the drought in California is making the national news, Oregon is having it’s own water issues. It concerns me quite a bit and not just as a homebrewer. We need beer for most everything but we need water to live; it’s not a very complicated argument.

Which is why reading this story about a water-recycling power system is especially cool. Breweries use so much water, anything they can do to lessen the impact helps and I hope (and expect) that more systems like this will see implementation in the future.