beer

REFLECTIONS ON A YEAR OF MAKING

 

A colossal year. January came in quietly and exited to the sound of newborn cries and, if there can be a sound attributed to new parent delirium . . . that sound, too. On this, the last day of 2018, we are flooded with gratitude / surprise (that we survived) / calmness for a year that was hardly easy, but so deeply important. It was the year our lives changed forever, whereby now we wear the indelible mark of parenthood. Being lost for words on the subject, we have thusly decided to share the tangible markers of our year: the things we made with our hands. May this final post of the calendar year offer a dash of encouragement, as well. And, let us just say: If you’re reading this, you made it to see another year. Whatever storms you weathered, rainbows you rested under, or multitudes of circumstances you were brave enough to see through, here you are. Well done! Truly. Here’s to another.


There was beer brewed.

Nine of them, to be exact. It was a year about harping on familiar styles, while tweaking the ingredients so that the same beer was never brewed twice. There were four pale ales—each of which were dry-hopped with a novel combination of hop varieties; two saisons—one brewed with dandelions, and the other with cranberries; and two farmhouse ales—one a “base beer” for future experimentation, manifest in a second iteration featuring rhubarb from our neighbor’s garden. And then there was the proverbial black sheep, a lager made with hops from the experimental hop yard at work, which (tragically) became my first batch to be dumped after becoming contaminated with wild yeast. All in all, roughly 50 gallons of beer made its way out of the fermenter and into our bellies over the course of the year—not bad at all.

rhubarb farmhouse ale homebrewing beer by samantha spigos
homebrewing pale ale beer by samantha spigos
pale ale homebrewing by samantha spigos
homebrewing beer farmhouse ale by samantha spigos
homebrewing cranberry saison by samantha spigos

There were garments and woolens made and mended.

This was the year knitting took on real importance. I knitted fewer things, but each one served a purpose and filled a gap. At the beginning of 2018 I vowed to not buy any new yarn, instead focusing on making do with what I had. (Which, by the way, was in no way a measly stash. My coffers are blessed with wool.) This was in an effort to curb my own consumerism and truly contribute to my family’s needs in a cost effective way. I ended up purchasing three skeins of wool to make two hats with, and I bartered for a reduced cost of the yarn for Rosemary’s Christmas stocking. You can peek the whole of my knitting pursuits over on Ravelry. Upon realizing Mark and I were wearing through all of our best (and expensive!) socks, I took up darning. For a week in the summer I did nothing but darn socks in my spare time, managing to teach my sister along the way. One summer afternoon, we darned socks at the library for a few hours. A real small town, simple pleasure sort of day if there ever was one. Our pile of to-be-darned socks continues to grow, but I know I will get to them, slowly. Mending and making do. Finally, I sewed two dresses for my daughter: Easter and Christmas. This is a tradition I hope to continue throughout her young life.

+ Learn how to darn a sock — it’s easy!
+ A big book devoted to mending.

knitting fringe field bag camel wool by samantha spigos
wool diaper cover soaker yarn scraps by samantha spigos
wool baby blanket knitting handmade by samantha spigos
handmade wardrobe peppermint geranium dress by samantha spigos
handmade wardrobe knitting hand knits by samantha spigos

There were fermentation experiments, vegetables grown, and sourdough loaves.

Mark’s farm job meant our kitchen table was always graced with tomatoes in the summer. We canned dozens and dozens of pounds of tomatoes, which we are delighting in now. One day he came home with thirty pounds of carrots. It seemed… a lot of carrots. We promptly put the lot of them into our three gallon crock under brine. Fermented carrots were easily my favorite experiment this year, though it turns out thirty pounds was not enough! To borrow one of my dad’s favorite turns of phrase, by autumn’s end they were “all et up.” Together with my sister and her kids, we managed to ferment around fifty pounds of cabbage into sauerkraut — just in time for New Year’s day. The lacto-fermentation projects were great, but 2018 was the year of sourdough. Baking weekly loaves of bread to slice and to share was the best practice I took up this year. Grounding, familiar, good.

+ Fermenting crocks to get you thinking of putting food by next season.
+ Sourdough wisdom shared here.

sourdough country aurora bread loaves by samantha spigos
tomatoes organic sourdough bread loaves by samantha spigos
fermented carrots fermentation by samantha spigos
buttered bread tomato sandwich by samantha spigos
rye challah loaf baking bread handmade by samantha spigos

There was a laundry line built.

I wrote about laundry and air drying on the line back in July, but it bears repeating. We love our basic pulley line, and if you fancy yourself interested in line drying, that summer post is merely one among many that can help get you started. I have not taken the plunge into winter air drying outdoors. I tried it once and the clothes never did dry, but all of our Amish neighbors do it, so there must be a way! (If anyone has helpful information to share, please do!)

clothesline laundry air drying by samantha spigos

And that’s sort of, we suppose, a wrap! Our hats off to you, 2018.


—M+S (and Rosemary, underfoot during the writing of this post)

DOWN HOMEBREW | PETITE SAISON

 
DSC01137.jpg

♩♩'Tis the Season of Saison ♩♩. . . well, actually, that's nothing new around here. In my second year as a homebrewer, I have been in hot pursuit of My Perfect Saison. It is, perhaps, the best style for experimentation and has called brewers around the world to a virtual infinity of interpretations. My first iteration, full of folly & flavor, was the Dandelion Saison. This little one came along next—a bit lighter, and buoyed by some new flavors courtesy of a wild yeast strain. Next up: a Christmas version, happily bubbling away in anticipation of the holidays . . . Hark!

DSC01133.jpg
DSC01145.jpg
DSC01144.jpg

Petite Saison

Style: Saison

ABV: 4.7%

Hops: Saaz.

Malt: Pilsner, Vienna, Flaked Wheat.

Overall: A nice little beer, crisp as the December air. This one's right at home in the pale afternoon light of the shortest days of the year.

Appearance: Pale, pale gold; a touch cloudy; with a head that likes to jump out of the glass.

Aroma: Me: "What does it smell like to you?" Sam: "...I don't know. Sunshine?"

Taste: Bright, floral; light and crisp; a toasty lil cracker.

Mouthfeel: Lively champagne-like carbonation; dry as a bone.

DSC01141.jpg

—M

DOWN HOMEBREW | DANDELION SAISON

 

The tale of the Dandelion Saison started peacefully enough. I woke up early on brew day, and though it was a rare day off from the farm, I pulled on my boots and walked out to pasture. It was mid-May and the fields were painted yellow with dandelions, as far as the eye could see. With a canvas tote slung over my shoulder, I set about harvesting the flowers. I watched as a bumblebee drifted from plant to plant, busying itself by my side. The sun rose over the mountains, greeting a new day. True serenity.

Cut to seven hours later.

I walked down the barn stairs to the milking parlor, where Sam was working in my absence. Slouched over and flush from the 90-degree heat, I was dejected. Mere minutes before the end of the brew, my glass thermometer had broken in the kettle, spilling lord-knows-what into the batch. Sam tried to talk me down, but I was having none of it. The batch was ruined. All of that meticulous recipe planning, the hand-selected ingredients, the hours of research on brewing techniques for a more perfect beverage: all of it, down the drain. Because of a thermometer.

Alas! After contacting the manufacturer, I learned that the thermometer was, of course, food-grade: No mercury, no lead, no poisoned beer! And to make matters even better, the broken glass could be strained out before bottling. A beer without glass shards is highly preferable, no doubt. I patiently waited as the French Saison yeast worked its magic in the fermenter. The weeks rolled by, milking & pasture season ramped up, the dandelions in the field went to seed and blew away with the wind. All the while, a faint *bloop* *bloop* could be heard in the corner of our one-room house: yeast, busy at work. Finally, as the calendar turned to July, the Dandelion Saison reached maturity and made it into bottles: free of any glass or poison. This trouble child creation of mine was finally coming to fruition.

Cut to one week later.

The patience I had so gracefully exhibited during fermentation ran out. I had just walked in the door after a long day on the farm. A long week, really: the barn had flooded, there were wagons full of hay to unload, new employees to train in the milking parlor. A post-work beverage sounded nice, and though I knew it took three weeks or so for beer to carbonate in the bottle, it couldn't hurt to test one early—right? Worst case scenario, a flat beer. So I grabbed a swing-top bottle off the shelf and popped it open . . .

*POP!* *PSSSHHHHHHHH!* 

What followed can be described with a whole lot of onomatopoeia, but just one actual word will suffice: Geyser. The second the bottle was opened, beer sprayed everywhere, and with vigor—we have the ceiling stains to prove it! So, of course my split-second reaction was to stick it in my mouth . . .

*GURGLE *

That didn't last long. I ran to the shower, leaving a shower of saison in my wake. . . Good news, though: the beer tasted great! In the end, I learned three things: 1) Those extra weeks in the bottle give time for the carbon dioxide within to dissolve into the beer. Open the bottle too early and that gas will all be stuck in the head space, giving you a rare glimpse of "Old Faithful" far, far away from Yellowstone. 2) My wife is an incredibly good sport. Faced with the grim reality of a homebrew-drenched house, all she did was laugh and help me clean up the mess I'd made. 3) This is my favorite beer that I've brewed to date. Historically, saisons were brewed by farmers in the French-speaking region of Belgium, primarily for the consumption of their seasonal farmhands, or saisonniers. This beer follows that tradition: it is dry and refreshing, ever so slightly tart, and has a much lower alcohol content than modern saisons. It is a beer fit for a farmer, brewed by a farmer. 

Cheers!


Dandelion Saison

Appearance: Cloudy, pale gold; capped with a big ol' fluffy head.

Aroma: Rising bread dough, with maybe a hint of dandelion petal.

Taste: Floral, fruity yeast flavor, and pleasantly tart. 

Mouthfeel: Lively carbonation, low bitterness, finishes dry.

Style: Saison

ABV: 5.0%

Hops: Saaz.

Malt: Pilsner, Vienna, Flaked Wheat.

Overall: For a beer that was anything but easy to brew, it sure drinks easy after a day spent in the field, under the sun!


—M

DOWN HOMEBREW | PREFRESH PILS

 

Ever since moving to Vermont last spring, we have enjoyed the distinct luxury of drinking consistently excellent beer courtesy of our master-homebrewer friend, Pete. His wonderful, often hoppy, offerings have become the stuff of local legend; so much so that he currently has a brewery in the works, Red Clover Ale Company. In a recent letter from the convent, our sister even wrote how happy she is that we live in "Homebrew Heaven." So as a fledgling homebrewer, when you get a chance to brew with Pete—you do!

Local beer has a unique place in the cultural makeup of Vermont. Many of the state's finest beers can only be found & consumed within a few miles of where they are brewed. Freshness and dedication to craft are taken seriously around here! Some would even say a bit too seriously. But a wonderful result of this rich brewing & consuming culture is the (quite accurate) view of beer as an agricultural product. Brewers are often proud to share information on their ingredients— be it malted grains and hops sourced from neighboring farms, or a wild yeast strain harvested afield—as well as their methods. In many ways, it is quite reflective of Vermont's agricultural heritage. Ours is a tight-knit community of producers, and we are better off that way! 

The crossover between farming and brewing is natural and tangible, as evidenced by all the talk of yeast starters and dry-hopping that takes place in and around the barn at Consider Bardwell Farm. This particular "Vermont Farm Beer" is a take on the classic pale lagers of the Czech Republic, intended as a refreshing & light post-work beverage, best enjoyed in the good company of your neighbors. We decided to call it "Prefresh Pils," as it was brewed during the month preceding kidding season, when the goats have yet to "freshen" (or, give birth). Cheers!


Prefresh Pils

Style: Czech Pilsner

ABV: 4.0%

Hops: Saaz.

Malt: Pilsner.

Overall: Fresh, balanced, and quite drinkable; reminiscent of kellerbier, the unfiltered sister style to pilsner. The low alcohol content allows for more nuanced hop, malt, and lager yeast character. A nice, refreshing post-work beverage! 

 

 

Appearance: Pours a pale, golden straw color; a bit cloudy, with a fluffy white head.

Aroma: Subtle cracker and grain notes with herbal hop overtones.

Taste: Malt-forward and ever so slightly sweet, balanced by grassy Czech hop profile.

Mouthfeel: Light bodied with mild carbonation and a clean finish.

 


—M