Join with us on our adventure as we build East Alstead's first brewery and what is quite possibly the only off-grid commercial brewery in the United States. We feel that what we brew and how we brew it are equally important. If you would like to help out with this project, contact me at:

The Belgian Mare Says Hello!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Merry Christmas - Descartes

It was another Merry Christmas in our world. Cats, dogs, horses, chickens, and the fish all made it through the year and holidays in fine shape.

I have been fighting off a cold for what seems like a short eternity. Brewing and tasting have been curtailed as of late given that I cannot taste anything due to the cold. However, today I am feeling a bit better if still a bit tired. I hope to have tasting reports for the German Pale and Mixed Yeast beers for the next blog.

I am taking advantage of the down time to read some Descartes. I just finished "Discourse on Method" and am heading into the "Meditations". He is obviously a smart guy, but I can see why he was a bit frustrating for his family/contemporaries. By the way, if any of you have a chance to read the book Descartes' Secret Notebook, do it. It is amazing what this guy was able to come up with.

I hope all is well with all of you and you had a good holiday season. See you next week.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Trying Something Different

Regular readers know by now that I like to experiment. So it is with my latest creation. I was trying to think of something different to do for a Christmas beer to go along with the traditional Hemlock Ale when I came up with this big idea.

The idea I finally settled upon was this: I would match a yeast I had used before with a grain bill I had used before, but had never used those two together in the past. Specifically, I decided to use a yeast I like for stouts and porters and a grain bill that I used for pale ales.

The yeast I chose was Wyeast German Ale, a fast working and powerful yeast, and one of the few Wyeast products I have received consistent results from. The grain bill was very basic: Pale Pearl malt, 40L crystal malt, Cara Munich malt. I also threw in 1oz of hops from my own yard.

Even though I made a starter, the yeast was very sluggish at the start. I racked it into another fermenter and made sure to aerate it thoroughly. After that, the yeast took off and worked vigorously.

A few days ago I bottled this creation. It came out very light with a surprisingly strong hop character. Unfortunately, I did not take an OG reading so I am not sure of the alcohol content. However, based on the amount of malt used, I would guess 4.5% alcohol would be about right.

Based on the sampling during bottling, it looks like I may have a winner on my hands. Only time will tell. Dear Reader, I shall keep you posted.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mixed Yeast Update

The mixed yeast beer has now been in the bottle for nearly a month. While it tasted good going into the bottle, which usually means a beer will taste good coming out, so far the result is a bit disappointing.

On the first tasting, which was at two weeks in the bottle, the beer had a distinct vinous character. However, as it is fairly low in alcohol, I feared it may have somehow become infected during the bottling process. Now, at nearly a month in the bottle, that character has subsided somewhat. The flavor has become much more mild and earthy, perhaps even somewhat bland. A distinct alcohol-like sting is still is still apparent, but not so much of the wine/sherry character.

Considering the dramatic shift in flavor character that has occurred in the last two weeks, I suspect the flavor evolution of this beer in not over yet. So even though I am a bit disappointed, I shall reserve judgment. We may yet have a winner on our hands.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Photography Show

Just a shameless plug for my upcoming show. This is the Orchard School Christmas Art and Craft Show and sale. This year it is being held at the Walpole, NH, Town Hall. The pre-viewing is Friday December 11 and the main show is Saturday the 12th.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Girls Are Back On-line

Not much on the brewing front this week. I have three beers in the cellar and a fourth in the fermenter. I should have enough for holiday gifts with a bit left over for me.

The best news is that our older hens have decided to start laying after a two month layoff. The new girls have started laying for the first time. We are getting a steady four eggs per day with as many as nine. Production is enough that I have started putting eggs out for sale. How long this will last, I do not know, but last year we got eggs through the winter.

The young Leghorns are laying the smallest, whitest eggs I have ever seen. The older Aracanas are laying giant, misshapen green monsters. Must be the weird weather.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Closing The Hop Yard

After an up and down year, that ended on an up note, the hop yard has been closed up for the winter. As my loyal readers may recall, early spring brought the promise of a big harvest as the third year hops reached the top of the trellis in only four weeks. Alas, six weeks of nearly continuous rain came close to spelling disaster.

In the end, half of the third year hops were drowned out. But an unexpected boost came when about half of the first year plants produce hops. The net result was a greater harvest than the previous year, but still less than the promise of spring. Such is the lot of the farmer.

So far, I have brewed two beers with this year's harvest. The first is the New England Cream Lager, which has exceeded all expectation in terms of flavor and hop character. I have never had a beer that has hop flavor like this one. It is like plucking a flower off the vine and popping it in your mouth. The second is another experimental beer that is on the boil as I write these words. Needless to say, I have high hopes for this beer too.

I confess to a bit of sadness as I took down the support lines and cut the dried vines. The surviving third year plants left stumps like small trees. I need to remind myself that this is just the natural cycle and that each stump represents a future harvest.

As I cut down the dried vines, I, once again, caught the aroma of fresh hops. It was the plants were telling me not to worry. We will all meet again in spring.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Creating A New Style

I have never been one to accept sharp definitions of beer styles. When one views brewing as an art, as I do, the idea that a particular beer style is or can be a clearly defined target is anathema. All styles must be open to interpretation and innovation or they are dead. So perhaps it is both fitting and ironic that I would embark upon creating my own style.

I did not at first set out to create a new style. I simply wanted to do something that did not appear in any of my recipe books. Then it occurred to me that by avoiding all possible styles does one not effectively create a new style? Indeed, it treads into the realm of famous paradox: "The set of all things that are not the members of any set."

So what was the result of this desire for difference? I decided to create a "cream" lager. In defiance of the concept of lagers as clear, light, bitter beers, and ales as heavy fruity/malty beers, I would create a lager that was heavy and smooth, a little malty, and with a distinct, but not bitter, hop flavor.

I am only on the second batch, but I believe I am on to something. This second batch, after only 15 days in the bottle is among the best beers I have brewed. It is a bright gold, creamy, full bodied lager. The flavor leans toward the fruity (a bit like Steinlager) but with a strong malt presence. The hop character is distinct: I am reminded of the aroma of the hops on the day I picked them. It is not a harsh bitterness. It is more akin to tasting the whole flower of the hop.

How did I achieve this? I suppose I should not give away trade secrets, after all this may become one of the flagships of our brewery. Then again, in the spirit of brotherhood among brewers, I guess I can give out the basics so that others can interpret my new style. The ingredient list is actually quite simple: pale Pearl malt, 20L crystal malt, lactose, and my own hops. Oh, and a touch of molasses for priming prior to bottling.

So what name did I give this new style I created? After a bit of thought, I decided to honor both geography and content. I decided it should be known as New England Cream Lager. Let us hope that many will enjoy it and none feel compelled to define it!

A new style is born...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mixing Yeasts

A short time ago I was reading about the farmhouse ales of Flanders. A reference was made to "mixed culture" yeast being used to ferment those beers. I realize what is meant by the terms "mixed culture" or "mixed strain". Yet, given that understanding, my mind was sent upon another train of thought.

I began to think along the lines of a different type of mixed culture. I contemplated a type of mixture that went beyond the mixing of two or three closely related strains of ale yeast. Indeed, I conceived a cross cultural mix that would have made Victor Frankenstein shudder. Genius or madman, I was set upon my course. Only one mix would satisfy me.

So, Dear Reader, I must now confess to you that I committed the ultimate beer sin, an abhorrent crime against nature. I have brewed a beer using a mixture of ale and lager yeast!

While I know that committing such an abomination may well cost me both my regular readers, I could not turn away from my course. A part of me needed to know what would happen. So the deed was done. As we speak the fermentation is slowing down and the beer, if one may still call it that, will be transferred to the secondary fermenter in the morning.

What shall the final result be? That, I cannot say. Whatever the result, it shall be reported here for all to contemplate and consider.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dark Lager

After thinking a bit about which beer to brew I decided on a dark lager. I had tried to brew a dark lager a few years back. That effort ended with me being awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of bottles exploding. I had not tried again since then.

Why I decided on now as the time to once again tempt the dark side of lager beers, I cannot say. Perhaps it was simply the need to once again face that which had defeated me. Whatever the reason that compelled me, I, and my tasters, are glad that I did.

The recipe for this was a figment of my own imagination, flavored by my past experience. I started with a base of pale Pearl malt with some 20L crystal malt for a bit of flavor. Then I added a couple ounces of dark wheat malt for some sharpness in the flavor and a bit of color. The last ingredient was Kent Goldings hops.

For a yeast, I used one of my new favorites, Saflager dry lager yeast. This is a powerful, fast working yeast. When I bottled, only half the bottles were primed, with dry malt extract.

Unlike my previous effort, this time no bottles exploded. The result was a well carbonated (both primed and unprimed) dark lager. The flavor had a hint of hop bitterness with a very crisp sharpness from the wheat malt (and possibly the yeast) that was dominant and led to a dry finish. The unprimed bottles were slightly smoother, but very close to the primed bottles in flavor.

I gave this beer to several outside testers. I was a bit worried that it may be too sharp for some tastes. I need not have worried,it received universal approval. Ah, sweet success. I guess sometimes we need to revisit our failures to, quite literally, taste success.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Photography Seminar

Yesterday's posting became today's posting because I was captivated watching the Bears, once again, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and it was too late to write when it was all over.

The biggest news is that, for the first time since leaving Alaska, I will be conducting a photography seminar. This is something I have always enjoyed. I never pass up a chance to dispense my suspect knowledge upon the innocent masses.

The seminar will be held October 21, 7pm, at Toadstool Books in Keene, New Hampshire. This is a very nice bookstore that everyone should stop at if the chance arises. They are selling my photo cards, and they are selling quite well. I see this as a great opportunity to get my name out there and meet a lot of new people, plus have some fun in the process.

I will be covering several aspects of basic photography. The format will be that of an open discussion, with the audience determining what topics are most thoroughly explored. It will be a relaxed seminar that hopefully both the audience and myself will learn from and enjoy.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Brewery Update

Lately we have been getting many questions about the status of the brewery. To recap, we have made it past the town boards and can go forward with the actual building. However, that took a while and it is now getting a bit late in the year (and showing no sign of drying out) so we have decided to wait until spring to begin construction. It was not an easy decision to make. We did not want to risk losing the momentum we have with our friends and neighbors. However, we also did not want to rush things under less than ideal conditions. By waiting until spring, we also will have more time to organize and secure any funding we may require, though we are still intending to do this on our own.

We are pretty excited that this is really going to happen. We have talked with our key supporters and they have reaffirmed their support. We can’t wait to hit it hard in spring. Regardless of the final outcome, we will have a whopper of a story to tell when it is all over. Now if I could just get some of that economic stimulus money…

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Back on the Net!

Hi All,

We have our new internet connection and it appears to be working well. So now I will (hopefully) be able to update this blog in a more consistent manner.

See you Sunday!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

New Internet Connection Coming October 7

As my loyal readers are well aware, we have been having huge internet problems. I have not been able to log on for nearly two weeks, since shortly after my last post.

Fear not! We have a new internet connection coming on October 7 that should not only be more reliable but much faster. So I ask that you be patient. Until that time I cannot gaurantee that I can make any posts.

I have many things to blog about, but for now I just want to let you all know that I have not abandoned my blog. I just have the world's worst internet service.

See you soon,


Sunday, September 13, 2009

To Prime or Not To Prime - Continued

Oh the pain of dial-up! I have not been able to get on the internet for over a week! This is too much. We hope to be getting a faster connection, sooner rather than later.

The to-prime or not-to-prime experiment continues. My latest test of the no-prime theory is with a stout. This is a very dark beer I brewed with a good bit of dark roasted barley and fermented with a Wyeast German Ale yeast culture. This yeast is an explosive worker. It creates a huge krausen and gets done quickly. I thought it might be an excellent candidate for bottling without priming so I bottled half with primer and half without.

The bottles that were primed came out as expected. They have a huge tan head that takes up about half the mug. They also have the strong chocolaty taste characteristic of the German Ale yeast. I forgot to put in the lactose during the boil, so they are somewhat light-bodied for a stout, but still a very satisfying full-flavored beer. Success!

Being just short of a month since bottling, I opened one of the unprimed bottles. As expected, the beer had much less carbonation, though it still managed about an inch of white foam at the top of the mug. The taste was excellent. Again, as expected it was noticeably, though subtly, different from that of the beer in the primed bottles.

The flavor of the beer from the unprimed bottle seemed to be a bit sharper. The chocolate flavor was definitely more pronounced. The flavor provided by the hops was also more noticeable, but still in the background, as it should be with a true stout. There was just enough carbonation to tickle the tongue as it slid smoothly by. Another success!

It seems that once again I have managed to get two distinct and excellent beers just by priming or not priming bottles from the same batch of wort. I am beginning to like this method. It has opened a new frontier of experimentation. Let us see what the unprimed beer tastes like in another month.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

To Prime Or Not To Prime?

The instructions that came with my first homebrew kit directed the brewer to spoon a bit of sugar into each bottle before filling to get things working so that the beer would carbonate. Ever since, I have always primed (i.e. added a bit more fermentable material) my beer when bottling. In time, I switched to the more reliable method of boiling up a solution dry malt extract and adding that to the bottling bucket. This gave more consistent results, but the idea was the same: Get the yeast working again so the beer will carbonate. Some brewers even advocate putting the primed and bottled beer in a warm place to “turbo condition” it. I have done that, you are drinking your beer in under a week, but the beer seemed a bit harsh and raw.

Now I sometimes feel like I am one of the last homebrewers who still bottle conditions their beer. Seems everyone owns, and is singing the praises of, CO2 tanks and counter pressure fillers. They do work slick, but perhaps we are losing something in the process.

In my search for new methods and recipes for brewing I came across a copy of the book Brew Your Own British Real Ale by Graham Wheeler and Roger Protz (1998 ed.). The first thing that struck me was how much simpler their recipes were that those in the American homebrewing publications. I tried some of the recipes, employing my usual brewing methods, and had good luck. See my blog post on recognition and mild ale for the result of one particular batch.

I then dug a bit deeper into the text and read the methods they advocated for brewing real ale. To me the most notable item was that they advocated not priming the beer when bottling. They did not advocate bottling the beer while still working (as some have suggested). In fact, they recommended maturing the ale in a barrel for a minimum of three weeks. The barrel should be allowed to vent so that volatile by-products of fermentation can escape. Then bottle without priming. Carbonation would be provided by the slow fermentation of dextrins.

To me this seemed a recipe for a big batch of flat yucky beer. It was too big a risk. So I ignored this advice, until the opportunity to test it presented itself.

It cam to pass that circumstances conspired and I found myself with a batch of beer in the fermenter that I was not able to bottle until three months after brew day. The fermentation lock had long since stopped turning over. Aha! Here was my chance to experiment with the Wheeler/Protz no-prime method. So on bottling day, I bottled the first half of the beer with no priming. The second half was primed as usual.

I am not a very patient person. After one week I opened a bottle of each. Both were flat and I was worried that even the primed bottles would not carbonate. After two weeks, the unprimed bottles had not changed much. The primed bottles had a healthy carbonation. I figured I would get at least half a good batch.

Wondering where I went wrong, I went back and reread Wheeler and Protz. It was then I noticed an important point I had overlooked previously. Unprimed bottle-conditioned beer needs at least a month, often much longer, in the bottle before it is ready to be drunk. That made sense.

So I forced myself to be patient. It paid off. After one month the beer from the unprimed bottles had a nice light carbonation with the traditional small head of real ales. Beer from the primed bottles had a big white head.

The most interesting part was the difference in taste. The unprimed beer was very smooth and earthy with a bitter bite on the back of the tongue. To me it seemed very traditional and pleasing.

In contrast, the beer that had been primed fairly attacked the tongue with a fizzy, bitter hoppiness. I suspect this has something to do with the interaction of the carbonic acid (from the higher CO2 concentration) with the hop resins. It was a great beer; however it bore little resemblance to its unprimed brethren.

In the end, it appears that I got two great beers out of one batch. So to prime or not to prime is not just a matter of convenience. It truly is a matter of taste and style. I have two more beers in the cellar right now, both of which I have left one half of the bottles unprimed. I eagerly await the results. To anyone who has not tried this with one of their beers, I strongly recommend it.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Harvest Time

As many of you are already aware, what started out as a promising year for hop production took a decided downturn. Several weeks of non-stop rain played havoc with the plants and in the end half of the third year plants had died. Seeing plants that I had tended for so long wither and die was heart breaking.

However, all was not lost. The remaining plants continued to forge ahead. Even as their brethren (actually they are female, sistern?) turned brown and crispy, they held course and in time the spurs that become cones were visible. I did not dare hope, yet the cones continued to develop.

A few days ago I noticed a few cones that looked good enough to pick. So I got out the ladder and climbed up to see what was developing at the top of the trellis. I was quite surprised to see that a substantial number of cones had developed in the upper reaches of the plants. Many of the cones, though ready to pick, were smaller than normal. Still, a significant number were of good size.

I happened to be brewing that day, so I used some of the fresh picked hops in that brew. I dried the others and there are still more waiting to be picked. While the harvest will be nowhere near what we anticipated in the early spring, I do think it will be bigger than last year. All things considered, that is quite an accomplishment.

One nice thing about hops is that they tend to get stronger every year and spread readily. Given this, I suspect that the remaining plants will be able to fill in the gaps left by the departed. Our first year plants, some of which amazed us all by producing cones, should be on line for a good harvest next year. So let us be thankful for the harvest we got this year and look forward to next year.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

We're In!

At our last meeting with the planning board Lonn's revisions to the site plan were accepted. We have received our signed acceptace from the board. Now it is time to get moving!

Lonn and Larry are working together and we will soon be breaking ground. I need to get out and remove a few trees before then, but that will not be a problem. One is a nice medium sized maple. I hate to cut it. Lonn feels pretty strongly that he cannot dig the cellar hole without risking the tree coming down due to root disturbance. He has more experience than me when it comes to this, so I guess the tree comes down. Bummer.

Let us not lose sight of the good news. We have both the zoning and planning board approval and pre-approval from TTB. So we are in pretty good shape. Thanks to everyone who supports this brewery. We have a long way to go and your support keeps me going.

First Brew In A While

For the first time in too long I brewed. It was a bit of a rush job, but at this point in the game I have a good feel for what works. So I went to my grain box and grabbed a bit of this and that and a German Ale yeast culure that I had never used before. The result is a thick black brew that will, no doubt, be a winner. It felt good to be back brewing after three months. I will keep you posted on the results.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

One More Meeting - Sad Hop News

Tomorrow is another meeting with the Planning Board. The purpose this time to show that we have made the requested revisions to the site plan. Lonn has delivered the updated site plan and everything looks good. Hopefully this will be the end of the meetings and we start digging!

Sad Hop News

Our hop year that started with such promise has turned into a struggle. With all of the recent wet weather, fully half of our third-year plants (our original planting) have fallen to root rot. It was tough to watch plants that had grown 13 feet in four weeks, that I had tended for two years, wither and die.

On the positive side, some of the younger plants seem to have recovered from fungal infections and are doing well. Also, the remaining third and second year plants are producing cones. So we will have a harvest this year. Granted, it will not be the harvest we expected in May, but we will have a harvest!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Things are Looking Up!

No doubt my regular readers have been waiting for a report on the outcome of the zoning and planning board meetings. I apologize for keeping you waiting. In short, things went well. The zoning board gave its approval and the planning board gave its approval as well, with five conditions. So we go back on the 27th to show we have, or can, meet the conditions.

The threatened opposition failed to materialize. On the other hand our support came out in force. They arrived early and in numbers. It was strictly standing room only for the first meeting and they all stayed for the second meeting. No riots broke out, but our supporters made their presence and feelings known. It was very gratifying to have such a showing. We thank you all.

As before, the view from the driveway was an issue. We can take care of that. A few board members appeared to want to require that we cut down some of our 100+ year old maples as a condition of approval. Thankfully, the planning board chair made the point that the field of view was the issue, not how it was achieved. Particularly heartening was the zoning board chair making a point of going on the record as being against removal of the trees and for maintaining the integrity and character of our property. Without those trees, we might as well live in the ‘burbs. I say that as someone who spent four years on the tundra and learned the value of trees.

Many hurdles remain to be cleared, but we have got over two of the biggest. Let me state again how much it meant to us to have so many of our neighbors show up to support us. I do not believe that I have ever been so much a part of a community. Looking around the meeting hall that night, I knew that we made the right choice when we decided to move to Alstead.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Big Day Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the big day. We finally have our public hearing with the Zoning and Planning Boards. We have faced a bit of last minute opposition, but have received much more support. Three of our biggest supporters are planning on attending and giving statements of support.

The support and enthusiasm from our neighbors has been tremendous. Sometimes I think they are more eager to get this going than we are! Having this kind of support is great. It really helps keep us going during the lean times when this dream seems so far away.

I do not know what will happen tomorrow. I hope all goes well and we can started on building this brewery. No matter what happens, you can read about it right here.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Public Hearing July 13

It is official. We will be having our public hearing before a combined meeting of the Alstead Planning and Zoning Boards on July 13 at 7pm. We are looking forward to the opportunity to make our pitch. Several of our supporters are planning to attend. We have all been waiting for this for a long time.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Public Hearing

We finally have our applications in to the planning board and the zoning board. Perhaps, they are not the best they can be (What ever is?), but they are in. I had spent so much time on them that I was getting a bit numb. At least they are in.

Now we await the public hearing. I am glad for that. I want the chance to make my pitch and see what happens. Several supporters have expressed their desire to attend. I hope they will.

I want the Town to see that what I propose will be a benefit to Alstead and has the support of the citizenry. Our brewery will make Alstead a better place. I truly believe that.

Our hearing will be on either July 13 or August 3. I hope for the earlier date but will accept either. All I want is the chance to get our plan, our dream, before the people of Alstead.

Let the people decide.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Still Working

Not much new to report on the brewery front. We are still waiting to hear when the next combined board meeting will be held. I have been using the time to make some fine-tuning adjustments to our application. I just want to get this thing to a vote.

Public support for the brewery remains strong. We also have one store that has comitted to sell our product once we get going. As with so many things, it is just a matter of time and money!

In the sad news department, we lost two hens to a fox a few days ago. They were taken right out of the pasture in broad daylight. We are now down to eight laying hens. I intend to blog soon on the ethics of killing the fox.

Fortunately we have 16 peeps in the brood pen. This year we got a variety of breeds: Araucana, Buff Orpington, Leghorn, Rhode Island Red, and some kind of bantam. Once everyone is up and laying, we should have eggs out our ears.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Final Site Plan

A short time ago we received our final site plan from Livengood Earth Works. This set us back a few bills, but in the end I feel it was worth it. Lonn is very thorough and has had many previous encounters with the town government. He knows what will cause a snag and has addressed those issues.

I have also been working at making a few changes to our application package that should make it easier to understand. Hopefully we can get this application officially accepted for review and get our day in the sun.

Dear Reader, I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Max In Harness

Today was another good day for the horses. For the first time ever, our Clydesdale, Ambrosius Maximus (Max), wore a harness. It is also the first time I put a work harness on a horse by myself.

Tracy was off on a trail ride, so I decided to spend some quality time with Max. Max has been getting markedly better about being handled and obeying voice commands, so setting a harness on him and seeing how he reacted seemed a logical next step. In the past, he had bolted during training sessions but this seemed more a case of bad manners and wanting to play rather than panic, as was the case with Aggie.

Things started a bit rough as Max wanted to munch the fresh spring grass, not pay attention to me. I finally got him to the snubbing tree and showed him the harness. No bad reaction there, though he was a still pouting about not being able to munch grass. Having last been on Aggie, the harness was ridiculously too large and needed a few adjustments. In the end it fit quite well.

With the distraction of the fresh grass, Max could not have cared less about the harness being on his back. So I let him munch for a bit then took him back to the main pasture where there is less distraction. Now it was time to see what he really thought.

I lead him all around the pasture and he never seemed to mind the harness at all. Then I thought, “I wonder if he can drive?” I was not sure he would take a bridle, and did not have one handy anyway, so I hooked the lines to his halter.

Progress was a bit erratic, but he took to driving well. Most of the time, I could get him within about five feet of where I intended. After about 20 minutes he was getting the hang of the voice commands and the pull of the lines.

We made one last triumphant lap of the main pasture then it was a reward of 45 minutes of uninterrupted munching among the wildflowers of the lower pasture.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Aggie Gets a Workout

For myself and Aggie, my Belgian mare for whom so many things have been named, today was a good day. Roy Nilson came up to work with Aggie and me. His fiancée Lauren came along to assist and make some videos.

Many of you already know of Aggie’s panic attacks. The resulting explosions were dangerous for both her and whoever happened to be anywhere nearby. Needless to say, this greatly limited what could be done with her. In fact, I was pretty much at a standstill when it came to working with Aggie. So I was very happy that Roy agreed to come up.

From the start, Aggie was showing the nervousness that made her so hard to work with. She didn’t want to have her harness put on and spooked at the sound of a singletree being shaken. Letting down the harness chains caused a full-bore linear panic. That proved to be a good thing as it helped her realize that when she panicked, the chains rattled and hit her. When she stopped, the chains stopped. Success.

We continued on. The chains were lengthened with rope and the singletree added. Then a binder chain. Finally, the decision was made to hook her up to the chain harrow.

Hooking her to the harrow was a risk, as Aggie’s reaction proved, but ultimately it paid off. At first she panicked, but Roy was able to stand in and bring her down and get her to stop. That was amazing; no one had ever been able to stop one of her all-out panics.

Perhaps more amazing was that Roy was able to get her to settle in and start pulling. She was still a bit jumpy, but she was walking with the harrow. That was when the most fascinating and heartening event of the afternoon took place. After Roy had made a few laps with Aggie pulling the harrow, I saw a change come over Aggie. It happened very quickly, in the space of a few strides. Aggie went from being on the edge of panic with a scary thing behind her to just working. Something clicked in her mind and she realized that nothing was trying to kill her, she was just working. For her good efforts, she earned an apple.

About this time Roy handed her off to me. I was a bit nervous since I had never driven from the side before. I think Aggie was a bit nervous about the change of driver, but things went well. In fact, Aggie was so over being scared that she became bored and it was a bit of an effort to keep her moving. She was also clearly a bit tired so we decided to doff the harness and cool her down.

Then we went down to the lower pasture and Roy had me practice shortening and lengthening the lines on the fly and switching which side I was driving from. This gave me some practice time and gave Aggie a walking cool down.

So all things considered, this was a very successful day. Sure Aggie panicked a few times, but Roy was able to stand in and bring her down. In the end, Aggie went from being scared of the rattle of a singletree to being bored with pulling a chain harrow. All in the span of two hours!

Our work with Aggie is far from over, but I now have ideas on how to help her get over her fear, which helps me get over my anxiety toward working with her. Roy’s work with Aggie today was nothing short of amazing. He clearly cares deeply about the horses he works with and his fees are more than reasonable. I will definitely be having him back for a follow-up session.

Roy can be reached at:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hops & The Short Boil

As regular readers know, we are very excited about the hop yard this year. This is our third year and, if conventional wisdom holds, it is the third year in which the plants begin to realize their full potential. So we have gone into this year with great expectations.

To date, the plants seem determined not to disappoint us. The rate at which they are growing is almost frightening. The first shoots emerged on April 24. As of today, May 24, the tallest plant is only about six inches from the top of the trellis. That is 13 feet of growth in four weeks! Last year that took nine weeks!

What will this mean in terms of harvest? I can only wait and hope.

Short Boil

Coming up through the ranks of homebrewing, I was lead to believe that the boiling of the wort could be no less than 90 minutes. The reason being that this amount of time was needed to get the protein to coagulate and precipitate. Longer boils were used to achieve a desired initial specific gravity.

I had always wondered if this was really necessary. When brewing with malt extract, I had occassionally used a rather short boil time. This seemed to work quite well. Would it work with all-grain brewing?

The reason for using a short (30 minute) boil time are compelling. First, the brewing process is shortened by an hour or more. More importantly, by boiling for only 30 minutes, a huge energy savings is realized. Given that we hope to have our brewery wood-fired, this is something that we needed to look into.

To that end , we brewed an experimental beer today. We did everything as we usually would, with the exception of the length of time we boiled the wort. Normally we boil the wort for 90 minutes. This time we boiled it for only 30 minutes. During the process it seemed a ridiculously short span of time. We had barely started boiling when it was over.

What will this new process yield: A more cost effective and energy saving way to brew? Garden fertilizer? Stay tuned Dear Reader, I shall keep you informed.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Thames Valley Yeast (Again)

On January 31, 2009, a beer was brewed that was intended as a dark variant of a Welsh bitter. The yeast used was Wyeast 1275 Thames Valley. On May 17, 2009, that beer was finally bottled.

Three and a half months in the fermenter. I do not believe that I have ever had a non-lager beer continue working in the fermenter that long and still be unspoiled. At one month, the fermentation lock was still actively turning. Even on bottling day, the beer still had a ring of foam and the lock had not backed.

I admit that I was not optimistic when I began to bottle this beer. I did not even get the bottles ready before transferring the beer to the bottling bucket, as is my normal procedure. I wanted to see if the beer was still unspoiled and I had my doubts.

I should have cast doubt from my mind and kept beer faith. As I transferred the beer to the bottling bucket, I collected a sample. The beer was crystal clear and the taste is very good: malty without excessive sweetness. I encountered none of the harsh astringency or moldy viscosity that I had expected. If anything, the taste was a bit too mild for the intended effect. Although untended, the flavor and body of this beer are that of an excellent dark mild ale.

So why did fermentation take so long? I do not know. I have not been able to find anyone else that has used this yeast so I do not know if painfully slow working is a characteristic. I know only that this yeast worked slowly, but worked well.

It is interesting to note that the final gravity was still a bit high in spite of the long fermentation. Original gravity was 40 and the final was about 16, giving an alcohol content of about three percent. That is just fine with me, I am not into high gravity, I prefer high taste. Once this beer has conditioned in the bottle, I will give a full report.

So I missed the mark a bit in trying to create a dark Welsh bitter, but did create an excellent dark mild ale. I’ll take it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

New Hop Season Looks Good

This year is shaping up to be a great year for hops. We decided to double the size of the hop yard and Dad and I put up some more trellis. Next year we hope to expand even more.

Our first shoots broke through on April 24. The number of shoots that the third-year plants are putting up is bordering on the absurd. It breaks my heart to have to prune such nice strong shoots, but if I left them all I would quickly be overrun by a hop jungle.

This is the first year that we trimmed rhizomes. Trimming rhizomes is recommended as plants are heading into their third summer, so for the first time we had plants that were ready to have their rhizomes trimmed. Once I had dug into the ground around my third-year plants, I was amazed by the amount of growth that had been taking place under ground. Some of the plants had sent rhizomes that went on for several feet, right out of the hop yard! Not only were the rhizomes long, but they were thick and loaded with active buds. I thought back to the scrawny, soggy, cheroot-looking rhizomes I had plunked down five bucks each for (half of which survived) and wondered where that supplier had gotten his.

When the trimming was done, I had a large pail of top quality rhizomes. Free! I had prepared more ground for planting and filled it quickly with the best of the trimmings. I then began looking for other places to plant. No sense wasting good hop rhizomes. We now have hop plants scattered about the property. Flag poles, cherry trees, garden fences: nothing was safe from being hopped. I still have a ton left over! So I am now in the hop rhizome selling business.

As I write this, May 10, my third-year plants are four feet tall with less than a month of growing. My trellis is 13 feet tall and last year the second-year plants topped out in nine weeks. It will be interesting to see how fast they will top out this year. I may need a bigger trellis.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Site Plan

A small vacation and starting a new job kept me from the blog for a bit but now I am back. At our last meeting with the Planning Board, one member took issue with the format in which we presented our application. I admit I was improvising since I had not done a site plan review before. However, I was still disappointed because I felt we had addressed all the relevant points delineated in the site plan review checklist and the town does not provide much guidance on the format they prefer.

The head of the Planning Board then took up discussion and it was agreed that we had most of what they wanted in our application. On a few points, more detail was requested. So to keep the peace and get things moving, we hired a professional to draw up a site plan.

We have the first draft of the site plan and it looks very good. A few small details need to be changed, but nothing critical. The next step is to get on at yet another Planning Board meeting. Hopefully we are close to getting this moving.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Unemployment, Lager, & Honey Beer

Long I had looked forward to the liberation of unemployment. Unfortunately, it did not long last, for today, my first official day of unemployment; I was offered another job by 2pm. At least I was able to get out and wander about in the woods and feel like I was unemployed before the call came.

Anyway you slice it: No more 3.5 to 4 hr.comutes. That means more time to build the farm and the brewery! Over the past three and a half years I had spent just under 100 days commuting in my car. That is plenty enough.

Lager Update

What a difference a week makes in the beer world. Still unable to leave well enough alone, I tried another of my lagers. Last week the lager was flat and sweet. This week it is well carbonated and quite tasty. As before, it tends toward the more fruity lagers such as Heineken of Steinlager. There is some cideriness, but I think that will pass as it ages. Based on results thus far, I would recommend that anyone who has not tried dry lager yeast to give it a try.

Honey Beer

Believe it or not, I still have a few honey beers left. After nearly four months in the bottle it has matured into a fine libation. The flavor of the dark honey is well blended with the dark malt but remains prominent. Overall it has a definite wine like character. Though not particularly thick, this brew in definitely on the mead side of beer. So forging ahead, heedless of given wisdom and brewing with dark honey when all said it was folly, paid off. Dare to dream.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

First Lager Test

I realize it has been only a week, but I could not wait to try one of the lagers I bottled last Sunday. As you can see from the photograph, it has yet to drop clear. Further, it has barely carbonated.

Given that lagers, by their nature, must be conditioned for long periods of time, trying one after a week was probably not the best idea. A few months in the cellar should set things straight. Then we will know if this experiment worked or not.

So I guess I really did jump the gun on trying this. The flavor is not bad, but does seem to be a bit sweet. Hopefully this means it has plenty of sugars left to ferment and carbonate itself.

My only concern is that the maple syrup had enough sugar to allow the beer to carbonate. I have not used maple syrup as a primer before, so this is an experiment. Let us hope not a failed one!

To my loyal readers: I will be posting only on Sundays for the near future. As I go through career transition and get the farm going for spring, my time is a bit limited. Thank you all for stopping in to see what I am up to.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lager & Thames Valley Yeast Update

Today I finally bottled the lager I brewed on January 19. Coming out of the fermenter it tasted very good. I would put the taste at about a Steinlager, one of the few commercial lagers I really like. Steinlager is a New Zealand brew that my college in River Falls, Wisconsin, used to serve. I also have fond memories of it from my time in New Zealand. I remember coming over a hill on Great Barrier Island, into Port Fitzroy, and seeing the little shop with the Steinlager sign. I bought two and Terry and I drank them on the front porch. That ice cold beer was such a relief.

This was my first brew with dry lager yeast (Saflager S-23). I have always been told that dry lager yeast is a bust. Not so. Going into the bottle, I am happy with the results. But I can’t leave well enough alone. I decided to prime it with a cup of maple syrup. We shall see how that goes.

As an update, the beer I brewed with Thames Valley yeast is now at almost exactly eight weeks in the fermenter and still very active. Suspecting an infection, I used a bottle filler as an improvised wine thief and sampled some. Surprisingly, it was quite good. I have never had ale go so long in the fermenter and anything good come of it. For now, it looks as though this will be a good beer.

I must admit I am pretty excited. I was beginning to fear that both these beers were going to be garden food.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Turning 40 - With Support

Two weeks ago I turned 40. Doesn't seem much different than 39. Though the thought that I am now heading into the "latter half" is a bit scary. I tend to be a bit Socratic and examine my life frequently. This can lead to some anxiety. I have done quite a bit, but have I accomplished much? What is the difference between doing and accomplishing? Is it the difference between homebrewing and building a brewery?

That brings us to the next topic. My wife, against all odds, managed to have a surprise birthday party for me. Seems she had been planning it for a month. I knew something was up because she engaged in several unprovoked acts of housecleaning. By chance, some old friends, Dana & Katrina, happened to be in the area and stayed with us for a night. It was good to see them again. Isle Royale is far away, but still a pivotal time and place for all of us. Unfortunately, they had to leave before the party started.

The party itself saw 45 guests. I think this is the biggest I have ever had. The support for the brewery was amazing. We shall have many volunteers when construction starts. It was great to see so many people so enthusiastic about our brewing adventure. It helped give me a recharge when my spirits were flagging a bit.

So I guess 40 does look pretty good after all. Now if you will excuse me, I have a few things to accomplish.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Thames Valley Yeast

Have you ever had a yeast that just won't quit? It appears that I have one.

On January 31, I brewed a beer that was a Welsh Bitter recipe with some dark roasted barley. A dark bitter, if you will. The yeast, Wyeast Thames Valley, took well and after seven days I transferred the beer to a secondary fermenter. Then things got strange.

As expected fermentation slowed a bit. But it never quite shut off. In fact, during my birthday party, when the house got a bit warm, the yeast took off like it had just been pitched! Now we are entering our seventh week and the yeast is still chugging along. Given that the original gravity was only 40, how can this be?

Our house is quite cool so that may have slowed things. I may have also measured the original gravity when the wort was a bit too warm. These would account for a bit of what I am experiencing, but seven weeks in the fermenter?!? With no sign of stopping?

My fire chief opines that I will go down to the cellar and find a hand reaching out of the fermenter.

Dear Reader, I will keep you posted.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Moving Forward

Last Friday the road agent for our town came out and we discussed his assessment of our existing entry. With most of the snow gone, measuring was a bit easier. In the end we agreed that only a small bit of the embankment at the driveway need be cut away to obtain the necessary 200 feet of view.

He also informed me that once the road is redone, it will be about a foot and a half higher than it is now. That will obviate most, if not all, of the need to cut away our embankment. This reconstruction of our road will take place either this summer or the next. We will not be open to the public until the fall of 2010, thus it is best that we leave reconstruction of our entrance until just before we open when we will know the final configuration of our road.

I have invited the Planning Board to come out and view the site for themselves so they have a good idea of what we plan to do. So far none have taken me up on the offer, but I do know that some of them are familiar with our property, so perhaps they deem it unnecessary. The next step is to send in the application.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another (Big) Snag

My how the worm squirms. After the elation of getting our brewery plan accepted yesterday, today we were hit with another possible brewery killer. The highway department called to say that we do not have a sufficient field of view from the end of our driveway.

The town requires 200ft. in each direction. On one side we have only 100ft. I am not sure how the line of sight is measured. Just standing in the driveway, one can see much farther.

I hope we can modify the existing entry. If we cannot we are sunk. There is no other place on our property where we could put an entry.


Acceptance - Brewery Update

I must first apologize for my erratic posting. The dial-up internet has been nearly functionless the past few days. Thus, I have been unable to post to this blog according to my regular schedule.

From the last post, you are all aware that our brewery design was initially rejected because it called for the brewery to be located on the same tax lot as my residence. However, they did offer to consider our plan further if I sent them our floor plans, site diagrams, and anything I might have regarding the town and state’s position on our plan.

This started a whirlwind of faxing and emailing. I had to quickly draw up a more formal set of plans for the brewery building, scan in our tax map and add in the brewery, and search the town archive for the minutes from our meetings with the town. I also contacted the state for an opinion on my design.

The state responded quickly with an opinion that clearly allowed for our plan. The town even agreed to write a letter that it also regarded the plan as acceptable. This letter would later prove unnecessary, but it is good to know that they were willing to support me.

Having gathered together all of my information, I sent everything to the Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau and settled in to await an opinion. We tried to avoid discussing our options if the plan were rejected. We did not want to get too far ahead of ourselves.

Surprisingly, we did not have long to wait for an opinion. In fact, the opinion came so quickly I was sure our plan had been rejected. I hesitated to open the email.

Success! Our plan was deemed acceptable! When we apply for our license, we need to include this information. This is a big relief. We were very worried about possibly getting approved now only to have policy change by the time we completed the brewery and applied for the actual federal license. So the fact that they accepted the plan and gave us an official date of acceptance has allayed our fears.

Where we sit now is that the federal, state and town officials have accepted our plan. The next step it to get the building permits and start digging!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Licensing - Brewery Update

Brewery, we have a problem. While I was getting some legal clarification from the folks at the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, I got a bit of a surprise. Under "current policy" they do not issue licenses to breweries located on the same lot as a private residence. This is because of "past problems". Considering that we hoped to build our brewery on a former barn site behind our house, this could be a problem.

In the past I had been lead to believe that brewery location and design were the domain of the state and local authorities, the feds just handled taxes. Apparently this is no longer the case, if it ever was. This could kill our brewery.

The fellow I spoke to seemed like a pretty straight-forward person and agreed to review our proposal. He also indicated that state and local decisions on the plan would be given consideration.

The local boards are not opposed to the brewery, and in fact suggested its proposed location, but we are waiting on the highway department to give us an assessment of our property access before we can proceed. The state guys say they usually accept the feds decision, however, in this case perhaps I can get them to give a (hopefully favorable) opinion.

So I have spent the last two days preparing and sending documents and emails. Let us pray for success.

It would be a real heart break to not even get the chance to try to make this idea work.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Foundation II - Brewery Update

A third estimate on the concrete work for the brewery was received this Saturday. This fellow, let’s call him “Anaximander”, pointed out that our slab & cellar design was costing us unnecessarily in both money and space. He countered our design with a design for a full cellar with either supports for the boiler etc. cast into the cellar or a concrete floor spanning the whole cellar. The thought of the concrete span was something that had not occurred to me, even though I drive a loaded tanker across one regularly as part of the duties of my real job.

The biggest advantage to Anaximander’s design was the increase of cellar space, which equates to an increase in fermenter space. The biggest factor in a brewery’s ultimate capacity is fermenter space. A boiler may be used up to three times per day. A fermenter may be occupied from one week to months at a time. Thus, fermenter capacity tends to be the limiting factor in a brewery’s capacity. So Anaximander’s design has the potential to greatly increase the final capacity of our brewery.

The most intriguing part of Anaximander’s suggestion was also the most cost saving. He offered to put up his equipment and act as contractor if I could provide a crew. No need for experience, he would teach us the basics of pouring a concrete foundation. I already have a few ideas for crew members. Plus we would save the cost of labor. This would cut the total cost of the concrete work nearly in half.

So what we have is a chance to save some money and learn a new skill. To me, that looks like a pretty good deal.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Trying to ascertain the licensing requirements for a brewery in New Hampshire from what in on the state website is a bit challenging. So I sent off an email and got a response that was unexpected. The respondent advised that I need my federal (TTB) license before I can apply for the state license. The unexpected part was the statement "..if they (TTB)will license your production facility almost certainly we will." In the past, other brewers had told me that the state side of the equation was the difficult part. Maybe times are changing?

Another interesting statement was that a brewery cannot be in a private residence. I have been to a few brewpubs where it seemed that the owners lived upstairs. Maybe a brewpub is different or I was mistaken.

The toughest part is that the physical requirements for a brewery are not too well defined. However, one cannot apply for a license until all construction is completed and they are within 60 days of starting production. This raises the question: What do you do if you have put all this money into a facility and your license application is denied? Hopefully that is a rare occurrence.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Foundation - Brewery Update

Today a contractor came out to look into excavating our building site. It appears that we will be able to fit in the foundation next to the hopyard. Excellent, as we want to use space efficiently. The only problem encountered was that the area was wetter than originally thought so the plans for the concrete may have to be modified.

Having a cellar is adding considerably to the foundation cost. However, if we do not have a cellar we will need to install pumps and a glycol chilling system. So any savings from not putting in a cellar will be more than offset by the cost of the additional equipment. In fact, a glycol chiller would probably cost more than the whole building.

So now we await the final estimate on the cost of the foundation. Our hope is to get it done this spring and start building the brewery itself. Out of both pride and economy, we have decided to build as much of the brewery ourselves as we can. That first beer will taste extra good.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Beer Tax Legislation

A bill is being set forth to reduce the tax on beer. Obviously this will be a big help to myself and other small brewers. So send your lawmakers a message and let them know how you feel!

Below is an excerpt from a Brewers Association press release:

With the introduction of HR 836, the Brewers Excise and Economic Relief Act of 2009, seeking a 50% reduction in the federal excise tax rates for all brewers, America’s small brewers have an unparalleled opportunity to influence policy and strengthen their businesses. We need to build as much support as possible for this bill to give it the best chance of becoming a reality.

Please contact your U.S. Congressman and ask that he/she sign on as a co-sponsor of HR 836.

Please go to the Brewers Association’s Excise Tax Resource page for information on the legislation, its introduction and background on the current economic situation faced by small brewers across the country. This information will help you make the case to your Representative for supporting this tax relief measure and in turn for supporting the small brewery businesses that are such a vital part of our local communities.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Little Roasted Barley Goes a Long Way

What a difference a little dark roasted barley can make! I was experimenting with new recipes for the future brewery when I hit upon the idea of brewing nearly identical beers with the only difference being the yeast: one ale, one lager. Each one of these beers had 7.5 lbs. Pearl malt and .5 lbs 20L crystal malt. At the last second, I decided to put 4 oz. of dark roasted barley into the ale. As you can see from the photograph, it came out nearly black!

In both of these brews I used yeasts I had not used before. For the lager I used a Saflager dry yeast. It worked much faster that the liquid culture from White Labs that I used several years ago. I only hope the end result tastes as good.

For the ale, I used a Wyeast Thames Vally liquid culture. I activated the culture the night before. Once pitched, it started a bit slow, which seems typical for Wyeast products,but then worked vigorously. After about eight days, I transferred the ale to a secondary fermenter. I tasted a small sample. It had a distinct chocolate aroma and flavor. I think this brew will be a good one!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Of Wolves and Pike

This doesn’t fit any of the subjects of this blog. Still, I thought people might find it interesting.This is an article that I wrote for an on-line magazine, back in 1999, about some observations I made while working at Isle Royale National Park back in 1995-6.

No Wolves = Skinny Pike
By Tim Roettiger

Those attracted to this brief essay by the title are no doubt asking themselves: "What have wolves to do with northern pike?" As I found out for myself, under proper conditions, quite a bit. I observed the end result of the indirect interaction of these two species’ populations while conducting lake surveys at Isle Royale National Park. It is a classic example of cascading trophic interactions that cross the land-water interface.

This phenomenon was first noticed at Sargent Lake. I was part of a crew conducting surveys of backcountry lakes. Gillnets, seines, and minnow traps were used for these surveys. During the course of the survey, only a few small pike were caught. The most notable thing about these pike was that their stomachs did not contain the usual pike table fare. Instead, their stomachs contained leeches, insects, and the occasional rock. This seemed to indicate a lack of suitable forage.

Seining proved this was not the case. In the evening, large schools of shiners, prime forage for pike, could be seen cruising the shallows. It was no problem to seine in hundreds at a time. So the forage was there, but the pike would not, or could not, make use of it.

So the question was: Why aren’t the pike making use of an apparently substantial forage base? This is where moose enter the picture. The pike is an ambush predator. They are most efficient at a medium density of aquatic vegetation. Too much vegetation interferes with their foraging. Too little vegetation and they do not have effective ambush cover. The problem in Sargent Lake was a near total lack of aquatic vegetation. The culprit: moose.

Moose love aquatic vegetation, an important source of sodium for them, and can forage effectively to a depth of about 9 feet, most of a lake’s littoral zone. Parvovirus had killed many wolves, reducing predatory pressure on the moose. At the time of the Sargent Lake survey, the wolves numbered only about 14 and the moose population was the most dense in the world. This put the standing crop of aquatic vegetation, which had remained about the same, under intense browsing pressure. That is how Sargent Lake came to be devoid of aquatic vegetation and, subsequently, the local pike became leech-eaters.

A sequence of reactions such as this, parvovirus-to-wolf-to-moose-to-aquatic vegetation-to-pike, is known as a "cascading trophic interaction". What this means is that a disturbance at one trophic level (in this case a top predator, wolves) will pass (cascade) from level to level (organism to organism) causing an often seemingly unrelated end result. The pike of Sargent Lake are a good example of a cascading trophic interaction that crossed the land-water interface. After all, who would have expected that wolves dying of a viral infection would result in poorly conditioned pike?

The Sargent Lake situation arose in large part due to Isle Royale’s unique island ecosystem. No more wolves could come or moose leave, it is a closed system. What happened at Sargent Lake is unlikely to occur elsewhere. However, it does stand as a powerful example of the inter-connectedness of all parts of our ecosystem. It is food for thought. Next time you find yourself complaining about bullheads, or crows, or even mosquitoes, think what might happen if they were gone.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Honey Ale

The honey ale has now been in the bottle for two weeks. So I decided to open a bottle and see how things were coming along.

The first thing I noticed is that the honey ale is already well carbonated with a thick, tan head. The color is a deep amber with a strong honey aroma. The flavor is like a mead I recently had, but with the interplay of the honey and malt it is more complex and satisfying than the mead. I believe it will get better with ageing.

I will keep you updated, dear reader.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Old Houses

Since I was a young child, I have not been able to pass an abandoned house without becoming overcome with a sense of wonder. I could not help but speculate on myriad things: Who lived there? Why did they leave? Were they good people? If I met the former residents, would I like them? How does one come to the decision that an entire house is no longer worth keeping?

Abandoned houses fascinate me. They seem to have so many stories to tell, alas I will never hear them. The stories of every abandoned house are just below the surface, screaming to get out, yet forever beyond our knowledge. Perhaps it is this mystery that draws me in.

In my adult life this fascination continues. Now that I am an avid photographer, I cannot pass an abandoned house with out snapping a few photos. This habit has occasionally lead to a misunderstanding with the local constabulary, but that is another set of stories.

This photo was taken on Bere Island, Ireland. I can provide no facts about this house. We were hiking back from the highland areas toward the ferry when we passed by it. In the gloomy overcast afternoon, with shingles missing, it just seemed sad, yet it was also very compelling. What was its story?

I keep coming back to the idea of an abandoned house's stories. My fascination arises from wanting to learn those stories. Perhaps it is more correct to say that the fascination comes from speculating on those stories. If I were to learn those stories, would I lose the fascination? Perhaps it is best I never learn the stories, for if I lost my fascination, that would truly be a tragedy.

This photo of the Bere Island house has proven quite popular at the shows I have attended. One observer told me that, after seeing the photo, she dreamed of the house. For me as a photographer, that is a triumph: I have successfully passed on my sense of wonder to the viewer.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Growing Our Own Hops

One of the nice things about where I now live is that I have some room to experiment with things I have always wanted to try. One of those things is growing hops. Although from an historical perspective hops are a relative latecomer to the beer scene, they are now well established as a key ingredient for most brews.

Hops are a vine that can be propagated from rhizomes. Rhizomes are a root-like structure. All one needs to do is dig up the rhizomes (hops produce a lot of rhizomes) and cut them into lengths of about 4-6 inches. Plant them where they can get some sun and have something to climb. The book Homebrewer's Garden has some good information on hop growing.

I first planted hops two summers back, just in time for the shortage. I bought rhizomes from an online dealer and got them started indoors. They did well and I transplanted them in late April. Since they were small rhizomes, the first year they only got about 3 feet tall and produced no cones.

The second year, the plants grew with amazing rapidity. My trellis is 13.5 feet tall. The plants topped out in 9 weeks. The biggest problem I experienced was a potassium deficiency which I mistook for verticulum wilt at first. A bit of potash cleared things up.

So far I have tried growing Cascade, Willamette, and Mount Hood hops. The survival to second year has been 50%, 100% and 10%, respectively. Cause of death appeared to be the rhizomes rotting. An interesting thing about hops is that they exhibit quite a bit of variation in leaf morphology, yet I am not aware of any method for identifying varieties based on the appearance of the leaves.

The harvest went well. It can actually be fun getting up on the ladder and picking the hops with the smell of fresh hops all around. I dried the cones by spreading them on large window screens under an awning. This kept the sun off and allowed air to circulate. The drying process took about 24 hours in good weather. Given that it takes three to five years for a hop plant to reach its full potential, I look forward to increasing harvests.

I have now brewed a few beers with my own hops. Since I had no way of knowing the alpha acid content (it is highly variable) and the yield of cones was small, I mixed all the hops together for brewing. The results have been excellent. The flavor is a subdued, spicy earthiness with a mild bitterness.

Our first harvest!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Honey Ale, British Ale & Lager

First, I must apologize for the tardiness of my latest posting. It appears my dial-up connection was knocked askew by the inauguration traffic. Just the same, my experimental efforts continued last weekend with the bottling of the honey and British ales and the brewing of a lager.

The honey ale had finally settled down and was ready to bottle. It tasted a bit like a modern mead, perhaps with a bit more character. The general rule is that if a beer tastes good going in, it is even better coming out; that is if you bottle condition. I look forward to popping one of these open in a few weeks.

Regular readers may remember that with my British ale I suffered a failure of the original yeast culture. I then pitched a second, dry, yeast. That got things going but appears it may have been too late to save the brew. As I prepared to bottle it, I noticed the heart-rending smell of raw corn. Infection!

This was devastating as I had used the last three ounces of hops from my own yard in this brew. Faced with the dilemma of bottling the brew and hoping for the best or pouring it in the hopyard, we opted for bottling. I cannot recall that I have ever had a beer recover from this. However, as my former neighbor Michael said, "If you bottle it, you may get something. If you dump it, you guarantee that you get nothing." Three cheers for optimism.

Finally, last Monday I brewed a lager for the first time in many years. I am not much of a lager fan. In the past, brewing a lager required putting my refrigerator into use for brewing and thus limiting my food supply for the next 16 weeks. The results were excellent, but at what cost?

Now that I live in New Hampshire, in a 150 year old home, my kitchen tends to stay at lagering temperatures for the duration of the winter. So I decided to take advantage of the situation and brewed up a lager. I kept things simple: pale Pearle malt base, 20L crystal malt, Kent hops, and ... something else. The yeast was a Saflager S-23 dry culture that took off and went to work. I have high hopes for this one, as I do for all of my brews.

I will keep you posted.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Our Brewery Vision

We have been receiving quite a few questions about what type of brewery we will be building. So I decided to dedicate this posting to our vision for our brewery. As always, comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged.

The brewery we are building will be an independently owned brewery built and operated in the tradition of the Colonial and European farmhouse breweries. It is intended to fit into the lifestyle and culture of Alstead. Its primary product will be bottle conditioned “real ale”.

The term “real ale” denotes beers that are brewed in a traditional style and naturally carbonated. This style of production results in a smoothly flavorful and lightly carbonated beverage of low to moderate alcohol content with a character unique to the brewery. Our brewery will be one of the few “real ale” producers in the region.

As a small farmhouse brewery, we do not intend to compete with regional and national breweries; we will offer a locally-produced alternative to their product. Instead of a filtered, pasteurized, and force carbonated beer, we will offer a wholesome traditional product that is unlike anything many customers have ever tasted before. As Alstead’s only brewery, it will have a unique appeal to the local population. Our goal is to establish a strong local customer base and within two years of opening be producing 200-plus barrels of ale per year. This situation is analogous to small winery and maple sugar operations.

The brewery system is designed along traditional lines. The boiler will be wood fired. The majority of fluid transfer will be gravity powered; the remainder by hand pumps. Fermenters will be in an underground cellaring area that will maintain a constant temperature. Thus the brewing apparatus itself will require no electricity or gas. A “green cleaning” system will be used that allows the near complete capture of waste water and its reuse for irrigation.

As an added bonus, the brewery is designed so that it can function as a sugarhouse. So for a few months each year it will be producing maple syrup. Once sugaring season is over, it is back to beer.

Can this business model work? We believe it can.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Horse Blanket

A short time ago, I was reading some beer reviews in a national magazine. In one of the reviews, the statement was made that the subject beer had a "warm and pleasing horse blanket aroma and flavor". I have seem similar statements many times over the years. While this particular reviewer meant their statement as a compliment, it set me to thinking.

I have a long association with horses, currently I own three, and it has never crossed my mind to taste their blankets. In fact I cannot imagine it would be very pleasant at all. Ever see what the water looks like after washing one of those things? This leads me to believe that those who created and continue to propagate this description have never been particularly intimate with a real horse blanket.

Yet why does the description of beer as having horse blanket aroma/taste continue to be used? My best guess is that it was used once and became a catch phrase and, like most catch phrases, became so over used that it lost any association with its origin. No literal meaning remains.

These days the "horse blanket" description is most used in reference to Guinness, which to me tastes nothing like a what I would imagine a horse blanket to taste like. I wonder if the first beer so described really did taste like a horse blanket. If it did, I would bet that is why no one remembers it.

Would you really want to taste my blanket?

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Everyone of us who brews beer tends to think highly of our own product. If we didn't we would not be brewing. We hand out our brew to friends and family, but how often do we allow our beer to face a real test of its quality and authenticity?

Recently I brewed an English dark mild. To my mind it turned out great and I decided to put it to the test. Not a homebrew contest with certified judges. No indeed. I wanted to put it to the toughest test possible. To that end, I brought some to a dinner party hosted by a REAL "I rode to school on a double-decker bus" Englishman. I knew I was sticking my neck out, but this was something I had to do.

With no hint of its content, I poured my offering into a glass. My unwitting judge looked at it a bit quizzically while twisting the glass in his hand. With a quick sniff of the aroma, he downed a monster gulp. He placed the glass back on the table and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Then he took a step back, looked at me and said "That's a mild ale. Its good! You don't find those much in America."

Having never tasted a real English mild ale in my life I managed to brew one that was recognizable by an honest-to-God Englishman. Such moments in life are rare. Savor them.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Existentialism and Beer Update

Over the past two weeks I have been listening to a series of lectures on existentialist philosophy. In the past I have had a bit of antipathy toward existentialism. This arose from my dealings from the few self-proclaimed existentialists I have met. Particularly, a Sartre toting and (mis)quoting fellow in Fairbanks, Alaska, whose constant refrain was "I don't care about my life." I could not brook such a philosophy.

I should have known better. As I wend my way through this series of 24 lectures I am finding a very different meaning of existentialism than that which I had heretofore believed. Freedom to choose and responsibility for oneself are the real character of the philosophy of Camus and Sartre, in its simplest form. They (and others) contend that no matter the situation we still have choices and are responsible for the outcome of those choices. We cannot simply let life happen to us. Thus the old excuse of "I had no choice ..." does not hold. Echos of Socrates here.

It is not hard to envision situations where such philosophy would lead to a very severe judgement upon one. We must not expect too much. After all we are only human. Or is that just an excuse? Based on this interpretation, one could opine that existentialism may well be just the philosophy for our current era.

The irony here was Sartre's support of Stalin and Castro et al. How could one argue for freedom of choice and individual responsibility while supporting a system that sought to eliminate individualism, and those who brutally enforced such a system? Camus couldn't figure that out and it ended his friendship with Sartre.

Beer Update

The honey beer is in its 20 day and still turning over the lock. It has slowed, but is still not quite ready for the bottle. The "Old British Ale" is chuggin' right along.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Yeast Failure!

Oh! The pain!

The yeast I pitched in my last recipe, a knock-off from the Old British Beers book, appears to have failed. It was a Wyeast "smack pack" liquid culture. I got on the company website and it stated that a culture could take up to 36 hours to get going. After about 40 nothing was happening, so I pitched a Nottingham dry yeast. Hopefully this will save things.

Looking back over my brewing notes, I see that of the last four times I have used Wyeast cultures: Two have failed, one underperformed, and one (Scotch Ale) worked excellently. I am not sure what the problem could be. I had made a note that only the Scotch Ale pouch had inflated prior to pitching and that was the only one that I smacked the night before brewing. The others were all smacked the day of brewing but still had 6-8 hours before pitching. Maybe that is the key. However, the Wyeast website does say that the pouch need not be inflated prior to pitching.

I know many people swear by Wyeast products, so if anyone has an idea what went wrong, please pass it on.

Thanks and Cheers!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Old British Beer

Greetings and Happy New Year!

Some time ago I stumbled upon the website of the Durden Park Beer Circle. This group of lads and lasses have been pursuing the recovery of formulas for the great British beers of yesteryear. They have published an excellent book, Old British Beers and How To Make Them, of which I have obtained a copy. Part one of the book contains a brief but fascinating history of how the members went about researching and testing their recipes. The second part of the book discusses brewing such beers and includes 131 recipes.

The recipes are all designed for the production of one imperial gallon (4.54 liters). This is where it gets interesting. Some of these recipes call for up to 10 lbs. of pale malt for one imperial gallon! In most of the recipes, as much malt is used for one imperial gallon as I use for five US gallons. I am not quite ready yet to commit 40 or or more pounds of malt to one five gallon batch of beer, however I was inspired.

The most noteworthy feature of the recipes in this book is their simplicity. Most American recipes have a long list of malts, hops, and other additives, often added in very small amounts and at varying times in the mash or boil. The recipes in this book all follow one of two mash and boil schedules and have only two to four ingredients. That's it.

In this spirit of simplicity, and guided by the Durden Park Beer Circle's fine text, I created my own simple "Old British Beer". I used British pale malt in a ratio of 7/1 lbs. with 60L crystal malt. For hops I used the last three ounces from my own hopyard. The yeast of choice was Wyeast British Ale II.

What will become of this "Old British Beer"? Time will tell, and so will I....