Sunday, December 12, 2010

Big Brews, A Rainy Brew Day, Cry Havoc, and Fermcap-S - Oh My!

The past couple months have been crazy and we've been slackin' on the bloggin' - apologies! Here's a recap since the last post.

Big Brews
Wrapping up our brewing with White Labs 001 American Ale yeast, we finished big with an American Barleywine and a Russian Imperial Stout. The barleywine has been bottle conditioning for about a month and a half. We added both sugar and some fresh yeast at the time of bottling. We cracked one over the weekend, but there wasn't near enough carbonation yet. With the frigid weather here in Chicago and our house only staying in the 65-68F range, along with the hugeness of the beer, it looks like they're just going to take awhile longer to fully carbonate. Pleased to report it was quite delicious and we easily finished the bottle in spite of the low carbonation. I swirled the other bottles and moved them close to a heating vent, with the hope that helps keep the temp up a bit.

I also brewed a Russian Imperial Stout on impulse. We still had plenty of good 001 yeast left (NOT the barleywine yeast, which was totally pooped), so I brewed up a RIS with yeast I had left over from an American Stout - just pitched right on the cake and had an explosive, but controlled fermentation thanks to my temp controlled fridge. I have it kegged and sitting in the basement, where I plan on forgetting about it for awhile. An initial taste was smooth and choclately with hints of plum from the Special B malt.

Both of these beers were taken from Brewing Classic Styles, bastardized to suit the ingredients I had on hand. I can't say enough good things about this recipe book.

A Rainy Brew Day
Yesterday I brewed something like an English Bitter, or at least that was the intent - with an OG of 1.047 or so it's more like a Special Bitter. Boiled a bit too hard/long perhaps. Anyhoo - while I could have diluted with water to bring that down the beer already had precious little hops in it and I didn't want the color any lighter. The recipe, inspired by Steve Hamburg, was simple: 95% Marris Otter, 5% Wheat, 1oz Northern Brewer for bittering and 1oz Kent Goldings for flavor/aroma - around 32 IBUs.

Chicago weather has been on crack lately - while freezing all week it warmed up a bit to make it seem like a great brewday - but then it started raining as I was running off. So I rigged a tarp up to stay dry and keep that nasty city rain water out of my kettle:

This worked out well - it reminded me of camping in the Smokies in November, where it rained all the time. Those are stairs going down into our basement - so there was plenty of room for stacking things and actually standing up at the bottom, where there's also a convenient drain. The stairs are "pool style" - the curved ends are wider than the middle - just enough room for my propane burner and brew kettle.

I normally brew using a 5 gallon paint strainer bag in the kettle to hold hops in, since I tend to use a lot of them. I also put my runnings through the bag to catch any stray pieces of grain that may have made their way out of the mash tun. I then shake and rinse the bag out, and return it to the kettle for hops. But with only 2 oz of hops here, I decided the bag was pointless, but I still used it to strain my runnings.

Cry Havoc
Cray Havoc, White Labs 862, is Charlie Papazian's yeast strain - and I was intrigued to try it because it can ferment at both ale and lager temperatures. So, the bitter I brewed will be fermented with this, and then I'll use that cake to make a Munich Helles, and then an Amber Lager, and then a Smoke Beer (Rauchbier).

I made a starter, and decided to use some Fermcap-S, a foam inhibitor, in it while I was boiling it in the Erlenmeyer flask so I didn't have to watch it so much for boil overs. Well, I meant to add 1 drop, but instead a glob plopped out that was probably more like 4-5 drops. While it did a wonderful job during the boil, there was no krausen on the starter. I could see bubbles popping up from the bottom - but there's something reassuring about that krausen.

Anyways, after pitching the starter yesterday we have fermentation in the carboy this morning. This yeast is very English-like in that it clumps together at the surface like cottage cheese. Will be very curious to see how my Cry Havoc experiments go, and if that Fermcap mis-hap is going to affect the size of the krauzen in the carboy as well.

This'll probably be my last post before the holiday - so Happy Holidays and Good Brewing to all! Cheers.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Entering the World of Competitive Homebrew

We've been homebrewing now for a couple of years and feel comfortable that we're making solidly good brews (most of the time). But are we biased? Are our friends just being nice? I think this is something that all homebrewers deal with, and I feel the best way to get an honest opinion is by entering a homebrew competition.

There are a lot of things a homebrewer needs to think about when entering a competition: carbonation (did you bottle condition, are you bottling off of a keg), transportation (do you have to ship it, how long will it take to get there), category to enter in (is this a Pale Ale or an IPA), and timing of your brew schedule. Luckily, the Chicago Beer Society puts on a homebrew competition every Halloween, so we had no reason not to enter. Transportation wasn't a worry, but we still had to deal with carbonation, category and timing. We decided to just enter what we had ready to go: Evil M-Squared (American Amber), Super Cres (American IPA), and Passion Fruit Wheat (Fruit Beer). The only "x factor" was when to bottle it off of the keg to assure freshness. We bottled 8 days prior to the event and crossed our fingers that the carbonation held. Also, we decided Super Cres had a better chance in the IPA category instead of the DIPA it was meant to be.

If you thought there was a lot to think about when entering, there are 1000 more things to think about if you're running a competition. But that's a post for another date! Let's just say the folks that organize and work the event deserve major props.

When all was said and done, we took away 3 medals. The Amber and IPA each took 3rd, and our Passionfruit Wheat took first. This was a great learning experience - and we're looking forward to entering more competitions - cheers!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Updates: Passionfruit Wheat and Post-Oktoberfest Stuff

If you read one of my previous posts, you'll know that I've been working on a Passionfruit Wheat and an under-attenuated Barleywine. Here's some updates on those puppies.

The passionfruit wheat is carbed and tastes pretty good - I think it's missing some malt character, or needs less fruit next time. The malt bill was 5% Crystal 15, with the rest split even with 2 Row and Wheat. The OG was 1.051 - and we used 48oz of Passionfruit puree. I've been drinking a lot of Lagunita's A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' which has a great malt base (they say they use 3 different kinds of wheat) - and really admiring how well the malt balances all the hop flavor. It's 7.5%, and a dangerous 7.5% at that - so I might kick up the malt next time and see how she goes. I think I'll also use an American Wheat yeast strain - I just used 001 here.

I will say this beer makes some excellent passionfruit pancakes! Jiffy mix, an egg, and some beer are all you need. Mix until thickish, put in the fridge for 15 minutes, and cook 'em up - if you want to get fancy, sprinkle some coconut in to get a nice tropical aura.

And krausening the barleywine really worked! It's down from 1.035 to 1.027 now. I'm going to let it sit a couple more weeks and see if it drops anymore. I'll also pitch a bit of fresh yeast when bottling comes around, according to these "bottle like a pro" directions (though I've decided to use Safale-05 for bottle conditioning this one). So maybe that'll drop the FG a bit more too.

After the HOPS! Oktoberfest I was left with a half keg each of IPA and Pale Ale. I was sorta tired of each beer, neither of which was outstanding on its own, so I blended the two together to make what I think is a very good, well balanced pale ale that I'm very happy with. To do this, just make a keg jumper from some beverage line and 2 keg-out connectors (the black ones on ball lock kegs). Bleed the destination keg every so often, and slowly push with some CO2 from the source keg - I demonstrate this in my Double IPA video. I love doing these closed-system transfers.

Recently Brewed
There was a Pliny clone in a recent issue of Zymurgy, which I brewed up. It was a totally impromptu brew - I was having a crappy day, so I just decided to f everything and brew something. The last double I made came out too bitter for me, so I cut the boil time from 90 to 60 minutes wo/ cutting the 3oz of bittering hops (though I did use 1oz of that for 1st wort hopping). The end result was I came in an entire point low on my OG - 1.063 vs. the desired 1.073 - oops, tough I did hit my pre-boil on the dot (hurray!). In the spirit of RDWHAHB, I shrugged my shoulders and wrapped it up. It finished out at 1.011 and was tasty - not too bitter or boozy at 7%, so instead of a double I'm just going to have a heckuva single IPA on my hands. It's dry hopping now and we'll just have to see how it tastes once it's carbed up.

Controlling that CO2 Bitterness
One thing I've been doing with my kegs and carbonation is cutting off the gas once the beer tastes good to me, and then giving it more gas as needed to keep the serving pressure up. I think the beer doesn't absorb so much CO2 that way, and as a result, doesn't keep getting more and more bitter as it sits on the gas - as CO2 adds a certain "bite" to the beer, and can also thin out the mouthfeel. Maybe I'm just weird and it's all in my head, but seems to be doing the trick on certain brews.

Cheers and brew on!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

HOPS! Oktoberfest 2010

This year, Meg and I will be participating in the annual Chicago HOPS! Oktoberfest extraveganza! Professional brewers and talented locals unite to bring you the ultimate in local craft beer and food. Come on by and say hello! Hope to see you there.

Join Homebrewer's Pride of the Southside (HOPS!) in celebrating the beeriest holiday of them all: Oktoberfest! Our annual fundraiser features music, an impressive spread of food offerings, and--most importantly--dozens upon dozens of delicious craft-brewed lagers and ales from local breweries and the award-winning brewers of HOPS! This year's fundraiser runs from 2-7pm on Saturday, September 25, 2010. Come rain; come shine; come thirsty! Prost!
NOTE: No one under 21 years old will be admitted.

» Get your ticket here!

Chicago Bridgeport VFW Post 5079
3202 S May St
Chicago, IL 60608

Absolutely! We'll be serving up the best local, hand-crafted beer available with kegs contributed by the likes of:
  • Rock Bottom
  • Half Acre
  • Flossmoor Station
  • Revolution
  • Metropolitan Brewing
  • Gordon Biersch
  • Goose Island Brewery
  • Two Brothers... and More!

Not only will there be food, but plenty of delicious food - from authentic German styles to mouth watering BBQ! Just check out this page for the state of the menu.

Get Your Ticket!
All you can eat and drink tickets are only $30 - and you'll need to purchase one over here.

If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to contact Mark Mazanec (312-315-0829).

Monday, September 6, 2010

Passionfruit, Barleywine, Evil Twin & More - The Weekend of Beer Trials

Hi all - been awhile since the last post, but that doesn't mean we haven't been brewing up a storm!

With the approach of the HOPS! Oktoberfest and end of summer parties, I've been doing my best to brew as much as possible. Here's the lowdown on what's brewing.

First off, I've been messing around with the EZ Water Spreadsheet - with varying degrees of success. All I can really say is water is a tricky subject, and less is always best. I'm running some more experimental batches with water, and think that probably deserves a post of it's own down the road.

Last weekend I decided to totally go back to basics. I brewed a pale ale with 100% Canada Malting Pale Ale malt - with Simcoe and Amarillo for flavor hops and a touch of Galena for bittering. With no water adjustments or stabilizer, I was wondering if this might mean less efficiency with the mash, but quite the contrary, I got 85%. What I've found with batch sparging is if I give the mash an extra stir or two here and there, it'll jack my efficiency 5% or so. In the back-to-basics spirit, I fermented with Safale S-04 Dry Yeast, and had a good strong fermentation. No taste or readings to report yet.

4 weeks ago we brewed a Barleywine - pitched on top of a White Labs 001 cake with a staring gravity of 1.111. It fermented strong for 2 weeks or a little more, then cleared nicely. We were getting ready to bottle it (everything sanitized and such) when a reading showed it stopped at 1.035 - what the... I was shooting for more in the 1.025 range. After a quick call to a fellow HOPS! member (thanks Bob), I decided to krausen it with some Safale S-05. I made a 1 liter starter, transferred the beer into another carboy, and pitched the starter at high krausen. Now the airlock is bubbling again, and hopefully that'll shave some more points off it. Silly me, thinking a barleywine would be ready in 4 weeks. Sheesh. I think I'll just leave that in the closet for awhile.

We brewed a Passionfruit Wheat a few weekends back. After racking to a keg, it was a bit on the tart side, so we let it mellow at room temp for a week - which did wonders for it. So now it's in the fridge, carbing up.

On Saturday, we kegged a batch of of IPA - which tasted mighty fine. I saved that yeast and brewed up Jamil's Evil Twin (recipe at bottom of page) yesterday. The brew day went pretty well - hit the target pre-boil but my OG was a little low - something that seems to happen to me every so often, even after a strong 90 minute boil. I had decanted the yeast cake from the IPA into a 3L jug - there was a little over 2 liters of slurry in there, which I let sit all afternoon so it was nice and separated (the trub/hop residue/dead yeast settles to the bottom, the creamy good yeast in the middle, beer on top). After decanting the beer, I saved about 1.5 cups in a sanitized mason jar for the fridge, and after aerating the cooled wort, dumped the rest in - doing my best to leave most of the junk behind.

Well, 24 hours later - I've got a bit of very, very slow movement in the airlock, but no krausen. This happened to me before - the last time I reused yeast wo/ any kind of starter, and everything turned out OK so I'm going to wait another day and see (UPDATE: Fermenting strong 2 days later). Seems I have troubles/show starts when reusing yeast unless I either (1) pitch right on the cake or (2) make a starter.

So there you have it - got brats and beer to attend to, so until next time - keep on brewing ;)

October 2, 2010 Update: The Passion Fruit wheat is on tap. While enjoyable, I think I'll either boost the malt bill or cut back on the passionfruit puree a bit (we used 48oz this time), or both. Dunno yet. I will say that it made some mighty fine passionfruit pancakes ;)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Star San + Distilled Water = Star San for Weeks

A few weeks back I picked up some distilled water, and mixed up 2.5 gallons of Star San with it. Normally, here in Chicago, the Star San mixture is cloudy by the end of the day, and the next morning it's getting that slimy feeling - both indicators it's time to dump.

But with distilled water, the PH stays nice and low - and 3 weeks later the Star San I made with distilled water is still crystal clear and foaming just like I made it that day. I put some in a spray bottle, and don't have to worry about it going bad.

The past couple weeks, having this bucket of sanitizer has been very handy - I've found myself having to switch out airlocks, rig up blow-off tubes, sanitize bottles among other various things, and not having to mix up sanitizer each time has been a real hassle-saver.

Is it economical/practical to do this all the time? I don't know - up to the individual. But if you plan on lots of brewing work over a period of a few weeks, this can be real handy. Just cover the bucket with a lid and fill up that spray bottle - cheers!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

On Cleaning the Boil Pot

Last Monday I had the wonderful opportunity to help brew a batch of beer at the Goose Island Brewpub here in Chicago. This was to be a collaboration brew between Goose Island and the Chicago Beer Society. The beer is a recipe by Randy Mosher for a spiced Belgian Wit called Partial Eclipse. There were a number of us helping, which basically meant we did a lot of cleaning while guys like head-brewer Jared, Randy, and Ray Daniels took care of the recipe and managing the brew process.

Anyways, of the many things I learned (and cleaned), the one that I took immediate notice of was the boil kettle - mostly because I found myself getting inside it (a tricky climb through the top port - thank you yoga!) and scrubbing while holding onto a flashlight in the other hand (very dark in there!), and trying not to hit my head/rack myself on various steel tubing. Here's me in the kettle:

The first thing that struck me was, dang - even dirty this thing is cleaner than my boil kettle! So I just set about cleaning it best I could before hosing everything down. Well, after assistant brewer Todd checked my work, he climbed in and scrubbed out a spot I missed around the drain pipe - damn! He then filled the bottom with an acid-based caustic solution, let it sit awhile, and pumped it through the plumbing. So anyways, that got me wondering....

Just How Clean Should My Kettle Be?
I posed this question to both Randy and Rodney Kibzey (Sam Adams Longshot Winner). They both recommend keeping your pots good and clean, free of both gunk and beerstone because it helps minimize any off-flavors, saves your pot from pitting, keeps the heat dispersal even, and general peace of mind. On the other hand, I've heard guys say the dirtier the pot, the better the beer - like seasoning a cask iron skillet. Post boil I've been scrubbing down with dish soap and a kitchen scrubbie-sponge, getting most, but not all, the gunk off, and then spraying the pot down with some StarSan, which is acid-based and good for the steel. I started doing this less-than-polished type of cleaning after a metallic taste appeared in one of my batches.

So the next day I decided to try properly cleaning my pot. I gave the entire thing a good 1 hour soak in PBW (1oz per gallon), scrubbing with a brush. I also opened/closed the ball valve a few quick times before and after the soak, trying to loosen any gunk in there. After an hour I gotta say the water was a gross, murky brown - and some of that gross murky brown stuff was probably getting into my boiling wort SCREW THAT! I drained it through the ball valve, hoping to flush any more crap outta there. Makes me think about investing in a 3 piece valve I can take apart and clean.

The PBW took away most everything, except there was some white stuff at the bottom that wouldn't scrub off - I took this to be some hardcore beerstone or maybe a limestone-like substance, either of which can harbor microorganisms and damage the steel underneath it. There was also some particularly stubborn, brownish beerstone along the sides still. From an article on

Bio-fouling (trub deposits) and beerstone scale (calcium oxylate) can also cause corrosion. The metal underneath the deposit can become oxygen depleted via biological or chemical action and lose passivity, becoming pitted. A two step procedure is most effective for removing beerstone. Beerstone is a combination of protein buildup and mineral deposit, so removal works best if the protein is broken up with a caustic, like sodium hydroxide or PBW, and then the remaining lime can be dissolved by an acidic cleaner like CLR (Calcium Lime Rust Remover).

Off course you can say we're killing all those nasties during the boil, but if we're going to be clean let's be clean, and keep our kettle in good shape while we're at it. So after the PBW soak I did a splash of warm water, and an equal splash of CLR, and a sponge-wipe, and it was gone just like that. Rinse with some cold water, and wow - like new! A quick spray with some StarSan, and it's good for storage. Now my kettle is as clean as I can make it - looks good, and ready for my next batch :)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Full Length Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Entry

So I decided to enter the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp contest this year. Since I've been a drummer for 20-some years, I thought it might be cool to outfit my drum kit with various pieces of brew gear and see what sorts of sounds I could pull out of them.

So, after making my masterpiece, I got around to reading the rules - and fortunately read that the video had to be under 2 minutes long - doh! Mine was close to 5 minutes! So I had some editing to do, which didn't turn out too bad - you can see the cut version on the Beer Camp site here.

But just in case you want more - here's the raw, uncut version feature the full jam - cheers!

Matt's Uncut Video Entry for the 2010 Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Contest from Matt M. on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Other Dreaded D: DMS (Dimethyl Sulfide)

Last week we tapped our second light-colored lager, a German Pils - made with 100% pilsener malt. Our fist light-colored lager, an American Premium, suffered from diacetyl to the max (not enough yeast, no diacetyl rest). This time around I managed to get rid of the butter, but handily discovered another flavor: DMS.

At first I wasn't quite sure what I was tasting. The beer is super clear and beautiful, but yet - what is that? Unlike our previous lager, this wasn't terrible. There was just too much of something unbalancing the beer. After having a couple beer-judge friends taste it, the culprit was identified - Dimethyl Sulfide.

A small level of DMS in lagers is acceptable. In fact, now that I know what it tastes like (think corn when drinking a Schlitz), I can pick it out in other beers. Ours just has a too much of it - thankfully there's enough hop bitterness in there to cover it up some, especially when it's nice and cold. But we pitched plenty of yeast, and cooled fast by pumping ice water through our immersion chiller, so....

What Causes DMS?
The first thing each judge asked us is if we boiled with the lid on. Nope. But, I don't think I boiled hard enough to drive it all off. In an effort to save gas and avoid kettle caramelization, I've been experimenting with a less-than-rolling boil - just getting it going enough to be boiling. Well, no more wimpy boils here, now that I know that a boil isn't just to sanitize and add flavor/hops to the wort, it's also supposed to drive off stuff you don't want in there. So it's time to crank it up a bit (but not so much that hot wort is leaping out of the kettle!). In general, a 10-15% evaporation rate per hour seems to be the goal. So if you start with 7.5 gallons, you want to boil off around 1 gallon or a little more in an hour, or around 1.5 gallons for a 90 minute boil. In the meantime, I'm just going to bring the iced keg to a 4th of July party, where I'm sure it'll get sucked down pretty quick on this hot Chicago day (update: it did). Cheers!

Monday, June 21, 2010

NHC 2010 Pictures

Here's a picture set from the 2010 National Homebrewers Conference! Not that many - but my hands were busy either holding beer, tapping kegs, hauling gear, etc. Next time I'll be a little more prepared to document the madness ;)

In the picture below:
Meg, John Blichmann, Me, Bill, Bob, and Doug (also of Blichmann Engineering). With the exception of the Blichmann guys (awesome to hang with ya'll), we're all members of HOPS!.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

NHC 2010 - Day 3 Recap

It is becoming apparent that this conference is all about endurance - fortunately our hotel has some good strong coffee! While the coffee goes great with a delicious breakfast croissant, it was not so great with bruschetta, sauteed mushrooms, and blue cheese - which is what we were sampling during out first seminar today: food and beer pairing.

During the Practical Food and Beer Pairing: Planning and Hosting Your Own Pairing Dinner we learned some great tips from Kyle Jones. It was encouraging to hear how you don't need a degree in food science or brewing to put together a great evening of pairings - you educate your palate as you go. Kyle, like many of us, will daydream in his office, car, etc. about food and beer and jot down any pairing that sounds interesting and then try it out. The important thing of planning out a pairing dinner is just that: planning. After setting the menu, he'll start 30 days in advance, contacting various vendors to secure the food/beer he wants - and does as much prep work as possible the days before the event. Having a helper is key too.

We tried some crusty crostinis with bruschetta-like tomatoes/basil, paired with Sierra Nevada's Kellerweiss, which was excellent. The wheat beer really balanced out the acidity of the tomatoes. Next up: sauteed mushrooms paired with Deschutes Black Butte Porter. The logic behind this pairing is that the earthiness of the mushrooms would balance well with the roasty, earthy flavors of a porter. Meg really liked this one, but I wasn't such a big fan - I think I was picking up too much of the chocolate from the beer, and chocolate 'shrooms aren't my thing.

Lastly, we had some blue cheese paired with Summit's (?) IPA. This was a great one. The hoppy-bitter/fruity beer did a good job of keeping the strong cheese in check, sort of bathing your mouth, prepping it for the next bite of cheese. Kyle also recommends paring IPAs with cheesecakes and recommends always having a dessert (or two) at your dinner.

A great talk. The overall theme was to think it, try it, and don't be discouraged if it doesn't work. Let your palate guide you. My only complaint was that the 9am class time probably wasn't the best slot for this....

Next up was Hop Variety Overview: What is Quality and How Can I Find It by James Atweis of Gorst Valley Hops. This was also great, as it covered a bit of chemistry but focused on how it impacted hop flavor in your beer. Hops consist of various oil compounds, and these compounds have flashpoints - basically, temperatures at which they work best under. If I see James again, I think I'll ask him if this is why bittering hops don't matter much taste-wise. You toss them in at the beginning of your boil, and if that's all you did - flavor-wise you'd be hard pressed to tell what you used because those flavor oils all have flashpoints well under 200F. By using late addition hops, you loose less as they don't spend as much time over their flashpoints - another reason to cool your beer quickly post-boil. I didn't take notes so please correct me here if you attended this one (my stomach was still yelling about digesting coffee and the food/beer pairings).

The "big thing" I got from this was that most hop flashpoints are around 114F - so next time, I'm going to try cooling my wort down under this, and chucking in some hops then. Also, I think I finally understand the logic behind a hop-back, which is used post-boil to lock in those flavors and aromas normally driven out by the boil. In fact, I can't wait to experiment with this.

After lunch and a heart-warming keynote from Mark Stutrud of Summit Brewing, one of the pioneers of the craft brewing movement in the 80's.  Following the keynote, we went onto Fermentation Management by Greg Doss of Wyeast Labs. We had to sit on the floor for this one as the room was packed. Greg covered lots and lots of stuff (judging from the way he was skipping slides, we missed quite a bit). The things I took away was that as far as attenuation goes, all ale strains are really about the same. What matters is the recipe and wort composition. Things like flocculation didn't matter in his tests. For example, he did shaken vs. completely static fermentations side by side, and there was only a 1-2% difference in attenuation. So according to this logic, swirling your carboy to keep the yeast up in suspension doesn't do a thing as far as attenuation goes (though perhaps it gets the job done faster?). To me, this was pretty ground breaking info as about everything I've read seems to say the opposite. The one big factor we didn't cover much beyond the basics was temperature.

Another interesting thing he discussed was pitch-rates, and how he really didn't think pitching high was much of a concern. Basically, better to pitch high than low. Granted by pitching high, you may loose some desirable esters (especially in wheat beers), but better that then getting the less desirable esters associated with under pitching (and why I always make a starter). I and some other fellows chatted him up in the hospitality suite over a delicious English Bitter he brewed. One fellow said how he pitched 5 successive times on the same yeast cake. Of course, this is way over pitching and Greg told him as much, as well as the fact that while reusing your yeast is fine, to note that you carry over IBUs from your previous batches - so keep in mind that your beers may get more and more bitter as you reuse your yeast (I think I've experienced this). Greg is also not a fan of yeast washing/rinsing - saying that it often does more harm than good by stressing out the yeast. I wanted to talk more about this as my experience is quite the opposite, but will have to do it later as he was quite busy answering lots of questions.

Last up, we attended Bottle Conditioning Like a Pro by Jennifer Helber - a lab worker from Boulevard Brewing. It was interesting to hear someone so gung-ho about bottling, something many homebrewers (including myself) tend to avoid like the plague in favor of kegging. Jennifer started by covering lots of the basics - but here are the "pro" highlights.

First - she doesn't just sanitize her bottles - she sterilizes them in the oven using this procedure:
  1. Put your bottles in, and preheat to 240F.
  2. Every 5 minutes, increase the temperature by 20 degrees until you reach 340.
  3. At 340, bake for an hour.
  4. Let cool in the oven, keeping the door closed until ready to use.
She said she's gotten some flack about this method destabilizing the glass. But after contacting a major bottle manufacturer, confirmed that bottles (and glass in general) are stable up to 800F - so no worries here.

Now, the "like a pro" part comes into play. She adds both yeast and sugar to her bottling bucket. I've always thought that there was enough yeast left in suspension to take any priming sugar and fully carbonate in the bottle. In fact, I've never had a batch not carbonate using this method. But I suppose the point is that this is what the pro breweries do whether or not they filter their beer. Also, she was driving home the points that the extra yeast will help absorb any oxygen and other off flavors that might have been left over post fermentation. Here's the skinny on how she does it:
  1. Both she, and Boulevard, use Safbrew S-33 dry yeast.
  2. For 5 gallons, use 1/4 teaspoon. Boil and cool 1 cup of water to 80F, and completely dissolve yeast.
  3. For sugar, the only real difference between dextrose and sucrose is that dextrose seems to leave the beer clearer. 
Now, there's many charts/calculators out there for determining how much sugar you need, and her point is that none of them take the beer's terminal gravity into account - which may be why folks get mixed results. So for your bottle conditioned beers, record how much you use for each batch - as well as what the terminal gravity of the batch was. What she sometime did was "bracket" the amount of sugar she added for a batch. For example, she'd add some of the sugar solution, bottle some beers (and mark them appropriately), then add some more sugar, etc. keeping track of the amounts. Then she'd have various levels of carbonation in a batch and could pick the one she liked best (she had a system for doing this but I didn't note it). 

Someone asked the question of storing the dry yeast after it'd been opened, to which she replied she seals  it up best she can, puts it back in the fridge, and doesn't use it after the expiration date. And there you have it, more than I ever thought I'd know about bottling beer.

Club Night
It'd been a long day, but the real work was still ahead of us - Club Night! Lots of keg hauling, setup, food prep (we helped put together 144 Chicago-style hot dogs). Homebrew clubs from around the country put their best (and not so best) beers on display, and what displays there were! Some people assembled full bars, while others sported a Wild-West theme, a tropical theme, 50's theme - in short everyone put on a show. The Iowa club brought 600 kegs - 600 kegs! Quite simple there was too much beer in the room - too much beer! So much beer that from what I gathered, hardly anyone blew a keg. Afterwards we tore down and partied into the night. Wherever there was a spare room/space in the hotel (they kicked us out of the ballroom around midnight), some club had setup some kegs and was pouring beer. We left around 3am, and there was still beer flowing. Wow. 

Friday, June 18, 2010

NHC 2010 - Day 2 Recap

Next year, I hope to see Right Guard as a sponsor.

We went to 3 seminars today:

1. Tips and Tricks to Set Up Your Own Homebrewery, by John Blichmann of Blichmann Engineering.
John makes some of the best homebrew equipment in the industry. If you have one of his boil kettles, you're likely the envy of your fellow homebrewers. John laid out a very friendly, personable presentation of his own homebrewery, as well as those of some other homebrewers. The overall theme was less is more, and to utilize your space well. Much like a well designed kitchen, you don't want to be constantly moving across the room. Now being an engineer, John has done some very engineer-like things. For example, installing a pulley system in his ceiling so he can easily raise and push full (15.5 gallon) kegs in and out of his chest freezer and installing a crazy ventilation system. The full presentation will eventually be available on either the AHA site, or his own site.

2. Aged to Perfection: The Maturation of Beer by Steve Parks.
Part of what was great about this was Steve's British accent, and the way he said maturation. Steve works for the American Brewers Guild, and did his best to take his commercial work and lay it out in a manner than us homebrewers can understand and apply. Some of it was very technical, getting into the chemistry of yeast what it does during fermentation, and how important fermentation temperatures are. Having read about and experienced things like diacetyl and off-flavors, I was able to follow along pretty well. Steve also was just very good natured and personable - taking what would normally be a very dry subject and making it interesting, like any good teacher. He also made no qualms about bashing Budweiser, noting how producing a top-notch German lager requires a long, cool fermentation between 40 and 50F, but Bud is fermented at 57F for faster turn around. Along these lines, he discussed things like chill haze/clear beer - and how the biggest mistake us homebrewers make is rushing the fermentation process - which can cause both hazy beer as well as off-flavors that the yeast would normally clean up if given more time (yeast are amazing little buggers!). (Albeit, sometimes hazy beer can't be avoided (dry hopping), or is actually part of the beer style.) He also discussed the importance of oxygenating your wort and providing yeast nutrients, especially if you re-use your yeast. The yeast you buy at your homebrew shop is top-notch and actually requires little of either, but successive generations of that yeast require more to maintain their cell walls and stay healthy. He also talked about pitching rates, which I have a general concept of and need to study more. Let's face it, yeast and fermentation are key in brewing.

3. The Science Behind the Art: Hops in Brewing by Joseph Wegner
Little did we know there's a small hop farm just outside Madison called Gorst Valley Hops. They are small for a reason - their mission is to simply produce the best hops possible, and feel the larger the hop farm, the more difficult this becomes. This sounded great, but Joseph is obviously a chemist and not used to public speaking, which made his charts and diagrams of chemical structures even harder to digest. As he discussed free radicals and what happens to them during the boil etc., I couldn't help but wonder why we weren't focusing more on the flavors produced by said chemistry, and how we can use this knowledge to make better beer. I mean, we're homebrewers, not lab chemists. And maybe he did get into this, but I was just so zoned out at that point I missed it. While I'm sure there were some folks able to follow along, I think this talk probably belonged in a classroom with a strong cup of coffee, not a place with free-flowing beer.

Pro-Brewers Night
The awesomeness of this is hard to put into words. 30-40-some breweries, showcasing their best beers. I think my favorite was an IPA by Dark Horse - but there were so many good beers here (and some not so good). I finally got to try the Watermelon Wheat beer by 21st Amendment, and was surprised and how great it was! Unfortunately we can't get that in Chicago, or I'd have some in my fridge all summer. Probably one of the highlights of the night was hanging out with John Blichmann, and his coworker/buddy Doug. These guys are so down to earth and eager to talk shop and beer, it was great. We also got to hang with Nate Smith some more, and discuss not only beer but our crazy beer-loving cats.

Again, pictures forthcoming! Cheers.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

2010 NHC - Wednesday Arrival & Brewing Network Party

First off, pictures forthcoming - stay tuned! I didn't bring my downloader.

Last night we were fortunate enough to get into the Brewing Network's pre-conference bash. After jumping on one of the many school buses provided as transportation, we found ourselves at the Northern Brewer warehouse - which resides in some warehouse district outside of Minneapolis.

Let's just say these folks know how to throw a party.

After getting our bag-o-schwag and all important tasting glass, our eyes glazed over all the beer-trailers, complete with 4 or 5 taps on each side. There was a Surly trailer, and 3 (4?) others providing roughly 30 beers on tap. Other than Surly, there was Moylan, Firestone Walker, Boulder, Two Brothers, Ommegang, Bell's, Town Hall, 21st Amendment, some excellent homebrews provided by the generous Northern Brewer staff, and others I can't recall. The mighty Tasty McDole was there, but unfortunately the precious few bottles of Janet's Brown (the delicious recipe he crafted for his late wife) he brought were gone like that.

The Homebrew Chef was also there, and provided some ass-kickin' sausages, which we devoured as soon as we were off the bus. The DJ was spinning some great tunes - the night was beautiful, we actually saw stars outside, a rarity in Chicago.

On the bus ride home it was a pleasure to chat with homebrew ninja Nathan Smith, a fellow musician and helluva nice guy.

Upon getting back to the hotel, we helped Mike and Bob - fellow HOPS! members, haul 14 kegs up to their room, and then raided any ice machine in sight to cool them all down for serving on Friday (apologies to any neighbors trying to sleep - we made quite the racket). Now those are some funny pics.

Will try to keep doing daily recaps each morning - fortunately there's some strong coffee here - cheers!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Got Dry Yeast? You should.

I'd read/heard somewhere that it was a good idea to always have a couple packets of dry yeast in the fridge. Maybe you want to brew and have no yeast, or maybe you'll need it to save a batch. This past weekend I experienced the later.

I'll be brewing a series of Pale Ales and IPAs this summer, and I was going to kick things off with a basic American-ish pale ale, fermented with yeast used in my last batch of Belgian Prankster (Belgian Ardennes). I decided what I like doing is racking finished beer off a cake, leaving some beer behind to make a nice slurry. Then I just pour some of that into my fresh wort - right from the old carboy into the new. This way I avoid over-pitching on the cake. It's worked well for me in the past, but I never did that with this particular yeast.

So, nothing was happening 24 hours after pitching. I've never had this happen before and was baffled. Did I not pitch enough (slurry too thin)? Was this yeast dormant too long? Was it just too cool in my basement? Yet the temp strip read 68, which is what I usually start Ardennes at. I rolled it into a warmer room and waited longer. Nada. The liquid was smooth as a mirror.

And it was Memorial Day - good luck finding a local homebrew shop open on a holiday.

Fortunately I had a packet of SafAle US-05 in the fridge. I just shook it right in and a few hours later had fermentation - hurray! Maybe things would've kicked off if I'd waited more, but I was also just curious to see how this dry yeast worked out, and if I'd get some sort of belgian-american yeast mix (though I hear if you use 2 yeasts in a brew, one just takes over). Now I have some serious krausen, and am wondering if the two yeasts are both active and going at it. Either way I'm extremely curious to see what comes out of this.

So, I'll always be sure to have some decent dry yeast in the house cause you never know, cheers.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Happenings: NHC 2010, CBS Board, Craft Beer Week

Howdy all, just a quick post on the latest happenings around here.

First off, we had a fantastic Craft Beer Week here in Chicago,  where we tasted lots of rare and interesting beers - including some cask ale from Stone, Double Daisy Cutter from Half Acre, hoppy lagers from local brew-god Pete Crowly. We also got to hang out with the likes of Randy Mosher, Ray Daniels, and Steve Hamburg, listen to them talk about beer and enjoy the beers they personally picked to be served at the Map Room that day. We had some great homebrew, food and laughs at the Beer Fly Alley Fight - where brewers, cooks, and artists unite and battle for awards and bragging rights.

We also found out that Meg and I were voted in as new board members for the Chicago Beer Society. Thanks to that, we were able to get into the final blowout party at Half Acre - which was quite the party! Many thanks to Jeff, Steve, and Gabriel for making that happen.

We also became official members of HOPS - Homebrewers Pride of the Southside. After attending one meeting, we knew we had to hang with these folks more.

And lastly, we ran in the 5K Fun Run at Half Acre on Sunday morning, and I didn't die! Here's a picture of me finishing the longest I've ever ran. It was a beautiful day and a great run, after which we got beer and a tour of the Half Acre brewery. Many thanks to Jonathon of the Beer Mapping Project for setting that up.

Brew-wise, we're just finishing fermenting a batch of Belgian Prankster, which will be served at this year at the National Homebrewers Conference. So if you're going to be attending, be sure to stop by the HOPS booth and say hello! 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

English sorta Pale Ale - Matt's First Recipe

I had some Marris Otter, a variety of crystal malts, a White Labs 002 English Ale yeast cake, and a bunch of Willamette hops. After reading the Pale Ale/IPA chapter in Designing Great Beers, I felt OK to try a recipe out. OH! And I also just got my Barley Crusher, and was anxious to just brew something.

Style-wise is wasn't any kind of English Bitter, not really enough to be an IPA of any kind. I just wanted a good session beer that featured Willamette hops, and thus Lammit Dammit was born. I think it's quite good, and will certainly brew this one again. Taste-wise you get some nutty/maltness balanced with a nice wash of grassy, earthy/spicy hops across the tongue. There's a bit of a lingering finish, especially for 4.2% beer.

If you live around Chicago and use Lake Michigan water, you might want to add the following salts to your mash water (around 3.5 gallons - you want a thick mash): 6g gypsum, 1g calcium choloride. This will help bring out the hops, and give the Chicago water some things it's lacking, like Calcium and Sulfate. It will also balance the PH for the recipe.

Ferment at 68F, ramping up to 71-72 towards the end to ensure a nice final gravity and help clean-up the diacetyl this yeast can produce, which I feel you don't need here. Cheers!

Recipe: Lammit Dammit

Wort Volume Before Boil: 7.5 US gals
Wort Volume After Boil: 6.50 US gals
Volume Transferred: 5.50 US gals
Water Added: 0.00 US gals
Volume At Pitching: 5.50 US gals
Final Batch Volume: 5.00 US gals
Pre-Boil Gravity: 1.038 SG
OG: 1.045 SG
FG: 1.013 SG
ABV: 4.2 %
IBU (using Tinseth): 51.6
Color: 8.5 SRM
Mash Efficiency: 75.0 %
Boil Duration: 60.0 mins
Fermentation Temperature: 68 degF (ramp up towards end, if possible)

Maris Otter Pale Ale Malt - 9lb 0oz
Caramel 40L Malt - 10.00 oz
Victory Malt - 8.00 oz
Caramel 120L Malt - 2.00 oz

Hops (pellets)
Kent Goldings (5.5 % alpha) 1.50 oz All Of Boil
Kent Goldings (5.5 % alpha) 0.50 oz 30 Min From End
US Willamette (4.5 % alpha) 0.50 oz 20 Min From End
US Willamette (4.5 % alpha) 1.00 oz 10 Min From End
US Willamette (4.5 % alpha) 1.00 oz 5 Min From End
US Willamette (4.5 % alpha) 1.00 oz At turn off

Yeast: White Labs WLP002-English Ale (lots - I used at least a few cups of slurry from a just-finished batch of Mild)

Mash Type: Full Mash
Schedule Name: Single Step Infusion (65C/149F)
Step: Rest at 149 degF for 60 mins

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Randy Mosher's Basement

This year we had the pleasure of stopping by Randy Mosher's for Big Brew Day 2010. Even with a bit of rain, it was impossible to dampen the positive vibes. Many thanks to Randy and Nancy for opening their home up to old friends as well as people they've never met before (like us!).

Of course, everyone into brewing wants to see Randy's basement brew setup - so here it is, in all it's glory. There's a detailed diagram in his great book, Radical Brewing. Looks like he did a 15 gallon batch of wheat beer, this year's official Big Brew recipe - prost!

Monday, April 12, 2010

English Bitter w/ WLP002

About a month ago we visited Homebrew Shop Ltd. in St. Charles IL to say hello to owner Ed Seaman, and great guy who runs a great shop. We had heard good things about Ed's extract kits (dominating the Drunk Monk competition), so we picked up the English Bitter kit (Ed's current fav), which uses DME along with Maris Otter and Crystal 40 for steeping grains. Hops were all Fuggles, with 1oz additions at 60 and 30 minutes, and yeast was White Labs English Ale 002 (1L starter). OG was 1.034 and FG was 1.011 - fermented 2 weeks at 68-69F, then kegged. Carbonated to around 2 volumes and boy is it easy to drink.

This is probably the finest extract beer we've done. I think much of that is due to us having a more solid brewing process since our last extract batch over a year ago, and also because dry extract has a better shelf life than liquid (no twang). 

The thing that I find most interesting is the yeast. WLP002 fermented like gang-busters (bit slow to start), and then dropped like a brick. I shook the carboy a little during the first week to help keep it in suspension. The second week I was gone on a trip, but with my temperature controller/ferm-wrap setup, it stayed at 68-69F the entire time. While I really enjoy this beer and can toss back 2 at a time, there's a touch of diacetyl/toffee/caramel something in there. I tasted this side by side w/ the butter-bomb of a Pils we brewed earlier in the year (and keep trying to "fix"). Tasting a beer I know has too much diacetyl showed how it can be confused with certain malts. Suddenly the bitter tasted more toffee-like than buttery. I do think the bitter has a touch of diacetyl, but it's in style and does not dominate the flavor profile.

One thing I love about the White Labs site is that Chris White has recorded himself discussing many of his yeast stains, and you can listen to what he has to say about 002. He mentions its diacetyl production, and how it's a natural part of this strain's sweetness. But if you really don't want it, you should keep the temp up and shake the carboy every day as fermentation winds down (not enough to aerate!). Either way, I recommend keeping the beer on the cake at least 2 weeks, assuming you had a solid fermentation during the first.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Irish Fudge Brownies

We had the opportunity to spend some quality time at the Stone Brewing Co. in Escondido, CA a couple of weeks ago. If you ever have the opportunity to go there, don't pass it up. It's truly Beer Mecca. After many hours of sampling beer and sausages and cheese, we capped off our visit with their brownie sundae. The brownies, made with beer of course, were tasty but not nearly as good as mine. So I thought I would share my recipe.

I've experimented with this recipe quite a bit. And even though I enjoy them, I have yet to taste the beer. To me the whiskey flavor is more prominent, which is why they're "Irish" instead of "Stout" brownies. Nonetheless, they're still quite yummy. If you want to try to get a stronger beer flavor, maybe try omitting the whiskey.

Irish Fudge Brownies

1/2 c. unsalted butter
4 oz. chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 c. sugar
2 T. brown sugar
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 t. vanilla extract
1/3-1/2 c. coffee stout
2-5 T. Irish whiskey*
3/4 c. sifted flour
1/3 t. salt
1 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9" square baking pan.

In 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add chocolate, stirring until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. Stir in sugars and mix well.

In separate bowl, combine next 5 ingredients (through whiskey). In another bowl, sift flour and salt. Add wet ingredients and dry ingredients to chocolate/butter mixture alternatively by 1/2 cupfuls. Stir after each addition until just blended. (Do not overmix.) Fold in nuts.

Pour into pan and bake for approximately 30-35 minutes. (Or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.)

*I used The Knot, which is a very sweet Irish whiskey, so I put in quite a bit. You'll probably want to use less if you're using something less sweet, such as Jameson.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Video: The Making of JZ's Hop Hammer

I got a Flip Camcorder last Christmas, and put it to some good use filming the entire process of brewing the Hop Hammer recipe from Brewing Classic Styles. We take you from start to finish, grain to glass - of our first attempt at making this insane Imperial IPA.

By the time we got around to filming the final tasting, the beer has been in the keg awhile, and had cleared up a lot. The initial glasses we poured were much cloudier from all the hop material. We dry hopped using a nylon in the keg - if we make this again, I'd probably try dry hopping in a carboy wo/ a bag, just to see if that makes any difference. Anyways, this is nice brew for all us hop lovers. My only complaint is that at 8.9%, it's a rather dangerous beer to have around - enjoy!

View larger.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Smoky Beef and Bean Chili

Although I'm rather sick of winter by this point, the cold weather is perfect for comfort food - chili being my favorite. I like a fairly spicy and thick chili, none of that soupy sweet stuff. So when I found this recipe, I was a little skeptical because of the brown sugar and cocoa powder. But it used beer, so I was going to try it.

This is a very complex tasting chili. You've got everything from beer to coffee, and chipotle peppers to cocoa powder. Surprisingly, it all works together really well. The smokiness of the chipotles paired perfectly with our Black Pepper Porter and some green chili & cheese cornbread.

Beef and Bean Chili
Recipe by Your {Everyday} Mama

2 Tbs olive oil
2 large Vadalia or other sweet onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 lb beef sirloin, cubed
1 lb ground beef
1 large yellow bell pepper, diced
1 (14oz) can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 (14oz) can diced tomatoes, drained
4-6 oz double concentrated tomato paste (tube)
1 can dark lager beer (I used an Irish stout.)
1 cup strong black coffee
1 can low sodium beef broth
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 Tbs cocoa
1 Tbs cumin
2 tsp coriander, ground
2 tsp oregano
1-2 tsp cayenne
1 tsp salt
3 (15oz) cans kidney beans, mix of regular and dark red
2-3 large Chipotle peppers in adobe sauce, finely chopped

1. Sweat onions and garlic in oil in a large dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pot. Add meats, salt and pepper and brown. Add all other ingredients bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Metallic Taste in Your Beer?

Late last fall we brewed up an AG batch of porter, and let it age until the dog-days of winter here in Chicago, which is basically the month of February. We knew a good porter would be especially good that time of year.

So after fermenting, we moved it into a carboy, and placed it in a dark room and forgot about it. We kegged and carbed her up a couple weeks back, and while it has a nice malt and hop base, there was this other flavor in there I had a hard time putting my finger on. After bringing it to one of my homebrewer gatherings, some buddies helped me identify it as "metallic" - after finally having the word I needed, I totally agreed.

It's not terrible, still a decent beer. But the question remains - what happened to cause this????

After asking fellow homebrewers in the area, and posting to the Chicago Beer Society list and AHA's Tech Talk, I got very little response - what I did get was people asking me to keep them posted if I found the answer! Generally it seems like a flavor that mysteriously appears from time to time. Anyways, here are some of the answers I collected:
  1. It's something that happens with the yeast, particularly English Ale strains. (I used Wyeast 1968 for this, it was a second batch for the yeast, originally having used it for a stout that turned out fine.)
  2. It's the water, and/or how the water reacts to certain dark malts. 
  3. If you've had any new pipes or plumbing installed, or if the city has installed any new piping in your area.
  4. If you scrub your brewpot with a metal scouring pad or other abrasive-type scrub pad.
  5. One guy said, "The only time I used Phoenix hops I had a metallic taste in an ESB that some judges picked up on in a competition."
  6. Getting a new keg, and not cleaning it prior to use.
I think our problem here is either a result of new water lines being installed in front of our place (doubtful, but the city did do some sewage line work in front of our place around the time we brewed this - not sure if they did anything to the regular water lines), and/or we used to scrub our brewpot with an SOS pad (which we don't do anymore - just either soak in PBW/Oxyclean overnight, or clean it out with lots of hot water, and a soft sponge with mild dish detergent). There was one particular time where in an effort to help, someone scrubbed the be-jesus out of the pot in an effort to get it totally clean. [Sorry! - Meg] My best guess is that's the culprit.

So anyways, what I've taken to doing is wiping down the brewpot with a clean, wet towel before adding anything to it on brew day. We've brewed several batches since this porter with no metallic issues. In my research I've even read that great homebrewers like Jamil Z. have had this flavor pop-up with no explanation.

So don't know if this helped anyone or not - if you have any further insights, please post a comment! Cheers.

Update July 21, 2010: After a day brewing at Goose Island, I saw they use steel scrubbies. So the problem may not have been with the scrubbie, but the chemical in the S.O.S pad (?).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Barbecue Brisket

I am a kitchen item collector. In fact, I have so many gadgets/utensils/pans/appliances/etc. that I've run out of storage in both of my kitchens. One of the things that hasn't made its way into my collection is a slow cooker. (Mostly because I have nowhere to store it.) So when I got one for Christmas, I decided I had to justify having one by putting it to use often.

Since the end of December I have used it at least once a week. Last week 's recipe was a Cooking Light creation of Barbecue Brisket. Although I did have to get up half an hour early in the morning to prep this, I really appreciated having dinner ready when I got home at the end of the day.

As with most of the recipes I find with beer, it calls for a light lager. I used an IPA I had stashed in the back of the fridge, and I really couldn't find any flavor of the beer in the final product. Thus use whatever beer you've got on hand. Also, I served up our sandwiches on slices of the Almost No-Knead Beer Bread with a slathering of horseradish spread. Great for a snowy winter day - enjoy!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Almost No-Knead Beer Bread

Oh my phobia of baking with's illogical. The thought of waiting for something to rise, then kneading it is pretty horrible to me. But I love bread, so I thought I would give it a chance. Thanks to beer buddies Colleen & Stephen, I've overcome my bread yeast phobia! They passed on this gem of a recipe with the note that it's "idiot proof." Not only is it idiot proof, it's delicious! In the past week I've made 2 loaves, which have paired perfectly with soups and gravy, or it's great just as toast. Get baking and carb up, people!

Cooks Illustrated Almost No-Knead Bread (Adapted from the recipe originally published in the January 2008 issue of Cooks Illustrated)

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (15 ounces), plus additional for dusting work surface
1/4 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water (7 ounces), at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mild-flavored lager (3 ounces) (Use whatever beer's in your fridge. I used an IPA and a Pale Ale and they both tasted great.)
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours.

Lay 12- by 18-inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10-inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2 hours.

About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (with lid) on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch-long, 1/2-inch-deep slit along top of dough. Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes.* Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

* My first loaf got a little charred on both the bottom and top of the loaf - see photo. For the second round, I kept the lid on longer and put a couple extra layers of parchment under the dough. You'll just need to get to know your oven to figure out what works best for you.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Pork Chops with Beer & Bacon Gravy

During our Wisconsin weekend in the fall, Matt and I picked up a pound of thick-cut, double-smoked bacon from Bavaria Sausage. Now, this ain't no normal bacon! I've been dreaming of what to do with it for months, as you just don't use this for anything. Surprisingly, inspiration came to me of all places but the treadmill.

Let me state this off the bat: I'm typically not a Rachael Ray fan. In fact, she drives me bonkers most of the time. (Seriously, she has a tab on her website called "Yum-O!" Can you feel my eyeroll through the computer?)

However, I've learned that I enjoy watching her 30 Minute Meals show, sans sound and closed captioning, while on the treadmill. The harder I run, the more I can justify eating the things she makes - like Pork Chops with Beer & Bacon Gravy. As soon as I saw her grab a beer from the fridge and pour it on the bacon & onions, I knew this was going to be the first use for the 'Sconsin bacon. Needless to say, it was delicious. Recipe can be found here.

(Yeah, the photo looks a little gross, but the camera ran out of batteries before I could get a snapshot of the plated entree.)

I made a few alterations to the recipe, but I think it would be pretty hard to mess up.
  1. The recipe calls for German beer, but I used one of our Dry Hopped Irish Stouts. This gravy does retain some of the beer flavor, so use something you like.
  2. I used homemade turkey stock in place of the chicken stock.
  3. Doubled the bacon! (Can't have enough bacon.)
  4. Cooked the gravy for about twice as long it calls for.*
*Matt's the gravy maker in our house, since I lack the patience to reduce anything to its proper thickness. So props to Matt for doubling the cooking time.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Goose Island Green Line Pale Ale

Thanks to our beer buddy, Colleen, we were able to attend the premier tapping of Goose Island's newest brew, Green Line Pale Ale, at Uncommon Ground Devon last night. The Green Line is a new "eco-friendly" beer as part of Goose's green initiative. So what makes a beer "green"? First of all, it's only kegged, which greatly reduces the waste factor. Second, it's only served in Chicago, which cuts down on the energy used for transportation and refrigeration. Also, the tap handles are made from trees killed in the suburbs by emerald ash borers.

As for the beer itself, head brewer Greg Hall described it as "a love child between 312 Urban Wheat and an IPA." For all you all-grain brewers out there, I found it very interesting that they only use one malt in the recipe (Briess Pale Ale malt). Overall, it's a lightly hopped, extremely quaffable session beer. (I easily drank 4 in an hour!) You'll definitely want to have one of these on a hot summer day. So be friendly to the environment - drink a Green Line.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Diacetyl Rest - Go for a Week!

In mid-late 2009 we brewed our first lager, an Oktoberfest. For our first lager (and having no temperature control device, just a fridge), it went really well. The final beer was malty with a nice hop bitterness, beautiful amber color, and crystal clear from the lagering (why filter a lager?).

I brought a sample to a Chicago Beer Society event, and one guy said he tasted a hint of diacetyl (a buttery by-product of lager yeast). I was unsure of this, having yet to train my palate for this flavor. But everyone really liked it and drained the bottle. Next day I brought a sample over to Half Acre brewing, and had a little lager schooling from head brewer Phil, who also tasted just a hint of the buttery diacetyl. After drinking this brew for a week or so, I was able to just pick it out too. He asked if I did a diacetyl rest, and I did do one for a few days. Phil said to just leave it out for a week! So next time, a week it is!

We've since brewed another lager, an American Premium. We had excellent temperature control, never letting the beer get above 50F (we pitched in the upper 40s), and a post-fermentation sample tasted great. So instead of doing a rest, I  just crashed it down to 36F and will be kegging it up soon for the super bowl. We'll see how that goes, but I think it should be fine. The yeast I used, Wyeast 2007, didn't say anything about needing a diacetyl rest, whereas the 2308 Munich Lager I used before clearly states that it benefits from one. So I guess the moral of the story is to read up on your yeast, and if a rest is needed, make it a week - cheers.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Irish Beef & Stout Stew

Happy New Year! If you're hungover or the weather's as bitterly cold as it is here in Chicago, you're not going to want to leave the house today. Thus, I thought I would share with you a great comfort food recipe using stout. I've made this many times with both Guinness and homemade oatmeal stout, but really any dark beer will do. Making this stew couldn't be easier - leaves plenty of time for relaxing in front of the TV while it's cooking. Serve with a nice crusty loaf of bread and more stout, of course.

Irish Beef & Stout Stew
from Everyday Food Magazine

  • 4 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cans (6 ounces each) tomato paste
  • 2 1/2 pounds new potatoes, scrubbed (I cut into small pieces.)
  • 2 medium onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 1 can (14.9 ounces) Irish stout beer
  • 10 garlic cloves, sliced
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 boxes (10 ounces each) frozen baby peas, thawed
Preheat oven to 350. In a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot, toss beef with flour; stir in tomato paste. Add potatoes, onions, broth, beer, and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cover, and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Transfer pot to oven, and cook, covered, until meat is fork-tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Stir in peas, and season with salt and pepper.