Gaudete Means Rejoice!

FullSizeRender 4As the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday seems a turning of the corner within the liturgical season. We begin to “Rejoice!” as we approach the Nativity of our Lord.

As a family, we marked the occasion by putting up our Christmas decorations. The Christmas tree will remain festooned only with lights until the 22nd or 23rd when we’ll decorate it with all the ornaments and everything else.

I decorated a little, but most of what I did on Sunday concerned another highly important thing, beer! I managed to brew a big batch (almost 25 gallons) of Religious Liberty back in October. It was ready to keg.IMG_0579

I decided, for fun, and since I’m somewhat lacking in variety this year (it’s been far too busy!) to mix up the dry-hopping.

Religious Liberty is normally all Cascades in the boil, and then also dry-hopped with Cascades. The result is a very “citrusy” pale ale, specifically orange flavors.

I decided to dry-hop two of the five kegs the regular way, but then also make a “Christmas Liberty” version, still dry-hopping with Cascades but also adding an equivalent amount of Simcoes, which are known for having a “piney” or “resinous” aroma.

Finally, since only four kegs fit in my kegerator at once, I decided to “cask” the last keg (which for me, means letting it sit at cellar temperature for 2-3 months to allow it to carbonate naturally).

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A Caveat Emptor Re “Craft Beer”

Prior to that scourge of time commonly known as Prohibition, when, from 1920 to 1933 the Eighteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution did away with alcohol in these United States, there were hundreds if not thousands of small-scale and regional breweries that checkered the nation’s landscape.

14761884426_c43edfd790_oBack then brewing and beer was a local business, because nationwide or even multi-state distribution required things like refrigerated freight cars that made importing beer rather cost-prohibitive. So when you visited Pittsburgh you sampled the local beer, and then again you had another brand in Racine, Wisconsin, and wherever else thirsty folks happened to be.

With Prohibition, all those little breweries folded up their tents, never to return. For the most part, in the decades following the repeal of Prohibition, only the large-scale brewers like Anheuser-Busch and Miller or Coors took up the brewing of beer again.

14578203838_2055d52ec4_oAnd these megalithic companies sent lobbyists to Washington to get legislation favorable to their megapoly in the form of restrictive laws relating to the distribution of beer in interstate commerce. Essentially, a brewer could no longer brew and distribute, so each major company spun off its own major distributorship, and would charge highly unfavorable rates to the little guys to get their products onto the big trucks, keeping a corner on the market.

It’s only been the last two decades that craft brewing has seen a real resurgence in America, and if you ask most craft brewers, they will tell you that the major hurdle for expansion is still….. distribution.

Adding insult to injury, the big breweries aren’t merely satisfied with keeping their 80% market share, or whatever. They’d also like to reap some of the craft brewing money, using less than excellent methods to do it. Take a look here for a really interesting infographic on all the “regional” or “craft” beers nationwide that are actually owned and produced by the major brewers like InBev (Anheuser-Busch) or MillerCoors.

A couple of prime examples of terrifically bad “craft” beer that nonetheless enjoys a tremendous market share based upon public misperception: Shock Top and Blue Moon.

Shock Top is made in Fort Collins, Colorado by Anheuser-Busch InBev and Blue Moon is brewed by MillerCoors in Golden, Colorado. But you’d never know it because the big companies don’t want you to know it. The labelling, branding, the corporate subsidiary name, the failure to mention anywhere on the label who actually owns these companies. These beers only pretend to be craft beer.

The Quartermaster, Fr. A and "Ms. S" enjoying actual craft beer in San Francisco

The Quartermaster, Fr. A and “Ms. S” enjoying actual craft beer in San Francisco

For myself, I don’t appreciate the artifice. I don’t go to a little wood-fire pizza place that is operated by Pizza Hut. I don’t want Kentucky Fried pretending to be your great aunt’s soul food. And I don’t want a company that spends more money on Clydesdale horses and Super Bowl commercials than the entire budget of Russian River or Firestone Walker telling me what constitutes craft beer.

Craft beer belongs to us. It is consumable democracy. When a brewer combines top-quality ingredients, a carefully planned recipe, and the purest water that can be sourced with his love and respect for the process and style, that is craft beer. Craft beer is not a label, a fancy name, or anything to do with a corporate subsidiary shielding the actual multi-billion-dollar owner. It is about an honest approach to one of the oldest and most honored foods ever made.

Seriously. Someone has filed a class-action lawsuit over Blue Moon. Now that someone has called them on it, I hope that the big brewers stop pretending.

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Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI turns 88 today, and celebrates properly!

This is my new favorite photograph in all of creation, posted on Zenit.org’s Facebook feed:

I am happy to see His Holiness looking well and happy, surrounded by fellow countrymen and accompanied by his brother, Georg. It would be a great privilege to share such a moment in Benedict’s presence. Say a prayer of thanksgiving for him today, and ask God to grant him a happy and healthy 88th year!

Cardinal Morton, St. Thomas More, Beer and Ecclesiastical Heraldry

Although beer has always been a part of Catholic life in Europe since the Middle Ages, it is not associated directly with Jesus in nearly the same way as wine. This is because (1) Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding at Cana involved wine; (2) Jesus changed wine into his Most Precious Blood at the Last Supper; and as a result (3) only bread and wine are the necessary types of matter used at mass.

Because of this, ecclesiastical heraldry occasionally contains symbols relating to wine or grapes, most commonly with reference to a chalice or the Eucharist.

As noted above, while the Gospels clearly show that Jesus and his disciples consumed wine, there are no explicit references to beer anywhere in the New Testament. Beer is mentioned in various translations of the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 28:7, 56:12), but in our New American Bible, it appears as “strong drink”. Since beer was commonly consumed during biblical times, it is not unlikely that the disciples, or even Jesus Himself, quaffed the beverage on occasion.

With this in mind, consider the following somewhat unusual coat of arms belonging to John Cardinal Morton, Archbishop of Canterbury (1420-1500):

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In 1486, Morton was made Archbishop of Canterbury by King Henry VII. The King appointed Morton the Lord Chancellor of England in 1487. In 1493, he was named Cardinal-priest of the Church of St. Anastasia by Pope Alexander VI (one of the “Borgia popes”, Alexander was reputed as one of the very worst popes in the history of Catholicism).

Morton was also a mentor to the young Sir Thomas More, who worked for Morton as a page and mentioned him in his later work, Utopia. Morton may have had a hand in the authorship of More’s history on Richard III, but that remains a subject of some debate.

A German rebus, c. 1620

A German rebus, c. 1620

The barrel/cask of beer at the bottom of Morton’s arms is referred to as a rebus (i.e., “an allusional device that uses pictures to represent words or parts of words. It was a favourite form of heraldic expression used in the Middle Ages to denote surnames.”). While we in the modern age associate heraldry with a more serious form of expression, in fact the rebus illustrates the sense of humor and play on words present in family crests and other heraldic imagery.

In the case of Morton’s own coat of arms, another word for “cask” or “barrel” is “tun“, which is a term still recognized by brewers today. A “tun” emblazoned with an “M – o – r” comes out as sort of a pun on the Cardinal’s surname.

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 4.07.27 PMThe rebus for Morton is repeated at Canterbury Cathedral, where he was buried before the altar of the Our Lady Undercroft. The tomb was badly damaged in the 17th Century, and Morton’s remains were removed and transferred to a more safe location, but there is still an eagle atop a barrel with “M – o – r” in the chapel.

It would be great if we could prove that Morton used the beer barrel reference to signify his own fondness for beer, but alas, while he may have been inspired to employ such a rebus in his heraldic arms upon drawing drafts of ale one evening, he may have simply liked the pun enough to use it.

While the “Mor-tun” pun is the most likely explanation, there is another possibility (or at least, an added meaning behind the rebus): according to The British Gazetteer, Political, Commercial, Ecclesiastical, and Historical, 142 miles from London, in Dorset, was a town called Beer-Heath, the “most distinguished” native of which was Archbishop John Morton. It could be that the Archbishop saw in the rebus a further reference to the place he was born.

In any case, if you know of more heraldic “beer references”, let me know and I will share them here.

Quartermaster RSVPs, Offers to Bring the Kegs!

Benedict Confirms Epic Kegger At Apostolic Palace During Francis Visit To U.S. Father Benedict (since that’s reportedly what you would prefer to be called now), send me a text, e-mail, tweet, whatever. Or have Abp. Ganswein get in touch. Lager? Abbey Ale? DIPA? Stout? We have time to plan!

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EPIC Presidential Beer Fail

President Obama noted that he was the “first president since George Washington to make some booze in the White House.”

Uhh, Mr. President, when did George Washington make booze in the White House, exactly? Was it during the time that he served as the first President of the United States (1789-1797)?

That would have been tough for President Washington, because the White House wasn’t yet built.

Perhaps it was when George Washington visited our nation’s second President, John Adams, at the White House.

Except that would be a problem too, since Washington died in 1799, and the White House wasn’t completed or occupied until November 1800.

Maybe accuracy in presidential beer history isn’t altogether important, but I’m a bit surprised our current President doesn’t seem to know the history of the house he currently occupies. Heck, all he had to do was check his own website.

And the President also said, simply, “We make beer.” I was not aware that the President was involved in the process. He must make use of the “imperial we,” for effect. Presidents do that a lot these days, it seems.

For the record, having someone who makes beer for you is not making beer. Nor, is drinking beer that someone makes for you making beer. Rather, the taxpayer-provided staff that attend to Mr. Obama actually make the beer. C’mon, Mr. President, give credit where it’s due, please. [Naturally, I’m snarky about who makes the beer. I wonder why.] I hope that (for the sake of White House kitchen staff morale) “we” don’t also “do the cooking” for state dinners.

Compare and contrast with George Washington, who truly brewed his own beer and distilled his own spirits. The New York Public Library houses a collection of manuscripts which include one of Washington’s own hand-written recipes for beer:

Washington's recipe for "small beer", from a collection at the New York Public Library

Washington’s recipe for “small beer”, from a collection at the New York Public Library

To make Small Beer

Take a large Sifter full of Bran Hops to your Taste. “” Boil these 3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gallons into a Cooler, put in 3 Gallons Molasses while the Beer is scalding hot or rather drain the molasses into the Cooler & strain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. Let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm. Then put in a quart of Yeast if the weather is very cold, cover it over with a Blanket & let it work in the Cooler 24 hours. Then put it into the Cask “” leave the Bung[hole] open till it is almost done working “” Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed.

Rome: A Pantheon of Flavor

IMG_1097IMG_1096Adjacent to the ancient Roman Pantheon (now a church consecrated to Our Lady), in the piazza sits a norceria which claims to have been in operation since the middle ages. I’ve made friends with the English-speaking shopkeepers, who are younger than the grizzled fellows who actually operate the slicers. But the young ones tell the old ones what you want, and they always take care of you.

Prosciutto di cinghiale (wild boar), in the dim of the evening light

Prosciutto di cinghiale (wild boar), in the dim of the evening light

Romans dine later than we Americans, and so around 7 pm rolls around and one feels a little peckish. What one needs in such an instance is some prosciutto di cinghale (wild boar), salami from Norcia, and a beer.

Rare and precious are the moments where one may sit in an ancient place and enjoy life in a way that it has been enjoyed for centuries. The prosciutto was incredibly silky with very little of the chewiness so common with conventional ham, bursting with the flavors of what a ruminant might find on a forest floor (nuts, acorns, chewy bits of fungus).

And, coupled with that rare and precious moment came my first opportunity to sample the product of the brewing efforts of the monks of Nursia, which is a relatively new venture in terms of monastic brewing tradition, and at present is not available on this continent. At 10% ABV, it’s in the nature of a tripel, but (judging from a bottle, not ideal) blond. Sweet, but not sticky, smooth without some of the funk you find in abbey ales. Not my favorite style, but an excellent example of the style.

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Another Beer Thing I Cannot Do Without

In the Liturgy of the Hours, for Ordinary Time, there is a hymn (tune, Wych Cross) that I particularly enjoy called “O Father Whose Creating Hand”. The third stanza:

O Spirit, your revealing light
Has led our questing souls aright;
Source of our science, you have taught 
The marvels human minds have wrought, 
So that the barren deserts yield
the bounty by your love revealed.

Here is a (beer) marvel that the human mind has wrought.

When at home, I am blessed to have my own homemade “kegerator” that can dispense up to four different kegs of beer at once. Over the years, I’ve filled my share of beer bottles and glass growlers, and whenever we travel, “roughing it” means being at the mercy of our environs for decent beer. Sometimes we land upon a paradisiacal oasis. Sometimes we arrive at a beer desert.

I’ve cogitated over the ways that one might transport a keg for, say, a camping trip. The big problem with a whole 5-gallon keg is that there’s no easy way to keep it upright and chilled while you travel. You also have to figure out a solution for maintaining pressure. And, unless you have enough people (or a long enough trip), you’re going to have to slog beer back after less than optimal storage conditions, possibly resulting in waste, which is the cardinal sin in my beer catechism.

The “coolness factor” of this new thing cooked up by the people at “GrowlerWerks” is totally off the charts, and it seems a bunch of people agree with me, because the goal for this Kickstarter campaign was $75,000, and they’ve been funded with over $1.5 million.

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This pressurized growler could revolutionize the craft brewing market. Conventional growlers are cumbersome. Most are made from glass (which means they can break), and as soon as you break one open, you need to finish the beer pretty quickly, or it will go flat. Most growlers are a half gallon in size, which means you need to be a pretty big drinker (or have a friend) to get through four pints all at once. Most places that fill growlers will require that you use one of “their” growlers, that is, the ones that they sell, with their logo on the side.

Now that this Kickstarter is going to become a reality, I’d advise the GrowlerWerks people to work to work on getting every possible craft brewer on board with amending their rules to permit these to be filled instead. As a brewer, I’d give up my “ad op” for wider adoption of using these growlers to sell beer. Perhaps there is a dongle that could be attached, or a decal or something, identifying that the brewer has “adopted” the pressurized growler.

It would keep the beer away from light, oxygen, and preserve the carbonation. It suddenly becomes more convenient and provides better quality whilst saving the waste of cardboard, cans and bottles.

These pressurized growlers are will be available in 1/2 and 1 gallon sizes, which means you could potentially have one pint of draft beer from your favorite brewer each night of the week before needing to refill it. For myself, I’d just start making 11 or 12 gallon batches (instead of 10) and put the surplus gallons in one of these kegs to extend my brewing efforts a little further.

Status Post No Chill Brewing

ciderrellibThe drought — the one that involves a dearth of decent beer at the Quartermaster’s house, but sadly, not the one threatening to send all of California spiraling into utter chaos — has finally ended, and following what has seemed like a marathon — of brewing, cleaning, sanitizing, racking and kegging — there is finally beer for the holidays!

Here’s what’s currently on hand:

  • Religious Liberty Ale (American Pale) – 10 gallons ready, 10 gallons in secondary
  • Ancient Roman Philosopher (DIPA, Pliny the Elder Clone) – 10 gallons ready
  • The Oliphaunt (Christmas Stout) – 10 gallons kegged, aging
  • Unnamed (California Common) – 10 gallons in secondary
  • The Grove (ESB, with “estate” Satsuma peel) – 10 gallons in primary