Tuesday, January 29, 2008

voor wie ik lief heb wil ik heten

I've been brewing, four batches since the New Year.

I've been reading.

I've made it to the park with the dog 5 mornings in a row.

The other morning in the shower, I even knew what I would say here. What story I would tell. I was smiling at the time. I forgot.

I can't put off writing this any longer.

On January 6, my beloved grandmother died. We were very, very close.

I've told the story a hundred times already, and winced at how I keep telling it the same way. How she was 98, but still beating us at Scrabble. How she'd only just the day before got a hankering for Chex Mix, and made three ice cream buckets full with my uncle, her youngest son, who happened to be there visiting. How she had a little stomach bug, but urged everyone to go to church without her, then sat at the table while everyone had a little soup at noon because she'd be damned if she missed out on anything. How when they finished and she was too weak to walk, her youngest and her oldest carried her to the car, where she drifted off past Sedan, halfway to the hospital. How a letter came from her the day after she died, as I'd hoped and deep down knew it would, and how I laughed despite myself when th'usband read her words out loud to me, and finished with her blessing.

What I've really wanted to say is something about how she lived, but those words haven't come to me yet. The best gift I've received? A friend listened to all of the above and then asked me, so tenderly, "What was her name?" And let me say it. Her name was Helena Hillegonda Segaar TeBrake, and I loved her.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Make our love and talent manifest

Th'usband and I are just back from Fort Collins, CO, where we visited family and toured the New Belgium Brewery. If you live in NBB's mostly west-of-the-Mississippi distribution area, you are probably already familiar with Fat Tire, their flagship brew, and perhaps even with a bit of their story. It's a pretty inspiring one, particularly if you like it when conventional wisdom about the values and priorities that undergird a successful business turn out to be wrong. Just fifteen years after a talented couple of homebrewers took their beer to market and the resolve to "Make our love and talent manifest" to heart, New Belgium has grown to be the nation's 3rd largest craft brewery and 9th largest brewery overall. I particularly enjoyed learning about the ingenious ways they've made the brewing process more efficient and environmentally sustainable--from laying out the pipes to foster heat exchange between cool city water headed towards the brew kettles and the hot wort coming of them, to using methane captured in their own water treatment facility to offset their consumption of wind energy--and walking around in a space where the twin powers of form and function beautifully combine. I brewed a Fat Tire clone today, and will raise a glass in a proper salute a couple of months from now.

Looking for a few good hop growers

...actually, I'm looking for a whole bunch, preferably from an array of climate zones. There's a shortage of hops this year, one that will hit craft- (over 15,000 barrels per year) and microbrewers (fewer than 15,000 barrels per year) hard, and homebrewers the hardest. Maltose Express in Connecticut, where I went on Christmas Eve for a much needed stock-up, has had to impose a strict 4-oz. per customer limit, and is frankly out of the more popular varieties. In the coming batches, I'll be substituting Challenger for Yakima Magnum hops, Hallertau for Northern Brewer, and Willamette for almost everything. I'm not really that much of a hop-head (that Bust article I mentioned recently claimed that aggressively hopped beers are more of a guy thing than an American thing per se), but there's no getting around the fact that they are a key ingredient. According to uber brewgeek Ray Daniels,
(Hops) provide bitterness to counteract the sweetness of malt, thus making the beverage more palatable. They also provide some antibacterial properties that at one time increased the safety and potability of beer. Today this quality still aids in the preservation of beer....Hops contribute to head stabilization...(as well as to) appealing flavors and aromas.
Most recipes call for the addition of high alpha acid varieties, also referred to as bittering hops, at the beginning of the one-hour boil to establish the basic sweet/bitter balance of the brew; medium alpha acid varieties, or flavoring hops, about 15 minutes before the end of the boil to contribute to the beer's distinctive flavor profile; and medium-to-low alpha acid varieties, or aroma hops, in the last couple of minutes. Aroma hops can also be tossed in dry and allowed to soak for a week or more as the yeast ferments the wort. This technique is called dry-hopping and produces particularly pungent aromas. Using different varieties and strengths of hops and adding them at different times layers their impact and plays a key role in a beer's complexity.

Anyhow, that's why I need them--and while hop vines are reportedly quite hardy, their root systems are necessarily too big for me to try to grow them in planters on our fire escape. That's where you come in. If you have a fence, trellis, or pole and a place in your garden that gets at least a couple of hours of sun per day, have I got some rhizomes for you. Or more precisely, if you have a good heart and that sunny patch and are someone whom I know, drop me a line and I'll see to it that some suitable plants are delivered to your door in early spring. Some growing tips here. We'll figure out how to ship the cones later.

P.S. I'm serious.

crazy, the sequel

Yep, it was her--the Minneapolis girl and my alter ego. We've decided to keep each other.