Thursday, October 11, 2012

Lance and the cheating scandal...

Ok, so this post is the first one I've written in a long time. It probably isn't the best one to come back on, but, hey, I think this needs to be spoken of...

It's been a busy few months for me. I got published as a first author on manuscripts two times. My experiments have been up and down. I've brewed two more batches of beer - neither of them turned out well. One was a Scotch Ale, and the other was an Irish Red that I was brewing in honor of some friends, called TSBrew. Unfortunately, the TSBrew is bad. Bad bad. I'm going to have to remake it. To the TSBers out there - I'm really sorry. I'll send you a couple of bottle when the new batch comes in and tastes good. I know it's been a while, so I apologize, but I really don't want you to taste beer that tastes like shit. As far as why the beer is bad, there is a really funky after flavor to the beer, and I believe it to be DMSO, which can build up if the wort isn't chilled quickly enough or if a lid is kept on the wort as it's boiled and chilling. This is my problem. I have had no way of cooling the wort down after it boils because the apartment I was in until now was too small. We had no way of getting ice on the boil kettle. I also don't have a wort chiller, but that's on my list of things I want.

I got married! That was pretty awesome. Best decision of my life so far. Kelsey and I had a great wedding. We're getting wedding pictures in soon so I'll probably post some here eventually. Things have to slow down first, though!

Ok - so, on to the actual post. As a cyclist, I've been following the news surrounding Lance Armstrong and the doping scandal, as the media is calling it. The USADA apparently has him this time. Oh goodie!!! What a crock of shit. Yep, I said it. The whole thing is a load of bullshit. It's not that I think he's innocent. Oh no, the amount of evidence against him is HUGE. The testimonies of his former teammates, I think, is kind of bullshit. They've all either been convicted of doping themselves, admitted to doping themselves, or have reaped the benefits of other team members doping. During that time period, I'd venture to say that doping in the peloton was rampant. That's why the whole thing is bullshit. Did Lance dope? Yep. Did other people? Yep. Did he still beat them? Yep.

Here's the thing. I'm not saying it's ok to cheat. I hate cheating. Everyone does. Even cheaters hate other cheaters. But in reality, Lance Armstrong cheated in a sea of cheaters and he's the one taking the fall. They are going to strip him of his titles, probably, and make him pay back his winnings. People are screaming because "he made all this money outside of the sport off of his winning, blah blah blah" How many of those people are screaming about all the endorsements of the players in the NFL or NBA ? I'd be willing to bet a number of them cheat in some fashion or another. What about politicians who lie about everything? They get all KINDS of money while they do dirty things. They have banned Armstrong from the sport. They can strip him of his titles and make him give back the money - but who are they going to give them to? A number of the second place finishers in those races have been caught doping and banned as well... Third place? In a time when it seems most of the racers were doping, these titles may go to no one...

But, this all makes sense, right? He broke the rules and he should be punished. I'd agree with that. I'm not angry that they caught him. Sure, he's given a lot back to the world with Livestrong, but there are even controversies about where the money is going with that organization, as well. He's sort of this good bad-guy right now. People are unsure where to stand on this issue. We love him and hate him.

My concern is the USADA... They tested him for years a while back and then retested this samples a number of times years ago and his tests were negative. He beat the system. And yet, they "knew" he was doing something wrong. So, even in the case of all the evidence on his side, they decided to spend YEARS and who knows how much of the tax payers' money to prove that this guy cheated in a bicycling race... Am I the only one who sees how stupid that is? They only caught him because new science allows them to more accurately figure out what was going on with his old samples... So. Let me get this straight. We are trillions of dollars in the hole, and yet, we're going to pay some people to try and go back through the years and years of evidence already on his side, to disprove that because some other cheaters say that he cheated? Really? REALLY??? This is a HUGE issue for me. We don't want people to cheat, but my god. He won a bunch of races in France, for shit's sake. If he owes money back, it's tot he sponsors and to the people who paid for the prize money. And yet we spend our own money here in the US to prove he did something wrong in a race so he'll pay back the money and be punished, yet we'll see NONE of that money. None of it. I dont think France or the sponsors or the Tour de France is footing the bill for these last few years of investigation. If he hadn't made a comeback in 09-10 we'd never have been having this issue. So that means it's been at LEAST 3 years of investigation. How much money did it cost us to prove that a cyclist cheated in a number of races?

And here we are. Research grant funding is at 5-8%. Let me restate that. Science research in the US right now has enough money to fund 5-8% of researchers. Five to 8 percent of research is being funded. So all the cancer research, disease research, medical research, vaccine research, etc. is on the line. We don't have the money to fund our own science research programs... Yet there is money to spend who-knows-how-much on a handful of people to prove that some dude who rides a bike really fast cheated in a bunch of bike races... We can't pay for planned parenthood or PBS or education or bolstering our military and helping provide for their families. Oh, but we can pay for a bunch of lawyers and snitches to prove that a lycra-wearing dude on a bike cheated and beat a bunch of other cheating cyclists. Science is not cheap - I should know. These tests are probably not cheap - especially using new technology. The technology had to be developed, and then people needed to be paid to run and analyze the data. Then people had to put reports together. Then it all had to go to court, so lawyers and legal personnel were paid extremely high amounts of money to talk about it. This isn't the olympics where national pride from major competing countries could turn into something bigger and more dangerous. This is a bunch of privately sponsored teams racing bikes in France.

To finish up, do I think Lance cheated? I do. Do I think it's ok? Nope, I don't like that he cheated. I don't like that he got famous because he cheated. But saying he cheated isn't going to change anything, really. So people will see him and say "Oh, he cheated in a bike race. Cheaters never win." Except, why does it matter in this case? Our country, as most countries are, is in the hole monetarily. We are trillions of dollars in debt. We can't fund education, science, defense, health programs, welfare, etc., but we can squeeze enough out of the budget to spends years trying to prove Lance Armstrong cheated. I think it's ridiculous.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My First Beer Review

In my last post, I mentioned that I had tried some really great beer over the Holiday break. I said I would review them when I had a chance. Well, I finally had that chance. Here we go, my first beer review. A beer review normally consists of the appearance (the size of the head/foam, the color), the smell, the taste, and the mouthfeel. For the appearance, I can't really remember them that well other than color. I'll do my best. 

Here, have a portrait of a dog with a monocle.

Sweetwater Dank Tank Fresh Sticky Nugs
Dry Hopped Double Red Ale
8.00% ABV
This beer was pretty good. It's made by Sweetwater, a brewery based out of Atlanta, GA ( It's a bit gimmicky for me, a little too much of something some die-hard Jerry Garcia fan would make up. Fresh Sticky Nugs? Dank Tank? It makes it off-putting to order in a public setting. I'm just here for the beer, man. The flavor, however silly the joke is, was fantastic. I would have not known it was a double red. It tasted a LOT like a double IPA. The appearance is sort of dark, a red-brown. The smell is delightful - very citrusy and fresh. There is a very slight hint of pine to the smell as well. The flavor - oh the flavor. What a treat. Similar to the smell, the taste had lots of hop and some pine/citrus. There were also hints on caramel. I found it to have a slight bitterness at the end, but not anything too bad. Give it a try if you ever find it. 

Sweetwater Seasonal Festive Ale
8.60% ABV
Winter Warmer
Another one from Sweetwater (I was in Atlanta, afterall). This one is a seasonal beer. A winter warmer.  I really like WWs. They are pretty popular. They typically have sweet, malty flavors with a LOT of malt to both the smell and the taste. They are always dark, but range from red-pitch black. They tend to be spicy and balanced, very little (if any) hop flavor. This one is no different. It is very dark, almost a dark chocolate brown. The smell is of raisins, malt and a hint of chocolate and cinnamon. The flavor is fairly smokey with chocolate, raisin and molasses undertones. It's a medium bodied beer. Very drinkable. Not my favorite winter warmer, but definitely not bad.

Wild Heaven Ode to Mercy
8.2% ABV
American Brown Ale
I think this one was the best of the bunch. Oh man. OH MAN! Newly based moved from Asheville, NC to Decatur, GA, I am a big fan. Granted I only had this one, but if all of their brews are like this one? Damn. First off it has a good, deep amber brown appearance. It smells of coffee, malt, slight hop, as well as a bit nutty and there is tiny hint of oak.  It tastes the same as the smell, only in levels. Seriously, it's incredible. I wish I could put into words how great it tasted. First your mouth is hit with a rich coffee flavor, followed by a smooth, deep, nutty taste. Then comes this bite of a warm, oaky flavor - a "hot" alcohol flavor. Not spicy, but truly warm. Almost like a good whiskey or scotch. Medium body. Great, great beer.

5 Seasons brewery ( ) was the local microbrewery and taphouse we went to for lunch one day. They make a large selection of beer. Every one that I tried, I liked. Some weren't great, but I liked them anyways. First up was their winter warmer. This one was good, almost identical to the Festive Ale, maybe a tad less spicy. The smell and taste are alike with low cinnamon flavors but high on chocolate and malt. Nice and creamy mouthfeel.

Their Echo St IPA was amazing. A wonderfully bright, IPA. Beautiful hop flavors and smells, with a brisk citrus tone. Some earthy, deep, herbal hops as well. Sort of a walk through a forest. Clear malt as you enter the beer, fading into a medium herbal taste as you get deeper from the edge, then a kick of pine and earthy hops at the end. Smooth and freshly carbonated mouthfeel. I highly recommend it if you're ever in the area.

The 5 Seasons Pumpkin ale is one of the better pumpkin ales I’ve had. A very nice body and color - deeper than I expected, but not off-putting or anything bad. Just different. Smells and tastes like a pumpkin pie without the sweetness. Lots of spice - nutmeg and cinnamon with some brown sugar. Finishes with a flavor reminiscent of pumpkin, but not too "vegetabley." This one has a good mouthfeel – full and smooth.

Dark Star Stout is up next. This is a nice, heavy Irish dry stout. A nice chocolate, malty smell. Dark chocolate flavor with malt dominates the taste here, but with some coffee flavors buried in there somewhere. The body is full. Similar to a Guinness, it's a dark color and heavy, but smooth and lightly carbonated. The better of the two stouts, in my opinion. 

The final beer I tried at 5 Seasons was their Mayan Coffee Stout. A really HEAVY stout. Extremely dark, almost black. This stout smells like coffee, to be honest I don't remember much of any other smell. The taste was similar, with a dark roast coffee taste overriding everything else. There was a hint of chocolate and malt, like any stout, but the coffee really shines through in this one. Even the chocolate flavor has no sweetness to it. Not my particular favorite, which was disappointing as I REALLY like stouts. I recommend a 50:50 blend of this one with the winter warmer. Our server suggested it and I think it was better than the coffee stout alone.

Welp, that's all for now, methinks. Until next time, keep calm and have a beer :)

Monday, January 9, 2012

Just a shout out.

Folks, civil rights are a big thing for me. Anyone who knows me knows that this is true. I am 100% for women's equality and for gay marriage and gay rights. I wanted to throw a shout out to some friends real quick. I know I promised that I wouldn't get all political and stuff, and I am not going to. But I urge you to check out these sites, as these ladies WILL get political. Very intelligent stuff.

First up is a blog by a friend named Grace (recently married, hells to the yeah!) and she writes very well, in my opinion. Top notch. is her blog. I highly recommend it.

Second is actually another site by Grace, as well as some other friends Jen, Ashlee and Jon (hit them up on twitter @_gtz_, @likeOMGitsFEDAY, @jaspirella, and @inklesspen, respectively). They started a site called Fat, Ugly, or Slutty ( The site is basically a way to call attention to the crap male gamers give to female gamers, simply because they are ladies. The concept is that the only reason ladies play video games is because A) they are fat, B) they are ugly or C) they are slutty and looking for attention. Prepare for some laughs, because some of it is crazy. But, really, it's pretty sad. Check it out, though. It really shows how sad som people are and how they choose the attack and belittle a gender because they can hide behind the internet.

So Far A Happy Brew Year

Back to the ol' grindstone. It's been a crazy few weeks. Between editing my 2 manuscripts, preparing an abstract for the ASM 2012 general meeting, travel and the holidays, it's been a hell of a time. It's been great, don't get me wrong, but whew boy I've been running around like a chicken with my head cut off.

So my brown ale turned out nicely. I still haven't thought of a name for it, though this one is a clone kit of Moose Drool. The kit was called Caribou Slobber, so I think I'm going to leave it at that. I did add a bit of honey to the initial wort boil, but not enough to add any real flavor to the beer's profile. I took 3 bottles back to Atlanta with me for Christmas. I gave one to my future Father-in-law, I split one with my dad and Granddad, and I gave one to my good ol' friend Clarence. I've gotten a bunch of compliments on it. I think it's ok. It's not my favorite beer. To be honest, I haven't been able to figure out the flavors yet. It's got a good mouthy feel to it, and it's very smooth. I've had 3 bottles and 1 was great, 1 was bad and 1 was so-so. I think I may not be getting a good mixture when I bottle. I'm getting variations so I think I'm going to have to plan around that. I may just have to stir it better when I'm mixing in the priming sugar. I'll keep the blog updated as I go.

As for the break, what a great time I had. It was the first year in 7 years that Kelsey and I have been together that we actually got to spend Christmas morning together. I spent the night with her family and we got up Christmas morning and had a blast. Then I got to see my family on the 27th for our other Christmas, when my parents drove up to Atlanta to see my Dad's parents. I got a ton of great stuff.

I got a t-shirt that has a guy chasing a hop that says "Pursuit of Hoppiness," I got $75 in gift cards to, I got a stein with A engraved on it, 4 nice pint glasses, the book How to Brew by John Palmer (the brewer's bible... seriously), and a 1 year subscription to All About Beer. Currently, most of these things are in a box en route to Iowa City from Atlanta. I'll post pictures later when I get the stuff here. I'm going to order the Winter Warmer ale this week and start brewing ASAP.

I did try a lot of great, great beer over the holiday. I'm going to write a review for each one over the next few days, so be on the lookout for those. My favorites were all local Atlanta brews. They were unbelievable. I wish I could get them here.

One of the best nights, though, was the date night Kelsey and I went on. We went to Decatur and spent the night out and about. We went to a place called the Iberian Pig  (, where we split some cured Iberico ham. It's some of the best cured meat in the world. Comes out of Spain. Wow. It was like butter. Holy shit. Along with that we had bacon-wrapped-manchego-filled dates. Oh man. OH MAN. They were un-frickin'-believable. I also got a bacon-infused Rye whiskey Old Fashioned. I'm a bit fan of whiskey and scotch. Damn that was a great meal. Then we went to Leon's ( where we had bacon and peanut butter, brussels sprouts hash, a warm garbanzo bean salad, and a Nutella candy bar for dessert (yes it was delectable).

I've set some pretty lofty New years resolutions, as well. I'm going to cut out soda, I'm going to workout at least 3 days a week. I'm going to cook meals every night I can, eat a breakfast every day, and just be healthier in general. A couple of days ago some friends and I were joking around, and I mentioned that I wear an apron when I cook. I also wear a lot of winter clothing in the winter (I dislike cold). There is a video game out right now called Skyrim and it's very popular. I took a joking picture of me in an apron and I titled it Chefrim, a nod to Skyrim, and I tagged the picture with the made up word "Foodrodah." Nerds will get it, and I am a nerd, but it's a reference to a shout in the game in which the character says Fusrodah (foos-roh-dah). I don't have the game, but I don't care. It made me laugh. It made them laugh too.


From this, and in order to help keep myself vigilant over my resolutions, I'm now going to strike up a second blog. I'm going to call it Chefrim, and I'm going to put up my workouts and recipes, with videos of me cooking as the viking chef. Look for it soon.

That's all for now. Keep calm and have a beer.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Leviathan Cometh

It's here! My first homebrew, my Leviathan Rye Stout. Well, it was here anyways. I've been exceptionally busy the last few weeks with work and life, so blogging had to take a back seat. This post will be a bit about beer AND bikes, just to catch up.

On October 11th, I opened the first 2 bottles of my Leviathan Rye Stout after the 2 week bottling process. I was a bit wary because the bottles that Joe and I tried the week before were flat (normal) but I thought the beer tasted funny. Looking back I must have gotten a bunch of yeast from the bottom of the bottle into the glass. No biggie.

I didn't take any labels off the bottles, but here is me opening the first 2 real bottles of finished home beer.

I poured Joe's and it turned out fine, just a small head at the top. My bottle must have gotten more of the priming sugar than the other bottle, because as you can see from the picture on the right, my glass turned into foam. I let it settle for a few moments and it was perfect. I've noticed that the smaller bottles like I show in the picture (the red stripe-style bottles) tended to be more carbonated, and that's likely because they were oddly shaped and I had trouble figuring out where to stop filling them. I said before they were like little glass hand-grenades, and they were, just not deadly. Rather they were filled with Leviathan goodness. 

This beer tastes great! I admit, I am biased, but for a first beer it's pretty damn good if I do say so myself. It's a bit "alcohol-y," likely from the high fermenting temperature, but it's got really good hoppy flavors and is pretty light-in-the-mouth for a stout. It sort of makes me think of what a beer would be if an IPA and a Chocolate Stout had a little bitty beer baby. It definitely lives up to the Leviathan name I gave it. The "alcohol-y" flavor tends to overwhelm the more discrete flavors, like the chocolate malt, especially in the "hand grenades" but after a bit of a chill (not ice cold, mind you), the beer in the bigger, normal-sized bottles goes down like butter. LIKE BUTTAH! 

"I'm a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves. Here's a topic - Leviathan Rye Stout is neither a boring beer nor a kitten. Discuss."

I've taken a 6-pack to work where my co-workers and some homebrewers from another lab told me they thought it was fantastic. My roommate Joe liked it a lot, and Kelsey wanted to take some back to Austin with her! I started with 48 bottles, and after a month I'm down to 5. Oh no! I don't have another beer going yet. The keyword is yet... Mwahahahahaha! I have plans, oh yes I do...

I'm in the process right now of expanding my fermentation abilities. I'd like to pick up another 5g carboy so I can have 2 secondary fermentations going at once. My idea is to start brewing a brown ale in the next few weeks (it's a 6-week process) and once I move that from the primary stage to the secondary stage, I want to brew a winter warmer ale (2-month process) so that I have a continual beer supply through the Winter. That would be ideal for my hobby, not to mention tasty as hell. So I need to get a few more supplies. I also plan on growing some starter yeast cultures in the lab (what better place than a micro lab?) and begin to make freezer stocks of the cultures I purchase from the stores so I don't have to continually buy them anymore. We've got room in the -80 C freezer for a box, so I figure until someone needs that space I'll use it for my yeast strains. I can autoclave my media and grow the yeast at the exact temperature I want, preparing the highest yields and correct inoculum size. This is going to be epic. Yes, I realize how nerdy that is, and nope I don't care at all. See below.

Honey badger don't give a sh*t!

The other thing I want to do is make the igloo cooler fermenter modification. Ales ferment between 60-70, something that my apartment can't seem to drop to (it's getting chilly at night now with temps in the low 30s and we don't have our heat on and our apartment is probably 72-74 degrees anyways). I found a really cool, no pun intended, fermenter cooler that I think will aid me. Most fermenter cooling devices require you to put a thermostat device onto an old refrigerator and it alters the temperature of the fridge to be exactly what you want it to be. Other people use their basement, where it's often very cool. I don't have that luxury. But this gentleman at given2flybrewing has made an extremely cost-efficient modification of a 60g vertical igloo cooler on wheels. Basically he cut out a hole that allows the fermenting carboy to be placed in the cooler snugly, and he freezes water in old 2-Liter soda bottles, which he places in the sealed cooler with the fermenter and he removes/adds the bottles as needed to maintain the temperature that he needs. How cool is that?? Check out that link for all the stuff he's done, including the fermenter cooler. 

Ok, so what about biking? Well, things here in Iowa City have been getting chilly. My morning commute is now done with extra layers as the morning temps are in the 30s and low 40s now. I rode one day in sleet/rain/snow crap. Not fun, at least not that early in the morning. My bike is holding up quite well, but I admit I'm a bit concerned about winter riding. It's dark at 5pm now, and though I have an OK light, a better one will set me back about $150. Cars still really aren't looking for me (the light helps) and in the rain my bike has skidded out into intersections at the bottom of some of the bigger hills before (brakes are a little too good it seems) in a sort of hydroplaning-bike-with-flailing-rider kind of scenario. Ice and snow are not going to help that situation. We'll see how this goes. I'm also concerned because there is 1 hill that still exhausts me when I finish it. It's not even that steep, it's just long. I ride that hill every day and it still burns my legs. I hope if I end up keeping the Winter commuting to a halt that I will be able to pick the bike back up in Spring and not die on that hill. 

I think that's enough for now. I'm going to go grab one of my last remaining bottles of Leviathan and enjoy that as I sit and read for a bit. If you're up for some randomness, I recently started a twitter feed called Tibbs' Tidbits, which is basically a way for me to spew off random bits of information that I've acquired. Nothing too serious. Just random facts. Check it out here!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Soon... Very soon...

My beer creation is almost complete!!! MWAHAHAHAHAHA! I feel like a mad scientist, I really do. Sure, it's only beer, but - well it's BEER!! Who wouldn't be excited about 48 (well, 46 now) bottles of home brewed beer?

It's been two weeks since my last confession... Ha. Two weeks ago, my secondary fermentation ended for the Leviathan Rye Stout. The recipe kit recommended that after two weeks of primary fermentation, I move to two weeks of bottling to carbonate the beer and finish it up. I decided to do one week of primary fermentation and one week of secondary fermentation. Bottling beer is the most labor intensive portion of the beer-making process. It's not hard, just very tedious.

I took my SG reading and the beer was at 1.014, very close to the previous reading before the secondary fermentation. You can barely see it in these pictures, but the beer was dark but I could see through it. Very nice! My secondary fermentation worked. It also tasted just like beer. Granted, it was flat, warm beer but beer nonetheless. Yes, yes my sweet! It's almost time!!!!!

I mixed up 5 gallons of sanitizer and filled all 48 bottles with the sanitizer. Note the towel... This was critical. I cannot suggest enough to have a towel on your floor. Bottling makes a mess. To bottle I use a bottle-filler (, which is a 3/8" diameter tube that is connected to a plastic hollow rod. At the end of the rod is a little plastic tab that extends below the rod, and when you set the rod down on end, the tab is pressed up, opening the hollow rod allowing gravity to pull the liquid into the bottle. When you lift the rod up, the tab falls and beer stops flowing into the bottle. Easy, right? Sort of. Every time I tried to use the bottle-filler, the little tab would stick and I'd be spraying sanitizer all over the kitchen like a tiny, malicious, profanity-spewing elephant.

I boiled 16oz of water and 5 tablespoons of sugar to make the priming solution. The priming solution gives the remaining yeast enough nutrient to ferment a bit more IN the bottle to carbonate the beer.
"Flat beer is bad, mmkay?"

I poured the sugar water into the filling bucket, then auto-siphoned the wort from the secondary fermenter into the bucket. This allows the sugar water to mix into the beer without aerating it too much. Oxygen at this point is a no-no. Anyways, I put sanitizer on some paper towels, covered up the openings and siphoned the beer into the bottling bucket.

I ran into a few problems along the way. Siphoning really only works as long as the fluid being siphoned is above the fluid it's being siphoned in to. Maybe it's not really that way, but it's how it worked for me. Every little while, the levels of beer in each container would equal out and the siphoning would essentially come to a halt. I finally had to move the bottling bucket towards the ground, suspended on a P.O.S. bin that I was hoping wouldn't crack and break, spilling the sweet, alcoholic, elixir of life I had been making all over my kitchen. Probably would have ruined my night. And by probably, I mean I would have cried and resentfully cleaned up my mess, wiping my tears with beer-soaked towels. Fortunately, the bin held up and the beer was siphoned successfully. 

Then came the process of painstakingly emptying each bottle of sanitizer, filling the bottle with beer and capping it. I decided to do this in a conveyor-belt style method. I sanitized the bottle caps during the other sanitizing steps, so everything was ready to go. I'd empty a 6-pack of the sanitized bottles, filling each one with beer with my left hand while my right hand emptied another bottle full of sanitizer into the sink. Then after all 6 bottles were done, I'd simply cover the bottle tops with the caps and move on to the next 6-pack. Again, while this sounds simple, the process resulted in 48 bottles of beer, but probably 1/8 of a gallon of beer slung around the kitchen as the gravity bottle filler would randomly spite me and spew flat, warm Leviathan stout all over the place. But, when all was said and done, I had my 2 cases of beer bottled, capped and set away to bottle ferment for 2 weeks...
Just a bit of a side note. When you bottle, if you end up doing all of this, and you use cardboard 6-pack holders... Wet cardboard is NOT great for support. I know this, and my guess is most of the people reading this post know this, but I decided to use them anyways. The 20 foot walk from my kitchen to the bathroom (Again, CLEAN!!!!) where I keep the bottles in case of explosion was very precarious. 

Another side note - pay attention to how much sugar is added to the mixture before bottling, and pay attention to how much of the mixture you put in each bottle. If you're not careful you could end up with 48 little carbonated, beer-filled glass hand grenades. Just a thought...

Flash forward to 1 week ago. I decided that patience was not my strongest virtue and, you know, I needed to make sure my beer was progressing correctly... There weren't any bubbles in the bottles!!!! This is totally normal, as you've sealed off the bottles and the fermentation that is occurring is minimal. Coke and Pepsi aren't bubbly until you open the bottle and introduce air, allowing the gas exchange. Same concept here. I cracked open a beer for myself and one for Joe, my roommate. Ignore his face in the first picture. I didn't tell him I was taking a picture and really was trying to JUST get the beer first, but camera phones aren't great and the lighting in our place wasn't stellar. The second one was a better, even though he was hamming it up!

It tasted great! It was warm, but the carbonation was coming along nicely. Tomorrow is the two week mark. Beer time!

Something wicked this way comes...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My 1st Culinary Ride

About a week ago, on the 18th, I took part in my first major bike ride ever. I've been struggling with the bike culture here, to be honest, and was looking for a group of people to meet and ride with. I heard about this and figured, "What the hell? I may as well give it a shot, right?" We'll come back to this in a moment, and I have to admit it's going to be a bit of a rant. I apologize in advance. First, I need to tell you a bit about my biking background. Sit back, grab a beer, and get ready to read...

I started really cycling in January of this year. I had a Cannondale road bike that I had acquired from a dear friend, and I rode that when it was nice, but it was intermittent at best. I survived my oral exams for my PhD program last fall, and I decided that with those out of the way, I would look for a hobby. I had to walk about 15 minutes in the snow/pseudo-Antarctic weather that is a Minnesota winter to get to my bus to work, then I had to wait for the bus and hope it got there within a few minutes. There were days it took close to 45 minutes to get to work, a grand total of maybe 3 miles, including my walk to the bus. Maybe. I decided, "Hey, when I rode my bike to work in the summer, it took about 15 minutes. I really LIKE biking. Wait, it takes me that long just to walk to the bus. I have to freeze my butt off WAY longer than if I was just riding my bike. Sure, I'll still be cold, but it'll only be for about the same amount of time as it takes me to walk to the bus anyways..." So, I decided I'd get a new commuting bike.

I researched and researched and found a bike I wanted. The Surly Cross Check ( It's a steel-alloy (Chromoly) framed bike designed for racing off-road/on-road races call Cyclocross races. The basic idea is that you have a road geometry bike with road bike parts, but the fork (Where the front tire goes) is a bit wider to allow for fatter off-road tires. Cyclocross races typically are on paths in the woods/mud and people ride around and have to run over certain obstacles while carrying their bikes. This meant the bike could take a lot of punishment. Another big plus was the steel frame. Aluminum frames are great. My Cannondale was an aluminum frame. They are light as hell and fast to boot. They do, however, ride VERY stiff and you feel every. Single. Bump. For real. By the time I'd ride 2 miles on the MN roads, I felt like a Rhino had run me over. It's not just your butt, so a comfy seat won't help. The whole bike rattles and rocks. Your arms hurt, your wrists hurt, your butt hurts... Steel takes a LOT of the shock out of the bumps. I still feel them, but they aren't a problem at all. Another rare, but possible, problem aluminum frames can have with potholes and really big bumps is that the frame can actually bend. No good. Frames are expensive as hell. Probably THE most expensive part of the bike. So... Steel is was going to be. Surly is based out of MN, giving some credibility to the bike's ability to handle weather of all types. They've got a GREAT reputation. Now that I've ridden one, I know why. I could use this bike for anything. It was considered a cyclocross bike, but in reality, it was a freaking tank. Really. After having it for a while - it's slick, fast, and can take just about any punishment you send its way.

Here's my bike, with all my stuff on it (rear rack, panniers aka the bags, bottle cage and water bottle, and some fenders)

My Granddad was gracious enough to help me out with buying the bike. He and I spoke a long time over this, and he gave me the money to get the bike. I'm forever grateful to him. If you're reading Granddad, I know I've said it over and over and you're probably tired of hearing it, but thank you so much. I love you.

This bike is my one and only vehicle now. Kelsey has the car, as she needs it for work. I wouldn't know what to do without my bike. I picked the bike up in late January and decided that I would try cycling in the winter on my first day with it... HUGE MISTAKE.

The first day I rode, Minneapolis/St. Paul got 6 inches of snow and it was freezing. Biking in those conditions is extremely dangerous. I almost got hit a number of times. I decided to hold off riding until the weather got better - so I did. Meanwhile I started to learn about the cycling culture. I promise, this IS going somewhere and it leads back to the Culinary Ride.

There are a different cyclists in the world. Racers, commuters, single speed/fixie riders, cruisers - pretty much all kinds. I happen to be a commuter, sort of a mixed breed of the racer and single speed/fixie riders. I like the racing styles bikes and the utility that a geared bike gives me, but I LIKE the community of commuters and single speed/fixie riders better. I'm not into racing and riding for hundreds of miles. This was great in MSP, as there was a HUGE cycling community and you could pretty much find whatever you wanted. I started riding again as Spring rolled around and tried to explore and ask the local shops where the cyclists got together. There are a bunch of places, Angry Catfish (, One on One ( - these are just two of the most popular but there are tons of places. Even places that aren't "cyclist hangouts" have bike racks and tons of cyclists heading there, especially in Uptown.

Iowa City... Not so much. People here are either racers or they don't ride much. For the most part, at least. I went to a number of shops and was given the same "Nope, not around here. We all sort of do our own thing. There are a couple of group rides, though." I checked out the "group" rides and quickly found that they were for competitive racers, not social rides. I wanted to take a bike ride and grab a beer. That was it. Not here. Or so I thought... I stopped in to a shop called The Broken Spoke and it was exactly what I was looking for. Commuters who work in the shop, they mainly ride single speed/fixie bikes but they also have cargo bikes, road bikes, mountain bikes, etc. They do a ride every Thursday called the "Friday Fixie Ride" to which I asked, "Can I still come even if I don't have a fixed gear bike?" The guys said simply "Sure. The ride isn't on Friday, so you don't need a fixie." I popped out one night with them and had a great time. It's about a 10-15 mile ride, followed by everyone grabbing pizza and beer at this local joint. It's EXACTLY what I wanted.

One of the days I was in the shop, I noticed a flyer for a Culinary Ride ( This is a charity ride of either 22 miles or 55 miles to promote local, sustainable, HEALTHY food from Iowa farmers for lunches and breakfasts for the kids at Iowa public schools. I'm very much a proponent of local, in-season, good food for everyone and the public education system isn't always so great You pay a donation of around $30, get a t-shirt, and ride to different local farms and sample their goods. I chose to do the 22 mile ride as it would be my longest ride to date, the hills here in Iowa City are BRUTAL and I recently was diagnosed with sports-induced asthma and I've been awaiting my medical records to be transferred here to get my inhaler.

At 9:30 am Sunday September 18th, a really crappy day I have to say, I struck out for the 3 mile ride to the meeting spot to be there by 10. It was rainy and cold. It wasn't pouring, but that cold rain/mist/constant spray in your face that sometimes occurs. It was only about 50 degrees out as well. But, I wanted to be there for this ride. It meant a lot to me to be able to contribute to the cause. I dressed was warm as possible - leg warmers, merino wool cycling cap, a merino wool long sleeved bike jersey, my rain coat (which helps cut out water and wind and keeping heat in thereby heating me up, but itself isn't warm), merino wool socks, a pair of cycling capris, and I brought some gloves just in case. I also wore a backpack, and didn't use my panniers, as having a bag on your back helps keep heat.

Our meet up place was Earth Source Gardens, a 2 acre plot of land supported by the local food co-op, New Pioneer Food Co-op. If you're in Iowa City and are reading this, PLEASE join this co-op. They rock. It's only 60 bucks for a lifetime membership/rewards program, and if you leave decide to be done with them, they give you the 60 back. Earth Source Gardens is the community garden they sponsor, and there is a LOT growing there. I don't believe you have to be a member of the co-op to have a plot. I'd guess that it helps when you apply for one, but it's not required.

     Earth Source Gardens Entrance Sign       The volunteer tent from New Pioneer

One really nice thing is that I had spoken to some people from the Thursday night rides I had been on, and a couple of the group, a guy named Al and a girl named Andrea, were going to be at the ride, though they were both doing the 55 mile ride. Al showed up around 10:30 and he introduced me to his friend. I believe his name was Sam? I was still trying to wake up, I admit. The volunteer tent was run by the Co-op and they had hummus, pita slices, lemonade, water, carrot and radish slices, and these poppy seed/sesame seed/ sunflower seed brittle pastry things. I didn't eat those as I'm sunflower seed sensitive and I didn't want to run into any problems on the road. We all took tours of the gardens looking at all the great veggies that were growing. I asked one of the organizers about the route we 22 milers were going to take, as the map was hand drawn and in black and white and the first leg of the trip was shared by both groups. It was hard to tell where we were supposed to go. It turned out that we were just going out and back - 9 miles one way and 9 back - so really only 18. The organizers had no idea at first, and had to discuss. That should have been my red flag. But I was happy and still warm at this point, so I smiled and went about my merry way.

Al (left) and his friend head into the garden to tour it 
 The tool shed we all hung out near while getting ready to ride.
My bike is on the right, with the black helmet on the back.

At 11, the organizer came out and told us to go ahead and start going towards the first destination whenever we felt like it. This is when things sort of went downhill. I will start by saying I had fun. I would do this again. I really did have fun at the locations and in the beginning before we rode. Things weren't great, though. Everyone took off towards the first point, which was 9 miles East of us along The Hoover Highway... The Hoover Highway is a 2 lane road with no shoulder that cars drive 55mph minimum... Not great to ride as a large bike group without police escort or a lot of vehicle escorts. Especially in the rain and grey weather. There was a "Sag-Wagon," though that followed us to the location that had tools for working on bikes, or if you needed to you could put your bike in the trailer and hop inside to ride the rest of the way to the location. Great idea, in my opinion, especially when inviting all levels of cyclists to a large event.

We all made it to our first location, though, a place called Scattergood farms. This place was so cool. It's a school farm. They teach children normal subjects, but then they also have the children work on the farm. They harvest the food, cook the food and eat the food from the farm for every meal at school. It's really cool. Check them out for more info -


They gave us a quick tour of their place, let us pick raspberries from their bushes, and then took us all back over to a warm, incredible, though small, fire. There were some chefs from local place Devotay and they served us hot vegetable soup from the Scattergood gardens and yellow watermelon. It was fantastic!! I started talking to one of the gents whose daughter used to be at the school and is now at Cornell on a full ride. Clearly, the school works.

** Just a small note here. Cows are assholes. Seriously. The whole time the guy was giving us a tour, the cows from the farm were following our group behind the fence mooing up a storm. Then the guy would stop talking, they'd get quiet, so he'd start again. As soon as he started, this one cow would just get every other cow riled up again. Jerks. :P**

It was about that time I noticed everyone was gone... The 55 milers had taken off a good bit ago, as they still had a long ride, on mostly gravel roads, left to go. They were going to a cider joint (both hard and soft), a couple more farms, and it made sense that they'd take off. But the after party wasn't until 6, and we'd been at Scattergood for maybe 20 minutes, after arriving at 11:30-ish. I checked my watch, and it was about noon. I looked around and all of the 22milers had pretty much taken off. "Oh well, I said, the winery that's our next and final stop before heading back is only 1 mile West, back towards Earth Source. I'll see everyone there." I thanked the farmers and cooks and took off to the Brick Arch Winery in West Branch, Iowa ( I got there a few moments later and lo-and-behold.... Not a damn person. No one was there. I guess the 22 milers either decided to switch rides, or they did their wine tasting in about 30 seconds and left.

I went inside after 2 of the volunteers and a few more cyclists showed up. We all went in and tasted some wine. I tried the reds, as I typically prefer reds. WARNING: THIS IS THE ONLY TIME I'M GOING TO TALK ABOUT WINE ON THIS BLOG. EVER. Sorry Mandy and David ;) The wine was good, but I'm no wino so I really don't know a thing about it. I just drank it and enjoyed it and politely smiled and nodded when the woman told me all about the subtle hints of edam cheese and strawberries. Beats the hell outta me. It was good, that's all I know. The inside of the place was nice, too. We were confined to the main area where the wine bar is, as most of us had cleats on for cycling and they would scuff up the nice floors. There was a sign (I failed to take a picture of) that said anyone caught wearing bike cleats in the room pictures below (same spot, the left picture was me turned to the left, and the right picture was me looking straight on) would be beaten. I avoided those rooms, minus standing in the doorway for the pictures.

At 12:45 I left. I was done and didn't want to drink too much before riding back 8 miles. This is when the ride began to suck... When I left, no one else left. Either they had already gone and were done, or they were still drinking wine. "No big deal," I thought, "I'll see some more cyclists out there. There's always the sag wagon. I'm sure I won't be riding alone." Wrong. Dead. Flippin'. Wrong.

I didn't see a single soul until I got back to my apartment. The Sag Wagon was supposed to circulate through the ride to make sure everyone was ok. What it really did was follow the 55 milers to every stop they made and then stay at the stop until it was time to move on. I was under the impression that it was supposed to be for both groups and help everyone out. I figured it would follow the 55 milers to their stop, turn around and go back to Earth Source and then go back to the 55 milers, to ensure that the whole route was covered. Nope. They just went to the next stop, got out and had a good time. Unfortunately for me, on the last leg of the trip my chain decided 3 times that it no longer liked the front  derailleur and would pop off, prompting me to stop my bike and fix my chain. On the highway. With no shoulder. With speeding trucks and cars. Fortunately it's a relatively easy fix. But what if it hadn't been an easy fix? What if I got hurt or had an asthma attack? What if my bottom bracket broke? What if my chain broke? I'd have to walk my bike back the miles that remained, or I'd have had to call my roommate and hope he was around and sober (It was his birthday) enough to come get me. A trucker even stopped one time and asked if I needed help. I politely thanked him with a smile and said I had it just fine, but thanks. 

Ok, so the sag wagon was sort of a let down. What about all of those riders? Never saw a one. Even though I stopped 3 times on my way back, no one passed me. And when I got back to Earth Source? Not a person to be found. The tents were gone and the remaining food and water had been placed in the toolshed for us to finish. That's not a huge deal, but it would have been nice to at least have someone there. There was nothing. It really felt like if you didn't do the 55 mile ride, you were a let down and you just got to tag a long for a bit but then it was time for the big kids to play, so you had to go home. They even sent us all a survey to take today and there were only 5 questions, 1 being a general comments box. The first 2 questions were "what did you like? What didn't you like?" The 3rd question was the only one that actually pertained to the ride and it was "Did you like riding on gravel or would you prefer pavement next time?" I'm sorry, I didn't ride gravel. I was on the 22 mile ride, NOT the 55 mile ride. I know they don't mean it that way, but damn, if even the survey questions ignore the 22 mile ride? The ride was hard for me, but fun. The people were fantastic. The food and locations were great, and I totally understand that the 22 milers only got to go to 2 places - they were the only 2 on our route. The weather stunk, but who cares? It really was the attitude of the event itself - and not from the riders. No one was nasty at all, even the organizers. Everyone was super happy and really into the cause. It really was just that the 22 mile ride really felt like an add-on when someone said "Hey, what if people can't do the 55 mile ride? They should be included, too." I hope that when they do this again, I'll be able to do the 55 mile ride and that the 22 mile ride will be considered a bit more.

One nice thing at the very end was right before Earth Source Gardens there was a farm house and they had this beauty on display outside.
Why, yes, that IS a purple tutu on this rhino statue.

I have realized now that I don't really like super long rides. Maybe on a different day I would love a 55 mile ride, but I've realized I really just like to commute a few miles. I like city riding and the challenges it brings. We'll see where cycling takes me, though. It's nice to just be on the bike and have your feet actually locked in to the pedals, your legs an actual extension of the simple machines that make the bike move. It's a simple, elegant, beautiful system and I will go where the wheels take me.