Sunday, October 9, 2011

I had never heard about anything called heather gems until today. They are these amazing multi-colored stones made out of the branches of a plant called Heather. I had no clue you could do something like that - Make a stone out of branches. :)
So What is this Heather and Where is it found? Heather is the most common and widely grown plant in Scotland. It grows from sea level to elevations of about 1000m. It is famed for turning hillsides purple in August. Although interestingly, it has become a problematic invasive weed, out-competing native plants in Canada, parts of USA, Australia and New Zealand.
The prevalence and predominance of heather in most areas is a human gown condition because of something called arrested succession. Arrested succession is a condition that arises because of deforestation. The land management results in the burning or grazing of the land which in turn leads to the prevention of re-growth of trees. Hence, the natural process of ecological succession is interrupted by human intervention and heather plants are often one of such replacements.

(Courtesy of: Trees for Life)
How do these gems get made out of the branches. Well it is about a ten step process:

1) Collection of the branches
2) Cutting the heather branches
3) Cleaning and sorting the branches
4) Vacuuming them and then dyeing them - these branches are dense and thick and so the pressure is important for the dye to penetrate all the way into the branches
5) Compressing a bundle of different colored heather branches using a press
6) Branches are then soaked in a resin and then compressed again using a hydraulic press where 60 tons of pressure is applied to them to form them into a block
7) This block is then left in the oven for an hour and then cured overnight
8) Computer controlled machine cuts the gems in the required shape
9) Sanding of the Gems
10) Lacquering - Each piece gets about 6 coats before the exquisite finish that it attains.

This is how the resulting HeatherGem looks like (isn't it gorgeous!):
 (Courtesy of : HeatherGems)

More information can be found here

Saturday, October 8, 2011

While watching How Its Made, I learned today that Tabasco sauce which I absolutely love takes more than 3 years to get ready. They age the peppers for 3 years in something called 'Oak Whiskey Barrel'. What's that? Well, it turns out that Oak Whiskey Barrels are aging barrels made out of Oak and were previously used for the aging of bourbon whiskey. But Why oak? Whiskey Barrels are made out of oak because it is the purest form of wood and it does not infuse strong flavors into the liquid that is stored in it as it matures. The most common type of oak used is American oak or white oak. When do they retire? These barrels are normally retired after 3-4 batches of whiskey aging. After these barrels have served their original purpose, these barrels are re-purposed for a bunch of other things like planters, rain barrels, outdoor furniture or Tabasco in this case! These barrels are also used for fermenting beers since the wood retains the smell of the whiskey.
What is this aging anyway? Aging is related to the chemical changes that take place as a result of reactions with the alcohol and congeners in the spirit through oxidation and extraction of chemicals from the oak. There are various factors which affect this aging process:
- Percent alcohol of the spirit
- The level of charring of the oak
- The temperature and humidity in the warehouse
- The size of the barrel
- The length of time the aging takes place because there is a point in the aging process where the oak contributions can go too far

The barrel lets some air in during this aging process because of the porosity of wood. This results in evaporation. It's not unusual to find only half the barrel full after a 15 year aging process of whiskey. And this loss of spirit due to evaporation is called 'Angel's share'. The humidity of the warehouse plays a role in this evaporation process. If the humidity was high, then it results in evaporation of spirit and hence resulting in decrease in percent alcohol. Whereas if the humidity was low, then it results in the evaporation of water and hence results in an increase in the percent alcohol. Isn't that so interesting?
I never understood the concept of blogging. I never understood why I would want to ever share things with random people in this world when I have my own family and friends to share things with. But with time I have come to realize that there is much more to blogging than I ever thought there was. This blog is my attempt to share things that I learn on a daily basis and in turn this will help me to easily recall things (during times when my forgetful memory gives up on me) that I had learned at some point. My hope is that this blog will be used to list out all the random things that I learn on a daily basis. The things that make me wonder and make me think Why, Where, What, When or How. For more technical stuff, I hope to use my other blog.