Belgian Beer School

I told Mom I was going to Belgian Beer School and she thought I said “Belchin’ Beer School” or maybe she said “Belch ‘n’ Beer School”. The Beer Growler store near me was having a tasting with Ommegang Brewery, a Belgian brewery in Cooperstown, New York. How Belgian could a brewery in New York be? Pretty Belgian; they are actually owned by Duvel, a real Belgian Brewery, and they have some excellent beers. When I was first getting growlers, I found out about their farmhouse ale, Hennepin, and it quickly became one of my favorite beers.

I’m not sure how I missed it originally, but the Beer Growler re-posted the upcoming event on Facebook and I signed up. They said they would be trying out some of Ommegang’s other beers, but not Hennepin. On Beer Advocate, Ommegang’s beers get very good reviews, so I figured even without Hennepin this would be a good bet. Later on, the Beer Growler said they would be offering appetizers from Pine Street Market, a local meat place that makes different types of sausage and bacon products, so I was looking forward to trying some of what they have to offer. Then they said they would also be giving everyone Ommegang glasses which are quite nice, not the typical pint, but a gold trimmed chalice. So I was definitely getting psyched about this.

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Next Step in Brewing

So far I have made two batches of Mr. Beer plus one more at Mom’s house just following their instructions and using a can of their hopped malt extract, plus yeast, plus some sugar in the bottle for carbonation. The two batches I have been able to drink (Mom’s isn’t ready yet) have been okay, but kind of watered down. That’s not just my opinion, but pretty much everyone’s opinion on the Mr. Beer forums. The way to get a more flavorful beer is add stuff to these basic recipes. You can boost the alcohol and flavor using additional malt extract, either dry malt extract powder (DME) or liquid malt extract (LME). However, if you add malt, you should also add some hops to balance it. You can buy these things from Mr. Beer or a local homebrew store, and I found a store called Ale Yeah in Decatur that sells some homebrew supplies, but mostly beer and growlers. It seemed like the simplest and cheapest next step would be to get a pound of DME and 0.75 oz of hops. I was going to try a wheat beer, but that would involve getting some yeast as well and I wanted to stay simple.

Ale Yeah was pretty cool. They have a lot of really good beers sorted by style and I wound up buying a bottle of a (reputedly) really good Saison by Boulevard Brewing of Kansas City called Tank 7 and a growler of a Winter Stout by Choc Beer Co. out of Oklahoma (I brought my empty growler just in case). They had six packs of Founders Porter, which is one of the best beers I’ve ever had, but maybe I can get that next time. They were helpful with the homebrew stuff as well. Mr. Beer makes 2.5 gallons of beer whereas all the homebrew supplies are for 5 gallon batches, but they had smaller size packs available.

They set me up with one pound of Briess Pilsen Light DME and 1 oz of German Hallertau Hop Pellets. So that’s about $8 worth of stuff plus the Mr. Beer Classic American Light can which was about $11. $19 total for essentially 3 six packs of beer that should be pretty good. Amazon sells the Mr. Beer refills for $18, but I got a good deal at Sears on this can, so I feel like I am doing okay even with the cost of the added stuff.

With the Mr. Beer refill you just boil some water, take it off the heat, add the can of Mr. Beer and stir. Then you pour this into the keg with some cold water and add yeast. There are a few more details, but that’s basically it. However, with DME and hops you have to do some cooking. The idea seems to be to get the water hot and start adding DME, which doesn’t dissolve that easily. Hopefully it will all be dissolved by the time you reach a boil at which point it can boil over and make a mess, so you have to be ready to lower the heat or remove heat altogether as things get out of hand. But once you get past that point, you can boil for 30-60 minutes. The sooner you add hops, the more bitterness they will impart. As you add them later, you get aroma, but not as much bitterness. The idea is to get both, so you might add half of the hops at 30 minutes and half with 10 minutes to go. After the time is up, you cut the heat and add the Mr. Beer extract. Then you stir and dump it in the keg. So using DME adds a lot of time to the process, but shouldn’t be all that hard. I’ll try this tomorrow I think. That would have me bottling on May 4 and drinking on June 1. This is the last batch of beer I’ll make because in the summer I think my house will be too hot.

This is a small step, but there are a lot more next steps in brewing. There are a lot of different malt extracts, some for dark beers, some for wheat beers, etc. And there are also a lot of different hops, so that gives you pretty much endless combinations. Also you can do additives like coriander, orange peel, molasses, cherry juice, coffee, etc. There are different yeast strains, for instance the one for wheat beers. You can also add specialty grains (roasted, different varieties) in place of or in addition to the malt extract. At some point you do away with extracts entirely and cook all malt grains to produce the wort. I don’t know that I want to go there, but I didn’t just want to brew up a third can of Classic American Light.

Dead Router

Last night there were some big storms coming through so after a loud clap of thunder, I unplugged all of my computer and TV equipment, though I’ve never had problems with anything getting zapped and I have surge protectors on everything. An hour or so later when I plugged everything back in, my Netgear router wasn’t working anymore. The power light was kind of dim and none of the other lights, showing it was coming back to life, were coming on. I even tried resetting it to factory settings by holding down a tiny button on the back down for 30 seconds. Nothing doing. I have had it for over five years, so I guess it did its job.

I started looking online for another wireless router by connecting my computer directly to the DSL modem. My router is a 802.11g router, but the latest is 802.11n or just N. They seem to run around $45 for a name brand one (Linksys or Netgear) and less than $30 for off brand ones. You can spend over $100 for dual-channel N routers of 450 kbps and up. The low end ones are 150 kbps, but after disappointing searches at Best Buy and Fry’s, I found a refurbished model by Linksys called the E1500 for less than $30 that is 300 kbps at Amazon, so I ordered that one. I doubt I’ll get anything close to that transfer rate in real life and my DSL plan is limited to 100 kbps anyway, so it would only help when I am transferring stuff over the wireless network between computers (or the iPod or the Nexus7, all support N). The new router supports having a guest network, which is how Jeb has his set up. I am debating on whether to just leave that network unencrypted (if that is even possible). Otherwise I don’t have a lot of people coming over to use my network, but with fairly low bandwidth, I’m not sure I want someone using mine either. I wonder if it keeps logs so I could see if people were using it and how much? Although it supposedly has good range, if someone were to get on it they’d have to be next door or on the sidewalk out front probably.
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I’ve been having problems lately on my laptop with it freezing up while I am surfing. Usually if I wait a long time, it will return to normal, but it can take a few minutes. Usually when it is stalled the status bar in Firefox will say waiting on some other website, typically with cdn in the name. I don’t know if it is hanging on that particular site or a different one, but I have thought about blocking all of these third-party websites that aren’t related to the page I’m actually visiting. For instance, if you visit CNN, you might spend a while downloading stuff from I’m thinking usually it is ads because content should be on the web sites own server and is pretty basic.

Sometimes I think the problem is with different scipts that are loading from those sites (often it is just a video ad that is taking forever to download, but Firefox is a zombie until the thing finishes). I disabled javascript in my browser, which seemed to really help, but it caused problems on a lot of sites that I go to, including my bank and AdSense, which wouldn’t work at all without javascript.

Next I found an extension called YesScript which would disable javascript except for a few websites that you identify as being okay. This was kind of the opposite of another extension it mentioned called NoScript which would let you disable scripts of your choosing. YesScript didn’t do what I want, so I wound up trying out NoScript. It brings up a little toolbar that lets you control the scripts you want to see. For instance, I went to FlashlightWiki and there were 4 scripts, all blocked by default. I enabled flashlightwiki scripts which are served up by the wiki itself (I think for the search box). But I also have a Google Translator tool, so I enabled Google and Google Syndication (third party scripts, but useful ones) and the AdSense ads were being blocked as well, so I enabled googleapis. I did not enable which just tracks your surfing across a lot of different websites that all use doubleclick.

I went to to read up on the news and there were 71 different scripts, and as far as I could tell, I didn’t need any of them. And now the site downloads a lot faster too.

It is much more flexible than just enabling or disabling javascript. Even on Bank of America’s site, I enabled Bank of America scripts so I could log in, but was able to disable doubleclick.

So it’s kind of a pain to use, but a lot of my surfing is to the same sites, so I can customize all of those the way I want. And for the rest of the internet, I just block most of the scripts. It isn’t my intention to block ads, at least unobtrusive ones, but most of the ads are getting blocked. Oh well.

Lost Rocket

Yesterday I was in Athens for Easter. I brought my rocket and pen cam in case we had time to shoot it off. Michael brought his rocket over to Gramalie’s as well, so we got his put together and ready to launch. After lunch we all went over to the school nearby to launch. We had done this before and made 3 successful launches of my rocket. But it was a little windy. Michael had some C rocket engines, but I thought it would be better to try a B engine which goes about half as high until we could figure out the wind direction. The rocket, an Estes “Flash,” shot up really high even with the smaller engine. It went straight up and the parachute ejected perfectly, but then it started drifting with the wind on the way down. Grant started running to recover it, worried that it was headed for the street. He kept running but the rocket came down in some tree branches right above the street and got stuck about 30 feet up. There was no way we were going to get it down, but Grant talked to the owner of a store nearby and they said they would keep an eye out for it.

Today Fiona was sick and had to miss school, so she wasn’t in the car when Grant took Michael to school. When he got home he told her that there was a lot of traffic at the school because a couple of cars had an accident. When they worked their way past the accident site, they noticed the policeman was holding Michael’s rocket. Michael said out the window “That’s my rocket!” The policeman walked over and said to him “This rocket came down out of the tree this morning and caused this accident!” Grant told the police officer that Michael was mistaken and he actually lost a different rocket. Then he told Fiona: April Fools.