The Spoils of Wort: IPA, Mead

I took a hiatus from brewing because I bought a house and had a kid. The one-two punch really put a dent in the hobbies. More on the point I couldn’t find half the fucking equipment for the longest time and there was one totally aborted batch somewhere in the middle due to the electric range not cutting it for brewing.

The previous electric range in the apartment was actually better, but did nothing to spread the heat so the eventual outcome was scorching on the brewpot until I figured out the flashing trick.

If you are interested in brewing on an electric range, the quick fix for hotspots is to buy a turkey fryer and never brew on your electric range again. If you absolutely insist on not owning a turkey fryer, then go to home depot, buy a piece of flashing (for a building) and so long as it’s not lead, it will work as a heat spreader. If you have an electric cooktop, it already has this. But seriously, buy a turkey fryer.

I’ve been getting hops off my Goldings rhizome for several years now and they just end up in the freezer. I think I killed it this year transplanting it into the garden, which sucks, but three years for a hop vine is actually a fairly long time. Point being, Goldings are supposed to be piney, sweet and floral. These were headed towards grassy. However, being an IPA, I decided to toss them in anyway for aroma. Hops tend to depend strongly on where they’re grown, so the “apartment hops” are going to be different from the “house hops” if they survived. More on the point hops don’t have very strong separation unless made in tightly controlled conditions, which tends to lead to hop of the month. I also grew chinooks, but it was never very good and finally expired, probably due to acidic hops needing more neutral soil than I could provide in a balcony pot.

The recipe was a basic IPA base, which is to say 16lbs pale and 1lbs caramel. Actually I made that 2lbs caramel and dropped the special B, pils and special roast because at .25 lbs, they don’t contribute anything. If it were black patent or chocolate, they would have made the beer roasty. Also my mash water is slightly on the high side since my thermometer didn’t survive the winter and I need to purchase another one. My best guess is that the water was 175F to 180F since the thermometer now has the column of color and then a thin line of it 5 degrees higher up. Fortunately they’re only $3. I also disagree with the 45 minute mash, generally longer is better when it comes to mash with the cutoff being when the mash drops to 160F or so it’s time to drain it before it really cools down and makes grain jello. My mash was roughly 1h15m.

I ended up using more make up water than I wanted due to me not paying as much attention as I should be and letting the mess boil over. Plus the late addition of hops usually means the brew kicks up. I need a bigger pot is really the root cause of this so I can keep a hard boil on while not worrying about what the hops are going to do to nucleation. This isn’t a huge problem with IPAs since the emphasis is on the hops and I had planned to use some of my own anyway.

The cooldown I decided to do entirely differently. Normally I’m a fan of the hot water bath or wort chiller, but now I’ve got a basement which hangs out at about 70F. A bit warm for lagering but perfect for just about anything else. The new plan was to simply put the beer in the carboy and put a plastic bag loosely over the top and let it sit overnight. The airlock here is a trap because the wort will suck in air as it cools. The air in the carboy is going to contract, the more it does so the more vacuum is built up in the fermenter and it’s perfectly capable of sucking all the water out of the airlock. The double-bubble airlocks really shine here because it works both ways. If the water is below the half way mark, it’ll keep the nastiness out. 3 pieces will pull the water right into your beer. So, if you have a double-bubble, use that if you’re not going to chill the beer ahead of time. It’s not the best filter, but it’s better than the bag. My double-bubble went AWOL in the move, hence the bag. Water isn’t the best filter, but as the K5 Bong Squad will tell you, it does filter whatever bubbles through it to some extent.

Dry hopping – I put in hop flowers and I really should have shredded them before doing it. Since they’re frozen, they’re plenty crumbly. It made a real mess to clean out of the fermenter. Plus they float. Not only do you lose the trub on the bottom but you lose the beer on top now that it’s filled with hops. I think I only lost four bottles out of what I expected to get but that’s four less bottles to drink. There’s a reason why those wine filters are so popular in the brewing community, and this is the reason.

Yeast – I double-pitch now because I’m paranoid that the long cooldown period will let things get into the beer I don’t want. Buying two yeast packets instead of one is cheap insurance.

A week later and the beer hadn’t settled, so I let it sit for two weeks and some change and things had improved. Also make a mental note to buy a keg kit. Actually washing out two cases of bottles, sterilizing them, and then washing them out again is crap. Not that kegs are easier to clean but they’re certainly better than 50 bottles. The beer is good.

My wife eventually got the beer envy and said “Lets try making mead!” Note that we still have that lonely bottle in the basement from beeguy via Rusty, I keep saying we should drink it and she keeps coming up with reasons why not. I think it’s getting on four years old now. One of these days I swear it’s going to grow wings and fly away.

Now, BEERLAB 2021 is already setup to do wine because my wife thinks Arbor Mist is good wine. Then, just because Arbor Mist wasn’t shitty enough, there’s a brand of wine kit called Harbor Mist which is absolutely fucking foul. Any wine which requires you to add “concentrated watermelon flavor” to the mix – probably crap. The two year old bottles are actually passable because that shit gets toned down but no-one is going to mistake it for wine. We’ve had OK luck foisting it on people as wine coolers. Also a note on better bottles versus glass. Better bottles, despite all claims, pick up the hop smell. If you use a better bottle for beer, you cannot use it for wine. I have been playing with the idea of adding noble hops to wine or fermenting wine in a beer bucket if the nose is right, but I want to hear from more winemakers before committing to it. I’ve had the better bottles for a few years so they’ve got some wear on them. I also have a glass carboy and I prefer to use that.

Anyway, mead is interesting. The Northern Brewer will ship just about anything for $7.99. While it’s not a huge savings for one kit, if you order two it’s a steal. In fact they have an extremely nice selection of mead kits so I just picked a beer kit (petit saison) and we got them both. Of course, she got sweet mead and let me tell you it lives up to it’s name. The mead kit comes with energy mix, whatever that is, and three more small satchels of the same. It also comes with the standard overpitch of yeast. Of course it also comes with a metric ton of basswood honey.

Now when I link to that, it’s so you can see the color and get some tasting notes. Be that as it may, this honey from northern brewer was raw. It was slightly darker than that, strong smelling, had shit floating in there to the point of being opaque and it had a layer of stuff on the bottom. NB sends a note with it – “it’s normal for the honey to be opaque since this is brewing honey, not table honey”. OK maybe it’s a UK thing, but I wasn’t aware there was “table honey”. The instructions said it would clarify when it was warmed, which to their credit it mostly did but I’m still not sure you would want to eat it straight from the bottle. There were no mummified bees present in it’s golden depths.

Now, if this were wine there would be warming, a brief boiling period, etc. Mead is a lot more raw than wine and the process is dead simple: Warm bottles in a hot water bath, boil some water. Stir in big yeast nutrient phial in boiled water and add yeast. Fill fermenter half way with warm water. Pour in honey. Top up. Done.

I changed this a bit.

I’m in the camp that the yeast should be re-hydrated with whatever you’re going to put them in. Reason being that the yeast are sensitive to temperature and they are strongly sensitive to Ph. I could have saved some honey and put that in the water but the easiest way of doing it is to toss the yeast straight way into the fermenter. Since we already have to stir up the honey and we need to stir in the yeast food, it only makes sense to put the yeast in the must (unfermented wine-product) and stir and stir again. I did not observe any adverse effects.

The honey at this point was quite pretty and golden.

The next day – it stank. To make it more fun, there’s three additions of yeast food 24 hours apart. If it stinks now, you can bet that it would stink for subsequent feedings. Trust me, it did. It only got worse. Every time we fed it for the next three days it smelled like all sorts of strange smells. Sulphur and overripe apples abound. I was actually getting worried it had spoiled, except every time we gently stirred it we got CO2 out so I knew the yeast was working properly. Fortunately we have a radon mitigation system in the basement and it’s fairly flowy so most of it was going out the top of the house. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was unique. Once you smell it you notice it’s everywhere.

A week later I went downstairs for something unrelated and noticed it was cloudy and highlighter yellow. I was starting to fear the worst so I got out the trusty wine spoon and gave it a quick cleaning. I stick it in there and KABOOM. All the suspended CO2 came out, it looked like soda. Six gallons of highlighter yellow mountain dew. I decided to lick the spoon and it was delicious. Honey, apples, flowers and sugar. Oh this is going to be dangerous. Yes it is.

Fruit Trees

I am now the proud owner of a whole bunch of fruit trees.

We already had productive apple trees on the property which probably should be pruned more aggressively. Kelly has since planted pawpaws and has her garden. I haven’t had pawpaws in forever. They sometimes, but rarely, will show up in the farmers markets and they’re usually expensive as sin. The death of the traditional farmers market is a whole other post, but suffice to say there isn’t one around here that isn’t a supermarket without a storefront. This can be good, health regulations and all that, but it can be bad too since the more exotic stuff now is on a friends-only basis. New Jersey (ugh) is the last state to really entertain the roadside stand, but you can go out to Gilbertsville and visit Zerns Flea Market. The West Chester Farmers Market tends to be crap and it’s typically a victim of the fact it’s not permanent.

Home Depot’s garden club had sent out coupons for buy-one-get-one trees. For expensive trees, like Japanese Maples, this could be a steal. However I have very little use for maple trees – they occur naturally in our flower beds and we’ve got two seedlings I’ll probably transplant into the woods when I get bored and it’s less wet. I had considered trying to terraform the woods with a weeping willow. I figured it would dry the ground out but the likelihood of this is slim to none. Also being a park back there I don’t want to put expensive trees outside the property line.

Kelly and I went there last night on a whim since the coupon was about to expire and found out most of the trees had been picked over. Left were a few apple trees, a few peaches, nectarines and “fruit cocktail” trees. Home Depot does a decent job of labeling what is self pollinating and what is not self pollinating. But here’s the cool part – the apple, peach and pear trees are not self pollinating, but both the “fruit cocktail” trees and more importantly the nectarines are graft trees and thus are self pollinating. We grabbed a nectarine and a fruit cocktail tree, which turned out to be three types of pears. The self pollinating thing is a boon or a bust. It’s great value for the money (buy one “tree” instead of two) but it also means half the area for producing fruit as two trees = twice the fruit. We own enough land to make use of these but I also want to grow other stuff (like peaches) so buying the grafts isn’t a bad idea.

Grafting isn’t hard, but the official forestry guide doesn’t make it look easy. I actually plan on growing a lemon tree and grafting another lemon tree to it, both to speed production and make it self pollinating. Lemons, like oranges and grapefruits, typically take 15 years to fruit. Then again maybe I’ll just say F-it and pay for a fruit cocktail tree of lemons, grapefruits and oranges. At the rate we’re going, I’m going to retire and become a farmer.

America: The Story of Us

I so desperately wanted this program to be decent.

Is it decent? If you’re looking for “remastered” footage, yes, it’s decent. The presentation pace is also good. The images have been retouched a bit to get rid of the CCD blowout and other film artifacts of the era and the colors absolutely pop.

The problem is the content is crap.

The last episode supposed that a slave (Onesimus) taught his master how to inoculate against smallpox, and they make this a Guns Germs and Steel type argument for how slaves kicked off modern medicine. Unfortunately that master was none other than Cotton Mather – who was very likely either a liar or batshit crazy and he was the lead figure in the prosecution for the Salem Witch Trials.

I’m sorry, I’m watching this program going “are you serious”? There’s a big difference between inoculation and variolation. The former being invented by Edward Jenner working with the cowpox virus and involves pus for a much lesser chance of infection and the latter being practised in China and India which involved transferring the infected tissue wholesale from one person to another. When you go to the doctor, he doesn’t have meat cut off a corpse he’s trying to sell you – he has a needle.

Variolation against smallpox was invented by the Chinese or Indians somewhere around 1400AD. This is recorded history, you can look it up. The Song Dynasty encountered smallpox through trade and the Emperor lost his next in lineage to the disease. He summoned the entire Chinese medical community to the city to figure out how to prevent it from wiping out the dynasty. Your gross fact of the day is that the Chinese did not make a wound and infect it with scabs, they actually crushed up the scabs and mainlined them like so much blow. Smallpox – right to the lungs!

The Montegus brought the Variolation practise out of the Ottoman Empire, where they referred to it as engrafting. Think about that. Grafting the meat.

However, the program makes no distinction between the methods of fighting smallpox, completely ignores the Chinese and Indian medicines who were doing it for literally thousands of years before America and tries to sell you a lie. Maybe we’re all victims of oversimplication here but I really think that a channel called the History Channel should know its…. history.

Who is President?

Normally DIGG is semi-useless due to them admitting the stories are basically chosen by advertisers and the voting only exists to give the users a button to push.

However, today they seem to be 10 years behind the curve. If you’re wondering, the page can be viewed here, but this is what showed up in my inbox:


Bad Company 2 Initial Impressions

I play very few genres on the XBOX. I play racing games, I play shooters and I play demos of other genres to remind me why I stick to the genres I do. Before anyone flames me that X is better than Y, understand I liked Operation Flashpoint 2, I liked Modern Warfare 2 and I like Bad Company 2. Out of all three, I like them least-to-most in that order. Flashpoint took the cake for having the most potential and the worst execution. Making me pay for patches is a no-no. Modern Warfare 2 had slick execution and excellent graphics, but the multiplayer was absolutely ruined and they botched the patch. Bad Company 2 seems like the game I wanted to play in the first place.

Usually these choices keep me happy.

Multiplayer is also a huge factor. If the game doesn’t have multiplayer, I’m probably not going to buy it. Reasons are entirely personal but my videogames need a good bit of tread to keep me interested.

Basically it boils down to time. I don’t have a ton of it and if I can’t play a round in 15 minutes or so it’s tough to play. Modern Warfare 2 scratched this itch. The singleplayer was great, the multiplayer was (initially) really good. My gripes about MW2 are numerous and they’ve been retread a ton on the blog. I finally got to the point where I picked it up for 15 minutes and played a few rounds and finally quit again in frustration. Two words: GOLDEN DEAGLE.

EBGames was having one of their power-trade things, so I figured I would dump Left 4 Dead 1 (which I didn’t trade to Amazon) and MW2. I ended up with a used copy of Battlefield Bad Company 2 (with a code in it for the maps, not sure if this is still relevant or not) for $17. Not bad, cheaper than beer, right?

Singleplayer review follows – everyone is reviewing multiplayer but I’m firmly convinced both MW2 and BC2 use singleplayer for training and thus it’s important to finish the campaign on normal just once before going online. In both cases this is true, but I haven’t finished the campaign yet in BC2. Also I’ll throw in Operation Flashpoint 2: Dragon Rising comparisons since, to be fair, BC2 has more in common with FP2 than MW2.

Menus – Strange to start a review here? Not really. While MW2 menus had a tendency to take up the entire screen and be well laid out (minus the weird main menu where you “drilled down” into an entirely different set of menus for multi or spec ops) both FP2 and BC2 borrow the “yellow bar” menu system. Don’t worry, it’s entirely usable, but seems a bit strange. In the game, FP2 uses Ghost Recon pie menus, but MW2 and BC2 share the same “bottom bar” menus for gadgets and options and whatnot. Also object interaction in MW2 and FP2 is nonexistent, but in BC2 it’s much closer to Left 4 Dead. If you can interact with something, you are either presented with what button to press (like MW2) or you can use the generic “mark” button (“back” on the controller) to call enemies, vehicles, etc. It’s all done quite nicely. The whole “press this button” or “mark” meme continues through the menus and the game and it flows quite nicely.

Enemy AI – FP2 failed it big time here. The game was entirely scripted, and this is OK, but it was done badly and in a way where if the player didn’t follow “the route”, the events wouldn’t be properly triggered. To make matters funnier, one of the singleplayer maps was terribly broken as a result. MW2 also features AI which is largely scripted. The bad guys always appear at the same places, with the same weapons, and take cover where they need to be. They would rarely break from cover. Even grenades are scripted in the MW2 single player campaign where someone will toss one at a predefined point. The level design is so linear in MW2 that it’s a rail shooter, but it’s so well executed you won’t notice. The AI in BC2 is good. While enemies still have patrol routes, they do make some attempt at maneuvering and they’re reasonably aware of the destruction to the environment. Good examples of this – in the second level if you blow out the wall to a building in the courtyard, enemies shooting from the windows will run away and find a new window. Examples of this being lackluster – if you sufficiently skirt the “engagement area” you can sneak around some obstacles without firing a shot. I’m fairly sure this is intentional as the areas this option presents itself with are usually so filled with bad guys it’s ridiculous. Examples are the lumber yard and the last area of the second map where you can ride a quad to the objective and leave the area onto the “escape truck” without engaging the bad guys.

Maps – Maps are well thought out for what BC2 will do. They understand you’re here to have fun, so they give you plenty of buildings to blow up and propane cans to kick around. They don’t make it overt where you’re destroying everything in your path (minus missions with airstrikes), and some of the missions require you to explicitly not do this. The overwatch area with the sniper rifle makes it incredibly tempting to simply run in and tap off all the gas cans to level the camp, but I failed the mission doing this. On the other hand, the mission with airstrikes is hilarious since the whole place comes down. MW2 is a rail shooter, and while BC2 suffers from the same bit of scripted bad guys, the AI is strong enough to let you get off course and try new stuff. In MW2, if you were smart enough to get in “the wrong place”, you could pretty much dominate the campaign. The terminal map comes to mind here (the end of “no russian”), where the shield guys are a real PITA, but if you were smart enough to run forward before the spawn event, you could literally walk down the line and knife them all without being hit. FP2 failed it utterly, thankfully it merely serves as example of what not to do. While FP2 had trigger areas and weak AI that relied entirely on scripting, BC2 has none of that.

Vehicles – MW2 fails it utterly. The entire game is a rail shooter so it’s no surprise when you step into a vehicle and its a rail shooter. FP2 had terrible vehicle physics, on par with Battlefield Vietnam. It wasn’t uncommon for vehicles to get stuck and to get stuck under vehicles. Actually running someone over might work, but usually not. Stepping out of vehicles was hilarious because you could fall through the planet. It was crap, all around. BC2 does it right. The vehicles might be over simplified but they work correctly. They don’t get stuck. The game is really good at dismounting you properly, including when you do intentionally stupid stuff like drive a boat at high-speed up the side of a hill to get a better shooting position for the cannon (lumberyard). Also FP2 wouldn’t let mounted soldiers fire, which was stupid as all heck but with the AI being as bad as it was, this didn’t surprise me. BC2 lets mounted soldiers fire. BC2 has vehicle damage, so when you blow out the windshield of a vehicle you can kill the driver, or you can shoot people off the quad bikes.

Blowing Crap Up – FP2 you assumed would let you drive over trees and stuff, it never happened. MW2 had scripted events where things would explode, and it had a strange bullet penetration system where sometimes you could shoot through a wall and sometimes not, even with FMJ equipped. BC2 has its own quirks where sometimes sandbags are indestructible, and sometimes not. However, vehicles seem to take the “correct” amount of damage, and so do walls and whatnot. More importantly you really can bring down trees, which provide additional cover if you’re infantry or obscure vehicles shooting and view. The trees thing is nice, and it never seems to get in the way. On the other hand blowing the crap out of buildings means – as infantry – you better surprise them or you’reĀ  toast after the first few rounds.

Sound – Normally I don’t care about how my games sound so long as there’s music to establish the atmosphere, etc. FP2 sucked for this – everything was loud. MW2 had a good soundtrack and excellent voice acting. Bad Company 2 actually sounds real. I’m putting that in italics because the effect is so profound it’s visceral. I shoot in real life, I’ve played with rockets, I’ve blown up things where “danger close” would have been an ironic joke. Normally guns make generic “gunshot noises” and clips make “reloading noises” and explosions go “boom”. If you choose the proper speaker setup, the sound makes the firefights in Bad Company 2 absolutely intense. The guns make the right noises. Plastic clips (called “bullet tupperware”) make the right noises. Metal clips make the right noises. Linked belts make the right noises. More on the point you can hear the brass hit the floor and roll around (or grenades) or not, and standing outside lets you hear far more than standing inside. Also there’s a deafness model at work – if you empty a clip you won’t hear much of anything. If an explosion goes off near you, you won’t even hear teammates yelling. The aural model is really, really exceptionally well done.

I expect multiplayer to be more of the same. All in all I shouldn’t have bought FP2, it was a disaster. I don’t regret buying MW2, it was fun for what it was but in the end the users ruined it and Infinity Ward couldn’t keep up with Activision messing with them constantly. Battlefield Bad Company 2 is the game I should have bought in the first place, but frankly getting all three games for $20 each time because of trade ins means I don’t feel bad about the experience.

I’m Probably Trading in Modern Warfare 2

Ugh, what a mess. First Infinity Ward (IW) has it’s management scalped by activision because they didn’t want to actually pay someone for having the best selling game of all time, then two other managers resigned and nine more developers quit. 12 people is piss in the river for all the people who actually worked on it, but my guess is that it’s their top talent since it wouldn’t be worth it for some minor developer to make a stink about resigning.

What we’re left with is one addon pack which got released and was bugged at release, and we’ve got fundamental issues with how the game actually works for multiplayer. Despite the team doing a pretty decent job cracking down on the cheating, there’s still the fundamental problem that some user accounts have things like ranks they shouldn’t, weapons they shouldn’t, and camo they shouldn’t. These are legit accounts running on legit XBOXes which haven’t been modded, they just have extra attributes.

The modded XBOXes continue to see through walls, autoaim, all the perks listed above and modified weapons attributes. Nothing like finding yourself in a map with ice skaing enabled and sentry guns which shoot grenade launcher rounds. While it might be cool if these were codified into some kind of official mod, that’s not how it’s being used.