Category Archives: Food and Drink

this is clever, cute, entertaining, and has the potential to be awesome

About a year ago, I saw this commercial:

I’m not going to lie to you, Marge: I thought it was pretty awesome. It’s beautifully shot, it’s clever, and it doesn’t beat me over the head with some sort of BUY THIS THING message; it entertains me, which is what good advertising should do.

About a month ago, my agent sent me an intriguing offer: the people who did that commercial (it’s called The Date) were doing something new, set in the same universe, using the same band, and they were interested in having me participate. It was clever, it was cute, it was entertaining, and it had the potential to be awesome.

I told them that I’d love to be part of this thing in exchange for some shiny gold rocks, and after agreeing upon the number of rocks and how shiny they would be, Business Happened. I’ve been pretty excited to talk about this since we closed the deal, and today I finally can.

The agency that made The Date created this Facebook app called Heineken Serenade, that lets you build a song to ask someone out on a date. You answer some questions, like who you want to ask out, why you want to go out with them, what you want to do on your date, and why they should say yes. The app uses your answers to build a song* for you that goes on their Facebook wall. They send you an answer that goes back on your wall, and everyone wins. I think it’s really cute and clever, and some of you may know that clever is my Kryptonite. 

I made one for Anne, that looks almost exactly like this.

If you’re interested in making your own, you can do it here. If you do, and end up going on a date as a result, leave a comment and let me know, okay? I know at least one marriage has happened between people who met via my website (back when we had the Soapbox message board) and I think it would be pretty awesome if I helped nudge more people towards making a love connection.

*640 different combinations in 24 different languages, performed by Paul “Kiss” Kissaun, who did the song in The Date, which is cool.

Further adventures in Homebrewing

It was warm on the patio, and a gentle breeze stirred the trees in the back yard. The Postal Service played on the Sonos. A Stone Pale Ale sat on the patio table, condensation beginning to bead up on the neck and run down the bottle. Next to it, the 10 gallon cooler I’d turned into a mash tun with judicious use of weird plumbing things that, 24 hours earlier, had been as relevant to my life as a musket. Just behind the mash tun, in a paper bag, nearly 13 pounds of crushed grains waited to go into the mash tun.

I looked at the brewing kettle on the propane burner to my right. The water was beginning to stir, small bubbles rising from the bottom as science happened. I took out the thermometer and checked the temperature: 155 degrees.

“Well, here goes nothing,” I thought, in the digitized voice of Lando Calrissian from the Return of the Jedi arcade game. I picked up the bag of grains, and poured it into the cooler-cum-mash tun. It filled it about 1/3 of the way in a small cloud of fragrant dust. I turned the heat off on the burner, and stirred the water. I checked the temperature again: between 160 and 162. Perfect.

I lifted the kettle off the burner, and carefully poured most of the water into the grains. I stirred them around, making sure they were all wet, and then added the rest of the water. I set the timer for an hour, and recorded all the steps I’d taken in my brewing journal.

Project 9. I wrote. Stone Pale Ale. First All-Grain! 11/3/11 2:10 PM.

When Ryan suggested that we make beer together this summer, I thought it would be an awesome father/son project, an excuse to spend a lot of time together, and something that would end with us having our own beer.

All of those things happened, and they were all awesome. Mission accomplished.

What I didn't expect, though, was that I would be here, a few months later, working on my 9th batch of beer. I didn't expect to find myself in a hardware store last month with a diagram in one hand and a bunch of weird plumbing bits in the other, planning to convert a 10 gallon cooler into a mash tun. I didn't expect to know what a mash tun even was, in fact.

And yet here I was, using one I’d built myself, to make my friend’s beer, following a recipe out of his book. It was exciting, exhilarating, and a little frightening.

Relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew, I reminded myself as I took the temperature: 160. Still too hot. Shit. I should have let it cool more.

I went into the house and grabbed a pint glass out of the kitchen. I poured my beer into it, and took a nerve-settling drink. If everything went according to plan, in about 5 or 6 weeks, I would have a homebrew version of it that I’d made myself, entirely from scratch.

I checked the recipe again, confirmed that I had everything set up the way it was supposed to be set up, and checked the temperature again. It was 155, still hotter than the 152 it was supposed to be.

Relax. Don’t worry. Have a homebrew. I took another sip of my beer, smaller this time, and looked around the yard. It was unseasonably warm for early November, the breeze carrying the slightest hint of autumn in front of it. My dogs came out of the house and began chasing each other around the yard. I took the temperature again: 152. I really did relax, and stopped worrying.

About an hour later, I opened the spigot on the mash tun and began collecting my sweet wort. Just like the book said, it began cloudy, with some grain hulls in it, but quickly cleared. I stopped the flow, poured the cloudy liquid back into the mash tun, and opened the spigot again. I noticed that it was leaking a little bit where I’d failed to make a perfect seal against the wall of the cooler, but a little jiggling and prayers to Hanseath stopped it up pretty quickly. I’ll have to figure out a way to fix that, I thought.

As the liquid drained into the brewing kettle, I picked up a pitcher of warm water at the prescribed ratio of liquid to grains, and began my sparge. I’m sure this is nothing for experienced homebrewers, and for non-brewers it probably doesn’t mean anything, but it felt like a major achievement when I saw the sweet wort that I’d created by mashing my own grains begin to fill my brew kettle. That’s going to turn into beer, and I’m doing it entirely on my own! I made this! I thought, in the old X-Files voice.

The sparge happened a little faster than I wanted, but I collected almost six and-a-half gallons, nearly filling the brewing kettle to the top. To prevent a nasty boilover, I drained off about a half gallon, which I took into my kitchen in a small jug. I set it on the counter, and took a long, deep smell… it was wonderful, just the way it should smell. I poured some into a little glass I have with a monkey on it, and took a cautious sip. It tasted very similar to the sweet wort from the first batch of beer Ryan and I made during summer, but this came from grains I crushed and mashed myself, instead of extract. I felt a tremendous sense of achievement, and wondered if it would be weird to drink it all on principle.

I went back onto the patio. The dogs had tired themselves out, and were snuggled up together on a piece of carpet they claimed after we put out there to be thrown away six months ago. On the Sonos, The Postal Service gave way to Tegan and Sara. I fired up my burner, and hit the countdown timer on my phone. For the next ninety minutes, I stirred like a boss, added hops on schedule, and never had a boilover. The patio smelled heavenly, and I wistfully wished that I could bottle the aroma as well as the beer.

When the boil was finished, I put my copper wort chiller into the kettle, and began cooling it. It only took about 25 minutes and around 15 gallons of water (which I collected and used to water plants for a couple of weeks after) to get down to 70 degrees. I was astonished by how smoothly everything was going, but I didn’t stop to think about it too much, having grown up in a place where the simple act of declaring “Hey, the traffic isn’t too bad,” will instantly result in a Schumacheresque multivehicle explosion a mile ahead of you that snarls traffic on every freeway in the city for twelve hours.

I picked up my journal and wrote Boil w/o incident for 90 min. Wort chiller worked perfectly. 25 min to 70.

I took the chiller out, and gently put my hydrometer into the liquid. This was the moment of truth: this was when I found out how closely I got to the target gravity to 1.056. I gripped the glass between my thumb and forefinger, and spun it with a snap of my fingers. I felt like I was watching a roulette wheel, knowing that I’d placed the mortgage payment on black.

The numbers blurred, and it pushed tiny ripples outward to lap against the side of the kettle. A few eternal seconds later, it slowed and bobbed freely in the center of the wort. I held my breath and looked closely at it.

1.055. Adjusted for temperature, it was actually 1.057.

I may have let out a victorious cry that drew the attention of my dogs, who may have quickly lifted up their heads in a jingle of collars and tags. I may have pumped my fist like a fool. I may have looked again, more closely this time, to confirm that I hadn’t imagined it. I may have taken the hydrometer out, put it back in, and repeated the entire process, just to be sure.

It’s been a few weeks, so I can’t confirm or deny that those things did or didn’t happen… but I do know that in my brewing journal I wrote in large, excited, vigorously underlined script: OG: 1.057!!!

I took the hydrometer out and set it carefully on the table. Those things are so delicate, it’s a miracle someone as clumsy as me doesn’t break them every time he looks at them. (I’m on my third, by the way.)

Then, I opened the spigot on the kettle and let the wort flow into my fermentation bucket. When it was done, I stirred it like crazy with a wire whisk and a spoon until the surface was thick with foam, and then I stirred it some more. When my forearms were sore and my back ached from leaning over, I let the spinning wort settle down, and then I pitched my yeast. The Longwinters began to play on the Sonos.

“Go to work, little yeasties! Eat all the sugar and turn this into beer! I believe in you! You can do eet!”

I put the lid on my fermenter and put an airlock into the top. I moved it all into my office, and began the waiting game.

(Waiting game sucks.)

Ten days later, I racked the beer into a carboy to clear. Ten days after that, I bottled just over four and one-half gallons of my very own Stone Pale Ale. I checked my final gravity before I added my priming sugar, and may have scared my dogs (and all my neighbors’ dogs) with the victory scream I let out when I saw that the final gravity was 1.015, exactly where the recipe said it should be. I did some math (math is hard) and calculated the ABV to 5.5%, exactly where it should be. 

Now, I’m playing the waiting game again until around December 12th, when I’ll be able to open my first bottle of this beer and find out if the final is as close to where it should be as it’s been every step of the way. 

Making beer is this wonderful intersection of science and art and cooking that is more fun and rewarding than I ever expected it to be. It’s so easy, and so rewarding, if you like art and science and cooking (and beer) you should totally make some of your own.

Even if my Stone Pale Ale isn’t exactly where it should be, I’m happy that I made it and enjoyed the process. Even if it isn’t exactly what I am expecting, I’ll keep on making more beer, learning something new from each batch, because I've found a hobby that I'm going to love for the rest of my life. If I could make beer every weekend, I would. If I had the space to build a big old system with fancy things and a whirlpool and a cooler for lagering and — okay, maybe I wouldn't do that … this year.

Post Script: After I made this batch of beer, Anne and I went to the Stone Bistro and Brewery in Escondido. As we were walking up to the doors from the parking lot, the smell of brewing washed over us.

"They're making Stone Pale Ale," Anne said.

"How do you know that?" I asked.

"Because it smells exactly like our patio smelled a few days ago when you were making it."

I can't say for sure, but I in my head, I may have been done the Snoopy Dance.

Recipe time: Wil’s Sinusitis Can Suck It Vegetable Soup

I managed to go eighteen whole months without getting sick, but sometime in the last week or so, something worked its way into my sinuses, and it's been kicking my ass for the last 48 hours.

For most of the last week, I've been waking up in the morning with an intensely sore throat and painful, burning sinuses. I've been coughing and sneezing like crazy, so I figured it was just allergies (If it pollinates, I'm allergic to it. Yay), and dealt with it accordingly.

Clever girl, sinusitis. You had me fooled… but you gave yourself away yesterday with the heavy chest, body aches, and the general fatigue, and now I can fight back! Muwahahaha!!!1 *cough* *cough* *cough* *Krusty The Clown Groan*

Last night, I was so miserable, I just wanted some nice, warm comfort food. Even though I don't eat meat, I gave serious consideration to chicken noodle soup, but I ended up making a hearty vegetable soup instead. Anne loved it, and some friends asked for the recipe, so here it is. I got everything at Trader Joe's:

Wil's Sinusitis Can Suck It Vegetable Soup

  • 3 cups tomato juice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes, or 4 chopped fresh tomatoes (save as much of the juice as you can)
  • 4 or 5 carrots
  • 3 or 4 medium potatoes (I used the red, gold, and purple medley) 
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 medium yellow squash
  • 4 or 5 stalks of celery (I used celery hearts)
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 4 large cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Bragg's Liquid Aminos (Soy or Tamari sauce also works)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme

I prefer to use organic vegetables, or at least vegetables that haven't been grown using any pesticides, but as Rick Ross said, do watcha like.

Wash all the vegetables. Slice the zucchini and squash. Slice the potatoes, then quarter the slices. Chop the onion, celery, and carrots. Peel and mince the garlic.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a stock pot or large (~4qt) sauce pan. Sauteé the carrots, onions and garlic until the onions are translucent and the carrots are bright orange, about 2 or 3 minutes. Be careful that you don't let the heat get too high and burn the oil. Add the potatoes and stir. About a minute later, pour in the tomato juice and water, and turn the heat to maximum. Add all the veggies and spices. Stir like a boss. If the veggies aren't covered, you can add a little more tomato juice.

Bring it all to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 30 minutes, then let cool, uncovered, for about 10 minutes (unless you're into burning the hell out of your mouth. I don't judge.)

Serve with some crusty bread (I got a nice artisan boule of sourdough, but I bet it would be great with some spent-grain bread).

Note: You can add other veggies if you want, just make sure you increase the liquid to account for the extra stuff. I considered kidney and garbanzo beans, and I bet you could toss some cauliflower or broccoli florets in there, too, if that was your thing.

Notes on the making of my Polymorph Porter

Monday night, I opened a bottle of the first porter I brewed. I took a picture for the Internets that looks something like this:

Polymorph Porter

(click image to embiggen at Imgur)

It turned out much better than I expected, considering there was a near disaster when I brewed it. Read on if you want to hear a story about making beer, and how it really is difficult to screw up, no matter how hard you try.

This is the Chocolate Maple Porter from Brooklyn Brew Shop. I had a few hours to myself one afternoon recently, so I spent it brewing. I was careful, made meticulous notes, compared what I was doing in the kitchen with what I'd read in books and online, etc.

It's only a one gallon kit, but I boiled it in the 6 gallon kettle I use for my regular 5 gallon batches. When I was finished, I put the lid on the kettle, and set it into my sink, which I'd filled about halfway with water to cool the wort. Physics happened, and the kettle started to float. I caught it, and weighed it down so it wouldn't try to bob around and tip over.

Whenever I finish brewing, I cool my wort by setting the kettle in the sink with some cool water, and after that water starts to warm up (yay thermodynamics!), I dump in twenty pounds of ice in two ten pound increments. (Can you see where this is going?) So I put in the ice, physics happened, and the kettle floated and tipped over. I caught it before the lid could completely come off, but I still lost about half of the wort.

At this point, I was pretty angry with myself for making such a stupid mistake, but it looked like the wort had only spilled out, without letting any water or ice in, so I remembered to relax and decided to go ahead and finish it. "At the very least, it'll be an interesting experiment," I thought.

So I cooled the wort, pitched the yeast, and let it ferment for a week. I kept expecting it to get infected, but it never did, and when I bottled it (I only got 5 bottles), it looked and smelled great, and it tasted like a porter.

So flash forward to Monday night. As you can see, it doesn't have much of a head on it, but it's really smooth and very, very viscous. It has a burnt chocolate/dark chocolate flavor, with a hint of caramel. I don't really taste the maple at all, but I also screwed up and primed with honey instead of maple syrup, so that may have contributed to that.

So, overall, considering that I really screwed up at least once in the process, I'm happy with it. I'm especially happy that I went ahead and took it all the way to bottling, and I'm interested to taste it in another week or so, after it's had even more time to condition.

If nothing else, I hope this an inspiration to other newbies like me, who may be afraid of screwing up their beer. If my experience is any indication, it really is difficult to mess up.

If you can make oatmeal, you can make beer. It's incredibly fun, incredibly rewarding, incredibly easy, and when you're finished YOU HAVE BEER THAT YOU MADE. If you're looking to get excited and make something, it's a great place to start.

FAQs:

For those of you who don't brew beer. Here's an oversimplified version of how I did it for the Porter:

  • Soak grains in hot water for about 45 minutes. (This is called Mashing.)
  • Remove grains from the water, leaving behind tasty stuff. Pour more hot water through the grains to get any other good stuff that's clinging to the grains. (This is called Sparging.)
  • Bring the resulting good stuff, called your wort (pronounced wirt, like the kid in Diablo), to a boil with some clean water. Add hops according to a schedule for an hour to give it bitterness, flavor, and aroma. (This is called The Boil, and is the first and only step that has a name that sounds like what it actually is.)
  • Cool the wort to about 70 degrees and add the yeast. (This is called Pitching the yeast.)
  • Put it all into something to ferment for about a week or so. (This is called Fermentation, and it turns out that I lied in step 3.)
  • Put it into bottles with some priming sugar, wait two weeks or longer, then drink. (This is called Awesome.)

You can get the glass as part of a set from Think Geek.

I used Beer Labelizer to make the label. So did redditor arkorobotics who did this one.

There are a ton of mail order places, if you don't have a local homebrew shop like I do. Check out the vendor list at Homebrew Talk if you're interested.

The Poet and the Painter casting shadows on the water

Beer stuff!

I wanted to make Jaime Paglia an oatmeal stout, because that’s his favorite. When I went to the shop to get supplies, though, Greg (who owns it) told me that you really have to do a partial mash or all-grain to get it just right. I’m not quite ready for that, yet, so I went with my backup plan, and made a Southern English Brown Ale (this is a brown ale style that’s smoother and sweeter than the northern style, and not as hoppy as the American style). It went off without a hitch, and it looked and smelled wonderful when I put it into the bucket to start fermenting. I’m really excited to see how it turns out.

I also have an IPA that’s dry-hopping with an ounce of Cascade in the carboy. I checked the gravity on Friday, and if I did the math right, it’s about 7%, which is exactly what I was going for … and holy balls does it smell and taste great. It’s got exactly the right amount of floral and citrus notes, with some hop bitterness behind it all, and it hasn’t even conditioned in bottles, yet! I’m seriously considering entering it into a competition, so I can get some good feedback on it and find out if it’s as good as I think it is. For those of you wondering, it’s called Critical Hit IPA.

Speaking of beer, the most frequently asked question at DragonCon and PAX was some variation of “How’s the beer you made with Ryan?” Oh, you mean … this beer?

Wil and Ryan made beer!

In a word: awesome. It exceeded our wildest expectations, especially considering that I think I made some mistakes in the brewing process. There was an amusing moment last week when I opened a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (the beer it’s based on) and after a few sips I thought, “It’s okay, but it’s no Wheaton’s Own Going To California!” Here’s the label that Joel Watson did for us. It was my idea to base it on the Sierra Nevada label and Ryan’s idea to include something from each of us (a d20 for me, an atom for him). I know we left Yeast off the ingredients list, but we decided that yeast could be awesome in this case.Wheaton's Own Goin' To California Pale Ale

For those of you scoring at home, Wheaton’s Own was suggested by Grant Imahara. We almost went with his revised name, Wheaton’s Pwn, but I can’t remember why we didn’t. It’s called Goin’ To California Pale Ale because we listened to Zeppelin IV while we brewed it, and it’s a California-style Pale Ale. It’s very low alcohol — I don’t think it’s even 5% — but it looks and tastes great, and that’s most important to me.

We did a 5 gallon batch, and split the bottles, so we each got around 22 for ourselves. As of this morning, I’m down to 8 bottles, so I’m rationing until the IPA is ready.

I’ve officially found a hobby that I love, and will do for the rest of my life. I’m excited to get a kegging system, learn to do all-grain, and start designing my own beers. I’ve even reached into the stars and plucked out a new dream: to own a brewpub someday. When I told Anne that, she said that she thought it would be awesome to do that, but I’d left something out.

“What’s that?” I said.

“You need to combine it with your dream of owning an 80s arcade. Think about that: it’s a brewpub where you make your own beer, serve a little food, and have the 80s arcade games you love for people to play.”

Does my wife know me, or what?

 

Ryan and I totally made this.

 

Wheaton's Own California Pale Ale. Hosted by imgur.com

It's our beer! Click to embiggen at imgur

Today, at long last, the beer Ryan and I made together was ready to drink. We got on the phone and opened our first bottles together …. and it totally tastes like beer! It's sort of a slightly-hoppier version of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, which is pretty much exactly what we were going for. I'll write all about this tomorrow, because right now, I'm going to go enjoy the beer that my son and I made, together, and try damn hard not to miss him.

in which my son and i bottle our beer

I walked down the hallway toward the guest room, and started talking before I got to the door.

"Hey, I just looked at my calendar, and I miscalculated when we should bottle our beer."

I stepped off the wood floor of the hallway and onto the soft carpet we just had installed. I involuntarily squished it between my toes.

Ryan was sitting at the desk, headphones on, playing WoW.

"Hey!" I said, loudly.

He kocked one can off his right ear with the back of his hand. "What?"

"I miscalculated when we are supposed to bottle our beer."

He clicked the mouse around the screen. Numbers floated around the screen, words scrolled through the chat window in a blur, and for the millionth time I tried and failed to see the appeal of the game.

"Oh? When do we do it?" Click click click.

"Today. It's been three weeks, and our specific gravity hasn't changed in three days."

"Dude!" He spun around in his chair. "That's awesome!"

"I know, right?!" I noticed that some words had joined the numbers, and a bunch of little things were running around his player thing. "Aren't you going to, um, die?"

"No, I'm really high level. I can handle it." He said.

"Oh … well … there's a lot going on there and … numbers … are …"

Now I know how my dad felt when I tried to explain how awesome it was that we killed a Lich in D&D when I was 12.

"The important thing is, today we're bottling our beer." I said, "so we need to sanitize our bottles and everything."

He grinned. "Okay. Give me a minute."

"A minute minute, or an I'm-playing-a-game minute?"

"Sixty seconds." He clicked the mouse again and pushed some keys on the keyboard. A flurry of numbers danced around and some graphics that looked like blasts of Eldritch power shot out of his guy into something that sort of looked like a monster.

When I roll dice and do this in my head, it's awesome … but I just do not get this at all. I thought with a mental sigh.

I walked on down the hall, came to a door, and looked inside.

"Sorry, you'll have to put your boots on if you want to come in here," a guard in a tie-dyed shirt and nothing else said.

(I may have made that last bit up for my own amusement.)

Forty-three seconds later, Ryan joined me in my office.

"You killed that guy?"

"Yeah."

I searched my memory for dialog from The Guild.

"Did you make some … epic … loot … um … drop?" I asked.

"Nothing epic, but the other guys got some decent stuff." He said.

"Did you get … a … loot?" I picked up a six pack of bottles in each hand.

"No," he said, patiently, "there wasn't anything there I could use." He picked up a case of bottles, and we walked to the kitchen together.

"Well … um … awesome!" I said, secretly proud of my ability to fake it through the conversation, and grateful that Ryan didn't call me out.

As we began washing our bottles, I realized that we only had 30, about 20 bottles less than we'd need for the whole batch.

"I thought we drank more beer," I said.

"We did, but that was at comicon," he said.

"Oh, that's right." I plunged some bottles into the sink and let them fill with water.  They sank to the bottom and I picked up some more to join them.

"I'm actually looking forward to going back to college, because it'll give me a chance to detox my liver after spending the summer with you."

We laughed. "Hey, these beer bottles aren't going to empty themselves," I said.

"And we can't just pour them out, because that would be alcohol abuse," he added.

"See? This is what I'm talking about. Clearly, I've raised you right."

Once the sink was filled with bottles and my hands were dry, I counted one more time, just to be sure: we were about a case of bottles short.

"I'm going to run over to the homebrew shop and pick up a case of bottles. Do you want to come with me?"

"No, I'll stay here and finish washing these. I want to get the labels off the Sierra Nevadas."

"Okay. Be right back."

I drove to the homebrew shop in Eagle Rock. The man who we first talked to three weeks ago was working. I asked him for a case of 12 ounce bottles, and when he rang me up, I said, "I don't know if you remember me, but my son and I came in here three weeks ago. You talked us through the whole brewing process, and helped us get our kit and first batch of beer together."

"Yes! You looked familiar, but I couldn't figure out why." He said.

"Well, today we are bottling that batch, and I wanted to thank you for being so kind and helpful. I was so intimidated by the idea of brewing, if you hadn't taken the time to explain it to us, I probably wouldn't have had the courage to start."

He punched some numbers into the register, and I continued. "My son and I have had an absolute blast brewing since then. We've made a one gallon all-grain IPA, we've made ginger ale, and we've made two kinds of bread and dog biscuits with the spent grain. We've had this wonderful father/son activity, and it's meant the world to me."

He smiled.

"So … um … thank you, for that," I said, realizing that I'd been rambling.

"You're welcome! It's my pleasure. Once you figure out that it's really just some basic steps, it's not that difficult."

"I know! We're going to make a couple more recipes, and then we'll build something of our own."

I handed him some money and he said, "that's the best part. You can experiment with different kinds of grain to get different styles, and you'll have all kinds of fun figuring out how to make a brown ale and then a porter and then a stout, or whatever you want to make."

"We're keeping a journal, and I've read the Papazian book and the John Palmer's book. I just got the recipe book in the mail this morning, and I'm taking it on location next week so …" I realized, again, that I was rambling. "I guess what I'm trying to say is 'thank you for introducing me to something awesome to do with my son that I also know is going to be a passion of mine for the rest of my life."

"You're welcome," he said, kindly. He handed me my change and my case of bottles, and I headed back home.

"I just finished," Ryan said when I walked into the kitchen, "and I need to break for lunch."

"No problem," I said. We ate some food while I rinsed the Oxy Clean off all of the bottles, then we filled our bottling bucket and added some StarSan. For the next half an hour or so, we sanitized the bottles by hand, and set them out to dry.

"99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer," Ryan sang, softly, "you take one down, put it on the ground, and then you have to sanitize the bottles again."

I laughed. "Yeah, this is ponderous, man. It's fuckin' ponderous." Is Don on the phone? Get Don on the phone! And where are those pictures I was supposed to see today?! "I think we should invest in a kegging system."

We talked about quantum physics and this story we're writing together while we worked our way through the bottles. When we had about ten left I said, "You know, maybe this isn't so bad. I mean, it's something we're doing together, right? If we weren't doing this, you'd be playing WoW and I'd be reading Reddit. I'd much rather spend this time with you, washing bottles and talking about stuff, then doing anything else."

"Yeah," he said, "me too."

Finally, the bottles were all sanitized. We let them dry, then covered them with foil to keep out the bad stuff. We boiled our priming sugar, put it into our sanitized bucket, and then siphoned the beer out of our carboy and into the bucket.

"Holy shit," Ryan said, "that smells and looks like beer!"

I pinched the siphon and grabbed our hydrometer tube thing. I put some beer into it and handed it to him. "Go ahead and taste it," I said.

He took a sip, and I watched a thoughtful look pass across his face before being instantly replaced with joyful excitement. "OH MY GOD IT IS TOTALLY BEER!"

I shared his excitement as I put the siphon back into the bucket, and let it continue filling. We checked the temperature and took a gravity reading. "It looks like it's 1.024," I said. Ryan concurred. "I think that means we're going to end up around four percent or so, which I think is pretty okay for this style of beer."*

"I don't care what percent it is, as long as it tastes good," he said.

"Are you sure you're in college? I asked. I took the hydrometer out of the beer, and set it carefully on the counter. Then, I sipped the beer. "It is totally beer," I said. "I'm so proud of us!"

The bucket finished filling, and we moved it up onto the counter. We grabbed a cooking pot out of a drawer, and put some bottles in it. "Ryan, would you like to fill our first bottle?" I asked.

"Why yes, yes I would."

He put the siphon into an empty brown bottle. When it pressed against the bottom, a valve opened up, and beer began to fill it. When it was right at the neck, he took it out, and I rested a cap (sitting in our no-rinse sanitizing solution, of course) on top of it. Paternal pride swelled in my chest, and threatened to push something out of the corners of my eyes.

When he finished the rest of the bottles, we moved them to the counter, refilled the pot with empties, and then filled them. We repeated this process until we had bottled just about four and a half gallons.

"Okay, let's cap these little beauties!" I said.

I held the first bottle steady as Ryan put the capper onto the top, and pressed the handles down. He lifted it away, and we both just stared at it for a few seconds.

"Dude," Ryan said, "that's our first bottle of beer!"

Earlier that afternoon, I'd bought some 1/4 inch round stickers at the store. We'd loaded an OpenOffice document and made a sheet of 24 for each of us that said California Pale Ale in our own font and color, so we'd know which beer belonged to whom. I picked up Ryan's sheet of labels and stuck one of his stickers on the bottle.

"I want you to have the first one," I said. I don't know if it was as important and meaningful to him as it was to me, but when he thanked me and carefully set it to one side, I thought that maybe it was.

We capped all of our beers, putting labels on as we went. We numbered the first ten bottles because we're nerds and we like to do that sort of thing. Then, we were finished. We looked at the counter in my kitchen, covered with bottles that were filled with beer. Our beer. Beer we had made. Together.

"I love that we did this," I said.

"Me too," Ryan said. "Is it two weeks, yet?"

I smiled. "Nope. But it will be two weeks before we know it."

When that day arrives, it will be bittersweet for me. On one hand, we get to try our beer for the first time, but it also means that Ryan will be going back to school a day or so later. But I'm looking forward to getting on Skype with him in a month or so, and through the miracle of technology, having one of our beers, that we made, together … and as far as loot goes, that's pretty epic at any level.

* After writing this, I checked my notes and looked at all our charts and conversion tables. Surprise! I misread the hydrometer. We were actually at 1.018, which should come out of the bottle between 3 and 4 percent ABV. Or I was right, I'm going to have an exploding, beer-filled closet in a week. I'll just play the waiting game until next Friday, and then I should know.

Okay, waiting game sucks; it's time for Hungry Hungry Hippos.

on birthdays and making beer

Anne and I took the train up to Santa Barbara for my birthday, and it was awesome. Because I've complained about Amtrak employees who were dicks in the past (K. Williams on the southbound Surfliner to Comicon, I'm looking in your snotty, sarcastic, condescending direction), it's important to me that I compliment everyone we interacted with on this trip, both Northbound and Southbound. The conductors were friendly and helpful, and so were the ticket agents in Santa Barbara. I love the idea of train travel, and I especially love going along the California coast. I always want to ride the train up to PAX, but I never have time … one day though, I'm totally going to do that. I'm not sure what it is with Amtrak, but I always feel like I'm flipping a customer service coin, and I don't know if it's going to land on "friendly" or "asshat". Someone at Amtrak should do something about that, because I'm not the only person who feels this way.

While we were in Santa Barbara, we ate lunch at the Santa Barbara Brewing Company, where we had their IPA. As a fledgling homebrewer, it was probably more exciting to me than it should have been that I could watch their brewmaster tending to his beer, but Anne patiently listened to me while I pointed out every piece of equipment, and explained what it does. When I drank my IPA, I'm pretty sure I could taste Cascade hops, too, which made me stupidly excited because Ryan and I used Cascade hops in our IPA.

A lot* of people have been asking me how the homebrewing is going. The short answer is, pretty good, even though we made some mistakes with our first batch. Once it conditions in bottles, though, I think we're going to have a very drinkable beer.

I'm going to speak in beernerd right now, so if you may want to skip this paragraph if you aren't at least conversant in homebrewing. The longer answer is that we definitely screwed up our California Pale Ale in two pretty big ways: we boiled too long, so I think we boiled off a lot of fermentable sugars, and we racked to secondary about a week too soon. I've taken gravity readings the last two days, and it seems to have settled down right around 1.020. I know that's not where we want it to be, so we're going to let it sit for another week and hope that it drops. Right now, our potential ABV is only 4%, which seems low to me (but the Googles told me that most CPAs sit around 5%, so that's not too bad.) The really important thing, as far as I'm concerned, is that it tastes really good, and even though I don't think it's going to be exactly what we were going for, it's still going to be a tasty beer. It's still a little green, but it isn't bitter at all, it isn't too sweet, and the color and texture are terrific.

Ryan and I had so much fun brewing our CPA, I ordered two all-grain 1-gallon kits from Brooklyn Brew Shop: an IPA and a Porter. I figured that it was just one gallon, so if I completely screwed up the all-grain process, it wasn't that big a deal … it turns out that it was incredibly easy, just as much fun as the first batch, and we used the lessons we learned from the first batch to prevent repeating the same mistakes. We won't bottle that until around August 8 (Anne's birthday, for those of you scoring at home), and I can't wait.

I can tell you, from my personal experience, that making beer is incredibly easy and incredibly fun. They say that if you can make oatmeal, you can make beer, and they're totally right. Oh, and the best part of doing an all-grain beer has been using the spent grains to make doggie biscuits for Seamus and Riley, and two loaves of bread for the rest of us. I made this one last night, and had a slice with breakfast, and I have a loaf of rosemary that's rising in the kitchen right now that will be ready in time for dinner tonight. AWESOME!

The funny thing (to me) about this whole experience is that I was always intimidated by the idea of making bread. But I figured, "Hey, I can make beer, and bread is pretty much the same ingredients assembled in a different way. Why not try it?" There's something tremendously satisfying about combining a bunch of ingredients that don't look or feel anything like the food I turn them into, and then eating (or drinking) it. It feels sort of … magical, I guess.

I AM A FOOD WIZARD! COWER BEFORE MY SILICON SPATULA OF SCRAPING! MUWAHAHAHA!!

Um. Sorry about that.

Yesterday was Ryan's birthday. He turned 22, and a whole bunch of people on Twitter joined me to wish him #HappyBirthdayRyanWheaton. It was pretty amusing to me that I had to write my happy birthday message to him in a way that would make it clear to 1.8 million people that it was, in fact, me writing it, instead of him.

Before I get to work, I have two quick things:

1) Felicia and I are back on Eureka tonight! Come see us on the network-formerly-known as Sci-Fi at 8pm. #TeamParrish

2) DriveThruRPG and Bards & Sages are teaming up for an awesome charity sale called Operation Backpack. Check it out:

August usually means back to school shopping for most Americans. But each year, thousands of children living in homeless shelters and foster care return to school without even the most basic of necessities. Operation Backpack, a program operated by Volunteers of America, helps provided these needed supplies to our country's most vulnerable students and gives them a chance to continue their education.

In an effort to support this wonderful project, Bards and Sages has partnered with other independent authors and publishers to create a special charity ebook bundle. 100% of our profits from this bundle will be donated to Volunteers of America to support Operation Backpack.

This special charity collection includes seventeen independent speculative fiction titles with a retail value of almost $50. A complete list of participating authors can be found on the Bards and Sages website under the Charity tab.

This collection is comprised of two zip files, one containing PDF files and one containing mobi/kindle format files.  Both files contain the same titles, simply offered in different formats.

Oh, did I say two things? I meant three things. 3) In case you missed it, there's a new Humble Indie Bundle.

That's all for now. See you on the Twitters, the Tumblrs, and the Google Plusses.

*Or alot, if you prefer.

an update on the wheaton and son homebrewing experience

Today, Ryan and I racked (that's fancy homebrew language for "moved") our beer from its primary fermentation into its secondary fermentation. We know now that we probably moved it a little early, but since we're learning and everything, we'll just chalk it up to experience and hope for the best.

I've been worried about our beer (I know, I know, that's explicitly contraindicated by the system's operating instructions, but it's part of my firmware), because we made some mistakes: we didn't oxygenate it nearly enough after the coldbreak, we didn't rehydrate the yeast, and we forgot to put liquid into our fermentation lock for close to 24 hours.

Whoops. Kind of important things, there, it turns out. I understand that it isn't the biggest of deals, and we're going to learn from our mistakes for our next batch, but I still feel a little silly for making, well, rookie mistakes.

I never saw bubbles in the fermentation lock (our primary was a bucket), even after we put some vodak into the fermentation lock, but I just hoped for the best … and got a plesant surprise a few days ago when I bumped the lid and the lock bubbled, indicating positive pressure inside, and GOOD THINGS HAPPENING GO YEAST GO HUZZAH! This morning, we took a SG reading and saw that it had moved from 1.045 to 1.022 (temperature corrected). I couldn't find anything in our notes or on the recipe that told me when it was safe to rack it to secondary (which, I also know, isn't something you need to do with an APA, but a choice we made anyway) so I assumed that, since it was a bit more than a week later and the SG had fallen, we were safe to move it and let it keep fermenting in the carboy.

I think we may have racked it too soon, because I'm told by the Twitters that I should have waited until it was closer to 1.018 … and I may have screwed my FG if I didn't get enough active yeast into the secondary.

But even if we messed up, I'm not all that upset about it. It was still really fun and exciting to see and smell our beer for the first time since we locked it away in the fermentor. We're not giving up on this one, and we planned to do another batch pretty soon, anyway. In fact, I have two kits coming from the Brooklyn Brew Shop that we're going to make next week.

Question for the Homebrewers: did we screw up? If we did, how badly did we screw up? I don't think we got enough yeast into the secondary, because there was a huge yeastcake on the bottom of the primary when we were done. Can/should we pitch some more yeast into the carboy?

In which my son and I make our own beer

Ryan is going to be 22 at the end of the month. For those of you who have been here since I wrote the 13 on 31 post, you now know how I feel every single day. The rest of you can get off my lawn before I call your parents.

So the other day, he and I were having a beer together, and Ryan said, "We should make our own beer while I'm home this summer."

I tried homebrewing once when I was about Ryan's age, and it ended … poorly … I've wanted to try again, but I've always been intimidated by what I remembered was a complex and peril-fraught process. When Ryan suggested that we do this, though, the excitement and joy of doing something together gave me a natural 20 on my Save Versus Fear. Besides, even if it's a spectacular failure, it's still something we did together, something we can bond over, and something that will stay with us — success or failure — for the rest of our lives.

"That would be the most awesome father/son activity, ever," I said. "Plus, we get beer when we're finished!"

The next morning, we did a little research online, and the entire process actually looked a lot simpler and more straightforward that I remembered it being coughmumble years ago when I was 22. As long as we could follow a recipe and do our fermentation in a place that was temperature-controlled, we'd probably be able to make some beer that didn't suck.

We found a local homebrewing supply store, and went there yesterday to get our kit and ingredients.

The late afternoon had given way to early evening, but it was still 90 degrees as we parked the car and walked up the sidewalk toward the shop.

"I'm really excited about this," I said, partially because it was true, and partially because I needed to calm the nerves that were working themselves up. What if they laughed at us when we walked in? What if whoever worked there wasn't interested in helping a couple of noobs get started? What if I said something stupid and embarrassed my son?

"Yep," Ryan said.

'Yep'? That's it? 'Yep'? Not "Me too dad this will be awesome!" Not "Yeah, I'm looking forward to this, too." Not even, "Don't embarrass me, dude." Just 'yep'. Okay, Wil, don't blow this.

We walked into the store. It was cool inside, and smelled delightful from all the different types of grain that were in tubs along the walls. A man sat behind a counter at the far side of the room, reading a computer screen. I took a breath, and decided that it was go time.

"Hi," I said, "I tried homebreaing once about 15 years ago, and it was a disaster. My son's home for the summer, though, and we wanted to make our own beer together. Can you help us get started?"

He looked up at me, and smiled. "Sure, just give me one minute."

Awesome.

For the next twenty minutes or so, he literally and figuratively walked us through the entire process, showing us equipment and ingredients, and explaining in simple and precise terms exactly how the whole thing worked. I'm not entirely sure, but I think this guy could cast Dispel Fear as a free action, because by the time he was done, I felt like I was ready to go home and start brewing right away.

"Is there one type of beer that's more difficult than another?"

"Not really," he said. "Most of the beers you're going to make are pretty simple and forgiving. The hardest thing to make, honestly, is something like Budweiser."

Before I could say, "I said beer," he continued: "That's a very pale lager that doesn't leave much margin for error."

So they make that shit taste that way on purpose? And it's difficult? Wow, I learned something today.

"What about a California-style Pale Ale?" I asked, hopefully.

"That's very easy," he told us, "it's one of the most popular styles." He gave us a recipe to follow, and helped us pick out the various ingredients to make it. I thought it was really cool that he didn't just show us where things were, but also explained to us what made each specialty grain unique, how different types yeast worked, and the benefits and risks associated with each one. I never felt like he was trying to sell us anything, but that he was educating and truly helping us. It was really great.

Ryan and I gathered up all our individual ingredients, including Caramel 10L, Caramel 40L, and Columbus and Cascade hops. We paid for everything, and I thanked the guy on our way out.

The whole way home, we talked about what we'd just learned, and I may have repeated several times that I was excited to get started and do this together.

We're going to do our brewing on Sunday, so we can continue to research and learn about the proper way to make it go. I asked Twitter for advice on forums, and here are the most frequently-recommended sites:

Are you a homebrewer? I'd love to hear any advice/warnings/stories you have.