Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bottling Day

I bottled up four and half cases of beer yesterday. It should be ready for consumption in a couple of weeks. In the picture above, I am siphoning five gallons of beer out of the carboys (those glass jugs) and into my bottling bucket, where it is mixed with a touch of corn sugar to start the carbonation phase. That usually takes 10-14 days.

I did five gallons of an apple-infused, Munich-style Lager and five gallons of Telepathy, which is a European Pilsner that I custom hopped for my sister. I'll tell you the Telepathy story in minute. I want to write about this Apple Lager first.

If you look back to my March 22nd post, you will find the thread where I created the Apple Lager and Telepathy. I actually attempted to brew an Apple Lager back in February, but accidentally wound up with an apple and marionberry infused European wheat beer, that we named "Bloody Marion." It is an unusual beer, but it tasted fine. In fact, some people really love it. Nevertheless, that mistake taught me a little bit about how apples interact with the hops in beer.

For instance, I used a Macintosh apple in the Bloody Marion. But after tasting that brew in its beginning stages (before it conditioned itself in the bottle), I decided the Macintosh might be a little too tart for the Lager I was using. So I brewed this batch with Fuji apples. I also let these beers condition in the carboys for an entire five weeks. I usually bottle a beer after two weeks of fermentation in the carboys.

I noticed after a couple of weeks in the bottle, the hops in the Bloody Marion toned back a lot of the tartness of that beer. Still, it seemed like each bottle of Bloody Marion that I tried was at a different stage of conditioning. At times the tartness was stronger than others. I tried to remedy that in the Apple Lager. (BTW, I am going to try another batch of Bloody Marion without the apples this time, and I will probably add just a hint of honey instead).

I don't know if the longer conditioning time will actually make a difference, but my hope is the longer time in the carboys will help this batch condition evenly. It was also a nice excuse to delay bottling for two extremely nice spring weekends.

After tasting an uncarbonated Apple Lager last night, I suspect it worked. There was no tartness to the beer, and I can taste the hops balancing the subtle apple tones. I think this is going to be a damn good beer. I wanted very much to have another one last night, but decided to hold off a couple days until a little carbonation builds up in the bottles. I used Grolsch-style bottles (see picture below) this time because beer carbonates faster and stronger in that type of bottle. If anyone has some of these bottles that they want get rid of, I can find a home for them.
I bottled the Telepathy in 22-ounce bottles with oxygen caps. The special caps are supposed to aide in carbonation and long-term storage. We'll see I guess. BTW, Sunny is capping some of the Telepathy in the picture at the top of this post, and the picture at the bottom is closer view of the capping tool.

Ok, now for the Telepathy story. When Sunny I were just out of high school, we were at my place drinking Ranier pounders (16-ouncers) one night and my sister came over to visit. She was about 17 or 18 years old and had never drank. She wanted to try a beer, so we let her have one and then another. After her third beer or so, she looked over at me and in all seriousness said "Oh My God, I think I have telepathy." We laughed so hard that night, and we have never let her live that down. Telepathy has been an inside joke for years. My sister also had her first hangover the next day, and she hasn't been a fan of beer ever since then.

Anyway, my sister stopped by my house a couple years ago just about the time my very first two batches of beer were ready for testing. I was drinking a glass of the European Pilsner and it was fantastic. I talked my sister into trying one and she reluctantly agreed to try it, but when she did, she loved it... between the two of us, we must have drank a half rack of that beer and she had to sleep over. She claimed the beer as hers that night, and of course, we agreed on the name: Telepathy.

Here is Sunny putting the cap on the last of Telepathy yesterday.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Putting in the cold crops

We put the potatoes and onions in the ground yesterday, and Sunny will finish up with the beans and peas and today, while I bottle some beer (maybe I'll blog about that tonight). Anyway, you could probably get the carrots and salad greens in the ground now, too. By the time they surface the threat of frost should be gone. Still, the way the weather has been treating us these past couple of years, it wouldn't hurt to invest in some plastic to cover the plants in the evenings -- just to be safe.

You can build a little tent over the plants pretty easily with a couple of stakes and a staple gun. But, you want to make sure the plastic isn't touching the plants. If the plants touch the plastic they could still freeze if the weather gets cold enough. You also have to make sure to remove the plastic during the heat of the day or you will cook your plants. It's best to do that first thing in the morning, so put a sticky note on your coffee pot to remind yourself.

When we told Sunny's Dad that we were headed over to get the potatoes in the ground, he broke out two of those ancient tools you see in the picture above. They are potato planters. You just step on them to sink them into the soil and then pull against the lever (to the left side of the picture), and it creates the perfect hole for your potato starts. I got quite a kick out of using this tool, but then again I am easily amused. Still, it beats being slumped over all day planting.

Sunny's Dad also has a corn planter. It is quite a contraption. I'll blog about that later when we put the corn in.

In fact, now that I think about it, I may have to start a regular name-that-contraption blog post. Sunny's Dad has a whole collection of weird gardening and farming tools that were used back in the day. I find it interesting that we got away from using these tools at some point and reverted back to crawling through the soil on our hands and knees to tend to our plants.

He didn't have a tool for planting onion starts, though. So, I let Sunny do the honors. I felt justified because I don't eat onions much and she loves them. (She's a little sore today).

Sunny put down about 100 onion plants yesterday. She special ordered Texas Sweets this year. We got both red and white onions. They grow to be about 6 inches in diameter.

One of Sunny's clients gave her a Texas Sweet that he grew last year and she had to give them a try. If they do well, I suspect they'll be competitive at the fair this year. They really are impressive looking.

Actually, I am hoping to do pretty well across the board at the fair this year. I was going to enter the fair competition last year, but unavoidable issues prevented that. After viewing some of the winning entries, I kicked myself a little bit. We would have been competitive.

Of course having the greenhouse gives us an advantage this year too. We have started all of our plants from seed this year. They are all looking very healthy and we can't wait to get them in the ground. But, we'll probably wait another three or four weeks to put the sensitive plants in the ground. We jumped out of the gate a little early last year and lost a few plants. We usually wait for Mother's day to get everything in, but sometimes waiting until Memorial Day is probably best -- unless you invest the time and money into building the plastic row covers.

I'll leave you with this photo today. BTW, our youngest daughter (Daisy Girl) deserves the credit for most of the photography on this blog.

How to make a newspaper pot...

I've been promising a video on how to make newspaper planter pots for a couple of weeks, and when we went to the greenhouse on Saturday, of course I forgot my video camera. So you get the slide show version.

It is pretty self explanatory. You start with two connected pages of newspaper and fold it in half. Then fold one third of the paper forward. Using a drinking glass roll the paper into a cylinder and use a piece of masking tape to hold in place.

Now press the excess paper into the top of the glass. Slide the pot off the glass and press the excess down to form the bottom of the pot. Use the bottom of the glass to compress the bottom of the pot and you are done.

You can plant the pots directly into the ground or simply cut them away when you transplant to he garden. We prefer to cut them away so we don't make the plant do more work than necessary.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Living at the speed of light...

I haven't been blogging lately because I have been mitigating the impacts of "living at the speed of light."

What does that mean? Well, anyone who has visited Huckleberries Online for a period of time knows what "blogging at the speed of light" means: The moderator made a mistake; overlooked something so egregious that it absolutely demands immediate attention.

Under that definition, it appears that I have been "Living" at the speed of light.

Seems I have been overlooking my health in the pursuit of other endeavors, and now for many reasons, I have the responsibility of dealing with high blood pressure. Of course that has demanded my immediate attention for the past three weeks or so, and thankfully it's working. I'm not out of the woods yet -- not by any means -- but I'm on my way.

What got to me off blogtopic here and on to this Old Man kick, was a quote that florineD made on Huckleberries Online last week. The thread was about waiting for the results of a serious health test. In the context of her comments, florineD made a statement that struck me. She asks: " In fact, how would I know what some people considered “normal”? "

I've been asking doctors that for the last three weeks. I have not gone to the doctor much in my life, and now every time I walk into doctors office for another test I am overwhelmed with with questions:

Doc: Are you having any pains? Me: Now that you mention it, Yes. I have been noticing some lately, but I figure it's probably just a side effect to these drugs I am taking, or gas or something...
Doc: Where does it hurt? Me: In my rib cage. I've only just recently noticed it. I might just be hypersensitive because of all this high blood pressure stuff. Until then, I really didn't pay much attention to that kind of stuff.
Doc: Can you describe the pain? Me: It's kind of like a dull ache that lasts a few minutes and fades away.
Doc: How often does it happen? Me: I don't know, maybe four or five times a day. Like I said I really haven't given the pain much thought until now.
Doc: Can you associate the pains with any external activities? Me: I really haven't analyzed it. I just started to notice it, but I haven't associated the pains to any pattern. I figured it was just normal...

Truth is, I don't know what is normal when it comes to health. Three weeks ago, I was in a dentist's office and a nurse told me my blood pressure was 189/124, and I said: "Um ... alright... So, what does that mean? Is that a big deal?"

She said: "You're kidding, right?"

I've never had high blood pressure. Never. It's always been low. I have never had any reason to worry about blood pressure, so I have paid very little attention to it -- until now, of course.

Anyway, the nurse told the dentist what my BP was, the dentist said I wasn't going anywhere until I saw my doctor about it. She said it so seriously that I took the rest of the day off and went to the doctor's office -- her doctor's office.

It's been a whirlwind of medical tests, pills, exercise, a menu revamp that works in much more salad and fish.

I've soooo learned what that BP number means over the last three weeks... and, it ain't been fun. I should have paid more attention to my health, but I never really saw the need until now. Sure, I have put on a few pounds over the years, but it's not like I am completely out of shape or anything. Still, I get it now.

So far, my efforts are paying off. On Friday, it was ALL good news. I owe many thanks to increased prayers, great family and friends, a little FOCUS, and of course modern medicine. I've lost ten pounds in a couple of weeks and brought my BP into a "safer range"... along with resolving many other health issues along the way.

I got a new bicycle at Costco, yesterday. I'm going full tilt. I'm Bent on this now. Six months, Baby, and this is behind me...

Now back to The Beer Garden

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rise and Shine, Baby. It is on, now :-)

Here is the background music for this post. I know it appears that I am complicating things, but Five for Fighting must not allow video embedding. So all you get is a link today. It is meant to be opened it in another browser while you read the post below. I'll try to be less complicated in the future.

If today's weather didn't inspire the gardener in you, then you are probably here to just find out when the next beer tasting is ;-) That's OK. But if you've never given gardening a chance before, you ought to try it this year. We can learn together. Sunny and I met with some good friends last week and one of our friends said she had very little space in the sun to garden, which has been a deterrent for her. That issue easily solved in many ways but here is one...

Check out his site, it is great resource for people who have very little sunny space in their yards. It is the square-foot gardening method. We are not 100% followers, but the theory is definitely sound, and we certainly plan to incorporate many of his ideas into Our Family Garden this year.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we are putting in two 12x4 foot raised beds at the back of Our Family Garden. Raised beds have so many benefits and if you read the square-foot gardener's book, you'll begin to covet raised beds as well. Look at the picture below and you can see that for less than $50 you can have a great raised bed garden that could support a small family using the square-foot gardener method.

Sunny's dad built this to surprise her when she came over to tend to the greenhouse today. The PVC hoops are to support plastic so we can plant earlier this year. Man, this will be fun. We certainly have a lot to experiment with this year...

OK, back to the greenhouse. Check out those pots. Daisy, our 13-year-old who took two North Idaho College gardening classes with us this winter, made those. Gardening does not need to be expensive. You can buy compost pots, re-usable plastic pots or make your own out of newspapers like Daisy Girl did on Saturday. I should get the Press or Spokesman to sponsor a Youtube "how-to-video" (but ,actually ,we plan to do one at our own expense tomorrow).

Those are pepper plants above. I can't tell you what variety because Sunny has over 100 pepper plants and probably a half-dozen varieties. They all look the same at the beginning. In fact, Sunny already has about a 1,000 plants growing in the greenhouse.

Have you started you plants yet? It doesn't take a greenhouse to do it. In fact, I'll probably start some plants at home for the Bent Family Garden, and use cheaper methods that most people can do at home.

Hey, and by the way, even though we are no experts, we have done a lot of research and we have expanded the Bent Family Library with many resources on gardening and canning. So we are more than willing to take requests. We'll try to answer your request best we can, or we'll find you the best resource to get your question answered.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Meet "Bloody Marion"...So far she's my favorite mistake

Cue Music above:

Check out the color of that beer. This picture was taken the night I first bottled it March 29th. It looked like tomato juice, or a red beer, and that's how Sunny came with the name "Bloody Marion." It's beer, but it's not carbonated yet.

It looks like a Bloody Mary, but it's not tomatoes that give this beer the deep red color. It is Marion berries. I started out trying to make a European wheat beer with a hint of berry flavor. My goal is to eventually make a Huckleberry beer, but those dang Huckleberries are way too expensive to experiment with.

Anyway, I thought that while I was at it, I would start trying to recreate an apple Lager beer that I once fell in in love with. I got all my ingredients peeled, crushed and out on the counter top to begin my brew. I sterilized my equipment and started five gallons of Munich Lager and five gallons of European Wheat Beer.

I accidentally dumped 4 pounds of Macintosh apples into my wheat beer. I was ticked because it's takes a lot of time to peel, core and finely dice 4 pounds of apples, and I had already crushed 2 pounds of Marion berries and I didn't want to re-freeze them because they aren't exactly cheap either. For a moment I though maybe a berried Lager would be nice, but honesty there is no good reason that I have ever found to add a berry flavor to a Lager beer... Apples are one thing, berries are another.

So I went ahead and dumped the berries in the wheat beer with the apples. Now, that has made one strong beer, which I didn't test correctly at the beginning but I suspect it's in the 7% range. I tried that glass in the picture. Uncarbonated, it is kind of like wine. It was very unusual ... but really kind of nice. I tried another glass tonight (half carbonated) and the apples are strong but it's still blending out.

I am really kind of excited to see what this beer does over the next week. You are not supposed to hop a European wheat beer, but I did because apple beer brewers talk about needing to bitter the apple tones with mild hops. I can tell that is working tonight.

If it works out, I will be ready to drink a few in stickman's driveway on April 11th. Even if it doesn't I have a tried and true Munich Lager (unmolested), that will make the visit worth your time anyway.