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Homebrew #29: Yarrow Farmhouse Ale

17 Aug

The result:

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Before hops became a key component of beer around the 14th century, beers were brewed with a range of herbs serving the roles of bittering agents and source of antibacterial / preservative compounds (a broad style, “gruit”, which has been enjoying a very minor revival).

Inspired by a chapter in The Brewer’s Tale, I picked up Stephen Buhner’s book Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, which touches on brewing with herbs of various potencies and effects, which in turn inspired me to look for bitter herbs growing wild along local trails (such as mugwort and yarrow pointed out by H). Time to brew a few very small batches with individual local herbs in lieu of hops (whether or not the result was a pleasant beer– I’d be happy with “interesting”…)

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First up was a rustic all-grain light table beer (a mix of pilsner (barley) malt, wheat, and rye, with a target OG of 1.040 for a roughly 4% ABV beer) made with yarrow picked on a hike in the coastal hills North of Santa Cruz:

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Drying and then weighing yarrow flowers for dose:

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I tried using them like hops– with 0.3 oz / gallon 60 minutes for bitterness, plus a similar amount for “dry yarrowing” (e.g. thrown in the primary fermenter after cooling for more flavor/aroma than bitterness).

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The wort going into fermentation wasn’t terrible– a bit tart/herbal from the yarrow, a nice smell — this might not be a total disaster.

About 6 weeks later, after fermenting, cold crashing, bottle-conditioning, and the obligatory label-making (see above), I poured a small glass of the dark straw-colored, very effervescent beer, with a very distinctive woody, spicy smell (like sage? really, something of its own) and a complex herbal, slightly bitter, tart taste– almost like a pile of dry leaves and lemon peel. Fascinating! More than that– I’d even say I like this beer and wouldn’t be disappointed to pay for it. That’s an unexpected success– too bad I only brewed about 9 bottles of it.

 

Preserving Cherries

26 Jul

A few photos from an all-day preservation binge earlier this summer on a large quantity of Bing, Brooks, Rainier, and Tulare cherries:

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I’m deeply skeptical of all single-purpose kitchen utensils, but I will say the 6-cherry pitter was effective:

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Macerating some of them in sugar in preparation for shrubs.

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A few weeks later, the final bottled and labeled shrubs:

  • Rainier cherries with fennel
    • 5 cups pitted and chopped cherries macerated in 2 cups sugar with half a bulb of fennel for 24 hours, which drew juice out of the cherries, producing about 2 1/3 cups of juice, then strained and rinsed with 1 1/2 cups of champagne vinegar and 1/2 cup of cider vinegar and bottled (a roughly 2:1:1 chopped fruit to sugar to vinegar ratio)
  • A mix of Tulare (less flavorful) and Bing (delicious!) cherries, macerated on sugar and rinsed and bottled with cider vinegar, in three different batches:
    • Cherries with bay leaf and peppercorn (very subtle bay leaf, just tasted like cherries)
    • Cherries with vanilla beans and pink peppercorns
    • Cherries with fresh ginger

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Leftover sugared fruit from shrubs (with some juice extracted) still makes good cherry jam:

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Other cherry preservation we performed that day: cocktail cherries (both salt brined and unbrined, I don’t have the recipe handy), cherry mostarda, cherry-infused bourbon (bulleit 95 rye poured over a 1qt jar of bing cherries for about a month, then strained)…

Homebrew #16 (27): Belgian Ale rested on Pluots, Oak, Rye Whiskey

13 Jul

For my 16th time homebrewing since I first started two years ago (and as I count it, my 26th & 27th brews, as I often brew 2 batches in a day or split a batch into a few different smaller experiments), I wanted to go farther out and play around with the secondary fermentation / infusion and aging steps in a beer inspired by the forest. I decided to make a very strong Belgian-inspired beer with simple malts, caramel, and a small amount of an earthy hop (Saaz) and then age it a few different ways. The result (as always, having a little fun with the label):

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The base beer didn’t really follow any particular style, but it’s probably closest to a dark version of a tripel– it used only base malt (primarily amber malt extract) and caramelized invert sugar* (a.k.a. dark belgian candi sugar), and very minimal hops.

*Invert sugar is a mix of the very simple sugars glucose and fructose, created by heating sucrose (table sugar) in the presence of acid to break it down: C12H22O11 (sucrose) + H2O → C6H12O6 (glucose,) + C6H12O6 (fructose). The idea behind using it in brewing is it’s very easy for yeast to metabolize, making it possible to bump up the alcohol level in the beer without making a heavily malty beer (since almost all of the invert sugar is converted to alcohol).

The brew day began, as usual, with adapting to unplanned issues. The new compact 3 gallon plastic fermenter I’d bought (since I typically only brew 2-gallon batches these days) didn’t have a hole for an airlock:

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Brewing went as planned, but I’d read that to avoid excessive esters, the Belgian yeast I’d bought (WLP500, rumored to be grown from samples taken from the Chimay brewery) behaved best if kept at a lower temperature for the first day or two of fermentation (since the yeast generates so much heat during the rapid initial fermentation– especially working on a wort heavy in easily-fermented sugars– that it can easily raise the wort temperature 10-15 degrees). Lacking any high-tech brewing apparatus, I kept the fermenter below 70F in a sink of cool water for the first two days, then took it out for the rest of the fermentation. It picked up heavily around the third day, and was actively bubbling for the next 7 days — a long primary.

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After two weeks, the wort had fermented down from a specific gravity of 1.090 to 1.011, producing what should be a 10% ABV beer. I tasted it and was a bit concerned– it was a bit “hot” (solventy), with some brown sugar sweetness and bubble gum and clove esters– an exaggeration of the Belgian style. Patience, patience… Belgian-style beers are expected to age for months, and the point of this was to balance it with other flavors.

At this point I siphoned it out into two sanitized glass jugs. One had a pound of ripe pluots (halved, pits and all), and the other had a third of a spiral of toasted oak that had been soaked in rye whiskey for 5 days.

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I let it age another two weeks on these, then bottled it with a bit of sugar (to kick off a bottle conditioning step). The beer aged on oak settled into a clear dark ruby-brown beer, and the beer aged on pluots was a cloudy purple the color of pluot skin (hard to see in this photo):

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I finally tried the carbonated beers for the first time about two and half months after brewing, and they were quite different (and much improved from the primary fermentation sample). Both were strange, interesting, I might even say “not bad” (if not what I think of when I think of beer), and I’ll see how they change over time.

The beer aged on oak was very “umami”– an aroma reminiscent of miso or soy sauce, and a taste that made me think of a brandy infused with shiitake mushrooms and a bit of caramel. The alcohol was clearly there, but the hints of solventy heat were completely gone. I’m glad I’d bottled this in tiny 187mL (7oz) bottles, as this is something I could imagine sipping from a small glass.

The beer aged on pluots was excellent– a powerful sugar-plum aroma, but a taste that was more tart, like a not-too-sweet pluot cordial. It drank well on its own, but also worked well cut with soda water to make a bit more of a spritzer (or, as someone who shall remain nameless said, “wine cooler”).

I don’t think I’ll get tired of this as a set of side projects…

Big Bend Brewing — Alpine, TX

30 May

Back in February I visited Big Bend Brewing in Far West Texas (6 hours West of Austin or 3 hours East of El Paso).

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Only a few years old, they’re already expanding, growing from 30bbl to 90bbl tanks, adding an automated canning line (they only do kegs and cans, not bottles, except for some special releases), with several excellent beers across a range of styles. And they gave one of the best brewery tours I’ve been on (and I’ve been on quite a few)– friendly and scientific, followed by a tasting of every one of their beers.

Quick beer memories from some notebook scribbles:

  • [A] Tejas Lager: Very nice, light malt, slight acidity, real grain flavor, no real bitterness. And I don’t typically drink lagers.
  • [B] Terlingua Golden Ale: Slightly sweet malt. Had a can a previous night that I didn’t like as much, but today on tap I liked it (could be freshness, could be my mindset).
  • [A-] Winter Ale: Brewery seasonal only on tap. Dark, a bit of roast, almost no spice (good).
  • [B] Hefe: Very strong bubblegum ester, yeasty, Hefes are not my style.
  • [A] Porter: Really excellent. Malty but not too dark– that browned-bread maillard reaction taste rather than something too dusty or toasted or chocolately. Very light hint of coffee. I wish I could buy this beer locally.
  • [B/C] IPA: A can I had was so bitter I couldn’t really taste anything else and I poured it out. But on tap at the brewery I’d give it a B+, slightly fruity hops and much less bitterness.
  • Chocolate mint porter (special for Valentine’s day in Valentine): I applaud the creative experimental beer. I don’t need to drink it more than the once, though.
  • Prickly pear beer (brought back from Valentine a previous year): A hint of something tart… but I don’t remember it now and will never have a chance to drink it again.

Homebrew #15: Late-Hopped Xtra Pale Ale

14 May

I’ve homebrewed in my tiny kitchen 15 times since becoming interested in it two years ago (20 brews if you count split experiments)– that’s a nice round multiple-of-fingers-per-human-hand milestone. I still enjoy the process and (usually) the result, so I’ll probably keep doing it… though I have no desire to scale up in volume.

For brew day #15, I finally achieved a session (low alcohol) homebrew I’m quite happy with:

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The general brewing rule of thumb is that hops early in the boil add bitterness, hops late in the boil add flavor, and hops late in fermentation (“dry hopping”) add aroma.

A few brewers make “late hop” IPAs and pale ales where most of the hops are added late in the boil. You need more hops for the same amount of bitterness for the hops so it’s a more expensive way to make beer, but at a homebrewing scale that’s not as much a concern. I’ve often seen these done in the context of an IPA, because alcohol, maltiness, and bitterness balance each other, so heavily-hopped beers are also often higher in alcohol.

For a while I’ve wanted to make a good session (low alcohol) beer, but it’s hard– there’s not as much alcohol or malt flavor, so the beers can be on the thin and boring side, and there’s also not enough alcohol to balance out the bitterness of significant hopping. So what if I make a heavily-hopped session beer based on only late hop additions (late boil and dry hopping), to avoid this?

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I made a small 2.5 gallon all-grain batch, as I typically do these days (allowing brewing to take just 4 hours from start to finish). The recipe, briefly:

  • 6 lbs pale malt, 5 oz rye (for a little spice), 5 oz Munich (color, complex sugars), 5 oz wheat (tartness, head retention)
  • Brew-in-a-bag mash at the low end of the temperature range (148-150F) for fewer complex unfermentable sugars, aiming for a dry beer
  • 0.5 oz Amarillo, 0.25 oz Perle, 0.5 oz Citra hops @ 15min [ i.e. 15 minutes before end of boil ]
  • 0.5 oz Amarillo, 0.5 oz Perle, 0.25 oz Citra hops @5min
  • S04 dry yeast (unremarkable, neutral, for hop-focused beer)
  • Fermenting at room temperature (60-70F typically) for 2.5 weeks (primary and secondary/conditioning in the same fermenter)
  • Dry hopping with 1 oz Amarillo, 0.25 oz Perle, 0.75 oz Citra hops 4 days before the end
  • Cold-crashing the entire fermenter in my fridge for a day before bottling for clarity

Overall this involved 4.5 oz of hops for a 2.5 gallon batch, equivalent to 9 oz of hops in a 5-gallon batch– this would normally be an exorbitant level of hopping for anything but a strong IPA, but with most of this as late hopping and dry hopping it was more reasonable.

I chose Amarillo as my usual go-to hop for IPAs and pale ales– an unusual slightly tangerine/tropical/grapefruit flavor I’ve always liked, along with Citra (classic modern pale ale hop with some citrus) and Perle (slightly spicy).

Three weeks after starting fermentation, I bottled the beer– and as usual I had to make a label:

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I bottled one in an empty soda bottle (the Dr Pepper bottle Francisco had with him) as a ‘carbonation canary’– to squeeze by hand later to judge how carbonation’s progressing– with a small batch I don’t want to crack open a beer each week to check.

Then, after another two weeks it was time to try one– and I’d give it an “A-“. Much better than my earlier attempt at a session beer that was just watery. My notes: “golden, nice modest-height head that dissipates over time, good clarity / separation of sediment for an unfiltered beer, slightly grapefruit and resinous hop aroma. Up-front bitterness is very mellow. No residual sweetness– extremely dry. A little tartness (wheat, rye?), and both hop taste and aroma of tangerine, other citrus, tropical fruit.”

A good, flavorful beer for something that’s only 4% ABV. If I made it again I’d probably go a bit less dry (e.g. slightly higher mash temp or Crystal grains for some unfermentable sugars), and add some flavor hops at 0 minutes or even 5-10 minutes after the boil ended and let the hops steep a bit more before moving it to the fermenter, and maybe let the dry hopping sit a few more days.

As I drank it, I was already starting my next beer– a very small test batch of a Belgian…

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Wine Tasting around Healdsburg

8 Mar

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A relaxing weekend with H in the picturesque environs of Healdsburg (Alexander, Dry Creek, and Russian River Valleys), about an hour North of San Francisco.

Sometimes this blog is a place to jot down quick food/drink notes to look up later / in case I lose the paper notebook, and this is one of those times:

Favorite wines of the 35ish tasted, all brought back for further “investigation” with friends and food:

  • MacRostie Wildcat Mountain Pinot Noir (2012) – initially not much aroma, later smelled of cedar and vanilla, very smooth and light, not too sweet or strong, an overall very, very good Pinot.
  • MacRostie Wildcat Mountain Pinot Noir (2010) – my favorite wine of the trip — slightly peppery, smooth, some bite up front but not a long overly tannic finish, slight tartness, and just overall one of my favorite examples of a Pinot in a long time. I’d always be happy to just sip a glass of this on its own…
  • MacRostie 25th Anniversary Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley, 2012) – a slightly more robust Pinot, a bit smoky, should also go well with a dinner featuring meat.
  • Preston Petite Syrah (2012) – excellent — forceful, earthy, made me think of a quarry, bold — I look forward to trying it with a steak.
  • Woodenhead Russian River Pinot Noir (2011) — a bit of an aroma of brassicas with a bit of butter or lard. Smooth, solid, slightly tart Pinot with some surprising bite evocative of mustard seed. Unusual. I bet it will be good with a ham sandwich and pickles..
  • Arista Russian River Valley Chardonnay (2012) — blend of three wines — I don’t drink much white wine and especially Chardonnay, but this was quite nice– floral, lemon-lime finish, and atypically I liked the bit of butteriness.
  • Preston Viognier (2013) — hints of orange blossom, smooth, slight honey sweetness. Immediately a wine I can imagine drinking before a beachside fish feast a la La Huella.

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?

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Floreria Atlantico, literally underground cocktails in BsAs

25 Nov

A week and a half ago, I was here.

Walk into a flower shop:

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Head through the back door and down metal stairs:

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Have a drink:

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Just one page of the loosely themed menu:

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One of the best cocktail bars I’ve been to in my life, by far. Every single cocktail was remarkably good, and distinctive– glass jars of eucalyptus, cocktails infused with smoke from the grill, beer and amaro, a cocktail in pieces you combine as you drink… but none of it felt ‘conceptual-cute’ or forced. Really well executed cocktails that happened to have some structure to the presentation. I’m in awe.