Friday, January 28, 2011

Taverns and the First Amendment

I generally don't post about politics here, but once in a while my passion for brewing and my passion for politics cross paths. Such was the case earlier this week when I came across a fascinating paper by Baylen J. Linnekin entitled "'Tavern Talk' & the Origins of the Assembly Clause: Tracing the First Amendment's Assembly Clause Back to Its Roots in Colonial Taverns."

At a time in which both the Right and the Left seem inclined to ignore our civil liberties when it suits their goals, I found it fascinating to read how taverns played a role in shaping an important but often overlooked First Amendment right. Here's an excerpt:
Compared to speech exercised throughout general society, constraints on speech were relaxed in taverns. This fact is dramatic because it shows that tavern speech—perhaps with the exception of speech uttered in the home—was colonial speech at its most free. Speaking freely under lax authority in taverns led to “open and unguarded expression” of opinions and allowed colonists of various classes to interact more freely. The “relatively free public expression” within taverns fostered “a realm of discourse that existed outside the effective cultural control of both government and private or domestic authority.” Since movements, to succeed, require open assembly, the thoroughly constitutional vision of open assembly that tavern talk evidenced helped lead to “political as well as social change” in the colonies.
While technology can certainly facilitate communication between geographically diverse folks who wouldn't otherwise meet (this blog being a great example of that), I often yearn for the days of the corner tavern. In cyberspace, it's all too easy to surround yourself with people who affirm your beliefs (liberals read the Huffington Post; conservatives read Breitbart; etc.) but your neighborhood bar brings together people of all stripes. This was discussed at last year's Drinking & Writing Festival and I think merits further contemplation. Particularly now, as people complain that our society is becoming more and more polarized and that partisan rhetoric is becoming more and more heated, perhaps the solution isn't more regulations but rather more taverns!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Brew day: Nimbostratus Dunkel

There's been a trend in homebrewing lately to make "SMaSH" beers--beers brewed with a Single Malt and a Single Hop. More often than not they're done to showcase a hop varietal, but I like the idea of encouraging simplicity. I can't tell you how many times I've seen new brewers post recipes online that have ten different malts plus flaked oats and candy sugar. I was guilty of some of that myself when I started brewing, but at some point I realized it's better to start simple with a recipe; you can always add specialty grains the next time if something is missing.

As somebody who brews primarily German styles, I've found that 95% of what I want out of a malt profile can be accomplished by using some combination of Pilsner and Munich malts. However, I've never done a beer with just one malt . . . until today. I've been wanting to brew a beer with a double decoction and I figured what better way to showcase just what a decoction can contribute than to use just one malt? With that in mind, today I brewed a Munich Dunkel that was 100% Munich malt. I thought about only using one hop as well but I have a bunch of relatively high-alpha Horizon hops that I use for bittering that wouldn't really be good for a later addition, so I added Hallertau Herbsbrucker to the mix as well. But the end result is a very simple beer that will nonetheless offer a complex malt profile (or so I hope).

I used the double decoction schedule I described a couple months ago in this post. I mashed in around 130°F (adding 3/8 tsp. acid blend to keep my pH down) and ten minutes later pulled my first decoction. I gave it a ten-minute rest at 158°F and then brought it up to boiling for a half hour. I returned the decoction to my mash, which had dropped to 125°F (it was cold today!) but to my surprise the mash only raised to 148°F instead of 158°F. I'm not really sure what happened there but I quickly boiled three quarts of water to bring my temp up.

After adding the boiling water, I gave it ten minutes to stabilize and then pulled my second decoction, which due to the added water ended up thinner than the first. I gave it a ten-minute rest at 168°F and then again boiled for a half hour. I returned the decoction to the mash and, as was the case with the first decoction, I was a little off my target--reaching 164°F instead of 168.

After a 30-minute break (I had to heat my sparge water, since my burner was otherwise occupied with the decoctions) I recirculated for fifteen minutes and then collected 6.4 gallons of wort in just over an hour. I then boiled for ninety minutes, with hop additions at 90 minutes, 60 minutes, and 20 minutes, as well as Irish moss at 15 minutes. I chilled to around 48°F and found that my OG was high (1060) but my yield was low (4.5 gallons--not sure what happened there). As such I diluted with a half-gallon of water to bring my OG to my target of 1054. I aerated and pitched a slurry of lager yeast courtesy of Doug and Tracy at Metropolitan Brewing.

Overall it was a long day (around seven hours if you include clean-up) but I could save about a half hour by using my bucket heater to start heating the sparge water as soon as I start brewing. Plus if I'm brewing lighter beers I don't need to do half-hour decoctions. In the meantime, I can't wait to see what kind of malt character I get out of this beer. Should be great for those dreary days of late winter...