Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Metheglin and apfelwein

Back on December 12 I wrote that my current batch of mead had pretty much fermented dry, and that I planned to let it sit for a week or two before racking. Well, on December 24 I took that step, and racked the dry mead into a three-gallon glass carboy. I have to say (and this was my experience with the old Mr. Beer fermenter as well) that having a spigot at the bottom of the vessel makes racking sooooo much easier than siphoning from the top of a carboy.

I placed the primary vessel on the raised level of the kitchen bar, and set the glass carboy in the sink, linking the two with a clear siphon hose. Needless to say, I sanitized the hose and carboy with bleach (and thoroughly rinsed) prior to this step. I removed the airlock from the primary and stuffed a wadded paper towel in the opening, so as to allow air to flow but limit other contaminants.

As the mead transferred itself to its new home via the miracle of gravity, I prepared my secret ingredients that will turn this somewhat bland wildflower honey wine into a spiffy-keen metheglin. First up: Vanilla beans. I used two Rodelle Madagascar vanilla beans, mainly because that was readily available at the local HEB Plus. No Mexican vanilla beans to be had, unfortunately. I split these beans in two and the pasty innards immediately began throwing off a rich, sweet vanilla scent. Very nice. The potency of these beans is significantly higher than the previous beans I used, as I remember, although that was three or four years back and my memory isn't always accurate.

Next up, Icewine Tea. We picked this up a few years ago on a brief visit to Vancouver, and it turned out to be an amazing addition to a previous metheglin. Essentially, it's tea infused with ice wine and/or the pre-fermented juice from grapes destined to become ice wine. Most icewine tea is black tea, and I'd assumed for a long time that's what this was. But now that I look at the label, I realize this is herbal tea, not black. The "herbal" ingredients include rooibos, rosehips and hibiscus. I'm not a huge fan of rooibos, but in hindsight the earthy/spicy notes that worked so well in the icewine tea metheglin I made before are directly attributable to that rooibos. Curious.

Into the three gallons of mead, I added the two split vanilla beans and six bags of icewine tea.

Here's a closer look. In the days since, dissolved CO2 in the mead has gradually worked its way out of solution and pushed the tea bags up into the neck of the carboy. This has resulted in some of the mead and bits of vanilla bean bubbling up through the airlock. Yeah, that's a little messy. I've punched it down, and it seems like we've finally reached a sort of equilibrium. Already, the vanilla notes are pretty strong in the samples I've tasted, but the tea isn't noticeable yet. I'll check again in another week to see how it's progressing.

Now, we're entering unknown territory. I harvested the leftover Wyeast 1388 from the primary by "washing" it. I added roughly a gallon of boiled (then cooled) water to the primary and sloshed the mixture around to suspend the yeast, then let it settle for half an hour or so to let the trub--dead yeast and other impurities--precipitate out. Then I decanted into a large jar, and let the process of settling out repeat itself. Then I siphoned off the light yeast water into smaller jars, leaving the heavier fermentation leftovers behind. The Wyeast 1388 Belgian strong ale strain seems to be an outstanding performer for mead, at any rate, that I want to perpetuate it for future use. I ended up with five pint jars, which I placed in the refrigerator of safe keeping.

Which brings us to the apfelwein segment of our show. I've made several batches of German-style apfelwein in the past using variations of Ed Wort's recipe, and I drank the last remaining 12-ounce bottle back in November. So I've been hankering to make some more. This time, however, I've decided to use the Wyeast 1388 rather than the recommended Montrachet wine yeast, because I suspect the 1388 might preserve more of the apple flavor and aroma, as well as perform better at higher fermentation temperatures. Which, in theory, would produce a drinkable product in a shorter period of time (technically, one isn't supposed to use second-generation yeast for fermentations differing from the initial pitch, ie this yeast is attuned to honey from the previous fermentation, so isn't optimized for cider or beer or wine. I'm not convinced such evolutionary adaptations will be apparent in the second generation, so that's a risk I'm willing to take). I picked up three gallons of plain apple juice from HEB--always check to make sure there are no preservatives other than ascorbic acid. Another variant to the basic recipe I'm trying is the addition of undiluted apple juice concentrate to the juice, to increase the sugar content whilst simultaneously increasing the apple-intensity. I'd originally planned on adding four cans of concentrate, but the kids took one to make some juice.

The specific gravity of the concentrate/juice mix at this point was 1.060, which would ferment out to a 7.8 percent alcohol content. Ph at this point was 3.6. I want a little higher content to increase its keeping and aging stability, so I added 14 ounces of cane sugar, bringing up the specific gravity to 1.070. That should ferment out to around 9.1 percent ABV, which is in the range of a good riesling wine. To bring the ph up to make the must more hospitable for the yeast, I added 1 tsp potassium bicarbonate. Also, adapting the BOMM process I used for the above-mentioned metheglin, I added 3/4 tsp yeast nutrient and 2.25 tsp yeast energizer to the must. This is different from the DAP and Fermaid K I added to the honey must last go-round, but apple juice has a lot more nutrients in it for yeast to thrive on than honey does, and the basic apfelwein recipe doesn't call for any additional nutrients at all. I suspect I'm safe.

So, how to mix all these additives together and effectively aerate the must? I'm glad you asked! I just happen to have a new toy that came in shortly before Christmas that I've been wanting to try out--a drill-mounted wine degasser. After sanitizing it, I tried it out.

Works pretty well, huh? I whipped the apple juice and such up into a pretty good froth. Afterwards I checked the ph and found it to be around 4.8, which should keep the yeast happy. Earlier, I'd taken one of those bottles of yeast from the fridge and, after letting it warm to room temperature, added it to a quart jar half-filled with apple juice and a teaspoon of Go Ferm yeast nutrient. After six hours, give or take, I pitched it to the apfelwein must.

Today, the fermentation is steady although not as aggressive as I'd expected. There's a donut ring of kreusen that's formed, and a significant amount of foam built up when I degassed, but overall this is a sedate, restrained fermentation. I'm going to keep a close eye on it to make sure it doesn't stall out.

Now Playing: Whitehorse The Northern South vol. 1
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, December 23, 2016

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

No subject has ever made such a popular subject for song as love. As long as humans have been making music, love’s far and away the top choice of lyricists to write about. Writing and discussing Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch, however, got me to thinking. Amid all that blissful romance, the darker flipside beckoned, and prostitution served as the inspiration for more than a few memorable songs. The Greeks and Romans sang about prostitutes, and minstrels in the middle-ages were more than a little bawdy. Cowboys of the American West favored songs so scandalous they could strip the needles from a cactus. It’s no wonder, then, that popular music of the modern era has produced countless songs about prostitution as well.

What follows in the coming weeks is a countdown of the top 10 songs (as compiled by yours truly) about prostitution of the modern era that were not inspired by the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel of La Grange, Texas. Between The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack and ZZ Top’s “La Grange” (not to mention works by Willis Alan Ramsey, Billy Joe Shaver, the Austin Lounge Lizards and numerous others), the Chicken Ranch would simply have an unfair advantage.

6. “Mexican Blackbird” – ZZ Top
Even though ZZ Top’s iconic “La Grange” is disqualified from this list because it’s about the Chicken Ranch, that doesn’t mean the little ol’ band from Houston is shut out of the list. That’s because the band reveled in singing about society’s seedy underbelly. “Mexican Blackbird” is as crude and politically incorrect as they come, about a popular mix-raced prostitute in Ciudad Acuña on the Texas-Mexico border. Despite her purported popularity, nobody knows her name so instead refer to her with an offensive and demeaning term. Presented from the perspective of a good ol’ boy just looking for some fun, the song highlights the dehumanizing effects of prostitution along the border.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Ruth Brown.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Vince Guaraldi Trio A Charlie Brown Christmas
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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Alamo Drafthouse lets me down

UPDATE TO ORIGINAL POST: The Alamo Drafthouse comes through! Read all about the happy ending here!

I never thought I'd say this, but Alamo Drafthouse has failed me. The cinema chain legendary for great customer service and fun promotions royally screwed the pooch tonight, and I'm deeply disappointed by the experience.

Follow: I'm a big Gremlins fan. Not the world's biggest fan, but I've got a soft spot for those little green mayhem-making agents of chaos. Gremlins was the movie playing when I first started working at the Oaks Theater in Columbus, Texas, back in the summer of 1982. Bit of trivia: That film proved to be the most profitable in that ancient, single-screen, reel-to-reel theater's history. Not because of the box office (although a lot of people did pay to see the film) but because the snack bar sales were out of this world. I chalk it up to the infamous theater scene in the film, where the Gremlins gorge themselves. In any event, I loved the film's deft mix of laughs and scares. Gremlins 2 came out when I was in college, and I eagerly read up on it in the months leading up to release. I was highly amused that Sir Christopher Lee appeared in the film because--despite all the horror films he'd made over the decades--he'd never gotten a chance to play a genuine "mad scientist" until Dr. Catheter. Then I read an interview in Starlog with director Joe Dante raving about the original Gremlins 2 treatment/script written by Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, titled "The Forgotten Rule." Apparently, the script was insanely funny, and the finale involved King Kong-sized Gizmo and Gremlins battling atop the Empire State Building, or something to that effect. Despite everyone loving the script, it was shelved because it was far beyond the means of the budget at the time. It's been a minor mission of my life to get ahold of a copy of this, but despite a few false alarms, I've thus far failed. Suffice to say, I'm a Gremlins fan.

Imagine my delight back on November 7 when the email (below) pops up in my inbox, forwarded to me by The Wife. Mondo was creating Gremlins-themed tiki mugs! Limited edition mugs for the Alamo Drafthouse! And the only way to get one was to purchase a ticket to one of the listed films. One of those films just happened to be--you guessed it--Gremlins. My actual response: "That. Is. Amazing." Knowing that I built a tiki bar with my own two hands this past summer, and that I really, really, liked Gremlins, The Wife set about trying to secure me a set of these tiki mugs. After an hour or so of wrestling with the Drafthouse website, she came to the conclusion that the only way to get a mug was to purchase tickets to a showing. So she did, via the link at the bottom of the email, although no option to purchase a tiki mug presented itself during this purchase. We naturally assumed they'd be available for purchase at the showing. Why? Because of this verbiage from the email solicitation:

Available with ticket purchase to the following films at Alamo Drafthouse this season while supplies last!

And, when you pick up your mug at the theater, you can also pick up a fruity, delicious tiki drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic, up to you), which comes included with your mug!*

*One drink per mug, thems the rules. And please note that this mug is in post-production and may not be available for pick-up at the theater by the date of your selected screening.
So, imagine our utter disappointment when we arrive at the Alamo Drafthouse New Braunfels, place our order with the waitress, and are told there are no tiki mugs. Seems their shipment of mugs arrived back on December 14, and they immediately started selling them in the bar. They sold out the first day, and now those same mugs may be found on Ebay for prices ranging from $60-160. The waitress goes to get a manager, and we hear the people behind us and to either side talking about how they're supposed to get a special Gremlins cup at the showing. So, you know, it wasn't just us.

After the show, the manager finds us and is apologetic. We show him the email (below) that ties the Gremlins tiki promotion to the actual showing of the Gremlins movie. He runs his hand through his hair and says, "Well, that would make sense, wouldn't it?" Then he shows us an email he received from corporate Drafthouse headquarters that says to start selling the tiki mugs in the bar starting December 14. They'd sold out of the tikis the week before. There were none left. He couldn't do anything to help us, other than give us some vouchers for future shows.

This is total "First World Problem" territory, I know. That we made assumptions that we probably shouldn't have. But geeze Louise, in-theatre promotions aren't supposed to be so convoluted one needs a secret decoder ring to figure them out. Had we gotten an email saying, "Oopsie, our bad. We're selling these at the bar starting December 14," we'd have hied our way over to the Drafthouse and picked up a couple. No big deal. But apparently the only folks let in on that were those Ebay sharks looking to make a quick buck. I mean, why say a limited edition promotion is only available with a ticket purchase when it actually isn't? I felt so put out by the bait-and-switch that I didn't even enjoy the film, despite the fact that I'd forgotten just how well it presents on the big screen (my Blu Ray edition is fantastic, but really, size does matter). I'm still out of sorts. I know, it's just a little thing, but going to the movies should result in an evening of joyful entertainment, not frustration and angst. Or am I asking too much of the universe?

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Chicken Ranch Central

Sailing Venus revisited

The last time I did any writing on my theoretical novel Sailing Venus was in 2014, right around the time of ArmadilloCon. The last time I even mentioned it here was 2015, in my ApolloCon write-up. The first time I ever mentioned it here was way back in 2005. Clearly, I'm not the most hop-to-it of writers. I actually began work on the novel back during the 2013 NaNoWriMo, and that experience taught me two things--first off, I'm terrible at the whole NaNoWriMo thing. Second off, I'm not a writer who can work on multiple projects simultaneously. Back then--and pretty much ever since--my writing life had been consumed by Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch. Well, that book's been published for five months now, and at various signings I find people asking me what my next book will be. I answer Sailing Venus, although I add the caveat that I haven't done much work on it recently.

That, hopefully, is no longer the case. The past few weeks I've been noodling with some plot points and coming up with new elements that enhance the story structure I already have outlined. I've read up on background material--both fiction and non--and finally took the leap of faith by reading the chapters I'd previously completed. Folks, there's a lot there that's cringe-worthy. But there's a lot that isn't. There are even significant passages and scenes I have no memory of ever writing. That's an odd feeling, reading one's own words with no idea what happens next. I took up the red pen and marked up the manuscript printout. For the past two days, I've been rewriting. Not a lot, but enough to count as a true restart. The second draft of chapter 1 is complete, and I'm diving into chapter 2. I'm not certain what kind of pace I'll be able to keep up, but my goal is to have a completed manuscript by the time World Fantasy rolls around next October in San Antonio. That's a goal I've set for myself before and missed badly, but I'm betting I can turn the trick this time.

Also, Google Venus is a thing. Why am I only now just learning of it?

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett 'Tis the Season
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Radio! Radio!

I am remiss. I made an appearance on the Chip Howard radio show a couple weeks back to discuss Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch and have not shared that information here. Consider that oversight corrected. My 20-minute interview may be listened to online at this link. Let me know what you think!

Also, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind folks that the photo book, Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch, is still available. It makes a great Christmas gift, especially paired with that other book of mine. Blurb's also running a 30% off special through December 15--enter CHEER30 at checkout to receive the discount.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra On the Third Day
Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, December 12, 2016

Homebrew update

Time for an update on the 3-gallon batch of mead I began last week. The must hit the 1/3 sugar break (that means 1/3 of the total available sugars had been consumed by the yeast) on December 5 with a 1.054 specific gravity reading. Following the BOMM protocol, I gave nutrient additions of .75 tsp of DAP and 2.25 tsp of Fermaid K. For the record, I pitched the yeast December 2 around 11 p.m., so I hit the first sugar break at less than three days. I expected the ferment to progress a bit more slowly than it has, as I pitched the yeast directly from the packet rather than building up the yeast numbers via a starter colony, but the yeasties didn't seem to be phased in the slightest.

The temperature has read consistently around 70F. I degassed 3-4 times daily (shaking the fermentor vigorously to release dissolved CO2 from suspension), but no matter how long I shake there's always more CO2 blowing out. A strong yeast smell came from the airlock, and no off odors at that point.

By December 8, the sg reading was 1.020, meaning the must hit the 2/3 sugar break of 1.027 early that morning. I degassed and pitched .75 tsp of DAP (I was getting getting close to the 9 percent alcohol cutoff, at which point yeast cannot metabolized non-organic nitrogen, but not quite there yet) and 1.25 tsp Fermaid K rather than 2.25 tsp, because that's all that I had left. The temperature was around 69F. The ph reading was 3.6. I hoped the additional nutrients I pitched were enough to keep the yeast from stalling out, as the additions were well short of the recommended BOMM nutrients.

I took a taste, and even at that stage I could say this was shaping up to be the best mead I've ever made. It was very clean and smooth, no harsh fusel alcohols present at all (and I know from fusels). It was floral, lightly sweet with strong citrus overtones. It was somewhat effervescent despite the degassing, so I wonder if that contributed to the citrus?

On December 9, Less than 24 hours later, the sg reading was 1.004. The temperature of must was 69F. Citrus still predominated the taste, with some yeastyness creeping in. It was beginning to taste a little hot, with a faint hint of fusels present. I guess the Wyeast 1388 wasn't entirely happy with my skimping on the Fermaid K the last feeding. Fortunately, there was absolutely no sign of this one stalling out. It was the fastest ferment I've ever seen.

On December 10, sg reading hit 1.000, meaning all sugar had been consumed and fermentation was over. The flavor was dry, yeasty, with some moderate harshness from fusels, but not a tremendous amount. The citrus aspect was much diminished. The final alcohol levels were around 10.4 percent. I'd wanted it to be slightly higher, so I dissolved roughly 13 ounces of honey in about a cup and a half of warm water and pitched it into the mead. Renewed fermentation should bring the final alcohol levels up to around the 11.5 percent mark. I expect the renewed fermentation has already finished by December 12, but there remains dissolved CO2 coming out of solution that keeps the airlock bubbling regularly.

The plan now is to let it sit for a week or two and clear, with the suspended yeast and other particles settling out of the solution. Once it's fairly clear, I'll rack into a 3-gallon carboy and begin adding spices and such to turn it into a metheglin. At this point, I'm pretty optimistic I'll have a good, drinkable mead in just a few months. Fingers crossed.

Now Playing: Emerson, Lake and Palmer Return of the Manticore
Chicken Ranch Central

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Return of the meadmaker

As I write this, it's been just over four years since I last started a batch of mead. I've made beer/ale since then, but not mead. Considering that batch is what gave me the ice wine metheglin that received favorable reviews at the 2014 Texas Mead Fest. What made that batch successful (at least the ice wine version--plum and pear didn't turn out so well) was the fact that I'd finally learned the need to degas the must daily to release all the dissolved CO2 that can become toxic and stress the yeasts, as well as keep the fermentation temperature low--below 70F at least. I'd gotten into homebrewing by making ales, which ferment normally at high temperatures using (duh) ale yeasts. Put wine yeasts in the same conditions, and they stress greatly, creating fusel alcohols and off-flavors. So it only took me a decade of making mediocre meads to learn this--what can I say? I'm a slow learner.

Now, however, I was ready to put that earned knowledge to work. One problem though--the big, 6-gallon Mr. Beer fermentor (pictured above) was no more. Back this summer, when I brewed up 12 gallons of "In-The-Buff Brown Ale" for my book release party, I discovered the entire bottom of my Mr. Beer was ringed with deep cracks. I learned this when I tried to sanitize it for the wort, and the water I poured in spewed out the bottom almost as quickly. Color me depressed. I had other fermentors for the beer, but the Mr. Beer was special. Follow: Back when The Wife and I were planning the whole wedding thing, I went with her to Target, JC Penney and Dillard's to do the whole bridal registry thing. There's a reason it's called a bridal registry and not a groom's registry. The entire day (it was a Sunday, if memory serves) consisted of her saying "What do you think about these bed sheets?" or "How do you think this silverware would go with the china?" To which my replay was a variation of "Whatever you want." Late in the day, being quite tired and more than a little disinterested, I turned a corner in Dillard's and there it was, a huge Mr. Beer display at the entrance to the Men's section. My eyes lit up. A choir of angels began to sing in the distance. The Wife-To-Be said "Absolutely not." It was a preemptive no before I could say anything but I was not deterred. "Look," I said, "our wedding registry has 597 items picked out on it, of which I've contributed zero. I think I'm entitled." So I took the little barcode scanner and added Mr. Beer to our registry.

The next day, when I got home for work, that Mr. Beer was on the dining room table, waiting for me. Having it on our registry so mortified her that The Wife bought it for me just to keep it from the list. And I've been home brewing ever since. I particularly loved the Mr. Beer because it was clear, PET plastic, which let me watch the fermentation as it happens. That's not the case with opaque buckets. So when Midwestern Supplies had 6-gallon "Big Mouth Bubblers" on sale for Black Friday, including free shipping, I could not resist. These, like Mr. Beer, have a spigot, so there's no need to siphon. That makes racking and bottling very easy. It came in on Thursday. To get it ready, I needed to clean and sanitize it. Many homebrewers look down on using chlorine bleach for sanitizing, but I've had good success in the past. I capped the bung at the bottom with a borrowed spigot from a plastic bucket fermentor I have, and tossed all the other parts into the Big Mouth Bubbler, added a couple cups of bleach and filled up all the way with water in the walk-in shower. After that, I let it sit for the better part of a day.

I decided to put to use all my accumulated knowledge of meadmaking and approached this batch differently than in the past. I've learned a lot more about honey, for starters, and that a disturbing amount of bulk honey--even that labeled as North American sourced--is actually laundered from China and India, and contaminated with pesticides, antibiotics, etc. The way those countries get around bans on their contaminated product is by super-filtering to remove pollen. Honey's place of origin is determined by analyzing the unique pollen found therein, so if all the pollen is filtered out, there's no way to discover where it originated. In light of that, I went semi-local, and bought 7.5 pounds of Walker Honey Farm wildflower honey from HEB. They're based in Rogers, a town I know fairly well, and are the folks behind Dancing Bee Meadery, which produces some pretty decent meads. Also, I planned to make only 3 gallons this time. In the past I've always tried to make 6 gallon batches, and that's a lot of time and money gone to waste if it sucks. I figure 3 gallons is more manageable (one gallon batches are so small they're not really worth the effort).

First up, I had to dissolve the honey in water to make it fermentable. Honey is so dry, so to speak, that yeast and bacteria cannot survive in it. This is why honey is so resistant to spoilage. I heated a gallon or so of tap water on the stove to about 140F. Lots of homebrewers frown on using tap water, but I like New Braunfels tap water. Really, any place that gets its water from the Edwards Aquifer is going to have pleasantly-flavored water. Many meadmakers also frown on heating honey. I've long since passed the stage where I worried about contamination and pasteurized the honey for 30 minutes or more. I just heat the water because the honey dissolves so much more quickly that way. At 140F I cut the heat off, and as I stir in the honey, the temperature of the water drops quickly, so I'm not losing any significant flavors or aroma to boil-off.

Lots of stirring with a sanitized spoon to ensure it's all mixed in well. I keep intending to get a longer, plastic or metal spoon dedicated to homebrew, but have not yet gotten around to it. Again, some other brewers may look upon my use of a wooden spoon with horror, as it could be harboring all types of bacteria and wild yeasts, but it's fresh out of the dish washer and I've not had problems before.

In a tea kettle, I heated up some additional water to approximately 140F. This, I poured into the various jars of honey--now mostly empty--to recover as much honey as possible. There were some pretty thick layers of honey on the sides and bottoms of those jars.

After pouring in the hot water, I screwed the lid on tightly and shook like the dickens. You can see how much honey I recovered from those jars by the yellow hue the water took on. I poured this water in to the main pot and mixed everything together.

By this time, the honey-water mixture had cooled to below 110F, so I covered it and set it aside to continue cooling.

Now here's where things get interesting. The mead recipe I'm following this time is Bray's One Month Mead--known popularly as BOMM online. This did not exist the last time I made mead. It was invented by a fellow named Bray who experimented with using a bunch of different Belgian ale strains that had high gravity and high alcohol tolerances to find which ones might be useful for mead. Most beer yeast is stressed and/or killed by alcohol levels approaching that of wine, making them inappropriate for the most part. But Bray found that Wyeast 1388 Belgian Strong Ale produced a quality mead quickly at relatively high temperatures. The yeast's listed alcohol tolerance of 12 percent is solidly in the lower range of wine, so that's a plus. Until now, I'd only used dry yeasts--liquid was new for me. But I activated the packet as instructed and set it aside for six hours of so for the yeast to build up momentum.

I emptied the fermentor of the bleach water and rinsed it out thoroughly. You don't want to skimp on this part--bleach is not a good addition to mead or beer. Once everything was clean, I assembled the proper spigot in the bung and set up the airlock in the lid. With the honey-water must cooled, I poured that into the fermentor, then added cool water to bring the volume up to a shade over 3 gallons. To this, I added the additional ingredients as called for in Bray's recipe, tripling the dosage for my 3 gallons (his recipe was for 1 gallon): 3/4 tsp of diammonium phosphate (yeast nutrient) and 2-1/4 tsp of Fermaid K (different type of yeast nutrient). I then added 2-1/4 tsp of potassium bicarbonate. The original recipe calls for potassium carbonate, but that's not so easy to come by and I saw that most people online are successfully substituting the common bicarbonate with no ill effects. Shortly after this, I saw that Bray also has a 5-gallon version of his recipe up, which calls for 3/4 tsp of potassium bicarbonate--the same amount the one-gallon recipe called for, which I tripled. Oops. Will this negatively impact my mead? We'll find out. The immediate result was a ph reading of roughly 5 (the winemaking ph tester only went as high as 4.4, and it appears my color was slightly darker than 4.4) which is higher than honey's native acidity. Hopefully this will make the yeasts happy.

After pitching the yeast, I measured the specific gravity at 1.080, adjusted for temperature at 70F. If this is accurate (and it should be--reading a triple scale hydrometer is pretty straightforward--the mead should finish up around 10.4 percent ABV. This is a little lower than I'd intended. I the past, I've used 3 pounds of honey or more in my mead, and they tended to run closer to 14 percent ABV. Using the ale Wyeast 1388, I used just 2.5 pounds per gallon, shooting for a final ABV around 11-11.5. Depending on how the primary ferment goes, I may add a bit more honey in the secondary to boost that some. We'll see. The important thing is, the yeasts are happily fermenting away, and just a short while ago I shook the fermentor vigorously to release any built-up CO2, and was rewarded by a huge foaming eruption. Fortunately, the fermentor being only half-capacity allowed plenty of space for the degassing to rage. Fingers crossed that this one will be a winner.

Now Playing: Benedictine Monks of Sanot Domingo de Silos Chant Noel
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, December 02, 2016

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

No subject has ever made such a popular subject for song as love. As long as humans have been making music, love’s far and away the top choice of lyricists to write about. Writing and discussing Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch, however, got me to thinking. Amid all that blissful romance, the darker flipside beckoned, and prostitution served as the inspiration for more than a few memorable songs. The Greeks and Romans sang about prostitutes, and minstrels in the middle-ages were more than a little bawdy. Cowboys of the American West favored songs so scandalous they could strip the needles from a cactus. It’s no wonder, then, that popular music of the modern era has produced countless songs about prostitution as well.

What follows in the coming weeks is a countdown of the top 10 songs (as compiled by yours truly) about prostitution of the modern era that were not inspired by the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel of La Grange, Texas. Between The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack and ZZ Top’s “La Grange” (not to mention works by Willis Alan Ramsey, Billy Joe Shaver, the Austin Lounge Lizards and numerous others), the Chicken Ranch would simply have an unfair advantage.

8. “She Can’t Give It Away” – Barbara Fairchild
A minor hit in 1978 for Barbara Fairchild and later covered by Roy Clark, “She Can’t Give it Away” is a quintessential life-hits-rock-bottom country and western ballad. The song’s subject, a one-time “Southern beauty,” exploited her looks to live the easy, luxury life of a high-end call girl. One can imagine a woman with low self-esteem reveling in the superficial attention lavished upon her by suitors, never thinking that time might not be on her side. Now, decades later, the money’s gone and she’s just “an old and fading sunset/that once lit up the whole Savannah sky” with no home, no trade and no hope. The kicker comes in the next verse, where a man whose honest (but un-moneyed) affections she spurned decades before is now wealthy and prosperous, yet trapped in a loveless marriage. There are no winners here, in true country tradition. Alas, there's no official video, but the song speaks for itself.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Police.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Chicken Ranch discounted!

I don't normally post info about sales and such on my blog, but History Press is currently running a 50 percent off Black Friday sale on Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch that is good through midnight, November 30. The book normally retails for $24.99, so ordering a copy during this sale will put you back just $12.49. Let me put that in perspective: That's cheaper than I can get my author copies. So, if you're had my little book on your wish list, or plan to order copies as gifts for 30 or 40 of your closest friends and family members, now's your chance to save big. Note, this discount price is only good through History Press directly--I've got no idea what Amazon, B&N and the rest are doing.

Also, I wanted to give an update on my Waco signing that happened Saturday. It was pretty darn amazing, I have to say. The folks at Barnes & Noble were pretty busy, so I didn't get the relaxed bookstore chit-chat I normally engage in, but they were polite and welcoming in passing. But as soon as I got settled in, folks started arriving. Most of them had read the article, "Chicken Ranch realities: New book tells history of the infamous Central Texas brothel," which appears in the December issue of Waco Today, available now. It's a good write-up, and piqued the interest of more than a few readers. I had old Air Force vets come by and share their memories of visiting the Chicken Ranch while stationed at Bergstrom, and several La Grange ex-pats reminisce about the old days. Two were so interested in the Chicken Ranch that they bought the only two copies of Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch I happened to have with me, out in the car (these make great Christmas gifts as well. Just sayin'). I ended up going beyond my allotted time, which is a pretty good thing to say about a book signing. The B&N people were happy with the turnout, and gladly had me sign the remaining stock on hand. Who'd have thought Waco would become one of the high points of my informal Chicken Ranch signing tour?

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Who's tired of hearing about the Chicken Ranch?

I'm sure some folks are tired of hearing about the Chicken Ranch, but not too many of them are voicing that concern to me. Take last week, for instance. On Thursday, I found myself in San Antonio speaking at the Stone Oak Rotary Club. What a great bunch of people they were! Dean Bentle had caught my presentation last month at the Woman's Club of San Antonio and was, I suppose, entertained enough to invite me over to regale his Rotarians. They made for an engaged, interested audience and once all was said and done, presented me with the nice certificate there to the right, along with a Rotary emblem made entirely out of chocolate! Do they know how to treat a guy right, or what?

When I wasn't speaking to the Rotarians, it seems I was speaking with Joe Holley at the Houston Chronicle, putting him in touch with various sources for his November 19 column "Will Fayette County ever outlive its Chicken Ranch history?" The short answer: No.

Some people are reporting trouble with the link, so here's my key quote from the write-up:

"I'd say 45 percent of the population think it's part of Texas history, and they should exploit it," [Blaschke] said from his office at Texas State University, where he's director of media relations. "Another 45 percent don't give it any never mind. And maybe 10 percent of the population just about spews blood out of their eyeballs if you even mention it."
The article goes on to quote County Judge Ed Janecka as opposing any public acknowledgement of the Chicken Ranch, any marketing of it as a tourist attraction. Instead, he wants tourists to come to town for the Texas Quilt Museum, Monument Hill and the Krische Brewery State Historic Site. Here's the thing: Although those are all worthy things in and of themselves, a quick Google search turns up dozens of quilt museums across the country. The National Quilt Museum is in Paducah, Kentucky. There are others in Colorado, Nebraska, Virginia, New England... How many of those has Judge Janecka personally visited? That's the thing--very few people are going to visit La Grange specifically for the attractions he and his supporters believe tourists should visit for, rather than the one famous attraction they do visit for. Even though it is long gone, the Chicken Ranch is never going away. Instead of fighting it, that 10 percent should use it as an enticement to tourists. Give them a map to a Historical Marker to look at and make them happy. That's maybe 15 minutes out of the tourist's visit, but what next? Include on that map information about Monument Hill and the Quilt Museum, plus Rohan Meadery and Rosemary's Vinyard. There's excellent dining options in La Grange, plus Weikel's Bakery serves up some pretty darn good kolaches. See where I'm going with this? Instead of complaining for 40-plus years that visitors only come to town to see the Chicken Ranch, use the Chicken Ranch to leverage their interest in all the other great things the town has to offer. It's a piece of history La Grange owns that no other city can touch, and the sooner they get over their faux-shame, the better off everyone will be. Heck, Dallas converted the Texas School Book Depository to a museum a very long time ago, and I guarantee that episode of history cast a far darker shadow over the city than the Chicken Ranch could ever match.

Enough of that soap boxing--I've got more interesting things coming up. In addition to the Houston Chronicle article, I've got another feature scheduled (I am told) to appear in the upcoming issue of Waco Today, due to be published by the Waco Tribune Herald November 23. This just happens to coincide with my book signing at the Waco Barnes and Noble 2-4 p.m. Saturday, November 26. There were some pretty strong ties between Waco and the Chicken Ranch, starting with the fact that the madam Jessie Williams, otherwise known as Fay Stewart, was born and raised in Waco. It should prove to be an entertaining afternoon, and I'm looking forward to having a good turnout. See you there!

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Office build-along, pt. 7

Last time we spoke, I spent an inordinate amount of time discussing how I moved a wall outlet and subsequently attached a piece of paneling to the wall. Today, things get real, because we're going vertical! The upright supports for my bookcase consist of 10--count 'em--2"x12"x10' boards. That's right, I'm using 2"x12"s, which are stout pieces of lumber. The first order of business was to cut them for size. My ceiling is just over 9' tall, which makes the boards too long. But the ceiling isn't consistently 9' tall--I've found the distance between ceiling and floor can vary by as much as a quarter inch or more, so I had to measure each board for each spot. Some I cut just a hair too long to fit, so I had to go back out and sand them down to fit. The one thing I didn't want was to cut too short so they'd be loose. I need stability and shoring up a loose vertical would be a real pain.

Once the verticals were cut for length, I lined them all up in position, along with the cabinets that will make up the base. Only there's a problem. Can anyone spot it?

Oh my! It would appear the width of the cabinets, combined with the width of the 2"x12" boards, is about 2" more than the wall allows. Not only will that end cabinet not fit into the narrow slot there, there is no room for the 2"x12" that goes on the right side of it. You know the saying, "Measure twice and cut once?" Well, I did. And sadly, my measurements predicted this exactly several months back. Those extra-narrow vertical cabinets I ordered special? That's because I knew early on the regular, 12" wide cabinets would never come close to fitting. Even so, I've got more lumber than space for. Fortunately, I'd formulated a plan. I just lined everything up hoping that my estimates were wrong, and everything would miraculously fit. No such luck.

The first thing was to mark each vertical board where it met a cabinet. I had to pull 2" from somewhere, and the vertical boards looked like my best bet.

Earlier I said that for every problem, I come up with the most convoluted solution possible. I fear that's what I did this time, but I worried the problem for a couple months and couldn't hit upon another solution. I used a router to reclaim those missing two inches. I've got five verticals, and figured I could shave half an inch off each one if I set the router bit to cut 1/4" deep. I could only router one side of the vertical flush against the opposite wall, but the remaining boards should've given me more than enough flexibility to reclaim the space I needed.

I set up an adjustable rip fence/cut guide above the line I drew marking where the board met the cabinet, and started grinding away wood from that point down. The biggest problem with this is that router is designed to sit on a flat plane of wood and cut a groove. As I trimmed away more and more wood, there was much less surface area to support it, and my routing grew less and less stable. Eventually, I learned to start at the bottom and work my way back and forth in curved sweeps, keeping the router at least half supported at all times. I can assure you, this was not quick work. It took several evenings to get all of it done, but once the sawdust settled, so to speak, the verticals and cabinets all fit nice and snug in the space available.

There is probably a smarter, faster way to accomplish this goal, but for the life of me I can't figure what it might be. In any event, I'm through with the bulk routing and hope to never do that again. More traditional, groove routing, however, is another story. There's a lot of that coming up. Stay tuned. Now Playing: David Bowie Best of Bowie
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

No subject has ever made such a popular subject for song as love. As long as humans have been making music, love’s far and away the top choice of lyricists to write about. Writing and discussing Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch, however, got me to thinking. Amid all that blissful romance, the darker flipside beckoned, and prostitution served as the inspiration for more than a few memorable songs. The Greeks and Romans sang about prostitutes, and minstrels in the middle-ages were more than a little bawdy. Cowboys of the American West favored songs so scandalous they could strip the needles from a cactus. It’s no wonder, then, that popular music of the modern era has produced countless songs about prostitution as well.

What follows in the coming weeks is a countdown of the top 10 songs (as compiled by yours truly) about prostitution of the modern era that were not inspired by the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel of La Grange, Texas. Between The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack and ZZ Top’s “La Grange” (not to mention works by Willis Alan Ramsey, Billy Joe Shaver, the Austin Lounge Lizards and numerous others), the Chicken Ranch would simply have an unfair advantage.

10. “House of the Rising Sun” – The Animals
This ranks low on the list because, frankly, it’s such an obvious choice. The song itself has murky origins as a British folk ballad dating back as far as the 16th century, but was fairly well established in the U.S. by the first decade of the 20th century. The Animals made “House of the Rising Sun” their major contribution to the British Invasion in 1964, and the ominous guitar chords of their version immediately distinguished it from all those that came before. This version of the song forwards the misogynistic notion that women are the downfall of men--an element not often present in earlier interpretations of the song. The titular New Orleans brothel callously feeds on the lost virtue of men led astray, and all who enter are doomed to become lost souls.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Ariana Savalas.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com. It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Office build-along, pt. 6

It's been several months since my last update, but I haven't been entirely idle. Book signings, coupled with work and family obligations, not to mention a deep depression following the election, cut in to my available work time. Still, progress is happening, even if it only comes in fits and starts.

When last we spoke, I'd paneled the far wall, and subsequently screwed up on the stain color when trying to conceal the wood putty over the nail holes. Lesson learned. The near wall, as seen in the photo above, proved a little more time-consuming to panel. The reason being an electrical outlet. Now normally this wouldn't be any more problematic than the light switch I dealt with on the far wall. In this case, however, the outlet was located about 12 inches off the floor, just the right height to straddle the top of the cabinet that will form the base of the book shelf. At the old house, the wall sockets were a mere six inches above the floor, meaning I could simply cut a hole in the back of the cabinet and be done with it. No such luck here. I had to relocate the entire outlet about 5 inches higher.

I measured out the move, marked the boundaries with pencil, then sliced through the drywall with my handy utility knife. Sharp, fresh blades cut much easier than dull ones. And beware of slips. A sharp utility knife can easily slice off a finger tip or, you know, leave a deep gash in one's leg. I speak from experience.

Now we have a nice clean hole to work with. Just off to the left, hidden by drywall, is a yellow natural gas pipe that leads to the kitchen on the other side of the wall (our stove is electric, but there's a gas outlet there were we to ever decide we wanted to cook with blue flames). I had no idea it was there before I started cutting, so that's another point in the "proceed with caution" box whenever committing home improvement. Drilling through that gas line would've not been a whole heck of a lot of fun.

Next, the old outlet box needs to go. After turning off the circuit breaker and removing the outlet from the box and disconnecting all the wires, I got in there with a crowbar and brute forced it. Amazingly enough, the nail in the bottom wasn't in very far at all, so it popped right out. The box broke away easily from the top nail, and I was able to extract it with a pair of pliers and some twisting.

Somewhere along the line I realized I wouldn't be able to use the same type of side-nail box for the relocated outlet, not unless I wanted to cut a much bigger hole in the drywall (right where the gas line is) to get a hammer in there. Instead, I opted to cut out a much smaller section of drywall over the wall stud, and use a front-nail box instead. This worked out quite nicely. One thing about me is that I normally figure out work-arounds for various problems that are about 10 times as complicated as the most obvious course of action. Fortunately, this time I figured out the simple solution without the aid of hindsight.

The next step was to reconnect the outlet and secure it in the box so I could restore power to my office. It's not easy working in there with no light or ceiling fan. Or comfortable. Since I closed in the far wall, air circulation is just about nil.

This actually took a couple of days to complete on account of my having to go to work and such, so I put the front plate on the outlet and wedged the drywall pieces I'd cut away earlier into the holes. This is to keep various family cats from climbing into the wall and complicating matters. Don't laugh--I saw this happen growing up.

A more permanent solution to denying cats access to the wall interior involved drywall compound. I removed the outlet face place, trimmed the drywall pieces to fit and inserted them into the openings. Then I covered them with a mesh drywall tape and plastered over them. This is not a well-done drywall patch. Let's be clear about that. It's a fast job. It will be covered, so my primary goal was to just get it done.

Having learned from the light switch on the far wall that the gooey mouse bait works its way into all the cracks, I covered the outlet with duct tape--in this case, a fetching, space print. Then I outlined the edges with the mouse bait goo.

I set the paneling into position and pressed, coming away with a nice, gooey outline of the socket. A couple of measurements later, I'd drawn in the edges of the hole-to-be.

I drilled pilot holes with my drill. I'm not sure the size of the bit I used. It's smaller than a quarter inch, but not by much--3/16 maybe?

Pilot holes drilled in the corners, I then inserted the jig saw blade and sliced open the hole for the outlet.

Hole cut, the panel is ready to attach to the wall. But just in time I remembered that I forgot to show how that was done for the far wall. So I shall rectify that now. The most important thing is to locate the wall studs. Without knowing where those are, you'll just be hammering into drywall, which won't hold anything for very long. There are all sorts of stud finders, but they generally work the same way, beeping and/or lighting up when passing over a stud behind the drywall. Take a pencil and mark the locations--in this case, I marked onto the ceiling, as the paneling will be covering up the wall, and I'll have to remember where the studs are later in this project.

Next, positioned the paneling and nailed it into place with paneling nails (duh) along the top edge against the ceiling, where I know the studs are. Next, needed to nail the lower portions of the paneling to the wall. To do that, I used a plumb bob (essentially, a heavy weight on a string) to map out that wall stud all the way to the floor.

I'm not good at eyeballing these things, so I needed the plumb bob as a guide. I tapped in a paneling nail up near the ceiling and looped the end of the string to it. Then I let the plumb bob settle into an equilibrium with gravity (when you first let it go, it has a tendency to swing and spin around for a bit).

Using the string as a guide, I nailed anchors up and down the paneling, hitting studs every time. Once I'd done this for the entire piece of paneling and it was securely fastened to the wall, I puttied up all the nail holes. And no, I didn't dab "Dark Walnut" stain on them. I try to not repeat mistakes, in favor of inventing entirely new mistakes.

The long and short of it is that the wall outlet fit just right into the hole I cut for it. Attach the face plate, it it blends right in. Strangely enough, in real life the outlet does not appear askew against the edge of the paneling. I'm guessing the wide angle lens I'm using has introduced distortion, because serious, it really isn't that cockeyed!

Coming soon: Vertical bookshelf supports!

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