My mate, Ross, from Down Under, is visiting Vientiane next week. He comes now and then to pan for gold downstream from the existing gold mines during the dry season, and in the muddy puddles along the riverfront lane in Vientiane at night during the rainy season, but he spends much of his time treating me to some solid drinking and heartfelt words of encouragement whenever he’s here. When things are going particularly badly, I can count on Ross to cut straight to the chase by highlighting what I’ve got going for me, you know, my strong points, such as, most recently, his enlightening comment (via email): “Boston, you are insane. Cracked. Done for. A complete fruit loop.”
I know that the first thing he’s going to do after shaking my hand and ordering some Beer Lao with vodka chasers is ask me about my beer-making catastrophe. In fact, many of my readers seem to be delighted about this reported failure of mine and have asked me for the details. But, to set the story straight, does this beer (left) look like a failure? Don’t let the Chang bottle fool you. I smuggled the empty bottles in from Thailand. The report of a failure of catastrophic proportions was premature. I’d decided that the beer was doomed when I first opened a bottle around the end of 2012 with a very, definitely, not-a-pop sound. I had attempted to krausen it. Even the Germans have, for the most part, stopped krausening their beer. According to an article posted on Brewsmith.com,
Krausening is a traditional German method for carbonating beers without using sugars or other adjuncts. Instead actively fermenting malt wort is added to the fermented beer to provide the malted sugars needed for carbonation.
All you have to remember is a simple formula: Quarts_of_wort = (12 x Gallons_of_beer) / ((Specific_gravity_wort – 1.0) * 1000). I could figure that out in my sleep, but not while intoxicated in the worst of ways– intoxicated while making beer. Anyway, too much krausen and the beer bottles will explode furiously in the fridge at some point, which is an entertaining alternative to almost nothing happening at all when you open them. But, a full 6 weeks after I’d given up on the stuff, I pulled out a bottle to use in some ingenious soup I was conjuring up, and as I poured it into the broth, it began, yes, wait for it, foaming! It wasn’t bad (I drank all 30 bottles over the next few days).
In order to live up to my reputation of being “Insane. Cracked. Done for. A complete fruit loop,” I decided I’d start building a cottage, of sorts, next to the non-progressing aquaponic greenhouse. I mean, what can be more enticing than having two non-progressing projects happening at at the same time? But, as you’d expect, just as I’d worked out the last details of a design I’m actually quite pleased with and was ready to begin assembling the necessary items and implements, an uncle in Vientiane conspired to, well, cease. I was in Ubon with one bare foot in my truck, and the momentum of the second one headed in the direction of my farm on the Plateau. But I’d learned a long time ago in Japan that if you want to make a good impression on “the family” then drop everything and go to the funeral. Attending a wedding or otherwise planned family get-together is easy; it’s the funerals that separate the men from the boys.
So, I raced back to Vientiane. After a 10-hour drive, I spent 5 minutes lighting 3 sticks of incense and pretending to pray (to whom, I don’t know). Nobody paid much attention. The women were all playing cards (gambling is strictly illegal except during funerals), and the men had all been drinking the local moonshine night and day. And this just continued. . . and continued. . . and because the monks were all predisposed, it just continued. At one point they borrowed my truck and the uncle was taken somewhere to be cremated. I’d had an ulterior motive, however, for going back to Vientiane before going to my farm. As Ross would surely agree, I am hopeless, and helpless, but not always helperless. So I waited for the funeral to end, but it refused. If I am to properly skin a knee or two and begin the formation of calluses on my palms, perhaps even let the back of my neck become a bit brown and leathery, then I can’t wait any longer.
So I came back to Ubon, bought some stuff, and am off to see if I can smuggle it all into Laos tomorrow. If you want to know why on earth I’m hauling a ton of gravel 180km into another country, look forward to Part II.