Tag Archives: beer

Your New Year

Each January, many of us decide to change our lives. There are the usual things we want to do:

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Eat healthier: 

End bad habits:

Handle money better:

Work out and lose weight:

These are all good things to focus on, but here are some ideas for other changes you could make.

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Add some creativity to your life:

Forgive someone:

Make it yourself:

Show gratitude:

Whatever you choose to do with your new year, I hope you have a wonderful one.

–Aisha

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Be Good or Be Gone

McSorley's Old Ale House, via website. As a woman photographer, BERENICE ABBOTT had to get special permission to enter McSorley's on November 1, 1937 to take this photograph.

There’s an old country saying—from the cradle to the hearse, things are never so bad that they can’t get worse—well, that’s the way I see the world.” –Joseph Mitchell

I’m not going to lie—my favorite American holiday is not St. Patrick’s Day, it’s Thanksgiving. The founding idea behind Thanksgiving appalls me, but its modern aberration allows me to do all of my favorite things, namely hang out with family and friends, watch movies, eat copious amounts of food, take naps, and yes, give thanks (mostly for family, food and naps). I don’t have anything against St. Patrick’s Day as an idea (I’m at least 1/3 Black Irish according to suspect reports), but it’s a boisterous and extroverted holiday, on par with the 4th of July, and my quiet soul cannot abide. I am tempted to talk about the myth of the mighty leprechaun in this post, or perhaps, a brief history of Irish music, but fear this will not suffice.

So how does a person such as myself approach talking about one of the loudest and rowdiest of American holidays? Why, by talking about beer of course! Beer, that lovely, full-bodied American beverage is dear to my heart, and not just because it is a nice weekend respite. Beer and beer drinking have led to some of the finest American literature our libraries have to offer. It is with beer in mind that I can think of no better way to honor St. Patrick’s Day than by raising a pint* to one of my favorite American writers, Mr. Joseph Mitchell.

To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Mitchell is not himself an Irishman, but rather one of the finest reporters who has ever written for The New Yorker. Up in the Old Hotel, a collection of both fiction and nonfiction essays, ranks among my top ten favorite books. Where does the Irish part come in? Up in the Old Hotel begins with an essay Mitchell wrote in 1940 called “The Old House at Home,” which chronicles the history and characters of McSorley’s Old Ale House, the oldest bar in New York.

McSorley’s opened in 1854, and was started by an Irish immigrant named Old John McSorley. According to Mitchell, Old John fashioned the saloon after a public house in his hometown in Ireland, and believed it was impossible for men to “really drink in tranquility in the presence of women.” McSorley’s remained a males-only establishment until 1970, which is long after Mitchell wrote his essay. Aside from this fact, the McSorley’s portrayed in “Old House” is a charmingly anachronistic establishment, described as “a drowsy place; the bartenders never make a needless move, the customers nurse their mugs of ale, and the three clocks on the walls have not been in agreement for many years. The clientele is motley.” Old John always set out a “lunch” of soda crackers, raw onions and cheese, and had a rack of communal corncob pipes (the theory being that any man who buys a pint is entitled to a free smoke on the house). A visit to the McSorley’s website also provides a chance to glimpse proof of Old John’s obsession with memorabilia—many of the items he hung on McSorley’s old walls are still there today, including paintings, photos and, my favorite, a sign that simply reads: “BE GOOD OR BE GONE.”

If you are as charmed as I was with “The Old House at Home,” I recommend you continue reading the rest of this fine book. Mitchell has his own special, delightfully dry brand of humor (often affectionately referred to as “graveyard humor”) and tends to write about what he knows best—outsiders living in 1930s through 1960s New York. Mitchell himself has exclaimed, “I specialized for years in writing about outcasts and cranks and unusual groups—the fishmongers and fishwives in Fulton Market, the people on the Bowery, a band of gypsies, a band of Mohawk Indians who have no fear of heights and work as riveters on skyscrapers and bridges.”

The characters populating Mitchell’s stories (in both fiction and nonfiction, although the line between the two is blurry) are what one might refer to as tough old birds. There is Mazie P. Gordon, blunt but kind-hearted, who manages the ticket booth at the Venice theater in the Bowery and acts as de facto den mother to all the bums and drunks in the neighborhood. Or the bohemian barfly Joe Gould, “an odd and penniless and unemployable little man who came to the city in 1916 and ducked and dodged and held on as hard as he could for over 35 years.” He immortalizes gin mills, a social club for deaf people, a terrapin farm in Georgia and the rats on the New York waterfront. He has profiled everyone from calypso singers, to the Mohawk Indians who helped to build New York’s many skyscrapers, to a man who ran something called Captain Charlie’s Museum for Intelligent People. Throughout, Mitchell is clearly in awe of his strange (and occasionally drunken) subjects, and always treats them with delicate respect.

If Mr. Mitchell were still around today, I would gladly brave the hullabaloo of St. Patrick’s Day to buy him a beer and trade a story or a smile. As he is no longer with us, I will have to settle for the words he left behind.

Happy Saint Patty’s,
Tara

* Of course, no imbibing of alcoholic beverages is permitted on library premises. By “raising a pint,” I really mean “checking out a book.”

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All good things must come to an end…

…including homebrewing season. Fortunately, some great new books on brewing beer have been added to our collection since last fall, so I’ll have plenty of summer reading to inspire me until homebrewing season returns:

brewmonkBrew Like a Monk: Trappist, Abbey, and Strong Belgian Ales and How to Brew Them by Stan Hieronymus —  Brew Like a Monk details the rich history of monastic brewers and their complex beer styles, and includes clone recipes of some of the most revered monastic brews, such as Chimay and Orval.   

farmhouseFarmhouse Ales: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition by Phil Markowski — In Europe’s agricultural days, French and Belgian peasants made flavorful ales known as biere de garde and saison to drink as refreshments during harvest season. Farmhouse Ales delves into the history of these “peasant beers,” and provides tips for making your own.

wildbrewsWild Brews: Beer Beyond the Influence of Brewer’s Yeast by Jeff Sparrow — Some Belgian style ales, including one of my favorites, the Flanders red ale, are fermented in open barrels to expose them to wild yeasts and microorganisms, such as Brettanomyces. While this may not sound appetizing, the wild organisms lend a pleasantly tart flavor to the beers they invade. Wild Brews discusses these styles and how to make them.    

radicalbrewingRadical Brewing: Recipes, Tales, and World-Altering Meditations in a Glass by Randy Mosher — This is perhaps my favorite book on homebrewing. Mosher lays out in colorful detail brewing history and methods along with very unique recipes, such as Pudgy McBuck’s Celebrated Cocoa Porter and the Doktor Schnurrbart Schwarzbier, which I happen to have lagering in my basement as I write this.

Hoppy reading!

–Wes

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It’s Homebrewing Season Again

With the end of summer approaching, I’ll soon be in my basement digging out my big kettle, some five gallon buckets, and a giant spoon.  That’s right, it’s homebrewing season again, which means it’s time to start thinking about homemade beer.

Admittedly, autumn isn’t the only season for homebrewing, as all of the seasons offer their own unique styles worth trying.  However, I have a romantic vision of Belgian peasants of yore brewing their famous saison style during the fall harvest (only the rich could afford to brew at any other time), and so I’ve decided to follow suit by only brewing in the fall (not to mention it’s far more pleasant standing over a hot kettle in the cooler months than during the summer, and some of my favorite ingredient components, such as fresh pumpkins, are readily available at this time).  This year I’ll even be brewing with some of my own harvest thanks to a neat book called The Homebrewer’s Garden.

When people find out that I’m a homebrewer, the first thing they usually ask is, “How hard is it to homebrew?”  I respond with, “Well, it’s really very simple.”  You can get started with a fairly low initial investment (around $150-$200) at your local or online brewing supply store, and by reading some good homebrewing guides:

The Complete Joy of Homebrewing by Charlie Papazian – Hombrewing is practically synonymous with the name Charlie Papazian.  Papazian writes good introductory homebrewing guides and provides us with the infinite wisdom of his famous motto, “relax, don’t worry, have a homebrew.” 

Dave Miller’s Homebrewing Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Make Great Tasting Beer by Dave Miller – Dave Miller’s guide offers slightly more advanced techniques than Papazian’s, so I recommend it for intermediate to advanced homebrewers.

 

Extreme Brewing: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home by Sam Calagione – Sam Calagione is the founder of Dogfish Head, one of the biggest and most interesting microbreweries in the United States.  Calagione is famous for his off-the-wall beer styles, and this book provides guidance on how to make clone versions of his beers, as well as advice on making your own “extreme” homebrews.

Brew Chem 101 by Lee W. Janson – If you really want to get serious about your homebrewing, or maybe even become a professional brewer, you’ll need to study some chemistry so you understand the chemical complexities of the brewing process.  This will also allow you to truly fine-tune your brewing.

If you find that you really like homebrewing, you might consider joining a homebrewing club, such as TRUB (Three Rivers Underground Brewers) or TRASH (Three Rivers Alliance of Serious Homebrewers).  After awhile, your homebrew might even be good enough to win metals at a homebrew competition.

And remember, not only do librarians know a lot about books, we’re also great taste testers.

— Wes

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