Thursday, September 27, 2012

Canada Bound

I'll be here this weekend:

If anybody is anywhere near the Vankleek Hill, Ontario fairgrounds, stop by and say hi—I'll be the one drinking beer.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Worlds Colliding

Greenwood Park, in Brooklyn New York, is cool. Granted, I've never been there, but it just looks cool. 1,300 square feet of bocce courts, fireplaces and 60 beers on tap—plus the whole indoor/outdoor  biergarten has been converted from an old gas station—again, more coolness. Greenwood Park offers all kinds of food, happy hour specials, and is available for private parties. What could be cooler than that? The Greenwood really is an oasis of food, drink and outdoor fun in the heart of the most populous of New york City's five boroughs.

Sweet deal, right? Well, not for everybody. It seems there's a little brew-ha-ha stirring between a group of teachers and local parents in the Greenwood's neighborhood. The NY Daily News is reporting that the Greenwood has banned children from the park after 4pm, at the request of a number of beer-loving teachers. This has pissed off a number of, also beer-loving, albeit stroller pushing, parents in the area. The gist of the argument is this: Since they are around kids all day, the teachers want to stop in and have a drink without a bunch of kids running around; while the parents want to stop by and have a drink after, say, picking their tots up after school.

I'm a parent of two little kids, and my wife is a teacher, so I can see both sides of the argument. I'll admit to leaning towards the teachers at first. That is until hypocrisy's cold hand smacked me across the face this past Saturday, when we took the kids to Albany's own biergarten—Wolf's (and took them there well after 4pm, might I add.) Regardless of either argument, here's the reality of the situation: The kids played and jumped and made noise, the beer drinkers drank and swore and made noise, and neither groups seemed, really to affect each other in any way, shape, or form.

See, we really can all just get along.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Marley's Ghost: A Minor Set-Back at Eight Months

Eight months in.

Eight long months.

Yes, it got a bit warmer in the basement than I was expecting—into the high 70ºs, maybe the highest around 80º. Everything was fine, until that day. That day when I strolled down the cellar stair with a load of laundry. That day when I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of the carboy's rubber bung lying helplessly on the concrete floor. That day which every bit of dust, every microscopic bug, every errant hair or spec of dander was now ready, willing and able to infect my precious brown bounty.

Had it been minutes? An hour? Hours? Days? The last time I had paid any mind to it had been a week earlier—all quite on the western front then. I told myself that everything would be fine—and I kept telling myself that—until today. Again, loaded with laundry, I trekked into the basement. It's cooler now, just above 70º. I filled the machine and turned my attention to the beer. Moving aside the light blocking, black t-shirt covering the jug, I inspected my experiment. The pellicle looked as if it had thinned, and stringy bits of it dangled like stalactites into the inky liquid. I know pellicles drop, so I wasn't too alarmed. Over the last few months I also noticed the chalky layer of pellicle had changed color, going from white to buff, and now to a British khaki. But there was something else, something insidious,


But all is not lost. Apparently, it's not all that uncommon for Brett-ed beers, stored for a length of time, to develop a little mold—think of air cured salami, or cheese rinds. The stringy bits is also a sign that the pellicle is beginning to end its run of course. So, it looks like I'll be bottling Mr. Marley sooner than my expected December 1st deadline. The next challenge will be racking off the beer without disturbing the thinning pellicle. I don't think the mold is harmful, but I'd still rather it not be in the beer.

Do me a favor and let's collectively cross our fingers for no more little set-backs.

Friday, September 14, 2012

In Defense of Beer as Not Beer

Yesterday Alan posed the question What is the Worst Thing That Has Been Done to Beer. Among a few examples by Stan and Boak & Bailey, Alan found a blurb about the burger chain Red Robin, offering a Sam Adams Octoberfest milkshake, to which the consensus was, as Alan put, it gaky.

As much as I like to say the word gak, I'm not sure I can agree with the majority.

I'm not advocating for anybody to pull a Rocky, and mix-up a skim milk and beer power drink, but I've always contended that beer and ice cream are a natural fit. The combination isn't totally unrelated, "Malted" milkshake have been available at "Malt Shops" for just about ever, and look at the flavor profiles of beer—citrus, coffee, chocolate, caramel, graham cracker. Those sound a lot like flavors you might find in the frozen section at your local grocery store, too. In fact, Frozen Pints a craft beer ice cream maker, does offer some of those flavors at grocery, liquor an beer stores in and around the Atlanta, Georgia. They've got ice cream than ranges from Peach Lambic to malted milk Chocolate Stout. As cool as Frozen Pints is, I'm in New York and they're in Georgia, and besides, ice cream is pretty simple to make, so I present to you dear reader—IPA ice cream.

Ice cream only calls for four—maybe five—ingredients (if you want to really do it up). The only piece of equipment you need is an ice cream maker and they're cheap—about $30 or $40. The recipe can be used for any style of beer ice cream, but since this bad boy is IPA ice cream, it makes sense to use an IPA. I like the ones that lean citrusy—like Lakefront or in this case Southern Tier IPA. I'd cut back the sugar to a half cup if you choose to go with a less-bitter beer, like a Mild or Brown ale, but for an IPA stick with 3/4 cup. So, here are the big four, I'll save the fifth for last:

4 egg yolks
3/4 cup of sugar
1 cup of IPA
1 cup of heavy cream

Start by separating the egg yolks from the whites and adding them and the sugar into a bowl that can take heat. I use a big metal mixing bowl. Using a wisk or a fork mix up the yolks and the sugar. Pretty simple so far, right?

Next add the cream and beer to a pan and simmer over low heat until the mixture starts to thicken—maybe five or six minutes. While the beer and cream (bream?) is doing its thing, get a another pot, one that is wide enough for the bowl with the yolks and sugar to sit in it, but not so big that the bowl touches the bottom of the pot. In that pot start heating two or three cups of water over medium heat. You're basically making a double boiler—you don't want the high heat of the burner wrecking you ice cream base, so we'll use the heated water in the lower pot to gently heat the base.

Speaking of base, lets get that together. Once the beer and cream (creer?) has simmered for a bit, it's time to get it together with the yolks and sugar. Take the liquid off the heat and add a little to the yolks and sugar in the bowl. Do this a little at a time at first—like a 1/4 cup—or you'll end up with wet, scrambled eggs. No good for ice cream or scrambled eggs. Make sure to mix while you're adding the liquid in, too. As the yolk mixture comes up to temperature, you can add more and more until it's all incorporated.

Take the whole metal bowl, with everything in it, and put the bowl over the heated water in the pot. Now stir, dammit—and keep stirring! The heat from the water will begin to thicken the ice cream base and when it's thick enough to coat the back a spoon, you're golden.

Take the base off the heat and let it cool, before topping it off with plastic wrap, and letting it chill in the fridge for 5 hours—or better yet overnight. Make sure you let the wrap touch the top of the base, if you don't you'll get pudding skin. Yeah, yeah, I know some folks dig that, but just like the wet, scrambled eggs, it's no good for ice cream.

Okay, fast forward to morning.

Basically what you got now is a thin, beer-flavored custard, but we want ice cream, so let technology take over. Add the base to your ice cream maker, and just follow the manufacturer's directions. We've now gone from custard to soft-serve,  which in and of itself is awesome, but in order to get into bon-a-fide ice cream territory, we need a few hours in the deep-freeze. Three or four hours later, tah-dah, IPA ice cream.

You're probably still wondering what that fifth ingredient is. During the simmering of the beer and cream and then the thickening of everything in the double boiler, the beer looses a little bit of its IPA-ness. A little hoppy ingenuity helps out here. I've started to crumble up a hop pellet right into the ice cream base—the grapefruit-iness of Ahtanum or Amarillo work well here. They add a little bit of hoppy aroma back to the ice cream and give that IPA kick. Go easy with this, the pellets can be strong, so taste as you go. Think of it as cold-hopping! The recipe makes about a pint and a half, but it doubles easily enough. I do recommend churning in batches. All the base can overload the machine, which results in overflow of ice cream. It's tasty but really messy.

I realize that this might not be everybody's cup of tea (or in this case scoop of ice cream) but why can't beer be more than beer? Be it in ice cream, or in a cocktail (although this one wasn't my fav), as a savory sauce or a dessert topping (it's a floor wax!) Beer, not just tasting like beer, doesn't diminish its beeriness, in fact I think using beer unorthodoxically, enhances beer—all beer. As a personal philosophy, I think Andrew Zimmern, puts it best when talking about trying new food or drink—if it looks good, eat it. IPA ice cream looks good, so eat it!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Upper Class Tweet of the Week

Last Tuesday, Jeff Allworth, chief at Beervana, wrote a post on the nature of criticism—more specifically the mass critism of beer as it appears on rate sites, like beer advocate and ratebeer. Jeff’s point to this post was that a well-written critique, by a single critic, gives a better view of the possibilities of a beer—regardless if the reader agrees or disagrees—rather than simply a ranking of which, sometimes, appears as more of a popularity contest than that of an objective view.

Jeff’s post—and the subsequent conversation between Alan and myself about his sparring match with Stan, on all things Jacksonian, in the comments area of Jeff's blog—helped me formulate a position that I’ve been on the fence about for sometime. While both Jeff, Alan and Stan are talking about the finer points of review and critique. Personally, I'm looking at the broader spectrum, and it comes down to this.
I don’t like to read, let alone, write beer reviews—professional or amateur, elite or en masse.

Looking back on the last few months of my own posts, I’ve noticed a trend. I’ve been writing more about beer culture, than beer itself. I’m cool with that. That’s where my interest lies. Looking at how folks view beer, or how beer influences people is far more interesting to me (and hopefully you as the reader) than just another description of, say, a Robust Porter. That does leave me with a slight conundrum. I want to talk about specific beers, but I don’t want to blather on about their sublte notes of graham cracker and black pepper. So, I’ve had an idea, and I’m going to embrace social media to execute it.

The idea for this little endeavor sprang from an email, sent by my pal Gravey this weekend. The email was as innoculous as could be. Nothing more than a link to a Sam Eifling article on, the normally sports-minded,—a “Beer of the Week” article highlighting Tullibardine Distillery’s (yes, distillery) 1488 Premium Whisky Beer. While the whisky-cask aged brew sounds intriguing enough, what struck my fancy was a beer of the week concept. I don’t want to do a monotonous, meandering breakdown of whatever beer I’ve had in the past week. So, where can I express my beery suggestions, in the concise-ist of manners? Where else, but in the pithy world of Twitter.

I’ve had a Twitter account for some time, but admittedly, tweeting is something that I’ve not fully wrapped my arms around. I’m not opposed to tweeting, but seeing as buying a salad at the Empire State Plaza cafeteria is about the most exciting thing I do in any given day, I’m just not Twitter’s target demo. A beer of the week tweet, just as the name implies, once a week, might just be my tweeting speed. So, starting Thursday I’m going to do just that. Stop by and hit the “Follow” button. I suppose I should employ a hashtag, too (all the kids are doing it) so keep you eye out for #ddbeeroftheweek.

Simple and to the point—if it’s a I beer I like, maybe you’l like it too. No long-winded descriptions and judging. Just a beery suggestion of 140 characters, or less.

Now, all I have to do is remember to do it.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Of Beer and Democrats

This is my last politically-based post—I promise!

I don't even like politics, maybe it's just the time of year?

On the way home from work I caught an interesting interview on NPR's All Things Considered. In the intro, Audie Cornish, covering the Democratic National Convention from Charlotte, North Carolina, noted the lack of big business CEOs attending this year's convention. Apparently, big business and Barack Obama are at odds with each other—whoddathunk? She did, however, get the chance to speak with a more progressive minded CEO—Kim Jordan of New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Jordan lays out a pretty good picture of how and why she runs New Belgium the way she does, it just so happens her ideals fall more in line with President Obama, rather than Mitt Romney. Regardless of your slant—left, right or down-the-middle—have a listen and hear how politics and beer might not be as strange bedfellows as you might think.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

He's Better Than You, Just Ask Him

Okay, so maybe I'm a little overly critical of cele-brewers, but is it me, or does this article smack of pretension? At least, of back-handed complementariness.

Granted, I'm a little sick of hearing about the White House beer. The beer geeks and brew geeks* are foaming at the mouth and, yes I know, I contributed to the furor. In my defense, I just thought it was a cool beer story. I didn't expect a Freedom of Information Act request to be filed. Sometimes, as I've said before, the geek outweighs the beer. Yesterday's New York Times article, however oversteps passion and goes directly to douchebaggery.

I get that the Times might want to interview a professional brewer about the brewing process or what they think about the President's apparent love of beer. I also get that they want to talk to Garrett Oliver—he's polished and slick and likes to take pictures of himself with his goatee and his book—plus he's a cool guy. That's all cool. Except, there's a few little things that may have made Oliver come off a tad, um, pissy? He doesn't come out and say it, but the article makes it seem that Garrett's a little jealous that he didn't get a call from the red phone in the Oval Office. Take this statement about the White House's use of a min-mash process of malt extract and steeped grains:
“The version of brewing they’re doing at the White House might be called ‘second-level beginner.’"
Rigorous professionals, Mr. Oliver said, brew with malted barley, adding hops at appropriate times during the process for aromas, flavors and bitterness. An absolute beginner would use a liquid malt extract to which hops have already been added, like baking brownies from a mix — no muss, no fuss. The White House, Mr. Oliver said, has taken the next step, using a malt syrup but adding hop pellets, real hops that are ground up and pressed into pellets to preserve them. Most professional brewers, it should be noted, use hop pellets rather than actual hops.
Okay, that might be, but was that bit about being a "second-level beginner" even necessary to say? That's like saying someone who has driven for twenty-years—but never learned how to drive a manual shift—is a "second-level beginner". I've known people who have only-ever brewed with extract, and are far better brewers than I am. I can't however, vouch for their rigorousness. But, the next bit is the part that really gets me:
As a next step, Mr. Oliver suggested that rather than using the malt syrup, the White House produce its own mash of malted barley. “However, very few home brewers start by doing an actual mash — I certainly didn’t — so I’m happy to give the chefs a break here,’’ he said.
Oliver's ending to that paragraph, is the final nail in the coffin, for me. I hope he was joking when he said this, "...I’m happy to give the chefs a break here," and "these chefs", are the White House chefs, right? The same chefs who have prepared meals for Kings, Queens, Maharajahs, Premiers, Prime Ministers and Presidents from across the globe. Hell, Cristeta Comerford, the current White House executive chef, beat Emeril Lagasse and and Mario Batali on Iron Chef America. These people aren't a bunch of rubes making beer in their garage, this is the culinary staff of the goddamn White House. I bet  they can figure it out.

I'm sure that Oliver said a hundred things that never made the article, and I'm guessing his intention was not to look like the Grand-Poobah of the brew geeks. Again, maybe I've over critical, but when did beer-making become less important than the beer-maker?

* As a point of clarification—my definition of beer geek is one who loves him or her some good beer, while a brew geek is the IBU and gravity obsessed beer maker who loves to make themselves some good beer. It's a subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless.