In Defense of Light Beer

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There is nothing wrong with light beer! There, I said it. Now you should know that I consider myself a beer snob, I’ve knocked it plenty myself, and I don’t defend it blindly. I wouldn’t even say I prefer it, but I think it deserves a healthy measure of respect. Enter snobbery in favor of light beer.

Beer isn’t an either or thing, it’s not exclusive but broad and inclusive. Beer comes in a veritable matrix of continuums (continuui?) from light to dark, bitter to…less bitter, high alc % to low. Malty, yeasty, grainy, fruity, sour…the list goes on. Light, crisp, drinkable are just as valid as heavy, roasty, hoppy or full bodied. A sensitive palate and perceptive, intentional, conscientious consumption can tell you a lot about what you’re drinking, but it can’t tell you that one style or flavor is preferable to another. Only your personal inalienable preference can tell you that. Snobbery ought not preclude the right to your own tastes.

The most sensical sommeliers (my opinion) will tell you that you’re not wrong for what you like and prefer, even if your knowledge is low; of course the potential for a grand experience rockets upwards as your knowledge of what you’re tasting increases.

Light beer is not lacking. It’s not a thing characterized by lacking quality or tilth (though this would accurately describe many mainstream examples) as many might suggest. Rather its aspects are lauded as a matter of preference, substance and character.

That said, mainstream light beer is not a thing of beauty and it far lacks the flavor of its carefully brewed companions. As with many things produced corporately, corners are cut and a good thing becomes but a shadow of what a quality example might offer. Major brands are indeed lacking careful production, but it’s not a fault of the style, just of the masses indistinguishing palates. “Piss-water” isn’t a fault of the style, but of laziness and stinginess.

If dark beer were truly objectively better, then why do we have light beer at all? From the historical perspective, all beers were once dark, they’re easier to make. Lagering in fact takes additional weeks or months of aging and temperature control to arrive at this light and golden drink (yes there are dark lagers too).

So basically light beer should be lauded (if you like it) but never scorned. If you want to get specific, go ahead and scorn the poorly made varieties, but don’t knock the style.

9 Months Later…

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comparison

Exactly 9 months ago, on October 11, 2010, I put on a leather bracelet. Rather, I sewed it on making it a ‘permanent’ bracelet. I bathed, swam, sweated, cooked, scuffed and scraped and never it came off. I had oiled it just a little bit with some neatsfoot oil before putting it on, otherwise it was raw veg-tanned leather.

It slowly began to darken and the color got richer. I made no effort to take care of it or treat it nicely, nor did I purposefully try to scratch, scrape, or abuse it, I just treated it like part of myself, the occasional scrape notwithstanding. It got darker and began to take on a waxy finish, the leather fibers slowly wore off until it had a dull sheen.

Now, exactly 9 months later, I began to notice it smelled a bit like an old shoe, a moldy boot or a stinky foot. I don’t suppose most would have noticed this, it isn’t noxious and is very subtle. In fact I wouldn’t have noticed either if I hadn’t had the habit of occasionally smelling the band to enjoy the rugged leather scent. However, I decided after 9 months, the test was over and it was ready to be born, perhaps as something else. The cycle of craft complete.

Making Vinegaroon

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rich black results

Disambiguation: This article refers to leather “dye” not Vinegaroon the arachnid.

One of my primary interests in leather work is that is an old craft and a natural material.  Modern leather work uses all sorts of harsh chemicals for both tanning and dying.  Traditional artisans didn’t have access to all of these methods and had to use other ways to dye and tan and to achieve the results that they sought.  One of these processes is the usage of vinegaroon to “dye” leather black.

Vinegaroon is basically ferric acetate, formed by dissolving steel wool in plain white vinegar.  Chemically the mixture that I make from steel wool and vinegar is far from [Fe3O(OAc)6(H2O)3]OAc (OAc is CH3CO2-).  But for the purposes of “dying” leather it’s splitting hairs.  So why do I keep saying “dye” in quotes?  Well technically there are no pigments in the vinegaroon that are dying the leather, but rather a reaction forms between the ferric acetate and the tannins present in the leather from the tanning process to create a rich dark black color.  This creates a rich permanent change in the color of the leather that won’t rub off or stain anything it comes in contact with.

My first attempted batch I bought some stainless steel pot scrubbers and soaked one in vinegar for 2-3 weeks.  The scrubber was mostly untouched by the vinegar and I realized that 1) The thickness of the metal was rather large and 2) the stainless steel was rather impervious to the light acid of the vinegar.  The result was useless and I tossed it.  I had mostly forgotten about it when I found some steel wool at the dollar store!


The steel wool that I got came in a 12 pack for only $1 and came in #2, #1 and #0 sizes, four pads of each gauge.  Steel wool can be found in even finer gauges like #0000 for even faster dissolving.  I took one pad and pulled it apart a bit to maximize surface area and dropped it into a spare jar of about 12oz of plain white vinegar.  I poked a hole in the lid to let off any pressure and after dating it, put it in a dark cupboard to do its thing.

After only 1-2 weeks the liquid had turned dark red/black and I couldn’t see if there was any steel wool left or not.  I was busy with other projects so I just let it go extra long for almost a month.  Today I filtered it out through a paper towel and tried it out to see how it worked. There was very little sediment remaining after the filtering.


Just as expected it dyed the leather intensely black, even in bright sunlight.  I’ve read that if you desire a darker black you can soak the leather in brewed black tea to increase the tannins in the leather so that it will create a stronger reaction.  You may also wish to neutralize the pH of the leather in a baking soda and water solution briefly so that the acid doesn’t damage the leather.  That’s all there is to it!

Tasty Tasty Tamarind

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100% natural pulp! boing!

I’ve been a fan of tamarind flavored candies and drinks and foods for a long time. I grew up on Pelón Pelo Rico and other similar tamarind flavored candies from Mexico. I also love pad thai and was unsurprised when I learned one of the primary flavor components was tarmarind. So when I first saw Jarritos in my local grocery in Tamarindo flavor, I was ecstatic and a love affair soon followed. My friends mostly thought I was crazy and didn’t like the flavor at all but what do they know about good drinks (apologies Alton Brown).

On this particular day I was cruising the local 99 Cents Only store and came across this Barrilitos artificially flavored tamarind soda.  My curiosity was piqued, and the monetary risk was low.  Could science even remotely take a crack at recreating the flavor that I love?  I quickly scanned the ingredients to see if it was even safe for ingestion.

Ingredients: water, high fructose corn syrup, less than 0.5% of: citric acid, caramel color, artificial and natural flavors, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate (to protect taste), modified food starch, coconut oil, sucrose acetate isobutyrate.

Well the contents could be better but probably wouldn’t kill me, so I grabbed a bottle and was headed home when I came across something else 20 paces down the aisle.  Boing! Tamarind with 100% natural pulp

Boing! definitely had my attention.  Not only was it a catchy name but it had 100% natural pulp and claimed “pasteurized enriched with vitamins”.

Ingredients: water, 12% tamarind pulp, sugar, citric acid, guar gum, pectina, natural coloring (caramel color class IV), 0,03% sodium benzoate, and 0,005% potassium sorbate as preservatives, vitamins A, B1 and C.

Not bad, in fact it looked much better.  I knew I had a comparison on my hands.  After getting home and chilling the drinks, it was time to start.

Barrilitos

I popped the cap off the Barrilitos and took a healthy swig.  It was light and lacked the body that Jarritos had.  The taste was tamarindy but it also reminded me of Mexican watermelon flavored candies, which taste like watermelon as much as grape candy tastes like grapes.  It had a slight chemical aftertaste and in the end I finished drinking it but wouldn’t buy it again.

Boing! Tamarind

Boing! Tamarind was a totally different ballgame. First I peeled off the little plastic wrapped straw that was labeled Clic with an arrow showing its operation. I had never seen an extendable straw like this and it brought me great joy pulling it to full length, ready for operation. This bad boy was almost 6in tall, a juice box on steroids. It weighed in at 500ml (16.9 fl. oz.), a full half liter. The real tamarind flavor was in my face and full bodied. It was sweet and thirst quenching with just the right amount of tang. There were earthy tones and a fantastic aftertaste. The real tamarind pulp was really shining through. Boing! Tamarind definitely deserves the exclamation point in the name!

Overall, if I had to come up with a slogan for each of these drinks, they would be as follows:

Barrilitos: It’s not awful…

Boing! Tamarind: It’s Tamarindtastic!

Call me The Yeast Herder – Part 3

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bottles sanitized and ready for filling

Miss Call me The Yeast Herder Part #1 and Part #2?

Bottling completed, and with only one major mistake, which… knock on wood, I think will be okay.

I tested my bottling bucket with water for complete drainage and found 12-16oz waste that wouldn’t pour out my drainage spout. Combined with what I couldn’t rack from the fermentor, and the sacrifice to the floor gods, and a gravity sample that I also tasted, I only lost 21oz. Somehow I feel like all those things add up to much more than that…..ahhh right the 16oz of water I added for the dextrose boil. Which isn’t 16oz at all but rather 16oz PLUS the volume of 150g of sugar added, which pushes it up to 20oz. That was my major mistake…

First of all, I should point out that my BrewCraft extract kit was from New Zealand and instead of making a standard 5gal recipe, I am making a 6gal recipe or more precisely 23L. (6gal = 768oz, 23L=777oz) My bottling bucket however was only 5 Gallons, and so I knew I’d have to bottle in two batches and split the priming sugar accordingly. Easy enough right?

I added 16oz of water (+dextrose) to the boil. I poured EXACTLY HALF (8oz) into half of the green brew. After bottling the first 12 liters, I poured the rest of the sugar water into my sanitized measuring cup just for kicks…..and stared at the 12oz reading….with wide eyes… Special words, brew day only words quickly came into my mind, but I decided not to panic. Afterall, panic might ruin the bottling!

I quickly ran to my computer and thankfully had left the priming calculator up. I quickly calculated the ratios of the 8/12oz (of dextrose + water) as 0.4 and 0.6, then multiplied that out from 150g. This was 60/90g… Panic began to return, I remembered all the stories of bottle bombs, breaking glass in the night and worst of all…lost beer!

I was shooting for 2.4 units of CO2 carbonation based on the list from the priming calculator site. It suggested that German Pilseners are around 2.5. BJCP told me that German Pilsners were medium/high carb and Czech Pilsners were medium. The list shows 2.5, so I knocked it down one point. After plugging in the numbers (technically I bottled 12L and then 11L, not exactly half) I found that my first half-batch would come in around 2.0 carb and the 2nd half-batch would come in around 2.8.

A great sigh of relief told me that everything would be fine, WHEW!!!! With other beers on the priming calculator site showing as high as 4.7 CO2 units, I figured the bottles were safe from exploding. My first instinct was to dump 4oz just to be safe, but I realized I had the opportunity to split test, so now I’ve had the opportunity to test both a low-carb and high-carb Pilsner.



How do you think I managed to rack from the fermenter directly into my brew bucket outlet?? That’s right, floor god sacrifice! Pull it and plug it and try to avoid splashes!

I now see the advantage of a shutoff valve, or at the bare minimum more than one tube for siphoning. It took me a second to figure out how to transfer the beer to a bucket with a hole in the bottom, but through the hole is the simplest answer.

I estimated 12 22oz bombers (264oz) and 42 12oz bottles (504oz) for a total of 768oz (6gal). However my batch was 777oz at 23L, and I ended up losing only 1 of the 42 bottles to the 21oz loss mentioned above. Not bad. I boiled 6 extra bottle caps and sanitized 2 more bottles than I thought I’d need. I lost 3 caps due to sanitation failure. (Clumsily dropped them on the floor, of course I can use them for next time.) Because I had extras I could easily move on and keep bottling.

I took a sample of course when testing the gravity and it wasn’t too bad. It’s definitely a plain low bitterness beer, but all in all I think it might age well and the carbonation should help immensely. Being new to this I can’t comment if it takes a lot of skill to make a great Pilsner, but I can say that a great Pilsner is far above a simple light watery beer. Pilsner Urquell is one of my favorites, and it has complex notes of honey. These can be VERY pronounced when it’s on tap in the Czech republic, but much less so when bottled. If I make a Pilsner again I’m using honey.

Empty fermenter means……What should I do for my 2nd brew? Definitely something that I manually hop, not sure if I want to mash or not yet. Suggestions?

Call me The Yeast Herder – Part 2

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installed on paper to show construction

Miss Part #1? Call me The Yeast Herder #1

My beer is bubbling happily this morning, so I guess that makes me lucky as many wait worriedly for the first 48 or even 72 hours before they see any signs of proper fermentation. I can even see a tiny bit of krausen forming through the semi-transparent walls of my white plastic bucket. Maybe my high temp apartment isn’t so bad after all, these yeasties probably think they’re on the deck of a cruise ship headed for the sunny shores of Puerto Vallarta. Well they’ve got a surprise coming, this isn’t a mexican beer, its a Czech Pilsner, they’re headed for the heart of Bohemia.

I’m so hungry for my pilsner to finish that I regularly smell the airlock as it bubbles to see what aromas it might be generating. Too weird? I’m sure all first time brewers do this right? Right?

~~~~~~~~~~~

$6.17 later at Lowe’s… I have a 1/2” MIP barbed hose adapter, a PVC coupling to use as a nut, two O-rings, and a 5gal bucket…

I may regret not getting an actual ball valve to cut off the flow in a beermergency, but I’m planning on doing gravity fed bottling with a spring tipped bottling wand rather than an open ended siphon, so I’m betting on the spring tip to hold the brew in, no valve required. We’ll see if this was a good bet soon enough. The assembled port is fully removable for hyper sanitation if necessary. I even sanded off some rough spots of the tube adapter up to 600 grit so that there won’t be recessed areas for nasties to hide in. The bucket itself wasn’t all that smooth inside, but I’ve read that green beers are rather hard to infect. I’ll just be gentle on it and try to keep scratches down, and be sure to soak it good with sanitizer.

~~~~~~~~~~~

I haven’t seen a bubble for days, I’m sure its time to bottle. What will happen next??

See Call me The Yeast Herder #3

Lightbox results

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IMG_4647

I’m honing in closer and closer to the results I’m looking for. Moving the lights around helped, and tweaking the shutter speed significantly did too. The biggest difference was when I found the white balance setting, where I can re- white balance before every shot. Changing the lighting settings made a big difference too, but I still have to white balance every time. Examples follow. The two items in these shots are now available for sale on my Etsy store as well.

Call me The Yeast Herder – Part 1

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extract

Today was brew day and now my 8 gallon brew bucket is slowly beginning to ferment in the closet. I’ve been interested in brewing my own for some time now and finally pulled the trigger. I decided to start out with a very simple one step pre-hopped extract brew. To any doubters, you CAN do this. This is more about my experience than step by step directions, but I might get specific at times.

The brew process was really pretty easy! Easier than I thought, I just made sure I had everything sanitized extra carefully, and that I had a sanitized surface to put my sanitized items on. You’ve heard people talk about insanity? Well this is sanity aka sanitation. I used idophor to do my sanitizing which is a very effective sanitizer that will take care of basically all nasties at only 12.5ppm (parts per million). I also kept a large pot of the leftover sanitizing solution in case I needed to sanitize things I had forgotten. And I did need to at least once, several times actually.

Major Failures

Once my pot got close to boiling, I pulled the extract out of the sanitizing solution and began opening it with the can opener. Now I have two can openers, one has nasty stuff all over the wheel and its almost impossible to clean, no way is that thing getting near my beer. The other one is a simpler mechanism and is way easier to clean. Well it also just so happened it was a complete piece of garbage. I managed to cut maybe 1 inch of the lid and then the wheel started spinning fruitlessly. The pot was about to boil over, my small apartment was heating up fast, I was beginning to sweat, I was losing my grip on the can opener, but trying to keep my cool lest I drip contamination into my precious extract. I didn’t want to turn on the central air during my brew in case it would kick up particulate that might fall into my open bucket later. I toiled and screamed at it to no avail. The words that followed were special words so ungentlemanly that they are reserved only for brew day mishaps and cannot be repeated here. I suppose though, anything that you don’t end up sweating and swearing during isn’t worth doing…but I like to be prepared. I struggled and somehow after about 10min just muscled the top off the extract, ignoring the last 2-3in of uncut can lid. This beer was getting itself made come hell or high water!

Never again! Next time I’m sanitizing one of those tiny wallet sized GI style can openers. If I need to open some extract under fire, I know one of those will pull me through. I’ve also heard that sometimes extract is sold in screw top bottles. That sounds so easy it’s almost cheating……wait what were we talking about, one step pre-hopped extract brewing? Alright well back to it then….

I was very sanitization conscious for this brew because the extract isn’t actually boiled so I wanted to be sure that anything going in my wort was truly uninfected. If you boil a pre-hopped kit it will ruin the hops.

My recipe had me bring 1 3/4 gallons (I did closer to 2gal) to a boil then turn off the heat and add the warmed extract and dextrose. I did have the option to use DME (dried malt extract) instead of the dextrose but I just went with the dextrose because it can be used for priming too. Since I wasn’t actually boiling anything for any length of time, I didn’t want any nasties from my can opener falling into the brew. However, 2 boiling gallons will hold that heat for a good amount of time and I’m sure the soon to be wort was around ~200F while pouring all the stuff in. Even so, I sanitized some bowls to hold the weighed sugar on my gram scale while waiting to be poured in.

The rest of the process went smoothly with no obvious mistakes but that doesn’t mean I’m worry free. Right now my biggest worry is that it’s too warm in my apartment. My instructions say to ferment at around 65-74, and my apartment is closer to 78-80 most days. I haven’t tried running the AC 24/7 yet, and in my new place I’m not sure how expensive that might be. I’ve never had central HVAC before.

I very much wanted to take pictures of the brewing process, but was more concerned about pulling it off so I didn’t end up taking any. There will definitely be pictures later on in the process.

I’m proud to finally say I’m part of the brew club! Sure I’ve made some cider in the past, but I don’t feel like that really counted, it was too easy.

Check out Call me The Yeast Herder Part #2 and Part #3

Built a Lightbox

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IMG_4570

In an effort to try to start taking more professional pictures, I decided I needed to built a lightbox to photograph some of my Etsy items. The pictures of the cuffs on the black leather turned out decent, but it took a lot of time to prop everything up just right and I had to lean my floor lamp over to get proper lighting. The easy way to solve all of these problems at once is of course a lightbox!

I ran to the store and picked up two clamp lights and some 100w incandescent bulbs. I moved recently so I have lots of cardboard boxes around. I also bought some white tissue paper.

Results?

Frustratingly, not really, not yet. After moving the lights around every which way, even clamping them directly to the edge of the box the pictures keep coming out with yellow backgrounds. A full 200w of full spectrum incandescent light was enough to make me feel hot, it was affecting my micro climate but not my pictures.

I’m guessing that the fault lies in my ability to operate my ancient (circa 2007) Canon PowerShot A530. I tried auto, program and manual modes. I tried ISO 80 to 800, shutter speeds, and f-stops to no avail. Either everything is washed out or the background is dark and yellowish. Even in the pictures above it looks like the lights are off, but they weren’t.

If you think you know what I might be doing wrong, leave me a comment. I’d love to know how to get the results that I’ve seen elsewhere online.

My “results” follow…



First Items up on Etsy!

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I finally posted up two items on my Etsy store! I’m excited to have some items up now, but I have a lot more work to do to get into the rhythm of making items and posting them.

One of the items was the dinosaur cuff from the previous post and the other was a new cuff I made today. I realized after cutting out several basic cuffs from my template that I shouldn’t make all of them the same size, ie just so they’ll fit me. So I measured my wrist, asked my girlfriend to measure hers, and looked around online for sizes other people had used. The second cuff I made in a small size. Pictures of the new cuff are below.