Friday, October 30, 2009

Why ask why - Fermentation Friday

... Even in the blogosphere some of you are old enough to complete that line, but the true answer here isn't drinking Bud Dry. But it is related to other forms of low-alcohol beer.

Starting from the beginning, I brew because B James brews and showed me how when I was around visiting one time. I was amazed, he didn't make it look too complicated and the end product was good. As an added bonus it puts men in the kitchen for the day, which I support. Prior to this spate of brewing we had wanted to make whiskey, but it is clearly illegal and not something we aspire to or participate in at all. Fast forward another year and I keep meeting home-brewers. Brewers who live in smaller apartments than I do and produce passable and sometimes even good beers. All this with nothing but a pot and a closet to keep some sort of bucket. Amazingly, the technological barriers to making beer just faded away over that year.

The motivation was slower to come. I spent two years living in the UK, drinking huge, flavorful, low carbonation and low-alcohol pints. Coming back to the states, everything flavorful seemed to be very high in alcohol, which is not conducive to having a pint with a long lunch, or when coming home before getting on with an evening's work. Mind you, the culture wasn't too conducive to that either. I also moved to Chicago, where the apartments seem luxurious in their spaciousness compared to everywhere else I'd lived for a while. So I had the motivation to start brewing. The means came via the wedding registry.

But there is a deeper story here, one of ornery self reliance. The first good beer I ever had was from a Vermont farmer who passed me a ported after I helped him bale a bunch of hay when I was 17. And I do come from true whiskey country. I brew, in short, because I like creating a product that I can't get conveniently. The freedom of expression is certainly liberating and the wrangling of yeast, temperature and malt is clearly an entertaining challenge. Applying the self-same obsession to research and experimentation that keeps me out of the rain and on my own schedule for work has been a nice surprise. In the end, I brew so I can have beer. At the moment I break about even, including equipment, for the amount of beer I drink or give away. Planned upgrades will make that less so, as would an inclusion of my time in the equation. Still, I don't brew when I would otherwise be working, I brew when I'd otherwise be sitting around playing video games. Of the two, brewing might be healthier.

Thanks, as always, to Adam for putting this together and the CNYBrew for hosting. We here at JABB are hosting November's Fermentation Friday. The topic will be, "Tell us about your homebrew communities." We are announcing early and often because of Thanksgiving and will post a wrap up the Monday following, to ease you back into the working world.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Explosive Fermentation

Yesterday I had not one, but two volcanic eruptions in my basement. It all started with Sunday's match up between the Steelers and Vikings. B. James and his girlfriend(wife) came over to watch the game, grill up some food and brew some beer. Late in 4th quarter, after like his 5th sack, Bret Favre kind of just laid on the field in the fetal position, not wanting to get up.

That was our cue. Time to make some beer.

Brewing went well. We did everything perfectly. We sterilized everything thoroughly, followed the recipe to a tee, chilled down the wort to 70 degrees in under a half hour, pitched the yeast, transferred to the fermenter, and sealed the airlock with cheap vodka. It was time to begin the drinking, waiting game.

8 hours passed, no bubbles. 12 hours passed, no bubbles. 24 hours passed, no bubbles. 36 hours passed, no bubbles. 48 hours passed, ...OH MY GOD! THE BUBBLES!!!

I come home from work to find the lid of the bucket covered in thick brown sludge and the airlock is bubbling forth with happy little yeast farts. Yea!

We were getting worried, and were glad we didn't have to resort to our backup plan to get the yeast going, which was letting my pet guinea pig take a swim in the bucket.

It may have been a slow start, but things quickly got out of hand. I wake up yesterday morning (this is the first morning after bubbles started the night before) to find my basement has fallen victim to a volcanic eruption. We're talking Mount Saint Fuck'n Helen!

I see thick foamy head oozing out of the bucket, the lid is lying on the ground 10 feet away, and it looks like an elephant's ass had exploded in my basement.

I cleaned everything up, resterilized the lid before putting it back on, and went off to work. But it wasn't done there. Hoping that the yeast had gotten it all out of it's system the night before, I come home to find another volcanic eruption. This one was tamer, but no less messy. This was one of those slow moving lava flows. You know the ones that a 2 year old could out run, and yet some grown man always seems to be caught off guard and killed by it. The sludge had oozed out and formed a nice pond and river of filth through my basement. Once again, I cleaned everything up. Now I have the bucket sitting in a large basin in hopes to contain any further mishaps.

I guess the only comforting thing is knowing that if the yeast is that active, it's got to be choking out any bacteria that might try to get a foot hold in the batch. I could probably take a crap in the bucket and still come out with good beer.

...ok, maybe not.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Beer Menus Chicago

Beer Menus just launched in Chicago, or at least, this is the first I've seen or heard of it. I love beer menus, as we all know. Now, hunting for a particular pint won't be so hard, and I can comparison shop the vastly ranging prices here in town. They also seem to have a community that might be more congenial than the Chicago Beer Advocate forums here.

But I've got some issues with the local BAs. Maybe its hipster envy hatred; having two jobs, a wife and responsibilities will do that to a much better man than me. But I think it has more to do with the fetishizing of beer to the level of wine snobbery. I've seen some recent threads on there that remind me of the main reason I rarely go on-- not the long-winded reviews, but the venemous bile that greet them. Another would be the embarrassingly slow load times. The third is they are run out of Boston, and that place bugs me, but that is my problem not theirs. The fourth is the uneasy morass I feel when attending the Chicago Beer Society First Thursdays.

When I first started to go to CBS meetings, the combination of my beard and being under 30 got me mistaken for a BA member who wandered back to try some homebrew, having exhausted all of the commercial options available. Bringing my own brews helped, a bit. It was unfortunate that my first CBS meeting was after the BA started 'sharing' space with them, but I've heard stories of former glory at the homebrew meetings. Today it just seems like two ill-defined groups uneasily jockeying for position. Well, I'd say that if I felt the BA people ever realized they were placed on top of a long standing group; why they two meetings got scheduled together still baffles my mind. I should mention here I am in no way officially affiliated with either of these organizations, having never actually joined CBS (despite a valiant effort thwarted by the post-office). I've gotten great feedback from the CBSers, but I'd love to know if the meetings used to be as educational and intense as I've heard.

My own bile aside, I'm glad to see Beer Menus has made it off the least coast and into the heartland of beer drinking country. Welcome guys.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Linkage

Today was meant to be the start of our technical Friday postings. We've been criticized for not having enough information on the blog to balance our enormous opinions. It is a fair criticism, and one levied by opinions I trust. In fact, those same people just started a blog of their own. I happily send our over now to the Homebrewers Pride of the Southside (HOPS!) blog, tended by and on behalf of my brothers and sisters in HOPS!

Speaking of HOPS!, we had a very nice night yesterday at the Chicago Rock Bottom. I know, I know, we're pretty anti-corporate, anti-chain on the blog here, or at least I am (some people loving High Life almost as much as square-bottled brown liquor). But Rock Bottom in Chicago is really great. Pete Crowley, who has always treated us well, outdid himself in both his beer quality and generosity last night. I started the evening with his 'American Bitter,' which was like a British bitter if it was cleaner (by which I mean it tasted like beer more than candy apple)  and had cleaner US hops. I also had a bit of his Bourbon Barrel, which has won numerous awards. The standout for me was his Oatmeal Stout, which was extremely hoppy and smooth with an amazingly chewy mouth feel. To top it off we were seated just next to the proprietors of my nearest brewery, the mighty Metropolitan. I enjoyed it enough to finally join the mug club, which I think means I get bigger servings of beer, but I'm unclear about that. I'm happy to support those guys either way.

There might be a technical report this weekend on some brewing I've been doing. Then again I might actually work from home tomorrow instead of looking up cheap ways to build new brewing stands and getting some kegs to keggle-ize.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Excuses, excuses...

I don't want to go all yinzer on your ass... but I'm going to anyway.

There's bumper stickers that say Pittsburgh is a drinking town with a football problem. I don't believe in bumper stickers, and I don't believe in that saying. I also don't believe in the chupacabra.

It's not just football that Pittsburghers go crazy for, and as evidence to back up my claim, I present to you last years Stanley Cup champs: The Pittsburgh Penguins.

Yinzers love em.  When they won it all last year, there was a parade and some moderate rioting (ok, more like drunken stumbling, but the National Guard was there to keep an eye on them, so I say that counts).  So is Pittsburgh just a sports town, maybe?  A city that embraces the sporting lifestyle and all that goes with it?

And we don't even have an NBA team.  If Pittsburgh was a sports town, there would be professional basketball and the baseball stadium would have more fans than players on an average night.  So why all the drunken revelry for the Steelers and the Penguins?  Perhaps Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could help explain.

I put it to you that Pittsburgh is a drinking town with a drinking problem, and I think Ben would enthusiastically agree.  It can get cold and boring in Pittsburgh during the winter, and we have a cultural history of absolutely hating our slavish industrial jobs.  I mean, there's a reason a "boiler maker" is called a "boiler maker", and not a "starving artist" or an "interior decorator".  For about a century, Pittsburgh jobs were oppressive and soul-crushing, but would support your family well.  So you toughed it out, and after a particularly tough day at the foundry, coke furnaces, or rolling mill, you'd drink Imperial and Iron City until your cares eased up just a little.  Those jobs are gone, for good or for ill, but the attitude is permanently ingrained in Pittsburgh culture.

So what does that have to do with football and hockey?  Nothing, really.  And that's my point. You see, sporting events just are a good excuse to get together and booze it up.  And in Pittsburgh, this shows in our sports broadcasts.  Let me show you.  Below are pictures of Pittsburgh's most famous sportscasters:

Now here are pictures of Pittsburgh sportscasters who never spent a sober moment on the air:

The one on the left is Myron Cope, long-time Steelers announcer.  He's dead now, may he rest in drunken peace.  The one on the right is Penguins announcer Mike Lange.  He was fired for being too drunk on the air too often.  And by "too often" I mean every game from start to finish.  He calls the Penguins games on the radio now, drunk as ever, and they replaced him with these guys:

Bob Errey, a former Penguin, and Paul Steigerwald, Mike Lange's original sidekick.  The station was hoping to bring a little more sobriety to their broadcasts, and they were sorely disappointed.  Bob and Steigy did their damndest to drink as much as their predecessor, which we estimated by how audibly drunk they were, must have been shots at the periods and shots for each Penguins goal.

After that year, the station waited till the very last minute to renew their contracts, and Bob and Steigy definitely played it more sober after that; to the detriment of the broadcasts, I feel.  But don't get me wrong, they still booze it up like pros.  It's just not every night that they show up already tanked, though that does sometimes still happen.  When Bob shows up too drunk, they put him between the benches of the two teams to sober up.  It's his own personal penalty box.

Hell, there's even a blog dedicated to amusing things Bob says when he gets too drunk on the air!  But Steigy is no slouch.  Nosir.  Often by the wrap-up commentary, he has dry mouth and is a bit uneasy.   You can usually tell who drank most of the booze that night by who does all the talking.  If the wrap-up is all Bob, you'll often see Steigy leaning towards Bob, looking up at him as if Bob were made of solid chocolate and Steigy was thinking about taking a big bite.  Once he asked Bob to show the people his "pretty teeth", as he had survived a career in the NHL with all of them in-tact.  Bob wasn't quite sure how to react.  One night Steigy was visibly starting to throw up a little and was swallowing it back.  Now that's dedication!  I bet as soon as your lunch starts to rise in your throat, you call off work.  But not Paul Steigerwald!  And when Bob drinks the lion's share of booze, he slurs his speech, says confusing or inappropriate things about the other team, or sometimes just sits in silence and tries not to fall over.


The station tries so hard to remove intoxication from their broadcasts, but every attempt fails.  This is Pittsburgh!  It's expected.  It's integral.  It's necessary!  What they don't understand is that, for the viewers, it gets the party going.  Two excited guys on the air having a good time, interested in the same stuff you are, stewed to the fucking gills.  And when another station like NBC or VS shows a Penguins game, everyone in the city bitches until they get their next fix of Bob and Steigy.

So one night at Paddy's, we all decided to try to keep pace with Bob and Steigy.  It started out with shots of whiskey and vodka for the first goal.  Then another for the second, and a third round for the end of the first period.  By the fourth goal, we had to use dark and spiced rum for the shots, as the vodka and whiskey were gone.  The fifth goal and end of the second kicked the rum.  By the third period, we had to use random liqueurs and puckers for the last two goals, and the end of the game was toasted with whatever we could find.  Paddy was pretty much out of liquor, and we were all fall-down drunk.   If you want to realize how truly gifted these two announcers are, give it a try yourself sometime.  Make sure you give your keys to someone who isn't playing along.

And if folks were really interested in the game for the sake of the game, they wouldn't go to bars and parties to watch.  Richard's wife is that way.  She is fanatical about all Pittsburgh sports.  She often doesn't want to join us at a bar or a party to watch a Penguins or Steelers game.  Why?  Well, because we do stupid shit like I just described.  She feels she doesn't really get to watch the game in those settings.  And she's absolutely right!  You don't really get to see much of the game.  It's loud, people are talking and distracting, and if you're drinking heavily you're going to miss the nuances of the game.  So if she's genuinely interested in the game, what about everyone else?  Are they more interested in drinking and socializing than they are in the game?  Yes.

Sports aren't really the point, they're just the excuse.  Like going to a Halloween party.  Are you more concerned about the quality of the sexy police woman costume, or the fact that it covers nearly none of the girl wearing it?  The costumes are just an excuse, not the reason.  And to most Pittsburghers, sports are the same way.  Sure, I like to see the Steelers and the Penguins win, and I think it's awesome that they're both the national champs this year; but I wouldn't refuse to go out drinking if a game wasn't on.  Some would, though.  They need that excuse.  "I'm not getting plastered on a Tuesday for no reason, the Pens are on!"  Me?  I need no excuse.  So gimme a call, and we'll head dahn tahn and get all fucked up n'at! 

I'm not ashamed to say Pittsburgh is a drinking town with a drinking problem.  And I'm a proud part of that problem!  And to those teams that are seeing low attendance in Pittsburgh *cough* Pirates *cough*, maybe the reason isn't entirely that you are the losingest team in North American sports history, maybe you're also not incorporating drinking into your sport as much as you could or should.  Maybe you should try, I dunno, 10 cent beer night?  What's the worst that could happen?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Daybreak in Chicago

Awoken from a fitful sleep for the final time, I was terribly startled this morning. The cat was sleeping nicely with me, so it wasn't his usual pre-dawn antics. The family was safe and my apartment has the added security feature of creaking even if the cat walks on it, so it probably wasn't an intruder. This being Chicago, there isn't much I could do if it was. The cat himself was in bed, as was the rest of the family. But maybe the hunky but unattainable lawyer from TV, who I saw get shanked by his own daughter just before going to bed had become a zombie and was coming for us.

Oh, right, he's too busy fighting off wild dogs, I guess some wishes come true*. If the spectral form of what Wikipedia tells me is one Eric McCormack isn't coming for me and my family, maybe he's coming to spoil my beer. On Friday I whipped up an American Amber Ale, using a recipe from the excellent Brewing Classic Styles, by the pope of homebrew. The brewday went ok, except for forgetting my HLT was at someone else's house, my starter sitting for three weeks in the fridge getting sour and running out of Irish Moss. It is my first brew using the foil instead of airlock method, maybe the terrifying scratching noise was the foil letting gas out of the carboy. Maybe it was finally fermenting, despite the 55F water bath it is in.

Yea, 55F water bath, not a good idea. I did what I normally do here, made a water bath and tossed some frozen water bottles in it to offset the heat of fermentation. But this time, the water going into the bath was pretty cool and the new chest freezer must put off *way* less heat than the old fridge. Coupled with fall and our refusal to turn on the radiators, the bath got really cold, and by Saturday morning it was 60F, at best, in the carboy, with no signs of krausen. Not cool. Well, very cool, about 7F off what I needed. Putting the yeast to sleep like, well, a drunk husband and Mr. McCormack's old show.

But what to do with this quickly rotting beer that just won't stay at temp. Turning the heaters on is lame and uncessary when the house is a comfortable 62F, and I've been thinking of fermenting out back anyway. Most hombrewers I know have either a wife, or a landlord, I've got both. This means no basement to shove endless fridges in, and the knowledge that the 15 cu ft chest freezer can't have a friend in the apartment. Aquarium heater to the rescue!

*Ed. Note: You're ok, Mr. TV man. Your show has helped America become a little less intolerant (though not nearly enough) and we here at JABB don't actually hope you get killed by this mini-cujo and come back as a zombie or other spectral force]**
**Ed. Note 2: M. Randolph does not speak for the entire team here at JABB.
***Ed. Note 3: We've decided, since we are all cat people, that while feelings of your eventual zombification are mixed, we do agree that cats rule and dogs drool.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Are you a Buffalo?

"Once a Buffalo, always a Buffalo" Or so they say.

An interesting game a friend recently brought to my attention. The only goal of the game is to always drink your booze with your non-dominant hand, or risk having to drink more. This is probably why I generally don't engage in drinking games that often. I don't feel I need to the help of games to get me drunk. I am more than capable of doing that on my own.

What interests me is the supposed origins of this game. There is something intriguing about the thought that people would specifically train themselves to drink with their weak hand, so as to keep their strong hand free in case they needed to draw their gun. I mean, it makes perfect sense to me. I can't say how many times I've been in the middle of chugging a beer bong, when I'm all of a sudden jumped by The Three Amigos.

Having no way to defend myself, since going for my gun would spill the beer (That would be alcohol abuse), I am left at the hands of three geriatric comedians and their sick whims.

Beer bongs don't count as drinking games, in case you were wondering. I consider it more like mainlining. I guess back in the old west this whole notion of keep your strong side free actually was kind of important. But did they actually play beer games to train themselves? Can you picture Curly Bill Brocuis shouting "buffalo!" at Wyatt Earp for drinking with the wrong hand. My guess is Wyatt would respond to this challenge by buffaloing him. Of course there is the chance it could go down something like this.

After all, we all saw the way he smacked around poor old Billy Bob.

But now you know the game and what it's all about. So the next time you're in the bar having a cold one and someone yells "Bufallo!" to you, set your beer down, pull out your gun, and fuck'n pistol whip him...for me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Right Call

And in related news, I think it's time to figure out how to widen the area the content is in.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A little squeezin

Paddy and I have been producing booze together for over 3 years now, and we've known each other for somewhere around 22 years, which makes me feel very old.  We're usually in agreement about most things, and what we don't agree on, well, we just agree to disagree and the points of contention aren't important enough to really matter.  However, there is one point Paddy and I just can't agree on, and I'm afraid it's a pretty big one.  It's something that comes up quite often, and it's impossible to simply ignore it.  I'm talking about maceration.

I know a lot of folks out there say squeezing is the right thing to do, but without the right equipment, that strikes me as quite difficult, painful, and possibly even dangerous.  Personally, I think maceration the way to go, and I'm in favor of doing it at every opportunity.  But for some reason he refuses to explain, Paddy just will not macerate of his own accord.  He'd rather wait and have someone else do all the squeezing for him.    Now, me?  I enjoy the do-it-yourself aspect, here.  Starting from nothing and through sheer muscle and sweat, producing something.  And for the most part, Paddy is of the same opinion, but I just can't get him to go along with me on this one.  Sure, we did it once before, and the results were satisfying for all those involved, but we were kind of backed up against a wall and desperate.  I guess that's just what it takes before Paddy is willing to go along with me on this.

But here it is autumn already, and the issue once again rears its head.  Paddy wants to wait for outside squeezing, but I'm in favor of just going ahead and macerating ourselves.  But time is running short; I'm not sure how much longer we can wait.  In the next few days, we'll be forced to make a decision.  Do we macerate, or just forget the whole thing for another year?

But still Paddy persists.  For reasons he's afraid (or ashamed?) to tell me, he would rather wait and see if we could get a hand from the farming co-op he and his wife belong to.  I didn't even know they provided such services, but it seems they do.  Still, the question remains, how much longer can we wait?  The frost is on its way and pretty soon the apple season on Pennsylvania will be over.

Yep, all those sweet, juicy apples will be frozen and ruined.  I heard tell some orchards have grabbed the smaller ones off the trees already in hopes of saving them, but last night it was damn cold.  Personally, I think we should just go buy a shitload while they're cheap and locally grown, then macerate them in Paddy's food processor.  We did that with pears to make some wine once, and the results were pleasing.  But Paddy doesn't want to, and this is an argument that goes to our very first batch of home-made booze.

I guess it all really started with a big jug of apple juice Paddy's mom had sent him up to college with his freshman year.  He had opened it, taken a swig, and forgotten it under his bead.  Several months later he found it and took a swig.  It tasted different.  Kind of shitty, kind of tart, but kind of... like alcohol!  Being 18 years old, we drank all of it and got stomach aches.  But we were simply amazed at how easy it was to make alcohol!

Fast forward 8 years, and I'm at Paddy's place and we've decided to give this making alcohol thing another try.  We ran up to the local grocery store one night, Bootlegger's Bible in hand (I'll post about that one some day; a simply amazing book M. Randolph gave me for my birthday a few years ago), and picked up some white and brown sugar, some packets of Red Star bread yeast, and the cheapest all-natural apple juice money could buy.

We boiled it up, pitched the yeast, and a couple months later we had moderately shitty apple alcohol.   Better than the bed-booze Paddy accidentally made nearly a decade earlier; but to be honest, we've made far worse stuff since then!  From the moment we tasted that first batch, we had planned to make some more apple alcohol, but we soon butted heads over how to proceed.  My initial suggestion was to get more Flavorite apple juice and try to improve our process.  Paddy wanted to buy non-alcoholic, unpasteurized apple cider and then ferment it.  I said if we were going to go that far, we should do it totally from scratch and get some apples.  And there the stalemate has sat for 3 years.

Now, we don't have an apple press.  They ain't cheap.  We worked up a couple designs to make one, but just never got around to it.  However, as I mentioned before, we did macerate some pears in Paddy's food processor once, with good results.  The idea had come from the way they shred and autoclave agave to get the most juice and sugar out for making tequila.  Not really how you should make cider, but then again... that's not really how you should make tequila!  Alcohol production is a delicate balance between tradition and innovation.  If you insist on doing things the old way, you never get anything new or better.  But if you go too far with innovation, you risk producing something that's completely different from what you intended. 

So with no press, we're really left with the options of pre-made soft cider, Flavorite, or maceration.  After 3 years of experience, I think we've moved beyond the Flavorite stage, so I'll agree with Paddy on that one.  So that leaves either buying pre-pressed cider or shredding some apples and risking shitty product by breaking from tradition.

The frost is fast approaching, so the window for getting local apples or fresh-pressed cider is rapidly shrinking.  So what do you think?  If you were in our place, what would you decide?  We'd love to know.  We'd also like to hear what you've done, if you've ever made apple cider or other similar alcohol.  So leave a message if you're so inclined, keep.  And remember to always let a friend help out with your squeezin!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This Day in Booze:  Homebrew Legalized

What is the greatest day in booze history? And you can't say the invention of alcohol. That's a cop-out for unimaginative plebeians who bicker about how Poke-mon is so much better than Yu-Gi-Oh, and argue for three hours on how the two are nothing alike. You're better than that. Many would say the obvious answer; the day that Prohibition was repealed. But for all its obvious downfalls, Prohibition actually did a lot to fuel growth and innovation in the booze industry and promote new social ideals. There were these hip little places called speakeasies. Let’s just say you aren't going to find any tacos at a sausage fest.

Another possible answer would be the invention of the cocktail. Yes, those candy sweet concoctions, which since their inception have been primarily used for the purpose of removing clothing from women. They are quite tasty and are very good at doing what we all hope. But they are rooted deeply in having the original purpose of masking all that was bad about alcohol of old, like rat feces. Also we here at JABB would like to start a petition to get the word -tini stricken from the English language. Nuff Said. There are probably even a small few readers out, who are on this site looking for fodder to fuel your immeasurable contempt and hatred of all things fun, who might say the day Prohibition was enacted. I hear they also kill puppies.

For me, my answer would have to be the day they legalized homebrew beer, which I shall defend as best I can in my current inebriated state. But first the details.

When prohibition ended, everybody and their grandmother wanted to make beer. It was a guaranteed money maker after nearly 13 years of sobriety. The problem was everybody wanted to cash in, and quick. Combine this fact with the limited availability of resources due to the war, and you wind up with the wonderfully bland and unexciting light golden lager we all grew up with. Over time, as some businesses succeeded and others flopped, the world of American beer was soon dominated by the big breweries. As long as these corporate giants were making money, they didn't care about the quality of their product, so long as it sold. Any new upstarts that tried to get a hand in on things were either forced out or bought up. Thanks to this consolidation, there were only 42 breweries operating in the United States in 1978, and most sucked donkey balls.

On October 14, 1978 that all changed when President Jimmy Carter signed a bill that removed the restrictions on Homebrewers and allowed your average citizen to brew (tax free) beer in small quantities for their own consumption.

Able to brew beer at home, craft brewers were allowed to develop their beer without the influence and meddling of the big conglomerates. The legalization of homebrew finally allowed creativity and originality to be explored freely. And if you don't think that that is important, in 2006 congress passed a resolution commemorating American Craft Brewers for supporting American Agriculture, providing jobs, and improving the balance of trade. The resolution also supported the establishment of an "American Craft Beer Week". By 2008, forty years after the legalization of homebrew, there were 1493 breweries reported to be operating in the United States, 1420 of which were considered craft brewers (smaller, independent, traditional brewers) by the Brewers Association. Take that, Budweiser.

Cranberry Nut Crunch Fuck'n Ale!

OK, it's true that with the microbrew and craft beer movement there have been some bad ideas. There have been some flops and some jokes and I think the term "yuppie" got thrown around quite a bit. But that is all part of the experimentation process that makes average citizens like us get together on a Saturday afternoon with a box of ingredients, a tub of no-rinse, and a handle of Vladimir. We are free to create something original, even if it's just a new strain of blue fuzzy goodness that later is found to be the cure for male pattern baldness.

And look at the industry now. All the big name brewers are struggling to keep up with the Great Lakes and Magic Hats of the beer world, especially the King of Beers. In recent years we've seen Anheuser-Busch try to market such beers as their Budweiser American Ale and Bud Light Golden Wheat. And then there is the Michelob seasonal line including their Bavarian Wheat, Märzen, Porter, and Pale Ale. The little guys have taken the lead, and the big guys can only follow. Any time the large breweries try something new on their own we wind up with such wonderful concoctions as Michelob ULTRA Tuscan Orange Grapefruit and Pomegranate Raspberry....really?!?

But in the end, we the consumers are the winners. The gates have been opened and great beer is pouring out like the Johnstown Flood.

Just about anywhere I go, I have to opportunity to taste something I've never tasted before, to enjoy something new, and to throw up a new color of the rainbow I never knew existed. Woohoo!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hangover Worthy of Kingsley Amis & Grape Crush

Ahh, Sir Kinglsey Amis, you've had quite the impact on me. You should probably be assigned to all college freshman, so they can learn the most important thing they'll take from school, adult socialization. Of course, by this I mean drinking, both responsibly and irresponsibly. The former tells you how you keep your head about you socially and the latter about what to do afterwards when you don't.

Today is about the latter. I went to my first wine crush yesterday, learning from the 25 years of experience of the host and a ton from the other wine makers who were there. It was great and the machinery was terrifyingly efficient. Like put the chicken in one end the the nuggets come out the other efficient. Grapes go in, crushed grapes come out and the stems are separated out. The host runs a free-run system, the grapes sit in a barrel and run off with the pressure.

It was great, and then my memory starts to fade. It might have been the dozen glasses of wine, or the number of grappa soaked cherry bombs. I'm not sure what happened, but I was hammered. I mean really drunk. And I didn't notice until I mercifully got a ride home. That's where the evening got fuzzy in real time. Right now it gets fuzzy before that, but that was the moment I knew I was screwed the next morning. My wife knew when I came home and she looked up, cackling from the couch, to ask if I wanted to watch some more episodes of The Nanny and I said yes, that sounded like a great idea.

Fast forward to 3am and I was awake with a start. No good reason, except enough alcohol left my system that I didn't feel right. No headache, one of the mercies of largely unsulfated home made wine. But everything was creepy. I wandered around a suddenly creaky house, waking the cat for comfort (he just went back to sleep) and trying to sleep on the couch, the floor, the chair, the bean bag and at one point in front of my chest freezer to be near my kegs. There I heard a weird noise which I chalked up to the physic issues I was having, but it turned out to be a different one of my kegs starting to spew beer all over the inside of the chest freezer. This time, I just didn't tighten down the flare nut on the liquid out, the last two times it was blown poppets on two different kegs. This went on for a few hours, both the spewing of beer by the keg and the insomniacal ravings inside my own head, culminating in worries I was tossed from the wine crush by my brothers and sisters in the club. This doesn't seem to be so, so far, and I'm glad for that. By 5am I had re-tightened all of the heat control knobs on the radiators, all of which opened up with the first introduction of heat to the system, and survived a few volleys from the cat who was clearly messing with me in my dangerously unstable state. Finally I was able to crawl into bed, only lightly waking my wife 4 hours before she had to go teach Sunday school.

And our man, Kingsley Amis, where was he with his great advice (sex, more booze, not moving a lot). Lost on a shelf at my in-laws, where I need it even more.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Epic Battle Rages On

This story is from last week and for many of you out there, I pretty much guarantee the subject of this news article is as unfamiliar to you as non-alcoholic beer. But for us here at JABB, we've been swigging down this swill for nearly 2 years now. I speak of the Allegheny County Drink Tax.

Once upon a time (2 years ago), in a borough not too far away n'at (Tax District 2), the Great Land of Allegheny was in deep deep debt. Though the Land's mightiest City of Steel had seen fame and prestige for several years now, it's great gridiron warriors

or mighty paladins on ice

could not save the Land from gross ineptitude. Merchants had been leaving the city for lands with less demanding tax collectors, and the educated youth, who felt no kinship with the Land, set out on long journeys, never to return home.

Of the Land's financial woes, the transportation system was hurting bad. Nobody was using the great steel wagons or the mighty to get around town and the outlying villages. Instead, the people opted to take their own horse and carriages everywhere they wished to travel. The Lord's transportation advisers had squandered what government coin they received on frivolous extravagances, like a tunnel under the great moat of Allegheny for the .

The Lord of the Land, King Dan "the Goose Killer" Onorato, and his knights of the square bingo table, spent countless days and nights (at Nemacolin Woodlands) trying to devise a means of saving the Land from it's financial woes. In order to obtain further transportation funding from the government, the King and his Council had to come up with $30 million on their own. Not willing to cut any funds from the existing budget, already bloated more than Kanye West's ego, or give up the lavish amenities befitting the council's lifestyle, they decide to save the transportation system with taxes. King Dan "the Tax Man" Onorato gave his council two options; raise the property tax on the peasants of the land, or institute a 10% drink tax on all alcoholic beverages purchased within the Land's borders (also included a $2/day car rental tax).

The people of the Land didn't wish for either tax, and were quite irate. Surely there must be other means to raise funds.

It wasn't long before the peasants began holding secret meetings at basements, stables and the local Church...Brewery. And what started as just talks of dissidence, soon became a full on rebellion.
But no matter how hard the people fought, they could not avail. The infamous drink tax was passed and the Land was cast into a darkness more dispiriting than the Pirate's losing streak.

Two years of pain and thirsty tavern patrons would follow. Those who used to go out for drinks and have 5 or 6, now were only drinking 3 or 4, while other ventured great distances (Beaver Country) to drink without financial oppression. Sobriety was on the rise. Many men were returning home to their wives early, only to find them still awake, thus being forced to converse with them and to take out the trash.

Those who refused to comply with the King's orders were struck down with a vengeance. There are still great warriors who brave the bloodshed in the crusade for alcoholic freedom. And we the people of the land will continue to support their cause. King Dan of Allegheny now seeks to reign over all of Penn's Woods. He thinks he has squashed the rebellion. He thinks our spirits have broken, but he shall never be rid of us. We will continue to fight. We will continue to meet in basement bars and and tax exempt locations to plot our next strike, or just get shit faced. The Rebellion is upon us my friends!