23 December 2007

Dunkel Weizen, step 2

Today for the first time I have departed from a set brew recipe in a significant sort of way.

I transferred the weizen wort into a secondary fermenter (carboy), but before so doing I added 11 oz of liquefied Smoky Mountain sourwood honey into the pot. I've read and forum'ed (I know that's not a word, but hey....) about the honey thing quite a bit and decided to take the plunge to see what happens -- it's all a big experiment, right? My goal is that the honey will give the dormant yeast something more to work on, upping the ABV percentage (had I bottled today, it would have ended up somewhere in the neighborhood of 4.6%). Just how much higher, we'll have to wait and see. The honey should also add some interesting notes to the final bouquet and taste -- it won't make it sweeter, or taste like mead, but it should give the beer a drier palate and add some floral notes. We shall see....

16 December 2007

winter brews and Portland

Thanks to Mark for adding me on to the blog. I'm happy to contribute as able.

My office staff went out for a end-o'-the-semester dinner and our boss chose the Widmer Brother's Gasthaus as our venue. Winter is a wonderful time to be in Portland as it's the season when everybody let's down their hair and tries something new. So if you are passing through Portland, here are some winter brews on tap NOW for your tasting pleasure.

Snow Plow - a cream ale on nitro, tastes like a piece of pie. Maybe the U.S. answer to Boddingtons?

Decorator - A "Weizendoppelbock." Okay, this might freak you out, but here goes. Bananas. Like very strong bananas. I thought it was amazing. Apparently the reviews are mixed as the bar maid wouldn't give me a pint until I'd tried a sample. Don't worry. You start to regain consciousness after a few sips.

Dortmunder Lager - not as whimpy as some lagers and great to follow the pungent Decorator

Widmer Hefeweizen - I'm cheating a bit. This is always on tap. We tried to clone this for our last batch of home brew. The beer turned out great but we haven't yet mastered the perfect balance of hoppy and malty that makes this one of the best beers in Portland. Don't leave the Northwest without knocking back a few.

They also serve a mead but I haven't been bold enough to try it yet. I'll report back with any more updates for the Christmas season.

15 December 2007

Trebor Brot -- spent-grain bread

When homebrewing with crushed grains (and not just extract), an unavoidable byproduct is the spent grains: the crushed grains, confined to a mesh bag, are strained in hot water to create a "tea" that becomes the base for the beer, but the mesh bags are removed before the boil, and are referred to as "spent." What to do with the spent grains?
The traditional approach is to feed them to your livestock: chickens, pigs, goats, and so forth love spent grains. Barring that, they make excellent compost.
What to do when you don't have any livestock, and haven't yet begun a compost operation (living on a 2nd-storey apartment with no yard or garden makes that a wee bit difficult)?

Why, bake with them, of course! I came across an issue of Southern Brew News a few months ago (they're often free for the taking at Asheville Brewers Supply) dedicated to cooking and baking with beer, and clipped out a recipe for Trebor Brot, a traditional German spent-grain bread. I decided to give it a whirl with my Dunkel weizen leftovers. And it's quite tasty! Definitely a good, hearty winter bread, reminiscent of those 7-grain loaves that artisanal bakeries make. I'm quite proud of the result.

Here's my modified recipe:

1 C warm water
1/2 C dark beer
2 Tb oil (I used olive for this go-round)
1 1/2 ts salt
1 1/2 ts active dry yeast
4 C total flour (I used all organic unbleached all-purpose, simply because that's what I had on hand. The original calls for 2 C unbleached, 1 C rye, and 1 C whole wheat. I see experimentation here!)
a measure of dried spent grains (the original calls for 40 g; I used a bit more than that)
2-3 Tb crushed flax seed (optional)
1 Tb vital wheat gluten flour (optional -- helps give it some "lift")

The easiest (read: quickest!) way to dry the spent grains is to spread them in a thin layer on a large plate and microwave for 6 minutes, flipping them over halfway through.

In a large bowl, mix 2 C flour, yeast, and the salt. Add the water/beer and oil, and beat (it will be VERY sticky -- if you're a hand-kneader like me, plastic/silicone or wooden spatulas are a big help here!). Add a cup of flour a time, kneading for 5 minutes after each flour addition. Add the gluten, flax, and spent grains along with the final cup of flour. Depending on the enviroment, you may need to add a bit more flour so it's not too sticky. Knead until the dough is a shaggy mass -- one thing I've learned is that you really can't over-knead, especially when kneading by hand.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled or floured bowl, and tightly cover with a warm, damp (thin) towel. Let the bread rise in a warm spot for about 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

After rising, place dough on a pizza stone, form into the desired loaf shape (I like the round boule), cut the top with a sharp knife if you wish. No secondary rising is really needed with this one. Bake it at the bottom of the oven for 45-50 minutes. In the last 10 minutes of baking, lightly spray the loaf with water (this helps give the crust a golden color). Once desired color is achieved, remove and place on a wire rack to cool. Is it done yet? Knock the bottom of the loaf with your hand -- if it sounds hollow, it's baked.

Let cool for at least 15 mintues before slicing. Enjoy with a glass of beer!

--Thanks to Fred Scheer-Boscos of the Nashville Brewing Co. for this recipe.

New Round of Homebrew

I once again took advantage of my mostly-day-off (had to greet the organ tuners and make sure that Sunday's bulletin got run first thing in the morning) by starting another round of homebrew. The recipe in question this go-round is a Dunkel Weizen; that is, a dark hefeweizen. I will say that for about 2 or 3 years running, Weihenstephaner Hefeweiss Dunkel has been among my very top favorites at the WBF -- I can't presume that what I've got in the fermenter will even come close to that goodness, but it's a style I love and am anxious to see what happens.

I do find it amusing that this beer is oft hight, "Dunkel Weiss," which means, of course, "Dark White." I also find it interesting that the two names frequently interchanged for this beer style, weizen and weisse (wheat and white), are only different from each other by a couple of letters. Handy and confusing! And, given my current naming scheme (composers and all that) I simply couldn't resist the urge to pun and style this go-round (and all my subsequent hefewiezen, I'm sure) Silvius Leopold Weiss, in honor of that great baroque composer and friend of Bach's that no one's ever heard of. He has his own webpage, and even shows up on YouTube a few times, including here, here, and here. His music is truly wonderful. Anyway, I'm having way too much fun with this thing. I've also made up a sample label for this one, and put the whole thing in a Fraktur font. I'm pretty pleased with it.

Here's what I did:

6 lbs Northwestern wheat extract (liquid)
1 lb Northwestern dark malt extract (dry)
1 lb crushed crystal malt grain
0.5 lb crushed chocolate wheat grain
1 oz Liberty pellet hops (bittering)
1 oz Tettnang pellet hops (finishing)
White Labs liquid German Ale/Koelsch yeast

Original Gravity chimed in at 1049.9 (I *think* -- I'm still getting used to this whole hydrometer thing), which sounds about right to me.

I also used (for the first time) NC mountain bottled spring water instead of tap. I have a particular aversion to and disgust of buying bottled water, but did this for a couple of reasons:
1) My parents now live on a farm in Ashe County, NC, with its own wonderful mountain spring. I'm anxious to make use of their spring water for future brews, and needed some gallon jugs with which to transport the water. Hence, the purchase.
2) I haven't had any disastrous results with the Tryon town water thus far, but it's still not my favorite. I really don't want beer with flouride and chlorine in it, as yummy as that sounds. So, this is also something of an experiment to see if there is any discernible difference in taste.
And, at the end of the day, I'm not using Dasani.

Finally, for good measure, one more Weiss:

14 December 2007

Tasting a Wonderful Local Brewery

I had the great fortune yesterday evening to sample 5 brews from Pisgah Brewing Company of Black Mountain, NC (just east of Asheville on I-40). All five were very good; two were excellent.

This tasting was one of the bi-monthly offerings at Bruisin' Ales, my current favorite purveyor of liquids and all-around cool store in Asheville. Two of the Pisgah brewers were on hand to pour the samples and answer questions, and as the house was much -- MUCH -- less packed than last week's Brooklyn affair, I had no trouble in chatting a bit with them.

First off, Pisgah is a certified-organic brewery, so all of their offerings have at least a plurality of organic ingredients (malt and hops especially). Kudos!

My only overarching negative about the brews is that most of them tend to have a somewhat thin and watery finish, even if it is extremely slight. (I started calling this the "American beer curse" some years ago, when I was a relative newbie to the craft beer thing; I know it's not scientifically sound or anything approaching universal, but it's nevertheless a trait that I can't help but notice popping up from time to time in many American brews). Oh, and the fact that they don't bottle most of their brews for store distribution -- kegs and growlers are the mainstay. But as they're a small brewery interested in quality control, I can't say I blame them.

The lineup:

1) Porter. At 6% ABV, this was their light offering for the evening. Made with a combination of five organic malts, this is a pleasant and easy contribution to the world of porter. A nice chocolatey opening salvo, with pleasant mild hop notes. Some smokiness is present, too, enabling it to match not only raspberries (a great combo) but savory dishes as well, I would think. A thin but smooth finish -- it ended much more abruptly and quickly than I was imagining it to. Overall, I gave it a B+

2) Equinox, "Amber harvest ale." 7.5% ABV. A mild nose that for some reason made me think of bubblegum -- but on the tongue it was anything but! A nice raisiny quality, with a lot more besides. It was superb with a cube of sharp cheddar, and I wrote to myself to try this with winter soup. A-/B+

3) Red Devil. 8% ABV. This is a Belgian-style blonde ale mixed with cherries and raspberries added to the secondary fermentation. I am not often a fan of fruit beer; I'm fond of Atlantic's Blueberry Ale, and the occasional old-school sour cherry lambic if the mood strikes me. But this was absolutely stupendous. Very well-balanced, and silky smooth. Oh, I could have gone home right then and there a happy man. My note was, "best fruit beer I've ever had, basically," which is probably a stretch, but not *too* big of a stretch. A/A-

4) Solstice. 9% ABV. This is their year-round Belgian Trippel offering. A sour nose (yum!) gives rise to fruity esters, and the only thing that made it less than superb was that once-again slightly watery finish. Otherwise, very solid and true to the style. Gouda made it better with regards to the finish. A-

5) Baptista. 11% ABV. Their "Belgian Noel" seasonal offering, a strong dark (but not too dark!) brew. Beautiful bronze color with a complex nose that immediately caught my attention -- too many things going on to single any one out, yet not too busy to be confusing. All I could say was, "Wow." This was clearly the coup-de-grace of the day for me. Truly complex, truly amazing...I must say that I have as of yet not had any true Christmas Ales from Belgium or the Netherlands, so I can't compare the Baptista against the heralds of the style, but style aside, I fell in love with this thing. And, no watery finish here! More along the lines of a dry barleywine or sherry finish, really. And wonderful with cheese all the way. More, please! Solid A

On a side note, I couldn't help but notice this label on the shelf on my way out the door:

No kidding. "Great Pig Steam." I am told it is an amazing ale. And that the Saison de Pipaix (this brewery's flagship style) is to die for. Best I can figure is, 1) it's a true farmhouse brewery. Pigs live on farms, and are really fun animals. 2) The folks at Pipaix are truly doing all that they can to make it clear that they are not a monastic brewery.

07 December 2007

The troubles they are a-coming

So, a month or two or three ago, news of the hop shortage and barley price increases began to spread about. So far, very little in-your-face results have been felt, at least here in the States (I had to get leaf hops instead of pellet in November, but that was about it).
That's not likely to remain the case.
Here's a short but notable article courtesy of the Brooklyn Brewery website. And it's not just NYC. We can expect changes probably after the New Year, I expect. The fellow at Asheville Brewers Supply yesterday told me that they'll be coming out with a new products catalogue in the next couple of weeks -- same products, higher prices. I won't be surprised if 6-packs and pub draughts rise in cost as well. Just how much more homebrewing will cost, only time will tell.

Another Great Tasting at Bruisin' Ales of Asheville

Welcome to our new contributors, Sara, B.J., and AAK! It's wonderful to have you posting.

Yesterday evening Sara and I visited my new favorite beer purveyor, Brusin' Ales (on Broadway in Asheville -- see the link to their site on the sidebar). They do a free tasting every other Thursday, and occasionally have a slightly bigger to-do tasting as a fundraiser for their charity of choice, Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Yesterday they outdid themselves. Jason Gavin of the Brooklyn Brewery (one of our favorites) was on hand with 9 (count them, 9) samples. Also present were folks from the Spinning Spider Creamery, a local goat cheese dairy from Madison County, with a good 5 or 6 varieties, along with cherries, raspberries, almonds, and little toasts to help complement the tastings.

Despite the huge crowd (fire code, anyone? I felt a little bit like I was at an indoor beer festival), it was probably the best tasting we've been to yet, at least at Bruisin'.
The lineup:

1. Local 1. The brewery's most recent regular offering, a Belgian-style strong golden ale (9% ABV).

2. Brown Ale. A classic and a legend in its own right. (5.6% ABV)

3. Winter Ale. Previously reviewed here over Thanksgiving. Still a winner in the Scottish style (6%)

4. Monster Ale Vintage '04. A classic Barleywine, if somewhat Americanized. Aged for 4 months. (10.8%)

5. Monster Ale Vintage '05.

6. Monster Ale '07. (What happened to the '06? "We drank it all," said Gavin.)

7. Black Chocolate Stout Vintage '04. An annual winter-season offering, Brooklyn's interpretation of a Russian Imperial Stout. (10.1%)

8. Black Chocolate Stout Vintage '05.

9. Black Chocolate Stout '07.

What was remarkable was that ever single one of these samplings was a hit with the goat cheeses. There were no strikeouts. I will say, however, that the Local 1, Brown Ale, and all 3 Monsters were an absolute hit with the cheese, perhaps even a home run in the case of the Local 1 and the '04 Monster. The '05 Stout paired with a cherry (they were excellent cherries) sparked fireworks in my mouth, a la Pixar's Ratatouille -- it was like best cherry cordial you've ever had, except with beer. The '07 Stout preferred the almonds.
What was interesting was to compare samples of the same brews from different years -- there were clear differences in both the Monster and the Stout. I preferred the '04 Monster Ale (the best balanced, I thought -- the '05 was much sweeter, and the '07 much younger and "zingier") and the '05 Stout (the chocolatiest of the three).


06 December 2007

Sam Winter, tested in Boston

The Beer: Sam Adams Winter Lager
The Food: clam chowder, turkey club
The Restaurant: 75 Chestnut, Boston, Mass.

Sam Adams is always a most respectable, if, to my mind, rarely an astonishing brewery. However, one is always correct to sample the local brews in any place, and so, when in Boston and faced with choosing among Guinness, the silver bullet, Harpoon IPA, and the Sam Adams Winter Lager (it was a pretty shallow draught list), I went with the Sam Winter, which seemed like a perfect choice for a snowy night in Beacon Hill.

One never has, of course, a pure tasting experience, in a sterile white room and no distractions. But who would want that? A sterile room with no company calls for 30 Busch Lights and a urinal, not something savoury, something worth considering, worth tasting. Of course we all know that the company and the food and the setting can enhance a beer, making the good better, and the great sublime, but virtually nothing can make a bad beer better (except another bad beer to follow). And anyway, where matters of taste are concerned, the scientific process should take a hike: bias is king, and not something to be controlled.

But back to the beer.

My first impression was that it looked like exactly what I needed. The color was an ideal coppery brown, dark but allowing light to pass and refract: sort of like a delicious brown swimming pool on a clear day in my glass. The head was present but not overwhelming, about a quarter inch deep, and of the color of peanut shells.

Not much aroma. It isn't done to draw too much attention to oneself in Boston. Puritanism runs deep (for more on Puritans and beer, even the English varieties, see video HERE, which comes from a website that will give one particular pause).

The taste delivered, gently, all of winter. Sort of like a carol sing in the mouth. Snappy and spicy: cloves, a bit of orange, cinnamon, maybe some ginger, which lingered on the finish, at least until replaced it with I a spoonful of chowder. Again we must remember that this is New England: Sam doesn't shout, he doesn't gesture – he used up all of those instincts in the Revolution. Rather, winter is suggested, or intoned.

This is not, in keeping with brewery custom, an astonishing beer, but a good, sound workhorse, something one could drink happily throughout the winter, a good companion to good food and good company. The aficionados might turn up their noses and scoff, but then they would forget that basic drinkability and pleasantness are the marks of a good beer. Luther seldom, I imagine, drank alone, whether his companions were men or books, and we know that our (the editorial we) northern European ancestors have always relied upon their beers to facilitate camaraderie. I recommend the Sam Winter for those times when one needs to be held by one's beer, comforted, and not challenged.

Sumttynose and the Hershey company

Beer in question: Smuttynose Brewing Co.'s "Old Brown Dog Ale"
Food accompanying: Mac cheese (cheddar), peas, chicken
Venue: my house, in front of the fire

Color: reddish-brown (emphasis on the brown), permitting a bit of light.

Aroma (isn't this another word for "odor"?): Not so hoppy. Some chocolate comes through in the nose here, a foretaste of the (likely) very near future.

The Old Brown Dog offers no taste at first, or rather offers a fairly ordinary "dark beer" taste, then the flavors of leather and (particularly) chocolate rush over the taste buds and into the nose. The finish is long and chocolately, like trying to escape Colombia by way of a cacao plantation. This is not how I like my beer. A little less chocolate, or even the same amount of chocolate, up front would be okay, but because it forms the entirety of the long finish, each sip is spoilt.

I will consider the following exception before I condemn the Smuttynose people: each beer is a reflection of the place in which it is made. I grant the exception because Portsmouth is a town on the brief New Hampshire coast, and we all know how salt air affects everything: the texture of bedsheets, the color of weathered shingles, the temper of one's skin. So perhaps drinking the Old Brown Dog in its home on the cold seashore is an entirely different experience. Without being there, who can say how the air might affect the taste? Maybe, at home, the beer smells like daisies.

04 December 2007

A philosophy of beer, if you will

Hello boys!

This being my very first post here at House o' Perm, I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on brewing, sampling, and enjoying this fermented elixir we love so much. You will probably never see a post from me on here about the specifics of the brewing process, since I am completely uninvolved with this part of our household. My job consists of complaining about the yeasty smells and piles of equipment that are slowly taking over our downstairs bathroom, and, of course, happily consuming the beer once it's finished.

Nonetheless, I feel like Mark extended the blogger invitation to me not out of courtesy, but because I too have more just than just a blythe interest in the process of enjoying beer. As with many parts of my marriage, I stand in the doorway of this hobby, halfway between nerdy over-involvement and sarcastically poking fun at the passions of the crafter.

My very first beer (in college) was an Icehouse. Sitting on the mattress of a kid on my freshman hall, slice of Papa John's in hand, I sipped the nastiness of watery rice-malt brew. How many people start out this way? Is this the only entrance into the beer world? In my mind, there were two main things wrong with this memory:
1. It was an Icehouse. Ugh. Gag.
2. Drinking these beers was a goofy secret, under the radar of our watchful RA. Our sense of adulthood started with breaking the rules. Not only we were kinda lame, I'll admit - we were beginning a perception of alcohol, beer specifically, as a forbidden indulgence.

Working as a youth minister for the past few years, I know about the drinking culture my kids are confronted with. And I know some things will never change. Teenagers will always giggly sip beer, act inappropriately, and push the limits when they know they're not supposed to. Especially about rules that are placed upon them by adults. I think the only way we grow into being adults is learning how to deal with these rules and limits we put on ourselves - spiritually, emotionally, physically - by walking around within a safe framework and learning to think for yourself. But enough about that.

Returning to my earlier question: Why does this have to be the story most everyone has about their first beer? Why is loving beer a journey from the bottom up? (No pun intended.) Why do we start with the dregs before heading to the finer brews? Is there no redemption for the Coors and Miller drinkers out there?

And also: why is beer so often seen as a coarse beverage? At Thanksgiving, everyone appreciates the wine that's passed around the table, but we get strange looks when Mark brings a fine bottle of Saison. And also: why is beer seen as so masculine? I invite your thoughts.

(Sorry for the long winded-ness. I'm bored at work.)

03 December 2007

Meanwhile, back in remedial homebrewing

Thanks Mark for the invitation to post, and hello to Sara! The past few months have been a busy one in the homebrew wing of my house (the alcove under the stairs) as Jo and I have prepared for Christmas care packages. This year's gift will be a 4-pack incuding an ESB and a Belgian-Style Tripel.

I have one little rookie mistake to share here: failing to let the stopper dry sealing the glass carboy, and pressing a little too enthusiastically, I seem to have managed to cram the stopper all the way through the neck of the carboy and into the fermenting beer. Whoopsie...

This after a day of brewing, 4 days of initiall fermenting. I looked up at Jo, crestfallen...suddenly I was tempering my brew (the tripel) with a rubber stopper, with no idea of whether or not it would be physically possible to retrieve the stopper, even after we finish fermenting. Jo saved the day by finding a brewing blog which assured us that the stopper, sanitized as it was, was harmless. But if future samplers pick up on a slight bouquet of goodyear, then I might have a good reason for that one.

01 December 2007

An American Wheat Doppelbock

I broke into my nascent cellar tonight and tried my bottle of Clipper City (Baltimore, MD) Heavy Seas "Hang Ten" Weizen Doppelbock.

I was intrigued by the idea of a wheat doppelbock, and since it was put forth by a reputable brewer, thought I'd give this one a whirl. It's definitely a curious and complex brew, not at all unpleasant -- if not quite what I was expecting from a Doppelbock. I would never guess this one correctly in a blind taste test, that's for sure.

At the outset, it's reminiscent of a Belgian Strong Ale or a Flemish red -- even the color corresponds in that department, pouring a coppery rust color with the thinnest of heads.
It's slightly cloudy without being dull in the glass, and the head fades to the edges of the glass fairly quickly.

On the nose, I sense barley malt (true to a doppelbock), brown sugar, sawdust (like my grandfather's carpentry shop), and alcohol (at 10% ABV, that's no surprise).

The Belgian/Flemish charade continues on the tongue -- a sweet/sour quality that I associate with those great ales of the Low Countries introduces itself right away, and I immediately think of any number of food pairings. Also on the tongue comes a whole parade of tastes -- dark chocolate, caramel, sea salt, hops (Saaz?? Mt. Hood???), bananas, slight smoke (like smoked bacon), with a nice sour finish. (I'm still thinking, "how is this a lager?") The alcohol is definitely present, creating a nice warming after-taste.

The feel on the palate is great -- it's spritzy, and has a quality reminiscent of a dry wine.

This brew would be great with savory meat dishes (nothing too heavy -- venison, pork, duck, or maybe lamb would be perfect), or well-prepared sausages. I can also imagine asparagus pairing up well, and maybe even certain desserts (custard, creme brulee). I also envision this beer with a cheese course (gouda stands out).

I can't help but continue to think of Belgian Strong Ale (Kwak, Scaldis Prestige) or Flemish Red (Duchesse de Bourgogne) -- which, given that they are among my very favorite beers, is no bad thing. I'm not seeing how this beer could possibly be in the same family as Ayinger Celebrator, so I might not give it high style marks -- but on its own, as itself, it's great.