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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…

Exotic Citrus Shrubs (Kaffir Lime, Yuzu)

5 Oct

Coming across unusual, briefly-in-season, quick-spoiling fruit at Monterey Market yet again inspires cold-infused shrubs to extend the experience.

Fresh kaffir limes, unlike any other citrus in fragrance:

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Oleo saccharum yields the most intense flavors (shown here, Yuzu, an east asian citrus):

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It’s a pain to juice a yuzu:

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And a week later I  strained and bottled them (I didn’t have time for real labels):

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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…

Cider Pressing and Fermenting

3 Sep

85 lbs of backyard apples + 19th century cast iron grinder and cider press + an afternoon of elbow grease (x2) + yeast + a few months = single-varietal Adina hard cider:

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The raw juice had a pH of 3.3 (a reasonable level for hard cider) and a specific gravity of 1.050 (expected, should result in a 6.5% ABV cider after fermentation all the way to dry).

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Fermenting with the special White Labs WLP775 cider yeast (rather than the dry champagne yeast and ale yeasts I’d used back in the previous kitchen-scale hard cidering with store-bought cider) in a glass carboy and then resting to condition/clarify/settle:

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And, about a month later, we racked it into bottles with a little sugar to carbonate it. As usual for a cider, it had fermented all the sugars (down to a specific gravity of 0.996, below even water). In a few months (just in time for Thanksgiving?) we’ll see how it is… but even the first taste of the unaged still cider was interesting– tart in a very crabapple way, but not at all harsh.

Update: Later– bottled and labeled:

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Small Chicago Food Highlights: Avec, Heritage, Do-Rite

2 Sep

 

A few other notable small food stops in Chicago that I’d recommend based on this past weekend:

Heritage Coffee and Bicycle Shop — just a great atmosphere, good people, excellent espresso shots and sour cherry lemonade, some bike accessories to browse (and a full repair shop).IMG_20140831_171727937

Do-Rite Donuts — the meyer lemon / pistachio cake donut was delicious, and perfectly cooked (moist fully-cooked cake center, slightly crispy outside). There were also many people in line for their next batch of gluten-free donuts.IMG_20140830_103047813

 

Avec, one of the highlights of the Chicago food trip a few years ago, also does an excellent brunch and we didn’t even have to wait when arriving at 10AM on a Sunday. And their long wooden box-like space is especially pleasant when there’s natural light. Their take on a greens/egg/tuna salad (vaguely Niçoise but with more dressing) was excellent, as was a tomato and baked egg dish (especially combined with the chorizo-stuffed dates).

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Strawberry Balsamic Cider Peppercorn Shrub

17 Aug

Shrubs (drinking vinegars) are one of my favorite ways to preserve fruit — it goes a long way, it’s shelf stable even at room temperature, and it works as an addition to sparkling water, in salad dressing, or in a cocktail. Between holiday gifts and internal consumption (especially since I bought a Sodastream), the citrus shrubs from April and December were mostly gone. Fortunately, a trip to Swanton Berry Farm (pick-your-own) resulted in a box of small, flavorful, moderately-overripe-and-turning-to-paste-under-their-own-weight strawberries.

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Macerated in sugar, strained, and mixed with a few Tbsp of peppercorns and a 50/50 mix of aged balsamic and Bragg cider vinegar, then left to sit for a few weeks before straining again and bottling:

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Tart and refreshing with even a tablespoon in a glass of sparkling water:

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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.

Food and Beer across rural Iowa, Wisconsin

31 Jul

Traveling across Iowa and Wisconsin, I tried a fair amount of local craft beer… and a lot of meat and potatoes and ice cream (along with one fancier excellent meal at Forequarter in Madison). A few memories:

The West O (West Okoboji) lager was nicely crisp and well done. I finally had the all-the-rage New Glarus Spotted Cow and a few others from New Glarus and they were solid, good beers but didn’t blow me away.

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At a traveling Iowa Craft Beer tent with a rotating cast of 10-15 beers, the Lions Bridge “Workmans Comp” rye was a real standout I’d order anywhere, a little peppery and quite malty. The Backpocket Gold Coin was also a solid, fresh lager.

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Some good cheese-curds-and-gravy poutine at The Cooper’s Tavern in Madison and a heavily malty, slightly peaty Founders Dirty Bastard, another good beer.

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Ale Asylum and Karben4 in Madison both had some decent beers and friendly people, and to my surprise the Fantasy Factory IPA was my favorite from either (I haven’t even been in an IPA mood for a while).

Eating a whole pork chop as a roadside snack during a bike ride (smoked over corn cobs, so it was flavorful and firm but not falling-apart fatty):

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A little bit of Cornwall in the old lead mining town of Mineral Point, Wisconsin: pasty is a pastry filled with ground beef, onions, and rutabaga (an idea I’ll have to remember for my next shepherd’s pie), though this one was a bit dry:

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I tried several slices of pie across Iowa, and while I liked the novelty of ground cherry, the best was a slice of apple pie a la mode (with the ice cream being churned right in front of me) by an Amish family, sold out of a roadside horse trailer. Though the creamy, silky ice cream I had all across Wisconsin blew this away.

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Finally, what trip to an Iowa fairground would be complete without a “walking taco” a.k.a. “taco in a bag”. Two excited kids were chanting a sales pitch for their stand so I gave in to the pile of ground beef, cheese, and salsa poured into a foil bag of Fritos.

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Bavaria Beer and Food

26 Jun

I found myself in Bavaria recently. Unfortunately, I’m not really a fan of German food and the continuous stream of meat-and-white-starch (and to my disappointment, so many of the sausages and pork chops just weren’t very good), but a handful of meals or beers were memorable.

Bamberg was a cute city and great place for beer. Schlenkerla is one of the few old breweries still making a rauchbier (smoked beer). Their Marzen tapped straight from a wooden keg was intoxicatingly campfire-smoky in smell, but not bitter or harsh in taste, with a modestly roasted malt and creamy body (and all this for about $3). Delicious and definitely worth a visit.

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Cafe Abseits (tucked away in a residential neighborhood on the opposite side of Bamberg from all the sights) was my favorite bar of the trip. They had a deep beer list and a very laid-back, uncrowded atmosphere and outdoor patio. The Duvel Triple Hop Mosaic was complex– it smelled a bit like basil and tangerines, and had a noticeably warming alcohol flavor (9% ABV) with some funk and a slightly bitter orange aftertaste. It was an A+ for me, and it kept getting more funky as it warmed up.

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Wurzburg had good ies (ice cream), wine (it’s in Franconia, surrounded by vineyards), and a great little breakfast place a friend took me to, with a dumbwaiter, books, and a disco ball. Among other dishes I ordered the famous bavaria breakfast weisswurst (white sausages made with veal, bacon and herbs,  served in broth with a “lye stick” and sweet mustard).

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Augsburg’s Riegele brewery was a good place for a tour, with a chance to taste beer straight out of the fermenter in a nearly pitch-black, cold, sub-basement lit by candlelight. For obvious reasons I didn’t take any photos of that, but their Simcoe specialty ale was more interesting than your average helles:

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And of course Munich. Sure, there were a lot of crisp solid German lagers here… but lagers rarely excite me. The Edelstoff fresh from a wooden keg at Augistinerkeller was good, though.

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Finally, Der Pschorr biergarten (which I’d found on Chowhound) was the one really good German dinner in a sea of fatty-pork-with-white-potatoes-or-kraut meals, with a crisp helles, a great steak with herbed butter, grilled tomatoes, and horseradish, and actual green vegetables… as well as fantastic housemade hazelnut schnapps.

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