Leap Year and Craft Beer

I’ve been on the road for most of January and February, thanks to an annual furlough from work that left me with a lot of time on my hands.  The U.S. southwest is magical.  I went on some good hikes, drank some good mead, met some good people, and had a chance to hit the reset button.  Heading into this summer, I’m very glad I got the chance to do that.

I have a ton of photos that I need to go through, and will be posting some of them up here with a few trip reports soon.

But for now, if you’re in the boozy state of Washington, today is officially Craft Beer Day.  In the glass here is Oak Barrel Mead from Oppegaard meadery, because I was in a mead mood and not a beer one today.  I do have a bottle of Dogfish Head worldwide stout, which will absolutely knock you on your ass at 15%, and is not the thing I want to drink the night before I go back to work.  That bottle is being saved for later.

Go hoist a cold one, and don’t worry.  Nobody’s going to judge you if it’s craft mead instead of beer.

If they do judge, we can sic Gritty on them.

gritty

 

2020

Happy 2020!

Just like the roaring ’20s, but without prohibition.  Everything else looks remarkably the same as it did 100 years ago.

But still….

Here’s to more reading, more writing, more mead, more rum, more everything this year.  Especially writing.  I’ve seen a few posts rolling around on social media talking about choosing a word for the new year, and I’d rather go with the theme of getting off my ass, especially when it comes to writing.

Since my annual furlough from work is about to start, and I have eight weeks to fuck around and not be beholden to an alarm clock, I’ve got plans.  Viking and I are hitting the road with my Chromebook, and heading to the southwest for a road trip of camping, writing, and consuming as much coffee, tea, and rum as I can get my hands on.

Sometimes you need to hit the road to get out of your own head, and that’s how I’m feeling right now about life in general.  I need to get comfortable with writing on a regular basis, and also become more comfortable with the characters I’m trying to write.  To be honest, I need a break from ye olde daily grind, and I haven’t taken a proper road trip in three years.  There’s a distinct feeling of needing to shake off the cobwebs, and since I have the free time and the dinero saved up, the only thing stopping me is getting off my ass.

Go figure, getting off my ass is turning out to be a good theme for me.  Or at least a motivation to get stuff done.

I’m going to indulge in a rare moment of optimism, in saying that I hope 2020 is a good year for everyone.

And go find something new or something not so new this year that makes you happy.  It doesn’t have to be anything major.  Shit, if it’s just being able to get out of bed on a particularly hard morning, that’s enough.  Let it be enough.

May your entire year be a critical hit.

20 sided dice

 

And may all of my fellow rum fans be thankful prohibition is a thing of the past.

NaNoWriMo 2019

After taking last year off, I’m going to give it a go this year.  My username is RumHounds (naturally) and I’ve been doing NaNo on and off since 2004.  If anyone would like a buddy, send me a message.  It’s absolutely true that if you have writing friends, you tend to be more productive.

NaNoWriMo revamped the site this year with stats at the top, right when you log in. I was a bit shocked to find out I’ve written almost 450,000 words.  That gives me a little more motivation to get started and actually stick with it this time.

My other motivation is this:  Viable Paradise.  I want to apply this year, for the 2020 class.  I figure, the big 4-0 is coming next year, so why not celebrate with getting serious about writing?  Even the process of applying will be valuable, because putting yourself out there is hard.

So!  What’s on tap for the big 50,000 words in one month?  Hopefully my peach mead, which has been bulk aging for 3 years now.  I’m honestly not sure about this one.  I backsweetened it, hoping that would rescue it from dry, peachy hell.  Wednesday, I’m going to check it and see what’s happened.  There she is, in the carboy next to my hibiscus Viking blod mead creation.

Mead in the closet
101 Uses for a Coat Closet

I’ve also got cider from Locust, a few beers from Dogfish Head, including their WorldWide Stout, and mead incoming from Opegaard Meadery.  I scored a spot in the mead club, and get surprise deliveries four times a year.  Assuming your state isn’t reliving its Prohibition hell days by banning alcohol shipments from other states, joining a mead or wine club is a great way to get a box of magic on your doorstep a few times a year.

Time to get started on naming characters and outlining a basic plot.  Good luck!

 

 

2019 Reading Challenge

Happy New Year, folks.  Let’s get things started with a challenge.  The rules are simple:  pick a number and read that many books in 2019.  Last year, I hit 67 out of 108.  This year, my goal is 109 books.

Any book counts.  Fiction, non fiction, romance, urban fantasy.  Length doesn’t matter.  If it’s research for work or school, it counts.  If you’re reading Goodnight Moon for the 10,000th time to your kids, or re-reading your favorite book for the billionth time, count it if you want.

Read whatever the fuck you want, just get out there and read.  Aside from the health benefits of reading, there’s also a part of the world’s population that sees being educated as a negative thing, and it’d be rather nice to flip them the bird by opening a book.

If you get stuck, or don’t know what to read, here’s some challenges to mix things up a bit:

  • Read one non fiction book from an author with an opposing viewpoint.
  • Read one book from a genre that you’ve said “Never will I ever read a book from this genre.”
  • Read a book from high school that you hated at the time.  See if your opinions have changed now.  I’ll tell you right now, mine is the Great Gatsby.
  • Read the book that the movie you just watched is based on.
  • If you live in an area with a sidewalk library, pick a book from the first one you walk by, and read it.
  • Go to your library, ask your librarian for a recommendation, the last book they read that they liked, and read it.
  • Pick someone you admire, or someone you want to learn more about, and read their biography.
  • Read a religious text from a faith that’s not your own.
  • Bonus challenge: read a religious text from a faith that scares you.
  • Go to a used bookstore, find the cheapest book on the shelf, buy it, and read it.

Don’t sweat meeting your goal, just try for it.  I’ve got Goodreads linked on this blog.  If you want to track your progress, they have a handy Challenge section on your Goodreads page.  It’s free to sign up.

And give yourself a reward for doing all that reading, regardless of whether or not you meet your personal goals.  It’ll give you something to look forward to for New Year’s Day in 2020 (holy shit, 2020!).  Booze, a dinner out, chocolate, whatever the hell you want.  For me, it’s going to be either rum or some really good honey for a batch of mead.  But whatever you do:

Go forth, and…

Text of Read a fucking book with a rainbow in the background

Let’s Talk Cider

It’s fall!  Tis the season for apple cider, Halloween, the end to cutting the grass, and did I mention apple cider?

Nothing better than a mug of fresh cider with a cinnamon stick and a shot of Kraken rum in it.  Kraken is my main go-to for a dark rum, because it’s got good flavor and won’t break the bank.   But if I want a post work ‘beer’- and I usually do- my go to is almost always hard cider.  I prefer it to most beers, and there’s dozens of ciders being produced now.  Thank you, 21st amendment, for fixing a big mistake.  Thank you also One Tree, Spire Mountain, Blackthorn, Finn River, Two Towns, Incline, and the list goes on…. for making my life a bit tastier.

Lemon Basil Hard Cider
My Favorite

Hard apple cider dates back roughly 1300 years or so.  If humans can grow it, and find a way to ferment it, we will.  Back in the day, fermented drinks were sometimes safer to drink than your local water source, something I take to heart whenever I have problems with the well on my property.   1300 years ago, apples weren’t nearly as tasty as all the varieties we have today.  So instead of eating them, people back then turned them into booze.

I live in the biggest apple producing state in the U.S., so finding fresh cider’s pretty easy in my area.  The Pacific northwest in general is a huge cider and beer brewing area, and cider is taking off again in popularity.  My local dive bar has one of its eight taps dedicated to ciders, which was a very nice surprise.  It doesn’t have to be just apples either.  Just like with meads, you can add fruits, herbs, and spices to hard cider for unique combinations.  Two favorite ciders of mine use lemon, blackberries, basil, and hops as ingredients.

And just like mead, it’s possible to make your own hard cider.  I haven’t tried it myself yet due to a lack of space.  Someday.  I’ve had some very tasty homebrew ciders though, and that’s more than enough to convince me to put it on my project list for the future.  Preferably while I’m living in Washington, because foraging is easy here and plenty of folks are happy to let you pick apples in trade for some of the finished product.

Happy fall to everyone!  If you have a favorite brand of hard cider, toss it in the comments.

Links and articles:

The Ancient Origins of Apple Cider– Smithsonian
The 21st Amendment
One Tree Cider
Spire Mountain Cider
Finn River Farm and Cider
The Cider Journal–  articles about cider and reviews of different ciders.

Remember last year….

When I said no more plants?  Well, since I decided to build a DIY raised bed out of a pile of scrap lumber I found under a tree, I’m going to ignore that this year.  It’s 6 x 2 feet, and has room for plants.

I still have all of my old containers too and they will also be full of plants.  Plants everywhere!  Peppers, tomatoes, squash, snap peas, garlic, potatoes, and whatever else looks cool.  The garlic is already growing and doing well.  A friend from garden club gave us all cloves to try out, and I put it in when I planted my bulbs last fall.  That is future Cincinnati chili garlic, amigos.

It was a long winter, and we had a couple decent days of snow.  We got our usual amount of rain and grey days in true western Washington style.  All of the snow melted at my elevation in a day or two, of course, and then it went back to rain.  But the mountains, which can get 70+ inches of snow from just a single storm, all have decent snowpacks this year.  It’s May 3rd, and snowpacks are around 9-10 feet at 5200′ elevation.

So now that it’s spring, the gardening bug is back again.

My goal is to grow enough veggies for myself and enough extra to donate to the food bank in town this summer.  Now that I have an idea of what it’s like to garden in this area of the country, I should have more luck with plants this year than last.  The other thing that’s helped is joining a few regional homesteading and canning groups on Facebook.

We’re running about two weeks behind on planting, despite one 80 degree day that broke a temperature record set about 80 years ago.  Next Wednesday is G-Day!

And next Thursday is mead day.  Bottling a few, racking the 101 Mead and blackberry wine, and throwing together some berries for a gallon or two of mixed berry wine. That’s an experiment, but I’m very sure that unless it comes out tasting like vinegar, I will find people to help me drink it.

Hoh River in the sunshine
Happy Spring!

 

Blackberry Wine

What better to do with a lot of blackberries than turn them into wine?  I have 23lbs set aside for booze, minus some I already turned into preserves.  My recipe is based loosely off the one from the Wild Wines and Meads handbook, with a few adjustments.  I prefer not to use orange juice or raisins in my meads (and now wines) as a rule.  They do affect the flavor, and there are more neutral acids for use in wine making that you can use instead of fruit or raisin.

4lbs of blackberries per gallon (washing and freezing the fruit before brewing is recommended)
1 campden tablet per gallon (optional)
1 tsp of pectic enzyme per gallon
1 package of yeast (wine, or other- I’m using Lalvin KV-1116)
Yeast nutrient, 1 tsp per gallon
2 1/4 lbs of sugar (per gallon)

For yeast nutrients, I’m following the same procedure I use for my meads.  Read about it here.

I have enough blackberries for three gallons of this, plus my mead experiment that I’ll be starting next week.  And preserves, of course.  I admit I was a bit lazy in berry picking with the blackberries, since allergies and a sinus infection kicked my ass.  Still, I clocked in at 27lbs for the season.

Next year, I’ve got plans for a port style blackberry wine using this recipe.  Unless I get impatient, in which case I’ll take the easy way out and use blackberry concentrate, or just go to Costco and load up a cart.

You can pick up the Wild Wines and Mead book by Pattie Vargas and Rich Gulling on Amazon and Indiebound.

No More Plants

Every time I go to the garden shop in town, I tell myself that.

No. More. Plants.

And every time I go, I wind up with more plants.  After a few years living at 8,000 feet with a growing season of maybe 15 minutes in the middle of July, I’m in an area where I can have a garden.  Granted, until I find a more permanent house, it’s a container garden, but I’m curing my gardening withdrawal with a new plant addiction.

One of the best parts of living in the PNW is the abundance of berries you can find here.  Combine those with homegrown herbs, and you have an endless choice of combinations for meads, simple syrups, infused vodkas, teas, and other fun things.

I’ve collected some good ingredients so far that I can grow right in the backyard.  Plants include tomatoes (mostly cherry tomato varieties), three types of sage, lemon balm, rosemary, basil, snap peas, squash, peppers, and strawberries.

Plus today’s find: culinary lavender.  I’ve been wanting to try a lavender mead for a while now, but haven’t had the ingredients to do it.  I’d rather use fresh than dried, and while all lavender is technically okay to use, the culinary varieties are preferable.  The one I have is the Munstead cultivar, Lavandula angustifolia.   The town garden shop thinks they’ll get more plants in soon, so y’all know what’s going to happen then.

A lavender plant in a pot
Grow, baby, grow.

I thought about whether to do a straight lavender mead or a lavender blackberry mead, so I’ll be doing both.  Naturally.  I have a literal ton of blackberries in my yard too, two different varieties of them.   This recipe from The Meadist is the one I’ll be trying for the lavender-blackberry.  Visit the site for all of the steps, and the comments.  People who are brewing this recipe are encouraged to comment on how things go, and reading other people’s logs is helpful.

  • 12 lbs. of raspberry honey
  • 2 tbs Yeast Energizer
  • 1/2 oz Lavender Flower Tips
  • Lalvin 71B-1122 Yeast
  • 9-10 lbs of blackberries

Unless the co-op gets another drum of raspberry honey in, I’ll use wildflower or clover honey instead.  The raspberry honey that came in earlier was the variety I used in the 101 mead.  I wasn’t able to get back to the store before they sold out, so lesson learned.  Next time, I’m bringing an empty 1 gallon jug and enjoying the hell out of all the weird looks I get.  Anyone who’s checked out a gallon or more of honey at a time knows what I mean.  On the other hand, I’ve gotten some folks interested in brewing mead and had some good conversations with people who have been doing this longer than I have.

As for this recipe, Bill Savage (the man responsible for this magic) does recommend brewing the lavender into a tea before adding it to the must.  I used a cold brewed tea for both batches of my hibiscus meads and cold brewed coffee for the coffee mead, and that method works very well.  The added bonus is that you don’t need to worry about straining flower bits out later.

I won’t be starting this one till August.  Our berries are running a few weeks behind thanks to a late spring.  It’s going to take some time for them to come in, but judging by all the blackberry blooms, it’s going to be a good year.

I’m holding his soccer ball.

The Best Dog

Griffin passed away two weeks ago, at 12 1/2 years old.  I got him from Doberman rescue in 2008, after they sprung him from the SPCA.  He was three or a little older, and someone left him in the SPCA lobby with his collar and nothing else.  Over the course of his life, he went to 20 states, saw the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, traveled over 10,000 miles on road trips and moves, hiked, rolled in animal shit, ate whatever he could get his mouth on, and was generally the best dog ever.  We had nine years and to me, it wasn’t enough.

The best of dogs.  RIP Griffin.  4/2005- 6/22/17

2008
Hiking, 2009
Lampshade Dog

 

2013

 

Rialto Beach, 2014

 

 

His natural habitat, 2014

 

9 years old, 2014

 

2017
12 years old, 2017