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I hope to God I haven't started a neighbourly squabble.

You see, I just moved into my current townhouse about three months ago. Now, I dunno what it's like in the rest of the U.S. anymore, but I've been saying for the past five to ten years that Northern Virginia is the most impolite and downright vicious model of suburbia in the country. Unlike most migrants to the area, I've lived here my whole life. I've seen how things have changed. If you have a temper, you won't want to drive on the roads, and you sure as hell don't want to piss someone off who you'll see on a regular basis.

An axiom to all this is the fact that unless you make a damned concerted effort, you won't meet your neighbours, either. I have never seen hide nor hair of the homeowner to my left, To my right lives a woman, presumably single, who is mother to three adolescent or pre-adolescent boys. I've probably talked with her a total of five times.

One of the first things I immediately noticed upon moving into the place was the loud thudding bass next door. It is often loud enough to make my downstairs room unusable. It is annoying, but I daresay it's a risk you take when you move into a townhouse. Today, however, it drove me crazy.

This was one of those days where I could hear it two floors up, on the bedroom level. I was helping my fiancee work on a paper for school, and I could hardly concentrate. We finished up the paper, and I decided that, this time, I was going to go have a little neighbourly chat.

It is, however, at this point, where the story takes a turn

On top of the subwoofer that was shaking my walls, they'd put their dog out front to do its thing. The dog then, of course began to bark... And bark... And bark!

Upon heading outside to go try and talk some sense into the sixteen year-old, I quickly discovered that I might have a problem getting to the door, due much in part to the fact that the aforementioned dog is a dalmatian. Dalmatians are, by nature, territorial. I'm not stupid. I know precisely why Cruella De Vil hated the things. Nonetheless, I figured I'd see how this would go.

Two things happened:
  • One, I realised just how damned cold that dog was. It was limping around on the cold, concrete sidewalk leading up to the porch, and it was shivering like a fiend.
  • Two, I found out very quickly that this dog was not gonna let me go anywhere near the front door. I tried to coax it over to the property line, and it hesitatingly came over, but quickly ran back over to cover its post. I tried slowly walking across their driveway, only to have to dog chase me off, before, once again, limping gingerly across the ice-cold driveway.
At this point, I knew there was no way I would be able to talk to anyone today. It then occurred to me, however, just how long that dog had been out in sub-zero, windy weather. Probably about an hour.

That dog was probably half-numb. I stood there for a minute. It kept looking at me, growling, and then looking and barking at the front door, waiting for the kid let it back in. Of course, most likely, the kid couldn't hear the dog, for reasons already covered quite exhaustively.

At this point, I no longer cared about the loud bass in that house. And while really didn't care much about the dalmatian at this point, either, I was madder than hell at the way the dog was being neglected.

So what do you do, when you hardly know the neighbours, you certainly don't know their phone number, and sure as hell can't get to the front door?

Yeah. I called the local Animal Shelter.

I talked with the woman, explained the situation, and she said she would send someone out. Just as we were finishing up, I heard their front door open to let the dog back in. I explained this to the woman, but I am pretty sure they sent someone anyway.

So what is going to happen now? I am sure that if they find out I called this in -- and for all I know, they may have already -- I'm gonna look like one passive-aggressive asshole, a real dickless wonder. What's going to happen? I have no idea.

I didn't intend to start any drama. But goddammit, you don't fucking do that to an animal, regardless as to the size or demeanor of the beast. Ever.
And here we go again. Reduced almost to tears by the reporting of a small plaintive electronic tone from several hundred million miles out.

I am amazed as usual at the detailed picture that control can produce from a series of short tone signals. Twelve thousand miles per hour, the lander has separated from the cruise stage and is facing atmosphere alone.

Wayne Lee, the head of the EDL team, does a masterful job of narrating the plunge. His American Flag Polo shirt just as garish as last time, he (like mission controllers for all their short history) is happy to invoke whatever luck he can find. Spirit came in OK while he wore that shirt; we'll watch it again.

Acceleration tones come in, faster than Wayne can explain to us viewers. The lander reports increasing gee forces - up to between 6 and 7 gravities at one point. The heat shield is at several thousand degrees; it entered the Martian atmosphere at approximately 28 times the speed of sound. A few thousand feet off the surface, it's down to Mach three or four.

Another tone as the lander informs us it's attempted to dump the heat shield. There are a few moments of expectation, and then confirmation comes in. The parachute open tone comes in, and cheers break out in JPL mission control, there are a whole lot of smiles.

They're waiting for the on-board radar altimeter to get a solid lock on the surface rushing up beneath. There; lock. It's calculated a retro-rocket burn for a few seconds away, and tones indicate the burn has occurred - the airbags have inflated, and...

Opportunity is down, and apparently so far OK. The lander has signaled that it is rolling slowly across the plain, and we're waiting for it to stop. We'll see if we get lucky again and it lands right-side-up.

Imagined violence only, but the thunderous sounds that even in that atmosphere would be impressive, and the fires of re-entry. I wish I could see it.

Al Gore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and other politicos crowd the consoles, eager for photo ops and to bask in the reflected glory of a small Tonka-bot now far from home.

I pour another Lagavulin and fondly toast my small mech friend, so far away.

I'm sorry.

I'm sorry that I had led you on even though I had no intention of falling in love. I was young at that time, and I did not even know that I was leading you on. When I laughed with you, smiled at you, and sat beside you in the canteen and in the lecture theater, it was because I had accepted you as a friend and as a good buddy.

I'm sorry that I did not take my friends' hints seriously. When they winked at me while I was with you, I ignored them totally. They grinned and hinted among themselves, but I just told them to mind their own business. I had no idea that this relationship between us was going into uncharted waters, because I had never had a boyfriend before.

I'm sorry for that Valentine's Day when you gave me a bouquet of flowers and that letter. I did not mean to be so callous as to walk away after a murmuring of thanks. I was in shock and had never dealt with this before. I was also very flattered, but I was also deep in denial. I confess that I did not open your letter until a few months later. Even after that, I did not want to have anything to do with it, leaving it in a cupboard along with the flowers.

I'm sorry for my weird behavioural pattern after that Valentine's Day. I realise that treating you as an invisible person around me was the most heartless thing a girl could ever do to the guy who loved her. I will forever regret my conduct and I know nothing can excuse it.

I'm sorry that because of it I lost a good friend.

As Valentine's Day draws near again I think back to that Valentine's when a guy first asked a girl to be his close companion. The girl left, having never answered him. Leaving him with a broken heart. Years later, she wants to heal the rift between them, but it is too late.

I'm sorry.

For a few months now I've been unemployed. One would think that would be the golden age of homebrewing. But, sadly, homebrewing, and several other projects languished. I spent the time that I wasn't trawling job postings re-working my resume. I spent the time I could not bleakly assessing my dwindling financial situation. I began to seriously contemplate moving. All that stress was worthless in the end, as I have found employment through an old contact (not by sending out hundreds of resumes) and am still skint for a couple of months (the paychecks haven't started to roll in) yet.

Anyway, this winter was dark. A couple of times I considered brewing, but I recoiled at the thought of moving a carboy of beer, or even four dozen bottles, was enough to put me off the project. I should have brewed more than a mere three batches last year. And, damn it, I'm going to this year.

A January edition of Irregular Zymurgy - batch number 03-1
heavy blackberry barleywine

The backyard of this two-apartment house is threatened by invasives: blackberries and bamboo. The bamboo is gorgeous, and makes a wonderful rustling. The blackberries yield very fine berries. Mid-summer, I began harvesting and freezing blackberries, I've had 1½ pounds of berries in the freezer, waiting. It never amounted to enough for a whole 5gal batch of beer. So I decided to make a small batch of high-gravity porter.

Lately, there has developed an interest in pushing the envelope of techniques of brewing towards alcohol levels found in wines and even "fortified beers". Some call this sort of brewing "extreme brewing". I've tried a few strange things, but mostly striving for particular flavors, not high alcohol.

    This morning I boiled a kettle, and over a pot of
  • 1 lb crystal 40L malt,
  • 1/4 lb chocolate malt, and
  • 1/4 lb black patent malt,
  • I poured
  • 6 quarts of hot water (at about 180 deg F).
  • In order to help maintain that temperature, I created a bain marie by placing the pot in another bowl filled with hot water. This is done to mimic the mashing process and hopefully derive some dextrins that will contribute mouth-feel and head to the resultant ale. After a nice steep of about an hour, I put
  • 8 quarts of water
  • on to boil. Once the boil started, I strained the crush grains from the steeping water, sparged, and added that to the boil. And then poured in
  • 1½ lbs of orange blossom honey and
  • 1½ lbs british amber malt extract, and
  • about ½ oz of Kent Goldings hops pellets (6.1% alpha acids). This I boiled for 45 minutes, enough to break down the residual waxes. The apartment was suffused with the smell of honey, even through the mild hops-aroma. After that boil, I added
  • 1½ lbs frozen blackberries,
  • about 12 coin-sized pieces of ginger, and
  • a cinnamon stick.
  • This boiled for 15 minutes, and then I put in
  • 1 oz Mt.Hood hops (5.1% alpha acids) and
  • a pinch of irish moss (which will help remove the pectin from the berries).
  • This boiled another 10 minutes, then steeped for 10 more minutes.
    It was a dark, thick, slightly syrupy wort.
    After it cooled a bit, I strained out the solid matter and decanted it into a 1gal jug.
    After another 90 minutes or so, I pitched in champagne yeast. The fermentation took off quickly, and shows little sign of slowing.

This should result in about 18 cute little 7oz bottles of a blueberry-inflected high-alcohol porter. My estimates (of course I didn't take measure) suggest that it might top 10% if the fermentation goes to completion.

UPDATE February 1, 2004
The fermentation slowed, then halted about 2 days ago. I suspected that it might be stuck. This afternoon, conform and iDEATH and I took careful sips from the carboy using a long straw. It was dry!.
"Tastes like the hairs on a blackberry", iDEATH commented. Indeed it does.
"I wonder why it shouldn't just be drunk now", conform suggested impatiently.

UPDATE February 13, 2004
Three days ago I replaced the airlock with a regular bung and put the carboy in the fridge. Today I bottled it, with the addition of about 5 teaspoons corn sugar and a little water to fuel the bottle priming. Utilizing a ladle, a measuring cup, and a funnel, I filled eleven seven-ounce bottles and three regular (12oz) bottles. This is going to be a remarkable barleywine. The honey flavor is a bit high, but I hope that it mellows over the next several weeks.

UPDATE March 14, 2004
This evening I brought out a small bottle at the closing of an impromptu BBQ with misuba, Bob, and Christa. Taking the bottle from the fridge, I metted out a scant two ounces per person, in brandy glasses. It was very yummy: dry (no sugar), yet the scent of blackberries rumored sweetness, lightly carbonated, no visible sedimentation, no flavors of yeast.

UPDATE July 2, 2004
I packed the five remaining bottles of this elixir in my suitcase and brought it with me on the train. Tonight, overnighting with fuzzy and blue and Jongleur in Eugene, I shared a bottle with them. It is a dark, inky, complex beverage. The scent of blackberries remains, but not in an overpowering cassis-like manner. The carbonation has remained light.

UPDATE July 5, 2004
Now at the Salad House, I shared a bottle with cronfr0m and iDEATH. They were most appreciative. It is good to bring some small pieces of my former life with me into my new one. There remain two bottles, saved for some as yet unknown occasion.


A special reprise of Irregular Zymurgy - batch number 03-2
now is the winter of our discontent ale

One gallon of porter, even if preternaturally strong, would not be enough to slake my thirst for brewing. So, while I babied the special brew, I made a standard size batch of dark ale. In several ways, this recipe is similar to the sneffelicious dark ale I made two Septembers ago, but should be a little stronger and a bit more hopped.

    I put the kettle on again, and into a pot I put
  • 1 lb crystal 80L malt, and
  • 1/2 lb chocolate malt.
  • This followed a mashing technique identical to that described above.
    Into the five gallon stockpot went
  • gal water
  • and I allowed it to boil as I fussed with the blackberry porter.
    Then, once at a boil, I drained the liquid from the mashed grains into the main pot, and sparged the grains with more water.
    Into the boiling water I poured
  • 2 lbs dark malt extract and
  • 5 lbs ultra light extract.
  • Why I mixed those rather than choosing a medium dark extract I don't know. I bought this part of the ingredients awhile ago and can't remember what I was thinking. And I muttered to myself about it, while stirring the pot so that these syrups wouldn't stick to the bottom and scorch. Once the malt extract had dissolved, I added the bittering hops:
  • 1 oz Northern Brewer hops (7.2% alpha acids) and
  • 1/2 oz Kent Golding hops pellets (6.1% alpha acids).
  • All this boiled for 20 minutes. Then I added another
  • 1 oz Northern Brewer hops and
  • boiled another 20 minutes. At which point I threw in
  • 2 oz Mt.Hood hops
  • 1 tsp irish moss and
  • for aroma and clarification, respectively. This boiled 5 minutes, then steeped for another 10 minutes.
    I strained the wort into a bucket filled with 7lbs of ice to more quickly cool it. Within an hour I decanted it into a carboy, and pitched in Wyeast strain 1318 "London Ale III".

The fermentation has not yet kicked off. The darker ales sometimes wait a bit longer to begin. It is a gorgeous color of dark brown, though.

Brewing has long been a source of hopeful anticipation for me. The work involved is just enough to make one feel accomplished, the wait is not long enough to try my patience (usually), and the result is enjoyable on a couple of levels. The panacea is not the drink, but the activity. It is good enough. It is more than good enough.

UPDATE January 29, 2004
I noticed a bit of bubbles on top of the dark ale, but no real flocculation. I worry that the yeast is stuck, perhaps the temperature is too cool or there isn't enough oxygen or nutrients for it to begin. Worrisome.

UPDATE January 30, 2004
Now late evening. The yeast must have started this afternoon, as it has flocculated and piled a head an inch above the liquid. I now expect that it will be very active the next few days. And that I have no patience.

UPDATE February 4, 2004
I racked the ale to a clean carboy and tossed in another 1 ounce of Mt.Hood hops for finishing.

UPDATE March 28, 2004
Transferred this ale to a cornelius canister. The eight weeks of dry-hopping have contributed a mellow but strong bitter. The ale itself is malty, but fermented to completion. It has a bit of a biscuity taste from the dissolved yeasts that it sat on for so long, but that should be masked once it carbonates.

UPDATE April 3, 2004
Tapped the keg, at about cellar temperature. Drank five pints during an afternoon of grilling halibut with romenesca sauce, asperagus and portabellas with a lavender vinegarette. Garrick and Celeste and that cute girl from the bus came over. I am quite amazed at how good this turned out. The remainder of the keg I've gifted to misuba, for his birthday.

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