Category Archives: Home Brewing

Welcome!

Thank you for checking out my new blog, Fly Like a Crow.

First, what’s up with the name?

Check out the ‘About’ page at the top for more info on that. And take a moment to explore the other pages as well. They’re short and sweet, I promise.

So what is this blog about?

Beyond what you read on the about page, it will be a place to write and blog on a myriad of topics. Primarily, I’ll be focusing on Buddhism, and my family/being a father. I actually see these two things as being parallel lines on the same track of “me”. They are both an evolving practice where I work towards perfection. Every day brings a new challenge, struggle, and usually some success.

I might just try my hand at some more poetry here. It’s something I’ve only dabbled in before, and has been a long time since I’ve really written any.

I’m going to toss in some politics from time to time. Nothing hateful, no right vs. left narratives. There are plenty of those to go around.

I’ll continue to review books here, whether they get sent to me by authors or publishers, or ones that I just happen to purchase myself.

And there’s a slight possibility that I might get philosophical from time to time. I also might throw in some sutra study that I’ve been working on.

And sometimes, I’ll just throw up a picture or two. I’m also going to try to include a picture with more of my posts in general, and I’m going to try to only use ones that I’ve taken.

Whatever happens, it will flow naturally. Like my previous blogging endeavours, I have no ambitions to blog daily. Once, twice a week is about all I can muster given work and family responsibilities (and enjoying time with my family).

So, take a look around. You’ll notice all of my old posts from the past, minus a few I wasn’t proud of at all. Feel free to subscribe via RSS or email (head to the footer) and feel free to add this blog to your blog roll if you feel so inclined. Thank you for stopping by.

Cheers.

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Filed under Book Review, Buddhism, Home Brewing, Other, Parenting, Personal, Political

Infection!

This weekend I brewed up my first Barley Wine. (Yeah, it’s a beer, not a wine). My apartment now reeks of hops and alcohol. Very nice. As I was brewing, I decided to pop open one of the Dunkleweisens that I had bottled the previous weekend. I knew it wasn’t going to be ready yet, but just wanted to see how things are coming along. First taste? Not good. Now, it very well could be that the beer just needs to age for a while, and that having 2 of my last 3 batches turn out infected has made me hyper-sensitive to the “infected beer smell”, but I’m thinking this batch might get consumed by the toilet.

Beer wort (that’s all of the ingredients before you add the yeast and make….beer) is a perfect incubator. It has all kinds of wonderful sugars for beer yeast to chew on and live off of for a long time. It’s just the right PH, giving the yeast this perfect little enviroment in which to live. And it’s the right temperature, not too hot, and not too cold. Beer wort is such a perfect enviroment, that it is regularly used in labs to grow certain cultures of bacteria. And therein lies the problem.

It takes just a tiny bit of bacteria or wild yeast to creep on in there and set up shop. It’s a home-invasion gone wrong. Sure, your yeast will live and do its whole turning-sugar-into-beer thing, but now it has company. It’s like your 2-cousin-in-law twice removed that comes to stay the weekend for Christmas and never leaves. Pretty soon their trash is everywhere, and your couch smells like feet and Cheetos. Same thing happens to the beer. Beer yeast produces favorable flavors and aromas. Invading bacteria make your hooch smell like band-aids and rubbing alcohol. Not good.

You do what you can to keep the bad bacteria at bay. The night before I brewed the Dunklewesien, I bleached all of my equipment. Then on brew day, I soaked it all in sanitizing solution. I was careful. Very careful. Anything that went into the wort was sufficiently boiled to remove anything harmful. I cooled the wort down to 70 degrees within 10 minutes limiting its exposure to any wild airborne yeasts. Then I tossed it all in my carboy and……. shit. I was 3/4 gallon shy of 5 gallons. How the hell did that happen? So, I dumped in some cold water to top it off, aerated, and pitched the yeast. Done.

I knew that by dumping the cold water in the fermenter, I was compromising the integrity of the beer. I made a rash decision, and likely paid the price for it. Just a little bit of cold water out of the well. Couldn’t see any bacteria, couldn’t smell any. No idea that it was there. But I knew the possibility lingered, and I let it in any way. It’s so easy to compromise and for what? 3/4 of a gallon more? Silly. Not mindful.

Why does compromise come so easy? Especially when we know it will inevitably lead to “infection”?

As for the beer, I shall wait and see. Wait and see.

Cheers.

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Filed under Buddhism, Home Brewing

Serving up some Dharma

CNN has this article about a monk in Japan that is getting a lot of  attention for his approach. He’s a young monk that is using hip-hop, booze, and a casual atmosphere to deliver the dharma. Says one of the patrons:

“Buddhism for Japan is a religion you normally only experience at funerals,” said patron Naoyuki Osano, who comes to the bar twice a week. “But the Buddhist philosophy is wonderful. It’s great to have a place like this for us to learn about Buddhism.”

Interesting. At first, I thought this whole idea was stupid and disingenuous. It all seemed kind of hokey and not unlike those proselytizing Christian vans that roam the city filled with “cool kids” that wanna hang out and talk about Jebus. Surprising from someone that runs a blog called Home Brew Dharma? Yeah, I could see that. But if you have read what I’ve said about the 5th precept before (here, here, and in the comments here) you’ll know that I’m actually not a huge drunk!!! Wow!!! I’m not going to go into the 5th precept here in this post as I’ve already directed you to my thoughts on it, which haven’t changed.

But maybe there is something to this. I can’t speak of the cultural aspects of Buddhism in Japan or how it is incorporated into everyday life. From the little I’ve read/heard, it seems as if it is more of a passive aspect of the average Buddhist’s life there. So maybe an approach like this is what is needed there. It’s a way to get Buddhism out of the temple and integrate it daily into the lives of everyday people. It’s helping people to discover and engage in a new practice, or maybe bring an inactive practice to the forefront of their lives.

Group Dharma Transmisson at the "Tipsy Co-ed Mountain Retreat Center"

I also wonder what the “bar scene” is like where this monk is at. I doubt it looks much like the bar scene that I experienced in college. I’m guessing it’s more of a relaxed atmosphere where the level of conversation high and the level of intoxication is generally low? Without more information, I don’t want to make anymore uniformed judgements. I’ll just say that if it helps to spread the dharma to those that want to hear it, and can help people lessen their suffering (even a little bit) then I say go for it. Is it unorthodox? Yeah. But maybe that’s what the community needs there. I for one, am all about Dharma Drinks.

Cheers.

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Recipe for Disaster/Lesson in attachment

Recently I made a Pumpkin Ale. I started to brew, and while reading the directions for the third time, something dawned on me. The directions asked for me to steep about 12lbs of pumpkin, and then place the pumpkin (it was in a cheesecloth) in the bottom of the primary fermenter. No problem if you’re using a plastic bucket as your primary fermenter. However, I have a 6 1/2 gallon carboy that I use for this. The opening on the carboy is about 2 inches wide. Do the math on that one. So instead of placing the pumpkin in it’s cheesecloth in the fermenter, I had to shove it all down in there loose, so it just floated in the wort. This didn’t prove to be a problem during fermentation, but come time to transfer the beer into the secondary, it was disastrous. I was only able to get about 2.5 gallons or so out of the carboy before my hoses clogged and I was stuck.

 Rather than enjoying 5 gallons of pumpkin ale for Halloween, I’ll have about half of that, and I’m not even sure if it will turn out. Hands down the worst time I’ve had brewing (and the messiest).

 At first, I was pretty pissed. I had gotten up at 5am just to start brewing this beer a couple of weeks ago. I had put a lot of effort into it. And then this happens. I was not my usual chipper self after transfering it into the secondary. Usually I at least feel a sense of accomplishment. But this time I was disappointed, upset, and sad. I planned on sharing mass quantities of this beer at a Halloween party. Now I’m not sure if that will happen at all. I had high hopes for this ale. And that’s the problem. 

The problem is in my attachment to what may or may not have been. Rather than just brew, and let things play out, I got all excited and anticipated something wonderful. I made up an unreasonable scenario in my head. And of course, when those expectations weren’t met, I suffered.

 The next day I came to my senses, and just shrugged my shoulders about it. Maybe it will turn out and I’ll enjoy it with friends. Or maybe it will suck and I’ll have to pour it down the drain. Either way, it’s kinda out of my hands. Getting all worked up about it either way isn’t going to help things. All that will lead to is suffering. If I focus on how bad it could be, I’ll suffer right now. If I get my hopes up and then get let down by some bad beer, I’ll suffer then. And even if I get my hopes up and it turns out that the beer is fantastic, I’ll still have suffered. Why? Because rather than focus on what was happening right now, I was off in la-la land day dreaming about a future that doesn’t even exist. Creating a false reality. That’s no way to live. When I look back on the times when I dream up scenarios in my head, I always feel a sense of regret about it. I know that I shouldn’t be doing that. I know that I wasted time on a day dream. I feel childish and stupid for it. But that’s what my journey into Buddhism is awakening me to. At least now I can acknowledge these lapses in awareness for what they are.

 So, I’ll bottle it up tonight, and in a couple of weeks we’ll see how it turns out. Luckily, I’ve got about 45 bottles of Amber Ale that did turn out well. I’ll post a recipe for that one later this week, or maybe next week after I’ve tasted one that has really had a chance to finish. Cheers.

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Filed under Buddhism, Home Brewing

One more thought on the 5th….

So just one more thought on the fifth precept, and then I’ll leave it alone.

 I think that maybe what is most important to remember about Buddhism is not the Four Noble Truths, The Lotus Sutra, The 3 Jewels, or any of that. I think the most important thing to remember about Buddhism is that it is about suffering, and how to end it. That being said, my drinking a beer now and then is not a huge cause of my suffering. In fact, it causes very, very little suffering in my life and the lives of my family and community. I’m more concerned with my setting up false expectations, my mindlessness, my rush to anger and judgement, my procrastination, my attachments. These are of great concern to me, as they are the major causes of my suffering. For now, I’ll focus on those, and worry about the drinking at some other point, if ever.

 *note – If you’re an alcoholic, or drink just to get fucked up on a regular basis, you might want to start there.

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To Brew or not to Brew… The Fifth Precept

So lots of talk lately on the Buddhablogosphere regarding the precepts, especially the Fifth. Being that my blog is titled “Home Brew Dharma”, I believe I need to add my 2 cents.

Here is what the Buddha said: “A noble disciple gives up wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the basis for negligence, and abstains from them. By abstaining from wines, liquors, and intoxicants, the noble disciple gives to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression. By giving to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression, he himself will enjoy immeasurable freedom from fear, hostility, and oppression.” (AN 8:39, IV 245-47)

 So, seems pretty clear. If you want to be a noble disciple, you need to give up the booze and drugs. Why? Because of the consequences. There isn’t anything inherently bad in any type of intoxicant, it’s the consequences of taking said intoxicants that is the issue here. Intoxicants lead to mindlessness when abused, and the Buddha was trying to get people to be more mindful. This is hard enough to do when sober, let alone hammered. 

Back in the Buddha’s time, it was the rice-wine guzzling, opium smoking low lifes that he was targeting. You see, it’s impossible to follow the eight-fold path while you’re intoxicated. Pretty simple. You can’t be mindful when you’re wasted. Not a big surprise. And it’s hard to have right concentration when you’re staring up at the ceiling of an opium den contemplating the purpose of your pinky toes.

 It’s not only while someone is intoxicated though either. Alcoholism affects a person’s entire life. It brings them immeasurable suffering, but it also affects the people in their life, and society as well. The same thing with habitual drug users. There is no doubt to the far-reaching suffering that lifestyles such as these create.

 What about those of us that practice moderation? Where do we fall in? Is it possible for me to come home, and enjoy A beer? I think so. Remember right intention? I think that applies to the situation at hand. Are you drinking just to get wasted? Or are you treating that one beer like you would anything else in life; something to be savored, and something to be mindful of. I think a case can be made for a more skillful approach to drinking.

When I say I’m going to have a Scotch, I don’t mean a bottle of J&B. What I mean is I’m going to pour an ounce or two of some Glenlivit over some ice, and sip on it for an hour or so. See the difference? Where is the “fear, hostility, and oppression” in that? What are the consequences of my sipping on that ounce of Scotch? I’ll probably enjoy it. I won’t become intoxicated, or even slightly buzzed. Sure, I probably won’t have ultimate right concentration while I’m doing it, but I’m not in that state now, and I doubt many of the bloggers are either while they are busy blogging.

 I’m not trying to change Buddhism to fit my needs. I’m not trying to make excuses. And for those of you who have given up drinking altogether, great (as long as you are doing it for the right reasons). I do agree that intoxication will throw you off your path to finding your own Buddha nature. But I also don’t think that having a beer every now and then disqualifies me from being a Buddhist, especially if I approach it in a skillful manner.

 And as far as drugs are concerned, I think Maynard James Keenan said it best, so I’ll end with a quote of his: “I think psychedelics play a major part in what we do, but having said that, I feel that if somebody’s going to experiment with those things they really need to educate themselves about them. People just taking the chemicals and diving in without having any kind of preparation about what they’re about to experience tend to have no frame of reference, so they’re missing everything flying by and all these new perspectives. It’s just a waste. They reach a little bit of spiritual enlightenment, but they end up going, ‘Well, now I need that drug to get back there again.’ The trick is to use the drugs once to get there, and maybe spend the next ten years trying to get back there without the drug.”

Cheers.

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The Eightfold Path: Right Livelihood

So if you haven’t noticed by now, Buddhism is all about suffering. It isn’t about salvation, god, moral absolutes, everlasting life, reincarnation, ancestor worship or anything else. It deals with suffering. And the next “step” on the Noble Eightfold Path is making sure that the lay people aren’t adding to their own or the suffering of others through their occupation. It is Right Livelihood. 

Before I continue, I suppose that the word “right” needs a definition. In Buddhism, there is no divine law giver. No man on a mountain with stone tablets, no guy in the desert with a magic rock. Buddhism doesn’t concern itself with absolute morals. Remember, it’s all about suffering here folks. So when the term “right livelihood” is used, what I should really say is “skillful livelihood”. You see, since there are no moral absolutes, and Buddhism only concerns itself with suffering and how to end it, we define things by how skillful they are. If they reduce suffering, they are skillful. If they increase suffering, they are unskillful. I hope that clears some things up. 

So the Buddha said there were a few types of occupations in which you should avoid, because they were unskillful. The first is dealing with weapons. Weapons never decrease suffering. They inflict pain, death, and totalitarian authority. So don’t make them. Don’t sell them. It’s that easy. 

 The next is don’t take a job that does its business in human beings. So, no prostitution (sorry, pimps included), no human trafficking, no slave trading. Don’t buy children or adults. These are pretty simple so far, yeah?

 

oops- wrong hooker….

 Next is don’t take a job in which the business is meat. Specifically, anything to do with carcasses. Don’t be a butcher. Dealing in meat is dealing in death. Don’t be a taxidermist. By the way- taxidermy freaks me out. It’s one of the most unnatural things I’ve ever come across in my lifetime. It’s gross.

 

 Next is don’t take a job in the poison industry. In today’s world, this one is a bit more complex. Most of the chemicals we use on a daily basis are poisonous. A lot of the products we use build up in our system and can wreak absolute havoc on our bodies. Check out this blog for more info on that. If the Buddha were alive today, I think he would look at our industrial empire and see suffering everywhere. While all of this technology has helped society out immensely, no one can argue that it hasn’t also added to our suffering. I’m collecting my thoughts on this specific topic, and will post about it soon. For now, look at the industry you are in. Are the things you make poisonous? Are they adding to suffering (unskillful) or reducing it (skillful)? 

  Lastly, and I cried a little at first when I found this…….. don’t take a job that deals in intoxicants. Shit. Yes, intoxicants include drugs and alcohol, and anything that prevents you from maintaining your mindfulness. I’ve heard that Tich Nat Han has taken this and applied to many of the things we now take for granted in our busy, modern lives, and how they are intoxicating. He’s next on my list of authors to read. So umm…. where does this leave me in regards to home brewing? I’ve always wanted to work at a brewery and (pipe dream) possibly own one someday. Maybe…….

 Well, one of the five precepts in Buddhism (it’s a list of things you’ll do/won’t do as a Buddhist – another post) is not to take intoxicants. I’ve also heard it as “I will not take intoxicants to the point of intoxication”. I might be on to something here. If I take this precept, and only drink one beer, that’s ok. I’m not drinking it to get drunk (right intention) and I’ll still be sober (right mindfulness). But how would I promote this while working at a brewery?

 

 I’ve got an idea. Maybe I should start my own brewery. Deal in bottle conditioned ales only, kind of like Chimay. Encourage people to savor the beer, to experience it. Discourage people using it to get wasted. Only sell the beer in 22oz bottles. And I’m talking quality ales here people, not King Cobra or Mickey’s. This could be the key. Do what I love, and promote a more skillful approach to brewing. That might just work.

 Currently, I know that my job lessens the suffering of others. I help people communicate with each other that normally wouldn’t be able to. My company provides a great service to those in need (and wish for me not to mention them here). What about you? Think on that, and ask yourself what your occupation did today to help end suffering. Cheers.

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Stuck Fermentation

 

 I’ve had a bit of writer’s block lately. No reason that I can find. Mostly the subject material has escaped me. Then I realized that in itself was a subject worthy of print. I started this blog a few months ago with the hope that it would simply inspire me to write and explore my own mind and understanding. It has done just that. I’m not hoping to get anything on this blog published at any point, ever. This isn’t the subject material that I’d really enjoy writing an entire novel about. I don’t know how I’d make it last that long. But the subject of “writers block” made me curious. Can I approach it the same way I approach any other type of “block” in my life? Why is writer’s block seen as so much more impossible to overcome than say a mechanic’s block, or a architect’s block? We don’t ever hear of bus driver’s block. Is there a potter’s block? More importantly (and pertinent to this blog) is home brewer’s block.

 Sometimes, you’ll finish brewing a batch, pitch the yeast, wake up the next morning and……..nothing. No bubbles in the airlock. You wait another day. No activity. No fermentation. All that time/energy/money you spent looks like it’s circling the toilet right about now. Shitty. You’ve encountered what Pirsig would refer to as a “value trap”. If you don’t approach this trap in the correct way, you just made 5 gallons of terrible drain cleaner. So we need to look at the causes of “stuck fermentation.”

 First, your wort sucks. The environment that the yeast is in is inhospitable. You may have added too many adjuncts or sugar (rice syrup comes to mind here – people use that to make American Light Lagers. piss water. don’t waste your time). So the yeast doesn’t have enough nutrients to survive. You’ll need to feed the yeast if this is the case. Add some sterile wort to the mix. This will give it a kick in the right direction, and dilute all those adjuncts you’ve added.

 In life, this happens frequently. We have a particular goal in mind, but in getting there, we accumulate so much “baggage” and attachments that we end up too weighed down to reach that goal. In writing, we get too many ideas about what the end result should be. Or we get to reading another author and think “I’ll add that in”. Or we get caught up in another task or project. Or we become obsessive compulsive about using the thesaurus for every third word we use. If you want to write, you need to write. Just focus, and do it. No distractions. Set aside a time to write if you need to and stick to it.

This doesn’t apply to writing only. Any goal you have in life, it’s easy to get bogged down by all the non-nutritious crap you’ve added to your life. You want to have a great, prosperous life, filled with joy and ease. But what do you do instead? You leave the TV running. You let your friends drain you emotionally day after day. You eat shit for lunch and dinner (because chances are, you aren’t eating breakfast). Your home is cluttered. Your finances are a mess. In short, you’ve made a bad environment for yourself. It’s at this point where you need to get rid of all the adjuncts in your life that are getting in the way of you living your truth. You can’t even begin to see your truth, let alone live it, if your life has become a cornucopia of poisons. Get rid of them. Have a garage sale. Quit smoking. Take your phone off the hook for awhile. Find some alone time. Take up insight meditation. Unplug and minimize. Then you can start to take a look at who you are, without all the excess flotsam and jetsam that have clogged the river of you.

 Sometimes, your yeast sucks. For whatever reason, it’s become apathetic about making beer in your fermenter. Maybe it’s old. Maybe the temperature wasnt’ right. Maybe it just doesn’t like what you’ve given it to eat. Maybe it was damaged in transportation. There’s a lot of reasons. But what you should do here is feed it. Yeast nutrients work well, and this is an easy fix. This will give your yeast life, and remind it that it’s purpose is to make beer.

 In life it’s difficult; no, damn near impossible to see what the problem with ourselves is. Hell, all of our family and friends will clue us in, but we just don’t see it. We don’t want to see it. We love being perfect just as we are. Our misery has become our comfort blanket. Because sometimes, we become walking zombies. You wake up. Get dressed. Commute to work. Work. Lunch. More work. Commute home. Dinner. Conan. Bed. Rinse Lather Repeat. Enter apathy, followed shortly by indifference. Next comes depression. And it doesn’t usually hit you at once. It’s gradual. It’s also enveloping. So much so that you don’t see that it’s happened until way too late. So then we take pills to make us not feel the depression. But it’s still there. The pills just cover it up. In fact they feed the lethargy. It’s like putting a towel around your fermenter and thinking that will solve your stuck fermentation. Buzzz. Wrong answer.

 What do you need to do? I already told you. It’s an easy fix. You need a soul nutrient. Something that will make you feel alive again. Try Yoga, home brewing, archery, karaoke, whatever. Anything that feeds your soul, and not the routine that got you into this mess. The problem with most of us is that once we start down the path of monotony or depression we just keep feeding it and feeding it. We either become apathetic about the situation, or we deny it, or more commonly we add fuel to the fire. What you need to do is see the fire for what it is. It is a destructive force that will decimate who you are physically and mentally. You must extinguish this fire by jumping in the lake. You can’t stop drop and roll depression. You can’t end the flatness with subtlety. Drastic measures are in order. But they are easy. It takes only a new hobby. A new friend. An old lover. Go see a show. Anything. But you must act fast. Your soul has a short window of availability for you to reignite the process. Too long, and you’ll have been your own vampire. Drained yourself of all signs of energy, life, essence. You won’t be able to see yourself in the mirror anymore. You’ll only see a package. A package that you used to be able to open to see something extraordinary inside. Now, only a package.

 There are other ways to get stuck. I won’t list them all. You’ll need to figure them out. I’m still trying to figure this all out myself. I get stuck often. The biggest problem is realizing that you are stuck. That life isn’t supposed to be this way. It’s hard, but it’s the first step, and you’ve gotta do it. You have to be honest with yourself. Too often our mind and ego have told us how great we are and how everything is stupendous and the future looks bright and bla bla bla bla…. so why is it that something doesn’t feel right? If everything is going according to plan, why is that panic light flashing in the background?

 It’s because we’ve settled. Rather than explore the world of home brewing, we’ve decided to settle on whoever sponsers the Super Bowl this year. It’s easy. That’ll be the go-to favorite. Always. Sure, everytime you go to the store and buy a six-pack, in the back of your mind you’re thinking “hmmm… I wonder what that Amber Lager tastes like….” but you decide not to risk it. What if you didn’t like it? Then you’d be disappointed. And we can’t have that. Let’s just grab our usual and our expectations will be met. I say no more. I say from now on, listen to that voice in your head. Grab the Amber Lager. See the Indie Documentary you read about in the weekly. Bike to work tomorrow. That voice that tells you to do these things? That’s you. The voice of your soul crying out for nourishment. You’ve just been locked up in the basement by your ego and your mind. They are formidable advisaries. But you must stand up to them.

 Embrace that which feeds your soul. I guarantee you’ll find disappointment. You’ll start to write a blog and have some really great ideas, and then bam. You’ll just stare at your screen and not know what to write. You’ll brew a batch of beer and it will taste like piss. You’ll ask out that clerk at the grocery store, and you’ll get turned down. Big deal. It was your result-oriented/future-mindset that got you into that mode of depression and stuckness in the first place. Life isn’t a result. Life is getting the result, getting to your destination, not arriving at it. Because when you arrive, then what? If you can find that which feeds your soul, and enjoy that process for what it is, and the joy it brings you, you’ll never have to worry about stuck fermentation for too long.

 So for now, this blog is my nutrient. It’s what is feeding my writer’s soul, and freeing my writer’s block. I’m not concerned with the end result, but the process of writing itself. If I get too caught up in the goal, I’ll get stuck and miss out on the entire process. Cheers.

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What happend to the beer I brewed?

So about a year ago I brewed a very tasty Belgian Golden Strong Ale. I drank just about all of it, but saved a 22oz bottle for my wife. She was pregnant while the beer was good for drinking, and I wanted to leave her some to try. So the other night we popped it open and she loved it. I had a small bit in a glass as well. I had no idea where this beer had come from. This was not the beer I last tasted 6 months ago!

 What happened? Time. It was the same beer, from the same batch I brewed a year ago. But this was so much better! So much more refined. Better head, richer flavor, a full and complex aroma. All it took was time. You see, there is still a bit of live yeast that travels into the bottle, and when you add the priming sugar, this yeast eats the fresh sugar and carbonates your beer. But this also finishes the process. With time, all the flavors you had hoped for develop, and you end up with (usually) an awesome final product.

 Awhile back I bottled a batch of American Brown Ale. It’s been bottle conditioning for a few weeks. So what makes this beer an American Brown? There’s a list of parameters that it falls into based on color, gravity, flavor, bitterness, aroma, etc…. It’s just an easy reference to classify the wide array of combinations you could come up with. Humans like to classify things. It makes it easier to communicate, and we are social mammals. There’s nothing wrong with that.

 The problem arises when the classifiers take the place of the true object you’re trying to classify. For example, saying that “I’m a college student” or “I’m a delivery driver” is inherently false. These classifiers are not what you truly are, but just a description of one aspect of your life. Your true self is ever changing, ever in motion, and ever evolving. Your true self is not your occupation, skin color, or hair style. These things are simple human attachments and qualifiers, nothing more.

 Ever bumped into someone you haven’t seen in years? Like 5, 10, or 20 years? It’s almost as if you’re bumping into a different person, isn’t it? You even have to re-introduce your self in a way. Why is that? Time. Impermanence of self. I talked before about finding self. But, where the hell is it? It doesn’t seem to remain constant, does it? Are you the person you were 10 years ago?

 I’m not. In fact, I’m thinking of holding a funeral in his honor. He will be missed by some, (though not most if I remember correctly). But that person no longer exists. Goodbye. I won’t be seeing you. He’s taking the spiritual equivalent of a dirt nap.

 So, if there is no constant self, what the hell are you? If there is no constant beer, what the hell did I just brew, and what’s gonna happen to it? Let me first say that I haven’t a clue about whether or not there is a “soul”. I’ve never seen, heard, or touched one. I’ve yet to hear a concrete explanation as to what it is, what it’s properties are, where it resides, what it’s purpose is, and why I don’t know it exists. So let’s just forget about that, shall we? Maybe that’s for another brewing session. So who/what the hell am I? Well, I’m not any of the superficial me. I’m not really the physical me. The physical me is changing at a rate and quantity I can’t even begin to fathom. Do you know how many of my cells have lived, multiplied, and died in the time it’s taken me to write this? That’s way to big a number to play “99 bottles of beer on the wall” with.

 So, ok. I’m not really the physical me, since it’s in such a rapid state of change that pinning me down would be nearly impossible. Like my beer, the hundreds of thousands of yeast cells living out their natural life cycle are what is making up it’s physical properties, and it’s in a constant state of flux.

 With all of this physical chaos, it’s no wonder my mind is a mess. Hmmm… maybe I’m my mind. My thoughts. Nah, that’s mostly ego, and the mind’s survival mechanism playing itself out.

 Am I my traits? No, because those change as well. I can remember how much of an asshole I was 10, or even 6 years ago. Thankfully, with the help of time and graduating from the school of hard knocks with an AA in skating by, I was able to realize that being a jerk off wasn’t what I wanted from myself.

 This isn’t getting me anywhere. What about the beer? OK, when I brewed the whole batch, it was all the same. Only time made the difference. It was tasty, effervescent, probably the best beer I’ve ever had. But only after a year or so. The first versions I drank weren’t quite as good. But it was the same damn beer.

 OK, what’s different from me now than before? I’m slightly more responsible, much more handsome, quite humble, and generally a much calmer person. But all of these things I’ve learned over time. It was my past experiences that shaped who I am today. Remembering them helps to provide an anchor to these past experiences, so I may draw upon them to better myself in the present moment. Getting closer now….

 So, my past experiences, thoughts, feelings, these are what have helped shape who I am today, but they are NOT me. The “me” of a year ago is no longer. The “me” that started writing this blog no longer exists. So, again, where/what am I? What about that yeast that’s in the bottom of the bottle, “finishing” the beer? What is it that is “finishing” me? Is it my past experiences? The knowledge that I’ve gained? My emotional self? Maybe my evolving ego and mind?

 What I have come to believe is simply this:

I am the impermeable Adam. I exist in the moment before I realize I exist in the moment I exist in. It is when I realize that I exist that the person who existed in the moment before has departed. It is effortless, mindless awareness that allows me a window into myself.

 And then Attachment.

 Attachment has made you believe you are that selfish person you were 5 years ago when you didn’t share that cab with that stranger you were standing next to who was going to the same neighborhood you were. Attachment has made you believe you are a fat person. But you are not a fat person. You are a person who is fat. You exist independently of your weight issues, your impotence, your compassion. You are impermeable. The words your mind uses to describe you are subjective and not absolute. They are not universal law. You are subject to change at your own discretion.

 Knowing that there is no constant self is liberating. You no longer fit into a frame or mold. You are no longer the person your mind has created. It is also a little weird. If there is no constant self, what is it that is changing?

 Back to the beer. What has changed? The beer is still only water, hops, barely and yeast. That’s it. The only thing that has really changed is a bit of biological process, and my own subjective qualities I’ve placed on the beer. Kinda like myself in a way. A few cells die off, a few glands secrete some juices, and I construct a model of who I am in my own mind. This is me. I’m not a home brewer. But I do home brew. That’s the difference. Cheers.

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Transfer of Essence

Today I transferred a batch of ale into the secondary fermenter. The reason you do this is to separate the beer from the yeast cake. Beer is made up of 4 main ingredients: Water, barley, hops, and yeast. The yeast is what transforms the sugars in the barley into beer. Without yeast, you’d have terrible tasting, acrid, cloudy water. Yeast really is the life of the beer. So why would you want to separate the beer from the yeast? Good question.

Too much of a good thing in this case can have unpleasant results. After a few days, the active fermentation has subsided and most of the yeast has settled to the bottom. Fermentation will continue however, but not like it did at first. After a few days, you need to separate the beer from the yeast. I have a 6 1/2 gallon carboy that holds the beer at first, then I transfer to a 5 gallon version. If you don’t do this, the beer will have too much yeast flavor and sediment. It will be cloudy. So for a more refined product, this is a necessary step. 

Personally, I’ve taken this step myself. I transferred myself once upon a time. I lived in Michigan for the first 20 years of my life. My family was there. My schools were there. My friends were there. The “nurture” part of my self was constructed there. My ideals, outlook, inner voice were all a product of my environment. It was my yeast. 

After about 18 years though, my yeast began to settle. It wasn’t sustaining me any longer. It didn’t provide me with what I now needed to finish the process of self. For this, I needed to seek another container. Another environment. A new opportunity for nurture to shape my essence.

 I’m still not sure what the last straw on the camel’s back was. You see, it wasn’t my friends. It wasn’t my family. It wasn’t my job or my apartment. It wasn’t any of those thing that were stifling me. It was me that was stifling me. You see, even when you transfer the beer, millions of the yeast cells still travel with it. So some degree of fermentation still persists. It was this part of me that I couldn’t remove that was stifling me. Causing me to mentally suffocate. 

I hated this part of myself. It was lazy. Apathetic. Unemotional. Detached. Depressed. Irresponsible. The list goes on. I realized that even if I removed myself from the container that created this self, part of that self would travel with me, like the yeast.

 Yet if I could leave some of that part of self behind, was it possible to leave it all behind eventually? To no longer be burdened by the self that I was? I had to try. So I left. I left that container as abruptly as I had entered it 20 years prior. This fresh start would be what I needed. Heading west where the air was fresher. The ideas were fresher. My essence could be fresher. Yet there was still that part of my self that was traveling with me. What of it?

 There is one cardinal rule when home brewing. Above all, make sure everything is sanitized. Sanitation is the most important step you can take to ensure a quality product. It only takes a little bit of wild bacteria or yeast to enter your beer to ruin the whole batch. Ruin the whole purpose. Fermenting ale is about one of the most perfect habitats for bacteria. It’s the perfect temperature, there is plenty of food, it’s safe. When you transfer the beer, you are leaving your beer vulnerable to contamination, which is why sanitation is key.

 On my travel I broke my phone, and scattered the pieces. I left no trail as to where I might be headed. I only brought the clothes and books I really needed. I avoided strangers. I avoided contamination. This journey taking me to my next container was an important one. I needed for it to be free from anything that might contaminate my newly found self. It would not take much to ruin a trip like this. A call home. Befriending the wrong types of people. Getting caught up in the drama of the strangers the accompanied me on my journey across the country. Taking a bus was risky enough.

 So now years later, after I’ve fit into the new container, I have to wonder. Is is really a new process that my self is going through? After all, when the beer is transferred, some of the yeast goes with it. So it isn’t really a new fermentation taking place, is it? It is really the same fermentation that has transpired since the beer was created. There are really only two differences. First, there is the new container. Smaller, more tailored to the final outcome. I have to imagine this is where my self is currently at, in this new container. Second, the saturation of the yeast. It’s easy to see the layer of yeast in the primary fermenter. You can see the process that has transpired over life span of the ale. You can clearly see what effect that original, life giving yeast has had on the beer. Now (after the beer has been transferred from the primary) the beer isn’t so inundated with that which made it was it is today. Now I am detached from the environment that made me, me. Yet part of that self is still present, and that might be the real problem.

 The past and your original nurturing environment is a quick anchor to who you believe yourself to truly be. We all have this aspect of self. It’s the “I” we refer to in our minds when we speak about ourselves. But this is not the real “I”. The true self is the one in our minds we refer to when no one else is around. It’s the real “I” that we cannot lie even to ourselves about. No matter how much bacteria we allow to creep in, no matter how many containers we transfer ourselves to, we cannot escape this “I”. The self. It has always been there. This is what drives some to a life of addiction. They try to cover up the real self with superficial highs. Some of us are trying to escape it. Others are ignoring it. But none of these are healthy or rational options. The only sane thing to do is to accept your self. Fully. Unconditionally. Your self is perfect. It is with this realization that one can begin to truly transform one’s self. Once you can accept your essence for what it is, you can really bring about change in your life. You can get rid of all the bacteria you’ve let in. You can begin to see the container for what it really is: just an empty space that is incomplete without that which fills it. You are not your laziness. You have become lazy out of fear of reaching your full potential of self. You are not beautiful. You have attached beauty to yourself for fear of your true self being ugly. 

I suppose the hardest part is finding that true “self”. The real “I”. We enjoy contaminating ourselves. We’re afraid to face who we really are. I don’t know why this is. Maybe it is a survival mechanism our ego has developed to keep us focused on anything but accepting ourselves and each other for who we truly are. Our mind and our ego like to make us believe it is something that it is not. Our mind likes to think our self is Bad, or Good. Perverted or Pious. Lethargic or Ambitious. But our true nature, simply put, exists. It is. It cannot be good or bad. Those are human attachments. The beer is not how it tastes. That is not what the beer is. The beer is just the beer. It is water, barley, hops, and yeast. And it’s quality does not lie in any of those individual parts. It cannot. For beer is made up of four parts. The quality (or lack thereof) can only be seen or perceived when the sum of all those parts is present. Your quality or lack thereof is only seen when the whole you is present. It is not seen in your liver or teeth.

 So we must take a knife and cut away all of the layers of false self we have covered our true self with. We need to find our true quality of self again. We have built layer upon layer of false self that focuses on the individual parts. Your hair. Your teeth. Your ego. Your attitude. Your intelligence. None of these things separately make up the self. Not one of these things determines who you truly are. Because when we are able to find our true essence, and accept it, then we can truly enjoy our self. We can be at peace knowing we are perfect just the way we are. That the essence of who we truly are cannot be contaminated. It cannot change depending on the container. It simply is. When we reach this realization, we can then begin to deal with the individual parts as individual parts, and not the self.

 As for the beer, well, it is simply those four parts. It’s essence lies when those four parts are combined. If it becomes contaminated, it will still resemble beer. It will still look like beer. Although it’s true self might be hard to taste, it is there in the bottle, waiting to be discovered. Cheers.

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