CVIndependent

Wed11252020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

There’s a lot of news on this Sept. 11, so let’s get right to it:

• The West Coast is on fire. The New York Times has started a live-updates page regarding the horrific blazes, the deadliest of which is near Portland, Ore., where dozens of people are either dead or missing, and half a million people face possible evacuation orders. Key quote: “‘We are preparing for a mass fatality incident based on what we know and the numbers of structures that have been lost,’ said Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.”

• Our friends at Willamette Week, the Pulitzer-winning alternative newsweekly in Portland, are also doing fantastic coverage of the fires up there. Check it out.

• In Northern California, at least 10 are dead, with 16 reported missing, due to the North Complex fire in Butte County. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The collective scale of the infernos that have scarred the state over the last month is staggering: at least 20 fatalities, tens of thousands of structures destroyed and more than 3.1 million acres burned—the most recorded in a single year.”

• Of course, no tragedy these days can take place without conspiracy theories and misinformation popping up. The New York Times, via SFGate, looked at the insane and baseless claims, making their way around social media, that some of the West Coast wildfires were started by Antifa. Key quote: “Several law enforcement agencies in Oregon said they had been flooded with inquiries about rumors that activists were responsible. On Thursday, several journalists reporting on fires near the city of Molalla, Oregon, said they had been confronted by a group of armed people who were worried about unverified reports of arsonists in the area.”

• All the fires have created poor air quality throughout much of the west—and in Los Angeles, the smoky air prompted the county to shut down COVID-19 testing sites. Yikes.

• Related to the fires, here’s a speck of good news: Gov. Gavin Newsom today signed a bill that will make it easier for former inmates who served as volunteer firefighters to become badly needed professional firefighters. “For decades, thousands of inmate firefighters have battled wildfires across the state, working alongside professional firefighters in the scorching heat and smoke,” reports NBC News. “Yet the men and women prisoners who throw themselves in danger to help save lives and property often find it impossible to put their firefighting skills to use after their release, even in a state desperate for such labor.

• Related to COVID-19 testing: Riverside County is asking people, whether they’re symptomatic or not, to go get tested for COVID-19. In recent weeks, the number of county residents getting tested has fallen—to the point that it’s messing up the county’s hopes of moving into the next reopening tier. According to a news release: “Riverside County reached the positivity rate that will allow it to move to the red tier (7.8 percent), but the case rate remains higher than the state’s requirement. This week, the state began adjusting the case rate higher for counties that are not meeting the state’s daily average testing volume, which brought Riverside County’s case rate from 7.4 to 8.6. While Riverside County has the volume to test 4,000 people a day, only half that number have been getting tested at county and state testing sites in recent weeks.”

The Associated Press, via SFGate, reports that the testing backlog that was a huge problem in the state a month ago is gone, as the state increases testing capacity and fewer people get tested. “California's typical turnaround time for coronavirus tests has dropped to less than two days, state health officials said Thursday, a mark that allows for effective isolation and quarantine of those who are infected to limit the spread. Test results now are available from laboratories within 1.3 days on average, down from the five- to seven business days that officials commonly reported last month.”

• Regular readers know the Daily Digest rule about studies—they usually need to be taken with a massive grain of figurative salt. Well, such is the case with a new CDC study, which led to this alarming CNN headline: “Adults with Covid-19 about 'twice as likely' to say they have dined at a restaurant, CDC study suggests.” However, the study, of 314 people who were tested in July at 11 facilities around the country, has a massive flaw or two: “The study comes with some limitations, including … the question assessing dining at a restaurant did not distinguish between indoor versus outdoor dining.” That seems like a big distinction, no?!

• Well here’s something weird: Some researchers think the coronavirus may have been spreading in Los Angeles in December—before China even announced the outbreak in Wuhan. According to the Los Angeles Times: “The researchers didn’t conduct any diagnostic tests, so they can’t say with certainty when doctors first encountered anyone infected with the virus that came to be known as SARS-CoV-2. But if the coronavirus had indeed been spreading under the radar since around Christmas, the pattern of patient visits to UCLA facilities would have looked a lot like what actually happened, they wrote in a study published Thursday in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.”

• Related: A group of engineering professors, writing for The Conversation, take a look at the 6-foot coronavirus rule—and the limitations it has. They say to think about COVID-19 the way you’d think of cigarette smoke at a bar: “There is no safe distance in a poorly ventilated room, unfortunately. Good ventilation and filtration strategies that bring in fresh air are critical to reduce aerosol concentration levels, just as opening windows can clear out a smoke-filled room.”

• The New York Daily News reported today—on the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks—this: “The Trump administration has secretly siphoned nearly $4 million away from a program that tracks and treats FDNY firefighters and medics suffering from 9/11 related illnesses.” Key quote: “Here we have sick World Trade Center-exposed firefighters and EMS workers, at a time when the city is having difficult financial circumstances due to COVID-19, and we’re not getting the money we need to be able to treat these heroes,” said (Dr. David) Prezant, the FDNY’s Chief Medical Officer. “And for years, they wouldn’t even tell us—we never ever received a letter telling us this.

• It’s come to this: The Washington Post has started tracking the number of teachers who have died of COVID-19 this fall across the country. So far, the tally is six.

• Health Net and Carol’s Kitchen are offering a free flu-shot clinic, open to all Riverside County residents, on Monday, Sept. 14, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the James A. Venable Community Center, at 50390 Carmen Ave., up in Cabazon. If interested, get there early, as the supply of shots is limited.

The city of Palm Springs really wants you to participate in the 2020 Census! From the city: “On Wednesday, Sept. 16 the five members of the City Council will kick off a friendly competition to see whose district can get the highest Census response rate by hosting drive-by caravans throughout their respective districts to urge residents to respond. The caravans will kick off at 5:30 p.m. from the parking lot of the Palm Springs Public Library, 300 S. Sunrise Way, with several representatives from city departments, business, nonprofit and neighborhood organizations on hand.” Get details on that and more here. (Full disclosure: The city has paid for Census-outreach advertising at CVIndependent.com and in the Daily Digest; however, this item is not related to that purchase.)

The much-ballyhooed Virgin Hotel will not be built in Palm Springs after all. Per KESQ: “(Developer) Grit and Virgin also agreed to use the hotel site to instead build a 62-unit condominium complex instead of a hotel.” Hmm.

• I took this week off from the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, but Shann, John, Brad and Dr. Laura were all there, as were The Standard’s Nino Eilets, event-producer Daniel Vaillancourt, and the fabulous Debra Ann Mumm, the founder of the Create Center for the Arts!

• And finally, after all of that, you may need a drink. Our beer writer, Brett Newton, thinks perhaps you should consider mead for that drink … even though mead isn’t a beer. Check out what he has to say.

Have a great weekend, everyone. If you haven’t yet voted in the first round of the Independent’s Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll, please do so by clicking here—voting closes on Monday! And you appreciate this Daily Digest and the other local journalism produced by the Independent, please consider financially helping out by clicking here and becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Be safe; the Daily Digest will return on Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Let me tell you about a drink—a wine, technically—that is older than our species. It’s not made from grapes, and the bulk of the work to make it isn’t even done by humans, but by honey bees.

Yes, I am talking about mead.

The honey bee separated from its parent species around a million years ago. Worker honey bees collect pollen and, more importantly, nectar. Nectar is a sugary substance that fuels the bees, with the surplus being converted into honey via osmosis, to store and feed the entire colony. While yeast is omnipresent in the environment and is as hungry for that sugar as the bees are, the osmotic pressure of honey makes fermentation by yeasts and bacteria almost impossible: Think of honey as a desert for yeast cells. This, combined with smaller contributing factors, makes sealed honey immortal—it can be safely consumed thousands of years after it was made.

But evolution has a funny way of finding niches in what evolutionary philosopher Daniel Dennett has termed Design Space, often in the form of an "arms race." While doing my research, I came across this fascinating tidbit: Some yeasts evolved to become osmotolerant. This means that the yeast can perform in environments that are high in sugars and low in water. I bring this up, because it seems that these osmotolerant yeasts became the yeasts that humans eventually unwittingly (because yeast wasn't identified until the 19th century) harnessed to make beer and wine

The first humans to stumble across mead would have likely done it by accident. An essay on the website of Medovina Meadery in Colorado (authored with the help of Dr. Garth Cambray, founder of Makana Meadery in South Africa) suggests an interesting scenario: "The origins of mead can be traced back to the African bush more than 20,000 years ago. Feral bees were well established; elephants roamed the continent, and weather patterns were seasonal. … (These weather patterns) would eventually cause hollows to rot out the crown of the Baobab and Miombo trees, where the elephant had broken branches. During the dry season, the bees would nest in these hollows, and during the wet season, the hollows would fill with water. Water, honey, osmotolerant yeast, and time, and voila—a mead is born."

As nomadic tribes spread out of Africa and into the Mediterranean, they took bees with them, and mead would become a conscious (and treasured) process. The first known recipe for beer is the Hymn to Ninkasi in ancient Sumer, and it includes honey—likely because unmalted grain is not as efficient for brewing, and the sucrose and fructose in honey would work just fine for those purposes. Ancient Greece referred to it as ambrosia, "the nectar of the gods." It's referenced in ancient Chinese, Indian and Egyptian documents, some of which date back 4,000 years. Norse mythology and culture is littered with its mention. Think Beowulf and the slaying of Grendel inside Heorot, the great mead hall of King Hrothgar. Yes, mead was a very big deal for a very long time.

Sugar cane was brought back to Europe by Marco Polo, and honey became less and less of a source for sugars (outside of the monasteries that required beeswax and used the honey to make mead as a by-process). Then came industrialization. The Medovina essay says: "Prior to the mechanized extraction of honey, the honeycombs were simply crushed to remove the honey. This left loads of honey-laden, crushed beeswax which could most easily be processed by rinsing the honey out of the wax with warm water. And what became of the honey water? Mead, of course. Mechanized extraction meant less left over comb and less honey water for mead-making, and a general decline in the craft." Mead has become a highly artisan concern ever since.

This would be a very sad column if it ended there. Thankfully, mead is in the midst of a comeback, of sorts. Homebrewers have led this charge, thanks to their curiosity about all things fermentable.

My first mead experience was the serviceable Chaucer’s Mead (out of Santa Cruz) I picked up in the wine aisle at a grocery story. Some of my more mind-blowing experiences with mead have come thanks to my oft-cited friend and brewer, Chris Anderson.

"For me, mead-making was merely the next natural evolution in fermentation exploration,” he says. “It came after 20 years of beer-making, and at a point where I was feeling like I had tried just about everything in brewing. It’s extremely easy to make mead, but it does require a bit of patience for the lengthy aging process, which can take a year or more."

Anderson’s tropical mead was my favorite—and he went all out on it.

"It was kind of a joke, but it was special," he explains. "I opted for Christmas Berry and Lehua honey, both from Hawaii, and Miele Amaro (bitter honey) from Sardinia. The fruits that I employed were all grown on our property on Oahu: passion fruit, papaya, mango and pink guava. This was by far the best mead that I have ever made, and it garnered gold in the few competitions that I entered it in."

If you have not experienced meads, it is a bit easier to do than it was even a couple of years ago. Locally, Golden Coast Mead in Oceanside is a couple of hours away from the Coachella Valley (and a great place to go to escape the last gasps of summer here). Moonlight Meadery out of New Hampshire has been making wonderful meads for years, which can be found on select craft-beer shop shelves and purchased via their site for shipping.

A personal favorite that I have not yet had a chance to visit resides in Arizona, Superstition Meadery. They make an incredible mead called Peanut Butter Jelly Crime, and yes, it tastes like the liquid version of the best PB&J you've ever had. They've gotten into hazy hopped meads recently, and the results are delicious.

However you can find it, mead is worth trying out—and hopefully, it will be made more interesting with the knowledge I've imparted here.

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Beer

The moon lights the way to my cottage. A lantern glows inside. Friends knock and enter, bringing veggies and bread. I pour sweet golden mead into clay mugs. I’ve been busy fermenting honey here in my hobbit hole. Folks pull out hand-crafted instruments. We build a bonfire under the stars, dancing and feasting until dawn.

That’s my vision of life after the apocalypse, an existence without indoor plumbing and electricity and WiFi. In my hippie fantasy, human society may fall into ruin, but it won’t look like the murderous anarchy of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Instead, we’ll work together to survive and thrive. We’ll make music and drink mead—one of the most ancient and sustainable alcoholic beverages.

It’s going to be good.

OK, back to reality. I wasn’t thinking about surviving civilization’s collapse when I checked the progress of my bubbling liquid sunshine, aka a 6.5-gallon glass jug of honey wine.

For two weeks, my mead had been fermenting feistily. Then not so much. After a couple of weeks, the bubbling business slowed and seemed to stop.

“You need to buy a hydrometer,” said one advisee.

Got one.

“Have you been using it?”

Yup. I reported that the specific gravity measured 1.040 a couple days ago.

“That’s pretty sweet, like a dessert mead,” he said. “But you have a lot of time.”

He suggested I give my yeast a snack.

Does the above exchange make me sound like I know what I’m talking about? Thank you, Internet, for giving me chem lessons so I can break bad in my home lab.

Here’s what I’ve learned: A hydrometer (glass tube that floats atop the booze) measures the density of the liquid in my jar. The specific gravity of water is 1.000. Pure alcohol is 0.792. My mead, as you can see, is quite dense.

Fermentation slows and stops eventually. But my mead is still too sweet and only boasts about 5.25 percent alcohol. I’m hoping for 11 or 12 percent. If I give my yeast a snack, it’ll kick back into fermentation mode. While honey contains all the nutrients required by bees (and humans), yeast is needier. As the sugar transforms into alcohol, my yeast needs another shot of nutrients—a concoction containing amino and unsaturated fatty acids and the kinds of stuff that I could probably get from crushing up a multi-vitamin.

Rather than mash up my Geritol, though, I obtain a packet of tan powder called yeast nutrient, and unscrew the wide-mouth air-lock cap on the mead. I place my hydrometer in the mead and give it a gentle spin. When it stops moving, I take a reading. Still 1.040. I taste it. Not too syrupy, a bit effervescent. Nice. But I’d prefer it to be drier.

So in goes the nutrients, and the concoction bubbles like madness. Happy yeast makes tasty mead.

Two weeks or so ago, my husband, Dave, and I started our first batch of mead. Making mead is easy, we’d heard. You can make mistakes, and the mead will most likely survive.

We’d obtained 18 pounds of orange-blossom honey for the project. After equipment, buying honey is the priciest aspect of mead-making.

Why are we buying honey when Dave keeps bees in his backyard, where they feast on red raspberries, roses and lavender? Fair question. Dave’s honey is simply too precious for experimentation. First, we’ll get good at this.

Of course, Dave can be a little finicky. “Does this honey smell OK to you?” Dave asked.

“It does not smell as good as your honey, honey,” I replied.

For references, we had Ken Schramm’s book The Compleat Meadmaker, and a recipe in the back of a catalog for home-brewing supplies. I searched for “making mead” online, and Google reported 31.7 million results.

We also had six gallons of filtered water, a thermometer, a hydrometer and a 6.5 gallon glass carboy (jug). We had sanitizer to clean a long stirring spoon, cups and measuring utensils. We had Prise de Mousse wine yeast, nutrients, tartaric acid and Irish moss for clarity.

We were ready. Gobbing honey out of jars was sticky business. Then we heated the must, aka watered-down honey, aka proto-wine. The proportions of honey to water differ depending on the recipe. One online recipe suggested two pounds of honey per gallon of water. Schramm’s recipe included twice that—15 pounds of honey and four gallons of water. We landed right in the middle—18 pounds of honey and six gallons of water, or three pounds of honey per gallon.

We boiled water and added honey along with nutrients and energizer. Adding honey cooled the water, but then we took the liquid back up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. I fiddled with the burner for 10 minutes or so, trying to keep it hot without letting it boil. Another recipe calls for boiling. Go figure.

Heat then cool. Heat then cool. The must had to cool down again before we could add yeast.

So we waited. And waited. We got impatient. We were ready to sit down to crab appetizers and wine.

When the liquid was finally cool, we added yeast and stirred like maniacs to get plenty of oxygen into the must. I twirled a spoon until my arms hurt, then Dave gave it a go, creating a cyclone in the bottle.

We put a lid on it, fantasizing about the three cases of golden mead we’d be enjoying in six months or so. There’ll be a party with DIY music and a bonfire. We’ll drink mead from clay mugs. Sound like a good plan for a Friday night?

We thought so, too. Our work done, Dave and I opened a lovely bottle of Anderson Valley pinot noir for which we paid some serious dough.

The wine was excellent, and I’m thinking now it might be time to make wine-wine next time. Red wine. From grapes. This fall, in fact, I’d like to try my hand at, say, six gallons of zinfandel. I’m soliciting advice on this. Can I buy a smallish quantity of grapes and crush ’em in my kitchen? Yes, said one wine-making friend, no problem.

“But you’ll be sorry,” he warned.

“Why?”

“If it’s good, you’ll be sorry you didn’t make more.”

Published in Wine