Tag Archives: beer

Big Life, Small Space

Three years ago my husband and I bought a lovely three-bedroom home on a little more than half an acre of land. If you’ve read my previous posts you know that we have put a lot of work into our land to bring fertility and beauty to an acidic, parched, sandy lot that had been neglected and abused for decades.

Our lovely house today.
Our lovely house today.

We busted our butts clearing scrub brush and overgrown azaleas, and breaking up the compacted soil by tilling almost the entire yard. I planted fruit trees and blueberry bushes, strawberries and asparagus – plants that will produce every year with a little care. I built raised beds and created soil out of yard and kitchen waste, composted manure, and peat moss. I tossed about 100 earthworms in the beds to eat the organic matter in them and turn it into microbe-rich worm dirt, then started heirloom seeds to grow delicious, nutrient-rich food.

Baby Chickipoos
Baby Chickipoos
Chicken Tractor
Chicken Tractor

We went further in our dream of a sustainable life by getting baby chicks and raising them up. We built them a chicken tractor and moved them to a new patch of grass every day or so. We were happily surprised about how much better the yard looked a couple of weeks after the chickipoos had scratched and aerated the soil,  eaten all the plants & bugs, and left a bit of fertilizer behind them. And at the end of the day, we had fresh, delicious eggs! We also built a worm bin. Whatever kitchen waste the chickens wouldn’t eat (coffee grounds, tea leaves, etc) went to the worms. That worked well for a while, but our worms decided to migrate and left the bin one day. It was kinda weird, but other folks I’ve talked to say that worms do that sometimes.

Along the way I discovered fermentation and took to it like a duck to water. I’ve made all kinds of fermented veggies, brined eggs,  soft and hard cheeses, bacon, prosciutto, kombucha, kefir, yoghurt, skyr, clabbered milk, mead, hard cider, beer, and wine.

Lots of fermentation going on!
Lots of fermentation going on!

When we bought our home we thought we’d be there for a very long time, but life happens. Neither of us were successful in finding employment that we were in the least bit happy doing. I spent many months trying to get our business off the ground, but after failing to get financing we came to the conclusion that we were simply in the wrong place. We had chosen our town because of the lovely little downtown area, but you know what they say about books and covers. There was really very little going on in the CSRA that we could do for recreation other than tending our animals and our plot of land. Those things were great, but we had left an amazingly rich life back in the Ozarks before moving to South Carolina.

Last summer my dear friend, Hope, and I had taken a trip to see Rock City. Both of us are fans of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and had always talked about going together to see where the battle scene in the book took place. I fell in love with Chattanooga! It reminded me of my old hometown of Fayetteville, AR, but it’s even funkier. I knew my hubby would like it because of the mountains and the wonderful local food culture. So when the opportunity presented itself, I encouraged him to apply for a job there and since he’s super awesome, he got it!

Now we’re living between two places: our house in Aiken and our rented apartment in Chattanooga. We realized a few months ago that we have a big house that costs a small fortune to heat and cool, but we only live in three rooms. The whole time we’ve lived there we’ve had one guest that took advantage of our guestroom… one! We have decided that if we want to seriously commit to a sustainable lifestyle and stop spending all our time dealing with household maintenance, we have to make a big change. In a few weeks we’ll have an estate sale where we will be selling off at least 70% of our belongings. It hurts a bit, but it’s just stuff. Then we are going to sell our house. I’m really hoping that someone comes along that wants to garden and falls in love with our property. The hard work has been done already, they just need to plant and tend the garden. Once the house is sold, we are buying at least five acres of property outside of town and we’re going to build a tiny house!

By selling most of our stuff we’re hoping to whittle things down to a much more manageable state. We won’t have room for a dishwasher, so we decided to cut down the number of dishes we have. Instead of a set of eight dishes, we currently have a set of four. We are thinking about cutting that down to a set of two. That way, I will wash each of my dishes when I’m done with it and not have a big pile of dishes to wash everyday. And if we do have company, they will be told ahead of time about our kitchen arraignment and to bring their own dishes.  With less of our time being spent on things that aren’t really important, we can devote ourselves to the things we really love to do: hiking, dancing, brewing, gardening, raising critters, reading, and hanging out with friends. And hopefully, we will start our business in Chattanooga. The culture here is much better for what we want to do.

I’m sad to think about what we are leaving behind. But I’m even more excited about what lies ahead!

Microbes, Microbes Everywhere…

In our household I do all the food fermentation (veggies and dairy, occasionally curing bacon too). I also make mead, wine, cider, and ciser. My hubby primarily makes beer. I’ve brewed beer a couple of times so that I could understand the process, but beer brewing is one of my beloved’s favorite hobbies (and he’s very good at it), so I tend to leave that mostly to him. When he first started out, he brewed kits in our kitchen.

Steven and Mooshi Brewing Beer in the Kitchen
My hubby and his brew kitty, Mooshi, brewing beer in the kitchen

The kits were easy (most, if not all, the malt is in liquid or dry extract form), but I encouraged him to brew all grain beer. In my mind, it is just another type of cooking. After reading many of articles and forums and watching lots of YouTube videos, my hubby built a mash tun, bought a propane fish fryer, a small oxygen tank, and a ten gallon brewing kettle.

Brew Kettle on Fish Fryer
Brew Kettle on Fish Fryer
Mash Tun and Brew Kettle
Mash Tun and Brew Kettle

To brew beer all you must do is put your malted grain into the mash tun, bring about 5-7+ gallons of water to just before boiling and gently pour it into the mash tun with the grain (this is called mashing in). If you look at the mash tun (the modified cooler), you can see a tube with a valve coming out of it. Make sure the valve is closed before pouring the water in, or else it won’t be doing its job properly. After maybe an hour, open the valve and drain the liquid, called wort at this point) into the mash tun. While the grain has been mashing you would have boiled up a bunch more water which you very gently and slowly pour over the grains, this is called sparging. After you’ve collected all the sparged water in the mash tun, you boil the whole thing for about an hour. At certain points in the boil you add hops and/or other herbs and spices to bitter and add various other flavors. After all this you have to cool the wort down so that when you add yeast the heat doesn’t kill them. After various low-tech methods, my hubby bought a wort chiller (a big coil of metal tubing that cold water runs through while it sits in the wort) to cool the wort off quickly.

My hubby using the wort chiller to cool the wort.
My hubby using the wort chiller to cool the wort.

After all that he pours the cooled wort into a sanitized carboy, puts a sanitized tube attached to the oxygen tank into the wort and lets the oxygen flow into the wort for one minute. Adding oxygen is very important because the yeast needs it to multiply and thrive during fermentation. After that he adds his yeast, puts an airlock on it and lets the yeast do the job of multiplying and turning all the sugars extracted from the grain into alcohol. It isn’t until the wort has fermented that it is actually beer.

Now having made mead, wine, and so forth, I knew a good deal about those darling little microbes called yeast. When I first heard Sandor Katz and Michael Pollan talk about the microbes in fermented foods I started reading a good deal about what happens during lacto-fermentation among other kinds of fermenation. I knew that the thing that makes your salted cabbage turn into sauerkraut is that all plant matter is covered in lactic acid bacteria (LAB), also known as lactobacillus. What I didn’t understand is how the vegetables got the microbes to begin with.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a Master Gardening lecture by Dr. Al Bey called Teaming with Nature – Organic Yards and Gardens. Dr. Bey is a retired chemist. When he first moved to South Carolina from Michigan he used chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides on his lawn and garden. He’d been a chemist his entire career, so he really didn’t know any better then. But soon enough he realized that the problems he was treating with chemicals were only getting more pervasive and he decided to try something different – organic lawn and garden care.

I’m really glad Dr. Bey does have a background in science, because the handout we all received is 30 pages long! He has done all kinds of research to understand what needs to happen beneath the surface of the soil to produce beautiful, nutritious food and a lush yard. I certainly can’t go through it all here (this post is plenty long enough), but what I took away was the importance that microbes play in the nutritional value of the soil. If you have nutritious soil, you have nutritionally dense food, which in turn makes you healthier when you eat it. One of the richest sources of microbes that you can add to your soil is worm castings.

I remember reading an article a few years ago (I want to say it was in Mother Earth News, but I can’t swear to that) where a couple in the wastes of Australia turned their horribly infertile land into a lush pasture by making worm casting tea and dripping in onto their soil. After hearing Dr. Bey talk about using worm casting and compost tea to enrich your soil it all started coming together in my mind!

1. Make worm casting tea to feed my soil.

2. Continue to feed the microbes throughout the year via dehydrated, non-sulfured molasses.

3. Eat the nutritious food as it ripens. If there’s more than we can eat, ferment it to eat later.

It is so simple, but so intricately complex all at once! Feed the soil microbes and they in turn will feed you AND the microbes in your gut that are so tremendously important for your health.

Now you may wonder what all the talk about beer was to begin with. Well let me show you what I did to start making my worm casting tea. This recipe was from Dr. Alvin E. Bey’s article Teaming with Nature (Article No. 8) – Energizing your Soil with Compost Tea.

1. Fill a cloth bag with four cups worm castings, compost, or a combination of the two. Add four gallons of water (I used rainwater I collected in a rain barrel) and two ounces of non-sulfured molasses as a food source for the microbes (I used locally produced cane syrup). Put it in a bucket or whatever you have to use. I used an old water cooler that I was using as a continuous kombucha brewer, but it has since cracked and the buch started seeping through. It works great for this though!

Fill a cloth bag with four cups worm castings, compost, or a combination of the two.
Bag of worm castings going into the rain water.

2. Aerate with an aquarium pump or fountain pump for 24 hours.

Worm Casting Tea Brewing Away
Worm Casting Tea Brewing Away

After the microbes have had food (cane syrup/molasses) and air, they multiply tremendously and can then be sprayed on your soil. You can see in the picture above, I drained my tea into an old milk pail that my grandparents used when they had dairy cows back in the 50’s and 60’s. After that I pour it into my watering can or a pump sprayer and sprinkle the tea over the soil. It doesn’t take too much in any one place. The idea is to get them into the soil so they can help the plant roots access minerals in a more effective way. I followed the sprinkling with a little bit of spraying with my water hose. I’m sure it was probably unnecessary, but I didn’t want the little critters getting lost.

So in both the beer and with the worm casting/compost tea, the various microbes need air and sugar to reproduce and do their jobs.

Now I am the kind of person that wants to really understand how things work. I’ve decided to audit some classes in the near future on biology and microbiology. I took biology in college, but the poor old instructor was literally senile. We barely learned anything in that class, so I want to go back and learn it properly. I want to see the various microbes under a microscope and see what it is that they do!

While I’ve been ruminating over this whole concept the past few weeks, I started listening to a new podcast (new for me, that is), The People’s Pharmacy. I happened to listen to Episode 959: Farmacology – What Farmers Can Teach Us About Health, which is the title of a book by Daphne Miller, MD. Dr. Miller has done some of the research that I have been so curious about. I sat down this evening and began reading. I got ao excited reading about the connection between nurturing the soil and nurturing our bodies, I had to get out of bed to write about what has been bouncing around my brain!

I know there will be more to follow on this topic, but it’s now 4:01 am and I haven’t gone to sleep yet. Besides, you’ve got to be tired of reading my ramblings by now. 🙂

Gruit Gardening


This past Sunday, February 1st, was International Gruit Day. My husband and I have been brewing gruits for a few months now with very interesting results. Since most folks are unaware of what a gruit is, as was I until a few months ago, let me explain.

Gruit is the word for herbs in Old German. Prior to the Protestant Reformation, beginning in the 16th century, ales were brewed with a variety of herbs and spices (singly or as a blend) to add bittering and flavor to their brew. Sometimes hops would be added to these herbal blends, called gruit or groot, but they were not used exclusively until relatively recently. In fact, in England the word beer wasn’t used until ales were brewed exclusively with hops. Prior to that all beer was called ale.

If you read my blog then you know that I’m given to writing about the past, so when I found out about gruit I was very excited. The craze for super hoppy beers the last few years had nearly turned me away from beer. Six hundred years ago the only reason you might find something on par with a double IPA would only be found if there was no other bittering agents around to brew with. Like most foods, textiles, etc., people used what was available to them, and hops weren’t always available everywhere. Scotland is still quite renown for brewing heather ales.

See what happened in Europe during the late Middle Ages was that a lot of brewing was done by monasteries (ever tried a Belgian Trappist beer?). The monks devised secret gruit blends that were lost to posterity when the monasteries were destroyed by the fire and fervor of the reformers. And during these early days ordinary people brewed in their homes and women were the primary home brewers. When they had more ale than they needed, they would sell it. Again, these early home brewers used what was available, herbs from their gardens or those that grew wild, such as yarrow, heather, bog myrtle, wild rosemary, juniper berries, or spruce tips. Laws were made which banned the use of any herbal bittering agents apart from hops. This was in part to help outlaw the beer brewed by monasteries and beer brewed by women.

When we decided to try gruit, we decided to split up the work. My hubby is the primary beer brewer (I usually do the mead, cider, ciser and wine), but I am the primary cook. To get an idea what the various gruit herbs and spices might taste like, I measured out a gram of each in its own individual glass then added an ounce of boiling water to each. I let it steep for ten minutes and then did a tasting. It was an interesting experiment! I found the lovely grassiness of heather and yarrow, the gin aroma of juniper berries, the floral bouquet of elder flowers, and the downright despicable bitterness of wormwood. I used all of the above in my first gruit blend. I, like the monks and wise women before me, am keeping my formula to myself, but I will share this bit of cautionary information – do not use more than two grams of wormwood for five gallons of ale!!!  Since then we have brewed five gruit ales, with different gruit combinations for each brew.

I believe that with the current boom of micro-breweries opening and the hops shortage, we will start to see more brewing with gruits. Since I really like to keep my supply chain as short as possible, I’ve decided to devote much of my yard and garden space to growing gruit herbs this year. I have received my seeds and will be starting them soon. I’ll be growing heather, yarrow, wormwood, blue hyssop, white horehound, sweet woodruff, St. Johnswort, feverfew, and German chamomile. I am hoping that some of these plants will flourish in our acidic soil and hot summers. Perhaps I’ll even have enough to sell down the road.




My 15 Minutes… or More like 12

Earthwise Interview

A few months back while I was doing a kimchi demonstration at the Augusta Veggie Food Truck, a gentleman stopped and introduced himself. He produces a little online show for Augusta Magazine called “Earthwise.”  My new acquaintance, Mark, was interested in setting up an interview with me about some of the stuff I make. So a couple of weeks ago he came to my house with his crew and I did a mead demo in my kitchen. It was a lot of fun to do the show and have Mark and his crew over. So much fun that we are talking about doing further episodes in the future.

One of the things mentioned in the show is the development of our business, Thoroughbrewed. We decided to change the name of the business to reflect the heritage & history of our adopted hometown of Aiken, SC, and also to better reflect the main purpose of what we will be doing. While education is going to be a big part of what we do, we want to offer more locally brewed craft beer choices to the residents of the CSRA in a cozy, relaxed environment. We will also offer home brewing/wine making supplies and classes on various kinds of brewing and food fermentation.  This blog will become part of the Thoroughbrewed web presence as we move forward.

If you are curious about mead making you can see me in action by clicking here. Otherwise you can follow the directions below:


1 gallon glass carboy (jug)

cleaning brush

bung or stopper



5/16″ siphon hose

Sanitizer, such as Star San

racking cane or auto-siphon (optional)

bottle filler (optional)


wine bottles

wine corks

drill whip (optional)

Ingredients (makes 1 gallon of mead)

2 ½ – 3 lbs      Honey

Filtered Water

1                      teabag

1 Tbsp            strong tea

½ tsp               Yeast Nutrient

¼ tsp               Yeast Energizer

¼ tsp               Grape or Wine Tannin

¼ tsp               gypsum (optional)

½ pkg             Mead or Wine Yeast

1                      Campden tablet, crushed (optional)

¼ cup             oak chips/cubes (optional)


  1. Wash and sanitize all of your equipment before you get started.
  2. Read yeast instructions and rehydrate or thaw according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  3. Pour honey into glass carboy. If honey has started to crystalize or if it Is flowing too slowly, sit the container of honey in warm water (90° F) for a few minutes.
  4. Add water to carboy and fill to 4 – 5 inches from top.
  5. Add remaining ingredients, except for yeast; put bung on the carboy, cover the hole and shake vigorously until everything is dissolved.
  6. Pitch yeast; attach bung and airlock.
  7. Wrap with a towel or place in a dark room.
  8. Ferment is complete when SG has dropped to 1.000 (about 6-8 weeks). If the mead is not completely clear, rack (siphon) wine off of sediment into a clean and sanitized secondary; reattach airlock.
  9. If you want to stop fermentation before it is finished, you can add the Campden tablet or sit it out in the sunshine for a couple of days.
  10. If you want to add a more sophisticated flavor, add oak chips and taste every day or two until you like the flavor. Since the oak chips have more surface area and can contact more of the mead than an oak barrel, only a few days are needed to add an oaky flavor.
  11. To aid clearing, siphon again in a month and again, if necessary before bottling.


Pitfalls to Avoid
  1. Many sources/recipes tell you to boil your must (the unfermented honey-water mixture). DO NOT DO THIS. It is completely unnecessary and can result in fingernail polish remover-like flavors that it takes a very long time to get rid of. Also, boiling the must destroys the subtle floral aromatics of the honey. If the honey is not flowing out of the jar/bottle very well it is alright to warm it, but never boil it.
  2. Many recipes also call for using champagne yeast. The only reason I know to do that would be that champagne yeast is more tolerant of high alcohol levels. While some people might want this, champagne yeast results in a “hot” flavor that is rather unappealing. If you wish to enjoy a good flavor in a relatively short time span, just do a little research (Ken Schramm’s book is an excellent resource!) to figure out what yeasts might work well for what you want. I am a big fan of White Lab’s Sweet Mead/Wine Yeast.

UPDATE: Since this was recorded, we have come to realize that our business plan would not work in Aiken. We have since moved to Chattanooga, where we will revisit the idea once we get ourselves settled a bit. In the meantime, I am trying to find somewhere to teach fermentation and brewing classes.

The New Year and Good Beer

I know things have been quiet here and on my FaceBook page the past couple of months. I spent several weeks doing research and writing my business plan. Now the bank has the paperwork for our business loan. Keep your fingers crossed and send happy thoughts our way.  And even though the name of our business is Thoroughbrewed, we are going to keep Fermdamentals as the educational aspect of our shop. Once we have our funding and actually start making our plans a reality, I will certainly be sharing what we are doing with y’all.

During the holidays we did a good bit of brewing. In addition to a Smoked Oaked Porter, an Irish  Red, and a Brown, my hubby brewed the most delicious thing I may have ever tried – a Caramel Apple Graff. From what I’ve been able to find out, graff is a concoction inspired by one of Stephen King’s stories. Graff is a combination of beer and apple cider. The Caramel Apple Graff tastes like the most wonderful apple pie you’ve ever eaten! In addition to a small amount of brewed malt, apple juice, brown sugar, maple syrup, and a variety of wonderful spices are blended together. It is still currently fermenting, but it is already 7% ABV. My hubby and I have been debating whether to let it continue to ferment or whether to kill the yeast and bottle it flat. We have several one gallon carboys sitting empty at the moment, so I think we might start pulling off a gallon at a time every few days or so, killing the yeast, and keeping notes on how the flavor changes until the last gallon finishes fermenting.  We didn’t time the brewing of the graff very well, because this is exactly the drink you want for the holidays. So with our tasting notes in hand next fall, we will brew our favorite version of the graff in time for Thanksgiving next time.