Wort? It’s sparged mash water!

I never thought I would ever be brewing beer.  How strange to be responsible for the creation of beer instead of just simply being its final resting place.  Thanks to my friend, Diego, I’ve mashed, I’ve sparged, and I’ve bottled.  We’re currently in the midst of our second batch.  The first batch he did by himself with just my assistance in the bottling of the finished product and of course with my hearty assistance in drinking it.

This second time through, I decided I wanted to be involved in the whole process.  So about a week ago we went ahead and dived headfirst into advanced brewmaking, guided by Diego’s reading on the subject and prior experience with the malt extract.  I’m sure we probably made some mistakes in the process, but hopefully we should end up with a decent batch of beer at the end of it all and a lot of learning experience.

Next time through, it might be worth investing in creating some equipment that is better suited to the tasks we put it to.  In particular, something to assist in the cooling of the hot beer wort before it is put into the open fermenter and the yeast is pitched.  It would also probably be helpful to build a lauter-tun of sorts to make the initial sparging a smoother process fraught with less peril and opportunities for me to drop the strainer into our beer wort.

Diego gave me a book titled, The Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian, which I have been avidly reading in order to make me a little more helpful in the whole brewing process.  For anyone interested in making their own beer, I’d highly recommend it.  Working on this whole process makes me want to invest in my own kit at some point in the future.  That way, our beer lifecycles can overlap a bit, we’ll have more opportunity to experiment with some different styles, and won’t have the same wait time for the next batch to come to fruition.

For more specific information on our beer brewing efforts and the other musings of Diego Lewis, they can be seen at his website:  www.diegolewis.com.

For your consideration….

I adore The Onion.  Especially all the op-ed pieces in the paper that tackle the common day to day concerns and experiences that we all share from time to time such as: “Why is it that my girlfriend insists on sticking around when I transform into a werewolf?” or “I don’t have time for non-controversial art exhibits.”  Anyway, one train ride home I decided to write something in the spirit of those articles in order to pass the time.  I thought up a couple of titles but am not completely satisfied with any of them so far.  I’ve considered: “Indiana Jones and the City of Ingratitude” or “Did I don my Fedora and Bullwhip for This?” before settling on the title shown below.  I got a couple of decent responses from friends, so I made a second draft and decided to post it here quickly before I completely lose my nerve to do so.

I don’t dress up like this because I love Archaeology.

Seriously. Why is it that the people of Chicago are not overwhelmed with the same feeling of awe and devotion that Indiana Jones invokes in me? In these troubled times, you’d think they’d feel comfortable and safe knowing that good ol’ Indy is sharing the same “L” platform with them, kissing their girlfriends, and prowling the streets of Chicago with his whip and gun ready to teach the forces of evil a lesson with a swift punch and timely one-liner. But no. Sadly enough I feel I have misread you America. My attempts at heroism have been rewarded with laughter, at best and assault charges and restraining orders, at worst.

Not long ago I was once like you, an overweight star trek fan with bladder trouble and with a distant hope that I would one day awake to find that I had superpowers. But then I met Indy. His friends call him Indy. 12,376 viewings later, he had imbued me with his charm and heroism. And for a brief honeymoon, it was so. I was the hit of my office party and felt on top of the world. But the next day when I showed up for work in my Indy outfit, the respect was gone. What happened? I was your beloved hero a day ago, and now you look at me with a smirk on your face, or fear in your eyes?

Over the past few years, I’ve become resigned to the fact that my efforts are not nearly as well received as his in the movies. My investigation into the curse of the Billy Goat was met with both laughter and some pending lawsuits (including an awkward bestiality charge that I’m sure will be dismissed when the full facts are brought to light.) Currently, I’ve been tracking the terrible CTA monster who lives beneath the city and subsists on the CTA revenue and tax hikes that the city feeds it. This effort too, has been met with derision.

For all my selflessness and bravery, what is my reward? I have swung through glass windows to bring this to the attention of friends and family yet my only rewards have been a herniated disk, some pretty nasty cuts, and a lot fewer party invitations. Where is your gratitude Chicago?

And it doesn’t get any better. I hang out smiling and brandishing my gun and whip on the brown line while making off-handed comments and practicing my boulder evasion techniques, and you won’t even look at me. Or if you do it’s with fear, not respect. And then the police come. Well I’m sick of it. Maybe you don’t deserve Indy, Chicago. Just remember next time when they raise taxes to “Fix the CTA”, good ol’ Indy might have been down in those sewers saying something hilarious while killing that monster, which rest assured would later be properly preserved and put in a museum for future generations to enjoy.

The Way of Buying a Katana

I bought my first and only katana when I was 20.  I bought it after weeks of browsing the Internet and learning about how a proper katana is constructed, what it’s properties are, what the best retailers around were and what I could expect to pay. I really wish that I was rich enough to afford to be a collector of katanas, but unfortunately until my student loans are paid off I would currently be better served as a stamp collector.

Let me first preface this statement by acknowledging that I am not an expert of metallurgy or sword making and so I am open to corrections.  In addition, please realize that this is a weapon that can seriously injure or kill and therefore demands respect and proper training as to its use before you decide to start swinging it around.  That being said, I’ve amassed a list of a few questions to bear in mind when looking for a katana to purchase.

1. Are their blades machine stamped or hand-forged?  In my personal opinion part of the joy of collecting these weapons is the care and dedication taken to create them in the first place.  It is a difficult process and the end result is something more akin to art than engineering.  Expect a certain amount of machine assistance in the forging process when purchasing a sword from a major sword manufacturer (although not necessarily when requesting a custom sword from a master craftsman).  However, the key distinction is people using some machine tools in the forging of your blade vs. a machine stamping them out and sharpening them.  You want people to be involved in the construction and shaping of your blade.  Inquire with the manufacturer as to how the swords are produced.

2. What kind of steel is used?  There are many correct answers to this question, but it certainly should be some form of carbon steel.  You do not want a stainless steel blade as that essentially means that none of the traditional methods of creating a katana were employed to generate that blade.  Also, stainless steel means that your blade is made of softer stuff and will not retain its edge as readily.  If it is made of Tamahagane steel, then it is made of the traditional type of steel used to forge katanas in Ancient Japan.  If Tamahagane is used, the blade should be folded steel in order to remove some of the impurities that exist in that type of steel.  Some other types of steel do not necessarily require folding to still produce a high quality blade as long as the steel being used is of a high enough grade and being shaped by a real craftsman.  Look up the kind of steel they are using online to get more information.

3. What are the credentials of the place or sword-smith you are looking into?  In other words, look around the Internet to see if there are many reviews of the place you are looking into.  Sword Forum is an especially good place to start.  They review some different sword brands and their forums attract sword aficionados who can offer some excellent advice.

4. Are the blades differentially heat treated?  This is what you want for your katana.  A well crafted katana will have a Rockwell hardness of around 57-60 on the edge, giving it its sharpness, but around 40 Rockwell hardness for the rest of the blade to allow it some flexibility and reduce its chance of breaking on impact.  The process of differential heat treatment will give it a wavy line called a hamon, near the edge of the blade.  Some blades that have not been differentially heat treated will still stamp on a fake hamon anyway, or etch it in with acid, but those typically look more uniform and even, whereas a natural hamon is slightly more organic in appearance.  A hamon will look uniform as well if they use a template to apply the shape of the clay.  If possible, I would recommend requesting the hamon to be made without using a template, but this is ultimately a matter of preference to the sword owner.

5. Ask if they can give you any more information as to the process: (forging, folding, sharpening, polishing, fittings, any katana maintenance information, etc.)

My first katana was purchased from Kris Cutlery, and has been a good starting blade.  As such it still ran me around $700.   A custom made katana from a real master in the craft will run anywhere from $6500 to $50,000.  Going with an American sword-smith like Howard Clark or Michael Bell will keep you on the lower end of that price range, but still its for now quite out of my reach.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the intricacies of the traditional process of forging a katana, check out these links.  For more detailed information from people with more familiarity than I, I’d recommend browsing Sword Forum.

Making of a Katana: Part 1

Making of a Katana: Part 2

Making of a Katana: Part 3

Making of a Katana: Part 4

Making of a Katana: Part 5

Summerfest (or the Art of Endurance Drinking)

This truly is a sporting event for alcholics.  It’s held in Milwaukee every summer from late June to early July and is an excellent opportunity to get together with some family and friends, see some live music, and take a good year or two off your lifespan.

My friend, Alec, turned me on to Summerfest when I was in college.  I was initiated in this sacred, time-honored Bolas tradition.  This may not be the prevailing wisdom, but in my opinion, the music is secondary to the drinking.    We have attended Summerfest for many years now and while we have seen bands like Nine Inch Nails,Social Distortion, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Bauhaus, most of the day we are watching cover bands and getting absolutely smashed out of our skulls.

The prices for the food and drink are fairly reasonable.  While they do have the standard Miller and Budweiser garbage beer, they also have a couple nice microbreweries that you can choose for a similar price.   $5 can get you a nice dark Old World Octoberfest lager from Milwaukee’s Water Steet Brewery or a tasty IPA from Lakefront Brewery.  There are some nice places to shop, some decent cover bands, and the stretch of land by the lake is especially nice to walk up and down.  There’s also some good people-watching at Summerfest, even more so after everyone gets drunk.

Here is your Summerfest itenenary:

First off as a word of caution, prepare yourself by not getting hammered the night before as your liver will need as much strength as possible to process the oceans of alcohol you are going to imbibe the next day.  Secondly, prepare yourself mentally that you will be drinking consistently throughout the day.  The goal ultimately is to be as drunk as possible for the duration of the day without getting too smashed that you end up either throwing up on yourself or passing out on the table(me, circa 2004).

So upon arriving around 12:00 PM, you should first proceed to pick up a beer.  Then go in search of food.  Upon acquring a decent cheeseburger, pick up your second beer.  If possible, start a drinking contest with one of your friends to see who’s had the most beers by the end of the day without vomiting or passing out.  You will drive each other to greater and greater heights of drunkenness as the day progresses.  Then I would recommend finding a stage with a half decent cover band to plant yourself down and let the drinking begin.  If you get too baked by the sun, go and cool off on the rocks by the lake.  Grab another couple beers.  Grab a martini at the martini tent if you’re particularly adventurous.  Around 3:00 you should have a pretty decent buzz going on.  If you’re already wasted at this point, I’d recommend backing off a bit as you have to go until midnight and you’ll start to get sleepy around 5 or 6.  Go for a walk.  Avoid any band called, “The Zombies”, and failing that prepare yourself for an exercise in mediocrity.  Grab a couple more beers.  As a die-hard Cubs fan, remind any Brewers fans you encounter that your team is in first place, not theirs, and that they must be inferior human beings because of this fact.  Grab a couple more beers.  Remind any Brewer fans you encounter that your team is in first place, not theirs, and that they must be inferior human beings because of this fact.  Slur while saying it.  Enjoy the adventure of navigating the crowds and keeping your center of balance.  Grab another beer.  Around 7, grab some dinner.  You have now reached the home stretch.  You needn’t concern yourself with pacing.  Now you must make sure to beat that other bastard you’ve been competing with all day.  You must also beat the clock.  They will stop serving beer at 10 and you’ll be there until 12.  This leaves two hours of gloating over your fallen opponent once you defeat them.  Go see the final show.  Struggle to keep your eyes open and express yourself in a semi coherent fashion.  Finally, make sure to thank the poor sap who has stopped drinking around midday in order to drive home a bunch of severely obnoxious drunk people.

The next day wake up and feel like you want to die.  But be very grateful that you are stopping for a nice meal involving fried cheese on your way home.