MYX

Apr 242017
 

Last_Plinian-4Yup!
I have gone and dunnit. While I can’t tell you how, or why… But the beer turned out awesome. Truly inspiring actually. It was good enough that I was inclined to make more. I have now made 4 different beers (The White House Honey Porter, A brown ale called Caribou Slobber, a double IPA called Plinian Legacy, a hazelnut amber ale, and 3 home made apple ciders. Each has been a lesson in how to do it better, and other things one perhaps shouldn’t do. But the flavors have been… 1. well way more impressive than I thought possible, 2. Flavors that are insanely close to commercially available, and 3. Can pack quite a wallop. BZZZzzzzzzzzzzz

No story would be any good if there weren’t also a wee bit -o- drama. When I cracked my first bottle, I got a little nervous. There was no crack. It was just sort of clink (the cap hitting the counter. Where the heck was the PSHHHT? Uh oh. I had waited the full 2 weeks after bottling to try the first one, but there was no pressure. I poured it into a 2 glasses for my wife and I. There was no head (cause there was no bubbles). It smelled sweet, and… and like beer. I slowly and somewhat hesitantly brought it up to my mouth and took a sip. It was sweet, very sweet, but really yummy all at the same time. The beer was cold, but I got a warming feeling from within. I would describe it as rich darkness, light hops, quite malty, molasses, brown sugar, honey. Wow. So I got on line to find out about the bubbles. While I don’t want a lot of carbonation, I do want a little. The internet didn’t disappoint. What I learned is that when bottle conditioning, you want to let the temperature come up above fermenting temps. The first couple months of this year had several cold weather snaps, and their timing seemed to align with while I was brewing. From what I read, I wasn’t hosed though. Low carbonation is very fixable as there is still yeast hanging around in there, they just need to be encouraged to eat. This can be done by bringing up the temperature. I got the rest of the beers and put them in our kitchen dining room as  it gets a lot of sun and is one of the warmer rooms in the house. I made sure to keep the beer out of the sun because direct sunlight can ‘skunk’ your beer (hops hate sun). I let it sit for a week, and tested another bottle. This one had a weak ptssst, but it had ptssst!!! Hmmm ok. Lets try it. To my surprise, it had a lot of peppery little bubbles which played on and around my tongue, and more, how much the carbonation added to the flavor. It was exciting because I could see (taste) how it was forming and coming together. The carbonation was still a little weak for my tastes, so I let them sit for another week. Wham! I had a full on BEER. Seeing how the temperature is critical at this stage, I have now made the kitchen dining room my conditioning room. Actually, it should be stated, it turns out temperature is critical throughout the whole process. The small kit instructions give some guidelines, but don’t speak about it in any great depth. I believe that this is because they are trying to get people brewing without throwing too many details to worry about.

I am not sure what I was expecting. I guess when you see things up close, and you realize that this… THING has been sitting without any refrigeration for over a month. It has made slime and sludge, and things one would consider really really gross. It had me wondering how it could be any good. But over time, it clears up. Similar to children, it matures and becomes an adult beer. Instead of a beard, it grows bubbles and a foamy head. Bottom line, you just have to trust the process.

Cider_ApplesI have been learning about all sorts of adult beverages. One which inspired me quickly was apple cider. There seems to be some conflict naming. Some companies in the US call it “Hard Apple Cider” but apparently it’s just apple cider to the rest of the world.

StoneWell-1I tried some amazing cider (Stonewell) the last time I was in Ireland which left a lasting impression. I tried to find it when I got back to the states, but found (sadly) it was only bottled in Ireland. Given the beer was pretty tasty, I started reading about how to make cider, and it turns out that there’s really not much to it. You take apple juice, sprinkle yeast on it, let it sit, , put it in bottles, and drink it.

Some folks use the gold colored stuff from the grocery as the base of their cider. Me being me,  I wasn’t about to use reincarnated apples. I have a Breville juicer which I love and adore, so I decided that I was going to make mine from fresh apples. I bought 17 lbs. of apples. Brought them home, washed them, chopped them and removed as many stems and seeds as possible. Usually, when I make apple juice, I toss in a little lemon to get a bit of pucker in there. Figuring that this was a whole gallon, I added the juice of a whole lemon. Cider_CoverI have never made over a gallon of juice in one go. It was a mighty sight and the smell… Oh man, I wanted to drink it all up right there and then. I used one campden tablet (sodium metabisulfite) to kill off the natural yeast in the fruit. I needed to let it sit for about 36 hours as there’s a lot of sulfur in the campden tablets, and apparently quite a lot in apples as well. This sitting period was giving the juice the time needed to ‘gas off’. Otherwise the cider can taste and smell like rotten eggs, and that’s not the sort of thing I am in to. While the cider was sitting and awaiting yeast, I prepped a brown sugar simple syrup. This will add some sweetness as well as raising the original gravity of the cider. Most yeasts don’t like being smothered in their own alcohol and tend to die off, so it is recommended and I used… that which was formerly known as Champagne yeast, but you can’t call it Champagne yeast any longer (by law) because it wasn’t brewed in the Champagne region of France. But I digress… I added the… ‘THE’ yeast and let it go. It took almost 2 days for the yeast to kick into gear, but once it did, bbLbbLbLbbLbbbLbb (< that there’z bubbles).  A couple of weeks later I bottled em up using priming sugars in half and left the other half to just be natural.

 

AppleWFizzCaps

Results? The lemon used to pucker up apple juice? Not a great idea. Sour minus sweet = bitter. That said… The cider was amazing (in concept, minus the lemon vibe). I could see that this could very easily become an amazing thing. Lessons learned? I only used 1 type of apple. It was semi sweet and while yes apple, it was sort of one dimensional. My next batch would need more flavors of apple to round out and add more depth to the cider. Next lesson? Bubbles are… again… IMPORTANT! The stuff with bubbles helped fill out the missing flavor that the one variety of apples just did not. I un capped all the non carb’d cider and added priming sugar. Sadly at this late in the game, it… sort of helped, but didn’t. The stuff which was originally carbonated worked quite well, the non carbs didn’t. But all that said, I could see the potential.

Bottles_01The second batch was made with 5 varieties of apples (Braeburn, Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith, and Red Delicious), 1 lb. of strawberries, 2 cups of brown sugar, and .5 cup of white sugar (… because? dunno, just do it… right… okay). Same timings as last time. Priming sugars in all bottles. How did it turn out? ABSOLUTELY BLEEPIN’ SPECTACULAR!!! This is so on target. It looks great. It smells great. It makes my mouth happy. It bubbles perfectly in the mouth… Stinging and great fizzy sound you can internally hear. And lastly… It tastes so good. I mean… Ohhhh mama.

I have a 3rd batch in bottles right now. I wanted to make an apples to apples comparison (Yes, I know, and I am sorry). This one was made with a store bought “Just Juice” which was both labeled as ‘fresh pressed’, and made from fresh apples, (not from concentrate). It’s the brown stuff, not the overly filtered gold. I can’t say anything about flavor yet, but if smell is any indication, it is not as fragrant. The fresh stuff’s smell is beautiful and intense. I wanted to know what extra couple of hours of work gets me. So far, I would say, a lot. But I am open to being pleasantly surprised.

The Brewing Future? All this time I have been brewing in single gallon batches. As I have been reading, for just a little more ingredients, and roughly the same amount of time, you can brew 5 gallons instead of 1 and most of the world deals in 5’s. A lot of work goes into a single gallon. Most of this time is spent cleaning, be it buckets, bottles, tubes… . I am in the saving stage to pick up the materials needed to make beer from all raw ingredients. This is called “All Grain”. In the past I have been using malt extract. In the future, all the fermentable sugars will be created from the actual malted barley. This will potentially (believe it or not), result in an equal or slightly lower cost depending on where it’s purchased. There’s a bit of a mark up for the convenience of the malt extract. There’s a few flavors I am prefer were not in the beer. Don’t get me wrong, they are still very good, but I guess I am dialing in to what I really want in MY beer. Stay tuned for future adventures in home brewing. Also, I am heavily considering making a video of the process once I upgrade.

 Posted by at 8:59 pm
Apr 192017
 

Finally!!! One of my bigger project write ups has been completed. It took a while to go back and figure out what I did and how I did it. But it’s done. This project never got the front page attention I feel it deserves, so I have posted this announcement (because it is a new post) along with the actual back dated post so it falls in line with when the build actually happened, not when I wrote it ( which was now). Click through to read all about it. 

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 Posted by at 10:56 pm
Jan 012017
 

ireland_guinness-1

guinness_smells-3I have never been much into beer. I had tried it a number of times but it never made sense to me. This all changed few years ago (2014) when we decided to travel to Ireland. I was not about to go to Ireland and not sit in a couple pubs and have a not few pints of Guinness. Sorry if that sounds a bit chiche, but I was going to have the full experience. So… I started… training my tastebuds (at least that’s what I told my wife). I brought some Guinness home to get an idea what might be in store for us. To my surprise, it wasn’t bad.

When we got to Ireland, we went to the Guinness brewery. This was the eye opening experience I needed. It’s an excellent tour. They cover all aspects of the beer making process, but they go deeper. My ah Ha! moment came in their “smelling” room. It was a white room which had no apparent light source. It had various stations… tubes which were emitting what looked like smoke. Each tube had a scent, a different aspect of the various smells and flavors in the beer. I got it. Ohhh this is what I am tasting.

 

northern_brewerSince then, Guinness has still been a favorite. I found that it’s not that I didn’t like beer so much as I didn’t like the watered down crap at the grocery store. I am learning that I like darker, more complex flavors. I like to cook and have a propensity towards layers and depth of flavor, so perhaps the beer thing is understandable. I seem to have settled into Stouts, Porters, and some IPAs. About a half year ago I came across Northern Brewer. They sell kits to make craft beers at home. They had a great set of videos explaining in great detail how to brew their beers. I was sold. I asked for the White House Honey Porter kit for Christmas, and my wife was kind enough to get it for me. My son-in-law got me a book called “How to Brew”.  (update:  Very good book. I recommend it. It’s written in layers. He provides a base layer of information, then starts over and lays in more and more details. It’s nice because you get the process and which point one can get as deep as one wants by continuing through the rest of the book. 04-02-17).

I watched the Northern Brewer videos as well as read through the instructions several times. There is always a huge difference between book knowledge and doing knowledge. At some point, you just have to step off the ledge and give it a go.

 

The Experience…
beer_making_101_02
Similar to my Guinness experience, I wanted to get the full understanding of each character in play, so I took the time and smell and give some thought about what was going on. The specialty grains were nice. They smell sort of like a natural foods store… sort of a sweet hay with hints of chocolate. My mother-in-law said it smelled like peanut butter (which I could smell once she said it). I put the grains in the muslin bag. This was then placed in the cool water. I started heating the water on full heading towards a boil. The warm water and grain smells a little bit like vegetable barley soup. It’s actually quite nice.

 

beer_making_101_04The water was getting warm and I was a couple minutes away from needing to remove the grains. I started prepping my next step which was the first layer of hops, and the malt. The initial hops “Chinook” had a crazy strong scent. It was strong, like an ipa on steroids. The malt didn’t have much of a smell at all. After the 10 minutes was up I pulled the grain bag and strained it (putting the drippings back into the boil pot). I reduced the heat and added the hops and malt. This made the mixture very thick for a few minutes until I got it all mixed together. I brought the mixture back up to a boil watching to make sure it did not boil over (which was warned about in the instructions). It came close to boiling over, but reducing the heat settled everything out. The hops smell was very intense for a couple minutes, at which point it relaxed into a sort of chocolate milkshake(ish) smell. I’m thinking the milkshake vibe comes from the malt. After roughly 5 minutes I reduced the heat to keep it at a boil, but not be so intense as to lose too much water (I do want some beer at the end of all of this).

 

beer_making_101_12I let it perk along for 40 minutes at which point the instructions had me remove the heat add the honey and a second hopping. This next batch of hops was a “German Hallertau”. It was very pleasant smell. Sort of like a more delicate hops decorated with a Christmas tree.

 

beer_making_101_13As I have been reading, one topic of which there has been a huge amount of emphasis, is sanitization, and it is the point where I nearly tripped up. The process of beer making is actually a war of micro organisms and their food supplies. You want certain things to grow but not others. I poured the honey into the boil pot, I then used some of the hot “wart” water to get the rest of the honey out. This would be fine in standard cooking, but the jar was not sanitized and some of the liquid touched the outside of the jar. I am sure it’s pretty clear at this point… I am not an experienced brewer, and it’s possible this little of a slip may have been perfectly fine, but I didn’t want to take any chances and brought the wart back to a boil. I let it go for a couple of minutes, and then I put the pot into an ice water bath.

From this point I have no pictures of the transfer process and it requires a person with at least 4 or 5 hands. Having only 2 hands, I used both hands to pump the syphon, but I needed one hand to keep the hose in place, and another hand to keep the syphon roughly an inch off the bottom of liquid and out of the “trub” (all the beer makings which have settled to the bottom). The hose leads down to a “Carboy” (the vessel where the fermentation takes place). This sits on a chair in front of the counter top, so the gravity of the liquid forces the flow of the syphon. The length of the hose quickly became a problem. When I pumped the syphon, the hose lifted out of the carboy sending liquid onto the chair and floor. I grabbed a cardboard box as it was the only thing sitting close enough to help with my… ‘emergency’. This helped but didn’t solve it completely. I had to keep a close eye on the hose so it wouldn’t hop out again. The other issue was the tip of the syphon dipping into the trub. Once a good portion of the wart was in the carboy, it’s hard to get enough depth to keep everything flowing. If you lift up, you get air which means the flow stops. If you have to pump to get it to flow again, you bounce the tip around a lot which means you are getting the trub nastiness in the beer… it’s a fight at best.

Once all the wart was in the carboy, I added half the yeast package as per the instructions. It was a guestimate as there’s not really a good way to measure it (as you could potentially add contaminants). You have to eyeball it. I am not too worried as this is what Norther Brewer does in their videos as well. I gave it a good shake. This adds a little extra oxygen to the wart as yeast needs oxygen to thrive. I then I put the lid and airlock on the carboy and set it in the corner of our kitchen.
The next morning, I checked it and sure enough, it was bubbling. Now it’s a waiting game. This is not an easy thing for me as I am a tweaker by nature. Hands off is… not… well I am keeping my hands off. I will write more once I get into bottling.

 Posted by at 11:00 pm
Nov 102016
 

If there was an emergency and for some reason the cell system and internet went down, how would you contact those you loved, and more, how would you find out what was going on? Most of the modern world’s population is connected in these 2 ways. Yet time and time again these systems are failing. It seems crucial to have a method of communication which does not rely upon these services.

Ever since I introduced the concept to my son’s cub scout den (several years back), I have had the itch to dig a little deeper into HAM radio and get licensed. Last year, I made a commitment to myself to get licensed by the end of 2016. I made this decision for multiple reasons. Of course one reason, and the main reason was listed in the opening paragraph, but it also seemed to be a perfect addition as it aligns with many of my current interests. I have been involved in media my whole life. I started playing with sound when I was very young, and have been expanding ever sense. Sound is all about frequency, energy, and the manipulation thereof. I have also always been a tinkerer and tweaker. Modern language seems to have shifted, and I suppose I could also call myself a hacker, although on most days, perhaps just hack. But my interest in building things, both electronics and widgets here and there all involve a a mind which can take things apart, examine them, and get a pretty good idea about how they work. As I have been reading, this is exactly the mentality of a ham.

If you don’t know what ham radio is,  it is a activity which, when licensed, gives one a massive swath of the electromagnetic spectrum to play in. You are given the ability to communicate with people a few hundred feet away up to several thousand miles away with fairly simple equipment. Ham radio does not rely upon massive amounts of infrastructure. It relies upon a piece of equipment you own (a radio) being manipulated in such a way as to direct radio waves to where you need them to go. Yes, this is a fairly simplistic description, and there’s a lot involved (hence why one needs to be licensed), but it’s within reach for all people.

Every year we have a Ham Festival at a near by fairground. They offer what is called VE testing at these fairs, so I decided that I would make this my target date. As always, life gets busy. Life, work, family start to fill in all the gaps in your time. Towards the middle of October I realized that I had a little over 2 weeks to get my head wrapped around this stuff. What I have now learned, is that you will first learn the test, then you will fill in the gaps once you are licensed and can actually put hands upon the gear. I really dug in and started studying my butt off. I found a number of very helpful videos, books, and study aids (which I will link to at the end of this post). I had seen it mentioned several times that if you pass your test for “Technician”(the first level of ham operator), you could immediately take higher tests as long as you had a passing score. After about 8 days, I started to feel fairly comfortable with the material, so I decided to dive into the material for the “General” license. As a second level, of course this was far more intense. The math was harder, and the concepts weren’t so… general. While I knew most of the electronics portion in technicians, I was in very new territory in the general. This was a fantastic chance to flex and scoop up a new layer of knowledge. It wasn’t so foreign that it didn’t make sense, yet it was hard enough that I had to really fight to get it in my head.

Then after a couple mind numbing weeks, test day had arrived. I walked in and registered. They were very organized. Eventually a gentleman called my name and led me back to the testing area. I could only have a calculator and a pencil in hand. I opened the book and found that I knew this stuff. While I was feeling confident, I took my time and made sure that I colored the correct bubbles. I then went back through and made sure I entered what I thought I had entered. I had. Once I was finished, I had to wait outside while someone checked my test. This was a long wait. Not so much in time, but more because your head starts to wonder if I answered this or that correctly. 18 hours later… or 5 minutes, depending on which side of the test you were on, a man came out and shook my hand and said congratulations. I passed my HAM test.

I took the Technicians and only missed 1. I was then offered to take the General test. It was the same process… I took it and only missed 5.. YES! Finally they offered to let me take the extra test. This is the highest level one can go, but there was no way I could even begin to prepare for that. I was honest with and told them that I had not even the foggiest of an idea what might be in there. They said it was fine and I could try it if I wanted. Having nothing to loose, as I had already succeeded in what I went there to do, I took it. It was pretty severe. Deepest and darkest end of the pool sort of stuff. I went very slowly trying to find anything that might give me a clue as to what might be a correct answer, but this stuff was way over my head. I went out and waited again. Finally the man came back out. How did I do? He grinned and said I missed half the questions. Ha. Not good. But he said that General was something to be proud of, especially given my study time, and two tests in one day. He didn’t have to tell me this, but I was glad he did. I was pretty happy about it, but I think I am going to go for that Extra license soon.

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 Posted by at 10:39 am
Sep 182016
 

Every so often we have to update our videos at work. This could be for a myriad of reasons… updating titles on some of the people speaking, updating stats, or even just to update the copyright which we have to do every couple of years. Unfortunately this means that this content is out of the reach of the general public. It’s part of the biz. If you want to talk about my work, or have a question about something, please don’t hesitate to ask. Hopefully this is only a temporary pull.

 Posted by at 9:49 pm
Sep 122016
 

Sometimes a tragic event happens in life which rocks your world to the point where everyday existence seems like chaos. Eventually, no matter what, you have to get back going and start living again. You can’t let this ‘thing’ become an excuse to stop, or said tragedy event becomes even greater.

Dan

Photo shot by Chad Dennis of Chad Dennis Photography http://chaddennisphoto.com/

January 2015 was one of the hardest months in my life. My brother (sibling, co-conspirator, best friend) took his life. I never saw this coming, and I am still, in some ways, coming to grips with it. I am told, “You will never get over it. You will just learn how to deal with it and move on”. I hated those words at first, but now, I get it (sort of). Btw, this is a really harsh thing to say to a person who is waking through this… consider your words.

The number of people who attended my brother’s funeral was staggering. I only knew him as my brother, in the relationship that brothers share, but living in separate states, and different circles of friends, you don’t necessarily know the whole… ‘them’. I got to meet the person he was, through the stories of his friends, many of which have become good friends to me.

Needless to say, last year I was pretty well wrecked. Fortunatly I have a solid family, and I love what I do for a living (editing, graphics animation, sound, photography…). So, I really focused on my family, my work, and not much else.

My brother was a good guy. We loved many of the same things. We both have a love films which made you think a little. We loved a lot of the same music. He wrote and directed many short films, several of which won awards. He was part of a fantastic community of film buffs as well. He was a musician, and played with an Irish band in a legit Irish pubs, and music festivals. While we don’t have much Irish in us by blood, but we make up for it in heart. Like most sibling relationships, we always pissed each other off, but that’s how brothers are, right? That said, I really miss him a lot. Sláinte bro!

Most of the things I did for fun were put aside as nothing seemed like much fun (this blog included). The day he died, I was working on a new circuit board for the CNC. I was within a half hour from finishing soldering up the prototype when the call came. I have not touched the board since. I have not been able to listen to the music that was playing at the time either. There’s a lot of things like that which I haven’t been able to go near. While I am not a writer by nature, I do enjoy writing on here when I get the chance. I have done a few projects here and there, but nothing like my usual self. The past few months I have been trying to get myself back up to speed again. I can not and will not let his decision take the life out of me. It’s been hard to get to the point to say that without guilt.

While I enjoy writing, I enjoy ‘doing’ even more, and while I don’t update regularly, it’s generally because I am out and doing… well… ‘stuff’. I usually try to write in the slower times, or during long drives. One thing I have never really done on the blog, is write about any of my deeper projects while I am actually working on them. I usually wait till the end of the project, and then document it. But I have read a few other blogs where they were documenting their project as they went. I really liked this as you see the whole process, mistakes and all. If you have read anything on this blog, you know I am not afraid of mistakes, they are a part of creating. Well, I am a little afraid of mistakes. Mistakes suck… But important none the less. I have several huge projects which have been bubbling for many years which don’t have the first thing written about them, and they are really cool. If I don’t put it down somewhere, I’ll loose it, and I don’t want to loose these experiences. So… while perhaps they might be smaller posts, hopefully I will get more out there in the way of updates. I am also going to try to document several of these older larger projects (the ongoing type) and place them where they belong in the timeline of the blog, but I will link to them from the current time. My earlier life was full of thoughts that there will be time for this or that later. This has been shaken to the core, and the understanding that anyone can be gone in an instant it loud and clear in my mind. So, there’s no time to loose. Time to get busy.

Along these thoughts… To anyone dealing with depression, I am sorry. I never knew the depths of which my brother was going through. I wish I did. I still don’t understand how reaching out to your own brother, or anyone for help, is harder than taking your life, yet here we are. So… please hear me. If you are fighting this same thing. Talk to someone. You might feel like you are alone, but I assure you, you’re not. I know, or better said, -I have learned- that what you face is nearly impossible some days. It’s okay to have bad days. But even a bad day here is better than a day without you here. I’ll say this too… If you think that suicide is a way of ending the pain, it’s not. To be blunt, it just takes the pain, amplifies it, and distributes it across everyone who ever loved you. More, it instills the nagging questions of ‘why?’. There are no good answers which make things better. It’s just learning how to live with the missing life long companion. So… Please. Talk to someone.

 Posted by at 4:18 pm