Thursday, February 27, 2003


Hasn't been much worth commenting upon of late. Work is alternating between Really Cool ™ and boring; Vindication IPA is aging, there's snow on the ground and I have few complaints with Life.

Let's see, positions on issues, to drum up convo:

Iraq: the conflict will be quick, vicious and largely bloodless if you're in the Iraqi rank and file. France and Germany are opposed because they've got lots of UN-resolution-breaking skeletons in the closet, and because they hate to think that the U.S. is actually capable of acting on its own, and fear what might happen if we get (yet another) taste of victory. Yes, destabilizing the region is likely - what did you think was the point?

UN: The UN is (along with NATO) now pretty much defunct as a seriously-taken organization. Ditto the European Union, unless a lot changes in the next year or so. Again, thank France and Germany.

Belgium: it's a shame they had to be French toadies. I was getting ready to buy a lot of Belgian beer over the next several years, and now I'm not - I'll be making my own in Belgian-reminiscent styles, from US / UK / Aussie ingredients.

UK: Bully for Tony Blair, Labour socialist though he be, upholding an alliance that's hurting him politically. Ditto John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia.

War: Hardly the worst of human fates (as some would frantically have us believe). Ask the liberated Jews from Auschwitz and Dachau, or, more recently, anyone female in Afghanistan. Or, for that matter, ask the soldiers doing the liberating.

Bush: A guy doing the world's hardest job better than almost anyone I can imagine, except for perhaps a young and healthy Reagan. No, he's not perfect (why are we asking the UN's permission yet again?), but I'm damn glad he won instead of Gore. And yes, he actually won. Do some reading: there's a thing called the electoral college, and some things called state and federal electoral law, which were all followed to the extent Gore's team failed to interfere with them.

There. That ought to stir up the waters a bit.


Saturday, February 22, 2003

Rich is all excited now...

Had a sterling bottling session. My earlier misadventures in siphoning out of my tall glass carboy have all been resolved, primarily because I grabbed another cheap little gadget, called an Autosiphon. Nothing magic about it, except that it's capable of getting a good, steady siphon going, easily, in a situation that was absolutely painful to start last time, both in terms of difficulty and (through ill-thought-out hose cutting) in blood.

So I was able to rack Rich's Vindication IPA from secondary fermenter to bottling bucket with no trouble whatsoever, and from there bottling went like the well-oiled machine I was used to: fill, cap, box. Now it's three weeks or so of aging in the bottle before V-IPA will be in prime condition. And for sanitizing bottles I used the same procedure as for the Sahti, which has turned out so well.

I didn't get quite the amount of sugar I was hoping into the beer - my starting specific gravity (corrected for temperature) was 1.068, and I was going for 1.076. I also didn't get quite the completeness of alcohol conversion (attenuation) I was hoping for - my finishing specific gravity was 1.017, and I was expecting down near 1.012. Still, this yields an alcohol content of 6.72% by volume, which is a fair bit higher than I've ever gotten before. :-)

I had a taste of the leftovers, too, and it was very clean --yes!-- and bitter as an IPA ought to be. Still very rough around the edges, though, so conditioning will be a real benefit. I'm excited: this may well be a really wonderful beer, despite being the most complicated I've ever tried.


Friday, February 21, 2003

At Last - Time to Bottle

Rich's Vindication IPA (India Pale Ale) is at long last ready for the bottle, after a week of primary fermentation and a week clarifying in my secondary fermenter. I'm very pleased with how this brew's gone so far --- assuming tomorrow's siphoning and bottling goes as well, Vindication should be a very satisfying beer, and if it goes well enough I may enter it in Richmond's upcoming Dominion Cup contest as well as Rich's Almost-Finnish Sahti.

Speaking of great IPAs, I discovered a really amazing example of the style recently, perhaps even one to eclipse the great Stone Ruination IPA. This (relatively) new brew is Victory Brewing's HopDevil. An astoundingly hard hop hit, which then melts into all that is good about sweet, malty creaminess. Out-freaking-standing. I love this beer.

By the way, here's an excellent article on the history of India Pale Ale. This kind of teeth-in-it research is exactly what I love about beer as a hobby.


Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Interesting Article

I was rooting around on Slashdot, and found this article with some perspective on why middle school and high school were so damned difficult.

It's a long article, so I'll sum up: being popular takes work, and lots of it. Unpopular kids are frequently the ones whose brains are occupied with other things than being popular, and so they do a slipshod job of integrating with the crowd. Middle and high school tend to be social bubbles (a la the court of Louis XIV) with little to define them other than clawing to the top of the social structure, so doing a slipshod job of clawing is poorly forgiven. Thus the cruelty of society, ages 11-16, toward its sometimes most gifted members. Once the kids enter the real world (assuming they do; some become "Ladies who Lunch" or politicians or some similar thing), they discover that focus on things other than popularity can have merit and earn rewards.

I've become skeptical of such articles when posted on Slashdot, because they can tend to degenerate into "jocks and cheerleaders suck; let the geeks take over" discussions, or proceed to blame Society or Da Man, but the above has a ring to it. I remember what I was like as I muddled through school, and if I had to pick one adjective other than "miserable," it'd be "preoccupied." Not necessarily with my studies (heaven knows), but with computers, or drawing, or football (no, being on the team does not guarantee any sort of social status: awkward is awkward, whether or not you run with the big dogs), or the comics I was reading, or the music I was learning, or who knows what else.

I was always mystified as to why so-and-so was popular and liked and deferred to (and got girls, let's not forget that, nope, can't gloss that little detail), and one plausible answer is that I simply didn't/couldn't devote myself to the question full-time.

This isn't saying that every maladjusted kid was a genius-in-waiting (or that I necessarily was), but it's got that ring of truth.

Unsure why I'm going on about this, but it was a fascinating bit of infoflotsam I found. Pass it on and/or comment if you're so inclined.


Where does the time go?

Well, an eventful weekend.

Brews Cruise
Saturday's Brews Cruise went very well, and I wound up with the chance to sample many, many excellent beers along the way.

First off, we stopped at Top of the Hill Brewery and Restaurant in Chapel Hill, and it was a real kick to see the place's equipment and hear everyone talking about how many thousands of pints' capacity it was, and ask, "How'd you like to have a setup like that?" and sample the brews there - their IPA was stellar, and their in-house 'summer brew' was a decent job, too.

Next we hopped a literal few blocks down to the Carolina Brewery, where the house IPA was another goodun (can you tell I'm trying to establish a taste reference?), as was their excellent porter. The entire time I had the chance to swap stories and get tips on technique from people who've been doing the homebrew thing since it became legal in 1979 (and even a little before, in some cases).

From there the bus drove down to Raleigh, and the final stop was The Flying Saucer, whose claim to fame was the 80 taps on the wall (and they have 140 other beers available in bottles!) along with the coaster motto, "No Crap on Tap." So far as I could tell, this was true. :-9 However, my capacity for both additional beer and coherent thought was measurably diminished by this point, so the Rogue Shakespeare Stout and Rogue Mocha Porter I tried might not have been as outstanding as I perceived them to be. :-D

I brought along most of a case of Rich's Almost-Finnish Sahti, and only returned with about half of what I brought. It went over very well, which was quite gratifying. :-D I find myself in a strange position, though: I don't think I care much for the taste of Sahti myself, but most people I give it to seem to love it! Too funny. It's been suggested several times by this point that I enter it in the upcoming Dominion Cup contest in a month or two.

I believe I shall.

Yes, it snowed like the very devil over the weekend, and though in Richmond we only got five inches or so, it was five inches of almost solid sleet, so even though it looks like snow, it holds my 270ish pounds with no trouble - it barely crunches at all when I walk on it. It's going to be melting for a while, methinks.

The snow/sleet had started in earnest by the time the Brews Cruise bus arrived home on Saturday night, and I wound up very grateful that I'd stopped my imbibing in Raleigh, because the driving was treacherous in the extreme, and I had to get back to the apartment from the bus station. There was five minutes of hard scraping before I could so much as see out of my Taurus, and roads were soapy-slick for most of the drive. Fortunately the few drivers on the road at 10 PM were as white-knuckle terrified as I was, so stupidity was running at a relative minimum. UN-fortunately, the excesses of the day had caught up with me, and the sides of my head had become a perfect throbbing inertia-gauge, which might have been for the best, because this focused me admirably upon my car's traction, and on avoiding any sharp changes in direction. :-D


Thursday, February 13, 2003

Beer Geekery

The JRHB meeting last night was a great one. Turns out I misunderstood and we weren't actually judging beers, but learning to judge beers, from an experienced, board-certified beer judge in the club. Still, it was fun.

I also brought along a few bottles of my troublesome Sahti so it could be sampled and commented upon, and to my surprise it had mellowed nicely in the intervening week, and was very well received, with comments like, "clean!" and "wow, you can really taste the juniper - cool!" Everyone was interested in the brewing process, and where I got juniper, and there were even requests to bring more of the stuff on the Brews Cruise on saturday morning, and that I enter it in the Specialty Brew category in the Dominion Cup homebrewing contest in a few months.


It's great to get these sorts of compliments and feedback from guys with real beer-brewing experience. It was also cool to see other newbies blown away by the result. It was a bit of a chest-puffer, too, to hear a guy who signed up right about when I did comment, "Wow, you're a lot more advanced than I am." When I described the recipe and process. He, by the way, brought along a very well-executed Austrian Dunkelbock, done from an all-malt-extract kit - a beer it simply wouldn't have occurred to me to attempt. I hope I've inspired him to try some more advanced recipes; after tasting his Dunkel, I may well fiddle with some Austrian/German recipes myself. (Most German styles [like Bocks] require exacting refrigeration and extensive patience to do correctly, though, being lagers.)


Wednesday, February 12, 2003


Slow week. Well, sort of.

Lots more Data/XML/XSL fun at work - developing what may turn into a full content-management system, and learning a lot of the fine points of XSL in the process. Neato Bandito.

I'll be racking the Vindication IPA into a carboy tomorrow evening.

My evenings have been pretty full this week, now that I actually think of it.

Saw the Virginia Opera production of Andrea Chenier last night (VA Opera's homepage seems to be under construction today), and enjoyed it immensely. No, I didn't have a date, and no, for a change it was no big deal. :-) Go me.

Tonight is the James River Homebrewers' monthly meeting. We'll be judging (learning to judge, in my case) English Bitters and English Pale Ales, which should be both challenging and extremely tasty. :-9 Makes me wish my IPA was ready.

Tomorrow night I'll be re-seeing The Two Towers with some friends from work.

Friday night I have errands, and Saturday I'll be accompanying a sizeable segment of the James River Homebrewers population on their quasi-annual "Brews Cruise," in which about 50 of us will be bussing into North Carolina and hitting as many brew pubs and microbreweries as we can. It has that dangerous look of Too Much Fun about it. Should be a blast.


Sunday, February 09, 2003


free enneagram test

I've taken online Enneagrams before, but honestly don't remember what I got. Type three works for me some of the time (I got a score of 7 on the test), but I was also strong in types one, four, six and nine (scored 5 for each), so I appear to be difficult to measure.

Thanks to Tripp.


Fermentin' Fool

New Brew
Got Rich's Vindication IPA in the fermenter yesterday afternoon, and it was another very smooth brew session. The one wrinkle was the straining-out of all the hops and trub after the boil. IPAs (India Pale Ales) are very hoppy beers, and typically have from three to five additions of hops during a 60-minute boil. My recipe required four ounces of hops added in dry pelletized form (which expanded by about five times, I think, when rehydrated), in five installments. The final beer should taste wonderfully hoppy, but when it came time to pour the newly cooled wort into the fermenter through my strainer, removing the fine bits of hops and precipitated protein in the process, my strainer kept clogging. This forced me to pause, rinse the strainer and begin again. Five or six iterations of this were needed to get all three and a half-ish gallons poured, which was no small amount of frustration.

Still, it's happily bubbling along. Since I'm using the yeast that was so amazingly active the last time I tried this recipe, I've installed a blowoff tube into a gallon-jug partially filled with water this time around, which I'm hoping will lessen the danger of a mess.

While speaking with Bob (proprietor of The WeekEnd Brewer) Friday evening, I asked him about the disappointing results with my Sahti. He advised that overspicing beers is very easy to do, and that's probably what's wrong with my brew - way too much juniper. He told me it'd be best to keep the stuff around, though, because spices in beer diminish over time, and in a few months it may well be a very different beer, and that I should give it a chance.

So that's what I will do. Since I'm pretty sure I got bottle sanitation right this time around, it should keep for a good while.


Friday, February 07, 2003

Thank You, Sir, May I Have Another?

New Brew
I'm looking to retry the India Pale Ale recipe from a month ago this weekend.

This time it will be named Rich's Vindication IPA, and I feel a lot better about my brewing process than I did on New Year's. With my mash/lauter tun functioning in fine fettle, and a better understanding of the decoction-mash process, I'm optimistic.

Tried my Sahti last night, and it's just not getting any better. Still wondering what to do about it.


[Edit: I wrote this post on Friday, but never got back to publish it. Thus its MIA status all weekend.]

Thursday, February 06, 2003


Hey, everyone. Sorry for the relative lack of contact the past few days... Work has been tiring, and there haven't been too many beer developments.

I've been setting up machines of one sort or another a lot recently... Between many, many (many) trips to the Windows Update site, and the long process of installing Win2K in several flavors (no XP for some reason), I have a strange suspicion that Bill Gates wants to eat my brain. One of these installations has been on a VMWare virtual machine, which would be inordinately cool if it weren't so transparent as to look and act like any other semi-troublesome box. :-D

The Sahti continues to clear, but is susceptible to a condition called chill haze, the symptoms of which include, as you might expect, a haziness or cloudiness to the beer when it gets below certain temperatures, caused by excess colloidal proteins in the mix, sort of like Jell-O. It's gotta be a side-effect of the yeast; everything else I did should have minimized chill haze. Thankfully, chill haze has no effect on taste. I'll be trying my next Sahti sample this evening... We'll see how well it's aged this time. :-)


Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Geeking Out

Lately I've had a chance to see how powerful XML can be from the point of view of XSL stylesheet transformation.

As a proof-of-concept, I whipped up an ASP page to grab information from an Access database, convert it to XML, transform that to a readable HTML page via an XSL template, and shoot the result back to the user. Seriously slick stuff, browser-independent, and fast too.

I may never write a static page again. I hope Blogger uses this sort of tech - this stuff is easy!


Monday, February 03, 2003

New Week

Columbia broke up over Texas. Crap, crap, crap. I'm hoping this turns into new emphasis and revenue for our space programs, but I'm no longer sure NASA is the way to go. Certainly encouraging private-sector spaceflight would help, but I've heard it said that the US Air Force might be a better home for future publically-funded ventures, if only because they wouldn't have the immense mountain of red tape NASA deals with in order to so much as scratch its behind.

Well, well, well. I'm very glad I didn't toss the batch out when it smelled so bad during bottling. After only a few days in bottles, there's all sorts of stuff being precipitated out -- I chilled and tasted one last night, and the beer's getting better and better. That or I'm killing dissenting taste buds with each bottle. :-D Either way, given a few weeks to age, Sahti may very well be quite yummy. If I make another batch, I think I will rack the beer to my secondary carboy fermenter about three days into the process, and then bottle after an additional week of clarifying, so that the sediment won't have to wind up in the bottle.