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Icelandic Cocktail Party

21 Feb

We threw a cocktail party / trip slideshow inspired by the food and drink of our trip to Iceland, squeezing about a dozen people into my tiny apartment.

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It started as an excuse to share the Brennivin (somewhat harsh icelandic schnapps with caraway), Lava Smoked Imperial Stout, and a cocktail centered around Birkir, the excellent birch-branch-infused liquer we’d carried back in our luggage (Birkir + lemon juice + simple syrup + soda water).

And then the planning spiraled a bit out of control, as tends to happen with dinner parties– we decided we needed to make individual-serving-size appetizers based on various combinations we’d seen in Iceland (lamb + rutabaga, arctic char + fennel + apple + dill, salmon + horseradish + cheese). Fortunately we were able to find char in one of the bay area fish markets.

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We tried a few ways of cooking rutabaga and ended up boiling and then deep-frying thick chips of it to layer carrot puree, lamb, fried onions, and salt on:

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The salmon (house-cured gravlax — raw salmon packed in sugar and salt and dill and let sit) with cheese, pickles, onions, dill on rye. This was all inspired by a dish at the “Unnamed Pizza Place” in Reykjavik operated by the Dill team that in retrospect I think was a substitution– the menu said it was salmon and fennel, but the first night we went there it came with cottage cheese and pickles and horseradish instead, which ended up being a great combination.

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Parnsip puree, arctic char (pan fried in butter), salmon roe, fennel (pickled and fresh), dill:

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A dessert hannah created visually inspired by the snow-covered lava boulders– Icelandic Skyr + dry chocolate cookies (almost sables) + a licorice caramel.

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More of the spread, before people showed up:

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All surrounded by souvenirs (lava, wool, volcanic ash) and a slide show of some memorable trip photos:

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Homebrew #14: Mild Stout in a Petite Keg

30 Jan

Continuing my transition to all-grain and smaller-batch brewing, I made a 2.5 gallon batch of stout for a work party. Pale malt, Maris Otter, and a little Crystal (80L), chocolate malt, roast barley, and flaked barley, with East Kent Goldings for the hops.IMG_20141203_215208996

It was good– a bit of roasted chocolate flavor, very slightly tart/acidic, a solid stout.

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This was also my first time kegging instead of bottling. I bought a petite 2.5 gallon Corny keg (half the size of the typical 5 gal Corny kegs), which even full of beer is about 20lbs, reasonable to carry one-handed.

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Paired with a neoprene jacket and a tiny 2.5lb cylinder of CO2, it’s a compact easily-transportable package of beer for an event:

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Strong Beer Jelly

17 Jan

Rochefort 10 + gelatin. Why not?

Beer Jelly

London 2014: Beer

26 Oct

In London earlier this summer I sampled about a dozen beers over two days (having people to share tastes with helps), at locations ranging from a unpretentious 19th century English Pub with many 3.5-4% session beers on Cask (at The Wenlock Arms— I highly recommend it)…

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…to a new craft beer oriented bar (Brewdog) carrying the likes of Mikkeller and other unusual beers, in the controversial-in-London Shoreditch

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…to a range of tiny top-notch modern microbreweries located under support arches in an industrial part of South London, formerly business-oriented but now open to visitors on weekends and dubbed “The Beer Mile“…

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Digging up a worn notebook from the trip, these were my favorites:

  • Beer By Numbers (‘bbno’, Beer Mile) had my favorite beer by far of London.
    • [A] Witbier — slightly spicy, good yeast
    • [A+] Barrel-aged Saison — exceptional. again, good funk form whatever yeast they used, moderately dry, balanced.
  • [A] Partizan (Beer Mile) Quad — intensely strong (and their brewery space was fun to have a drink in)
  • [A] Mikkeller / To Øl collaboration Betelgeuze — I love it — I’d had it once in the US in expensive bottles, but it was on tap at Brewdog. A strongly sour beer without much funk, but not just single-note acidity.

I also enjoyed:

  • [B+] Oscar Wilde from Mighty Oak (on cask at Wenlock Arms) — dark, grain tea flavor, thin but slightly creamy— sort of like a thin session stout
  • [A-] Stroud’s Ten Long (on cask at Wenlock Arms) — session bitter (3.7% ABV),  slightly dark/spicy, slight citrus nose
  • I thought the FourPure beers on the beer mile were all decent, but none were especially memorable
  • [B+] “A Wee Bit” Peated Scotch Ale. A light hand with the peat– present but not too smoky, and a good scotch ale base.

Homebrew #12: Milk Stout w/ Figs

25 Oct

A lead on a free crop of backyard figs with a few weeks until they fell triggered the preserving instinct… and instead of jam, how about my first homebrew aged on fruit?

The only fig beer I’ve had was a sour beer at Cascade in Portland, which I didn’t really like, so I tried to think of other combination… fig saison? figs and oatmeal? figs and cream? Hmm, how about a milk stout (a stout with lactose sugar, which yeast can’t ferment, leaving a sweeter beer) with figs?

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The grain bill combined basic 2-row barley with a little white wheat, Crystal 60L, chocolate malt, roasted barley, and the lactose, with Magnum as bittering hops and no aroma hops to keep this a very malt-focused beer (I’m skeptical that figs + hops would be a pleasant combination in any case). As I’ve been doing for most brewing recently, I kept this to a smaller batch size (about 2 gallons) to make it easy to brew in a single stovetop pot on a weeknight:

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I got a decent amount of wort out of the mashing process, and decided to boil it down farther than usual, bringing it to an original gravity of 1.080 — this should end up closer to an imperial stout in strength (though the lactose makes that gravity reading a little misleading, as some of that sugar won’t actually get fermented to alcohol).

About a week later, after primary fermentation was over, I picked and peeled a few pounds of fresh figs, caramelized them in a hot pan (a dual-purpose flavor enhancement + sterilization tip from an online forum), and deglazed with a bit of the beer in progress before adding them back into the fermenter.

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And after a few weeks on the figs, I carefully siphoned it out with a filter (trying to avoid fig seeds or residue in the beer), bottled it, and made a goofy label. And just yesterday I finally cracked one open and tried it:

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I was pleasantly surprised– it’s quite a good beer. An excellent smooth, roasted-but-not-too-bitter, rich, flavorful stout, with just a hint of some fruit under the surface (tasting opinions ranged from blueberry to fig). This might be good with food as well.

That was a lot of work for just 10 beers, but I’ll stow them away for special occasions, and the process is part of the fun…

Single Malt, Single Hop, Single Gallon (Homebrewing)

4 Oct

I’ve kept homebrewing a low-tech, visceral, hands-on hobby as a contrast to large engineering systems that occupy another part of my life.  Part of this has been focusing on the process, ingredients, and history more than the equipment.

Partial-mash brewing (mashing modest quantities of grain but depending on liquid barley malt extract for more of the sugars) is one way to more easily brew indoors on a small electric stovetop rather than having to manhandle 15lbs of grain through multiple kettles, and I’ve been happy with several of the beers I’ve made using this method.

But I’ve wanted to get down to the simplest kernel of brewing– whole grain, water, hops, and yeast, and try more experiments especially on the grain variety and the mashing process. And 5 gallons of beer goes a long way. So I tried scaling down to single-gallon batches, and it’s been invigorating– it’s unlocked casual weeknight after-work brewing as a possibility (even after-dinner before-bed brewing depending on timing– it’s about three and a half hours from beginning to end including prep and clean-up) and made stovetop all-grain brewing much more practical. Yes, it’s much more work per beer. But it’s still less work per batch, and only getting 8 or 9 beers out is still enough to sip over the following month / share with a few friends.

One week in August, I even brewed two batches in one week (with bottling/cleanup on the same day about a month later to save some time), both very simple / elemental beers to get to know some ingredient and part of the process.

Batch #10 involved only a single grain (Maris Otter, a particular English variety of 2-row barley) and a single hop (East Kent Goldings).

Here’s the “Brew In A Bag” setup: whole grains in cheesecloth soaked in very specific-temperature water (148F-155F depending what you’re trying to get out of the grain), easy to remove and drain after mashing (not shown: the lid and blanket used to insulate and maintain temperature, and the second pot of higher-temperature “sparge water” used to rinse wort off the grains afterwards to increase yield):

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For this beer, I mashed at the low end of the temperature range to try to get a drier, less sweet, less complex beer, hitting a post-boil specific gravity of 1.044 (on the low side, meaning I should expect a roughly 4% ABV session ale out of this, though I ended up around 5% ABV because it fermented all the way down to 1.006 — mashing at low temperature means very few of the less fermentable long-chain complex sugars are produced, so the yeast can ferment almost everything present). In this carboy it looks darker in color because of the thickness, but it’s the yellow second beer from the right in the line of glasses another photo down.

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Above, from left to right: two hard ciders I was fermenting at the same time, this all-Maris-Otter batch, and on the right, Batch #11: a reddish Munich-Malt-and-Fuggles (also a one-gallon, single-grain, single-hop) beer.

After bottling both batches a month later (Simple Beer experiments deserve a simple label):

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Another few weeks later I tried them. While they weren’t fully carbonated so should condition a few more weeks, they were both already interesting enough to declare this a success:

The Maris Otter ale was a pleasant, very mild beer, with a slight smell of straw, and a light barley/hay/nutty taste. It had almost no bitterness (just enough to give a hint) and no sweetness.

The 100% Munich Malt ale on the other hand had a caramelized malt nose almost reminiscent of a lighter doppelbock (one of my favorite styles), and a robust flavor of caramelized grain– not sweet in a sugary sort of way, but with the mix of flavors you get from Maillard reactions or a brown shiny crust on a nice loaf of bread. Again, it had almost no bitterness or hop flavor (by design), and wasn’t especially complex, but I would happily drink this any day. I’d mashed the malt for this beer at the high end of the typical temperature range (155F), which was supposed to result in “more complex sugars / resulting in lower alcohol content and a full bodied beer with a lot of mouth-feel”. What do you know, chemistry works…

Strong, Dark, Old Beer

13 Aug

A one-of-a-kind evening of strong, dark, and old beers with friends.

Some of us had been hanging on to some beers for years without quite the right excuse to crack them open… problem solved. Not a wedding, new year, baby shower, or birthday, just a casual evening hanging out with lentil soup and bread.

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Goose Island Bourbon County Stout *2007*,  Westvleteren 12 and 8 eBayed from Belgium years ago, Half Acre’s special Sanguis beer brewed with oranges and beets for one specific dinner at Next, an excellent imperial porter from High Water, a 10.5% imperial stout in a can, homebrew, and more.