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.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sunday: a day for beer. I met up with some family and friends yesterday for a right on birthday gathering. See, there really ARE a lot of birthdays around the same time! Anyways, we decided to have the party at the Fearless Brewing Company. I've never been to Estacada, and with minimal coaxing, I got my lady in the truck and headed on down highway 224. We enjoyed the countryside ride down into the Clackamas River region; the waters were RAGING! Also, we got caught in some weather that was somewhat comical and somewhat manic. The winds and rain that we endured on the way in to town were blowing pieces of fir trees and pine cones all over the road. We survived most of the hits, but my little truck took a minor beating on the cap and windshield. It was like running through a movie set during a tornado scene.

Onto the beers: Fearless Brewing is big into Scotch Ales, so I'll have to go back with Maestro Chez for a pint or two. They brew most beers to 5.3-5.4% alcohol by volume - respectable and full-flavored. The list includes a Cream Ale, Scottish Ale, IPA, Porter and a few seasonals: the Peaches n' Cream Ale, Tomahawk Brown (I had two) and the Strong Scotch Ale (8% ABV). To speak to the brewer's sense of authenticity, I happened to spot a full pallet of Simpson's Golden Promise malt in the brewery. They were all pretty good ales and I think it's true what they say about the atmosphere adding to the tasting experience. The brewery is wide open with the dining area open to the kitchen and open to the brewery - nothing is hidden or contrived. What I love most about the place is their sincerity and unpretentiousness of their products. The dining area reminds me somewhat of the rustic breweries that I used to frequent back in upper Michigan: log cabin style booths, smooth stone floors, exposed wood ceilings and great funky jazz music playing all throughout the place. They do have some couches and big comfy chairs too - right next to a very old upright piano. The only thing that I wish they had in addition to all the existing charm is a fire place.

The beers were great, the food was good and the people were friendly and easy going. On the way out, I was able to have a little hob-nobbin' with the brewer, Ken. He's a friendly chap with a nice lady helping out on the dining room floor - what a concept! I thanked him for his judging skills that awarded me 2nd place in the European Amber Lager category in last year's "Slurp and Burp" homebrew competition. To have a friendly repoire with brewers is truly one of my life's simple pleasures - they are gifted people who make it their 'civil duty' to produce magical beverages for the enhancement of all our lives.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

First Beer Commission of '09

Seems like every good group of friends have birthdays that coincide in the same month. People I knew from college and high school seem to have many birthdays in the summer. I’ve met some really excellent musicians here in Portland and it seems as though they celebrate Springtime birthdays. It’s quite a relief when April hits; no more cold, gray and rainy days, and the sun is really starting to shine beautifully. The west coast sun just feels really different from back east sunshine. I haven’t been able to explain it, but it’s something that I’ve physically experienced since my first visit to California with my sister, back in the late 90’s.
Anyhoo, back to the friendly birthdays: my buddy Greg has some friends that all share Springtime birthdays, so he has an annual party every year as his beautiful home. I attended last year and it was truly exceptional - the food was tapa style from Spain, the live music was very jazzy, the people were friendly and the beer was.....good.
After mulling the idea over for a few minutes, Greg announced at a recent piano trio rehearsal that he’d like me to brew the beer for this year’s party. Seems like I’ve been doing this a few times a year for friends of mine, and it’s a great way to show off my beers to friends and strangers alike. Although, after tasting my beers, strangers seem to become friends in a short time! Sharing my beer with people is really why I love brewing so much, and this party gives me a great opportunity to give of myself and my skills.
So, I’m preparing to have two, 5 gallon corney kegs full of homebrew for Greg’s April birthday extravaganza. The first will be an Organic Pilsner, based on the recipe that I served at my wedding two years ago. This beer is currently lagering (cold conditioning) in my shed at a steady 40 degrees F. I’ll probably transfer it to my chest freezer for further conditioning and carbonation in a week or so. The pilsner is sure to please many party-goers. It’s a good, medium-bodied light beer with plenty of hop flavor. Not too bitter and balanced nicely in the finish. I love making this beer - it requires so much attention to detail, yet at the same time it requires that you let it mature in it’s own time.
The second beer is what I am brewing today. I had initially figured out an special recipe for an English-style India Pale Ale, and then I started brewing it. As usual, when mistakes turn into great ideas, I run with it and create an entirely new concept. So, through a miscalculation, equaling in a BETTER efficiency from my brewing set up, I have come up with about 3/4 more mashed wort for boiling. This means that with the late addition of some clean, filtered water, I can, in effect, brew TWO beers today. With more wort coming out of my system than I had intended, I will end up with two, five gallon batches of beer. I think this will turn my beer into a regular Pale Ale by normal brewing standards, but that is okay by me. This serendipitous brewday will also leave the brewer with an extra batch of beer for his own enjoyment....heh heh. Lower alcohol, better drinkability, same smooth flavor and less of an overall punch - when I think about it, this is what helps to keep a party more of a gathering and not a drunk fest!

Monday, March 9, 2009

T.E. Lawrence

After approximately five days, I finally finished watching the lengthy "Lawrence of Arabia", by Lean and Spiegel. I suppose my indifference to political history is finally catching up with me. Embracing the history of nations is a great way to learn about why our world is shaped the way it is today. Aside from the sweeping, emotional musical score, I found that the movie had retained a lot of truths about the main character. I'm not convinced as to the precise detail that the movie preserves with regard to the Arab Revolt, but I got the general idea of the conflict before I started independent research.

Concerning the musical score by Maurice Jarre (he did Dead Poets Society, too), I was really taken by how thrifty Mr. Jarre's score played out during the movie. Essentially, he's using a four measure phrase that, with little variation, repeats over and over. There are certainly more sections of the movie that call for different styles, but I just had to laugh at the seeming audacity of the composer to rehash the same theme throughout the entire film as well as the introduction, entr'acte and end. Kinda reminded me of Beethoven's Fifth: the man used FOUR NOTES as the thematic basis for the entire first movement of a big symphony. What an economically brilliant move!

I'd recommend the movie to anyone interested in the extended history World War I. The film was also one of the first to dabble in Panavision, so it's really really nice to look at. Which reminds me of my favorite quote from the film: when Lawrence is asked by a war journalist, "What attracts you personally to the desert?", he replies, "It's clean".