Sunday, May 11, 2014

Dear Mom and Dad. Part 1: Happy Mother's Day!

This will be a collection of pictures and thoughts from my time in Germany since February 2014. I chose Wolf Parade - I'll Believe in Anything for the tone because I think it's about exploring the world and taking risks that you normally wouldn't be able to take at home.

I don't really know where to begin with this post. So I'll just let the pictures I took tell the story.

This is the outside of the brewery I worked for, called Riedenburger Brauhaus. They were in the process of expanding so there was a lot of construction going on while I was there. I tried my hardest to be a valuable worker and be a part of the team, which was easy because of how welcoming and helpful all of my co-workers were.

My friend who helped facilitate my stay assured me that my inability to speak German wouldn't be a problem because most of my co-workers spoke English. This was true to a certain extent but not enough to be comfortable. It would be insensitive of me to expect everyone to speak English so initially there were a few awkward moments of me trying and failing miserably to communicate in German. Eventually people figured out it was easier for them to attempt to speak English than to attempt to understand my German. That didn't keep me from trying to speak German on a fairly regular basis.

I spent most of the beginning of my time working in the Fermentation Cellar. It was fun, hard work, and I learned a lot about open fermentation and yeast. After about 2 weeks they put me to work on my own so I could help fill in for people who were on vacation or needed elsewhere. I would work between 9 and 14 hours every day, and it was awesome. I felt useful and productive. A way I hadn't felt in a year.

Riedenburg is small but beautiful. It will be missed. More to come...

Saturday, March 22, 2014


First, the tone...

Last week a co-worker asked me to brew a beer on his homebrewing system. He wanted me to brew my favorite American style and since I don't really have a favorite I thought I would brew a stout, considering there are no stouts here in Bavaria.

Brewing is the same wherever you go. I was amazed that even though my friend speaks very little English and I speak very little German we could still have a good conversation about beer, meeting in the middle. This also translates into large scale brewing for the most part.

It was the first time I had come up with an all grain recipe in almost a year. And he made me come up with it on the spot. I used Bravo and EKG hops with London yeast. It will taste fantastic!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Cycling Tour

This weekend I decided to go on a short cycling tour to Kelheim, about 19 km along the Donau Canal, despite the terrible weather. It may or may not have gone EXACTLY like this:

Unfortunately I didn't meet Trotsky.

It was supposed to rain for part of the day but I decided to go out anyway considering I didn't have much to do. There is a very good brewery in Essing that I thought I would visit on the way home.

I started the ride listening to Run the Jewels. The album is fantastic but WAY too short. So I followed it by Del the Funky Homosapien and then the new Yuck album, which is not bad considering how awesome their debut was. Nice variety.

The ride was quite easy despite the cold. Only once on the way to Kelheim did I have to stop because of the rain, and it wasn't even bad. In fact it was a great time to relax and enjoy a beer.

The scenery was nice and it was really cool to see castles built on the hillsides all around me. And riding along the canal was beautiful.

Eventually I arrived in Kelheim. It's an pretty little town but the weather was becoming worse. After riding around for a few minutes I had to stop and find shelter. Unfortunately the closest place was a bust stop in front of a gas station and a McDonalds. Not exactly nice scenery. So as soon as the rain let up a little bit I took off towards the center of town where I could sit in a coffee shop or restaurant until the sun came out.

It takes courage to go into a shop or restaurant where I cannot speak the language. Bavarians also speak in a very specific dialect that is not taught in Duolingo or books. So even if I know what I want to say in German, my accent mixed with the fact that I'm not even speaking Bavarian German makes communication very difficult. Eventually I just point to what I want. 

So in this restaurant I decided to have a beer because they had Weltenburger Klosterbraueri beer, which is very nice. Three beers and a long chapter in my book later the rain had finally let up. So I promptly left and headed towards Reidenburg.

Unfortunately the rain and the cold made riding back fairly difficult. So I stopped every time there was shelter.

By the time I reached Essing where the brewery I wanted to visit was I was pretty soaked and cold. Even if I was up for having a half liter I was not even presentable to be in a nice restaurant. So I continued past until I reached home.

The cup of tea I had when I got there was unbelievable.

Friday, March 14, 2014

What am I Doing?

The short answer is I'm in Germany working at a friend's small organic brewery. I'll be back in New York in May.

My stay has been completely dominated by Mozart's Requiem.

The long answer is for you, the person who actually reads this, and my parents! I'm about halfway through my stay here in Riedenburg, Germany. With only 3 months in Bavaria and many things to do and see time is going by very quickly. I've seen Munich several times, Berlin, Dachau, Regensburg, Nuremburg, and a little bit of Ingolstadt. All of which are very interesting.

More importantly than the personal enlightenment that comes from traveling in a foreign country is the learning and experience I'm gaining from working in a German organic brewery. There is a law here that prohibits any brewery from making a beer with more than the four essential ingredients in beer: Water, Barley, Hops, and Yeast. It's called the Reinheitsgabot, or German Purity Law. This means that you cannot use any water treatment from sources that are not one of these things. You cannot add spices, clarifying agents, fermentation aids, or sugar. Since talking to my co-workers I have discovered that there are a few exceptions, such as you are allowed to use a malt other than barley, like Spelt, if you use a top fermenting yeast. The rules seem arbitrary and many brewers do not like the restrictions placed upon them. But many also believe it challenges them to make great beer because it's harder to cover up flaws. Only recently were they allowed to dry hop under the law. Americans would go nuts.

Every beer at this brewery uses the decoction method of brewing. This means that during the mash process a portion of the mash is removed, boiled, and put back in with the rest, which raises the overall temperature of the mash which can be necessary for certain flavor complexities. It's a very old and traditional way of brewing and it's not very common in America because it takes such a long time to do. Using this method of brewing means that one beer takes nearly 12 hours to brew, therefore we can only make two batches in one day. German breweries are not expanding as quickly as American breweries so having a large system that only brews a few times a week is very common.

All of the fermentation is done in a cellar that holds 8 open fermenters. Every day I work in this cellar I manually clean a few of them. Once empty they are refilled almost immediately. Brewing has changed a lot in the last 50 years for the Germans so using these old methods of cellaring can be quiet frustrating or them. It's a funny thing: We all want our jobs to be easier but as soon as it becomes too easy the passion can be lost.

That's all for now. I have completely fallen in love with brewing again. Never stop learning.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Identity through Vocation

Ever since I got into the beer industry I have been obsessed with it. There is an intense satisfaction that comes from working hard to make a product that I love and getting to share it with friends and strangers. And I get paid to do it! With the vast amount of styles and innovative things I can do with beer I will never get tired of it.

This love for making my favorite drink easily seeps into everyday life outside of the hours I get paid to do my job. While at first it might be easy to separate work life and outside life, over time the line becomes blurred, and instead of life feeling like work, work feels like life. This sort of attachment has several ups and downs.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I don't think this one is actually worth that much.

The positive aspects of this is summed up nicely in the common phrase, "If you love what you do you never work a day in your life." The negatives come from the way issues that may arise from work affect my personal life in a more profound way. When the issues were ones I knew I could deal with the stress levels were actually kind of nice. It brought a sense of progress and hard work to my everyday life. Alternatively, when the issues were out of my hands and I had trouble affecting the outcome for the better the negative impact on my personal life was very great. These issues were generally not that I couldn't do the job but that someone wouldn't let me do the job, which is common in larger companies and government/education jobs. When a co-worker leaves the company or industry it's almost like they don't want to be friends with me anymore. I know this isn't true but a connection is being severed and it's easy to take it personally.

So when an industry like the one I'm in has treated me so well, has been optimistic and taken risks with me (which I think have paid off), and has seemingly set standards for knowledge, sharing, and overall camaraderie doesn't meet those standards, it almost feels like a betrayal. And my reaction can be unpredictable.

So maybe the solution to this problem is to ultimately separate work from personal life. But as a person who is passionate about everything I do, I'm not sure if it's possible. Maybe only if I get let down again will I be able to achieve that. But at that point I think I would try to find a new love.

Monday, July 22, 2013

How Music Changed My Life

Quite often I think back on the music of my past. What my first album was, what records opened my eyes to new musical possibilities, conversations and arguments about music theory. Not that I'm an expert by any means, but I am a lover of music and I try to not let what something "should be" influence my enjoyment.

A conversation about music with someone I don't know almost always starts with them saying, "I like all music except (insert genre here)." While I think some genres are more difficult to get into for certain people I think it's naive to discount a piece of music because of it's genre. There are artists that turned me onto a genre and opened my eyes to what it has to offer, and if I hadn't displayed that optimism I would have robbed myself from the enjoyment of the art. This is the core of how music changed my life. Skip to the last paragraph if you don't care about the journey.

I honestly don't remember what my first album was, but I think it must have been some Christian singer songwriter because that was the first style of music (that I remember) I was exposed to. I hesitate to dismiss the influence because it lead me to the path I needed to take to learn and explore what music has to offer. After a few years of mediocre, "convenient" music the gateway drug to musical awareness was a ska band called Five Iron Frenzy.

What happened at this point was an obsession with the band, as might be natural for a first love. For 2 years there was nothing but Five Iron Frenzy and occasionally some punk rock. Five Iron Frenzy disbanded in 2003. While it made me very sad at the time I can see now that their break up was the kick I needed to explore my other musical interests. Enter The Refused and The Mars Volta.

The Refused were a vessel of energy and feeling. Pure passion and movement. Their lyrics were about anger, injustice, and politics, the opposite of Five Iron Frenzy, which were about positivity and spirituality. I distinctly remember listening to The Shape of Punk to Come everyday after school with my good friend, Zach. I never got sick of it.

The Mars Volta was genre-less, conceptual, and experimental; they opened up a world of musical exploration for me. The concept album became a fascination as well as the melding of instruments into something unexpected. Because of this I became adverse to anything that sounded unimaginative and dismissed albums that sounded run-of-the-mill. Which made me miss out on some great music because I didn't care to look deeper.

I'm having a hard time remembering what happened at this point. I know punk music stuck with me for a long time. Dead Kennedys, Rancid, and Tiger Army were always on in my head. Pink Floyd was ever present along with a cornucopia of other "classic" artists: David Bowie, Led Zeppelin, and Queen to name a few. But there was also lot of new indie music coming and going, very little of which stood the test of time. The Canadian Indie rock scene was particularly good though with The New Pornographers, Wolf Parade, and Arcade Fire completely killing it.

So began my discovery of great folk music. I could rattle off a ton of bands that came out with good albums and helped expand my interest in the genre but there is only one that stands out in a way that no other has even come close to. And that band is Neutral Milk Hotel with their album In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.

I highly recommend listening to the complete album because it is a beautiful experience. This was one of the first albums that stirred a serious emotional response in me. It is best listened to with only your headphones and your ears, no other distractions.

After Neutral Milk Hotel there was a steady rise in my interest in all genres and general optimism towards music. All styles were being poked at and dabbled in. Jack White, Beirut, Nine Inch Nails, LCD Soundsystem, St. Vincent, Gogol Bordello, Tom Waits, Gorillaz... All were entering my ears and putting me at the peak of musical enjoyment. Of course it was still easy to dismiss artists like Lady Gaga, Linkin Park, and Kanye West without actually listening to their music, but eventually I had to ask myself, "Why?" I was no better than the people who blindly like the music because a marketer tells them to when I blindly dislike the music for whatever social or personal reasons. With any art there is experience that comes from outside factors that aren't just the needle hitting the record, so maybe there's something deeper than just the abrasiveness of the voice or sound if that's what puts you off.

These contributing factors can create a deeper enjoyment, but can also be a hindering factor. I find the former to be much more common. So as I grew to accept more forms of music and tried to have a deeper understanding of the pieces I was particularly interested in I started to explore the genres that were less attractive to me. I just wanted to know why I didn't like it and I think I found the answers I was looking for while discovering some great music along the way. Never again would I say, "I just don't like it."

Fast forward to the present. There is never a genre barrier to keep me from trying something new. If there was I would have missed out on one of the best albums of the last 5 years. Kanye West's My Dark and Twisted Fantasy. If I let what I thought was run-of-the-mill music go unheard I would have not listened to the newest Queens of the Stone Age, Like Clockwork... which is my favorite album of the year so far.

Not to say that it still isn't hard to overcome musical cynicism, but I don't have many friends recommending the newest Brad Paisley song to me either.

This is how music changed my life: I am able to mirror my musical journey and experience to everyday living and attitudes. There was a time when cynicism ruled my life and every situation was looked at with a skeptical perspective whether it be relationships, activities, food, or enjoyment of art. This fostered an attitude of laziness, anger, and willful ignorance which then created a predisposition that any experience wouldn't be very good. Music showed me that I should look at people, life, and myself differently. It's not easy to keep this attitude up but now I'm more willing to try new things, meet new people, and learn something new every day. How could someone not want that? Life is too short to be angry all the time.

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Hello, Friends.

In an effort to be more disciplined, practice my writing skills, learn more, and articulate my thoughts on beer, music, games, and anything else, I have started a new blog! At first I thought I would try updating at least once a day but I think a more realistic goal is to update at least once a week.

A lot of my time is wasted surfing the internet, checking Facebook and Twitter, playing games that aren't really fun and watching shows, movies, and videos that aren't really entertaining or valuable. It's interesting how even the social networking aspects of wasting time are becoming less socially interactive, and rarely promotes actual discussion. Basic discussion is still valuable and I feel it is being repressed by fear of causing offense, 140 characters, and general laziness/disinterest in critical thought. Focusing on creating content while critically thinking about what I'm consuming, and learning/teaching more will promote that sense of life satisfaction. Too many times in the last 6 months has the thought, "I'm bored" entered my mind. With your help we can start a conversation, learn more about life and art, and create strong friendships.

There is a lot that I would like to say and if I can get off my lazy ass and actually say it this will be a success. I would love for you to go on this journey with me. It would certainly be a motivational factor.

In conclusion, watch and listen to the best Talking Heads song ever.