Tracking down craft beer’s up-and-coming rockstars

I wrote and compiled the 30 Under 30 list for All About Beer, which was released a few months ago.

I interviewed 30 brewers set to make waves in the brewing world. It was great getting to know some awesome brewers from around the country, and to hear their views about the craft beer legacy they — the next generation of brewers — have to carry on, as well as the legacy they’re building.

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The only rabbi in Afghanistan

Rabbi Larry Bazer blowing the shofar during Elul

Lt. Col. Larry Bazer joined the military as a chaplain in 1989, during his first year of rabbinical studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He joined because it offered an experience his rabbinical studies couldn’t, and because he’s loved the military since playing with G.I. Joes as a child. “I guess I see myself sort of as G.I. Jew,” he told me via Skype last December, while he was deployed to Afghanistan with his Massachusetts Army National Guard unit.

Hanukkah Larry joins Santa Claus to protect Afghanistan

However, Rabbi Bazer’s story begins before his deployment to Afghanistan as the only rabbi in the country. On 9/11, he was rabbi of a synagogue on Long Island and chaplain for the New York National Guard and the New York offices of the FBI. The day the planes hit the Twin Towers, he raced to ground zero to support the troops and federal agents in the rescue operations. Chaplains are first responders too.

Ten years later, Lt. Col. Bazer found himself deployed to Afghanistan on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 as the only rabbi in the country. He returned from his deployment in February and has resumed his duties as rabbi of Temple Beth Sholom in Framingham, Mass.

Read my profile of Rabbi Larry Bazer for Tablet magazine.

Rabbi Larry Bazer wearing his blue menorah hat during Hanukkah

All photos are courtesy of Larry Bazer. More photos can be found on his blog, “Postcards from an Army Chaplain.”

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I write about (and drink) lambics for All About Beer

Rob Tod in Allagash Brewing's inner sanctum pouring one of his new spontaneously fermented beers

Unless you’re a beer connoisseur, chances are you’ve never tried a lambic. It’s a style of beer that’s been brewed in an area of Belgium the same way for thousands of years, long before anyone knew anything about yeast or fermentation or sterilization. To make lambic, brewers expose the wort to the open air, which will allow wild yeast to settle into the brew before its put into barrels to ferment. It creates a sour-tasting beer, which is delicious on a hot summer day.

While the style went out of favor during the 20th century, the increased interest in small-batch craft beer has caused it to regain some of its former glory. Bottles of traditional Belgian lambics are now prized possessions beer geeks collect in their cellars. A scarcity of Cantillon, perhaps the most well-known lambic, at the local beer store now sparks conspiracy theories about hoarding on beer-related Internet forums. Shelton Brothers, the importer of Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen, another popular brand, can’t import enough to meet demand.

Enter Rob Tod and the crew at Allagash Brewing Company in Portland, Maine. Tod decided to build a traditional coolship, the container that holds the hot wort while its exposed to the open air, at his Portland brewery in 2008. The fermentation process takes several years, and the beers were only ready this year, though only a small batch has been released to the public. I had the pleasure of visiting Tod at his brewery earlier this year to taste three styles of his new spontaneously fermented ale (he doesn’t call it lambic out of respect for his Belgian contemporaries). My story about the visit, the rise of the lambics and Allagash’s pioneering the American interpretation of the style recentlywas published by All About Beer.

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My interview with a British chemist and accidental YouTube star

This August, MNN.com posted my Q&A with Martyn Poliakoff, a professor of chemistry at the University of Nottingham and star of a popular series of YouTube videos in which he leads viewers on a tour of the world of chemistry.

I spoke with Professor Poliakoff about green chemistry, its applications, and his new role of foreign secretary for the Royal Society (essentially the global ambassador of British chemistry), and what he thinks about being called a mad scientist (check out his hair).

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My essay for Lapham’s Quarterly

Lapham’s Quarterly recently published my essay on the history of fish farming, “The Mastery of Fish,” on its website.

The essay involved a lot of research, including reading several 18th and 19th century treatises on fish farming. I was amazed at the selection of such manuscripts available on Google Books, from a 1745 English translation of L. Junius Moderatus Columella’s De Re Rustica to issues of Harper’s from the 1860s.

It is hard to say how one would be able to do the necessary research for such an essay before there was an Internet without expending enormous amounts of time tracking these books to several disparate academic libraries.

If you’re not aware of Lapham’s Quarterly, do yourself a favor and check out the website. If you’re a lover of history, it is a quarterly journal you can’t do without. It’s simple mission is to present history in such a way to give context to current events. Each issue is dedicated to a topic, such as this summer’s focus on Food, and is populated with book excerpts, speeches, notes, ephemera, trivia about that topic from throughout history. For example, the Food issue includes an excerpt about 17th century cannibalism at Jamestown, from John Smith’s The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles; an excerpt about the value of bread in a concentration camp from Holocaust survivor Hanna Levy-Hass’ diary; and an excerpt about the iconic Berkeley eatery Chez Panisse written by Greil Marcus in the 1970s. Each issue also includes essays on the topic in question by contemporary historians, journalists, professors and other equally impressive academic types.

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How to Photograph Fireworks

It ain't as easy as this photo makes it look

Capturing the brilliant colors of fireworks as they burst across the sky is harder than it looks.

Last week, just in time for the Fourth, I wrote a piece on how to photograph fireworks for Mademan.com. It offers tips from a professional photographer for both novice and advanced photographers. Let me know what you think.

The photo, though spectacular, is not by me. Flickr user SJ photography took it at the Malaysia International Firework Competition in 2007.

This was my first piece for Mademan.com, but I’m looking forward to writing more for the site.

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Making Waves: A profile of Jay Lauf

My short profile of Jay Lauf, publisher of The Atlantic, was recently published in the Connecticut College alumni magazine:

“When he graduated from Connecticut College in 1986, Jay Lauf dreamed of becoming a writer at a news magazine like Time, which he respected for its role in the national conversation. But, after a year trying to make it as a journalist in Washington, D.C., Lauf moved home to Connecticut. There he had a job interview that would lead him to a corner office above Manhattan’s Madison Avenue and straight to the heart of that national conversation.”

Read the rest of the article >>

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The last boil at Mt. Cube Sugar Farm

Peter Thomson, owner of Mt. Cube Sugar Farm, shows off the new tap that nearly doubled his maple syrup yield this past season

In April, I visited Peter Thomson and Mt. Cube Sugar Farm in Orford, NH, for the last boil of the season. I filed this report for New Hampshire Public Radio’s Word of Mouth.

Thomson, who is also current president of the New Hampshire Maple Producers Association, has been making maple syrup since the early 1950s, when his family bought the property. (His father, Meldrim Thomson, served as New Hampshire’s governor between 1973 and 1979.)

But the maple syrup business is no longer a simple tap-and-metal-bucket operation. When Peter was younger, horses and yoked humans carried sap off the mountain; now there’s 27 miles of plastic tubing that carries the sap to the sugar shack. In those days, he would spend 10 hours boiling sap in the farm’s sugar shack to produce 8 gallons of maple syrup; today, Peter’s industrial evaporator churns out 40 gallons of maple syrup an hour.

A recent development in the maple syrup business is a new tap that reduces the backflow of sap into the maple tree, decreasing the amount of bacteria that enters the tree and increasing the sap yield of each tap. Peter used these new taps on 3,000 of his 9,000 trees this year. According to him, those 3,000 new taps yielded the same amount of sap as the 6,000 traditional taps.

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A look back: My first stab at long-form narrative nonfiction

Jason Cyr at his base in Iraq

I recently went back and read a piece of creative nonfiction I wrote in 2004 while a student at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine. It tells the story of two families in Lewiston, Maine, torn apart by a military deployment to Iraq, trying to maintain a normal household while the men are at war. The story is called “Until their feet leave the sand”.

This story is significant for me because it is the first piece of creative nonfiction I ever wrote. I had no newspaper experience, no magazine writing experience when I went to Salt. I didn’t even write for my college newspaper. I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until I returned from a year spent traveling in Europe. When I did, I enrolled at the semester-long creative nonfiction program at Salt. This story was the result. It was published in the Salt magazine. Otherwise, it never saw the light of day. If you have a moment, read it now and let me know what you think.

What struck me after reading it again after so many years was the trust the subjects of the story had in me. I spent days and days with Anna and Tonya Cyr, sisters-in-law who moved their families into the same house while their husbands, a pair of brothers, were sent to Iraq. Anna and Tonya opened their home to me and a photographer I collaborated with on the story. They also opened their hearts, telling me their fears, their worries, things they likely hadn’t told anyone else. Some of the most poignant moments are the brief interludes I include that come straight from Instant Messenger conversations Anna had with her husband Jason while he was on a military base in the Middle East. To hand those uncensored conversations over to the young writer I was at the time took trust. I hope I’m still capable of building that kind of rapport with people.

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An innovative program to fix the fishing industry in Maine

Port Clyde fisherman Gary Libby

I recently published a story in Mainebiz about the The Nature Conservancy and a program it has in place in Maine that aims to change the fishing industry from the inside out.

Read “Tipping the scales”.

Rather than combat unsustainable fishing practices by lobbying for tougher restrictions or boycotting products, the organization in 2009 purchased two fishing permits and has been leasing them at discount rates to fishermen on the condition they help out by testing more sustainable fishing gear — for example, a net with larger mesh to allow more of the unwanted fish, the bycatch, to escape — and reporting back on their findings.

The program has proved successful and the The Nature Conservancy is now in the process of raising $1.3 million to purchase as many as five additional fishing permits. The goal is to take the land trust model The Nature Conservancy has perfected on land and transfer it to the oceans. The six or seven fishing permits the organization would own would be the foundation of a communally-managed permit bank in Maine. Ideally, a community of fishermen would manage the permits, allowing fishermen to use them as long as they utilize sustainable fishing methods. The Nature Conservancy’s belief is that the tragedy of the commons can be combated by giving the fishermen a hand in controlling how the resource is managed. If this pilot proves successful, The Nature Conservancy — one of the largest environmental nonprofits in the world — would work to duplicate it in other parts of the globe where the commercial fishing industry is collapsing.

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