I haven’t brewed beer in at least two years. I was originally introduced to brewing by Brian, who got me hooked and then moved to the Eastern Shore, but I got a couple of my neighbors interested and we had a good time with it for about ten years. When COVID shut everything down, it became impossible to get a group of guys together for a brew day, which is half the fun of brewing beer.
Then, there’s the other half. Homebrewing was popularized partially for making small batches of powerful beer that isn’t commercially available; the vast majority of recipes available yield beer that’s 6-8% ABV on average, which is higher than I prefer at this point in my life. I’ve tried most of the session recipes (4.5% ABV) from my go-to vendors, but something in the yeast or the brew tends to leave me with a headache before I’ve finished my glass, and that’s not enjoyable. And then I’ve got 5 gallons of it left to finish.
Since December, I’ve scaled back on my intake of beer. At first it was to help my body recover from having a cold (and then COVID). But I’m also less tolerant of alcohol these days. I’ve long been favoring session IPA’s or summer lagers, but I hate waking up with a headache, and it seems like even the lighter beers I prefer have been biting back lately. I also have a kegerator full of single cans of heavier beers that I just don’t want to crack; a double IPA on a Wednesday with an ABV of 9.5 is guaranteed to make Thursday morning feel like hammers are falling on my head.
So I’ve been looking at the brewing equipment stacked in the corner of the basement and thinking more and more about selling it off, given that I haven’t touched it in over two years. I’ve got a kettle, a burner, three kegs, four carboys and a bin full of equipment that’s taking up space, and I think maybe the time has come to move it along to someone who can use it. I think I’d keep the kegerator setup if only to have a secondary fridge for beer, but if the IH fridge comes on line in the spring I may move beer into that and convert the kegerator back into a chest freezer.
I’m officially registered for the welding class mentioned earlier this month; from the second half of April to the end of May I’ll be running into Baltimore twice weekly to learn welding hands-on. Then I might actually feel like I know what I’m doing.
I haven’t been brewing much for the last couple of years, but one thing I’ve found is that using the aluminum pots I got from my Dad to brew wort does not work: the beer comes out tasting like molasses each time. Having switched back to the big stainless pot I had at the beginning, I accepted the fact that I’ll just never use the big professional pot Brian was able to find for me years ago. It’s beautiful but it’s made for 5-gallon brews. I brew 2.5 gallons and add water at the end—and when I used it, the liquid didn’t even reach the thermometer inlet. I put it up on Craigslist and after a couple of months of quiet, a man contacted me and bought it this morning for $10 more than I paid for it.
We are one episode away from the end of the Mandalorian, and it’s been really good this season. Disney just announced a billion new movies and shows in the Star Wars universe, some of which sound interesting (Obi Wan Kenobi, Ahsoka, hell yes) and some sound unnecessary (A Droid Story, Lando—unless Donald Glover is starring—and anything animated) so it’ll be interesting to see if they can keep the quality high or if they all wind up like Muppet Babies and dilute the franchise into pudding. My hope is that they’ve learned the right lessons from the series, they keep JJ fucking Abrams away from it all, and they double down on the things that make it all work: character development, tight storytelling, clear motivations, and grounding in the world they’ve built without all the fan service. Nevertheless, my inner 11-year-old nerd is thrilled.
On Sunday the heat finally broke and we were blessed with cooler weather and lower humidity, so Finn and I picked up five sheets of T-11 for the walls of her fort. While we were at Lowe’s I looked at cordless drills and impulsively threw one on the cart. I’ve had the same DeWalt 12V cordless since I bought my first house, and it’s been through about six batteries in the span of its lifetime. It still works, it’s powerful, but it’s heavy. I bought an off-brand battery last year to save a little money, and found that off-brand means it’s 70% as good as the name brand, it’s cheaply made, and thus has the annoying tendency to fall out of the bottom of the drill and directly on to my foot. The new one is probably half the size and weight and came with two batteries, Finn and I can work simultaneously and I can throw my corded Ryobi drill with no clutch into the woods, which is where it belongs.
While we were out I stopped in at the Harbor Freight and picked up a $15 angle grinder, as well as a $25 pneumatic DA sander. If I’m going to prep the Scout for a paint job sometime in the spring, I’ve got to get the tools together and start making some progress.
Sunday was, unfortunately, not my best day as a Dad. I was grumpy when I woke up and my attitude got progressively worse until about 3PM, when I dropped something on my foot for the fifth time and had to tell Finn we were packing things in for the day. I recognized that I was getting shorter and shorter with her, and I didn’t want to take my bad mood out on her any more than I already had. I was disappointed in myself because the last couple of weekends I felt like she and I were making awesome progress, she was engaged in what we were doing, and I was doing a decent job of teaching her basic carpentry and building.
Every day is a challenge, especially when we’re closed in together, and I’m vacillating between being outgoing and misanthropic for reasons I can’t pin down yet. I’ve explained this part of my personality to Finn in that I’m like a battery that gets run down, and there are some days when I just need to recharge away from everyone and everything. A modern workday filled with Zoom calls and bouncing from project to project seems to be draining me more that it would at the office, and some days I’m just a blank screen by dinnertime. I look forward to weekends because we get outside and work with our hands, and on days when I’m not being the best Dad I can be, I get very depressed.
To her credit, she is understanding, but she’s also eleven and I want to be the on my A game with her whenever we’re together. Especially when she’s having fun seeing her new fort come together.
We did get the back wall cut down and in place, and it’s actually looking pretty good. Once the walls are all in, we’re going to head down to Second Chance and see if we can’t find some inexpensive used windows to install, as well as a door of some kind—if we can find one that fits.
There’s five gallons of session IPA sitting in the kegerator, slowly carbing until next Saturday, when it should be ready for a first pour. I’m hopeful this will be the first truly good batch I’ve made this year, as the last couple have been disappointments due to brewing methods. In cleaning up the brew stand, basement, and kegerator on Saturday, I was looking askance at the cabinet filled with empty bottles and wondering if I should just recycle them all to clear out space. I’ve kept them with the idea that I’ll eventually brew another Irish Stout or something worth bottling, but in reality I hate bottling and don’t drink stouts enough to be motivated to bother.
The family and I drove into D.C. today so that I could visit the office for the first time since March 9th and pick up a trunkful of technology. The building was dark and silent. The automatic lights came on as I walked through, and I began sweating because the A/C was turned off. So, I got to work.
My tower workstation has been sitting idle under the desk for 164 days, as well as a RAID array with our design archives, so I grabbed those. While I was at it I took my desk monitor, all the cables, and the keyboard and mouse. I packed a bunch of spare drives including my offsite photo backup so that I can dupe the drive on the home server. I stuck a bunch of reference books in my backpack along with the 360˚ camera, the Canon 5D and two workhorse lenses, a 24-105 f/4 and 16-35 f/2.8. And I packed a bunch of small stuff, like spare thumb drives, batteries, and cords. Carrying it out to the car, I stopped and chatted with J., the front desk security guard and asked after her family.
The girls had taken Hazel for a walk up past the Capitol and onto the Mall, so Jen texted me their location and I followed Siri to go pick them up. It was definitely strange to be down there, and as much as I was glad to get out from behind my desk for a few hours, I was also glad to leave D.C.
Now my desk is surrounded by tech gear and I have to find a place to store most of it. The home server is waiting on a bootable thumb drive with a hacked El Capitan installer—I’ve got an SSD plugged in to the spare slot over the CD burner waiting on a fresh install, which will free up the fourth bay for a data drive. I’ll tackle that task tomorrow.
I dry-hopped the beer this evening, about four days late, but that shouldn’t make a difference in flavor. Two ounces of hops go in for a week, and then I rack it into the kegerator. Here’s to hoping this batch is a keeper.
It was too damn hot to do anything serious outside over the weekend, but I thought I’d get Finn out to the junkyard for a mission. We’ve got a flip-up mirror on the visor in the CR-V that I repaired once last year (a hinge pin fell out, making the door useless) and recently the entire edge of the plastic door decided to break off to spite me. I packed a bag of metric and SAE tools, put on my boots, and took Finn down to Jessup in the Scout. I figured they would be cagey about letting kids in the yard, but she’s tall for her age, and everything about the yard is shifty, so I figured we’d act like we did this every day and walk right through. I paid my $4, wrote my name on their sign in sheet, and was almost at the door to the yard when Finley, who normally doesn’t notice her own shoes when she’s wearing them, stopped me in my tracks. “Daddy, the sign says no kids under 16 years of age,” she practically shouted, standing directly in front of the counter lady. Startled out of her waking slumber, the counter lady said, “How old are you?” and before I could reply, Finley practically shouted, “Eleven!”
After I dropped her off back at the house, I paid my $2 and walked through the yard. They had two CR-V’s, one green over tan version and one silver over black that was the spitting image of ours, minus catastrophic front-end damage. There’s a weird phenomenon with junkyard CR-V’s I’ve noticed: usually they’re missing both visors. The last time I found one for the part I needed someone had already hacked it off the mount, realized it was bent, and threw it under the seat. The Silver CR-V was wrapped liberally with plastic and sported two BIOHAZARD stickers on the back windows, which meant something unspeakable and messy had happened during the crash. Peeking inside, I found that someone had braved disease and pulled the visors off. The green CR-V was less picked over and still had its visor, but because the interior was tan, I decided not to pay $10 for mismatched plastic.
The rest of the yard was pretty boring; the oldest and most interesting vehicle was a mid-70’s Ford wagon the size of a small container ship. Kids, I’m old enough to remember when the roads were covered with these barges.
There was also this red MR2 beached on blocks minus its 4A-GE engine; I wondered how anyone would donate such a rare and valuable beast until I saw the rust around the rockers and rear quarters. It was sprinkled inside and out with a decade’s worth of pine needles, and those tires haven’t held air since the first Bush administration. Still, as a cheap-ass trackday car, I was surprised someone wasn’t dragging it out by the bumper.
I racked the beer into the secondary carboy on Sunday, and it smells really good. About three inches of hops were at the bottom by the time I was done, so I threw those in the composter with our coffee grounds and eggshells. Now I wait two weeks before dry-hopping the batch, and then there’s another week before it goes into the keg. It would be great to have something I like on tap because I’m probably spending too much on six-packs of craft beer.
I set up a table and a stove in the shady part of the backyard to brew a new batch of beer on Sunday, knowing it was going to get hot out there. The brew went smoothly, and because I was using the original stainless kettle I’d started with 15+ years ago, the batch smelled and tasted better than the last two I’d cooked in aluminum pots. This one is called Kama Citra, and it took a metric ton of hops during the boil—it smelled so good—and after it gets racked into the secondary fermenter it will get another two ounces of hops to finish.
I’m still coming to terms with the fact that I’ll have to dump the bock in the kegerator out, as I just can’t bring myself to drink it due to the taste.
The new washer in the basement is happily cranking away on our clothes. There was a frightening couple of days where it was looking like we weren’t going to get something delivered until the middle of August, but I got lucky with a Lowe’s CSR who absolutely worked the system, found me a washer available locally, and had it delivered the next day. Jen says it’s much larger than our HE front-loader and seems to be washing clothes better.
I poured a glass of homebrew last night and sipped it as I was downloading some photos on my laptop, and I was disappointed. I brewed it following the recipe—a recipe I’ve brewed before, with success—and I had no problems with it during the brew or the fermentation period. This is a Shiner Bock knockoff recipe, something that’s supposed to be adjacent to a lager, with some caramel undertones, slightly sweeter and with a touch of hops. What I got is a very molasses-y ale, heavy on the sweet with little to no hops at all. It’s reminiscent of the bad hefeweizen batch I brewed years ago that just turned out wrong.
The only thing different between the first Bock knockoff batch and this one is the kettle I used to brew in. I brought two of Dad’s aluminum pots home last April and thought I might make one of them my dedicated brewing kettle. It’s taller and narrower than the stainless kettle I’ve been using since I started, so I thought it would be a fine replacement. This is the second batch I’ve brewed in the same kettle, and both flavors are off. So, it’s back to the stainless pot for the next batch in line, a session IPA I’ve not tried yet.
This is a cover of an Interpol song that, in my opinion, improves upon the original. And everything on that Interpol album is pretty fucking tight to begin with. You may have issues with Hazel English’s voice but I dig it.
I’ve got a batch of Shiner Bnock-Off in the fermenter waiting to be kegged this weekend, but both my kegs still contain the remainders of the last two batches I brewed. This means I need to drink through the rest of them in a hurry—Darn. They feel empty but I’m still able to pull beer out of them. I ordered a session IPA kit from Northern Brewer on Monday but with the delays in fulfillment and shipping I don’t know when that will get here.
Yesterday I put the seedlings outside for a couple of hours in the shade to start hardening. They got very leggy until I adjusted the lighting, so some of them are taller than I’d like; when I went out to check on them there were several that had blown over in the breeze. It’s overcast today so hopefully they’ll do a little better and stay upright. The goal is to get the soil bins prepped over the weekend and have the seedlings ready to go by late next week. I’m also thinking they need to be transplanted into bigger starter pots so they get more nutrients while they’re hardening—some of them are a little wilty, which is concerning me.
The front porch continues moving slowly forward. The patch next to the front door is 90% complete and the hole that claimed my thumb has its second skim coat of mud. Jen and I tried to hang one of the headboard panels last night but we could not find a way to get it to stay up without flopping out of place almost immediately. I’d built an 8′ brace for Jen to hold, but what I realize now is that we need three of them about six inches longer so that they’ll snug the panel up against the ceiling until I can tack them in place. The big thing right now is to get everything cleared out of there so that we can work without tripping over furniture or air conditioners or other junk.
Hazel was up to pee at about 7:10 so I put on some warm clothes and snuck her out of the house to let the girls sleep in. It was brisk outside. Yesterday was 80˚ but overnight it dropped into the 30s and it was only just beginning to warm up as the sun rose. Hazel and I wandered over behind the school and down the hill to the Junction, where I tied her up in front of the local café and ordered some breakfast and a coffee. I was the second person in the door this morning. Usually there are a crowd of eight or ten people at the tables on their second cup discussing the paper or news on the TV, but today it was empty. It was strange.
We walked back home up the trolley trail and by the time we got home the girls were awake, so we all ate breakfast in the living room and played with the dog for a little while. I then went downstairs and set up a seed starter for three varieties of tomatoes in the hopes that I’ll have more luck this year than I did a decade ago when I tried it on the workbench. I’m going to build a platform for them under one of the basement windows so that they’ll get daily sunlight and hope that a warming pad will regulate the temperature under the plastic properly.
Then I went outside and assembled our new pressure washer, 1/2 of which is my birthday present from Jen. I got a Craftsman gas model on sale—electric pressure washers are crap—and had it clearing green mildew from the garage doors in about a half an hour. I went around to the front steps and cleaned all the green off the Trex, rinsed the siding, and anything else that needed a wash. We get mildew on the front of the house yearly because it faces north, so I’ve rented or borrowed a pressure washer for the past five or six years to clean things up. After I’ve put this one to use this year cleaning the rest of the siding, washing the engine and undercarriage of the Scout, cleaning the back deck, lawn furniture and Finley’s playset, I think it will have paid for itself.
I’ve had trim for the bathroom waiting to be picked up for a week, so I headed into Columbia to grab that before they closed and then circled up to the gucci Giant to stock up on some essentials—a little bird told us that statewide lockdown is imminent. I was able to get most of what we needed, but the paper product and soap shelves were empty (we could use more hand soap but we’re generally OK for now) and the frozen breakfast aisle was wiped out along with all the ice cream. Then I stopped at the liquor store and stocked up some extra beer.
At home we set to work putting it away; one of the first things I did was go to the garage and plug in our old fridge. It took a little to get going, but began cooling itself down quickly after that. Then I stuffed the extra beer and groceries inside. It’s been a pain to fit in the limited space available, but now I’m glad I didn’t Craigslist it like the last one.
After a quick break, I broke out all of my brewing equipment and fired up the burner in the backyard. I’ve had a Shiner Bock knockoff kit sitting in the basement since last fall, and I got tired of waiting for my neighbor to get his act together to brew with me. By 7PM I had it in the carboy and all of the dishes piled on the back porch, but it was time for dinner by that point.
Now I’m settled on the couch in the den with a cold beer in hand, Hazel snoring at my feet—the first time she’s been calm all day—and Fallout 4 loading on the Xbox. Time to relax.
Football is over and now it’s basketball basketball basketball, which is my least favorite time of year. Not because I love football, but because I pretty much despise basketball, and it’s a long couple of months before anybody starts talking about baseball, which is only marginally more interesting than basketball.
I got about five hours up in the bathroom on Saturday and had to do a bit of catching up to see where I’d left things. First on the list was to set the right-side front cabinet in place, level it, and then reset the left side to match the height. Because of the way the walls and floor slope, I had to shim the right side a fair bit to get it to level, requiring the left side to be raised up about 1/2″. Now that all of the cabinets are set, I pulled the toekick skin out of its package and started measuring. Toekick skin is the stuff that goes across the base of the cabinet, from the floor to the section that juts out. Unfortunately what I have is all sized for a flat, level installation and doesn’t give me any extra for overage, so I re-ordered a batch with an extra inch of height to cut down.
I finished the moulding in the closet, shimmed one of the doors out so that it will close properly, mudded the edge of the shower wall, and did a lot of finish work throughout, as well as cleaned up the whole room. Without the countertops, toekick moulding, a strip of cabinet edge finish, and something called scribe moulding to finish off the top edge of the linen cabinet, I’m at a bit of a standstill. All of this is on order—I’m waiting to get the quote back for the countertops this week.
I got the Scout out of the garage and made a dump run on Saturday morning with Hazel. We were able to haul all of the old windows, their weights, and two giant bags of trash out of the backyard, which is a great relief.
On Sunday I couldn’t venture far from the house, as I had the dog and the girls to watch (Finn had a friend over) so I put the dog outside and started cleaning up the basement. I’ve had a pile of lumber on the main section of the floor for months and decided I’d use some of the leftover scraps from the bathroom to build a simple overhead rack for 6+’ lengths. Once that was done the rest of the floor cleaned up quickly.
Then I went and looked at the two kegs of beer in the kegerator. Last I remembered one was empty. I figured it was time to get it out and clean it, so I disconnected everything and lifted them both, and found they both still had beer inside. So I cleaned out the hoses and taps (the taps were disgusting) hooked up the gas, and poured a glass of beer. I’d forgotten exactly why I’d disconnected the grapefruit IPA, and after having only about half a glass, just how powerful it was. Still, it’s nice for sipping.
Then I looked over the road bike. Last week I was able to get the old bars off, the new bullhorns on, and mount the brake levers. But I haven’t been able to get the old brake levers and cables disconnected. Most of the replacement kits I’ve seen have a particular type of cable and housing, with two kinds of barreled tips at the ends of the cable. This bike has neither. It’s so old the cable was custom-cut and threads through the old Dia-Compe brake system. The cable doesn’t even come off the brake levers—it’s built into them. So I cut off one end and removed the front brake lever; now I have to sort out what to do next. I’m resisting the urge to bring it to the bike shop and have them fix it, because there’s no rush and I have to remind myself that this is part of the fun.