Tag Archives: homebrew

Days and miles — flying by!

Wow! Three weeks into the new year and I’m finally finding time to do a little blogging. I always take it as a good sign when I don’t have time to write — it means I’m out there squeezing every bit of life out of the hours and moments of each day.

Today marks 21 days into the new year, and I’ve already logged 168 miles. Wow! I’m averaging 8 miles a day! I don’t think I can maintain this pace indefinitely. On the other hand, once I start doing some long bike rides I’ll possibly move the average mileage even higher.

I did my traditional “January in Santa Barbara” trip recently. Unlike last year, which was very windy, the weather was perfect! I ran all four of the days I was there, including three simply wonderful barefoot runs on the beach. In past years I felt like a hero if I could manage a mile of barefoot running; this year I did beach runs of 2.5, 3.25, and 3.7 miles. I continue to be amazed at the things I can do that once were out of reach.

Views like this kept me inspired and coming back for more:

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Although this photo was taken across the street from the beach, an encounter with a female Acorn Woodpecker provided the other visual highlight of my time in Santa Barbara:

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It was a warm day and she was determined to drink, so she was patient with me while I took several shots.

During my time in Santa Barbara I managed to sneak in a couple of visits to Santa Barbara Brewing Company, where I sampled several of their excellent beers. What is a vacation without a little beer tourism?

Speaking of beer, CFL and I brewed an experimental batch recently. I created a simple SMASH (single malt and single hop) pale ale recipe. We divided the wort and pitched two different yeasts (American and Thames Valley). After several days, we further divided the proto-beer into six one-gallon jugs, which we dry-hopped (or not) in different ways. Don’t our little jugs look cute all bundled up and cozy in their matching towels?

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We bottled them a week ago and we’re anxiously awaiting side-by-side taste tests next week.

Tomorrow I’m going to see if I can ride my bike a little further up the hill than last time… I made it up Hurricane Ridge Road to mile 2 the other day, but I still have 15 more to go!

We’re busy! We’re happy! We’re not always so slow, but that’s okay. There is SO much to do and SO many miles yet to go!

Hopping off to Yakima

The dedicated, hard-working, fun-loving brewers at Slow Happy Brewing (that would be CFL and me) did a little field research over this past weekend. We hopped over the Cascades to Yakima for the Fresh Hop Ale Festival!

Yakima, Washington is situated in the middle of a warm, relatively dry plain that just happens to be one of the world’s great hop growing regions. If it weren’t for the Yakima Valley and a few families of hop growers who had the foresight to plant hops in the early 1930s – before the end of Prohibition — we might not be enjoying all those distinctly American takes on pale ales and India pale ales and imperial IPAs that we so know and love today.

We were too late to see the hop harvest, which happened over the period of a week or two in early September. But the festival allowed us to sample the earliest fruits of the harvest!

The rules for the fresh hop festival are simple. Each of the 30+ participating brewers must bring and pour at least one fresh hop beer (also known as “wet hop” beers because the hops are used without first being dried). During hop harvest time, craft brewers bring trucks to collect their just-picked hops and rush them back to their breweries. The wet hops must be in the brew kettle within 24 hours of harvest.

Most of the breweries were from the greater Seattle area or the area around Spokane, but there were a few big out of state craft brewers (including Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Lagunitas, and Deschutes) and two local Yakima breweries. 

Over the course of the five-hour festival, we managed to get one-ounce tastes of about 30 beers. I tried to take good notes, but the hops do tend to overwhelm the taste buds after a while. The wet-hop brewing process truly showcases the different flavors and aromas of each hop variety. All of the hops come through as more floral/fruity/piny/whatever and a tad less bitter than their dried brethren. It was educational (and fun) for us as home brewers to learn, for example, which hops produce the strongest melon, tropical fruit, citrus, etc. flavors. We learned that we’ll probably avoid using too much Amarillo or Simcoe, as I’m not personally a big fan of melon or papaya flavors in my beer. (Remember that these beers do not actually contain any melons or papayas, or whatever — they just taste and smell that way due to the essential oils present in the hops.)

The day after the festival we hoped to visit one of the local breweries, but the folks at Bale Breaker were taking a no doubt well deserved day off. The brewery is located smack in the middle of the family hop farm’s Field 41. If you look closely you can see the “41″ in their logo.

Although we wished we could have seen the hop bines (not a typo — hops are bines, not vines — you can google it) in their pre-harvest glory, we did enjoy the geometric patterns formed by the supporting poles and cables.

On our way home we stopped in the small town of Roslyn, on the eastern side of the Cascades. There we took a short hike on the Coal Mines Trail, on a former railroad line that had served several very productive coal mines in the late 19th and early 20th century. Like most railroad trails, it provided a gentle and scenic walk, just out of sight of the local roads.

The town of Roslyn is quaint and unbelievably cute. And, as it happened, they have a brewery!

The modern Roslyn Brewing Company opened in 1990, but there was a long history of brewing in Roslyn before Prohibition. The coal miners and the brewers who served them came primarily from Germany and eastern Europe, bringing their lager recipes with them. Today’s brewery specializes in lagers (rare in the craft beer industry), and one of their beers is a replica of the original Roslyn dark lager. It’s quite tasty!

By the way, if the name “Roslyn” rings a bell to you, it’s possible you know it as the location for the 1990s TV series “Northern Exposure.” Neither CFL or I ever watched it, so it was all lost on us. But the local museum’s web site has some information and photos about the show that may be of interest to you.

All in all it was a great weekend, an educational and relaxing one. For the third year in a row, I managed to be somewhere away from home in an interesting place around the time of my birthday. I got a welcome break from all the marathon training I have been doing for the past several months (which you can read about here). And after all the rain over the past three weeks, it was great to spend some time in dry, warm central Washington!

Slow Happy Brewing: We’re going all-grain!

The other day CFL and I bottled our 20th batch of beer. Twenty 5-gallon batches in ten months… gosh, that’s something like 900-950 bottles of beer! Good thing we have friends who like to come over for beer tasting parties.

Batch #20 is something we call a “pseudo-lager” — it’s a very light, sessionable pale ale brewed with Saaz hops and ale yeast. Saaz is one of the “noble” hops, meaning it’s an old European variety and more or less the signature pilsner hop. If you remember the old brand “Lucky Lager,” you’ll appreciate the name we gave this batch – Chucky LaGer. We do hope it will have more character than the old Lucky.

Although we have brewed, bottled, and (I confess!) drank a whole lot of beer over the past ten months, some people would say that we aren’t yet real brewers. We’ve been using malt extract, a highly refined powder or syrup made from barley, for the bulk of the fermentables in our recipes. We’ve used actual, recognizable grains only in small quantities to produce desired colors and flavors. As an analogy, think of baking a cake from a mix (and adding a few ingredients here and there just for character) rather than baking completely from scratch.

Extract brewing is faster and requires less equipment than all-grain brewing. It’s an easy way to get started with brewing. But now, twenty batches in, we’ve mastered the basics and we’re ready to get creative with recipes and processes.

The key piece of equipment that we needed was a mash tun. This is a large vessel in which grain is steeped or “mashed” in hot water at a precise temperature for an extended period of time. I may not have all the right words for this, but basically the process works like this: Mashing causes the barley to release its fermentable sugars. After repeated rinses (sparging) you collect a sufficient amount of thick sweet liquid, which is then boiled to produce the wort that will become the beer. In essence, the mashing process creates the equivalent of the extracts that we’ve used since the beginning, but we’ll have control over exactly which varieties of barley we use. An English type of barley (for example Maris Otter) for an English-style beer, a German type for a German-style beer, and so on.

In search of the perfect mash tun, we pored through catalogues and drooled over stainless steel tiered systems with dairy fittings, pumps, digital temperature controllers, and price tags running well into four figures.

Ultimately we decided it would be prudent to start modestly.

This is not an Igloo cooler! This is a mash tun.

Here is a closeup of the spigot, which replaces the default Igloo spigot.

Inside the mash tun there is a false bottom. This screen allows the wort to exit the mash tun through the tubing at the bottom, leaving the spent grain behind in the mash tun.

There are formulas to calculate exactly how much water to add, when, and at what temperature to complete each step of the mashing process. We’re told that the cooler will maintain our desired temperature (usually 152 degrees) without budging for the hour or so that the process will take. 

I had intended that our first all-grain batch would be an IPA, but then our home brew club decided we’d all brew exactly the same recipe and compare everyone’s results at the September meeting. So I’ve juggled the schedule and we’ll begin our all-grain odyssey with an American Stout.

Are we excited? Yes!

It’s another new learning curve, and we’re all about that.

We’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, I’m going to relax and have a home brew.

Volunteering at the National Homebrewers Competition, round 1

We didn’t quite have the guts to enter one of our own beers, but when the call went out for volunteers to help at the first round of the National Homebrewers Competition, we eagerly raised our hands!

Is NHC a big deal? Well, there were 12 judging centers all across the country this year, and each of those 12 centers accepted 750 entries. Do the math: that’s 9,000 homebrews! Registration was filled within hours. Yes, it’s that big.

As beginning homebrewers, we volunteered to be stewards. It’s the steward’s job to bring the right beer to each judging table at the right time, to keep the tables supplied with judging forms, pencils, glasses, water, crackers… and occasionally to gratefully accept a few sips of a beer that a judge might decide is worth sharing.

According to the official style guidelines, beers are classified into 20+ styles, each of which has several sub-styles. For this competition each style had its own “queue” (or several queues for popular styles like IPA). Each steward was responsible for coordinating all the beers within his or her queue.

We volunteered for the Saturday afternoon session, which was the third of three judging sessions in Seattle. The event was held at the Pyramid Brewery in downtown Seattle, within walking distance of the ferry. We walked there in a gentle spring PNW downpour.

Once we’d checked in, the head steward gave us a quick briefing and then instructed us to wander through the tables and ask who needed a steward.

So we wandered. We stopped a likely looking table and asked. We got an unexpected response: “We need a steward. But what we REALLY need is someone who is willing to sit in as a novice judge.”

It took me (LKS) a couple of nanoseconds to respond: “I would LOVE to! Which style are you judging?”

The answer: strong ales — a style I have actually BREWED! Strong ales are amped-up English-style ales. The three sub-styles are Old Ale (of which Slow Happy Brewing’s “Grand Festivus XII” is an example), English Barleywine (our “Ides of Festivus XIII”) and American Barleywine (like the English version but with American hops).

So I found myself sitting down with two very experienced beer judges who walked me through each step of the process, asked me what I was smelling and tasting, validated my perceptions, and encouraged me to put them in writing on the judging form.

We judged eight Old Ales. Two were excellent, one was pretty good, three were okay and two had obviously gone bad somewhere during the process of shipping and storing.

Almost three hours passed while I experienced utter tunnel vision. I was oblivious to everything in the world but the feeling of being completely immersed in those beers. It is an amazing experience of concentration and flow.

The pours are only about three ounces, and I was probably only drinking half of each pour. It was absolutely not about consuming alcohol; rather it was completely about absorbing and seeking to understand the subtleties and intricacies of each beer.

I think I was on the fifth beer before it occurred to me to share a bit of my glass with our loyal and patient steward, my very dear CFL!

When we finished our queue of eight beers, I was elated and exhausted, but not too sated to go downstairs and enjoy a couple of pints of Pyramid’s Outburst Imperial IPA along with an excellent margarita pizza.

It was a good day!

I’ve been seriously working at cultivating my nose and my taste buds for a while now. I’ve been thinking about attempting the judge qualifying exam, but I’ve been reluctant to commit that much time to actually studying for something. By offering me a chance to try judging and coaching me through it, those two judges from the American Homebrewers Association opened a door that I could not otherwise have dreamed of going through. I’m very grateful.

I will never taste beer in quite the same way again.

And yes, I’m going to take that judge qualifying exam and make it official!

A bit of this, a dash of that

Wow, time flies when you’re having fun! Has it really been two weeks since I’ve posted here?

So what’s new? Two more batches of beer! On January 30 we brewed our spring seasonal, which was supposed to be an English Barleywine but seems to want to be an Imperial IPA. I guess we’re starting to figure out how to get the most “bang” out of our hops. We’ve named this big boy, which will finish somewhere in the neighborhood of 9%, “The Ides of Festivus XIII.” We will give this beer a long aging period and debut it in mid-March.

Then on February 8 we brewed our third American IPA, and I think we finally got this one hoppy enough (see my comment above about finally figuring out how to properly nurture our hops). This batch has the working title of “Take 3,” for obvious reasons. We’ve been focused on the American IPA style recently because our homebrewers club is having an IPA contest in March, complete with a genuine, certified beer judge. Take 3 should be ready to drink by early March, so this was our do-or-die batch. We’ll enter it and see what happens.

On the exercise front, our activity streaks continue. We’re both working on increasing our daily distance (he’s on his bike, I’m running). As the days grow longer, it gets easier to find large blocks of time to get out there and go. We’re already looking closely for the first signs of spring flowers on the trails — it won’t be long now.

We have a major travel adventure planned within the next several weeks… I’ll tell you more about it as we get closer, but you won’t hear all the awesome details until after we return…

Life is good! It’s a wonderful thing to be happy and healthy. CFL and I both feel very fortunate to be able to do the things we are doing. I intend to enjoy every one of these moments as fully as I possibly can. Even if it means I don’t sit down to blog very often.

Until next time…

“We’ll brew!”

At some time during the getting-to-know-you-better phase of our relationship, CFL pointed out to me that I have a habit of saying “we’ll see.” I hadn’t really noticed this small verbal tic, but it made perfectly logical sense to me that I would say it. I do have a sense of reality as an emergent phenomenon… and of my life as a process of continual becoming. Given that everything is always up in the air and in process, then so much is unknowable at any given time that “we’ll see” is as close as I’m going to get to predicting the future.

At the time, of course, I replied that he had a knack for filling every potential gap in our conversational space with a long, drawn-out “so, anyway…” that kept me from ever getting a word in edgewise.

That generated a most lively conversation.

Since then we’ve negotiated a few things and learned to love one another’s unique characteristics. We’ve now reached the point where we can affectionately mock one another’s habitual speech patterns and laugh together about them.

Last weekend we took a road trip down to southern Oregon to visit some family members. There were long hours in the car during which we talked about many things. Beer was a major topic. We’d planned several opportunities to visit microbreweries and sample some well-known Oregon beers. We also had upcoming batches of home brew to plan. At some point I inevitably said, “we’ll see.” Suddenly we both laughed and simultaneously exclaimed, “we’ll brew!”

Has a brewery slogan been born? We’ll see… um… we’ll brew!

As for the beer tourism… a night’s stop in Eugene allowed us to take in Ninkasi, Falling Sky, and Rogue’s Tracktown Brewery.

Ninkasi’s fermentation tanks were impressive. This photo includes a studious-looking CFL, carefully positioned in my attempt to provide scale. However, he’s standing in a large doorway so you can’t see the tops of the tanks. Oh well…

Ninkasi is well-known and features big, bold, hoppy beers with names like Total Domination IPA. We shared a flight of several 4-ounce tasters and that was plenty.

In contrast, Falling Sky is only a year old, grew out of the home brew supply store next door, caters to locals, and features relatively low-alcohol “session” beers that nicely accompany its tasty, simple pub food. We might have stayed there all evening, but the Rogue/Tracktown brewery promised good pizza so we carried on. The pizza lived up to the hype and the beer was good too. We ended the evening quite satisfied.

During our time in my family’s small town in southern Oregon I got out for a nice run along the Rogue River. Eventually this trail will connect with the one a few miles further south where I ran the Rogue Run half marathon last September. On this trip I did an easy 6 mile run and then spent the afternoon with my family, while CFL took at bit more time and ended up walking about 8 miles.

It was a good trail.

This part was even better! There was a half mile side trail that ran right along the river bank, for those who like to bound over roots and mud puddles. That would be me!

That afternoon we held a family tasting of eight of our home brews (numbers 2 through 9). The verdict: They’re all good! (Thanks guys.) We ended the day with a visit to the nearby Wild River Brewing and Pizza for — you guessed it — microbrews and pizza!

Through all of our travels and other adventures we have kept our activity streak going. We walked — in a downpour — to all those breweries in Eugene. We stopped to do two laps around a shopping mall in the midst of our 550 mile drive home. We’re now 29 days into 2013 and I’m approaching 120 running/walking miles, while CFL has a larger number of walking/biking miles. At this point our streak will not be broken for anything short of an unimaginably dire emergency. The longer we continue, the stronger is the imperative not to stop.

But you know what? It’s still one step at a time, one day at a time. This streak wasn’t envisioned as such beforehand. It’s an emergent phenomenon.

What will happen next? We’ll see.

We’ll brew!

Daring to do more: Our activity goals for 2013

The other day I wrote on my running blog that I’d barely met my 2012 running goal of 600 miles, and that I planned a modest increase to 650 miles in 2013 (my intention was to increase the running miles while still making room for more hiking this year). Well, the other morning CFL and I got to talking, and wouldn’t you know it, we ended up challenging one another to some rather ambitious activity goals for the year.

I’m not sure which numbers he finally settled on, but here are my goals:

  • Run 730 miles (an average of 14 miles per week, 61 miles per month)
  • Hike, walk, and bike an additional 470 miles (an average of 9.1 miles per week, 39 miles per month)
  • All of which totals up to 1,200 miles (an average of 3.3 miles per day, 23.1 miles per week, 100 miles per month)

The last I heard, he was talking about 1,000 miles total plus 100,000 vertical feet. This time of year he climbs 1,000 vertical feet of stairs (111 flights) every 2-3 days, and in the warmer months he likes to ride his bike up to Hurricane Ridge, a 5,000+ foot climb in 17 miles. So as daunting as it sounds to me, 100K vertical feet is actually realistic for him.

We started out the new year with a nice easy 1.5 mile hike to Marymere Falls and back. As usual we stopped to take photos of a bridge. This one is over Barnes Creek, just below the falls.

Here we are at the falls. Yes, it was COLD.

Yesterday I walked downtown and back, which is about 2.5 miles. I was, therefore, a bit off my planned 3.3 miles-per-day pace when I went out to run today. After an overnight low of 29 and a heavy frost, I wasn’t all that eager to get out there and run. I finally made it to my favorite trailhead around 2:00 PM, when it had warmed up to a positively balmy 37. At least the sun was shining! I was wearing brand new trail running shoes. I don’t normally use trail running shoes on pavement, but it feels like a prudent choice for this time of year.

Sure enough, today I ran through both mud and ice, and I was very glad for the extra traction that those knobby trail shoes gave me!

I ran just over 6 miles, giving me 10 total for the year so far and putting me right on track for my goals.

Meanwhile CFL put his bike on his car rack today, drove to meet a friend, and rode 21 miles with him. Arggghhh! He’s ahead of me! The race is on.

I’ll try not to bore you with too-frequent status updates, but I will try to post periodic updates on how we’re doing with our activity goals.

One mutual goal that we’ve discussed at some length and agreed upon as a “must do” this year is the hike across Olympic National Park — 44 miles of steep trails and stream fords from the Quinault River to the Elwha River. With training we think it’s realistic to do this in three days. As I have never done an overnight backpack trip before, there will be quite a bit of training needed on my part.

Of course we also have this time-consuming but very enjoyable goal of brewing 25 batches of beer in 2013. I think it’s going to be a busy year. But I’m not going to stress out about it.

In fact, right now I think I’ll relax and have a homebrew. Cheers!

How much slow happy living can we fit on the calendar?

Ten months after I left the corporate world, I still marvel at how busy my days are. One of the things I’d hoped to do was write more — a lot more.  But CFL and I have been so busy doing that the block of time I try to set aside each day for writing gets wedged in between other calendar entries, and then somehow squeezed out. I’ve got a whole lot of “happy” going on but not so much “slow.”

One of the big post-corporate life changes for me has been turning off the alarm clock. I’d jolted awake to an alarm most days of my life since high school. It takes a while to catch up on decades of lost sleep and develop a natural wake/sleep cycle. Most days I awaken around sunrise, which in the Pacific Northwest is earlier than 5:30 AM between mid-May and mid-July. When your summer day starts that early and stays light until 10:00 PM or so, it’s easy to pack in lots of activities and still find time to write! But now, with the sun rising around 8:00 and setting around 4:20 (and when entire days go by without much sign of the sun), it feels like the day is already half gone before I’ve had my first cup of coffee.

Currently my “morning” runs are turning into noon-ish runs or no run at all. I run outside as often as I can and use the treadmill when the weather outside is frightful, but sometimes there doesn’t seem to be time for either. CFL follows a similar regime: hiking or biking on nice days, climbing stairs indoors when it’s stormy, and sometimes foregoing his exercise completely.

In addition to the seasonal schedule adjustments, we’re finding that brewing beer can be time intensive! We spend a lot of time reading about, discussing, planning for, and producing our beers. Then there is beer tourism.

In my last post I mentioned the winter beer festival that we’d planned to attend. It was quite enjoyable and extremely educational. About 35 local microbreweries were there, pouring more than 60 beers — each beer meeting the general description of “winter beer.” There are basically two different types of winter beer: (1) spiced beers and (2) high-alcohol beers like “old ales” and barleywines meant for sipping in front of a crackling, cozy fire. CFL and I share a belief that the only truly proper ingredients for beer are barley, hops, yeast, and water. We’re not enticed by orange peels, coriander, cinnamon, peppermint, coconut, or any of the other weird things that some brewers put into their “spiced” winter beers. But a nice English-style barleywine? Bring it on! It suits us well up here in the seemingly endless PNW winter. So we sampled lots of barleywine, talked to a bunch of friendly brewers, and had a great day! (I do approve of the current trend of aging barleywine in bourbon barrels…)

This past weekend we managed to fit beer tourism into a weekend trip that we’d already packed with events. We made a quick jaunt down to Las Vegas to see the Moody Blues!

I’ve lost exact count, but I’ve seen my favorite musical group the Moody Blues about 40 times since 1974. They usually tour the west coast about every other year, so I guess I’ve managed to catch two shows on many of their tours. About a third of the times that I’ve seen them, it’s been in Las Vegas. I have made a bunch of trips to Las Vegas over the years.

This year’s show was their last one of 2012, winding up their “Highway 45″ tour commemorating the 45th anniversary of the release of “Days of Future Passed.” High energy and enthusiasm and great musicianship made for a wonderful show as always. These guys aren’t that young anymore, nor are we, but we all still know how to rock.

While in Las Vegas I had the pleasure of introducing CFL to my brother and his wife, who’d come over from southern California for the show. The four of us spent an afternoon with an old friend and her husband. He’s become a bit of a celebrity as a regular in a popular reality show filmed in Las Vegas (I’d tell you the name of the show, but I’ll keep some privacy for my friend’s sake). As it happened, he was scheduled to make an appearance at the show’s location for a fan meet-and-greet.  The four of us got the “celebrity” treatment as well — we bypassed the line outside, hustled through the door with my friend and her husband, and spent a couple of hours onsite checking out the ensuing madness. Given that I watch almost no TV, I haven’t seen more than a few episodes of this show. So I was honestly surprised at what a big deal this is!

As for Las Vegas beer tourism, we hit a couple of brewpubs, one a franchise restaurant and the other a truly local place called Ellis Island Brewery and Casino. It looked rather dubious (read “local dive”) from the outside, but inside it was authentic vintage Las Vegas, with polished concrete floors, low ceilings, and a cave-like bar. Their beer was decent (and a dollar a glass during the football game!), the service was prompt and courteous, and the locals were friendly. The world needs more places like this!

I intended to show you photos from our trip, but I never took the camera out of its case. I was having too much fun to stop and take photos.

Yesterday we bottled our 8th batch of beer and purchased the ingredients for batches 9 and 10. We’re now tweaking recipes and trying to improve on previous beers. I’d like to get us on a schedule of brewing every two weeks, but with everything going on it’s tricky to fit so much slow happy living on the calendar.

I guess that’s not such a bad problem to have, but in this busy holiday season, I’m trying to create some white spaces on my calendar and make a little more room for sloooowwww and happy.

I hope you can find a little slow and happy too. Cheers!

The weather outside is frightful!

Those who know me well are aware that I have a rather low tolerance for Christmas songs… but there is one song that I not only enjoy, I collect! I confess to owning, as of this moment, 65 versions of the song “Let It Snow.” One of my holiday pleasures is playing my “Let It Snow” playlist softly in the background when friends are over — I enjoy watching to see how long it takes them to figure out that they are hearing the same song over and over. I have versions from such a wide array of genres that it can take a while for people to catch on.

Looking out my window today, the weather is indeed frightful. It’s not snowing — yet — although friends who live a thousand feet higher than me had a flurry this morning. It’s 40 degrees, raining, and very windy here. The sun will set, somewhere to the south and hidden by clouds, at 4:20 PM today. Welcome to Pacific Northwest almost-winter!

CFL and I saw a new movie last night, the world premier of a 48 minute documentary called “Out of the Mist” (the link will take you to the official trailer) about the Olympic wilderness. The film played to an over-packed house at our local college. So many people showed up, in fact, that they opened up a second theatre and had two simultaneous screenings! CFL has met and hiked with one of the people featured in the film, while a couple of their names were familiar to me. In the audience we saw lots of people whom we both know. This is, after all, a film about the beauties of “our own back yard!”

Most of the places shown in the film are far in the back country, well beyond where I have ever ventured. CFL was able to identify many of the locations (he can boast of having climbed Mt. Olympus, a feat I can only imagine). But although I haven’t seen the specific places shown, I’ve seen front-country places that are enough like them that I left the theatre homesick for our mountains… and impatient for next summer when I’ll be able to get up there again.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Ridge looked like this earlier today:

Hurricane Ridge 12/07 1:51 PM

There are 69 inches of snow on the ground, with, obviously, much more to come!

I do find it a challenge at times to stay active and upbeat this time of year. But this morning I decided to make the best of it and did 6 miles on my treadmill. Even though it’s a boring old treadmill, at the end of my run I did feel a sense of accomplishment and just a touch of runner’s high. That’s not so bad!

This evening CFL and I are going to our local homebrewing club’s holiday party, where you can bet we’ll all pass around our various masterpieces. And then we’ll bundle up and walk home — no matter how frightful the weather (well, unless it gets really frightful in which case we’ll call the designated driver whom we have waiting in the wings). Tomorrow we’re off to Seattle for our first beer festival, at which local commercial brewers will showcase their special winter/holiday beers. For that outing, we’ll park the car an hour-plus away and take the ferry and bus to and from our final destination.

Meanwhile, I’ve got a pot of veggie chili simmering for tonight’s party. Downstairs our “Beyond the Pale” IPA is quietly winding down its fermentation in the secondary fermenter, while our second iteration of “Up the Elwha ESB” is bubbling away at a mad 65-beats per minute pace in the primary fermenter. All is good.

How good is it? Here’s what Hurricane Ridge looked like an hour later, at 2:51 PM:

Hurricane Ridge 12/07 2:51 PM

Things are getting better! Surely summer can’t be too far behind…

How about you? What keeps you going in the dark cold days of December? What places do you dream about revisiting next summer when the world is once again warm and green?

You win some, you lose some

We’re continuing to gain both experience and enthusiasm with our Slow Happy Brewing project! After the positive comments from our homebrew peers, we opened our next batch with high hopes and we were not disappointed. Dare I say it, Grand Festivus XII is an awesome winter beer — perfect for sipping in front of the fire if I only had a working fireplace (a chimney sweep is on my to-call list).

For our next batch, we thought we’d dip our toes into the wild and wooly world of IPAs (India Pale Ales). Neither one of us is a hophead, but it’s such a hugely popular style that we have to give it a go.

I fiddled with recipes, tweaked a few ingredients, and came up with something that I thought would nicely fit the style guidelines. We bought the ingredients and scheduled a brew day for last Saturday.

Everything went perfectly. We brewed outdoors on a propane burner for the first time. This allowed us better temperature control and we were confident that we’d gotten all the potential fermentables out of our grains and into the wort. We got the wort cooled relatively quickly. We were all ready to pitch the yeast (put it into the carboy with the cooled wort) and let it do its magic.

CFL decided to dip the thermometer in the carboy one more time to double-check that it was exactly 68 degrees.

He dropped the thermometer into the carboy.

It broke. The tip broke right off.

We looked at each other and immediately agreed that this beer was history.

We dumped the carboy and went out for pizza! No worries, no finger pointing. Good pizza.

So yesterday we went out and bought the same ingredients again. Today we brewed again, using an expensive new digital thermometer with a metal probe. It registers quickly and precisely. With its help, we successfully steeped our grains at a more or less exact 150 degrees for 30 minutes. Then, after an hour of boiling, we cooled our wort to 68 degrees in a record (and just about ideal) 20 minutes.

You win some, you lose some, and sometimes you even learn from your mistakes!

The next batch on our schedule to be opened is another porter, which we weren’t impressed with on brew day two weeks ago — it seemed a bit watery. But we have big hopes for today’s IPA take 2. We’ll see how we did, about a month from now.

Meanwhile I’m going to relax and have a homebrew.