Kefir: It’s What’s for Breakfast

A few people have expressed surprise that this blog is not dedicated strictly to the brewery.  The brewery will have its own space, but for now there’s just not enough business going on to keep me writing and this blog interesting, so I throw in other topics that are meaningful to me.

Kefir, which is fermented milk, is an interesting cross-over topic for this blog.  Kefir is brewed with live cultures, similar to yogurt, but kefir culture also contains yeasts that convert milk sugars into alcohol.  The product is only slightly alcoholic, about 1% or so, so it’s not like it’s a beer substitute.

My first experience with kefir was completely unexpected:  This past holiday season, I purchased a quart of egg nog from the grocery store.  I decided to treat ourselves by getting one from a Western Washington dairy that doesn’t homogenize, and sells their products in returnable glass bottles.  I checked the expiration date, which was still a week or so off.

A couple of days later I decided to have some, so I pulled it out of the fridge, and as I did I noticed that there was some schmutz around the cap.  The tamper seal was still intact, so I pulled off the plastic ring and the lid popped open on its own!  Something was clearly amiss.  I sniffed it, and indeed something was amiss, but it didn’t smell rotten, it seemed to be only slightly off and had an odor closer to sour cream or yogurt.

I had heard of kefir and understood the concept of fermented milk, but don’t remember ever trying it and didn’t really have a point of reference.  This egg nog seemed far enough from rotten that I decided I’d give it a go — it’s not like I’d never tasted bad milk before.  It was thick, even for egg nog, and it had little chunks in it that I passed off as clotted cream.  It was also pleasantly effervescent!  It gave just a little tingle on the tongue.  The sweet richness of the egg nog combined with the tingle made it wonderful!  I drank the whole glass.

But then I started getting paranoid.  I still didn’t know it was kefir, or if it was safe for me to keep drinking, so I dumped out the remainder of the bottle and washed it down the sink, chunks and all.

A few hours later when I didn’t find myself running to the bathroom, I started to regret dumping the bottle.  When I say it was tasty, I mean it was addictively tasty.  I liken it to those little bottles of Starbucks Frappuccino, which I can hardly keep from downing in four gulps.  Willpower is barely enough to overcome my desire to just Hoover that stuff down, because my inner caveman just tastes an amazing combination of fat and sugar and wants more, more, MORE!

Where was I?

KefirpilzeOh, the egg nog kefir was damn tasty, and I wish I had taken the time to think about it little more before I dumped it.  Kefir cultures start with “grains” which are colonies of bacteria and yeast that clump together for their mutual benefit while they feed on the milk sugars.  The little clumps that were in the egg nog might have been kefir grains, and if they were I’m particularly sorry that I wasted them, because once you have some you can farm them for perpetual kefir production.  It’s very similar to mother of vinegar and sourdough — feed them, and they will continue to do what they do:  Produce some tasty eats!

So today I am heading out to Meadowwood Farms to pick up our weekly supply of eggs, but also to get some kefir starter.  Starter is a little different than the grains, in that it’s missing some of the critters the grains do have, but it should give me something to work with until I can procure some.

I’m excited about kefir for reasons besides my egg nog experience.  For as much as I enjoy dairy foods, I’m actually lactose intolerant.  Recently I’ve been trying to find foods that could help me work around some of those issues, and it’s been suggested that the probiotic properties of kefir might just do that.

Kefir is just another example of how fermentation can be fun, tasty and nutritious!

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The Taxman Cometh

And I’m not even talking about the looming U.S federal income tax deadline, rather, I’m talking about the 500% increase in taxes on beer production that’s been proposed by the Governor of the State of Washington, Jay Inslee

As I’ve gotten older, I gotten more cynical about government — who hasn’t, right?  But cynicism doesn’t change the reality of any situation, and I realized that I’m not doing anything to change that reality.  Today I sent a message to three representatives in our state House, Mark Hargrove, Pat Sullivan and Joe Fitzgibbon, and the text of my message is included below, if you’re interested in reading it.  Hargrove and Sullivan are the representatives for my residence and the desired location for the brewery.  Fitzgibbon appears to be a potential champion of the cause, and he’s on the House Finance Committee.

I also realize that a sternly-worded letter isn’t likely to change reality any more than cynicism is, but I am voicing my opinion to my representatives, right?  Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?

This tax increase is an extremely hot topic in the WA brewing industry right now, as you might imagine.  The potential economic impact to small brewers is, from my perspective, staggering.  Let’s take a look.

You know what?  Let’s not.  You should, though.  Washington Beer Blog did it better than I would, and I have other work to do.  Educate yourself, beer drinker, for the sake of all that is local beer — seriously — then talk about it with someone else and let the legislature know if you think it’s the right thing to do.

Text of my email to my representatives:

I am writing to ask that you reject any bill or proposal that will increase taxes on beer production, and that you provide vocal support to the WA Brewers Guild’s request to exempt microbreweries from the permanent $23.58 per barrel tax proposed by Gov. Inslee.

I am in the process of starting a brewery in the city of Auburn.  My residence and my desired location both lie within your jurisdiction.  Having just been laid off my from job at <some local company>, I have an incredible opportunity to focus on starting a business that will source its raw ingredients from Washington agricultural producers, and will provide jobs to local residents, tax income to the city and state, and fantastically good beer to the residents of the city I’ve lived in for over 26 years.  This proposed tax increase puts my dream at risk at a time when I can little afford to see more money go out the door.

The mass producers of beer have already been paying this tax, but the small producers have not.  This exemption has not given the small brewers any real competitive edge against the big boys, who have tremendous economy of scale, but it has allowed the small brewers to retain more of their earnings, and virtually all of them have invested those earnings back into their businesses in the form of equipment, real estate and labor (jobs!).  An $18.80 increase on each barrel of beer is a HUGE increase in costs to these small businesses — well over 5% on every keg they ship out the door.

I applaud the directive to properly fund the education system in Washington, but I’m asking that you don’t do it at the expense of one of America’s fastest growing industries.  Because all of the new breweries in Washington are “microbreweries”, this change in policy will affect EVERY SINGLE NEW BREWERY in the state.  Washington’s beer products are widely-known, but we have a long way to go to compete with states like Oregon and Colorado.  I feel strongly that Washington, the largest producer of hops in the world and among the country’s leaders in barley production, has perhaps the greatest potential of any state to provide world-renowned beers that could be household names like Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing have become.  If you allow Gov. Inslee’s proposal to to move forward in its current form, you will dilute that potential.

Today I happen to be working on outlining my production costs.  These numbers will determine my fate with investors and creditors, and ultimately will decide if I can afford to start this business.  Right now the spreadsheet says that state taxes will cost me $4.78 per barrel, and the totals look okay.  When I type $23.58 into that field, the numbers change — and so do my chances of success.