26 June 2008

The new hobby: see? It's not just me.

A fantastic article appeared in the New York Times yesterday on beer cellaring.

Here is the article.

It is quite well-written and entertaining besides.

I would have loved to have been in on that 36-year vertical tasting of Thomas Hardy's. Wow!

And, I've got a new dream: buy an old gold mine in Colorado and convert the mine shaft into a beer cellar. Double-wow.

22 June 2008

Homebrewing and Home-cooking

I. The Silvius Leopold (Hefe) Weiss was unveiled at the Dillwyn Beer Festivus last month, but I thought it needed an official review here, since Sara and I have been almost exclusively drinking it over the past month (we're also finishing off the cellared Niel Gow Scots Ale from October). One thing this particular batch has revealed to me is the importance of mixing the priming sugar thoroughly before bottling: this batch has fallen prey to a very uneven carbonation rate from one bottle to the next, a flaw I can attribute to my adding the priming syrup to the top of the bottling bucket, rather than the bottom. The above photograph shows the best of the batch, while you can get a good example of another bottle's pour in the photo at the bottom of this post. I must say, it is a testament to the overall flavor profile of this brew that even the flat ones have been drinkable.

Appearance: Almost orange. Nice and cloudy. When it's present, the head is billowy and foamy white, and thins out fairly fast. 3.5
Aroma: Not strong enough for me. Malt and sugar predominate, with a faint banana and even fainter allspice trailing behind. 3
Taste: This is where it comes alive! Bananas and cloves throughout, with a mild hop backbone. There is the slightest hint of a metallic/mineral presence, undoubtedly a result of our hard tap water. 3.5
Palate: (when properly carbonated) spritzy, refreshing, and quenching. 4
Overall: The main problem, as stated above, is the inconsistency of the carbonation from one bottle to the next. When it's on, it's quite good, very good, if not quite great. 3

It is a champion with late spring/summery foods: see the review that follows. It's also a winner with tuna/pasta salad, which brings a not-unpleasant sulfurish edge to the flavor.

Plugging these numbers into the BeerAdvocate rating formula yields an overall rating score of 3.4 (B-). Suffice to say, I'm most assuredly stricter on my own brews than, say, Sara would be, but as the craftsman in question, I think that's only natural. I'm on a constant quest to tweak and perfect my creations. So, this B- reflects my opinion that this brew is not my favorite that I've made, but still quite good.

II. One of the tangential benefits of having a lot of homebrew around the house is its availability for use in the kitchen (yes, I do enjoy cooking with beer....occasionally I even put it in the food....yuk yuk yuk...)

Beer is a great addition to any number of recipes, from breads to reductions to glazes to stews. (See my earlier post about beer in bread)

Last week, I decided to try my hand at some grilled chicken, and, inspired by Michael Pollan, decided to brine the chicken breasts prior to grilling. Brining, essentially, means soaking the meat in a salt-water solution, much like a marinade. So what did I do, of course, but add some of the Silvius Leopold Hefe-Weiss in with the brine solution. It was a wonderful thing to do -- one of the great benefits of brining is that it keeps the chicken quite moist throughout the grilling process, so you don't end up with a dry bird on your plate. It also (somehow...hooray for salt...) reduces the cooking time needed.
The real genius, though, lay in my also creating a beer-based barbecue sauce for the breast, again with the hefe-weiss. The combination was divine.
The side dish, a springtime potato salad taken from Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. contained no beer. What better food-beverage combination, though, than potato salad and German beer?

note the mostly flat beer in the glass.

I'm providing rough outlines of the recipes here, but do note that they are only approximations, not exacts. (The spring potato salad recipe can be found at the link above -- it is simple and delicious!)

1 C prepared barbecue sauce (I favor the local-made stuff, sans the evil High-Fructose Corn Syrup)
1/2 - 1 C ketchup (again, preferably without HFCS)
2/3 C Beer (the sky's the limit -- I used homebrew hefe-weiss)
1/4 C honey, molasses, or malt syrup (I used organic barley malt syrup)
2 T lemon juice
2 T red wine vinegar
2 T dijon mustard -- dark pub (beer!) mustard might be fun to try as well
1 T worcestershire sauce -- I left this out and it was not missed
1 t tabasco or other hot pepper sauce
1/2 t black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 onion, finely chopped
(I was lazy so left both of these out)

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Place in a saucepan and cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes, until thickened. Will also work well as a heavy marinade (before heating).


1) Pound the cuts of chicken to an even thickness (about 1/2 inch thick, depending on size). This will help in an even and quicker cooking. It also breaks up the meat a little, allowing the brine to permeate better.

2) Prepare the brine: dissolve 1 1/2 T of unionized table salt (or 1/4 C kosher salt) and 1/4 C coarse sugar (I like demerara or turbinado) in 6 C cold water + 1 C ligher-style beer (I used hefe-weiss; Wit, IPA or ESB would be fun to try, too) + 1 C boiling water. (The boiling water helps dissolve the salt & sugar faster.) Make sure the brine solution is cool (room temperature) before adding the chicken. You can brine in a large bowl, a shallow covered baking dish, or a large ziplock bag, so long as the pieces of chicken are completely immersed in the liquid. Brine for at least 30 minutes, but don't overdo it -- for 2 or 4 breasts, no more than an hour or an hour and a half.
The sugar is great because it helps caramelize the surface of the chicken as it grills.

3) Have your grill (either outdoor or stovetop -- I used our excellent Lodge cast-iron two-eye stovetop grill pan) completely heated when the brining is done. Take the chicken directly from the brine to the grill -- don't pat dry or anything. Place the chicken on the hottest part of the heating surface. Try to turn it only once (if grilling outdoors, leave the lid off), and cook over direct heat. Don't overcook -- depending on the heat of your grill or grill pan, it might take as little as 4 minutes (remember that brining speeds up the cooking time; you just want to make sure that it is cooked through and not pink anywhere).

11 June 2008

Beer and Food (NOT Coors and Peanuts) on Network TV!

The times they are a' changing, and anyone who wonders otherwise (cerevisially, anyway), should check out NBC at 10:00 tomorrow (Thursday, 12 June), which will feature an interview with Dogfish Head mastermind Sam Calagione and his business cohort, Marnie Old. Here's a good preview article via Todd Alstrom on BeerAdvocate. Please overlook the sophomoric misuse of its/it's. I am curious to check out the book they'll be discussing (He Said Beer, She Said Wine, pictured above).

06 June 2008

In honor of One Year...

Perm's Brew Picks' one-year anniversary came and went last week, but appropriately enough, we were out of town on a (partially) beer-related field trip.

That's right, kids, it's time to report back on the

Fourth Annual Dillwyn Beer Festivus!

After last year's deluge of brews, we decided to rein in a bit and tone the selections back to a manageable number, and also broke the tastings into two sessions. Here are Perm's notes:

PRE-SESSION (aka Lunch)

French Broad Altbier (growler) 4.2 (A-)
Appearance: 4.5 Aroma: 4 Taste: 4 Palate/Feel: 4.5 Overall drinkability: 4.5

This one is very nice!! The appearance is caramel bronze, a bit reddish, with a nice thin head.
The aroma is smoky, with notes of caramel, mild hops, and black pepper. The taste is nicely herbal, sweet (not too sweet!) and smoky. On the palate, VERY smooth with a pleasant crispness.
Overall, this is truly excellent. Perfect with an array of foods (had ours with venison and chicken soft tacos) but this one also would be great for easy-sipping summer evenings.
I'm not terribly familiar with the altbier style, but if they're all as good as this beer then I need to investigate much more thoroughly!

Legend Hefeweizen 3.25 (C+)
Appearance: Cloudy tan-yellow, with a poofy white head. 3.5
Aroma: Pretty standard -- banana, clove, cane sugar. 3.5
Taste: banana, clove, with a bit of sulfur and sweetness and something that is almost (for lack of a better word) fishy. James River water? 3
Palate: not bad, but a bit thin on the finish. 3
Overall: Not the best Legend brew, nor the best weizen, but it's really not bad. When I returned to it later in the evening, I had a more favorable impression of it. 3.5

Samuel Smith's Organic Ale 3.4 (B-)
I'm hoping that perhaps the bottle was a bit old. All in all, I was disappointed from a brewery I usually adore.
Appearance: golden-red, a bubbly head. Pretty. 4
Aroma: Basic. Malt and faint weak hops. The malt predominates. 3
Taste: Bitter and hoppy, but VERY subtle about those things. Minerally, with a slight pumpkin-spice thing. All in all, it tastes like malt extract to me! 3.5
Palate: sharp, spritzy, with a sweet finish. 3
Overall: It's not bad at all -- just rather boring, lacking a kick or some flair. Would be a good session-with-food beer when you want the food to be the star. 3

St. Cecilia Sir Charles IPA

See Sara's star review of this one in the previous entry. All in all, I'm quite pleased with how it turned out. When next I brew an IPA, I'm going to tweak the recipe to allow for a bit more hop presence. I might even try a mild dry-hopping just for fun...who knows?

Highland St. Teresa Pale Ale 4 (B+)

Appearance: 4 Aroma: 4 Taste: 3.7 Palate: 4 Overall: 4

A great session beer, and a great American Pale Ale, from a great brewery.
The aroma is invitingly full of hops and toast. Lots of hops (without being West-Coast overdone) on the tongue, with a snappy palate on the finish. It might be slightly on the thin side, but it truly is excellent. Try it with good fresh Indian curry dishes and you'll be glad you did.

Black Toad Dark Ale 4.1 (A-)
No expectations whatsoever going into this one...Black Toad is an unknown brewery to me!
Appearance: Dr. Pepper. Cherry Coke. 3.5
Aroma: A smorgasbord! Chocolate, malt, chestnuts, hazelnuts, Cocoa Puffs 4
Taste: Smoky and deep. Not as rich as the nose, but quite nice! 4.5
Palate: Silky and chewy 4
Overall: Very nice, very drinkable. I'm impressed with these Illini. 4

Kennebunkport Porter 4.25 (A-)
What a nice porter from an unheard of (to me) brewery in Maine (one of my favorite microbrewery states!).
Appearance: Almost pitch, at least in a basement lounge under fluorescent lamps. A slight scarlet red keeping the colour interesting. 4.5
Aroma: Amazingly exceptional -- coffee, hazelnut, Frangelico. 5
Taste: Rich! Almost keeps pace with the nose. Nutty, Frangelico-like; sweetish, dark cherry, a good hop twist, and a bit of Worcestershire near the end. 4
Palate: The weakest link. Almost oily. 3.5
Overall: I give this one high marks for being unexpected. I'm not sure if I'd ever be up for having more than one at a time, but it's creatively great! Bravo. 4


Weihenstephaner Hefe Weissbier
4.25 (A-)
Appearance: 4 Aroma: 4 Taste: 4.5 Palate: 4 Overall:4.5

God, I love this beer. There's a reason I based my first hefeweizen homebrew off of a clone recipe of this one. I can't say it's the greatest hefeweizen I've had, but it's a perennial winner in the all-around category for me.

The usual cloves and bananas are present, for sure, but its solid taste and well-balanced craftbeership must be given full marks for steady quality.

Sehr gut.

St. Cecilia Silvius Leopold (hefe) Weiss
So it's definitely not up to the Weihenstephaner as far as I'm concerned, but I'm pleased. Although I do have to say, it was somewhat miraculous that the two pint bottles that I took along for the tasting were perfectly carbonated. The first three I had upon returning home had not yet spritzed up!

St. Sylvestre 3 Monts Biere de Garde 4.65 (A+)
I have found a new favorite Biere de Garde, for sure!

Appearance: yellow with a white head. When I say yellow, I mean Miller-Lite-yellow. Mountain Dew yellow. Chamomile beer, really. 4
Aroma: Grass, hay, yeast (Flemish yeast! ahhhh), hops. Wonderful without overpowering 4.5
Taste: Spring water, clover, hay, candi sugar-sweetness, pears, boxwoods. Delectably intoxicating to the tastebuds. 5
Palate: Spritzy with a sour finish, leaving you craving for more. 5
Overall: A truly excellent craft farmhouse ale. 4.5

I've about decided to stop trying American craft "Farmhouse ales" because they simply can't compete with the real thing (exception: Hennepin and anything out of Quebec). This would be amazing with French cooking -- rabbit, quail, coq au vin, anything you'd serve with Champagne. I can't wait to buy a case and stick it in my cellar!

Big Boss Bad Penny Brown Ale 3.85 (B+)

Finally, a decent brew from Big Boss. I know it was largely only a name-change situation, but it seems to me that quality suffered QUITE a bit when Edenton Street became Big Boss. I long for the days of Horniblow's Ale. Sigh. This one, however, ain't half bad!

Appearance: like coffee with a head 4
Aroma: Coffee, nuts, dark chocolate, chicory 3.5
Taste: Coffee, toffee 4
Palate: Very smooth! Bravo! 4
Overall: A bit watery on the end (what I call the "American curse"), much like a cold Irish Coffee -- rather dark for a brown ale, almost a light porter. Nice work, really. 3.5

Petrus Gouden Tripel 4.65 (A+)
A nice subdued label with a jolly monastic and a slogan that says, "The key to Heaven." It was absolutely incredibly delicious.

Appearance: Gold in liquid form. A lovely Belgian head. 5
Aroma: Graham crackers, straw, apples, bananas 4.5
Taste: Citrus tartness. Solid and excellent. Leaves me craving more. 4.5
Palate: Refreshing. Quenching. Alcohol content is WELL hidden. 5
Overall: What can I say? Wonderful. Great with lemon coconut macaroons. Great with anything at anytime (not really, but I find this stuff incredibly satisfying.) 4.5

Unibroue Maudite 4.65 (A+)
Unibroue consistently brews a high-quality product. And by high, I mean Himalayan. Maudite for me is no exception, possibly even my current favourite of their year-round offerings.

Appearance: A cloudy copper-red. 4
Aroma: A bouquet of sugar, cloves, and dark cherries. 4.5
Taste: Wheat, perhaps something akin to a faint peanut brittle...I can't resist simply calling it, "ambrosia." 5
Palate: spritzy and quenching. As the Unibroue people describe it themselves, a cognac-like finish. 5
Overall: What a brew! This one is great all by itself. Also try it with hearty foods that otherwise might get the chianti or merlot treatments: pasta, tomato-based dishes, red meat (beef stew!), or artisanal pizza. A clear winner all-around. 4.5

Lagunitas Lucky 13 4 (B+)
Interestingly good. (Or goodly interesting?)
Appearance: Like a dark bourbon with head 4
Aroma: Hops (Cascade? Mt. Hood?), bitter tobacco 4
Taste: Earthy! hops, leather, tobacco, strong alcohol notes -- almost whisky-like. 4
Palate: Nice and spritzy. 4
Overall: Don't know if I'd commit to buying a 4-or 6-pack of this, but I would definitely revisit it, given the opportunity. Nice. 4

Stone Smoked Porter 3.3 (B-)
As Stone is as of yet unavailable in my state (NC), I must continue to seek it out when visiting friends abroad (VA). As this particular offering I found to be averagish-good, I'm not sorely lamenting its absence at my LBS...yet it was still worth trying to be sure.
Appearance: Coca-cola, pure and simple 3.5
Aroma: Weak smoke permeates all else. 3
Taste: Smoky porter! An American take on an English style mixed with Rauchbier. 3.5
Palate: Average 3
Overall, it's a one-trick pony, not especially smoky (but then again I love Rauchbier). 3

I kinda dig it -- one caveat, though, if you're not into the smoky beer thing, don't bother with this one!

New Holland "The Poet" Oatmeal Stout 4.4 (A)
This was the surprise of the night for me -- VERY well brewed! This one inspires me to seek out New Holland more thoroughly.
Appearance: Black, black, black. Imposing in the glass. 4
Aroma: Oatmeal, for sure. Sweet and malty with a fine balance between the two. 4.5
Taste: Nice! Chocolate predominates, with a nice slight-hop presence. I take another sip. And another... 4.5
Palate: Smooth and spritzy, just the way I like it. 4.5
Overall: This is an excellent stout! Bravo, good friends at New Holland. Here's one to revisit time and again. I'd love this with vanilla ice cream, or scallops for that matter. Or with my favorite movie. 4.5

Duck-Rabbit Barleywine
4.75 (A+)
Of course Barleywine belongs at the end of a progressive tasting, due to its strong and heady nature. But, that's a shame in some ways, because if the tasting waxes long, you just won't have the patience or the palate to truly appreciate the work of art that a fine barleywine can be. And the Duck-Rabbit is high art, for sure.
This one is a real treat. The Duck-Rabbit folks consistently brew top-of-the-line products. I can only surmise that living and working in Farmville, NC inspires the brewers to spend long, long hours at their work indoors (where it is presumably air conditioned and has more interesting landscapes..).
Appearance: Russet-copper color. Mahogany, really. And as one would expect, no appreciable head to speak of. 4.5
Aroma: A real treasure-trove here: leather, tobacco, hops, cloves, allspice, and even a hint of oregano. 5
Taste: Banana, clove, caramel, allspice, grapes, brown sugar, and hops. Oy vey pass me another snifter! 5
Palate: A dry and warming finish. 4
Overall: Well-rounded for sure. This is one to cellar in bulk! 4.5

Drinking this makes me long for winter -- seated in front of a roaring fire with my D-R Barleywine in one hand and a nice cavendish pipe in the other. Wearing a wool waistcoat, to be sure.

04 June 2008

June review by Mrs. Perm

Mark has been bugging me for WEEKS now about posting a review of the St. Cecilia IPA. SO. Annoying. He will NOT let this one go, and honestly, I have taken my time because I want to be very intentional about what I say about this fine, fine brew.

In short: I adore it.

When your husband is a home-brewer, you have to be careful about how you critique the result of hours of patience, fine tuning, and love that goes into every pint. I have a few thoughts to share - but not in the style of: "Nose, hmmm, it's a mild bouquet of sandalwood, cloves and bananas... I give it a 4.725." No. No. No. I feel there is a time and a place for these types of beer reviews, but Mark's IPA implores for a reviewer to look beyond the five senses and peer deep into its very soul. This is a beer which speaks to you on a very nostalgic level - at least it does me. It hearkens back to a time when I was a student at App - and the time of year when the weather would change in the mountains. All of a sudden, the frosty mornings gave way to green tree leaves and cool breezes. It practically BEGGED you to skip class and have a barbecue on the apartment building's lawn. My friends and I would drink beer in Solo cups until dusk fell, lingering outside as long as possible. Everything we cooked tasted good, and the beer was a background for good times, laughing together, and beautiful spring weather.

This beer is like that. It is the perfect springtime brew. Here it is June (the effin' weather here is already switching to SUMMER) - and as I type, I am sipping on the very last bottle (other than the six we've cellared) and thinking back to simpler, happy times.