The Blue View - Microbrewery Nine of Cups


A couple of years ago in Fiji, we were invited aboard another sailboat for sundowners. The skipper had brewed his own beer aboard and was eager to share some with us. That was the nastiest, foulest beer I can remember tasting, and after politely nursing it for an hour or so, I finally managed to down it all. So when we were aboard our good friends' sailboat Fifth Season in Sydney a year ago and were offered some homebrew, I was a bit reluctant to try it.

I needn't be. His brew was outstanding. He had brewed several varieties and it was like visiting a microbrewery. He had purchased a brewing kit and had been brewing beer for a year or more. I asked lots of questions and got a lot of good information and suggestions.


Brew Ingredients1


Beer here in Australia is quite expensive by U.S. standards. Brewing your own beer, on the other hand, is quite inexpensive. As a result, there is rarely a town in OZ that doesn't have a brew supply store. Even the local Kmart and groceries carry the basics.


Coopers DIY Brew Kit1


I found a DIY brew-kit made by Coopers, an Australian brewery, that included everything I needed to brew my first batch. Fermenter, hydrometer, bottles, brew mix... everything was there. In addition, it came with a short video with all the instructions. The average sailor could do this. In fact a high IQ chimpanzee could manage it. Just the thing for me.

The results were outstanding. So far I've made several lagers, several varieties of Pale Ales, a cider, and an English Bitter. Each batch makes 23 liters or about six gallons, and costs roughly $20-$25 a batch. That's roughly 35 cents for a 12 ounce bottle or 42 cents a pint. Not bad.


Ready to Bottle1


Lest you think the rule that “nothing is ever easy aboard a boat” doesn't apply here, there are a couple of catches with brewing aboard a sailboat. The first catch is that we have to be anchored or berthed somewhere for a couple of weeks. Unless I can figure out how to gimbal a 6 gallon container of fermenting beer, we can't go sailing without the risk of turning the bilge into our fermentation vessel. We missed a weather window once because the brew wasn't ready to bottle. And since it requires a large amount of water for washing and sterilizing everything as well as for the beer itself, it's best done somewhere that we have access to water ashore.


Bottled Brew 1


So while Nine of Cups is berthed here in a quiet marina with plenty of water, I'll brew up a couple of batches. Of course, with that comes the necessity of frequent taste tests to maintain proper quality control.

Our youngest son was interested in trying his hand at homebrewing, so I checked to see what was available in the States. It turns out that Coopers markets the same brew kit via Amazon in the U.S. I highly recommend it.

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A Beginner's Guide to Vegemite

vegemite jars  

One of my blog posts about grocery shopping in Australia mentioned Vegemite. As Vegemite neophytes, we've evidently got a lot to learn. But of course, Kiwis and Aussies have had a lifetime to truly experience the wonders of this delicacy. We received lots of comments and recommendations about trying Vegemite and the proper way to eat it. Today, January 26th, is Australia Day and we thought this was the day to give Vegemite a try, paying attention to all the hints we received.


vegemite at the bottom of the beer barrel1


Vegemite, in case you didn't know, is a yeast substance and a by-product of beer production here in Australia. Supposedly the first guy to come up with the recipe was looking for a vitamin B source during the war years. He probably had left-over yeast sludge from making his home brew. Anyhow, the result is Vegemite and Aussie's eat it the way Americans eat peanut butter … in great quantities and with gusto.


Vegemite cheesybite


Supermarkets provide lots of shelf space for Vegemite and Vegemite wannabes. I also found another option which is Vegemite Cheesybite, a combination of Vegemite yeast product and long life cream cheese. Doesn't that make your heart flutter?

Over Thanksgiving dinner, our Aussie friends were coerced into trying pumpkin pie. They'd never tried it before. “Why turn a veggie into a fruit pie?” Craig asked. Everyone politely ate some. No one spit it out, but they didn't ask for seconds either.

The discussion somehow turned to Vegemite. I pulled out a small, unopened jar from the locker.

“Why not try it now?” Craig prompted.

“No”, I responded quickly. “We want to photograph it just in case David vomits or spits it out. We want to capture it on video or YouTube, but not at the dinner table.”


vegemite cracker worms


Jody added, “When we were kids we'd spread butter on Vita Weet crackers and then the Vegemite and squeeze the crackers together till all the butter and Vegemite oozed through the cracker holes like little worms. Then we licked it off.” That sounded appealing and very promising.

“Hold on to that jar. It'll be worth gold to any Australian in another part of the world where you can't get Vegemite.” Aha, an investment prospect.

Wendy and Ian laughed. Ian said “Spread on the butter first. You need a layer of butter and then the Vegemite.” “You don't need much”, added Wendy.

Leanne, an Aussie friend, e-mailed from Fiji after she read the post: “Less is better”.

That point became very clear to us.

Then Steve from Auckland sent an email. He distinguished between Marmite and Vegemite.

“To the uninitiated, it's like comparing the taste of used engine oil from a diesel versus a gasoline engine. That doesn’t stop the arguments between proponents of Vegemite vs Marmite from becoming similar to intensity and extent as your average religious war. Vegemite appears to be more popular in Australia … Marmite was originally an English brand though the NZ version is apparently not the same as the UK version. Since NZ’s Marmite production facilities were in Christchurch and were badly damaged by the earthquakes, there has been a shortage of Marmite in NZ as the factory is still not up and running again …. This has been widely reported as Marmageddon.” This is obviously serious stuff.

Steve went on to say, “My wife likes to eat Marmite and chip sandwiches … a concoction involving spreading Marmite on fresh, fluffy white bread and then a layer of potato crisps topped with another slice of bread. I commonly refer to this as a crime against the gastronomic universe. This doesn’t deter her at all.” We liked Steve's input. It really gave some personality to the discussion.

I was wondering if Vegemite was available in the USA and a quick internet search revealed that it's available through Amazon.... “It's Vegemite, it's good and it's available in America. It gets to the point where you don't care how much it costs, as long as you have it.” So, Americans reading this have the opportunity to experience Vegemite without having to come to Australia. Though we highly recommend the trip.

Witness our first taste of Vegemite.


Happy Australia Day!

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Popping Up

popping.corn1 Are you a snacker? I certainly am. If I'm busy working, I can go for hours without eating. Sometimes I forget about meals entirely (rare). But if I'm just hanging around the boat reading or putzing, I'm noshing constantly. If cookies are close, they're crumby history. With a New Year's resolution to eat less junk food, it's important to find and stock a reasonable alternative. Trying to eat healthier on the boat is sometimes difficult if we can't get to a store for freshies. Popcorn seems to fit the bill. That and the fact that it's cheaper and easier to stow than most any other snack, makes popcorn a regular snack item on the boat.


Away from the marina, there's no microwave oven unless we start the generator or the engine and that won't happen...not for popcorn anyway. Not to mention microwave popcorn is very expensive here comparatively speaking. We don't own any other electrical appliances, so a hot-air popper, the healthiest preparation method, is not an option. Nope, I heat a little oil in the bottom of a saucepan, pour in the popcorn. It starts sizzling and exploding and voila...fresh popcorn. Evidently it's the moisture in the corn kernels which gets pressurized and then explodes when it's heated in oil. No matter. It smells heavenly when it's popping and it's not unusual for a passing sailor or two to stop by to check it out and sample the fruits of my labor.

I remember popping corn as a kid. We'd make sticky sweet popcorn balls with corn syrup for Hallowe'en treats and string popcorn and cranberries to decorate the Christmas tree. When a new JiffyPop product was introduced, my sister and I fought over who could jiggle the disposable aluminum popper over the burner. We watched with delight as the crinkled foil expanded and expanded until we thought it would burst. Who cared about the popcorn? It was the whole, fascinating experience.

Popcorn has been around for millennia, originating from Central America. The Native Americans knew all about it. In fact, archaeologists found evidence of popcorn in New Mexico dating to 3600 BC. The English who arrived in America in the 17th century learned about its value from the indigenous people. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, popcorn became popular because it was so cheap and available. During the war years that followed, sugar was rationed and candy was rare, hence popcorn saved the day. Popcorn is the “official” snack food of Illinois. Really?


There's a whole website devoted to corny facts on line which I found quite interesting like:

  • October is National Popcorn Month and there's actually a National Popcorn Day coming up soon … January 19th
  • Popcorn can pop up to three feet in the air
  • The world's largest popcorn ball weighed in at over 2.5 tons in Sac City, IA in February 2009.
  • Popcorn comes in two primary shapes: snowflake and mushroom
  • And the most incredible tidbit of all...if you made a trail of popcorn from New York City to Los Angeles, you would need more than 352,028,160 popped kernels! (Who the heck figured that out and were they snowflake or mushroom shaped?)

When we were back in the States recently, we noted there are lots of different flavors now: caramel, cheese, kettle corn, light butter, heavy butter, no butter. We're purists … no flavors, no butter, thank you; but sprinkle a little salt on the batch, would you?

Anyone got any ideas for other low fat snacks that are easily obtainable and might be stowed on a boat? I'd appreciate hearing about them.


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The Festival of Sleep

was created to allow folks to get some rest and relaxation after the chaos of the holidays. After the Christmas shopping marathons and the New Year celebrations, it's time to take a nap.