Friday, August 21, 2009

Short's Imperial Pilsner

I recently came back from a trip to Southeastern Michigan, and while there, I was lucky enough to find a 750ml bottle of Short's Imperial Pilsner. Short's is a little brewery in northern Michigan; centered in a refurbished hardware store in the village of Bellaire.

The bottle runs about $17, making it a 'special event' kind of beer. I had a couple buddies over for a taste test before heading out to a house party - I thought this would be the perfect time to check out some Michigan beers.

Upon opening, I cracked the lip of the bottle and nearly shattered the bottle. I carefully proceeded with my grandfathers ginger ale opener and voila! the beer was opened. I decanted off the entire bottle to make sure no glass would enter our tasting glasses. I saved about 2 oz. of beer to capture the yeast that was present in the bottom of the bottle; I will feed the yeast with nutrients and eventually use it to ferment some homebrew.

The fellas and I were quite surprised with the amazing amount of hops in this beer. Apparently, Joe Short is a man who knows little boundries when naming a beer by a specific style and then abandoning stylistic guidelines. I thought it was a really good beer, albiet too bitter for my increasingly delicate palate. An overview of "The Curl Imperial Pilsner" can be found at

This Imperial Pilsner is quite a departure from Short's mainstay brews, but I enjoy the brewers unfailing imagination and penchant for brewing experimentation. Keep up the good work, Short's!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Beginning of the End?

Growing up in Dearborn, Michigan, I was surrounded by Ford Motor Company; the white collars, the Rouge Plant factory men and women, the Ford badges, the Lincoln Continentals with the tinted glass, the 'Salt and Pepper shaker' buildings that my Dad worked in. Dearborn was a "model" city for the white professional - I was NOT one of them as it turns out!

Although I had other family members working for Chrysler and GM, I never gave much thought to how their long-standing jobs with these companies affects all our lives. With the impending bankruptcy announcement - next Monday, the first of June - there continues to exist this relentless anxiety within the state of Michigan. I really feel for the people there; my family, friends, extended family and all those who will be touched by the downturn of events.

I spoke with a friend from Berkley, Michigan, last night on the phone and I told her that I was disappointed with Michigan. I don't condemn the state or its people- I am just angry with State of Michigan officials that have failed their constituents. I think of the "Unionism, Not Fordism" leaflets that Reuther and his cronies passed around at the Rouge Plant in 1937 that would fuel an incredible revolution in unionizing the auto industry. Walter Reuther and his cohorts were revolutionaries! What happened to that same fire in today's auto leaders?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bass Lessons

I've always loved the way that drummers and bassists play off of each other in music. From the double bass and tympani of a symphony orchestra, to the drum and bass sequencing of hip-hop and every music in between, there is a powerful connection between bass and drums.

I started playing drums at a young age and took to them quickly. It didn't take long for me to find out that rock and roll really is a joy to play. Soon thereafter, I discovered Jazz - and my life took a whole new turn in a great direction. After studying Jazz in college, I went and played in a rock band for a number of years while simultaneously gigging with Country, Funk, Swing, Jazz and Heavy metal artists. Upon relocating to the Northwest, my life has taken on a "settling" period and these days I'm happy just playing Jazz. It truly is a work in progress for me, as I don't practice much at all - but when I play, everything comes back to me. Maybe not technically, but certainly on a spiritual and happy mental level. Drumming makes me smile.

I've played with many, many bass players and have enjoyed grooving with most of them. Not too many that I remember having rhythm or time struggles with...but there have been a few! I guess what attracts me to bassists is their ability to synchronize with me on an instinctive level. Playing a dirty, sloppy 12-bar blues is all well and good, but really locking up the groove with a bass player, to me, means not even realizing that they are playing. You stop listening to the note choices, the rhythm and the timing - it simply happens between the two of you and it is magic. I guess you could say that I briefly leave my senses for awhile when the groove is really happening. I imagine it's similar to what runners feel in the middle of a marathon....?

So, I've been practicing bass almost every day for the past month or so. I've got one on loan from my buddy Adam and another from my neighbor, Jenni. Both are Fender Jazz models, but Adam's is American and Jen's is Mexican. Although the American Jazz is more powerful with a clearer and more defined tone, I think I prefer the Mexican bass. It's got kind of a cool growl to it and it's way more worn in. I think I'll play 'em a bit longer before I decide which model I'm more comfortable with - I hope to have my own some day soon. My buddy Michael from the jam session says that playing bass will definitely help my drumming; I think I agree with him and look forward to hearing the proof!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Minister King

Forty one years ago today, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead in Memphis, Tennessee. I've been to Memphis; what a crazy town...full of folks that know how to get down and throw a Wang Dang Doodle! At the time when I visited, I was much younger and impressionable, but I did recognize the significance that Memphis had on the history of the United States. Although Rev. King was not on my mind when I was stumbling around Beale Street, I understood that a deep conflict within the South had always been present. Instead, I thought about Graceland, Johnny Cash making it big at Sun Records along with Jerry Lee and Carl Perkins, Dollywood and the big river separating Arkansas from Tennessee.

These days, the musical history of our country is still in my mind, but the people who helped to influence our daily lives inspire me more and more. I was at work last summer when my buddy Floyd played the entire "I have a dream" speech from the stereo in his truck. We were blasting it with all the doors open - as if to attempt a kinetic link to those outside earshot - and took it all in. What a speaker! The man really was a voice that moved millions; I'm sad that I wasn't alive to see and hear him myself, I think I really would've dug the energy of this guy. They don't seem to make enough people like Dr. King anymore, that's for sure, but when a person like him comes around, we need to embrace them. These are the people that help us to THINK. While rushing about in our little lives, we easily forget the important things that keep our humanity in check. Maybe that's why I take the little things so personally; they mean so much to me, I guess. And although King spoke of large ideas that would effect many people and overturn vast prejudice, I believe that his message, in order to be effective, would start with one brave person. King called on the American public to be courageous enough to support the idea that all people can have a fair shake. I just can't imagine how torn up this country was when Rev. King gave his monumental speeches...however, there is relief that there were enough people who gave a shit about the state of our country to go out there and support the man and his ideas of a better United States. Not since Obama have we seen such a rally. I'm glad at least I lived to see that!

So, to honor Rev. King Jr., I'm brewing a massive India Pale Ale today. Lots of German malts, some home-toasted for flavor and color and a dash of wheat malt for head retention. And then there's the my calculations, I'll be using over 8 ounces of hops in this mighty beer. In an average Pale Ale, one might utilize 2-4 ounces of hops. When it comes to IPA's, the sky is the limit - and although I'm not one to shoot for blistering bitterness that leaves a beer undrinkable, I am shooting for a big beer with enough hop FLAVOR to balance the incredible sweetness that I'll get from my Pilsner malt. I think of this beer in my mind's eye as a companion to the soul of MLK Jr: big and mighty, a force to be respected, courageous in spirit.

The sun has burnt off the thick layer of morning fog, the birds are singing in anticipation of this warm weekend, my mash is converting in the igloo cooler and the Doug Fir's are calm in the gentle wind that rolls over my quiet neighborhood. This is a good day.

Friday, March 27, 2009

One Last Gig

I'm sad upon hearing the news of Uriel Jones death. The last of the Funk Brothers prominent drum section to pass on into the great gig in the sky. Now he's seated along Bongo, Papa Zita, Pistol Allen and others...and you know they're having a cut up session to be sure. Probably sipping on corn liquor and laughing at all of our silly asses with Joe Hunter (above, right).

When I was growing up, I didn't realize how living in the Motor City would impact me for the rest of my life. The music and the musicians that created the Motown Sound were always with me, but I wasn't aware of their long-lasting influence on the way I play drums. As I hear it now, Uriel Jones was the drummer I copied most. His simple fills, the way he'd just lay down a bedrock back beat....the groove. So essential was the groove to the Motown sound that producers from all over the world have tried to emulate.

Words can't really describe the respect that I feel for this great drummer. He said once that the best sound he ever got for a kick drum was from an old heavy cardboard beer box - enough said!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Second Annual Firkin Fest

Mr. P.C. and I were lucky enough to score some tickets to this year's Firkin Fest at the Green Dragon. I haven't been to this pub in quite a while, so it was a great afternoon for a visit and to be among some good beer-drinking folk.

A firkin is first and foremost a unit of volume in England. More commonly in the States, it is recognized as a beer carrying vessel - it looks kinda like a small keg with rounded edges, a bung on top and an opening on the bottom of the facing side for release of the ale. They are pretty cool little kegs and render a flavor quite different from your ordinary half barrel keg. Instead of using carbon dioxide to push the beer out of the keg, the draftsman pulls down on what looks like a miniature bowling pin attached to a metal/wooden box to pour the beer. It really is a cool floor show, and the resulting beer in your glass is creamy and satisfying. If you ever make your way into a English style pub, look for "Cask Conditioned" beer or "Hand Pulled Beer": this is what Real Ale is all about!

So, back to the festival....
The minute I walked in the door, I was greeted by a wide smile and a big beard from one of the volunteers. Little did I know that I'd be coming back to meet this man a few more times during the afternoon! My buddy and I walked around, commiserated with some folks we know in the beer industry, sampled cheeses and sausage, people watched and commented heavily upon the ales that were on display. All the heavy hittin' breweries were well represented: BridgePort, Deschutes, Full Sail, Hopworks, Laurelwood, Lompoc, Lucky Lab, Ninkasi, Pelican, Roots, Rock Bottom and Rogue.

The dominant beer style at the event was anything hoppy. Out of the 15 beers that were on display, more than half of them were excessively bitter. My wife would've loved them, but they proved too much for my bruised palate. Not that I mind an IPA or a well hopped beer, but I feel that many of the hop bombs on tap were overdone and out of balance. Seeking some relief, I was pleased to learn about a gentleman serving Real Cask Ale over in the corner - and that he was the brewer HIMSELF. Well, this peaked our curiosity and soon enough I was face to face with the first person I saw when I walked in the door.

Brewers Union Local 180 is located in Oakridge, a little ways southeast of Eugene, Oregon. Ted is the brewer and was happy to talk about his beers and give me and my homebrewing compadre some encouragement. I do believe that he was the only brewer in the building pouring his OWN beer - what a statement! He showed his quality of craftsmanship by bringing his own equipment, his own beer, and his own personality to the Firkin Fest. After some friendly beer nerd conversation with Ted, I began to notice that when people stopped to get a sample from him, they'd stick around for a bit and talk. Unlike the other firkin stations, the Brewers Union table was pleasantly warm, wonderfully candid and refreshing: much like the beer.

I did enjoy some of the other beers at the event, but none of them quite compared to the quaff ability of the North Fork Ordinary Bitter and That Dark Beer Molasses Stout. Both under 5% alcohol and low on the bitterness scale - beautiful! Isn't that what Real Ale should be? I think so.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bottling the Bounty

Many people don't realize the amount of time and work that goes into packaging food products; the process is usually quite stupefying. Packaging beer is no exception. When I started homebrewing over eight years ago, I was always excited when it came time to bottle my brews because that meant I was closer to sampling what I had created. Back in those days, I would bottle up my IPA's, British Pale Ales or Scotch Ales and let them condition in the bottle for 7-10 days. These days, I have more patience - the bottles usually sit for weeks before I crack them open and start imbibing. The system I'm using to bottle is also a lot different from my old system. I used to bottle the beer with an addition of corn sugar to achieve a state of natural carbonation in the bottle - this is known as "Bottle Conditioning". Today, I'm using carbon dioxide gas to do the 'conditioning' for me. I simply hook up my hoses and valves to a CO2 tank with a fancy looking filler on the other end which empties the beer from the kegs they are stored in. I cap up the bottles after they're filled and I let them sit in my basement for a week or two before I open one up and take a sample.

Right now, I've got a serious bottling job that needs attention. I am running out of room in my humble little brewery and there seems to be beer everywhere! I will need to do some bottling this weekend so I can make more of my equipment available for other tasks. I have five beers that need to be bottled: a Belgian Strong Ale (dark, potent, age able), a Barleywine (also dark, potent and age able!), a blended Pilsner (a friend and I brewed two separate batches and blended them to create a new beer), a Bock beer (never made one before - this one turned out great) and an English Strong Bitter. When I get those all bottled up, I'll be entering most of them into some local homebrew competitions.

So, with all these holding tanks empty, I'll be able to fill them right back up with NEW beer that is patiently being stored in my brew shed outside. When bottling is done, I'll have two new Organic Pilsners on tap, followed by two English Pale Ales (brewed with two different yeasts), a Czech Pilsner and a very strong Scotch Ale. Yea, I love Pilsners -they are my favorite beer and I want to have enough for the summer months. My backyard faces west and the sun beats down hard on my deck. I'm gonna have a lot of outdoor projects to fulfill this year, so I'll need plenty of light beer to keep me going. My lady also likes the lighter beers in the summer to steady along her gardening work. My backyard is a magical place to me: it's where I was married, it is where friends eat and gather, it is where our food is grown and the yard is where I make my beer. If that isn't magical, I don't know what is.