Monday, January 31, 2011

Icky-Icky Pooh

Beer is chemistry.  While I don't brew, I know  how it works from a  chemical standpoint.  Soooooo many damned variables.  Every now and then, things go wrong. In a perfect world, I would think a brewer would catch the problem before the product goes out the door.

In a perfect world.

The world is not perfect and my would-be-newest beer was not either.

A good friend scored a six-pack of the Brownhoist Nut Brown Ale from the Tri-City Brewing Company.  Can you see a problem with my picture below?  (For the record, I was tootin' around with long exposures and black-and-white tricks.)

Unless your head is in a beer bottle of your own, you probably saw the foam oozing out of this one, right?  

Maybe you are thinking that I shook the bottle before I opened it.  No.

Maybe you are thinking that I slammed down the bottle after I opened it.  No.

A big whiff and a small swig confirmed my suspicion.   Sour. Like vinegar.  Granted, in some beers, this is what you want! But not here....

After opening  three other bottles, I knew what was going to happen, I so I grabbed my rig and took the shot you see.

Boy and girls, repeat after me - infection.  That would be spelled i-n-f-e-c-t-i-o-n.  

In a nutshell, as the hops and grains are boiled and cooled, the  goo, called wort, is sterile. The brewer then dumps in the yeast of choice based on the recipe.  Well, every now and then, an uninvited guest ends up in the wort.  Your recipe goes out the window!  The unwanted bacteria run amok and ruin everything as they eat the sugar that the yeasts were supposed the devour.  Bad bad bad.  Sanitation is key for a brewer.  It is, in a sense, like an operating room - clean is key.

Mind you, I am not really complaining here.  I did my beer drinker's duty and contacted the brewer.  If I hear back, I'll let you know.

I am doing my best to support local brewers! I hope they get the problem fixed! 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Enterprise Mill #60

Following up on a tip, from my parents, I chased a rarity on Monday.   As a birder, I can chase birds, right? Why not coffee mills! 

A "going out of business sale" at a store in the sleepy town of Saline had this beauty in the front window.  With a flywheel 17 inches across, the overall height is 18.5 inches.  So you have an idea of size here, that is a nickel on the floor in front of the base.  Weight? Cripe, I don't know. I'll say 50 pounds - easily. Maybe a bit more.  Except for the wooden handle, it is all cast iron.   After giving it the once-over in the store,  I flopped some bills on the counter (Not singles, mind you....).  Time to give it a new home, I guess.

One of the cool things about my little purchase is the simple idea that it appears to be original in most regards.  With some collectibles, some people feel they need to "fix 'er up". Coffee mills are no exception.  For me? I like the old seasoned look and this one fits the bill.

Using old photos from the maker, I could see that the words on the flywheel had been painted during the manufacturing process.  The photo was black and white, so I couldn't be sure of the color, but gold seems likely.   Apparently, a previous owner thought gold also and took it upon him/herself to begin painting the letters.  They did a horrible job on just a few letters and then gave up! I think some elementary students could have done better!    It was nothing a few minutes with light steel wool couldn't correct.  (Barely seen in the photo, the gold star on the wheelhub and the gold band just below the lip of the hopper are original paint.)

Sadly, my MacMillen Coffee Index has no reference to the #60 model.  I know that is what it is because it is clearly labeled on the back of the mill!  The #750 is in the book and is pretty similar in design.  It first appeared in a catalog in 1886.  So, I does not make sense to say that the #60 appeared the following the year, but I think it is fair to say that was made in the 1890's. So, for the sake of math, if it was released in 1890, my new addition to my coffee mill collection is 120 years old!  

A purist might frown on me for owning this as a part of my coffee mill  collection. It was not sold as a coffee mill. Clearly labeled "Grist Mill" on the back side, this piece was a multi-functional tool. Think of it as a swiss-army knife - one object with multiple uses.  Bone meal and corn meal could have been processed in this beauty, too. It would not be unusual for a family to have one device and use it for all three purposes.  

Who made it?  The Enterprise Manufacturing Company. The name "Enterprise" has had a long and wonderful history in the United States.  Ranging from ships (past, present and future) to car rentals, that name seems to be everywhere!  During the last quarter of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, it was a name that was in every house. 

The story of the Enterprise Manufacturing Company is, in a sense, what is happening in the United State right now.  Incorporated in 1866 in Philadelphia, they grew readily over the following decades. A short list of their products included bait choppers, beef shavers, bung hole borers, cherry stoners, cheese cutter, cobblers’ kits, cork pressers, tobacco cutters, drug presses, meat juice extractor, flag pole holders, fruit, wine and jelly presses, sad iron handles, ice shredders, lard presses, lawn sprinklers, measuring faucets, measuring pump, meat and food choppers, meat hooks, bone, shell and corn mills, electric mills, rapid grinding and pulverizing mills (dozens of models), electric mixer, motor choppers, motor mills, cork pressers, paint faucets, raisin seeders, sausage stuffers, vegetable slicer, and tincture presses.

Okay, that was not the short list. It was a long list. (but I bet not the whole list).   If you lived in America or operated a business here, you likely had something from them in your house or place of work.  Not unlike General Electric today, I would think.  

Despite a phenomenal track record in the 1800's and early 1900's, they started to slip.  Few changes or improvements where made in the line of commercial products and they saw sales decline. A textbook botch was the loss of the  sad iron.  Those simple blocks of iron used to press clothes were made by Enterprise and they had a huge chunk of the market.  When electric irons became available (1912 or so), nobody in their R&D thought to make an "Enterprise Electric Iron".  Over time, multiple decisions like that stirred up trouble....

Business declines over the decades probably convinced the President of the Company to unload it in 1955.  Purchases and buyouts by other, larger, stronger companies led to the complete loss of the Enterprise Manufacturing Company.  Their factory, located in Philadelphia,  was leveled in the 1970's. 

Fortunately, for collectors like me, they made everything.  While I don't see myself buying a bung hole press any time soon, I'll certainly be looking for more Enterprise mills in the future!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tunnels And Casting Calls

War history and movies. They go so well together with the combined efforts of good acting, directing and writing.  Saving Private RyanGloryGettysburg.   PlatoonBlack Hawk Down.  All classics. Forget Pearl Harbor.  It was a disaster and should be stricken from all archives. 


I have a new movie, but I have not yet written it.  Based on the book Libby Prison Breakout: The Daring Escape from the Notorious Civil War Prison" by Joseph Wheelan, it is sure to be a winner.    The book, a gift from my parents for Christmas, was finally finished last night.  Awesome.  

In the opening days of the Civil War, the Confederacy hobbled together a few prisoner of war camps.  Taking over a large structure on Richmond, Virginia's waterfront, the name  "Libby" stuck, as no one thought to take down the sign placed by Luther and his son, George. Originally a ship's chanderly and grocery warehouse, it soon became a Confederate POW camp for Union officers.

With only eight rooms for prisoners, each barely over 100 feet by 40 feet, the three-story structure (with a walkout basement on the river-side, making it a functional cellar) was simply nasty.  Windows? Sort of.  Holes in outside walls with bars would better describe it.  If it snowed or rained? You got cold or wet.  Hot Virginia summers? Sweltering heat.  Brutal stuff really. 

At first, the turn-over of prisoners was reasonable as a result of the Prisoner Cartel. Basically, the North and South traded prisoners.  Really. They did.  By the mid-point of the war, the Union came to a simple conclusion - "This is hopelessly stupid.  What dumbass came up with this idea?"  Every time an exchange took place, the Rebs would put the soldiers back at the front so the Union could fight them again.  

The solution? Stop the trading. Only chaplains and surgeons were paroled, and even then, sparingly. 

Yeah, cool, if you're the Union trooper on the front.  You won't have to fight the same soldiers again.  Not cool at all if you are the prisoner.  You're stuck until the war ends.  There is also a bigger problem. The army of Johnny Rebs could barely feed itself during the later months of the war.  So why in the world would they feed the POW's?  Basically, they didn't. 

Before long, lack of sanitation, poor diet, and host of other problems led to massive die-offs.  Overcrowding was a huuuuuge problem.  The Confederates stuffed over 1,200 officers into a building that became the second most awful camp in the Confederacy.  The first? Andersonville

Of course, in many prisoner of war camps throughout history, there is a "spectrum" of prisoners.   Some hang on until released at the war's end. There are those that try to hang on, but can't. Ill or suicidal, they die.  Then there are those who want to escape. And do.

The guy on the left with facial hair that so defined the period?  Major A.G. Hamilton.  Like many officers of the war, he had a civilian job before hostilities started. He was home builder in Kentucky.  Pretty cool trade, huh?  What a treat to have a guy like this in your camp. Every wall. Every post. Every brick. That chimney. That fireplace. That floor joist. He knew why they were there.  While he did not build Libby, he knew it.

This other fellow?  Colonel Thomas Rose.  Put him in clothes from 2010 and he would fit right in. But something in him put him in a class by himself.  Determination.  Come Hell or high water, he was going to get out of Libby if it was the last thing he did. Captured at Chickamauga, he was a teacher in his civilian life.  Some historians suggest he may have spent some time in the coal mines of Pennsylvania....digging.

After constantly bumping into each other looking for ways out of the building, Rose and Hamilton  teamed up and settled on the cellar as the starting point.  Basically, the plan was - get tools, dig a tunnel from the cellar, do it quietly at night,and don't get caught.  But, how did they get to the cellar?  Hamilton, with his knowledge of the building and building trades, figured out he could cut the mortar with a penknife (it had been smuggled into the prison), remove the bricks, and get into the wall. From there, he moved down within the wall,and then out into the cellar. During the daylight hours, the stove in the kitchen was moved back into place to hide their efforts. 

Teams of people worked in shifts for weeks. Some dug. Some moved the dirt and hid it in various nooks and crannies.  Some simply fanned air into the suffocatingly tight tunnel. After three tunnels failed for various reasons, the fourth was a success.  After tunneling 53 feet underground to the opposite side of Canal Street, they popped up in a tobacco shed.

The night of the breakout, the team members selected friends (only a few dozen people were actually in on the tunnel construction and had first dibs on the escape).  With a "guard" controlling the flow of escapees at the stove, they left. In the hole, down the rope ladder, out the hole, across the pitch black cellar, on their bellies for 53 feet in a 26" tunnel , and over to the shed.    Out the door they went and off to freedom.  Some even saluted Confederate guards as they went.

After the first teams were gone, the kitchen filled with eager, hopeful, officers.  More left. And then more.  And more.

Roll call the following morning was a joke.  Of the 1,200 or so people in the building the night before,less than 1,100 remained. In the span of one night, 109 officers slipped off into the February-cold Richmond night.  Over the following days, 2 died (drown while trying to ford a river), while half were re-captured. The remaining half, in horribly cold weather, malnourished, underdressed and pursued by soldiers and dogs, managed to cross Union lines.  Rose, the determined digger, was captured while in sight of a Union patrol. 

Of course, Hollywood blockbusters sometimes need a heroine,  right?  Enter Elizabeth Van Lew.  A socialite of Richmond, she despised slavery and made it her goal to help the Union in any way she could. Smuggling messages out of Richmond and even into Libby Prison, she was a wealth of information and a world class spy, right down to secret ciphers and invisible inks. With a network of spies she created (including a Confederate clerk who worked at Libby), she assisted the soldiers with their escapes. 

I couldn't help to think about my movie as I was reading this book.  Seriously. I'm not talking about a "made for TV" movie.  I'm talking about the real, big-screen, deal.  A big name director with some high-clout actors could make this a real solid piece.  Cameron and Spielberg have both shown they can do period pieces with extraordinary attention to detail.   (Okay, we'll look past Cameron's "Piranha Part 2: The Spawning".) Jeff Daniels ,as Hamilton, would  be great. Christian Bale could do it, too, but an anger management counselor would have to be on the set so he doesn't do this again.  Kathy Bates could be Elizabeth Van Lew, despite the age difference.  A very powerful actress for a very powerful role. Maybe Winona Ryder, instead?  While a small role in the big scheme of things, Leonardo DiCaprio could play the Libby clerk/spy,  Erastus Ross

Tom Hanks? We already know he is one of the greatest actors of our time.  He could be Rose.  He has already shown he can lose weight as easily as some of us lose our keys.  30 pounds? 40 pounds?  No problem. If there is one thing Civil War POWs lost, besides their mind, it was their weight.   

Plus, the conditions of a POW camp were just gross so a talented director could really drive home the concept of filth.  With sanitary conditions worse than some present Third World countries, it would give Hanks the opportunity to continue his climb on the Academy's list of "the actor with the most Hollywood pee scenes or references".  He already has "League of Their Own", "The Green Mile", "Castaway", Forrest Gump", "Apollo 13", "Road to Perdition", "The Money Pit", "Saving Private Ryan", "Splash", and "The Terminal" to his credit.
Forget Tom Cruise in any capacity. He's just a creep.  Sorry, Mel. You're out, too.   Sadly, history shows that antisemitism existed in 1860's Virginia.  Food shortages, high prices, and the lack of solid war gains  were blamed on Richmond's Jewish population simply out frustration, ignorance, and, perhaps most significantly,  old-fashioned prejudice.   You'll be sad to know that the ovens at Libby were for cooking. I can only imagine how you would wreck the movie, especially if you directed it.  I second my own motion if Ryder were to get the Van Lew gig.  You can't play nice

Of course, when Jim or Steve call me for input on the screenplay, I won't get big-headed.  I promise.  I'll simply refer them to Wheelan's book.  It is that good.  When the film racks up Academy Awards, they can  just credit me for being the guy that suggested the book that  the movie is based on.  That should get me a few tickets for the afterglow.

Oh wait. Is that my phone ringing now? Caller ID says "Jim".

Cool. I need to get a tux.....

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

#906 -

As I suspect you already know, I am a fan of the Sam Adams line from the Boston Beer Company.  They score three out of three on the "Are you a cool brewer? scale.   1)  They brew good beer.  2) They have a social conscious.  3) They brew good beer.    While nobody always makes great beer on a massive scale, they do a super job of doing pretty damned good much of the time.  (Did that make sense? Yeah, I think so...)

You may recall that while I was in Boston, I bought of pack of beer from their Barrel Room Collection.  The Stony Brook Red, sampled seconds after the computer hologram of Dick Clark rang in the New Year (he really died in 1995), was outstanding.  I was hoping for more of the same goodness with the American Kriek, my 906th beer.

Sadly, while they do so well so often, I was a bit disappointed.

First things first - it is, visually, a beautiful beer.  On the pour, you can see the red tones.  Once in the glass, the tan head on a stunning beautiful ruby red/brown beer was really somethin'.  

After that, I think it started to suffer.  The aroma was all about cherries. Apparently, cherries from northern Michigan are a key part of this beer.  Really? Cherries? I had no idea!  That is sarcasm, of course.  I smelled 'em. I tasted 'em.  Their presence in the beer was, in my opinion, strong. In fact, too strong.  The other aspects of the beer were clouded by the cherry.  I really could not get a handle on the "oakiness" that goes with months spent in a oak barrel.  Cherry cherry cherry cherry cherry. Smooth? Yeah. Very much so. Well balanced?  You bet.  Cherries? Ummm...yeah.....

Let me be clear here - it was not a bad beer.  Not at all.  It was basically just too cherry-ee for my palate.    One fellow online described it as being a bit medicinal.  I would not go that far, but I know what he is talking about.  Three out of five on my planet.

Had I known this was what I was in for, I would have given it a go with something equally fruity.  I think Cherry Cheesecake would have been great. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

One More Photo

Hoping to capture the rufous Red-tailed Hawk again with my camera, I shot over to the location he had been frequenting.  Sadly, my situation has not changed as of late when it comes to my photo opportunities - if I reeeeaaaaaallly want the shot, I get to have clouds! Yippee! 


For those of you that are not familiar with cameras and how they work (or don't work, as the case may be), poor light can be a problem, especially if the subject is dark. You can do wonders with Photoshop, but it is always nice to come away with the best image possible in the camera

I easily took a hundred photos as he soared overhead with three other redtails.  I think this is the best of the bunch...

Sloppy Sauces

Some foods are just plain messy.  Spaghetti?  How many people can eat it without getting it on their chin or, dare I say it, the white shirt they should not have worn?  Barbecued ribs are the same way.  Messy messy messy.  Napkins?  They definitely  help with clean-up...

But what about Meadow Voles? Are they messy to eat?

I would argue "yes." 

Yesterday, while out birding, an American Kestrel shot out of a roadside ditch as I headed down the back roads of Monroe County.  Obviously carrying a vole, a staple in the diet of many predators, the colorful little falcon parked himself on a utility pole.  With no fear of a traffic mishap (I'm in the middle of nowhere), I put the car in park, climbed half way out of the sunroof ,and proceeded to watch him devour his morsel.

Knife?  Fork? No need for that stuff. The sharp little beak is all he needed.  Standing on the little furball, tiny chunks were ripped off and swallowed.  I couldn't help but to chuckle when little tufts of fur drifted off the pole in the breeze.  All in all, he did not seem to have a single concern about me.  The chunk you see in the photo was the last piece.  He ate it whole.   I watched him do it. 

Before he left the "dinner table", with "sauce" all over his face, he shot  me a glance as if to ask a question -

"Excuse me. Do you have a napkin?"

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Many of the Red-tailed Hawks you see here in Michigan are "eastern" birds. For that matter, most of the Redtails you see east of the Mississippi are "eastern".  A creamy chest and dark marks across the belly (they vary from bird to bird, but are always present) are solid field marks.  Patagial bars, which correspond to the "biceps" on the bird, are easily seen, too, if the observer gets a good look.  You might think of them as vanilla ice cream.  While beautiful, they are "plain Jane" birds compared to their Western counterparts.

What's going on out West? It's like Baskin Robbins, except instead of Banana Nut Fudge, Cherry Macaroon, and Chocolate Almond, it is Harlan's Light Morph, western Light Morph and juvenile Dark Intermediate Western?  I could go on all day!  In some cases, subtle little field marks can separate the birds and give you the opportunity to put a name on it.  In some cases, under some conditions, forget it.  You don't stand a chance....

So, needless to say, a hawk that does not fit the "eastern" profile here in Michigan is worth a closer look.

Following up on a lead from Hawkmeister Don Sherwood, time was spent Saturday morning hanging out by an expressway -   I-275 and Van Born Road to be exact.  He will be the first one to tell you that ID'ing a hawk at expressway speeds is not always a gimme, but you can get most birds most of the time once you know what you are looking for.  A few days back, he saw a bird there that he suggested was in need of a second look.

A "dark buteo" was basically all he could get out of it.  One might think that a dark Rough-legged Hawk would be the obvious answer, but Don is no novice when it comes to raptors.  He was suspecting a dark Red-tailed Hawk of some sort.

Sure enough....

As you can see (or maybe you can't...I dunno...), this bird clearly shows the shape of a Red-tailed Hawk. If you look close, even the namesake tail  has that reddish cast.  While some may think the rest of colors are wrong, they're not.  They are completely consistent with the Rufuos morph of an adult Red-tailed Hawk.  That reddish tone on the breast combined with the dark belly basically cinch it.  If you slam your face against the desk, bite your lip, and squint, you can almost see the patagial bars. 

Impossibly rare in Michigan? No.  But I think it is safe to call them "rare".  Outside of the Detroit River Hawkwatch or Whitefish Point, I have to think your chances  of seeing this bird in southeast Michigan are pretty damned low.

Interestingly enough, about 12 months back, Don had a suspicious-looking dark buteo at I-275 and Van Born.  Speed, rain,and a work schedule prevented him from getting a second look. 

It certainly makes you wonder.  

If you're in the area, look for the dark buteo.  It is not vanilla, like all the rest. Think Chocolate Fudge. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


I realize the airlines have been strapped for cash, but I think they need to consider getting a sippy cup for pilots.

Perhaps they can get one wid a widdle pwane on it......

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

#900 - The New Year's Century Beer

New Year's Eve.  What can you say about New Year's Eve?  

It is a basically the same thing it always is only in a different year.  Let's see.  Drunk people in Time Square wearing stupid glasses.  "Musicians" lip-synching their hit single on "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve". Non-rock groups booked for said program (La Roux? Really? They rock?).  The host, the embalmed corpse of Dick Clark himself,  struggling to count backwards from ten.  Yup.  That is how we ring in the next 365 days...

This year, I did something different. It isn't every year that you get to toast with friends while enjoying your 900th beer!

With a fridge full of newbies awaiting my critical eye, I thought I would go with something special beyond the fact it was a super-milestone beer.  

You may recall a special pack of beer I bought while in Massachusetts?  The beer on-call for the festive night, to be consumed seconds after the Ball dropped,  was the Stony Brook Red.  

This beer was superb from start to finish.  On the pour, the slight reddish cast was as obvious as Dick Clark's plastic surgery. With a slight hint of tartness (or perhaps vinegar?), a cherry aspect was present, too.  On the tongue, everything fell in place.  A slight bit of tartness and puckering was present but that was basically expected given the aroma; it did not impact the beer in a negative way at all.   Carbonation. Malt.  Hops. All perfectly balanced.  Smooth stuff. Well done.  5 out of 5.

 With such a large bottle, it was nice to "share the wealth" as the saying goes.  While many present brought their own beer...oh wait, Coors is not beer.... it was nice to show them what a true brewer is capable of.  Once again, the Boston Beer Company scored a winner. 

900 beers down.  Untold thousands more to go........