Organic Beer, Session #13 Roundup

March 6, 2008

Organic Beer SessionOn March 7, 2008 people all over the beer blogosphere are writing about organic beer. This is a roundup of all those posts. It’s part of a monthly group beer blogging event called The Session. The theme for this month’s Session is “Organic Beer” and I’m happy to be your host. Pull up a stool, pour a glass of something organic, and enjoy the reading.

Appellation Beer. Does organic beer taste better, or should it? Stan Hieronymus, idea-man behind the Session, ponders this point with a pint of Green Lakes Organic Ale from Deschutes and proposes that:

. . . beyond the obvious, there are other reasons to think organic ales might actually taste better. It seems . . . that a brewer who goes to the trouble or a barley farmer who goes to the trouble doesn’t view organic as a gimmick. Effort tends to make things better. Read more.

Barley Blog. A brew two-for, hitting both ends of the spectrum: A-B’s organic Stone Mill Pale Ale, and an organic Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout.

I had seen Wolaver’s Oatmeal Stout from Otter Creek Brewing on the shelves so often in the past that I am now kicking my self (seriously, even as I type this up) for not getting it sooner. . . I transmogrified into Count Chocula upon the first sniff from the glass. Read more.

Barley Vine. Ted pontificates about the meaning of ‘organic’ and ‘green’ prior to sampling a North Coast organic Plowshare Stout.

Smells of strongly roasted malts, chocolate, cocoa, coffee. The mouth is sweet malts, coffee, espresso . . . Read more.

Bearded Brewing Blog. Eric was first out of the gate for this session. In “My Organic Revelation,” he reflects on his own transition to organic homebrewing and how organic agriculture is helping to save small scale family farms.

. . . home brewers, craft brewers and enthusiasts, and organic farmers and brewers are creating a culture, and an industry that is doing things in the right way. . . Read more.

Bear Droppings. Thomas drops into his first Session with an Eel River Organic Porter.

Considering all the panic over hops and malt issues recently the beer was well within the normal range for craft beer prices so that was an unexpected surprise. Read more.

Beer at Joe’s. Coming in with the first video blog of the Session, Jasmine pairs up cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, Acme bread, with a Bison organic Chocolate Stout and Bison organic Belgian Ale.

Since moving to the San Francisco bay area, we’ve made a conscious effort to eat more of the organic food that’s readily available here . . . Read more.

Beer, Beats, Bites. Give it up for Greg! The poor guy gives us a complete rundown of organic beers in Ontario but because he always tries something new for Sessions, he puts in extra effort to get an organic Bog Water Dirty Brown Ale from Beau’s Brewing . . . and then he gets hit with the flu.

. . . a unique brew made with organic malt, spring water, and wild bog myrtle (or sweet gale), essentially making it a 100% organic beer. . . [but] I’ve got a pot of tea in the kitchen with my name on it… *sigh*. Read more.

Beer Dinners. Josh, a beer label designer, blogs about cooking with organic food and beer, providing some good links to web-based resources.

Looking for organic beer, but too lazy to actually go to a store to seek it out? Never fear, because Diamond Organics has mail order organic beer. Read more.

Beer Haiku Daily. Always one of my favorites, Captain Hops sums it all up in a haiku. He offers two this time, so I’ll share one and send you to his site for the other. Read them both here.

Saving the World
It didn’t take much
To help save the world a bit
I just drank a beer

The Beer Nut. After having a bugger of a time finding an organic beer in Ireland, and being annoyed by this month’s theme in general, the Beer Nut settles in with an Angel Lager from Broughton.

Leaving prejudice and apprehension aside, I’m rather enjoying it. Read more.

Blog About Beer. For want of any new organic beers to taste, Luke stretches the boundaries of this month’s theme (I was hoping some of you would do that) and announces some “green” plans from Smuttynose Brewing.

Smuttynose would like to create a more sustainable facility. . . ‘We’ve registered our project for LEED certification and plan to incorporate as many innovative technologies as we can, including geothermal heating and cooling, co-generation, gray water recovery systems and a low impact development site design.’ Read more.

Boak and Bailey. “Intra-Sessional” commentary has begun. These two British beer bloggers comment on an earlier post from the Beer Nut while sampling St. Peter’s Organic Ale, then move on for a revisit of the Duchy Original Organic Ale (made by Wychwood for the Prince of Wales) and conclude with an organic lager brewed with hemp extract called Biohanfbier.

. . . we don’t always buy organic, because there are other factors that are more important to us, like food miles. . . we haven’t had our perceptions of organic beer changed by this exercise, but it’s nice to know that it’s not all rubbish. Read more.

Bottles of Barley. Heath blogs about the improving selection of organic beers and settles in with a Lakefront E.S.B.

I was always looking to try organic beers from the first time I saw them. Unfortunately, I found most of them lacking. That has changed in the last 4 years or so as the range of organic beers has gotten better and, I think, the quality of the organic ingredients available for brewing has gotten better as well. Read more.

Brainard Brewing. Keith fondly recollects spending a day with the Dead drinking living beer – Orlio Organic IPA from Magic Hat, and calls organic certification a modern version of the Reinheitsgebot but with creativity allowed.

Beer is food, too. If you are into organic and natural foods, think about the beer you’re drinking. With the readily available organic brands of beer out there, it’s easy to choose organic beer. Sure, you may diverge every now and then. . . Read more.

The Brew Site. Jon says it was a no-brainer to choose Green Lakes Organic Ale from Deschutes for his post today. Green Lakes is the first beer to use certified Salmon-Safe hops. Wow, that’s a new one on me. Thanks for the education Jon!

[cited from Deschutes via Jon’s blog] “The way these flavorful, rich hops are grown makes sure that streams are shaded and there is not runoff to nearby waterways. That way the rivers stay cool and clean for migrating salmon. Not only is our Green Lakes beer organic, it helps protect our rivers as well.” . . . The American Amber style is one of my favorites—malty and sweet and firm-bodied, with hops but not too many hops—and Green Lakes fits that bill in spades. Read more.

Brookston Beer Bulletin. A late entry from Jay delves into the details of the NOP rules and asserts that the rules ought to be stronger in order to avoid risking the loss of consumer confidence.

A company could use 30% of complete crap and still make a consumer believe their purchase is organically sound. Read more.

Buttle’s Beer Blog. Debating “organic versus” local, Buttle tries an Orlio Organic Lager and Samuel Smith Organic Ale and concludes:

. . . my foodie leanings trump both local and organic considerations. . . of course, in many cases, organic, local and tasty coincide. Read more.

A Good Beer Blog. Alan gets a taste of the organic Bog Water ale from Beau’s that Greg Clow was only able to dream about through his flu-induced haze over at Beer, Beats, Bites, and finds himself somewhat converted to what he had heretofore considersed merely a branding trend.

A thinking person’s brown ale that begs to be stored on bug laced rum cask for a while. Read more.

Great Canadian Pubs and Beers. A newbie to the Session, Troy passes on the obvious choice of his hometown’s Mill Street organic lager in search of new flavors, opting for a couple bottles from Pacific Western, the Natureland Organic Lager and Organic Amber.

. . . nice earthy aroma, fresh cut hay, cereal biscuity and a tiny hop presence. . . the Natureland Organic Lager is a winner in my books. Read more.

Gowanus Brewery. Jeremy, a budding Brooklyner homebrewer, tips back a Hefe-Weizen from the Pinkus-Muller brewery in Munster, Germany (which is purportedly the world’s first exclusively organic brewery).

It’s crisp and clean and could be perfect with a big BBQ cookout . . . Come summertime, I would be a happy man with a six-pack of Pinkus Hefe’s with me poolside and the hot sun above. Read more.

Hop-Talk. Having recently reviewed Magic Hat’s new line of Orlio Organic beers, Ron investigates the genetically engineered rice used in beers made by Anheuser-Busch.

All of the articles I have found are about why Anheuser-Busch isn’t pointing this out. I think it is pretty obvious… they don’t have to and it would wreck their advertising of “all-natural”. Read more.

Hop-Talk. This is a group blog, so co-blogger Al squeezed in a review of Wolaver’s organic Brown Ale in between obligations with wife and children.

I am reminded of nothing so much as the roasted soy beans I had last night. Read more.

Lager Blogger. Jason van Rassel at the Calgary Herald bemoans the lack of locally-produced organic beers in Alberta but also knocks organic beer in general.

. . . it’s a segment of the market that isn’t worthy of much consideration. . . Read more.

Ironically, Jason goes on to consider it at length. (Sorry, couldn’t help but knock back a little, Jason – I guess it’s “host’s prerogative” that I get to have the last word!)

Lyke2Drink. Rick reminisces about driving from New York to Vermont, staying in country inns and eating Vermont cheddar. Thus, he chose Wolaver’s Brown Ale from Otter Creek Brewing in Middlebury, VT as his Session beer.

Wolaver’s Brown is one of those beers you could easily drink over the course of an evening, feeling good about how it makes you feel and how it treats the environment. Read more.

Matt’s Simple Life. Matt C. pours a Scarecrow Golden Pale Ale from Wychwood Brewery in Whiney, Oxfordshire, England. Then he drinks it. Then he writes about it. That’s the spirit, mate!

After trying an organic beer I honestly can’t tell you if there is much difference in an organic and non-organic beer. Read more.

Musings Over a Pint. Failing to find any locally-brewed organic beers in Virginia, David in relies on an Organic ESB from Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery to spice up a quick lunch of frozen pizza.

I probably subconsciously expected some organic sense to the beer, much like those organic breakfast cereals that end up tasting like milk-soaked cardboard. Thankfully, the taste profile was just beer, no cardboard. Read more.

Organic Hops and Rhizomes for Sale. Breaking from the usual Session format, Bart Rayne doesn’t have a blog at all. What he does have is organic hops and rhizomes for sale from his soon-to-be certified organic hop farm in Idaho. He contacted me hoping to get the word out to readers of the Organic Beer Session, so here’s the deal. He’s got Canadian Redvine and Cascade available, whole hops and rhizomes. Email Bart directly for details:

Seen Through a Glass. Lew Bryson follows the rules. And as he accurately points out, the rules were to write “something related to organic beer.” I phrased it that way hoping people would push the edges a bit and Lew really did, by writing about . . . a non-organic vodka.

360 Vodka is not organic. It’s sustainable, it’s eco-friendly, it’s really pretty neat . . . I’m not saying that organic is not obtainable, or a fantasy, or elitist: I’m actually cooking soup with mostly organic ingredients right now, and we get produce from an organic CSA. But low-impact and sustainable production, green production, is another, important angle. Read more.

Sophisticated Brews and Sustenance in the Windy City. Rob wins the longest blog title award! He says the Organic Revolution from Wisconsin’s New Glarus Brewing is:

. . . a nice beer, I’m not sure it’s a revolution . . . Read more.

That’s the Spirit. Professional beer writer Stephen Beaumont begins by recalling a “Night of Large Thirst” in Belgium and ends up reviewing a five-year-old organic Gueuze from Cantillon.

Truly, this is a beer that is elegant, appetizing and not the least bit apologetic for its organic-ness. . . And that last point is another piece of currency that should be, I believe, common to all organic products. Read more.

Think Beer. Jereme is a first timer at The Session and jumps in with no fewer than three organic beers, including reviews of Orlio’s Seasonal IPA and Brasserie Silenrieux Joseph Spelt Ale.

Typical Belgian phenols are present but are slightly muted. Some smell of pepper is noted and maybe even a little band-aid. Pleasant however is the pear notes that I would liken to a scaled down Delirium Tremens. Read more.

The Session Is the First Friday of Every Month
Tune in next month when the Session crosses the pond for a right British pint with Stonch.


Session #13 Reminder: Organic Beer, Friday, March 7

February 28, 2008

Organic Beer SessionOne week until Session #13. The theme for this Session is Organic Beer.

The Short Version
The Session is a monthly group beer-blogging event. To participate, just publish a blog post about organic beer by next Friday, March 7. Then let me know that you’ve blogged (by commenting here or on the original announcement post, or using the contact link above) and I’ll publish a summary with links to all the posts.

The Long Version
Click here to read my original post announcing Session #13 that includes an overview of organic beer and instructions for participating in the Session. For ideas about organic beer, browse the Organic Beer links in the side bar of this blog, and check out all my past posts on the topic by clicking the “Organic/GMO” link in the categories links in the side bar.

Now it’s time to go out and find yerself an organic beer. They are common enough that you’ll find them if you look, but still rare enough that it’s kind of like an Easter egg hunt – you’re really excited when you do find one!

The Topic for Session #13 Is Organic Beer

February 2, 2008

Organic Beer SessionBeer Activist is proud to host Session #13 on March 7, 2008. The topic is “organic beer.” [Read the roundup of posts here.]

As usual, rules for The Session are minimal. Simply publish a post related to organic beer. Then email me or add a comment on this post to let me know that you’ve published a post. I’ll gather them up here with brief summaries and links to all the posts.

USDA organicWhat Is Organic Beer?
Here’s a bit of context to help inspire your observations on organic imbibing. “Organic beer” refers to beers that use ingredients, supplies, and production processes that have been certified as adhering to the rules of the National Organic Program administered by the US Department of Agriculture (and similar programs in other countries).

“Organic” is not a beer style or a political concept. It is a specific, highly defined system of agriculture and food production that emphasizes the building of healthy ecosystems, especially soil health, by avoiding manufactured chemicals known to be detrimental to humans and other living things and relying instead on natural processes such as composting and systems such as inter-cropping that harness the strength of biodiversity to increase productivity and decrease pests and disease.

Only beers verified by independent certifiers as meeting the legal organic standards are allowed to bear the USDA Certified Organic logo (the one up there to the left). Lots of brewers use Certified Organic malt and/or hops but have not had their facilities and processes certified. Legally and in practical fact these beers are not organic and are prohibited from being marketed as organic. But for this Session, it’s up to you to decide what to count as organic. Feel free to comment on beers that someone just tells you are organic, but be aware that just because someone has good intentions and seems trustworthy doesn’t mean that their beer is in fact organic.

Here are a few resources for those of you interested in learning more about organic beer:

  • The Organic Beer Guide (Carlton Publishing, 2002) by Roger Protz. Getting a little bit dated but this guide has a good intro about organic beer and a listing of some of the earlier, mostly British and European, organic beers.
  • Seven Bridges Cooperative at – An organic brewing supply coop. The website has lots of info and the friendly staff will be happy to answer questions. Does this sounds like an advertisement? Sorry, I guess it sort of is – I’m part owner of the company. And speaking of adverts . . .
  • Fermenting Revolution: How to Drink Beer and Save the World (New Society, 2006) by Chris O’Brien. Sorry I can’t help but plug my own book! Really though, there is a long chapter on organic brewing ingredients and the pesticides used on conventional barley and hops.
  • The link list of organic beers in the right hand column of this very blog. Take a look. It’s right over there –> but you’ll have to scroll down a bit to see it.

About The Session
Here’s some background for those of you who are new to The Session. About a year ago, Stan Hieronymus, author of Brew Like a Monk and blogger over at Appellation Beer, kicked off the idea of having a monthly group beer blogging event. He called it “The Session” and ever since then bloggers have been group-blogging away every first monthly Friday on topics ranging from “Beer and Atmosphere” to “Beer and Music,” the latter of which was my favorite topic so far due to the fact that those two things have been both the blast powder and the salve of my life.

The Session #9: Beer & Music – Black Flag, Six Pack

November 1, 2007

Session 9 - beer and music(This post is part of “The Session,” a monthly first-Friday group beer blogging event. This month’s Session is hosted by Tomme Arthur at Lost Abbey Brewing. Visit his brewer’s log to read a collection of posts from lots of other people on the topic “Beer and Music.”)

I’m an activist and a beer drinker. This blog is devoted to those two things. But before I was either one of those, I was a punk. Beer drinking followed pretty soon thereafter. And so did activism.

The first time I was exposed to the idea of punk rock was by a TV show on public television called Soapbox. It was a bunch of kids sitting around talking with this old-fart-of-a-show-host. The kids on the punk rock episode of the show talked about “being different” and just “wanting to be themselves” and all that kind of punk rock stuff. They also talked about the ethic of “D.I.Y” – Do It Yourself. The idea being not to let “the man” (corporations, the government, the church – name your favorite oppressive authority figure or institution) force feed you stuff. Instead you should build your own better world by publishing ‘zines, producing your own music, silk-screening your own t-shirts, etc., you get the idea.

It wasn’t a far leap from punk rock to beer and soon I was drinking beer as often and indulgently as any other self-respecting angst-ridden punk rock teenager. The first album I bought was Damaged by Black Flag. Track number three on side one is called Six Pack. Here are the lyrics:

Thirty-five dollars and a six pack to my name
Spent the rest on beer so who’s to blame?
They say I’m fucked up all the time
Six pack!
What they do is a waste of time
Six pack!

I know it’ll be o.k.
I get a six pack in me, alright!

My girl friend asks me which one I like better
Six pack!
I hope the answer won’t upset her
Six pack!
I was born with a bottle in my mouth
Six pack!
Now I got a six so I’ll never run out
Six pack!

I know it’ll be o.k.
I got a six pack in me alright!

Thirty-five dollars and a six pack to my name
Spent the rest on beer so who’s to blame
They say I’m fucked up all the time
Six pack!
What they do is a waste of time
Six pack!

Six pack!
Six pack!
Six pack!

Six packAs a punk rock kid, this song meant a lot to me. Even in those immature years I was capable of recognizing the satire in these lyrics. But knowing they were tongue-in-cheek didn’t stop me from adopting this song as an anthem that comforted me during many-a-drunken escapade or drooling-evening-of-personal-adolescent-hell.

Now I’m all growed up. I still listen to punk rock (I still buy vinyl records). And I still drink beer. I’m less mad at the world at large, but I’m still focussed on changing the stuff that I don’t like about it. Brewing my own beer was a natural outgrowth of the DIY ethic, and the whole craft brewing movement is a wide-scale example of the good that can come when a lot of people decide not to accept the choices they’re given and instead create new choices by making better things for themselves.

But about those lyrics, I love the unintended irony of the optimism that pokes through in the line that says: “Now I got a six so I’ll never run out.” Who ever thought Black Flag had a “six pack is half-full” outlook on life?

Waiter, There’s a Snake in My Beer

September 7, 2007

Session logo(This is an excerpt from a much longer article I wrote about exploring the beer frontier in Viet Nam called King Pilsner, Bia Hoi, Snake Wine, and the Sex Machine, a version of which appeared in the Sept/Oct 2005 issue of Zymurgy magazine.

I’m reposting this segment as part of The Session: Beer Blogging Friday, number 7, which has the theme “The Brew Zoo,” hosted by Rick Lyke at Lyke 2 Drink)

Chris rice paddy hat

Ruou-ing the Day in Sa Pa
Drinking snake wine and driving a motorbike on unpaved mountain roads in northern Viet Nam’s Hoang Lien mountains in Sa Pa sounds like a bad idea. But I’ve never been accused of being too smart.

Just What the Doctor Ordered
Much like the French require a table wine at meals, hill tribes of northern Viet Nam prefer ruou gao, or rice liquor, as their daily staple. It is consumed by men and women alike, with every meal, including breakfast. If the concept of drinking hard liquor with breakfast appalls the American sensibility, traditional Viet Namese medicine must surely send us into fits of hysterics.

Chris motor scooterWaiter, There’s a Snake in My Beer
Our first day in the northern provincial capital city, Sa Pa, we decided to take it easy and stroll a few kilometers to a H’mong village called Cat Cat, said to have a pretty waterfall. On the way, we noticed a house with an open front door that seemed to invite us inside. I stepped in and asked for ruou. A young lady nodded. We sat on little plastic chairs at a little plastic table on a little wooden veranda overlooking what must be one of Viet Nam’s most breath-taking mountain views.

The lady dipped a small beer glass into a container that resembled a gigantic pickle jar and drew a fresh serving of ruou ran, the medicinal snake wine of Viet Nam. It is usually translated as wine, but is more accurately called a spirit. The mistranslation is presumably a holdover of the former French colonizers’ predilection for wine, but the ‘snake’ bit is no mistake. The plastic liquor container held several snakes of various colors and sizes.

SnakeSnake wine is just one of Viet Nam’s endless variety of medicinal rice liquors. The base is normally the same, a distilled rice fermentation. But what goes in it depends on the condition to be treated. Snakes, geckos, seahorses, and starfish are especially effective in stimulating the male libido, while ginseng and mushrooms improve intelligence and longevity. The usual instructions are to drink a glass in the morning and one in the evening for a few weeks.

As I sipped a slow glass of ruou ran our presence attracted a number of local women offering us products of their specialty craft: woven and embroidered silk clothes, purses and blankets. It was a nice opportunity to chat with the locals except we didn’t speak a word of Viet Namese or any of the local hill tribe languages and they knew only enough English to name their price. We haggled a bit and settled on some pillow cases and a little mouth instrument that is something like a jaw’s harp. I was hoping that one of them might be able to show us some home-distilling, but the language barrier was too great.

A Village Distillery
But back to Sa Pa to continue our search for authentic village ruou production. The day after visiting Cat Cat, we rented motorbikes and hired a guide to show us some remote villages and help us find a proper village distillery.

Mt. Fan Si Pan (which I like to call Mt. Fancy Pants since the villagers wear exactly that), Viet Nam’s highest peak at 3143 m., flanked us to the right on the opposite side of a steep valley terraced up and down with rice paddies. The road alternated between bumpy dirt, rocks, and mud. I rode in search of ruou, and with the help of our friendly guide Thom, I found it.

We parked our bikes by a bridge and walked to the Zao village of Ta Van. We followed a footpath through rice paddies speckled with animals: black cows with flat scythe-shaped horns, dogs, pigs, and rows of ducks, to name a few. Eventually we came upon a cluster of buildings resembling barns. These were traditional Zao dwellings. Two-story, wooden-plank constructions.

Rice mashIt was in one of these houses that we were introduced to Mr. Son, a distiller of ruou. He runs a humble, rustic distillery, producing about 60 liters of rice liquor per month. It took but a few minutes for him to show us his set up and describe the process, which Thom translated into basic but adequate English terminology.

A round, shallow pan about two feet across rested on a round earthen fire pit. The pan contained the mushy remains of rice that was distilled three days earlier. This was bound for the intestines of his farm animals, but Mr. Son appeared to be in no hurry to feed them. Behind the fire pit was a rectangular open-topped cement water tank with a spigot outlet near the bottom on one side.

Son explained the brewing and distillation process: steam 15 kg. of rice. Place it in the pan with 30 yeast cakes, cover with a bamboo lid and allow to ferment for 8 days. Then fit a section of wooden barrel around the top of the pan and top it with a lid. Insert PVC tubing through a hole near the top edge of the wooden cylinder. Run this PVC down through the water tank and connect to the inside of the spigot near the bottom of the tank. Boil the fermented rice with fresh water for about two hours until all the alcohol steams off, exiting through the PVC piping, precipitating as it is chilled by the water tank and draining out the spigot into a one liter jerry can at the bottom. One batch produces 15-16 liters of ruou gao, plain rice liquor.

This rice spirit is produced and consumed by men and women alike in the rural mountain communities of Viet Nam’s minority peoples like the Zao.

Son grows the rice himself but buys (or rather, his wife buys) packaged yeast cakes in the Sa Pa market. A bag of yeast costs about 12,000 dong and has enough cakes for four batches. One liter of the finished product sells for 10,000 dong. Which means that after expenses, the Sons make a little under $10 per batch of ruou, or $40 per month at Son’s rate of four monthly batches. In a country where the annual per capita income is just $480, this is a decent supplement to farm earnings.

Mr. Son was sure to mention that his ruou did not taste sour and would not cause a headache. But we warned us to be careful in town because unscrupulous or perhaps just ill-informed ruou vendors might cut their beverages with dangerous liquids.

Ruou pharmacyPictured to the right: A ruou pharmacy with all the usual fixins’ – goat heads, geckos, ginger root and dried sea horses.

Tram Phan Tram
At the time of our visit, Ta Van, like the rest of Viet Nam, was preparing for the new year’s Tet celebration. In previous year’s Son has prepared as many as 60 liters of ruou for this celebration but this year he was a bit behind schedule and hadn’t managed to store any away at all. He estimated that his village would drink about 100 liters of it during the week-long festival. I didn’t get a village head count, but considering that these villagers drink ruou at every meal during normal times, they must be gulping the stuff down when they ring in the new year. As they say in Viet Namese: tram phan tram, which means ‘100%’. In other words: ‘Drink it up and don’t leave a drop!’

We spent the rest of the afternoon motorbiking further and further down the valley. The road worsened the farther we went. My butt hurt, but my hands and wrists hurt even more from steadying and steering the bike over rocks, around boulders, and alongside passing four-wheel-drive vehicles. The latter were a particularly tricky proposition. On one side, a fearless ton of metal hurtling towards me. On the other, a sheer drop over the side of a cliff. My strategy: don’t think about it, just keep moving ahead, enjoy the scenery and look forward to the next sip of ruou.

We eventually reached Bang Ho, a village of Tay and Flower H’Mong people. This turned out to be more of a rest stop, and an opportunity to chug a can of the Viet Namese equivalent to Red Bull – a nasty little sugar soda with some energy drugs in it. That and a Choco-Pie did the trick and after a half hour or so of playing with village kids we headed back to where we parked the bikes and readied ourselves for the long uphill trek back to Sa Pa.

Drying herbsOne Part Dried Twig, Five Parts Rice Liquor, & You’ll Feel Much Better
Just as we reached the bikes I noticed some women chopping twigs and sun-drying them on an outside patio. Thom inquired but wasn’t able to translate the name of the plant for us. He was, however, able to tell us that whatever the plant, it was to be added to ruou as a medicinal ingredient. Medicinal rice liquor seemed to be every where we looked.

Ha Noi Rocks
It was tempting to stay longer in Sa Pa, but Ha Noi beckoned. We took a day train and watched the rice paddies roll by. Meanwhile I chatted with an American in the cabin next to ours. By a stroke of luck, Earnest happened to be recently retired from the US Fish and Wildlife Commission, and he had been responsible for enforcing international bans on trafficking in protected wildlife. I had been very curious about the status of the animals used in ruou and Earnest just happened to know all about it.

Cobra turns out to be the only problematic animal. This also seemed like the most common type of ruou; it was displayed prominently by vendors everywhere. According to Earnest, if a snake even looks like a cobra, it is illegal to export it. Luckily I had thus far refrained from buying a bottle of cobra wine. Everything else, he said, is okay. Trade in pangolin, rhino and tiger is also problematic but apparently they don’t use those in Viet Nam.

(You can read the rest of this story here.)

Naked Defiance, So Much Better than Chanting Slogans

August 19, 2007

This morning I noticed that someone had arrived at my blog by searching for the phrase: “naked photo session green peace activist.”

Intrigued, I googled that phrase, partly curious to see what page on my site showed up in the results, but also because I was intrigued to find whatever the person was actually seeking.

Turns out that Greenpeace is carrying on a tradition that became popular at the beginning of the Iraq war – peace activists bearing witness by baring it all. Greenpeace organized a publicity stunt in the Swiss Alps at the Aletsch Glacier that involved 600 people getting naked in order to draw attention to global warming.

Click the photo to read the article and watch a video of the event. Warning, the images contain lots more naked people.

Naked activists

What’s this got to do with beer? Check out my recent post about how beer is helping to slow climate change.

This story did make me think about my own lack of personal action to stop global warming and the war (which is largely about oil and therefore global warming). I do a lot in my job promoting renewable energy and I live a relatively low-impact lifestyle compared to many Americans, but I haven’t engaged in any public demonstrations lately. Maybe I’ve just been sitting around drinking too much beer. But nude protests? That would get me back out in the streets. Add some beer to it and you’d really have my attention. Hey, now there’s an idea!

Oh, and if you’re wondering what I had on my site that lead that web-searcher astray, it was my post in this month’s Session about Mfula Mfula homebrew in South Africa. Go figure.

The Session #6 Fruit Beer: Mfula Mfula, Pineapple Beer from Zululand

August 3, 2007

The Session(The Session is a monthly group blogging event. Learn more about it here.)

This month’s topic for The Session is fruit beer, hosted by Greg Clow at Beer, Beats, and Bites. Here’s my contribution to the fruitiness.

Mfula Mfula, also called riva riva in English, and nicknamed ‘cream of tart’, is a Zulu fermentation of bread, oats, sugar and pineapple. The base of bread and oats makes this technically a beer, fortified with processed cane sugar plus the natural sugar of the pineapple.

I brewed a 20 liter batch with a friend who worked in the kitchen of the hotel where I brewed beer. Here’s a recipe and some photos from our brewing session.

Ingredients for 20 Liters of Mfula Mfula

20 liters warm water
1 pineapple
3 loaves of bread
About 20-25 stale rolls
½ kg jungle oats
1 kg brown sugar
20 mg powdered bread yeast

Chop pineapple and crumble bread. Mix all ingredients well by hand until bread crumbs are very fine. Close lid loosely and leave over night to ferment. In the morning, strain the coarse chunks of pineapple and bread with a large strainer. We used a plastic net sack, the kind you get with a bag of oranges. Strain a second time with a fine sieve. Add a small does more of sugar upon serving in order to sweeten the taste and cut down on the strong, warm alcohol overtones. The whole batch should be consumed within one day.

Crumble bread
Crumble the old bread into a bucket full of water.

Brown sugar
Add brown sugar, oats and pineapple.

Mush it all together real good.
Add a few packets of regular old bread yeast.

Put a lid on it and let it ferment overnight. But don’t seal it tightly or else you’ll get a blowover like we did – I insisted we close the lid tight even though she told me it wasn’t important! You could seal it tightly and put a blowoff tube through the lid but keeping this sucker airtight isn’t really necessary because it’ll still be very much alive when you drink it the next day. There’s no time for nasties to get a foothold and make it taste weird – I mean, weird is a matter of taste I suppose.

Strain it once through something coarse like this netting from an orange bag.

Then put it through a finer sieve to filter out some smaller bits.

Enjoy! It’s white and very frothy like a white water river, hence the moniker “riva riva.”

I was told that this beer evolved in part due to the alcohol laws of Apartheid. For a period, black South Africans were prohibited from making or consuming alcohol. Eventually they were permitted to buy and consume drink, but only from government owned “shebeens.” So, just like Prohibition in the U.S., the illegal trade in alcohol focused on high potency – brewing a low-alcohol session beer was hardly worth the risk of being thrown in a South African jail, or worse.