Monday, November 3, 2014

Vote on Election Day; It's Important, Seriously We're Not Kidding

We have, on more than one occasion, encouraged our loyal reader(s) to turn out on election day. Voting is only the single most important activity a citizen in the republic can undertake to ensure the sanctity of democracy. The sad fact is our movement has not been very successful. It's well known that election turnout is generally low in non-Presidential election years. In 2010, the election turnout was 45.5 percent. By comparison, the 2012 turnout was 61.8 percent. New York reports slightly lower numbers: 43.6 percent in 2010 and 58.7 in 2012 (source: Census).

It is not an understatement to say that 2014 may be the most important election in decades; regardless of party affiliation. It certainly matters who controls the Senate in 2015, who will represent you in the state legislature, and who will be the Governor of your state (commonwealth's not so much). All of this is beside the point.

What matters more than all of this is the state-level effort to take away your right to vote. Al Jazeera America calls it the return of Jim Crow. Several states are relying on the Interstate Crosscheck system to clear voter rolls of people suspected of voting in more than one state. Crosscheck reviews names (first, last, middle), social security numbers, and other data in what is lauded as a sophisticated system critical to detecting voter fraud. Except that, according to the report "Crosscheck deliberately ignores Social Security mismatches, in the few instances when the numbers are even collected. The Crosscheck instructions for county election officers state, "Social Security numbers are included for verification; the numbers might or might no match"." Nearly 1.6 million names in the system lack matching middle names. If this system were alive in New York that means both me and my father could be accused of voter fraud. NPR has its own story on North Carolina. Here's a fun story on voter suppression in Texas.

We have a different strategy in New York. Rather than suppressing the vote the parties in New York suppress the choice. Democrats and Republicans here cross-endorse four candidates for State Supreme Court. Four candidates who were strongly encouraged to fund raise for the party and four candidates who did just that. This is an age-old tradition where pay-to-play reigns supreme. Knowing that most voters go on party lines the parties virtually guarantee each candidate a victory. Don Esmonde of The Buffalo News sums it up nicely here.

There is really only one way to stop this madness. It has less to do with getting money and PACs out of the process and more to do with pounding a little pavement until you get to your local booth and cast a vote. They are counting on another 45 percent turnout; not to get gun control passed/defeated, not to restrict/loosen access to health insurance, or even to divest/invest in infrastructure. They are counting on another 45 percent to maintain power, control, and money.

So, even if you vote for none of the above please go vote.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Oast with the Most, Babe

Me, Day Two
It's a time-honored tradition in my family to pack up the young'ns and spend a week cramped into a dated cottage with one working bathroom and as much of the extended family as possible. The cottage is on Lake Erie but it's in Port Colborne*, Canada. So, we basically vacationed on the other side of the very lake we live on states side. If the woman next door came over to show off her boob job I would not have flinched. That said, it wasn't all bad. There were countless adults around to babysit my kids and that left us some free time to find the craft brewers of Ontario. Yes, they exist.

Tucked away, just outside Niagara On the Lake shops, amongst the various wineries you might stumble upon Niagara Oast House Brewers. Located on Niagara Stone Road, the big red barn-looking brewery is so out of place nobody would blame you for driving by and assuming it's not a real brewery - because that's pretty much what we did. However, you would be blamed for not turning around and making a visit - which is also what we did.

The Brews
The Oast House has been around for approximately 18 months. The brews offer familiar styles with a unique twist. These are definitely not your typical American craft brews that are heavy on the hops. When there, you should get the sample tray of each style. They don't have an extensive lineup so they tray is not going to overwhelm you but the flavor profile is more complex than you might expect. The Biere de Garde and the Saison are part of the Farmhouse Ale Collection and both are a treat. The Barnhouse Country Ale is their most popular brew and for good reason. Oast House also offers some great memorabilia...'70s trucker hats, baseball shirts, and winter caps to name just a few. According to the staff, the upper level of the building is under construction to host events in the near future. Speaking of the staff, they couldn't be friendlier (like every other Canadian, to be sure). They spend as much time as you like but don't push you on sales. More than one person helped and/or offered to help during our visit. Also, there is a ping pong table. In summary, the all around experience has us planning a long weekend to Niagara On the Lake to get some more of the still young craft experience in Ontario.

For whatever it's worth, we left with a bomber of each brew offered and a baseball shirt. The plan was to share the brews with other craft beer enthusiasts in hopes of encouraging them to make a trip but instead we greedily drank it all.....and feel zero guilt. We still have the shirt.


Angels smiling upon the brewery.


*It's worth noting that Port Colborne is part of the Welland Canal, a key part of the St. Lawrence Seaway that effectively killed the Erie Canal and the economy of Buffalo, NY.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Back in the Saddle Again

It has been quite awhile since we've posted to the blogs. It has been years since we've brewed a beer at home. Now is the time to hop in the saddle (see what I did there?) and ask: "Where the white women at?"

With a little help from a gift card we rebuilt our Frankenstein system. It would be more accurate to say we started to rebuild the system but it's enough to get a batch under our collective belts. With more than a little help from the good folks at KegWorks we gathered some ingredients for what was supposed to be a Lagunitas IPA clone. For reasons that shall remain within the confines of the brewery we started out close to Lagunitas and quickly veered off course. So, it's hard to say what we'll get out of this but if you want to know what we put together keep reading...

Name: TBD
Original Gravity: 1.046
Final Gravity: 1.015 (or thereabouts)
Primary Fermentation: Approximately 7 days
Secondary Fermentation: Approximately 14 days

Age 21 days

11.33 lbs Canadian 2-Row Pilsner
0.4 lbs BrewCraft Malto Dextrin
0.3 lbs Great Western Crystal Malt 60
0.2 lbs MFB Caramel Munich Malt 60
California V Ale Yeast (White Labs)
0.75 oz Zythos Hops (10.9%)
1.9 oz Cluster Hops (5.0%)
4.2 oz Cascade Hops (7.1%)

Pour grains into 4 gallons of cold water. Mash at 145 degrees F for 60 minutes. At end of mash add malto dextrin. Boil for 90 minutes adding hops as follows: 0.75 oz of Zythos (30 minutes); 0.9 oz Cluster (40 minutes); 4.2 oz Cascade and 1 oz Cluster (90 minutes). After the boil allow wort to rest for 15 minutes before cooling. Ferment at 72 degrees F.

This is a complicated brew for the first one in three years so we were encouraged by the brewing aromas and the fact that it actually is fermenting. With a little luck the end product will turn out right. And just for giggles...

Friday, January 24, 2014

Hey You Guys!

It's no secret that I like chocolate. In fact, if we are all trapped there's a better than 50 percent chance that you could spread chocolate all over the floor and let me eat my way through to safety. So, after a long week it was particularly nice to come home to Boston Cream Pie and some Chocolate Indulgence.

Chocolate Indulgence is a Belgian-style stout brewed by Ommegang Brewery made with real Belgian chocolate (per the label). The "indulgence" might lead one to think this beer is rich, creamy, and heavy but it's really not that at all. It pours dark like the night and has a chocolate head that reminds one of pudding. Though not a dessert beer Indulgence goes down smooth after dinner with....well, dessert. The aroma is all Belgian. The taste is mild chocolate with the traditional Belgian musty fruit on the back end. Indulgence goes down easy for a stout with a medium body; nothing overpowering and that's a good thing as I'm not one to share a bomber.

Also, The Goonies is one of the best movies ever.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Visit to Hamburg Brewing Company

The first word that comes to mind after visiting the Hamburg Brewing Company is "corporate". It is not corporate. It is one of western New York's newest independent craft breweries. Located just off route 219 in Hamburg, the brewery boasts all the bells, whistles, and ambiance of a craft brewery that's exploded into a conglomerate. That's part of what makes this brewery hard to take in. For a start up brewing less than a year this place is posh. Everything from the brewing equipment to the pub is high end and new.

With time to kill and sans kids on a Saturday afternoon, we strolled down the way and dropped in on the brewery. Walking up the main entrance of the facility to the aroma of brewing makes for a strong first impression. Stroll down the hallway, past the brewing facility, to what can best be described as a cavernous, ski lodge-themed pub taken straight of the slopes in Vail or Banf or where ever the rich folk go in winter. It's beautiful if not daunting but at the end of the day people visit a brewery for one thing.

We sampled a few of the flavors including No Lux and OMS. Previously, we sampled the Oktoberfest while dining in the big city. All of the beers are solid if conservative. Hamburg Brewing Company strives for quality above all else. While they nail quality they lack in creativity. If you're looking for crazy experiment a la Dogfish Head you're looking at the wrong brewery. Hamburg Brewing makes the kind of beer you enjoy while your drinking but rarely seek out. We enjoyed the brews but it's hard to envision trolling the local beer stores asking for the latest from HBC.

What the brewery lacks is passion. Passion is the difference between quality and excellence. These guys obviously love craft beer and put up the bucks to prove it. The facility is impressive and the beer is spot on. The facility and the beer are also a little sterile. Nothing about the operation evokes an emotion - good or bad. The flip is they are new and starting out with quality is probably the single most important factor for the long-term viability of a craft brewery (well, after money). I don't know how or when they take the next step but there's potential. In fact, there's so much quality and potential that we took a growler of OMS home.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Fifth Beer of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas my trusty assistant brought to me a St. Bernardus Christmas Ale;
Left Hand Polestar;
Shiner Holiday Cheer;
Great Lakes Christmas Ale;
and a Sierra Nevada DevESTATEtion.

Almost half way through the 12 Beers of Christmas with just over 24 hours until Christmas Day. Clearly things are getting lazy because the picture cuts off the top of the bottle. The backup picture cuts off the entire right half of the bottle - and both pictures were taken before I started drinking. On to the beer...

This beer is almost made in Trappist Monasteries. St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is made in what was once a cheese factory known as "Refuge Notre Dame de St. Bernard" in Belgium. For a time, the Trappist brews were licensed to the owners of what is now St. Bernardus. Sadly, for us, the monks ended their experiment in commercialization and returned to their roots of brewing only for themselves and a few local pubs. Clearly these monks are not familiar with the roots of American commercialization (and greed).

Sint Bernardus - Watou left us with a very nice almost Trappist replacement. The aroma is sweet but it's just a setup. The taste is distinctly Belgian but not so sweet that it overpowers the beer. It does have a spicy tang with a molasses feel that really suits the holiday season. The dark, chestnut brown color just feels cozy. It's like drinking an ugly Christmas sweater (which is a compliment since these sweaters are apparently fashionable now).


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fourth Beer of Christmas

On the fourth day of Christmas my trusty assistant brought to me a Left Hand Polestar;
Shiner Holiday Cheer;
Great Lakes Christmas Ale;
and a Sierra Nevada DevESTATEtion.

The real gift on this fourth day of Christmas is a new HVAC. What started out as a leaking humidifier quickly turned into a cracked heat element. I actually didn't think much of it. Here is the exchange with the repair man while showing me the cracked element on his fancy scope camera:

RM: You have a cracked heating element. See it right there?

Me: Oh yeah, this thing has run like a champ as long as we've been here. Guess I'll have to replace it in the next couple of years.

RM: I don't think you understand. I can't, by law, turn this system back on.

Me: Um, excuse me?

Maybe it's the new found poverty. Maybe it's the even warmth created by the new and improved, high-efficiency, heating system in my basement. Regardless, this Polestar is going down smooth tonight. That's saying something because during the dark, winter months I shy away from pilsners. Stouts and porters, preferably with a hint of chocolate and coffee, from now until spring is how I roll.

Polestar is well carbonated and is a little dry. It's light bodied so you can drink several (and I plan to this evening) without getting that "I feel full" sensation half way through the second round. There is a bit of spice but I get more from the hops. Also, this beer goes great with pretzels.