My Beer Year


My Beer Year by Lucy Birmingham shares stories from her year of learning about beer by experience in preparation for the Certified Cicerone (beer sommelier) test. She

  • went to a hop harvest
  • participated in a beer judging contest as a judge
  • cleaned the lines at a pub
  • brewed beer with new friends
  • attended a beer festival to educate her palate

She frequently invoked the flashcards she made based on the the Beer Judging Style Guidelines during this journey. There’s an excellent Beer Master’s Bookshelf as well at the end.

This is the perfect syllabus if you ever decide you too would like to be a Certified Cicerone (which Birmingham is now by the way). Tempting.

The Happiness Advantage

Author Shawn Achor used to suffer from depression. His book proves we can fashion happiness for ourselves. First we need to understand how it works and Achor supplies 7 principles:

  1. The Happiness Advantage: happiness is a work ethic and there are specific exercises you can do to boost your happiness:
  • Meditate
  • Find something to look forward to
  • Commit conscious pre-determined acts of kindness
  • Infuse positivity into your surroundings
  • Exercise
  • Spend money on experiences
  • Exercise a signature strength
  1. The Fulcrum and the Lever: use your beliefs determine your future
  2. The Tetris Effect: scan the world for the best not the worst and maintain an attitude of healthy optimism
  3. Falling Up: make the best out of things that happen, resist believing in the futility of your own action, adopt a positive explanatory style of past events by practicing your ABCDs: Adversity (happens), Belief (explains), Consequence (from belief), and Disputation (is there another way to look at it.)
  4. The Zorro Circle: limit your focus to small manageable goals and expand your sphere of influence from there, believe in your locus of control even over something so small as caring for a house plant. At work concentrate your efforts on small areas where you know you can make a difference. Make a list of things in your control and things not. Work on those you can control.
  5. The 20 second Rule: willpower weakens the more we use it so put the desired activity on the path of least resistance so that you can start it in less than 20 seconds. For example, sleep in your jogging clothes. If you want to watch less TV, make it take more than 20 seconds to get to the remote.
  6. Social Investment: in the midst of challenges hold on tight to the people around us. Our relationships with other people matter more than anything else in the world. Our social support protects us from a brutal sack.


New Aging

According to a recent Pew Study, for the first time there are more Millenials than Baby Boomers. Generation X lags but not by as much as you’d think making up 27% of the total vs 30% for Boomers.

Given that roughly 1/3 of the population is confronting aging (I can see Julia Child saying, “You must confront the duck!”) it makes sense to hack it. Matthias Hollwich (with Bruce Mau Design) at 40 years old saw old age coming and didn’t like it so he tasked all of his resources to study how to make it better. The result is this book: New Aging: Live Smarter Now to Live Better Forever.

New Aging is a list in chapter form of probably 100s of ideas that turn the challenges that aging presents into opportunities. Hollwich divides the actions into 9 chapters:

  • Love Aging
  • Be Social
  • Never Retire
  • Stay Fit
  • You are How You Eat
  • Access vs Mobility
  • Our Homes are Our Castles
  • Add Services and Conveniences
  • Pass it On

I found some of the ideas in Add Services to be the most interesting. For example, share one person or share help as a group. You may not be able to afford or need a person on your own, but could use help the equivalent of one day a week. Sharing a person with 6 other friends would allow you to stay in touch with them and get help with some of the most demanding tasks on a regular basis.

Another empowering example that I like is to created a shared calendar of volunteer needs.  For example, if I was caring for someone, I could create a calendar of needs for them. The whole family and friends would then know what’s needed and could volunteer to pitch in when it works for them.

In the Access vs Mobility section, using Uber and Lyft and embracing the self-driving car when it arrives are all ways to stay mobile and remove the burden and risk of driving.

Most of the ideas are immediately actionable and worth picking up.

Flowers American Pale Ale

Jennifer’s Summer Stout turned out well so I thought I would brew something else.  I used to not like IPAs but after tasting a few realized the tremendous range available in what appears to be a narrow category. An IPA seemed like a reasonable thing to try. My favorites are Fort George’s Vortex IPA with an ABV(alcohol by volume) of 7.7% and 97 IBUs (International Bittering Units) and Pfreim’s IPA  with an ABV of 7.2% and 65 IBUs. Those numbers give me something to steer by.

You start the brewing process with water. Adding 15 grams of Calcium Sulfate aka Gypsum to soft water will help dry the finish and improve the perception of hops and bitterness in the beer. Next up are the grains.



Grains (determines SRM – Standard Reference Method for Color)

  • 30 lbs Brewer’s Malt, 2 Row, Premium (Great Western 2.0 SRM)
  • 5 lbs Munich Malt – 10L (Great Western 10.0 SRM)
  • 3 lbs Victory Malt (biscuit) (Briess 28.0 SRM)
  • 1lb 8.0 oz Cara-Pils / Dextrine (Great Western 2.0 SRM)
  • 1lb 8.0 oz Crystal 15, 2-Row, (Great Western 15.0 SRM)

Brewer’s malt forms the base while Munich and Victory malt increase the malt complexity of the beer. Crystal malt adds color. CaraPils is a body and head enhancer. The target color is 8.3 SRM, something like a light orange. Next up are the hops.


Dried Hop Flowers at Pfreim Brewery & Restaurant

First I determined the target flavor profile from hops. Flowers are one of my favorite things so of course I want them in my beer. I also like grapefruit and neroli flavors and aromas and a crisp taste. I did not want lemon, tropical fruit, pine nor an astringent feel. I researched hops that would yield this combination.

The Vortex IPA uses Simcoe and Amarillo. Amarillo, Centennial and Willamette hops are all known for their floral flavors. Horizon yields a clean taste. Centennial, Willamette and Cascade are hops commonly used in National Homebrew Competition IPA recipes and are American types. If I wanted to go English I would use hops like Goldings, Fuggle, Northern Brewer and Saaz.


Hop sack steeping after the boil

Hop Additions During Boil (determines IBUs or International Bitterness Units)

  • 2.5 oz Bravo (15.6%) 60 mins (adds 36.3 IBUs) for bittering
  • 2.0 oz Centennial (9%) 30 mins (adds 12.9 IBUs)
  • 2.0 oz Horizon (8.9%) 30 mins (adds 12.7 IBUs)
  • 1.5 oz  Amarillo (9%) 15 mins (adds 6.2 IBUs)
  • 1.5 oz  Cascade (8.2%) 15 mins (adds 5.7 IBUs)
  • 1.5 oz  Horizon (12%) at finish, steep  (adds 0 IBUs)
  • 1.5 oz  Willamette (3.9%) at finish, steep (adds 0 IBUs)

This recipe yields 73.9 IBUs. All that work takes 5 hours and it just gets you to wort which tastes like liquid bread. It’s not going to become beer until you add the yeast. For an American Pale Ale you add American yeast. If you want an English version, you add an English yeast.

The Yeast (makes it alcohol)

  • 4.0 oz Safale American (DCL/Fermentis #US-05)

Hop Additions During Fermentation

  • 3.0 oz Centennial (10%) Dry Hop 0 days (adds 0 IBUs)
  • 2.0 oz Citra (13.4%) Dry hop 0 days (adds 0 IBUs)

The wort is fermenting right now. In 4 to 6 weeks I’ll know what happened! Stay tuned.


Bad Arguments


Engagingly written and beautifully illustrated, Bad Arguments: Learn the Lost Art of Making Sense, is the perfect guide to this political season.

Example: Appeal to Fear: “Mr. Frog lost the election after Mr. Donkey convinced everyone that if Mr. Frog became the school Dean, soon enough, the entire university would be run by frogs.

There’s a lot of argument from personal incredulity going on in the newspapers post-election. Reporters can’t imagine that President-elect Trump would actually fulfill some of his campaign promises so they conclude that they won’t happen.

Ali Almossawi, the author, holds a Masters in Engineering Systems from MIT and a Masters in Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon and he’s done a number of data visualization projects. Check his website out.

Endorsed by Cory Doctorow of, Kevin Tang of and Lauren Davis of, I suggest keeping this one handy while reading any kind of news.

Come Home to Yourself

Have you ever had a “failure to communicate”? (a famous line by Paul Newman in the movie Cool Hand Luke).  Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Art of Communicating will help.

It Starts with You

It all starts with communicating with yourself and Hanh devotes a whole chapter to it.

“Many of us spend a lot of time in meetings or e-mailing with others, and not a lot of time communicating with ourselves. The result is that we don’t know what is going on within us…How, then, can we communicate with another person?”

Throughout the book, Hanh urges us to come home to ourselves by breathing, practicing mindfulness and being present to ourselves. Hanh advises that when we begin listening to ourselves, we notice the suffering present in our lives. He urges us to connect to that suffering because, “If we know how to take good care of suffering, we will know how to take good care of happiness.”

Deep Listening

When communicating with others, the keys to effective and true communication are deep listening and loving speech. The quality of our listening and writing is powerful and reflexive. “If you can listen for thirty minutes with compassion, you can help the other person suffer much less.” And “If you can write a letter that’s full of understanding and compassion, then during the time of writhing that letter you will nourish yourself.”

Loving Speech

Hanh outlines 6 phrases that are loving speech.

  • I am here for you. “To be there like that, for yourself and for the other person, is an act of love.”
  • I know you are there, and I am very happy. “You are letting your loved one know that his or her presence is important to your happiness.”
  • I know you suffer, and that is why I am here for you. When you notice that something is not going well with a loved one.
  • I suffer. I want you to know. I am doing my best. Please help. When we suffer, we often want to punish the person we believe caused our suffering by telling them we don’t need them.
  • This is a happy moment.
  • You are partly right. When receiving praise or criticism.

When Difficulties Arise

Hanh includes a brilliant chapter on communicating “when difficulties arise.”Pretending everything is fine isn’t the answer.

“When anger is there, we should handle it with tenderness because our anger is us. We shouldn’t do violence to our anger. Doing violence to our anger is doing violence to ourselves.”

It’s the perfect time to say, “I suffer, I want you to know, I am doing my best. Please help.”

At Work

I love this insight from Hanh:

“Communication is as much a part of your job as is the end product. If you communicate well in your work environment, not only do you enjoy yourself more, but you create a harmonious atmosphere that will carry over into your work. Everything you do will have a stronger element of compassion and be of greater benefit to more people.”

After I finish reading books I usually sell them back. But I will keep this one for a reference and reminder.


The Girl


The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz continues Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Series which includes The Girl with an assortment: with the Dragon Tattoo, Who Played with Fire, Who Kicked the Hornet’s nest. Larsson had plans for more books but was killed and Lagercrantz is the person who was chosen to write them.

This is a book about:

  • a father, his self-learning AI and his autistic son
  • a journalist who hasn’t written a good story in awhile, his recently purchased employer and his latest investigation
  • A daughter, Lisbeth, her sister, Camilla and their abusive father, Zalenchenko

The Heroes of this story are Lisbeth who is  haunted by her father’s abuse of her mother, Michael Blomkvist whose last greatest scoop to date was awhile ago, and August, who cannot speak. Each person journeys to a new place by the end of the book.

As a hero, Lisbeth is the most relatable. She has amazing hacker skills but eats poorly, dresses gothically and has limited social skills.

The issues raised in this book are not new:

  • the ability to hack into exclusive data
  • the possibility of creating an AI that learns and so becomes greater than its creator
  • corporate espionage and the theft of trade secrets by the very organizations that are supposed to protect them
  • the abuse of women and children and ineffective ways of making it stop
  • the notion of safety

But the exploration of them is riveting and rooting for Lisbeth, Michael and August was fun.