Saturday, January 21, 2012

Bottling day

You might recall that Tom and I recently embarked on a home-brewing experiment, thanks to the holiday gift of a starter kit he got from my mom and sister.

Well, today was bottling day.

This required boiling a little more than half a cup of sugar in some water, putting that in the bottling bucket, and then siphoning the fermented beer into the bottling bucket.  Remarkably, when we took the lid off the fermenting bucket, it actually smelled!  So far, we don't seem to have screwed things up.

The beer, after being siphoned into the bottling container.

--and the icky sludge left over at the bottom of the fermenting container.

Bottles in sanitizing solution, waiting to be filled.

It took us awhile to get the hang of filling the bottles, especially shutting off the valve in time and moving the siphon from one bottle to the next without making a mess.  Well, without making a huge mess.  I'm pretty sure that beer bottling is going to be messy no matter what.  Here are some highlights (?) of the process:

It did get easier, fortunately.

This has been a really difficult and depressing week for both of us--the kind where excruciating, seemingly endless minutes alternate with long stretches of numbness.  An ice storm last night prevented us from getting out of town today, or even out of the house, for a change of scenery.  So what else to do but finally get around to the bottling?

Strangely, it proved to be an ideal activity for the moment.  Bottling is the kind of task that is both mindless and deeply absorbing, and eventually it becomes so mechanical it takes on a kind of Zen-like, meditative quality.  I was almost sorry when it was over.  In the end, we had 46 bottles of beer ready to put up.

The beer has to condition in the bottles for two weeks before it'll be drinkable.  That gives us something to look forward to in a couple of weeks, and with any luck, will also give us a sense of being rewarded for our hard work.  At the moment, I'm deeply grateful for those simple gifts.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Helicopter attack, part 2

Regular readers might recall a post from about a year and a half ago about an encounter that I had with a  helicopter dad who came in to the advising office with his daughter, and the family drama that ensued.

Flash forward to today.  First day of spring semester, and I'm in my usual two-hour Monday afternoon shift doing advising.  It's very quiet--too quiet--for the first day, which probably should have been my first clue that some fresh hell was about to break loose.  I only had one scheduled appointment, at 3:30.

Around 3:15, a middle-aged guy sticks his head in the door, and asks if I can meet with him.  He looks familiar--I've met him before, I know he's been in the office before, but I can't place him until he says he's here to talk about his daughter's schedule.  But she's nowhere to be seen, and he has to call her several times before she finally answers and shows up in the office.  Oh yes: it's that family again.  And Mom's along this time, too. 

The student herself?  As soon as she plops into the chair, she whips out her phone and starts texting.  As the dad starts asking me questions about what classes she needs, I turn to her to get her input, and she's totally tuned out, texting away and clearly expecting mom and dad to do the heavy lifting.

The long and short of it is that the student is expecting to graduate this semester, but she's forgotten to enroll in the last class she needs, and got a D in another required course last semester, which means she'll have to repeat it and get a C or better. 

I could go on and on about the drama, part 2.  I'll spare you the details, and just say that it was very clear that the dad knew the requirements for the English major inside out, and the daughter not at all.  When the student bothered to put the phone down, it was to make snarky, petulant comments about how she didn't care what was required; she just wanted to finish and graduate. 

As before, I was mad at myself for not being more assertive--since, of course, this all took far longer than 15 minutes, leaving the poor guy who had actually scheduled an appointment sitting in the hallway. 

In my dream world, I would have channeled my maternal grandmother and said something snappy like "Young lady, this is your future we're discussing here, and you need to pay attention."  And maybe say something similar to the parents, like, "Tiffany Sue [not her real name] is the person who needs to make these decisions; why don't you wait outside?"

But of course, none of that happened. 

What really strikes me this time around is that this student is a graduating senior.  Presumably, she's on the brink of adulthood and independence.  But there's no evidence that that's even within the realm of possibility for her. 

Even more than feeling angry, the encounter left me feeling sad, and bewildered.  It seems like this child has been permanently damaged by her parents' concern.  And it strikes me as pathetic that any college senior could be OK with having her parents schedule her classes and generally organizing her life for her, much less seemingly expecting them to do it, and behaving as if she couldn't be bothered to worry about such trivial concerns.  Had it even crossed my mind to ask my parents for that kind of assistance, I would have been utterly humiliated to do so.

I just don't get it.

Is being a grown-up that unattractive to this young woman?  Or is it that it's just so, so much easier to keep doing the same old thing?  It just seems to me that by the time you were 21, you'd be tired of behaving like you're 16.  And that you'd want to feel like you were capable of managing your own life (whether you were or not). 

Damn, she didn't even show as much initiative as Veruca Salt.  At least Veruca always knew what she wanted, and asked for it by name.

Sigh.  And so begins another semester...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy brew year!

Or maybe that should be "Happy new beer"?

Tom's toyed with the idea of making his own beer for a long time, and thanks to my sister and my mom, he got a home-brewing kit for Christmas.  So, today was our first brewing day!

Fortunately, the kit came with everything--and I mean everything--you might need to get started, including a well-produced DVD with step-by-step instructions.  After watching that, we felt confident enough to get started.

So, first we had to empty the brewing grains into a mesh bag and steep them in warm water for 20 minutes.

Remove those, then bring the water to a boil and add a half-gallon (!) of malt syrup and a packet of dry malt.

Bring back to a boil, and boil for an hour, adding the hops as you go.  There were three different kinds of hops: one that went in at the beginning of the hour, one that went in fifteen minutes into the process, and one that went in 45 minutes in.

After the hour of boiling was up, the pot went into a cold-water bath to cool down.  Fortunately, I'd been defrosting the freezer, so there was lots of ice available for that.

Once the pot cooled down to room temperature, it was time to add the yeast. 

That's it.  We snapped on the lid, put in the valve that shows if fermentation is happening, and hauled the bucket off to the basement to do its magic.  Fingers crossed that we had the right temperature for the yeast to grow!

There were several other crucial steps involved, most of which involved sanitizing everything, including the bag of yeast itself and the scissors used to cut it open.  And something about using a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity of the mixture so that you can compare the initial reading with later readings to know when it's done fermenting.  Thank god the brewmaster here has a bachelor's degree in physics, because that's the point where my brain shut off.

Once the fermentation stops, it'll be time to bottle it, and then the beer needs to be bottle-conditioned for a couple of weeks.  But we should have our first batch in about a month!  So, expect more updates as the experiment continues.

Cheers to all our readers, and best wishes for a very happy 2012!

P. S. Many thanks to my former student Rebecca for the tip about Northern Brewer's idiot-proof kits and supplies.