Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's Keg Season! (part 1 of 2)

A 5 gallon keg can be a convenient way to serve beer but I don't have a kegerator so I typically use mine in winter.  It can also be a great place to collect bumper stickers. 
      Many of you are probably thinking, "Is there really a season for using kegs?"  Technically there isn't. A draft witbier sure would be refreshing in the heat of summer, but I tend to use kegs a lot more in the winter.  Kegging systems are not only cool; they eliminate the tedious bottling process.  It sure is convenient to siphon your beer into one sanitized keg rather than 50+ cleaned, sanitized, and then dried beer bottles.  However, this convenience in brewing can result in a very inconvenient utility bill if you use a kegerator.  There are two easy ways to avoid the hidden costs of a kegerator, but they both boil down to not using a kegerator.  I'll describe one tonight, and then post the other tomorrow.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Banjo Style

Dance all night and fiddle all day
Dance all night and fiddle all day
Dance all night and fiddle all day
That's the soldiers joy 
-Verse from Soldier's Joy

     Well, I promised some banjo on this blog so here it is.  This is an oldtime classic called Soldier's Joy.  It was a very popular fiddle tune during, and after, the Civil War.  A fiddler I played with in Tallahassee told me that it was popular in England and America, and that almost every oldtime fiddler knows this song.  It is often played as an instrumental, but many verses have also been put to the tune.  This particular piece is my modified version of Mike Iverson's arrangement.
      As you can tell, I need some more practice to get the tune sounding nice and clean.  I didn't want to wait until I'm perfect before I post, because I'll never be perfect.  A good musician doesn't get good before playing for others.  A good musician plays for others to get good.  Also, posting my videos will help keep track of my progress and hopefully inspire others to give music a try too.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Death of a Gator

The remnants of this alligator not only looked cool, but reminded me that in nature, everything is vunerable.
      Nature always finds new ways to impress me.  Sometimes, it’s a majestic landscape that I see from 14,000’.  Sometimes it is a rare and beautiful species that has adapted to survive in a unique environment.  Other times, nature just reminds me about the way life is.  Such is the case with this alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) skull I found at Hickory Mound Wildlife Management Area, while on a multi-day paddling trip along the big bend of Florida.
      At one time, the gator was a force to be reckoned with in the swamp.  It prowled the dark waters and waited for the perfect moment to ambush its prey, but nature reminds us that nothing is invincible.  Who knows what brought the end to this gators life.  In the end, all that matters is that it wasn’t fit enough to survive.  The once proud gator now rests at the bottom of a mucky tidal creek where crabs, whelks and insects now feast on it rotting flesh.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

An Introduction to Mead

The benches were filled with famous men who fell to with relish, round upon round of mead was passed; those powerful kinsmen, Hrothgar and Hrothulf were high in spirits in the raftered hall.  Inside Heorot there was nothing but friendship.
 - Beowulf, Seamus Heaney translation

Blackberry Buzz, one of my meads.  The label was produced by my friend John Dougherty.  Sorry for the picture quality.  I like my point and shoot but it was not really designed for these types of photos.
      I wanted to post this on Thanksgiving but I ended up going gigging instead, so here it is.  After moving out of Tallahassee last May, I realized that I have stockpiled a lot more homemade beer, mead, and wine than I thought.  I need to drink some up before my next move.  So, this year I added a bottle of my blackberry mead to our Thanksgiving feast.  I’ll provide a brief, general description of mead for those of you who are not familiar with this drink of the gods.  Then, I’ll describe my particular mead to the best of my ability.  I’m no connoisseur but I know enough about wine and mead to make them so I should be able to describe them.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgigging Report

Two of my fish from this year's annual Thanksgigging trip.
      Happy belated Thanksgiving everybody!  I hope everyone was able to enjoy the day with family and friends.  Like most people, I enjoyed the traditional Thanksgiving meal with my family.  Unlike a lot of people, I did not enjoy the tradition of sitting on the couch in an overstuffed stupor watching football.  Instead, I continued one of my personal traditions, Thanksgigging!  For the past five years, some of my siblings, my friends, and I have been going out after Thanksgiving dinner to hunt for flounder.  Last year, we got skunked, but with the run being so good for the past two weeks, I was hopeful that this year it would be a success.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Homebrewing: Healthy Hobby or Crime

      As I said in my introductory post, I am an avid homebrewer.  I have been brewing for almost four years, and in that time, I have developed some pretty delicious (not to mention, affordable beers).  A lot of people start brewing so they can make cheap beer, but I was actually originally drawn to homebrewing for other reasons.  Its historical value and the challenge of combining all my chemistry, biology, and botanical knowledge to create a near perfect (never perfect – any brewer who says he created the perfect beer is limiting himself…more on that below) beverage enticed me.  I had plenty of help from John Palmer’s online book, How to Brew.  It is available online, for free, and is, in my opinion, the best resource for anybody thinking about starting to brew, or hoping to improve their skills and efficiency.
      I brew all grain recipes that I write myself.  I always use my own recipes (except my very first one when I was learning).  It does take some experience, and some trial and error, but the results are always worth the effort.   Sometimes the beers don’t taste exactly as I hope but they are always delicious.  Plus, you can always adjust your recipe and create successive batches to work towards the unattainable flavor of the beer you imagined.  I say unattainable, not because brewing is hard, but because there are so many variables (eg. grain types used, proportions of grain types, mashing temperature, boil time, types of hops used, time hops are added etc.) that there is always some minor adjustment that can be made to make your beer better.  There are technically infinite combinations of all the variables in brewing.  For you math people out there, you can never reach the point of perfection, but you can come asymptotically close.  Still, reaching a point that is acceptable for most people (and better than most commercial beers) is an attainable goal.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The flounder run is hot this year! Literally.

A 21.5 inch flounder gigged at East Pass.  It's great to be back in Florida.

       I have been working in Wyoming since June and I just recently returned to Florida.  Wyoming was so beautiful, in an almost dangerous way, with its remote mountains and windswept deserts.  At times, however, I did really miss being in the southeast, especially the panhandle of Florida.  When late August arrived I could almost taste the sweet purple muscadines that I used to pick around Tallahassee.  To relieve my homesickness I just drank some homemade muscadine wine, which helped a little, and reminded myself that although I missed the muscadine harvest, I would make it home in time for the fall flounder run.

Give Me the Banjo

Here is an interesting documentary about the history of the banjo in American culture.  It starts with the humble roots of the banjo as a homemade instrument of suppressed slaves and goes all the way up to contemporary banjo players such as Steve Martin and Bela Fleck.  I also really like how the film mentioned the pre-Scruggs, three finger players that are often overlooked.  A guy that I used to work with was an old-time, three-finger player and often faced criticism for not being a frailer.  Apparantly old-time folks often think you have to frail to play old-time and a lot of bluegrass folks think that they are the only ones who can play three finger style.  This documentary just goes to show that the real essence of the banjo is not being completely tied down to any particular tradition, but developing one’s own way of playing based on what one has to work with.  Give Me the Banjo Documentary

What's in (or will be in) this blog?

      I have a lot of hobbies and, like most hobbyists, a lot friends that I share them with.  The problem is, I've got too much going on to keep them all updated on my latest experimental brew, an old-time tune I just learned on the banjo, or the bountiful harvest of wild fruit that happens to be setting.  Plus, I'm at that exciting stage in my life in which a lot my friends have just graduated and we are now dipsersing across the country (and world) making it even more challenging, and important, to keep in contact.  As a result, I have started this blog so my friends and family can keep up with my projects, but also so anybody intrested in Beer, Banjos, Boats and Biology can find some ideas, inspiration or information from what I post.
      Before I go any further, I should make it clear that this blog is not just about Beer, Banjos, Boats and Biology.  These just happen to be some of my favorite hobbies but I'm always doing something different or trying new things so you can expcect a lot more.  In fact, I'll post whatever random, topic comes to my mind but, you can bet that it will probably have some thing to do with nature (especially fish, herps, wild edibles or outdoor recreating), brews or music.
      Now that I have got that out of the way, I'll tell you a bit about myself. I am a graduate of The Florida State University and proud of it.  I studied biology, with an emphasis on ecology and evolution, and also took considerable marine biology coursework.  The marine world around us is fascinating  but I'm currently looking into freshwater ecology.  So far, I have seen some amazing places and organisms while studying and working on ecology.  I hope my work continues to take me to new places and if it does, I'll describe them here.

Working in biology does not pay well monetarily speaking, but the places you go and things you will see are payment enough.  This elk rack was found while working in Wyoming.   As state employees we couldn't keep the rack so it's still out there waiting for somebody to find it.
      I am fascinated by beer.  I'm not referring to just the euphoric feeling one gets while consuming it but also the knowledge, dedication, guts, and biological processes that are involved in crafting a unique beer.  I love to try different beers from microbreweries but my favorite beer is the beer I make with my own two hands using traditional techniques and my own crazy ideas.  I'll be posting about what I brew, and maybe even posting some basic recipies but... I'll be honest, you will not find my oatmeal stout or elder ale recipe on this page.  I work hard to come up with my recipes, and I'm glad to provide guidance but, it is up to you to come up with your own unique creations.  You will enjoy them much more if they are entirely your creations.

Sharing a glass of handcrafted homebrew is one of the many joys associated with homebrewing.  Here, my roomate and I conduct some quality control tests on our winter ale.
             I also love building things.  If something can be built rather than bought, I'll try to build it.  It doesn't always turn out well but that's how I learn. Two years ago I completed a fuselage style, skin-on-frame kayak (inspired by  I ended up giving it to my brother but I want to build another boat.  I think this time I'll try a traditional Greenland kayak.  When I get started, I'll post progress reports here.  Other things I have built incude a grape press, a cigar box guitar, wine racks, etc. (see how all my hobbies are related)
A 15.5 foot skin on frame kayak I constructed from scratch, seen at Rock Island, a resting point on the Florida Big Bend Saltwater paddling trail.
      Finally the banjo.  For the past year and a half I have been trying to learn the banjo.  I never played anything else before the banjo so I thought it would be a good challenge.  I mostly play old-time tunes with a style known as clawhammer (or frailing...I'm not arguing banjo semantics with any fanatics out there).  It is a much older style than the popular three finger or Scruggs style with a very different rythmic drive.  I enjoy all banjo music though so I might try to pick up some Scruggs rolls. 

Frailing some banjo in the back of my friends pick-up truck on the way to a canoe trip.  The green thing above my head is a canoe.
      One last thing.  I am writing this for the benefit of others but I still hope to have fun.  So, sometimes I'll post thoughts or ideas.  I'll try to be knowledgable but I'm not going to go out and do weeks of research for a single post.  I get enough of that as a hopeful scientist.  So, I'm not going to post things that I know are false, but if I do post something, before you bet your life on it, do a little of your own research.

If you have any questions, comments, or ideas contact me at imakemybeer(at)gmail(dot)com.