A Curious Thing

A Curious Thing, Charles McCabe
From his collection, “The Good Man’s Weakness”, 1974

“I haven’t the slightest idea who said it; but it was assuredly a mouthful. “A productive drunk,” the man said, “is the bane of all moralists.”

“That this dark insight may have occurred to me independently I am sufficiently immodest to acknowledge. I could never, however, have expressed the idea with such felicity.

“A fact which has been observed by more than one sage is that humans like to think in cartoons. A man who likes dogs must be a man of gentle feeling and high rectitude. Should he turn out to be a dirty old man, we feel deeply cheated. We feel our sentiments have been short-changed.

“Even more than the man who likes dogs, the man who is blind must be a very compendium of the virtues. People get decidedly shocked when I point out that some of the rottenest characters I’ve ever met were sightless.

“There used to be an annual fiesta in the western part of Puerto Rico. It was the day of the blind. The blind came from all over the island. I’ve never met a more drunken, disorderly, and generally rag-tag body of men and women in my entire life. There are splendid blind people, and I’ve met them; but I’ve met an extraordinary number who fail to fit the stereotype society has assigned them.

“So it is with the human who is partial to the bottle. Because of his unfortunate addiction there are certain things this person must be. He or she has to be unreliable, prone to violence, eccentric in his personal behavior, and a bad credit risk.

“What the moralists should see is what some drunks are like when they are on the wagon. Their capacity to work, especially if they are in the creative fields, is often seriously impaired. While their personal relations are sometimes improved, more often it is the other way around–the dry alkie tends to be cantankerous, and impatient of anything less than perfect performance.

“These same fellows, sustained by the sauce, can be powerhouses. There is no need to emphasize that these people are a minority; but it is important to acknowledge that they do exist. They are productive in their work, and successful in their personal relations, precisely because booze releases paralyzing inhibitions in their nature.

“One American Nobel Prize winner in letters, and possibly our greatest contemporary writer, probably could not have cut the mustard without alcohol. I’m not talking about E. Hemingway, though there’s reason to believe he could not have cut it either without booze.

“An extraordinary number of driving business tycoons use alcohol to dreadful excess. Many of them will acknowledge privately that without their habit they would probably be cutting hair back in Phoenix, or wherever.

“This all fits into some kind of accepted psychology. What is stranger is the number of people who care nothing about the acquisition of money and power, priests and teachers who are in fact interested only in trying to find out the meaning of life and passing along the knowledge and are often nothing more than public drunks.

“This kind of man is and has always been a particular problem of the Roman Catholic Church, where men of pointedly saintly character sometimes drink like fish. That their character is saintly, or that they drink like fish is not all that strange, either.”

Fermented vs Non-Fermented Ginger Beer

This week I was asked to make a cocktail for an event for 20-30 people, where I was told that the person being honored at the event was not a drinker.

I didn’t have any help, so I wanted to do something really easy. No muddling, no shaking, no straining.

I decided to go with a version of the Dark & Stormy, which is a combination of Dark Rum, Ginger Beer, and sometimes Lime Juice.

Because I had the non-drinker, instead of making alcoholic ginger beer, I just made a Ginger Syrup, or Ginger Solution.

Place an equal part, by weight of roughly chopped ginger root, sugar, and water in the blender, and puree. Put through a cheese cloth or other fine strainer, and squeeze as much liquid out as you can (I use a sturdy potato ricer for this).

To make the non-alcoholic version, combine Ginger Solution, lime juice, to taste on ice. Stir to combine ad and dilute with soda water. Stir once more.

Dark & Stormy-ish

Dark & Stormy-ish

To make the alcoholic version, to that combination simply float* on an ounce and a half of dark rum**. Pampero Anniversario, from Venezuela, is a great choice.

The thing that interested me, however, about this was how different the character of the Ginger Solution was from yeast carbonated Ginger Beer.

If I combine the Ginger solution with soda water in roughly the same ratio as I did for the yeast carbonated ginger beer, the difference is striking.

First off, it is unpleasantly harsh and hot. Instead of the nifty floral notes of ginger, you get a bitter aftertaste.

I really enjoy drinking the yeast carbonated ginger beer, but the ginger solution is more like medicine.

I’ll drink it, with enough rum, lime, and soda, but I don’t crave it.

I would guess the yeast bouncing around with the ginger creates some flavor molecules that just don’t happen without fermentation.

It also seems to have a shorter shelf life than the fermented ginger beer.

Now, only a few days after, where the ginger beer is still delicious, the ginger solution is getting less ginger-ey and more unpleasant.

*Some bartenders will shake the non-carbonated portion of the drink, pour over ice, and top with soda or ginger beer. I think it looks cooler with the dark rum float. The only problem is all the rum is at the top of the drink, so it should really be served with a straw, preferably compostable.

**Some bartenders make a much more alcoholic version, basically shaking a Daiquiri, pouring over rocks, topping with ginger beer and more dark rum.

Hard Drinkers

Hard Drinkers, Charles McCabe
From his collection, “The Good Man’s Weakness”, 1974

“As an adult consenting drinking man, I draw the line at calling myself an alcoholic. This is not because I’m afraid of the perjorative connotation of the word, but simply because its meaning has become so frightfully confused.

“From time to time some learned medical gentleman issues dire statements which equate hard drinking with alcoholism. As a drinker, and therefore a person who knows more about the effects of ethyl alcohol than more doctors, I know this is just not so.

“If the word alcoholic is to be used at all, it must have more precision than now attached to it, when cops tell you how drunk you are by giving you a roadside test. Towards a definition of alcoholic, then…

“As I see it, there are three kinds of people who drink too much alcohol: the dipsomaniac, the alcoholic, and the hard drinker. These distinctions are important, if we are to view the drinking proflem in the light of common sense.

“The dipsomaniac is one of God’s true unfortunates, a man as clearly pathological, and almost as much past help, as a man who has lost a leg. The dipso does not drink from the usual impulse of sociability.

“In fact, the dipso hates alcohol, since he knows from experience what it does to him. He is nearly always a periodic drinker. When he takes his first shot, he is off, on a flight of desperate imbibing, vomiting, incontinence, and finally coma. He can only stop drinking when his body wears out.

“We have all known dipsos in our life. They do not care for saloons. Their episodes, which are often paroxysmal in nature, resemble nothing so much as temporary suicide. There is no way the dipso can really be helped, until some lab produces something which can control the cause of his craving.

“Even aversion therapy isn’t much help here, since it is designed for the continual drinker, not the periodic. The worst dipso I ever knew went dry for life the day his wife died. Make of that what you will.

“The alcoholic is something less awful; though by no means good. I would say an alcoholic is a man who can’t function without alcohol–whose personal and working life needs completely the support of spirits. And who finally can’t function with alcohol.

“One way to assure you will never become an alcoholic, in fact, is never to take a drink while you are working. Yet a man who does good work doesn’t have to be ashamed of his habits.

“I never take a drink while working. That isn’t saying very much. Usually my work is finished, the writing part of it anyhow, a couple hours after rising. In that he doesn’t really like booze, the alcoholic is closer to the dipso than the hard drinker. The alcoholic simply must have it.

“The alcoholic can be treated, if he is willing to be brutal with himself. Aversion therapy works, and is quite often permanent.

“The heavy drinker usually doesn’t want to be cured. His habit is stupid, it is expensive financially and emotionally, but it is outside the range of pathology.

“The heavy drinker likes saloons and other places where people drink together. He enjoys drinking, unlike dipsos and alkies. What the hard drinker shares with all users of alcohol is distaste for the reality in which he is immersed, and a wish to blur same.

“Now, if something could only be done about reality…

“Granted that no form of drink is much good for anyone, what advice would you give the young who choose it anyhow, as most of their parents do?

“My advice would be Chesterton’s: “Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.” I’ve not always followed this counsel; but wish I had more often.

“When you’re on a real downer, chop some wood, paint some tables, anything so long as it is a job. Drink when you’re filled with self-pity, and the next thing you’re drinking to get yourself through work. Then, brother, you’re headed for trouble.”

Evil Little People

Man, I prefer riding the bus in summer.

In summer, the kids are all little, on field trips to the museum or the zoo. Happy, enthusiastic balls of energy.

In Fall, in Winter, in Spring I end up rising with High School aged kids.

I try to cover their voices with music, but some seeps in. Mean, evil, especially the boys, I don’t remember how I survived.

Call me in 20 years.

Don’t be Sorry

Romangia Rosso, 2009

“In the vineyards and cellars we not have used synthetic chemicals in addition to sulfur. We have no added yeast, enzymes and all other aids winemaking. Not filtered. Not clarified. No Barriques. Give time to rest after shipping. Leave in to oxigenate in the glass. Probable remainings and CO2 are natural. Every bottle can be different. Ingredients: grape, sulfphites. Sorry but we dont’t follow the market, we produce wines thet we like, wines from our culture. They are what they are and not what you want them to be.”

Product of Italy
Entirely produced and bottled by Societa Agricola Badde Nigolosu SRL Sennori Italia
http://www.tenutedettori.it/

Profound Ambivalence

Untitled

A flickr contact, davidteter, recently posted the above to his photo stream on that service.

It depicts a person sleeping, head on top of his backpack, in front of the large glass windows of a coffee shop. He is wearing one of his running shoes with bright blue laces and the other is off and sitting in front of his head. The window of the coffee shop is filled with people, apparently unconcerned that a person is passed out on the street, just below their field of vision.

I am profoundly ambivalent about capturing candid photos of the large population of persons who seem to be, temporarily or permanently, living on the streets of the city of San Francisco.

Historically, there is a precendent. Paul Strand had a special camera made, which allowed him to take a picture of something/someone, while appearing to photograph something else. Dorothea Lange’s portraits during the depression and dust bowl were rallying points for social justice.

I take BART and MUNI daily and walk around this city.

Just this morning I passed a homeless person’s “nest”, leaking urine, being cleaned up at the Civic Center MUNI platform AND witnessed a drunk, disorderly, and abusive person being removed from the N train.

Did I stop and take a picture of either? No.

First off, when on public transit, I am generally in non-communicative mode. I am afraid, by taking a picture, I will engage a person and risk an interaction. In my experience, the vast majority of interactions on public transit are pleasant, but the ones which are unpleasant are SO unpleasant, (risk of being beat up, robbed, threatened, yelled at, or worse,) that I try to avoid all interactions, unless someone is apparently lost or genuinely in need of help.

That either makes me a coward or a savvy city dweller.

I am uncertain of the protocol. Do I ask before taking a photo? What if they want money? If so, what’s an appropriate amount?

Also, really, I am not much of a people photographer.

I know people who are good at getting people to look their best, or in a certain way, for photos.

I don’t really enjoy that sort of interaction.

My whole photographer thing, what I enjoy, is capturing a moment as it happens, the way light is falling on a leaf or a face, not ME creating a moment for a photograph. I tend to be kind of stickler-ey about not even moving the subjects of my photography. Camera can move, but the thing is where it is.

Finally, I am not really comfortable exploiting others’ misfortune for my own gain, even if it is just internet kudos.

Both Lange and Strand were attempting to expose something that was not being seen by the larger public, idealistically you could say, for social justice, although, Lange for profit, Strand certainly not.

I am as ambivalent about the homeless situation in San Francisco as I am about taking pictures of it.

A person could spend all day, every day, taking pictures of the wasting expressions and faces of the youth in the upper haight and Golden Gate Park.

It is tragic and heartbreaking.

On the other hand, those people often REALLY annoy me with their intentionally comical requests for money and offers of “bud”.

So I look at davidtdeter’s photo and think: Is it staged? Did he give the guy money? Those are awfully nice shoes… Wow, it would really have been a better photo, if the cafe goers had been the squeaky clean en-tatooed young people in a trendy coffee spot on Valencia St, not anonymous Asian folks in a down town Starbucks…

..and on and on and on…

Bitter Beer v1.3b

image

I was missing my bitter root beer syrup as I drank my way through the spruce oil version.

Sadly, I had an issue with contamination with one of the bottles of the Gram converted Root Beer batch. Tried to remove the top and it would not stop exploding out of the bottle. It also smelled pretty foul, so some sort of contamination I’m guessing. If that happens to you, don’t even try it.

So I needed a new batch. I have been a bit curious about how Mugwort, a common ingredient in Gruit beers, would work in the bitter root beer. Along with Mugwort, since I was playing in the Artemisia family, I figured I’d add some Tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus, and Fennel Seed, since they are common partners in crime, er, Absinthe.

Bitter Root Beer v1.3b

Roots:
2 tsp Sassafras, Bark of Root*
2 tsp. Sarsaparilla (Jamaican)
2 tsp Wintergreen
2 tsp Licorice
1 tsp Gentian Root
1 inch section fresh ginger root, peeled, sliced and smashed
1/2 tsp Dried Ginger Root
1/2 tsp American Spikenard
1/2 tsp burdock root
1/2 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp tarragon
1/3 Vanilla Bean
1 Star Anise

Herbs:
1/2 tsp Mugwort
1/2 tsp Yerba Mate
Pinch Cascade hops

Sweetener:
1 Cup Washed Raw Sugar
3 TBSP CA Blackberry Honey
1 TBSP Molasses

1 drop wintergreen oil.

METHOD: Bring 2 Cups of Water to a boil. Add Roots, cover and simmer for 20 mins. Turn off heat and add herbs. Cover and steep for another 20 mins. Strain out solids. Stir in Molasses, Honey, and Washed Raw Sugar. Add Wintergreen Oil and stir to combine. Cool, bottle in santized container, and keep refrigerated. Makes a 3 cups of Syrup. To serve, mix syrup to taste with soda water (I usually go 1 part syrup to 3-4 parts soda water) or carbonate with yeast (mixing 1 part syrup to 3 parts water and 1 tsp of proofed yeast).

On initial taste, I’m finding this a bit busy, it will be interesting to see if it settles down after cooling. For the next version, I’ll probably leave out the Wintergreen oil.

*Note, Sassafras Oil has been shown to cause liver cancer in laboratory rats and so Sassafras has been forbidden for use in food or beverage products by the FDA. Sassafras Oil is also a precursor chemical to MDMA, aka Ecstasy, so the TTB recommends that vendors keep a close eye on any significant sales. Use at your own risk.

Fridge Tea

Fridge Tea.

Fridge Tea.

A while ago I posted about how to make awesome “Sun Tea“.

Well, I was reading about it, and it turns out that many in the nanny state of the blogosphere disapprove of Sun Tea.

If you leave water and tea sitting at warm room temperature for a few hours, it turns out there is some small chance of some sort of bacterial growth in your beverage.

So, I have reconsidered my ways.

Instead of Sun Tea, I have been making the fully sanctioned Refrigerator Tea.

Currently I am using a clean 2 liter glass container.

To this jar I add 1/4 cup of Chinese Green Tea (dragonwell is very nice), 1/4 Cup of Yerba Mate, and one bag of peppermint tea. Cover with cold water from the tap.

I then place it in the fridge overnight and strain the leaves out the next day.

As far as I can tell, there is no difference between the levels of extraction in Sun Tea and Refrigerator Tea.

Others have pointed out to me that there are commercial versions of this very green tea, mate, and peppermint beverage.

I have countered, as someone who isn’t currently fully employed, the Sun Tea is not only more environmentally friendly, but quite a bit cheaper, per ounce, along with being tastier.

Also, woo, quite the caffeine kick, and if you want to be really fancy you can call it “Cold Process Tea“.

Ginger Beer, Take 2

Everyone liked the last batch of Ginger Beer so much, I felt like I had to make another.

I’m doubling the last batch of yeast carbonated ginger beer, and making a few changes to the method from the last.

Flannestad Ginger Beer.

INGREDIENTS:
10 oz well rinsed fresh Ginger Root, preferably organic, roughly sliced.
1 1/2 cup Washed Raw Sugar.
2 quart Water.
1 teaspoon active dry yeast.*

METHOD: Bloom yeast in lukewarm water with 1 teaspoon sugar. Bring 24 oz water and all sugar to simmer. Add ginger to blender bowl with remaining water and puree. (Blender works well for me in these amounts, but if you have a juicer that can juice ginger root, go for it.) Pour through cheesecloth to filter. Press as much liquid out of ginger solids as possible, I use a sturdy potato ricer. Add ginger juice and water to hot sugar solution and cool to lukewarm. Add yeast and bottle in clean sanitized containers, leaving some headroom. Seal tightly and place in a warm dark place for 5-8 hours, depending on temperature and how feisty your yeast is. Move to refrigeration when the bottles are firm to the touch. Yeast (tan) and Ginger starch (white) will fall out of solution. When serving, open carefully over bowl to catch potential over-foam.

Ginger Root.

Ginger Root.

The first change I made this time was just to rinse the ginger root well with warm water, instead of peeling. I need to do a side by side comparison with peeled and unpeeled to find out if peeling makes a difference in flavor. Really, the only thing which slightly concerns me about not peeling is the potential for bacterial contamination from the skins.

This time, the ginger root was quite a bit more mature than the last. The flavor of the juice and ginger beer is hotter and sweeter than the more floral young ginger I used last time.

Ginger Puck.

Ginger Puck.

Nicely formed ginger pucks, after squeezing. You could dry them and use for room fresheners.

Opening Ginger Beer.

Opening Ginger Beer.

I continue to use empty soda water and mineral water for the ginger beer. Easier and safer than glass, at this point. You can gauge the carbonation level easily by simply squeezing the bottle and checking the firmness. Some small risk they’ll pop the caps and make a mess, but little risk they will become ginger grenades. Once I get the ferment times down, I may switch to bottling in glass.

Interestingly enough, it seems like the canada dry soda water bottles form a much better seal than the crystal geyser mineral water bottles. With the same time allowed for fermentation, the ginger beer in the canada dry bottles over-flows copiously, while the ginger beer in the crystal geyser is carbonated but does not overflow. Perhaps there is some CO2 leakage with the crystal geyser bottles above a certain pressure threshold.

Bottles.

Bottles.

A lot of other ginger beer recipes use spices or citrus in them, I actually really like how this is just about how complex and multilayered a flavor pure ginger root has. The complexity you get is amazing, not to mention the length of the flavor. You start by enjoying the great smell of fresh ginger root in the carbonated bubbles with a touch of yeast, enjoy the sweet and floral flavor, are knocked back by the heat, and then enjoy the long evolving flavor as it fades.

I guess we have the temperance movement to thank for the prevalence of pressure carbonated ginger beers and other sodas, but maybe if more people give the real thing a try we can get some of this real flavor back. With yeast nutrients, real sugar, and natural ginger maybe these could gain as much traction as kombucha.

Commercial ginger beers and ales, pumped up with capsaicin for heat and with their flacid ginger flavor from extracts, are poor, poor substitutes, indeed, for real ginger beer.

*Yeast plus sugar and water equals Carbon Dioxide and alcohol. In general, stopping the active fermentation at this early a stage of fermentation, the alcohol levels should be fairly low.

Sassafras, Continued

When talking about Sassafras, one of the seeming best pieces I found was from a home brewing forum.

Sassafras is Not Nearly as Dangerous as You Would Think, rriterson, 2010

This page contains the following:

“Let’s say that I drink 1 of my own rootbeers per day. In order to have a 50% chance of cancer, I’d have to have 3.85g of safrole per root beer. Since my batches are 5 gallons (~50 beers), that would mean I’d have to get 192.5g of safrole out of the sassafras I seep. I start with 16oz (1lb) of sassafras root. Well, 1lb is actually only 453g. 192.5g/453g is 42%.”

So this guy is using about 90g of Sassafras per gallon of Root Beer and feels it is a relatively safe amount, if he is getting a (very generous) 42% yield of Sassafras Oil per gram of sassafras root.

Old recipes call for 8-10 drops of Sassafras Oil per 5 gallon batch. I don’t know what the conversion is between Sassafras Oil drops and grams, but some things I’ve found indicate between 40-90 drops per gram for liquids. Castor Oil is said to be around 44 drops per gram. If Sassafras Oil is similar in weight, by rmitterson’s math, you would need to be using basically 3.85 times 44, or 169 drops of Sassafras Oil, per glass of Root Beer for a “50% chance of cancer”.

When I weighed out the amounts of herbs and barks in my Root Beer recipe, I found I was using about 4-6 grams of dried Sassafras Root Bark per gallon.

A pound of Sassafras sounds like a lot, but the yield of sassafras oil from my 4-6g of dried Sassafras Root per gallon, (most things I’ve read indicate the yield of Sassafras Oil from Sassafras Root Bark is 6-9% by weight when steam distilled,) isn’t going to be anywhere near significant in a simple heat infusion in water. Sassafras Oil isn’t even soluble in Water (Alcohol is another matter)!

So, mostly, I have to say I don’t feel that worried about Sassafras in my Root Beer recipe, at least compared to other potentially cancer risk elements in my life history or current environment.