Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I Scrambled Like Eggs

If anyone sees me today and I am hunched over like Quasimodo, there is a reason for that, and it has nothing to do with my recent interest in the science behind keg stands (I am mostly trying to answer the "why would you do that?" question).  In fact, yesterday had every chance of being a normal day.

Does it make me a bad person that I don't think I could love Quasimodo based on how he looks? Who dresses like that?

I was sitting at my desk when the call came in.

"Lauren,"  the voice said,"We need you on the bottling line today."

My heart sank in my chest. Manual labor? Today?

I showed up at the bottling line.  The cacophony of bottles hitting the conveyor belt and the thud of the packaged beer boxes hitting the pallats sent my blood pressure skyrocketing.  It was not until later that I realized the blessing of the noise.

The head of the bottling line, Big John, approached me.  As he explained what I would be doing, I could not help but be distracted by his giant beard.

People tell me that I have a small obsession with beards because it is the first thing that I notice about people.  This is for two reasons: first, if you are a woman, whoa, you have a beard.  Second, beards are face hair, and I cannot help but wonder what purpose it serves.  Eyebrows obviously keep foreign materials out of the eyes.  Consequently, nose hair must keep foreign materials out of the mouth.  But beards?

Most people lack the vocabulary necessary to talk about beards. I hope this helps.

John told me that I would be pressing a button with my foot.  This button would signal to the conglomeration of 24 bottles that it was time for them to drop into the box.  I would then fold down the box flaps so that they could be glued properly by the machine that came after my part.  And I would do this for two hours and like it.

The first couple of boxes went well. I was keeping up pace with the bottling line.  I thought I might be an assembly line prodigy. But then, CATASTROPHE STRUCK.  Except in real life, it wasn't really a catastrophe.  I just let a box get through the system without folding the box flaps down properly.  So the machine glued bottles together instead.

The bottles on the conveyor belt jittered anxiously, stacking up pile upon pile, as I tried to correct my error.  Fortunately, there are people who work the bottling line every day that know how to fix things when n00bs work the line.  Lee quickly corrected my error and the world returned to normal for five minutes.

The next mistake that I made involved trying to wrestle a box off of the conveyor belt before it glued improperly again.  The way the box conveyor belt works, it is possible to have a box try to enter the gluing machine at an angle. WHICH IT CANNOT DO.  So instead, it just keeps bouncing against the sides of the machine.  Let me tell you, the conveyor belt is a strong beast.  It took all of my powers to pull that box back and correct its trajectory. Meanwhile, I had accidentally stepped on the button telling the other side of the machine to fill another box with bottles.  So that box was hurling at me from the back, while I wrestled this other box at the front. I cannot begin to even imagine how much of an idiot I looked like.

The next picture on the camera is of me drinking all of this Oak Barrel Stout
Then there was also the box that the six pack packaging was slightly off kilter.  So when I pressed the foot button, the bottles bounced all over the place. And I scrambled like eggs (I really want this phrase to catch on).

It was not all bad, however.  In fact, the noise was good, because it meant that I could sing as loud as I wanted and no one could hear me.  In two hours, it is possible to make it through most of Handel's Messiah.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

She Packs a Farm Girl Wallop

One of the coolest things about working in beer is that there is at least one new beer a month.  We call this "a seasonal release."  That means, minutes before your palate can get bored of a beer, the next best thing is coming along in a seasonally appropriate manner.  It is why you see so many stouts in winter and wheat beers in summer.

This is one of Andy Warhol's less known works "Stout in Snow"

This week, our brewery is unleashing (I was going to say "tapping" but that seemed inappropriate considering GiGi's personality) quite possibly the coolest seasonal/limited release we have ever undertaken.  Her name is GiGi, which is the French word for "girl who farms,"and she is a Belgian-style farmhouse ale.

A little history -- we often refer to her as a saison because that is the French word for season.  Traditionally, farmhouse ales were house recipes that were served to farm workers during the harvesting season.  That is why there is no unified recipe for the farmhouse ale.  We use a French word for a Belgian-style beer (and anyone who has read Hercules Poirot knows why) because the Wallonia region of Belgium borders France and, consequently, speaks French.

GiGi making beer, obviously

GiGi is bottle conditioned and has an IBU of 18.  She seems sweet and unassuming upon first acquaintance, due to the use of pilsner, oat, and torrified wheat malts, but the subtle influences of Bravo, Select, and Cascade hops add spice and a little mystery to her personality. GiGi possesses a diverting depth of character.

You can find GiGi in 22oz bottles and on draft.  The first place she will be making her innocent appearance (though she packs a farm girl 7.2% ABV wallop) will be Rams Head on Thursday.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Beer Has Better Taste in Music Than I Do

Beer and music always go together. It is a major component of the drinking process and it is integral to the brewing process here at Fordham and Dominion Brewing.  I realized this the other day as we listened to the Avett Brothers album I And Love And You, for the billionth time.  You see, our Brewmaster believes that better beer is made with better music.  And I am ashamed to admit, the beer has better taste in music than I do.

Like beer, music is best left to those with crazy beards
This led to an interesting train of thought (hopefully this train does not derail).  When we write about our beer and describe it for magazines and news articles - we mention every single ingredient that goes into it, the hops, the malt, the yeast, heck, sometimes even the water. But we never mention the music that was played to the beer. Middle school science experiments would indicate that music may make up an interesting portion of the beer's personality (One word: DoppelBach).

In middle school, a lot of us had the opportunity to participate in science fair projects.  Some of us forgot about the science fair and then faked a month long experiment overnight ("I call it cup of dirt.  It is a cup...of dirt"), while others prepared months in advance.  At the fair,  there was always that one weird kid hanging out on the perimeter of the fair; the homeschooler who never showered, smelled like cheese, and used big words like "cenosillicaphobia,"(I call that weirdo "Brother") who had experimented with playing music to plants. The experiment always hypothesized that plants prefer classical music and will wither and die if you play them death metal.  The results of the experiment always proved the hypothesis correct.  Apparently plants react to the music in their environment.  They also have very refined taste in music.
According to this science fair project, snacks are a personality indicator....I wonder what Cheez-its mean.
If music affects plants so much, one can only imagine how it affects beer.  That is why I am proposing that all of our labels detail the music that was played to that beer.  No one wants to drink a Hop Mountain that was made more bitter by being forced to listen to Alanis Morissette, though one may want to drink a Hop Mountain that was infused with more bitterness by Kanye West (Yo, Taylor, I'm really happy for you. I'mma let you finish). Likewise, any good Helles Lager should be exposed to the stylings of George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers and a strong, German maibock should listen to Beethoven's 9th.

Beer has personality, and that personality should be respected through the brewery's musical choices.  That is why we let our Brewmaster determine which albums are played around our beers.  If you ever drop by during the day, you will notice the careful music choices that are made.  (I like to think that our beer is a little bit hipster, listening to music most people have not heard of yet.)

All that to say, the next time you are drinking a beer and it tastes a little off, ask yourself "Did someone play Vanilla Ice to this poor beer?"
Yes. That is Vanilla Ice.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

No Cheez-It Is Safe After 5PM

If you are reading this, it is now day seven of the "Special Stout Diet."  The side effects of switching to a stout-based diet are now becoming apparent.  To begin with, dancing can occur anywhere at anytime.  My public appearances are becoming a liability.  No Cheez-it is safe after 5PM.

I don't always eat Cheez-Its, but when I do, I prefer Scrabble Jr. Cheez-Its, as they serve a dual purpose.
My ability to work has not been affected. In fact, I have accomplished more this week than any of the weeks prior.  I like to think that it is one of the advantages of having a drink for breakfast, rather than the fact that I now know more about what I am supposed to be doing.

I believe that drinkers, like gamblers in a poker game have tells - that little signal that they are buzzed and are rapidly approaching drunk territory (I refer to this little adventure and the subsequent return as "going there and back again -- A Hobbit's Tale," which is a super nerdy Lord of the Rings reference).  My tell is that I start cleaning superficially.  I move things from visible surfaces to cabinets and closets.  Some mornings, I wake up at home and cannot find anything. All that to say, my office is cleaner now than it has been in weeks.  There is no longer a giant stack of papers on my desk... but there is now a giant stack of papers in my drawer.

Through the miracle of "Paper Osmosis," the papers on my desk went from an area of high concentration (my desk surface) to an area of low concentration (my desk drawers).  Equilibrium is currently being maintained between both areas.
In terms of hunger, it is not so gnawing.  I have adapted to this new schedule of beer consumption.  The breakfast beer usually keeps me full for a while, but by the time I get to the lunch beer, I am a little hungrier.  To adapt to this change in pace, I have started eating dinner at four.  This meal lasts two hours.  I don't think that this is cheating, since I don't eat again before I go to bed.

I am not sick of Oak Barrel Stout.  It has given me the opportunity to really appreciate it for its fine craftsmanship...which reminds me of the XKCD comic strip I am posting below.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ghost Hunting + Pierogies = Awesome

I wake up most mornings feeling like Ke$ha. I grab my clothes, sometimes lunch (when I am not on a stout diet), and then I shoot out the door to work.  Mostly because I cannot wait to get there. From day to day, there is no telling what might happen.

A lot of people wonder what it is like working the best job ever.  I always reply that I would not know, because I have worked mediocre jobs, good jobs, and the uber best job ever (we use a lot of German in brewing).  Philosophers have often pondered, "what is it that separates the 'best job ever' from the 'uber best job ever'?"  The Romans once posited, "caveat emptor et semper ubi sub ubi" and I think that they were right. However, what makes this job the uber best job ever, is that I do not just work in a brewery, I work in a haunted brewery.

You read that right. I work in a haunted brewery.

My first impression of the haunting occurred one day when I walked past my desk and saw someone sitting at it. I did a double take, because I am very territorial and paranoid about people messing with my computer.  When I looked back, there was no one there, but the screensaver on my computer had been replaced with my desktop.  I thought nothing of it later, until I was talking to the boss.

I was talking about how much more interesting our brewery would be haunted  (I think the best idea for a show would be one where people ghost hunt while eating ridiculous amounts of fried, local food.  It would be called Food Vs. Ghosts, Diners, Drive-ins, and the Deceased...or something.  The idea is still in its infancy).  Anyway, he asked me what had happened that made me think that it was haunted.  When I replied that nothing had, really, he launched into the strange goings-on in the brewery.

Ghost Hunting + Pierogies = Awesome

At first I thought he was joking.  But later, I was talking to some of the brewers, who were unaware of my conversation with the boss.  I asked them if anything strange had ever happened to them while they were working.  Apparently, strange things occur when you are alone.  Those who have encountered those acts believe them to have been perpetrated by the shadow people.

One of the brewers, kind of one of my favorites, Dan, told me of one morning when he was by himself in the brewery, milling in the malt for the day.  He had gone to make a pot of coffee, as was his usual routine, when he heard a noise out on the floor.  Leaving the coffee pot in the machine, he went to check it out.  At first he thought that another employee might have come in early, but as he called out to ascertain who it might be, there was no reply.  Giving up, he went back to get his cup of coffee... Imagine his surprise, when the coffee pot was not where he left it, and the coffee in it was still sloshing from side to side from the sudden movement.

I thought that they were pulling my leg at first. I am the new person and it is always fun to mess with the new person (that is kind of my third favorite hobby).  But then, I had my official haunting experience.  Let me tell you, I am a little girl when it comes to ghosts. Mostly because I don't know how accurate their portrayal in movies is, so I am not sure how to relate to them (are they friendly? are they vindictive?).
Friendly Ghost...
One night, Mr. Hobbs and I were closing up after a tour; it was shortly after I had heard about the haunting.  We were shutting things down as usual, but there were a lot of strange sounds that we had never heard before; a banging like someone was hitting the pipes with a baseball bat. We were a little freaked out and tried to ignore it.  We closed up the cooler, locked all of the doors, and turned off the lights.  It was pitch black when I turned on the alarm and left the building.

...Not so friendly ghost.

We were standing outside when Ryan realized that he left his car keys inside.  Being the responsible manager that I am, I went to open the building to let him in again, while I turned off the alarm.  I swear to you, when I opened that door ALL OF THE LIGHTS IN THE BREWERY WERE ON.  I definitely  sent Mr. Hobbs into the brewery to get his keys, by himself, while I cowered by the door.

A lot of my coworkers tell me about the strange things that the shadow people do.  They really don't like some of the music selections, so they turn off the radio sometimes.  We have also found that our bottling machine, which works great all day long, will not work some mornings, as pieces will have been knocked out of place. They also like to move things.  Our Cellarman told me that he usually just likes to give them their space, and as long as we let them do their own thing, they don't get too annoying.

The Delaware Ghost Hunters are coming to check things out soon.  Hopefully, they will be able to tell us who our shadow people are and why they are here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Someone Once Called Me The "Michael Scott of Analogies" - I Try to Live Up to That Praise Every Day

I cannot lie.  The first day of the Special Stout Diet did not go off quite as planned.  At 8AM, I drank my first stout, and that went well.  As it turns out, it is a very pleasant breakfasty flavor.  I suspect that it is the vanilla beans that make it so delightful.

I feel bad for all of the people who are so limited in their breakfast choices....Except for waffles. Mhmmm, waffles.
Lunch ended up being  a little more of a problem.   I felt like the world's biggest derelict looking for beer for lunch.  A lot of my coworkers don't know about this experiment so I assumed they were judging me as the world's biggest (Soon to be bigger. (See what I did there? That is a pun)) lush. Fortunately, the Oak Barrel Stout on nitrogen quickly allayed those feelings and any inhibitions I had about writing a press release.

Then came dinner.  I am under the impression that the purpose of a diet is to eat less.  However, upon being deprived of real food for most of the day (and despite not actually feeling hungry as a result), I hit dinner like it was going out of style, or like I was at my parent's house and my older brother was going to eat the last pizza.  I started with a breakfast sandwich, then moved on to a plate of brownies with chocolate. Then I went out to dinner, where I scarfed down cheese fries, barbeque chicken, bread, and chicken wings.  It was not a pretty sight. I would say it was as pleasant as watching Tarzan garotte a T-Rex (Someone once called me the "Michael Scott of analogies."  I try to live up to that praise every day).

A buffet would have been the perfect addition to my diet thus far...

The side effects so far have been minimal -- I am a little more easygoing.  But I also have to plan when I eat more carefully to make sure that I am not drinking and driving or drinking and hanging out with small children. I am also starving when it comes time to eat a real meal.  This beer replacement diet may actually make me more rotund.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I Make Stupidity A Science

Many have commented on the inspiration for the stories contained within this blog.  Mostly,  it comes from someone thinking of something really really dumb, and someone like me doing it and then hyperbolizing it in writing.  I make stupidity a science.  And that scientific approach to stupidity has catalyzed the next month of writing.

A long time ago, in the age PB (pre brewery), I read an article or had a drunken conversation with someone about stouts.  The informant indicated that stouts were intended to be malty and more starchy because the Irish needed a nutritional supplement during the potato famine, and stouts were essentially liquid bread.  In short, my ancestors used beer in place of meals.

I call this picture "Irishman with a Potato"

Now, I could Google this to find out just how true it is, but rather than attempt something rational, I am going to attempt something scientific. For the next month, I will be attempting the "Special Stout Diet." It derives its name from my head and the Special K Diet.  This flies in the face of everything Hollywood (Hugh Jackman gave up beer when he toning up for XMen), but I want to know if it is possible tone up and lose the winter weight on a beer-based diet.
What normal, healthy people eat...
Like the Special K Diet, I intend on replacing two meals a day.  However, rather than consuming something lame like cereal, I will be drinking 12 ounces of Oak Barrel Stout.  The third meal will be a normal meal.  

...what I will be eating

I anticipate many issues. Namely, scurvy.  However, I think that the third meal can mitigate that risk if I make sure to eat foods high in Vitamin C, or even take Vitamin C supplements.  I also think that Church might be an issue, as I will be rolling into services at 11am reeking of alcohol.   Some are also concerned about my liver (Hi Mom!). To those naysayers I reply, I plan on having children that will have livers I can borrow later in life. 

Prepare for tipsy posts, until I adjust to beer for breakfast.  Also, start making bets as to how long I can last.

All that to say, hello, Breakfast. Bottoms up.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

It is Hard to Hide When You Are Wearing An Ugly Sweater That Blends in With Nothing

Many people have wondered why there are so many pictures of Yoda drinking beer on our Facebook page.  That long and dark story that starts with one of the most out of character decisions that I have ever made in my life.  Shortly after accepting the position with the brewery I received a phone call from the boss inviting me to the annual Christmas party.  It was an ugly sweater party that would be held at Roma's Italian Restaurant in Dover.  I was informed that it would be a great way to meet all of my new colleagues. Completely against every reaction in my head, I said that I would love to go.

Now, you are probably wondering how going to a Christmas party is against anything that I have ever done. Well, for one, it was an ugly sweater party.  As a recovering homeschooler, let me tell you, we tend to eschew ugly sweater parties, as we just refer to those as "every day that I was being homeschooled"(You think I am kidding?  I have pictures. No, I will not share).  Secondly, the party was in a location that I had never visited before with people that I had never met before.  As the world's biggest introvert, this was my least favorite type of situation ever (Small talk with strangers is my Achilles heel.  I try to prepare three topics in advance to small talk about: brunch, vikings, and something current eventy).  

When you Google "Homeschooler" this is the picture that shows up.   
Before I could even arrive at the party, I faced the difficulty of finding an ugly sweater.  Despite the plethora of hideously themed clothing festivities, Goodwill and Salvation army failed to be carrying anything even remotely vomitous (which leads me to believe that people who buy ugly clothing grow attached to it and save it.  Then they take it out and wear it around the house on those evenings that no one is home to judge them).  I eventually found myself at K-Mart, where I was able to procure a blue sweater vest, size XL, with mittens and ice skates on it and a gold snowflake turtleneck.  I knew it was the right decision when the cashier, sans prompting,  encouragingly told me how much she loved the outfit.  

I eventually arrived at Roma's, and that was when the total awkwardness started for me.  The Boss and his right hand man, Casey, were super nice and welcoming.  The problems came when they introduced me to people and left me alone to talk to them myself. After attempting a few light conversations about children and hobbies, I ended up trying to find a corner to stand in for as much of the evening as possible. It is hard to hide when you are wearing an ugly sweater that blends in with nothing.

Shortly thereafter, we commenced playing White Elephant.  Of all things, there is nothing that I loathe as much as White Elephant.  The reason for this hatred is because of people like me who think it is hilarious  to gift wrap a box of bricks (true story) or who go and overspend on the gift just to watch people devolve (also, true story). 

It was a good game of White Elephant overall.  There were a lot of great gifts and people were generally quite civil about stealing presents.  However, that only lasted until someone opened a box that held a storytelling Yoda doll. Many in the brewery are giant Star Wars fans and based on the reactions, you would have thought that the crown jewels were contained within that little box.  
No one but the woman on the right knew that it was an ugly sweater party
We were playing the game with a three steal limit.  After the third steal, whoever had possession got to keep the gift.  Yoda was on his second steal, in the hands of Brewer Chris, who was talking about how excited his kid would be to have a talking doll, when I realized that I was up next. 

I looked at Yoda and could not stop thinking about how awesome he was...

And how he would go great in my office at home (aka, the Fortress of Solitude)...

And how Chris had stolen the doll second, so if I stole it third, no one could take it from me.... 

Then I thought about how I was the new person that nobody knew and how much of a jerk move and bad first impression it would be to take a doll from a toddler. I had made up my mind to just go for one of the still-wrapped presents, when I got to talking to one of my new coworkers. They told me that if I wanted to doll, I really should go for it.  And that it would be a total "power move" to steal the present as the newbie. The last thing I wanted to be was weak.  So I went for it.

I wish I could say that things turned out ok.  But to this day, Chris cannot talk to me without mentioning, in the voice of an 18-month old, what his child said when he did not get a Yoda doll.  And how every time he is on Facebook, he shows his child my picture and tells him the story of how I am the bad person who stole Christmas. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

It Would Be Funny To Brush a Squirrel's Teeth

To say that Wednesday was a busy day would be the world's biggest understatement (it would be like saying that it would be funny to brush a squirrel's teeth...duh it would be hilarious. Especially with whitening toothpaste).  While I have officially finished rubber booting,  I keep getting called back into the world of brewing to help with various operations.  On Wednesday, that operation was firkin rolling.  It is exactly what it sounds like.

As this picture demonstrates, oral hygiene is very important to many squirrels.   Little known fact:  Aquafresh toothpaste is the choice of 92% of squirrels.
Many people are unacquainted with what exactly a firkin is.  Let me explain it simply:  it is derived from the Middle Dutch word vierdekijn which means exactly what it sounds like.  For the Middle Dutch uneducated (school systems these days, eh?), that literally translates to "quarter keg." They are also known for containing "cask conditioned" beers.

For many brewers, firkins provide an opportunity to experiment with their creations after the actual brewing process has been completed.   You can add anything to the cask and it will always be a one of a kind creation.  We recently tapped a firkin of our bourbon barrel stout (which is THE most delicious thing ever.  Not to make you too jealous, but there is a .02% chance that you will ever get to try it) at the Ernest & Scott grand opening in Wilmington.

This is a Firkin.
Anyway, once you have a firkin, you have to keep waking up the yeast (they are lazy little bastards).  That is where firkin rolling comes in.  When I was solicited for help, I was imagining something along the lines of log rolling.  It was more like a game of kick the can/Brittney hitting people with heavy casks.   We literally spent 30 minutes just rolling kegs around the brewery; it was like being Sisyphus.

When we had finished that, Chris the Brewer, informed me that he had recently been clocked at 3:13 for cleaning the Lauter Tun.  Of course I told him that I could do better. A strange, cultish set of rules has begun to form as a result of the Lauter Tun competition.  Time starts the moment you jump down the hole and ends the moment that your whole body is completely out.  You have the choice of two implements now:  squeegee or shovel.  And there has to be less than a silver dollar worth of grain left in the tank for your time to be official.

This picture cannot show you that I was singing "Lauter Tun Time" to the tune of "Hammer Time." But you can use your imagination.  Why yes! I do sound like Cher when I sing.
So there I was in the Lauter Tun again, facing the task at hand with great trepidation. You see, Chris had just informed me that the rakes were no longer functioning properly and I was now standing shin deep in grain (it was like being in a rice paddy...probably).  IT IS NOT EASY TO SHOVEL WET GRAIN THAT IS UP TO YOUR KNEES!  Especially when the most physical activity you undertake every day is reaching for the Triscuits on your desk.  I can't lie, it definitely took me over 20 minutes to get the Lauter Tun clean.  Then, as it turned out, the boots I had borrowed for the task had really deep treads.  And those treads had grain stuck in them.  Consequently, every time I stepped onto the piece of pie that I had cleaned, I dragged grain with me.  I would have felt very defeated if I had not been wearing my Batman t-shirt.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

We Need to Invest in Brewery Oompa Loompas

Every day when I walk into work, I hear the song from Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory in my head.  It is like a land of pure imagination (one WITHOUT Brewery Oompa Loompas cause Randy says its not in the budget) where you learn something new every day . Take my experience as example:  Day One I learned how to operate a Mac, Day Seven I learned that it is a bad idea to try to high-five the Governor (True story...coming soon to a blog entry near you), and Day Ten I learned that beer can be made from any cereal grain.

When you Google "Brewery Oompa Loompa" this is what comes up.  I am learning to live with disappointment.
As part of the tour training process and rubber booting, each team member in the brewery learns the process of beer production from start to finish.  Quite a bit of time is spent on the importance of the four ingredients that go into every beer: water, malt, hops, and yeast.  According to the Germans, these are the ONLY ingredients that should be in beer. They were so serious about the purity of their beer, they instituted the Reinheitsgebot in 1487.  If you read the text of this law, it only mentions water, malt, and hops.  The reason for the omission of yeast is that it was not discovered until the 1800s as a result of Louis Pasteur's Germ Theory (Louis is kind of my personal hero).  But enough nerding out.

Very few people are aware of the role that the malt plays in any beer.  Not only does it determine color, but also taste and mouthfeel. As I mentioned before, malt can be made from any cereal grain (Bud uses rice, which is the reason for the horrible hangovers).  And that grain is toasted and roasted until it reaches the range of color that will cause the beer to taste and color a certain way.  The base malt of most beers is a lightly colored pilsner malt.  The base malt is then combined with other specialty malts to create the desired product.  These other malts may include, for example: caramel malts, which give a beer a caramel flavor; dark malts, which give Bocks their dark coloring; and black malt, which causes a slightly burnt flavor.  Little known fact:  the amount and type of malt used determines the alcohol content of the beer.

This is malt...duh

You just got knowledged and a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

As soon as I heard the word "cereal," I immediately began thinking of ways to make beer out of real cereals.  The logical first choice as the malt base would be Cheerios.  Those seem closer to whole grains than any other cereal.  But those are not any fun. For days I have been trying to convince SOMEONE to make a beer out of Wheaties*.  I think it would be great as the base in a Hefeweizen.  This breakfast of champions could roll out in time for the the Olympics with the slogan "Go for the Gold." I would also probably drink a beer that was made out of Lucky Charms just based on the concept.

*I am writing about my ideas here so that in the future I can whine that someone stole my idea and have just a little bit of proof.  If you are reading this from the future, elevator pants and Desk Pets were also my idea.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Einstein's Theory of Awkwardity

For most of my life I was THAT kid.  Whenever my Mom brought me to play-dates, the other moms would grab their children and whisper among themselves," Who brought the awkward kid? Is it communicable? Will my baby catch it if they play together?"  And while no one ever admitted it, I suspect that most of those moms took their kids to the doctors afterwards to have them tested for ADD, just in case it was contagious.

As I grew up, I ascertained that you are only the awkward kid if there is not someone who is more awkward than you at any location (Einstein's theory of awkwardity). That was when I learned to bring someone more awkward than me anytime I went to a party. Usually, this person had to be really into horses or only talk about Jello.

These are some of my siblings. We go many places together.
Recently, upon taking up a job at a brewery, I discovered that bringing a pack of beer somewhere has the same mitigating effects that bringing an awkward person places does. Cool people bring beer, so when I bring beer, I am all of a sudden a cool person.  This impression can last up to five minutes, usually until I start talking.  That was the case at the Super Bowl party I attended this weekend.

Of course I brought Oak Barrel Stout, because it is not only my favorite, but I think it should be everyone else's favorite as well.  And like any good employee, I made sure to be standing near the beer table in case anyone had any questions about it (also to make sure that it was the first beer that we ran out of...yeah. (I had to end that sentence with another word, otherwise it would have ended in a preposition)).

Fortunately, my sister was also at this party.  Now, if you don't know my relationship with my sister, it is important that you know she is like my manager.  Anytime we go anywhere, she negotiates the stupid things that I do to make sure that I don't get ripped off (one time someone tried to get me to eat a stick of butter for $1.  She told him that I would only eat 3 tablespoons for $1). In exchange, on a successful night, I will use that money to buy her a sandwich.  She also warns people.  On Super Bowl night, she was preemptively warning people, before they got close to the beer table, not to ask me about beer.

Finally, someone walked up to me and asked me why I was being awkward by the beer table.  It gave me a nice opening to talk about how awesome Oak Barrel Stout was, and in two seconds, I convinced them to try a bottle.  They then opened the bottle and began to drink out of it.

Now, if I have three pet peeves (I actually have 37),  number three is people drinking good beer out of the bottle.  That is a waste of a good beer.  Science shows that up to 90%(!) of taste is as a result of smell.  If you are drinking out of a bottle, you are missing out on 90% of that taste.  Craft beer should always be consumed out of a glass.  You wouldn't drink wine out of the bottle -- why would you do that with beer?

Within two seconds (total time to convince that person to drink the beer + total reaction time = 4 seconds),  I was nerding out on their consumption of beer and asking them nicely to put it in a glass, otherwise they would be missing out on the oak and vanilla notes in Oak Barrel.   They saw the error of their ways, promised never to do it again, and complied.  Oak Barrel Stout was the only beer that we ran out of at the party, and EVERYONE said that they would be drinking more of it in the future.

Shortly thereafter, my sister told me I was being a tool, and then a random dude came up to me and told me that he heard I would fight anyone for a dollar.  All in all, it was a pretty good Super Bowl.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Reflections on a Beer Release

Last night, I had the privilege of drinking Big Thaw Bock at the beer release party at Rams Head.

Like every major event in my life, I arrived early (Just ask my mother. The woman who gave birth to me....early).   The party started at 4PM, as it does every month. A frequenter of Rams Head Releases, I know that seats get taken quickly so sat at a table for 4, knowing that my friends would be by at 5.
Totally Packed -- SEE!?!? 
By 4:30, Rams Head was packed.  I was still sitting at the table by myself (Sometimes, when I am really hungry and by myself I order two meals and pretend like I was stood up). Right around that time, a couple started standing conspicuously near my table, glaring, like I had murdered their dog and sent them a postcard from the scene that said "wish you were here." The woman, a Dolly Parton look-alike, pointed at me with one hand, and firmly gripped a Miller Lite with the other.

Now, normally I am the type of person who will give up a table or seat to anyone.  But just seeing her there, staring like I owed her something, made me stand my ground.  So I sat. And sat. And sat. I was the one who got there early.  I was the one who staked out my table because I knew it would be packed.  As far as I am concerned, if I wanted to save a seat for Elijah, I had every right.

And then, of course, I started mentally critiquing her beer choice.  Don't get me wrong, I went through my Miller Lite phase, when I was in college and didn't know better.  And I still think that it has its place in society -- usually on the dance floor because the whirled edges make it easier to grip.  But I grew up.  I was enlightened to better beer.  Now whenever I see a Miller Lite not on the dance floor, I die a little inside.

The couple eventually found a table.  I was then able to enjoy the rest of the evening, away from their piercing gazes.  The Big Thaw was absolutely amazing and it paired PERFECTLY with Rams Head's crab dip (which, incidentally, is the best in Annapolis.  I know this because I have tried every crab dip in Annapolis)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

I AM the Law

So there I was, sitting in a classroom at the State Department of Natural Resources, sweating profusely and wondering what had just happened.  Before I left work, I was warned one thing:  don't write in his test booklets.  As soon as I walked into the classroom, I was informed one thing:  don't write in my test booklet.  The first question on the exam was: "If I write on this test booklet I can expect to a) fail b) fail c) fail or d) all of the above" (The answer is obviously b).  How did this happen?  I wondered, as my day started playing back in slow motion in my head.

The day started like every day starts: with a giant, 24 oz cup of Wawa coffee.  You really cannot beat their current $1 any cup promotion.  Except that you could if you were motivated enough to make your own, which I am not.  I drove into work with the expectation of another interesting day working the brewery. Little did I know what was in store.

I sat down at my desk and had time to shoot off three or four emails when my phone rang.  It was Tom from  They had received the press release that I sent them five minutes ago, and wanted permission to run with it.  Tom seemed like the type of person I would be friends with in real life, so of course I said yes, never anticipating just how awesome things could end up.  He called me three hours later to tell me that he had just published the release.  IT. WAS. AMAZING.

It was right after breakfast that I started to feel sick.  Sadly, that meant that my rubber booting was cut short for the day.  I helped Walter clean R2Hop2 in a total mind haze.  But he gave up on trying to teach me anything when I asked him for help attaching a hose.  He said he knew I must be dying if I would ask for help.  The remainder of the work day was spent inventorying t-shirts.

One of my favorites, Chris, upon hearing about the Lauter Tun competition, decided to throw his hat into the ring.  He claims that 8 minutes is ridiculously high and he can do it in 5.  Upon hearing Chris's boast, Dan announced he could do it in 4.  And that was where the competition began. I made the decision to rename the Lauter Tun after whomever cleans it the fastest.  Off the record, I am kind of hoping it is Dan, because his last name would work perfectly in my renaming efforts.  Also, when he pokes his head out of the kettles he reminds me of a prairie dog of hope.

Chris began cleaning within two minutes of the challenge.  He has an interesting approach that I had not seen yet -- rather than using a squeegee, he uses a shovel.  He is then able to use the shovel to keep grain from going back to where he had cleaned, by using it as another wall.  Chris cleaned the Lauter Tun in 4.5 minutes yesterday, but his attempt was disqualified on a technicality.

At the end of the day, I found myself in alcohol training/server certification class.  It was two and a half hours of nonstop fun.  Seriously, if you are looking for something to do in Dover, I recommend this above any other place I have been (i.e., Olive Garden. I don't get out much).

The class starts with this fellow, a former police officer, informing you that if you write in his test booklet, he will fail you.  He then proceeded to give an overview of the course: one hour discussing the signs and effects of intoxication;  one hour discussing the law.  Honestly, the class was a great refresher. When you are dealing with people that drink all day long, it is nice to be reminded that as far as the law is concerned "you are the law"(direct quote from the officer.  Last thing anyone should ever tell me.  POWER TRIP) and the only thing keeping them from abusing a controlled substance.  I plan on using my knowledge to citizen's arrest the next person who tries to get over-served in our sample room.

One of the most interesting things I learned from the class was that Delaware has some very strange laws.  It is against the law for anyone under the age of 21 to enter and remain in a liquor store.  Reasonable enough.  Then it gets tricksy. An 18-year old is legally permitted to work in a liquor store, though they are restricted to stocking shelves, price labeling, and carrying packages to cars. Ummmm?  Let me break this down, if an 18-year old walks into a liquor store for an interview and he can be arrested because he is not 21.  But the minute they hire him, he is allowed to be there.  Great job there, Delaware.

The class ended with a 40-question exam.  Not going to lie, I was a little excited.  I have not had the opportunity to take an exam since I thought it might be fun to re-take chemistry (second biggest life mistake). The instructor hands us the exam and once again reminds us that writing on it will cause him to fail us.

I took the sheet on which the answers were recorded and placed it next to the exam.  I looked at the first question:

When the exam was completed, I stood in line to wait for him to grade the paper.  The girl in front of me handed her answer sheet and the exam.  YES! He did not flip through the exam, he just placed it on the ground.  I was now jittery and nervous, like someone who was on a long car trip who just realized that they ate Taco Bell for dinner the night before and didn't know where every single rest stop and bathroom on the route was.  It was my turn. I swear I was bright red.  And sweating.  I had no intention of turning myself in today. In the back of my head I just prayed that he would not decide to open my exam book.  He checked my test, handed me my server card, and I RAN out of there, before he could change his mind.
My Future

I am well aware that people from all over are reading this.  And there is a chance that the wonderful, amazing instructor who administered the test may read this someday.  If that is the case, I was just kidding.  Also, I have made 30 copies of my card, so good luck taking it away from me now.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

It Was Like Wrestling An Alligator

Day two commenced much like day one -- with the hope that they were kidding about having me try every single job in the brewery.  No such luck.  As soon as 9AM rolled around and Walter rolled in and told me to "boot up,"I knew I was in for another one of those days.

The day was made even more interesting by the fact that my officemate rolled in to the office in a funk.  As it turns out, one can suffer from a contact funk.  Fortunately, when you are funkafied in the brewing world, that is still like being lethargic on the best day of your life.  This funkaliciousness (Note: not to be confused with Fergaliciousness. (Definition: make them boys go loco)) lasted until lunch.  (I also just wanted to see how many times I could use the word funk in a paragraph.)

The training day began by taking the gravities of the beers in the fermentation tanks.   When a beer enters it's primary fermentation, it is essential to monitor the vitals so that you know when the chemical reaction has concluded.  During the primary fermentation, the yeast eats the sugars and, as byproducts, produces carbon dioxide and alcohol (in case you are wondering, it is ethyl alcohol).  For an ale this process takes from 3-4 days and for a lager it can take from 7-14 days.  The measured gravities and temperatures indicate when the reaction has flatlined and the yeast may be extracted.

After being released from a meeting, I was once again given the opportunity to bask in the wisdom of Walter.  He told me that one of the beers was going to be dry hopped tomorrow (And no, that is not something that middle school kids do at a dance (Thanks for that line, Sam Adams employee)).   My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to hook up a bajillion hoses to R2Hop2, our dry hopping machine.  Let me tell you, not only are these hoses heavy, they are unyielding.  It was like wrestling an alligator.  Not only do you have to hold the heavy hose in one hand, you have to clamp it and close the clamp with the other hand.  When you are a Charles Atlas 98-pound weakling, this is more difficult than you can ever imagine. Walter kept offering to help me, because he is a stand-up guy like that.  However, my stubborn self came out in full force.  I told him that if regular employees could do it without help, I would do it without help too.  It took me 20 minutes to hook up one hose, but I could not give up once I made up my mind.  Fortunately, Walt is super patient and all that time gave him the opportunity to make up songs about the situation.

Then, it was time to Lauter Tun.  As I mentioned yesterday, I will eventually work my time down to 7 minutes.  In my head I have already decided that someday there will be a situation in which someone says "Dear God!  Can anyone clean this Lauter Tun in under seven minutes and save the children?" And I will be able to smile out of the corner of my mouth and say, "It is funny you would ask that, because yes. Yes, there is someone who can."

I started by pushing all of the grain to the sides of the Lauter Tun.  Then I asked Walt to get out his stopwatch, because I was going style. And by ninja style, I mean loudly and obviously.  That is what we call irony.

Things were going well for the first two minutes.  I squeegeed the sides well.  I pushed all of the grain down into the auger hole.  But then it was time to hose.  The first piece of pie went wonderfully.  In my head, I was already imagining beating the record, climbing out of the metal kettle, and being carried on my peer's shoulders like a god. In the midst of this reverie, I made a rookie mistake.  I let the pressure of the hose get too high.  It proceeded to knock grain all over the clean sections.  In my haste to correct that error, I dragged grain on the bottom of my shoes into the clean areas.  Things went from bad to a slapstick comedy in two seconds when I sprayed myself in the face with the hose.   The stopwatch read 11 minutes at this point.

After talking Walter into cleaning my glasses, because I cannot see a damn thing without them, I was back on the job. I had to re-do all of my work.  When I finally pulled myself out of the Lauter Tun, the watch read 18 minutes.  It was 7 minutes less than my time yesterday, but still not acceptable.  Today is a new day, however, and I suspect it is the day that I get the time down to at least 15 minutes.

The day ended well, with an Oak Barrel Stout and the backwards spelling game.  My new hobby is spelling words backwards and, when drinking, it becomes like Extreme Backwards Spelling.