Friday, August 27, 2010

Hop Picking Festival

Kelly sent me an email with a link saying "Check this out for next weekend!"

So the plan formed was to do the 5 hour drive up on Friday night, stop at a brewery or two on the way, and either camp on the way or at the farm.

Unfortunately due to my work, we got away a bit late, so the plan was not too push to hard, stop in Dolores at the brewery and camp in National Forest somewhere around Telluride.

The drive up is through the high desert of New Mexico. The scenery suddenly changes to green rocky mountains not far inside Colorado.

So after a quick beer at Dolores Brewery, this is where we camped, a little south of Telluride.

It was pretty cold overnight, we were above 10,000 ft, and our camping bed setup isn't that great (since been remedied), so I didn't get much sleep. Sleep came in the morning after the sun warmed up the tent.

The view in the morning was just as great as the sunset one.

After the sleep in, we went into Telluride where we rode the Gondolla and watched some mountain bike events and had a quick beer.

We picked up some beers for later:
Stone Emperial IPA

Coney Island Lager (we are not normally lager drinkers, but we had a really great hoppy lager from them in the past)

MateVeza Organic Black Lager brewed with organic yerba mate

I don't think any of them were stand out beers that we would buy again.

We hit the hop farm late in the afternoon. Apparently we missed the Friday night festivities and the boys from Ska Brewing in Durango picking 140 lbs of hops that morning. The rumour was that they would be brewing a "Local Series" beer on the Monday.

The proprietor, Randy, was pretty tired from partying and picking, but gave us a great tour.

He has been having some irrigation problems in the top field and so informed us that we could pick and keep whatever we wanted from there for free. Yay!

You could indeed see some of the hops were stressed and brown, but there were plenty of good ones.

I was bit disappointed to find that we were the only home brewers who has been in touch with him, but the upside was that we got exclusive access to the hop fields!

Randy and his partner were into sustainability and low impact farming. No chemicals were used on the fields.

We knew we were in the right place.

I was hoping Randy would have a home brewing background and that was how he started farming hops, but was not the case. He and his business partner had access to the farm and saw an opportunity during the hop shortage a few years ago. He wasn't even much of a beer drinker. We took a couple of our homebrews along to share and he seemed to like them however.  Since we didn't end up paying for anything, we the growler of homebrew for him.

The hop farm itself was a bit different to others I had seen. This was a low trellis hop farm, with a mesh for the hops. This helps them self-train, but means that the hop bines cannot be cut off and brought back to the shed at harvest time. They need to be picked off the bine. The lower trellis height means that some hops outgrow, overreach and eventually fall back to going sideways along the top of the trellis. Seems to do them no harm.

We had a beer and waited for the cooler evening air before picking a few pounds of Nugget, Cascade, and New Port.


The sunset and moonrise were spectacular. The San Jauns on one side, and Black Canyon and the bad-lands in between on the other. The smell of fresh hops all around.

We put some of our hops straight into the dryers to dry over night.

The dryers were interesting. To reduce energy usage they pull warm dry air from the ceiling of the shed they are in.

Saturday night we headed in to town, to Montrose, for dinner. Unfortunately we left our run a little late due to the hop picking and couldn't find anywhere who had decent food on after 9pm. So we had to head back to the farm and improvise with our camping supplies and existing beers.

Sunday morning we went down to the main hop fields for a look.

We ended up hanging around the hop shed while cooking up brunch.

Randy was busy working on a project to build a hop picking machine. It will straddle the trellis and run rakes over the hops to pull them off. He was prototyping with plastic rakes by hand. Another low trellis hop farm has a custom built, but semi-operational machine he has seen in action. Good on him, an ambitious project, and it's always great to meet a fellow DIY/Maker type. After that chat I was already scheming a hop picking robot to go along with my brewbot.

We then went and picked a few pounds of fresh Chinook before saying goodbye and heading home.

We didn't think before we left home about how to bring fresh hops home. Plastic bags aren't great, they will sweat. So we ended up using our pillow cases to carry some of the hops.

Like any of our Colorado trips, before leaving, we had to first stock up on beer. Our beer selection in Gallup, while usually much better than Australia, is still limited. We both love Dale's Pale Ale so we keep and eye out for it. This time we ended up at a super-store that had pretty much everything but Dale's.

We came home with 11 different six packs of micro brews, most we had never tried before. It may sound excessive, but it will probably be a while before we get to see that sort of variety again.

On the way home we stopped at Colorado Boy brewery in Ridgway for a bite to eat. This is a great little town. Ringed by 14,000 ft peaks, a river right through it, dirt streets and old buildings straight out of a western, but not in that tacky touristy way. It all seems pretty authentic and not too many tourists around. Anyway, the beers there are pretty good. I really liked their ESB last time, and we got a growler full, but it wasn't on tap this time. I ended up having the Rye-PA instead.

Next stop was Dolores Brewery for dinner. Kelly was feeling like soup, but again, late on a Sunday night in a small town, our options were limited. The brewery didn't have any soups, but we knew their other food was good. They have old Trivial Pursuit card decks on the tables, and despite it being late and us still having 3 hours of driving ahead of us, we goofed off and had a great time reading questions to each other. Mostly music trivia. I had their dry stout. Surprisingly it was their smallest beer at 5.1%. Not bad, a nice white head, thin body, and that kind of aniseed/licorice flavour you get from Carafa and dry stouts.

When we got home we had to lay out our hops to prevent them going mouldy. Luckily we had some unused fly screen to help, so we laid it out in the kitchen. The whole house smelled fantastic.

We have since vacuum sealed all of the hops. No brewday yet, waiting for the weekend.

A great trip, some good beers, and we learned a lot about hops.
My love affair with Colorado continues. Career #2: Hop farmer?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Anyone who has worked with me knows that I'm a FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) user and lover and have been for a long time. I tow the community line about Software Patents being very bad.

I've also been using Java at work extensively for the past few years.

Java has been seen as a relatively Free and Open language, with most of the controversy surrounding C#/Mono/Novell/MS.

The recent Oracle - Google lawsuit has the potential to change that view.

Of course there are lots of blog and articles about the whys and hows and all that. Quite frankly are large very profitable corporation with a big ego at the helm trying to squeeze money and control out of other very large big-ego corporation is not especially surprising or interesting. At the end of the day, either which way the outcome, we probably all end up paying a few dollars more on our next mobile phone (which end ups in some lawyer's pockets). No big deal, situation normal, lawyers leach off the value created by engineers and all that.

The interesting part to me is the impact on us lowly Engineers and the FOSS ecosystem.

Here are some of the bits that either struck a chord with me or got me thinking.

The first is from Robert O'Callahan who works for mozilla: Google vs Oracle

People have argued that open source communities are less of a target because they have less money to extract, but the most dangerous suits are about shutting down competition, not about extracting licensing fees --- like this Google/Oracle suit, apparently.

Interesting. I also saw some commentary saying that MS is less evil here because they want to license and make money, not just shut down the competition.

The next two are really the same idea said about copyright and patents.

From Michael Meeks: Why Oracle's Java Copyrights Might Matter

Of course - many in the Free software community approach problems based on their love of the underlying technology - de-coupled from a love of its current commercial owner. As such, we would advocate decisions that were good for the product, potentially at the expense of its current owner. So - what does this mean for people like us ? Guard your heart ! - try not to fall in love with a technology, and give yourself to developing and improving it, if a single company owns, and controls it. As a corrolary - try to avoid assigning your copyright to companies that might use it to harm you later. And finally - try to choose to support, and use good Free Software that grants wide patent and re-use rights under licenses like the GPL.

From Brad Kuhn: Considerations For FLOSS Hackers About Oracle vs. Google

James Gosling is usually pretty cryptic in his non-technical writing, but I think if you read carefully, it seems to me that Gosling regrets that Oracle now holds his patents on Java. I know developers get nice bonuses if they let their company apply for patents on their work. I also know there's pressure in most large companies to get more patents. We, as developers, must simply refuse this. We invent this stuff, not the suits and the lawyers who want to exploit our work for larger and larger profits. As a community of developers and computer scientists, we must simply refuse to ever let someone patent our work. In a phrase: just say no.

It is interesting to think about negotiating for those demands. Most standard contracts say that the company owns everything you do. Unless you're a super-star engineer/programmer/hacker then you probably wont get far. In the past I have had resistance to just being allowed to hack on FOSS projects in my spare time.

But the big question for me personally is "Have I backed the wrong horse in Java?"

Now that Oracle owns it, and clearly want to control and extract every penny out of it, Java looks much less attractive.

What would be a good alternative anyway?