Monthly Archives: November 2009

Brewed Slowly: #2 Cherry Stout

I’m not a fan of fruity beers (or negative construction introductions), but today Steve and I made a Cherry Stout. We have our reasons. It’s a holiday beer of sorts. Steve brought some Sam Adams Cherry Wheat for the occasion.

(I got no pictures because our digital camera (my other camera’s an old-school film kind) killed the batteries as soon as I turned it on to take some pictures of the process. Imagine pots and brown/black liquid. Smiling faces on two medium handsome men.)

This might be the darkest beer yet. Like dark as in black hole with chocolate milk froth as the event horizon dark. You can’t even see this beer–it’s that dark. Also, we listened to Maiden’s The Number of the Beast record and a Replacements’ B-side record while it was cooking (what’s more atmospheric music for making beer than the Replacements and Maiden?). We’ll say that helped. Here’s how we did it:

The software:

0.5 lbs. dark crystal (grain)

0.5 lbs. roasted barley (grain)

0.5 lbs. black malt (grain)

3 lbs dry dark malt extract

6.3 lbs liquid dark extract

1 oz. Perle hop pellets

Safbrew S-33 dry yeast

We steeped the grains at about 150 F for half an hour. Then we took out the grains–toss ’em in the compost–and added the Perle hops, dry extract, and half of the liquid extract. Boiled it for an hour. Smelled good (seriously, if you haven’t tried making your own beer yet, you should–in addition to all the other benefits, it’ll make your house smell fucking good (and not like beer, surprisingly)). Flipped over the Maiden record. (Also, we watched some Sunny in Philadelphia on DVR. There’s a lot of waiting in beer making.) Around 45 minutes into the boil, we added the other 3.15 lbs of liquid extract to the boil. Fifteen minutes later, we put the pot in an ice bath to cool it down–I’ve got to get some kind of wort chiller to shorten this process–, and when the temp. got down down to 80 F, I pitched the yeast. Simple, easy,–beer is made.

Our starting gravity is a tree-trunk sturdy 1.080. I’ll let you guys know how the fermentation goes.

Drinking It All: #2 Rogue Juniper Pale Ale

if Jesus had known about Christmas trees, and this beer, he would have said, "hey, these things are alike--but what's it gotta do with me?"

if Jesus had known about Christmas trees, and this beer, he would have said, "hey, these things are simliar--but what's it gotta do with me?"

Today I picked up a Rogue Juniper Pale Ale on my way home from getting some paint for a holiday home improvement project (see my wife’s blog for details soon (shout-outs!)). I’m a fan of the other Rogue beers I’ve tried, specifically the Brutal Bitter and Dead Guy Ale, and I also have come to enjoy gin (which gets its pine flavor from juniper berries) in the last few years. So Rogue Pale Ale with juniper berries–where do I sign?

This pale ale tastes, at first, about like a standard pale ale. Then you taste a bit of the pine flavor from the juniper berries. It’s not as strong as the Christmas tree flavor you get from gin, but it’s noticable. This beer tastes clean, if that makes sense. The pine-ness fits in well with the typically crisp and flowery pale ale taste.

I’m not sure whether this is a Rogue seasonal beer or not, but, as my wife says about gin, it (gin, but I mean also the beer) tastes like Christmas. And in the end, don’t we all want to taste our Christmas while we’re worthless X-Box-playing automatons listening to the Beach Boys’ Christmas record? Yes. Yes we do. Here’s the beer for the job. You’re welcome.

Thumbs up or thumbs down? Up. If you like PAs, such as Sierra Nevada’s, I think you’ll like it. Even if you don’t, it’s mild enough to appeal to a variety of picky beer drinkers (god help ’em).

Drinking It All: # 1 Fence-Post 32 oz. High Life


big High Lifes are by nature higher high lifes

big High Lifes are by nature higher high lifes

Drinking It All will be a document of my attempt to try every beer in circulation. It’s a Herculean and tragic attempt at best. But it’s the means, not the end that counts here.

Let’s start this new feature, Drinking It All, with one of my favorite beers: Miller High Life. And not only is it High Life, it’s a big High Life. 32 oz. big.

I’m an unashamed fan of High Life. It’s a good solid blue-collar beer in the good company of PBR and Olde Style, and it holds its ground. The “Champagne of Beers” is easy to drink, as are most mass-produced domestic lagers, and it doesn’t hurt you where the money is. We’ll not get into the taste too much. The beer is heavily carbonated and tastes like a mildly hopped and mildly malty lager. It’s inconspicuous by design.

It’s the beer you drink when you’re cutting the yard on the riding lawnmower, practicing with your band, tailgating, or plowing through a new difficulty level on Halo.

Thumbs up or thumbs down? Thumbs definitely up.

Here Comes the Beer

I’m going to be shifting gears and focusing, almost exclusively, on homebrewing and beer. In an effort to more narrowly define my site and hopefully find a focused niche, I won’t be posting about all of my interests anymore. Nobody’s a pro at it all, except maybe Tom Waits, and I ain’t Tom Waits.

I’m currently trying to find a new home (read: blog) for The Box of Vinyl Project (only one rejection so far) because I think the idea is too much fun, and hopefully, to you guys, interesting, to quit altogether. If you know of a blog that it might fit in well with, let me know. I’ll definitely send them a proposal to pick it up. And I thought submitting to literary magazines was hard. Sheee-it.

So from now on, you can look to Typed Slowly for all of your fermentation-related interests and also to satisfy your time-killing urge at your terrible job (everybody’s job sucks–yours is no different–unless you’re Jim Koch) by reading about beer. Fun, fun, fun. Yes, yes, yes.

Having said that, I’ll probably manage to sneak in a post about a book, record, show, film, internet video, or lawn-mowing experience every once in a while–while Kirby’s not looking. Mum’s the word.

On the sunny side, I’m starting another feature to fill the canyon-like void that will be left by The Box of Vinyl Project. We’ll call it (adopt Don LaFontaine’s voice (look him up)) Drinking It All. The title sounds a bit more Dionysian than it actually is. I’ll be setting out on a mission to try every beer I can get my hands on. I realize I’ve set myself up for failure from the beginning (it’s tragically flawed); I can’t possibly drink every beer made. But I’m goddamn gonna try. It’ll be fun. I’ll drink beers you wouldn’t consider smelling. I’ll drink beers I wouldn’t normally consider smelling. Emphasis on the drinking here, not the smelling. I’ll take suggestions and I’ll make suggestions. It’ll be educational. Economical. Inspirational. Farcical. It’ll be about beer.

It’s fixing to all be about beer.

The Box of Vinyl Project: #5 The Doors-Waiting For The Sun (Elektra 1968)

About a year ago, I acquired a little more than two crates worth of old vinyl LPs (about 200, give or take, records). I’ve listened to some of them, the ones I already knew and liked, but the majority of the records have stayed put in the box they came in. I figured I’d start making my way through the collection of vinyl. I don’t intend to research any records that I’m not familiar with, so hopefully I’ll arrive at as objective a review/summary of each records as possible. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never tried my hand at music criticism/record reviews.

everyone knows lizards are capable of infinite things

everyone knows lizards are capable of infinite things

I, like many people, went through a phase in which I was interested in rock music from my parents’ younger days. I listened to eight track tapes of the Beatles, the Stones, and Fleetwood Mac, but I also got some of these kinds of records on CD.  I don’t know whether my parents were big fans of the Doors, but they didn’t have any of their records. I had to get the two-disc Best of record when I was about 13. So, to me, junior high will always seem like an appropriate age to become a fan of the Doors, and sometime in early high school seems like an appropriate age to realize that they aren’t exactly as cool as you used to think. You realize that Jim Morrison was not, in fact, a poet. At best, he was a good rock singer and rock star, with all the cliches and connotations that title brings, and at worst, he was a pretentious over-indulger.

Even though I claim that I won’t research any of the records I review for this series, I admit that I looked up this record to see when it was released (interestingly, there is no date of release on the sleeve or record itself) and learned that this was the Doors’ third record. Not that that’s at all important or has anything to do with what I think of the record–I’m not really familiar with any of the group’s proper records. But this record does contain some of the more famous songs, such as “Hello, I Love You,” “Five To One,” and “The Unknown Soldier.” You know these songs–you’ve seen Forrest Gump, right?

Waiting For The Sun is a pretty good document what I think of when I think of the Doors. There’s the good keyboard driven pop songs (“Hello, I Love You” and “We Could Be So Good Together”), the dark brooders carried by Morrison’s “poetic” lyrics (“Not To Touch The Earth” (cause he’s a deep poet/Lizard King and shit)), and the weird Native American chanting stuff (“My Wild Love”) that Morrison seems to have been so fascinated with. To be honest, I’m not much of a Doors fan anymore, never listen to the Best of CDs on purpose, but this record is actually pretty damn good.

The obvious stand-outs are the hits we all remember. We’ll knock them off in a quick run down. “Five To One” is a slow, chugging-along rock song with a cool guitar solo and some of Morrison’s more understated lyrics. “Hello, I Love You” is catchy, quick, and simple–not much room for foolishness. “The Unknown Soldier” covers pretty dark subject material with relatively upbeat music. It also has the centerpiece firing squad section. We know these songs because they’re solid, concise, catchy rock songs. And we saw Forrest Gump.

The song “Love Street” is another catchy pop song that sounds familiar even if you haven’t heard it. It’s one of my favorites on the record. “My Wild Love” wanders into vaguely Native American musical territory with its chants and handclaps (I’m sure that’s a gross simplification Native American musical traits), and the song still feels pretty appropriate on the record. It somehow makes sense and fits.

Morrison does get his chance to dive off the deep end in “Not To Touch The Earth,” which contains lyrics from “The Celebration of the Lizard” a “theatre composition by the Doors” as indicated in the gatefold. The music is little more than vaguely structured banging set as a backdrop to Morrison’s singing. Maybe it’s a little more than that, but not much. To be fair, this song is really the only time Morrison is unreined on the record. And it’s a pretty short clusterfuck at 3:54, so it could have been worse. The song ends with the famous Morrison quote: “I am the lizard king. I can do anything.” Which maybe he can–he managed to finagle the song on the record.

One thing I noticed about the record is that it doesn’t actually contain the song “Waiting for the Sun.” But there is a Doors song titled such. Weird.

Like I said earlier, this record is pretty good. If I had to guess why the record is good, I’d go with it’s length–it runs just a little over half an hour. Keeping a pretentious rock star on a time limit seems to do wonders for the band’s ability to make memorable rock songs. Who fuckin knew?

Will I listen to it again? I imagine so, sometime. Although the record’s not in the best of shape–it’s pretty scratchy–so we’ll see.

Next up: The Who-The Kids Are Alright (OST)

Then: John Coltrane-Interstellar Space

On the Turntable

What’s good this week:

Against the Peruvian Monster–Man Man (The Man in a Blue Turban with a Face)

World Class Fad–Paul Westerberg (14 Songs)

Evil–Interpol (Antics)

Strange–Built To Spill (Ancient Melodies of the Future)

Winner’s Blues–Sonic Youth (Experimental Jet Set, Trash & No Star)

Bomb. Repeat. Bomb.–Ted Leo & the Pharmacists (Living With the Living)

The Worth of Art's Evolution Leading to Its Abandonment

Nabokov's latest trick on academia

Nabokov's latest trick on academia

With Nabokov’s unfinished, final novel, The Original Of Laura, finally being published next week, literary scholars and apprieciators are likely to be either defending the publication (which Nabokov explicitly opposed) or siding with Nabokov. As a fan of the few Nabokov novels I’ve read, I’ll admit that I’m a little interested in taking a crack at the new “novel.” However, I can’t help but feel strange about reading what (I’ve heard) amounts to a rough draft outline of the novel knowing that Nabokov asked that it be destroyed if he died before he could finish it. But I can see obvious merits to both the defenders’ and opposers’ of publication points of view.

This Nabokovian controversy brings up an interesting (to me) question of whether or not the evolution of a work of art, be it notes for a novel, scratched out lyrics for a song, or storyboards or deleted scenes for a film, should be considered another part of the artwork or if the end result should have to stand all on its own.

In an article on Slate.com, Aleksandar Hemon argues against The Original Of Laura’s publication, and he quotes Nabokov:

“An artist should ruthlessly destroy his manuscripts after publication, lest they mislead academic mediocrities into thinking that it is possible to unravel the mysteries of genius by studying cancelled readings. In art, purpose and plan are nothing; only the results count.”

So Nabokov isn’t much a fan of the academic literary unravelers/deconstructors. He’s definitely not alone. Lucky for me, any analysis I make of literature might be a lot of things, but it sure as shit ain’t academic.

While it would arguably be pretty interesting to know what might have been going on behind the scenes of Exile On Mainstreet‘s creation, or see some structural notes Wallace might have used when writing Infinite Jest (let’s just see how many times I can reference that book on this blog), would/should it enhance or affect how we look at/read/consume the finished work of art?

(In observation of the (correct, I think) philosophy that a “work of art” is never finished but is instead only abandoned, we’ll call what’s been released or published the “finished work.”)

To me, the short answer is no–what leads up to a finished work shouldn’t be considered part of the work itself. False starts, rough drafts, deleted scenes, notes, and failed takes are sometimes interesting in and of themselves, but I don’t see how they can logically be given enough weight as to affect the finished work in any meaningful way. Otherwise said notes would have been incorporated in the finished work, right? I’m obviously not much for the school of thought that art can take on different meanings, other than what the creator intended, after it’s been released. Whatever Faulkner meant for us to get out of The Sound and the Fury, he included in the text, however confusing it might sometimes be. If I’m listening to Rage Against The Machine’s self-titled record, I can’t superimpose proletariat (forgive me the Marxism) ideals onto the lyrics that don’t cohere with the politcal atmosphere of 1992. A work of art should exist only to the extent that it literally exists. Everything outside the work itself is out-of-bounds. Two-stroke penalty.

So, for me, Nabokov’s new “novel” seems like it can be little more than a priviledged look at how one of the 20th century’s most interesting writers got his shit together. Three-hundred pages of notecards is certainly not a novel, finished or otherwise. But in the end, I’m still wanting to read the damn thing, but then again, I’ll read just about anything (emphasis on just about).

Brewed Slowly: Homebrewing Basics

I was recently asked to write up a post that covers the basics of homebrewing, and I realized that I probably should have done so at the beginning of this blog’s existence. In any case, I’m doing it now. If you’re considering starting to brew your own beer, or if you’re just interested in the process, hopefully this post will give you an idea of how it works and where you need to go to get started.

As I’ve told several friends when they ask me about homebrewing–it’s too easy and too cheap not to do it.

The easiest way to start brewing your own beer is to get a starter homebrew kit. There are tons of websites that sell these kits (starting around $100), and if you have a local homebrew store, they should be available there as well. These kits vary in price and quality and in the amount of equipment you get.  I got my kit at Homebrewers.com. This kit is a deal because it includes an all inclusive beer ingredient kit, which will typically cost anywhere from $20 to $50 (and all you have to do is follow directions and you’ve made your first beer). Since I’ve only made extract beers so far, I can only explain how it works making beer from extract. When I get to making beers using all-grain, I’ll definitely do a description of it as well.

Making the beer is about as easy as following a recipe for chili. In the interest of brevity, I’ll keep this description pretty general, otherwise this post will be longer than you want to read–assuming you are still reading now.

If you’re still here, good deal.

Basically, a homebrewer will steep some specialty grains, which contribute several things to the beer (i.e. taste, head retention, color) around 150 Fahrenheit for 30 min to 1 hour in as much water as will safely fit into the pot, then add malt extract (liquid or dry), bittering hops, and boil for an hour. Most people add hops at various times during the boil to get different tastes/aromas. After the boil is done, the wort (what’s in the pot) is cooled to a temperature safe to pitch the yeast at. Usually, I’ll chill the pot in an ice bath and get the temp down to about 110 F, then top it off with enough cold water to make 5 gallons and it’ll drop the temp, usually, to around 80 F or so. This lower temperature is necessary so that the yeast will proof, and not die, when added to the wort. After the yeast is added to the wort, the fermentor is lidded and the airlock is fitted into the lid.

Then it’s time to wait. We all know what they say about the waiting.

After a few days, give or take, the fermentation will be complete (the airlock will stop bubbling). Then the fermented, but uncarbonated, beer is transferred to bottles or a keg system, where it can be carbonated in various ways, and aged anywhere from 2 weeks to several months or even years. I can’t ever wait that long.

I know that was a pretty fast run-through on how to brew at home, but I think that makes the process somewhat clear or at least demystifies it a little. There are myriad other variables that can change the process, such as using grain instead of extract, dry-hopping, throwing in additives (honey, gypsum, salts), wort-chilling, or transferring to secondary fermentors, but we’ll save them for another day.

There are enough books on homebrewing to fill a small library, and these books can be very helpful to not helpful at all. I highly recommend Charlie Papzian’s The Joy of Hombrewing and Homebrewing for Dummies for beginning homebrewers. They both cover the basics and come with lots of good recipes for brewers of all levels.

I’ll do some posts in the future where I tackle some of the separate steps involved in brewing, what their purposes are, and different ways to complete them.

Last, but absolutely not least, to really get the most out homebrewing beer, it is essential to have some beers on hand, preferably homemade, to ease through the process without worry. That and a good stereo system and music. Iron Maiden records work pretty well. As does anything by the Replacements or Paul Westerberg (for obvious reasons).

Now, go get your ass a homebrew kit and make some beer.

Carl Sagan: Posthumous Recording Artist

As a fan of Carl Sagan, reader of Scientific American and pop science books, and believer that I understand some of what people like Hawking, Feynman, and Kaku do/did/do, I figured I had to post an entry about this little video I read about earlier in the week (over at Pitchfork (also of note: Jack White is releasing the song as a 7″)). Apparently, somebody took footage from Cosmos, the Carl Sagan c. late 1970s/early 1980s miniseries, added music and autotuned  Sagan’s voice into a song.

I’m almost 100% sure this video is awesome. Although with the recent ballyhoo about Chris Farley’s posthumous commercial career, I imagine some killjoys might see it as tasteless. With the possibility that interest in Cosmos, Sagan, or science in general may be sparked in people who aren’t necessarily trained in a scientific field seems, to me, to justify the video’s existence and, I hope, popularity.

Now if someone will just put Mr. Wizard to Portishead or Aphex Twin. Weird.

The Box of Vinyl Project: #4 The Autumn Defense-Circles (Broadmoor 2003)

About a year ago, I acquired a little more than two crates worth of old vinyl LPs (about 200, give or take, records). I’ve listened to some of them, the ones I already knew and liked, but the majority of the records have stayed put in the box they came in. I figured I’d start making my way through the collection of vinyl. I don’t intend to research any records that I’m not familiar with, so hopefully I’ll arrive at as objective a review/summary of each records as possible. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never tried my hand at music criticism/record reviews.

believe it or not, this record is less than 10 years old

believe it or not, this record is less than 10 years old

This record, I admit, is not part of the collection of records that I’ve set out to listen to. However, it was recently given to me, so I thought I’d do an entry on it since it’s relatively new to me. That said, I’m pretty familiar with The Autumn Defense, or at least the two principal members’, Pat Sansone and John Stirratt, other projects–notably Wilco, but also The Gimmecaps (Stirratt) and Birdy (Sansone). That said, Circles doesn’t really sound much like any of those bands. To me, it sounds closest to Birdy’s On The Moon, but probably just because of the atmospheric and/or baroque arrangements I think both records have in common. In any case, The Autumn Defense is clearly a side project for a reason. With good reason.

Circles, at times, sounds like Sansone and Stirratt have set out to record their own version of a 70’s soft rock album. While these aren’t the types of records I immediately reach for, I definitely find myself sitting down with them often enough to say I’m a fan of the good ones. So a 70’s soft record released in 2003 by two guys I already like–sign me up.

The songs are mellow and sound carefully crafted, maybe I should say arranged, in a way that makes you want to hear them on your back porch while the sun’s going down behind some leafless trees. (End poetics.) The songs are accessible, without always being catchy, with the kinds of melodies that you’ll remember the second time you hear the song–or possibly even halfway through the first listen. (The vocals, both Sitrratt’s and Sansone’s, are often the shoulders that the songs are carried on. And the lyrics. Neither Sansone nor Stirratt are known for their vocal stylings, but here they make sense in that both their voices are subtle and reinforce the hushed tone of the record.)

Back to the songs. The standouts are “Written In The Snow,” “Some Kind Of Fool,” and “Silence.”  Sansone’s “Silence” opens the record with a swirly, reverby sound that sets up the entire record pretty well. It reminds me, more than anything, of On The Moon (which if you can get ahold of, you should). It’s melodic in a way that some of the previous Box of Vinyl entries try to be, but it’s still interesting enough that it doesn’t sound like it follows the basic pop standard song structure. Stirratt’s “Written In The Snow” seems like a clear descendant of something from the Gimmecaps’ record but without electric guitars. And with more reverb-ed piano. It’s got the type of catchy chorus that would have made this a potential radio hit in the 70’s, I think. The lines “I would die, if I thought anyone would hurt you/Yes and I would cry, if I thought anyone could do something like that” might read a little cliche or purple, but Stirratt delivers them in an understated way that’s lost on so many singers that it makes you wonder why everyone’s on about the vocal acrobatics (masturbatory showings off) that seem to be a pre-req for radio hits.

So even though I feel a little like I cheated by including this record in the project, I’m glad I did. If nothing else, it’ll be an enjoyable record to put back on between the other 3 Emerson, Lake, and Palmer records I’ll have to review sometime soon. I should be objective, but, fuck it, I’m not looking forward to those. On a more positive note, Circles is easy listening. Easy listening in a good way. It’s a record that can please passive listeners while still rewarding those with a more attentive ear. I recommend it.

Buy it here.

Will I listen to it again? Sure. Especially when the day’s going dark and I want to sit outside with a big beer and take it easy.

Next up: The Doors-Waiting For The Sun

Then: The Who-The Kids Are Alright (OST)