Pointy Elf Hat

Miss L commented in passing that she really liked Mr. C’s red elf hat (which he longer wants to wear, alas) and would like one herself, preferably in blue or green. Luckily, I still have a print out of the pattern I used – this saved me the trouble of finding a new pattern online, thinking it was the old one, realizing it was wrong, looking again, and so on. Plus, and this is the bonus part, I found a yarn that is a mix of blue AND green!

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This hat is knitted flat and then sewn up the back. Honestly, my knitting is better than my sewing, and so in hindsight I might have been better off with a new pattern than was knit-only.

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Tasting of Doom

We were going to bottle a batch of beer, and were running short on 12 oz. bottles.  So we decided to taste all the homebrew we have hanging around (including some of questionable quality), and decide if there were any bottles we could free up – that is, if any of them were so bad we’d never drink them.

We started with our sours – five batches of saison fermented in 1 gallon glass growlers for a year, with various souring agents and a small honeycomb of oak for them to live on:

  • 17a (plain saison): this tasted fine, with more oak than we expected, but was almost completely flat.  Decision: borderline (would drink if we can carbonate it somehow).
  • 17b (Brett. bruxellensis): also fine, with good Brett character, but also terribly undercarbed.  Decision: borderline.
  • 17c (Lactobacillus): terrible and acrid.  Decision: drainpour.
  • 17d (Brett. & Lacto): sweet and cloying.  Decision: drainpour.
  • 17e (White Labs Sour Mix): very nice, but completely flat.  Decision: borderline.

We then moved on to our last batch of cysers/meads – again, small batches fermented in 1 gallon glass growlers, with four different kinds of honey:

  • 16a (Cross Creek Tupelo honey): sweet, rich, and completely flat.  Luckily still mead is a thing (not the thing we were trying to make, but sometimes you have to be flexible).  Decision: keep.
  • 16b (Cross Creek Everglades honey): very nice, but with a little bit of off flavor.  Decision: borderline.
  • 16c (Uncle John wildflower honey): lots of dark honey, oaky.  Decision: keep.
  • 16d (Uncle John’s clover honey): light, with tons of honey character, best of the tasting.  Decision: keep.

I’m left with an appreciation of how hard mead and sour beer are to get right.  Of the two, the mead definitely turned out better, with even the worst batch being tolerable.  By contrast, the sours with Lactobacillus are foul and undrinkable – it was easy to dump those to free up some extra bottles.  But the other sours were fine, other than being flat.  So we’re thinking about trying to force-carbonate them, either by decanting the remaining bottles into a keg, or using our Sodastream.

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New Beer Freezer

The old faithful wine beer fridge finally gave up the ghost a couple weeks ago.  It had been reliably chugging along for years, but recently had trouble keeping the temperature down, and was running most of the time.  I did some searching online to try to find a good replacement.  I initially thought that a kegerator without the taps would be the best option, since they are large, don’t have weird bumps in them that eat into bottle storage, and keep very cold efficiently.  But they’re also much more expensive than either wine fridges, or a new category I hadn’t seen before: beverage refrigerators.  The beverage fridges seemed like a good option, since they’re designed for soda/beer (i.e., colder than wine).  But I couldn’t find any good info on how big they were inside, and estimating their capacity based on the number of soda cans made it look like they wouldn’t hold that many bottles (20-30 as opposed to the 35 the old wine fridge held).

2014-12-30 10.28.33But then we found a reasonably priced chest freezer.  Even after buying an external temperature controller (which cuts the power to keep the freezer from getting too cold), it was less expensive than the beverage fridges.  And after I built a little shelf to hold a crate of bottles in a second layer, it can hold quite a bit more than the wine fridge (about 50 bottles).

The other advantage of having a chest freezer is potentially being able to lager or cold crash beers after fermenting (or being able to do a controlled-temperature fermentation if we wanted to).  And if our trusty kegerator stops working, we could always drill a few holes and make the chest freezer into a keezer.

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THE sweater (done!)

After way too many months, a whole lot of beer and a soupçon of profanity, the husband sweater is finally done! Drum roll, please…

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It seems so simple now… still not sure what took me so long. Though, I will say that there were a couple points that held me up because I was nervous about dealing with them – in particular I procrastinated forever before I finally worked up the courage to tackle button holes, and then I ended up knitting about twenty holes to get the five finalists you see above. (Button holes provoke so many questions for me: How do you get them evenly spaced? How do you prevent that weird stray stitch cutting through the middle? How can knitting empty space be SO IMPOSSIBLY HARD? Why couldn’t Redbeard have asked for a zipper?) But, more than that – the pattern also spooked me a few times. It was supposedly for beginners, and really good in some ways. But, I guess I am too beginner for even beginner status, because it would also throw out strange, uninterpretable instructions, too. With a scarf or hat, I would just roll with it – because honestly, how bad can it go wrong with a scarf or a hat? But, in the high stakes world of sweater knitting, where I might not even understand how badly I’d screwed up until I went to sew it all together? Not able to just bull ahead.

In fact, for the sleeves – I actually rewrote all of instructions into something comprehensible for me. That way, I only had to divine the meaning of the instructions *once* – with coffee in hand – and translate them into something a mere pre-beginner like me could understand, even when drinking beer instead of coffee several hours later.

But, all worth it in the end! In fact, there must be something wrong with my brain, because I hadn’t even finished sewing on the last button before I started thinking about what sort of sweater I’d like to knit next…

 

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Gin vs. Gin

Gin and tonic is one of my favorite cocktails, but our first gin drink is the simpler Gin Fizz – gin, soda water, and lime, all shook up with ice:

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We had two gins on hand, Hendricks and Plymouth. I’m partial to gins with character, and am particularly partial to Uncle Val’s. But, The 12 Bottle Bar recommended getting a dry gin, and so I went out and got a bottle of Plymouth to experiment with. Yay for an excuse to buy more gin! Redbeard and I decided we’d try Hendricks and Plymouth head to head, and so I mixed up a Gin Fizz with each. The verdict? There was definitely a difference, though not as dramatic as we’d predicted. To me, the Plymouth created a drink that tastes like summer – clean, crisp, with a clear lovely lime. The Hendricks was also very good, though – clearly dry gin is not strictly required for a good gin fizz. It was warmer to me; Redbeard characterized it as ‘well-rounded’.

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New adventures in advanced drinking

We recently acquired a copy of The 12 Bottle Bar, and it has inspired me (Wind) to start approaching cocktails in a way similar to the somewhat systematic way we’ve approached beer, with the goal this time of building up a small but select repertoire of excellent drink options.

So, armed with a few basics (Boston shaker, citrus juicer, 2oz jigger), I’ve started to put together drinks beyond the occasional haphazard rum-and-cherry-coke-zero and beloved gin and tonic.

First up, the Waldorf:

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This is a boozy combination of Grand Marnier, sweet vermouth and grenadine, all shook up with ice. Despite usually drinking liquor that’s largely cut with something, I found this to be pretty tasty. I’m still getting the hang of the Boston shaker, worried that I’m going to break the glass as I wiggle it free of the metal cup. But, otherwise this was an easy beginning.

We already have store-bought grenadine on hand, but I’m looking forward to making my own when it runs out.

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Welcome, Lucy!

I think I have found my One True Crafting technique in needle felting. It’s like sculpture with therapeutic stabbiness and without the messy clay.

Here is my newest little creature – a lovely lady who’s name is clearly Lucy:

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Standing at just about 4″, she is small in stature but big in heart, all soft and warm in her wooly cloak. Her staff was the only really challenging part – I took some medium-gauge copper wire and poked it through her hand, and then felted the wool onto the wire. It was very stabby, but not so therapeutic – I managed to poke my index finger pretty sharply several times. Other than that, she is all wool. I was going to shape her face more, and maybe even add some embroidery for her features, but in the end I liked the Amish doll simplicity of her face so much that I didn’t want to change it.

Now all she needs is a flock of mini sheep to frolic and gambol around her.

 

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Month-Old Hops

After a month, the three different hop plants are showing very different results:

  • The Golding (middle) is doing very well.  It has two bines trained on its lines and is climbing well.  It’s got healthy leaves and has put out a couple new shoots.
  • The Fuggle (right), is doing OK with a couple of decent shoots starting to train up its lines.
  • The Saaz (left) isn’t doing very well at all, with just a few tiny shoots still too small to train.  The one bine we did train has withered.

I’ve heard that many hop varieties need a year to get established, so the Saaz and Fuggle might just need to wait until next year.  But I’m hopeful the Golding at least will grow well and maybe give us some hops this year.  If the Saaz doesn’t start making progress soon, I think we’ll take one of the other Golding shoots and take over one of the Saaz lines.

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Hops Trellised

The hops have already started putting out feelers (especially the Golding which has sent out 5 of them already), so we moved them over to a place with good southern exposure and started a twine trellis for them to climb up the mostly-abandoned backyard play fort.

For the Golding, we got to choose the best two bines and prune off the rest.  The Fuggle only had one decent bine going, so we’ll wait and see if it has another.  The Saaz has a couple of very small shoots, so it should be ready to be trained in a few weeks.

Apparently hops can grow 15 to 20 feet.  We’ve only got 8 feet of fort (really more like 7 feet because of the pots).  But if we’re blessed with the problem of overgrowing bines, I figure we can just let them grow over the top of the fort.

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My First Zwanze Day

We were down in Orlando this weekend to visit the new Harry Potter Diagon Alley part of the Universal Studios theme park with the kids.  I snuck off for a couple of hours to head up to Redlight Redlight for my first Zwanze Day (Cantillon’s annual release where about 50 bars around the world get a single keg of a special beer brewed for the occasion).

I dithered a bit about whether it was worth the hassle.  I first heard about Zwanze day a couple years ago, and Redlight Redlight has been the only site in Florida.  It’s on the other side of town from where we usually go for the theme parks, so I always balked the logistics of driving there and having to sober up before heading back, or the price of taking a taxi back and forth across Orlando.  But this year I decided it was worth the hassle, and I tried Uber for the first time for the trip there (which worked out much better than a taxi, and was a lot cheaper).  In fact, Uber went so well that it took me about 35 minutes to get from the middle of Universal Studios to Redlight Redlight, instead of the hour-plus I expected.

When I got there about 2½ hours before opening time, I was a little surprised that there was no line yet.  Cantillon is one of the most-loved-by-beer-geeks breweries in the world, and the annual Zwanze release is their most sought-after.  So I killed a little time walking around the neighborhood and started standing in line when a few other people showed up.  I’m lucky that I was at the front of the line, because the tickets for the Zwanze beer itself were sold out before I decided I would go, and I got a ticket only because there had been a cancellation.

The wait went quickly since I was chatting with a group of guys from Ocala, and we quickly grabbed a table when the event started and proceeded to share glasses of almost everything on the impressive taplist.  Some highlights:

  • Zwanze 2014 (Cuvée Florian): of course this was the main event, and lived up to my expectations.  This year’s beer was a cross between Iris and a kriek.  Iris is much hoppier than typical Belgian beers, but the hops were very gentle here, and the cherries were also toned down.  The result was a delightful sour beer, with just a beautiful ruby color, and a little earthy cherry flavor.
  • Redlight Redlight also had Cantillon’s Iris, Gueuze, and Mamouche on tap.  I’d had the Gueuze several times when we lived in the Netherlands, and it was fantastic as always.  Iris and Mamouche were both new to me: Iris I liked immediately and especially since it’s one part of the Zwanze blend, it was nice to compare them side-by-side.  Mamouche at first seemed too herbal and bitter to me, but it grew on me as I sipped at.
  • I was disappointed this summer that I didn’t get up to Hill Farmstead in Vermont.  So I was doubly glad to have their collaboration with Blaugies, La Vermontoise.  I had somehow gotten it into my head that this was a sour, so I was surprised when it turned out to be a saison, and a mild and smooth one at that.  But once I adjusted to that, I found this to be a very nice, sweet, floral beer.  So now I’m really irritated that I didn’t get up there to get a case of it…
  • Angry Chair’s 3 Little Birds was a very nice Berliner Weisse, with a very subtle tropical fruit character.  It especially benefited from a direct comparison to Cigar City’s Passion Guava Grove, which is a much bolder beer that seemed overbearing in contrast.
  • The only stout we tried was Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Brunch Weasel, which was fantastic, and the perfect contrast to the saisons and sours.
  • I finished out the afternoon with The Bruery’s Oude Tart.  This is a wonderful sour I’ve had several times before and always enjoyed.  It has more body and sweetness than the Cantillon sours, and felt like a perfectly-balanced way to end.

Not only did I have some wonderful beers, I also met some nice people and had a great time sharing and talking about the beers with them.  This really ties into a few posts (e.g., this one from Boak & Bailey) that I’ve seen in the last few days about the marketing strategy for Shock Top, which boils down to positioning it as a simpler, more approachable craft beer to people who think Shock Top is made by a small/independent brewery (instead of AB-InBev).  I guess I see the parallel with overcomplicated, mystique-shrouded wine snobbery, but beer is a lot cheaper, and I’ve consistently seen bartenders hand out a bunch of samples and do their best to find the best beer for anyone who walks in the door.

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