Saturday, April 12, 2014

Running on Cheese Curds

Running Options in Fort McCoy, WI

Running is always a great way to get to know an area and Ft. McCoy is a small enough post that if you are there for a week or two you can get to know the area pretty well. I have been blessed with a couple of these opportunities. While Ft. Hunter-Ligget remains my favorite post for running, there are some fun trails on Ft. McCoy if you want to get away from the military convoys (and some less-traveled roads). This is almost becoming a series that could be called “where to run if you find yourself at various Army posts”.

If you bother to coordinate with range control you can probably run some of the dirt roads in the training areas, but I was stuck on post.


Since this is, to the best of my knowledge, the only blog or web-source that addresses the neglected topic of running on Army posts, I turned to Google Earth. I did not  have to look too far – I spotted some overgrown dirt paths branching out from the very building where I was staying. Even in wooden areas the straight lines of man-made paths and old roads show up pretty quickly. Once you find one path, it is usually pretty easy to find others (which cannot be seen from satellite imagery) once you are on the ground.

Promising trail to try
On-Post Dirt Paths and Trails

The best network on on-post trails is in the southeast corner of post. If you are just looking to run two to four miles, you could do it almost entirely off road and traffic-free. Just park near buildings 50 / 51 (off the lower end of South O Street). From here you can snake back-and forth to get in some running on grass, dirt and sand. You will often stir up a half-dozen deer or more.

Main trail network on the SE Corner of Post
 There are some other isolate short sections. There is one dirt loop on the west post and one to the west of the on-post lodging (Building 51)

Dirt loop on the west side of post
Round the Post

Most loops around the post will get you six to eight miles. Below are some of my go-to routes:

The Y Loop – takes you through the center of post.

Outer Loop

And finally, for the occasional speedwork (or APFT), there is a half-mile track on E Eaton and O Street.

Other options

If I had my own rental car and a free morning or afternoon, I could also have gone over to Sparta (said as if you were going to make a stand against maniacal Persian hordes). Apparently this town in western Wisconsin is the “biking capital of America” (mysteriously beating out Portland, Boulder, Minneapolis, etc.). With that said, it does appear to have an extensive rails-to-trails network that goes for miles and miles. While mostly pavement, it looks like a nice traffic free option for a long run.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

First All-Grain Batch with a Two Bucket Mash-Tun

Making the plunge

I have been meaning to brew an all-grain beer for a while but I just never got around to it. Finally, necessity, that great “mother of invention”, forced me into this process that I had been meaning to do for a while but never quite had the motivation to do.

I generally brew extract beers – and probably will again. Extract brewing cuts about an hour out of the brew day by out-sourcing the extraction of sugars from the grains. This means that I can generally brew an extract beer in a little over three hours (from the time I start getting out my supplies to when the kitchen is clean).

While there are other reasons for getting into all-grain brewing, I liked the idea of just being that much more involved in the process and the cost. Extract is typically the most expensive line item in any beer I brew – generally about 40-50% of the cost. Starting from just the grains offered a way to tackle this cost and add some fun to the process.

 As I hinted, I went to the homebrew store meaning to brew another extract batch. However, the store I went to was out of liquid AND dry light malt extract. I have not been a fan of this store for a while, but this might seal the deal. These two malt extract are foundational to extract brewing. It would be like a Mexican restaurant and running out of tacos and tortillas. (Next time I will be checking out this new homebrew store in Boulder) Incidentally, they were also out of both of the (popular) hop varieties that I needed.
More grain than I've ever brought into the house
Making the all-grain set-up

I was leaving for two weeks and my home will soon be getting a little warm for fermentation – I felt it was now or never. So, in a game-time decision, I got the right amount of base grains instead. And a 5 gallon bucket. In his book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, Charlie Papazian (the godfather of homebrewing) suggests a quick and dirty way of getting in to all-grain with plastic buckets.

The issue is that after you have extracted the sugars you need to strain the liquid out of the grains. There are many set-ups for doing this, but for me they broke down into purchasing a set-up or investing some time in making your own with some pipes and a cooler. I did not have time to make a nice set-up or wait for something reasonably priced to show up on Cragslist.

Charlie’s method drilling some holes in the bottom of one bucket and placing this into another bucket with a spigot. A quick internet search said that a 1/8 inch drill bit would do the trick. It took me about an hour to cover the bottom of the non-spigot bucket with holes.

Next Time

Overall though the process seemed to work. I got wort out of the grains and things seemed to be fermenting by the time I had to leave for two weeks. Of course, the proof will come in another two to three weeks. As expected, there were some learning points – especially since I decided to jump with a little less prep that I would have liked.

Stirring the Grains for the second batch sparge

I ended up using about 15 pounds of grain. If I were to do it again, I would probably start with a “smaller” beer. But I wanted an imperial red, damn it. The problem with using so much grain in this set-up was that it was hard to mix the water and grain with a plastic spoon. It was made for brewing but it still bent a lot especially as it warmed up in the grains and water. This was not a problem for the initial batch of the batch sparge – I put in a little grain and water, mixed it, and then put in more grains and water. But when I did my second batch of my sparge it was hard to mix the grains. I could either get a stronger spoon (wooden paddle) or take the grains out. The first method is not guaranteed to work and the second sounds messy. I think I will eventually just go to a cooler and pipes whenI have time.


I also put a towel around the set-up to keep in some of the heat. The temperature at which the grains and water are at is important because the process relies on enzymes in the malt. These enzymes like a particular temperature range. I think this set-up lost a little more heat that I would have liked. I might need to find some better insulation for next time.


The two pot set-up worked pretty well – but I lost a lot more to boil-off than I would have liked. I may switch to a less vigorous boil next time – especially after reading this article about induction heating which made it seem like the vigor of the boil was not as important as I had initially been led to believe.
Double pots in the background

I completely forgot about the dead space in the bottom of the mash-tun vessel. With the two bucket set-up this was significant (probably a little over a gallon). I was rather sad when I when to get rid of my grains and found these precious sugars just hanging out instead of boiling away with their friends. Unfortunately, at this point it was a little late to add it so this beer will not be as “imperial: as I had hoped.

Oh well. I will relax, not worry and have a homebrew. It will still be beer.