Sunday, November 22, 2009

Why yes, I DO think I'm the Pope of Chilitown.

Today seemed like a chili kind of day, so I volunteered to make dinner. Ordinarily I'm pretty technical when it comes to cooking, but when it comes to chili I take a page out of Leah's book and sorta go by feel. I have a pretty standard list of ingredients, but I just sort of throw everything in to taste.

Now, with all the garbage that one inevitably eats over the holidays, I've been trying to eat healthier lately (with mixed results at best). Tonight I decided to go with chicken for my chili; it may not be as healthy as vegetarian but it's a step up from the usual pork or beef chili I make.

I figured the chicken would probably be best pulled, but I didn't have a ton of time to slow cook it. That's when inspiration hit me... why not simmer it in beer? I still have some Flossmoor Station Ruby Brown Dunkel left in the kegerator, and I figured a nice malty beer like that would definitely work well with the chili. So I chopped up a red onion and a clove of garlic and sauteed it in a stock pot. Then once they started to caramelize I dumped in a pint of the Dunkel.

Next I chopped a half chicken into pieces and removed the skin. I threw the chicken into the pot, sprinkled some sea salt and pepper on top, and simmered covered for about eight minutes. I then turned the chicken over, added more salt and pepper, and simmered for another eight minutes. At this point I removed the chicken and pulled off all the meat with a pair of forks. Once the chicken meat was pulled into small enough pieces I returned it to the stock pot.

The beer/onion/garlic mixture had reduced to the point that there was very little liquid left so I added another pint of Dunkel. I let the chicken simmer in the mixture for another fifteen minutes. After that I did my usual chili routine: I first added two cans of diced tomatoes, one can of kidney beans and one can of black beans, all drained. Then I added the following to taste: chili powder, cumin (LOTS of cumin), Mexican oregano, masa (Mexican corn flour), sea salt and a little celery salt.

I simmered all this together for about another half hour and served with freshly diced red onion and shredded white cheddar (and, for me at least, Frank's Red Hot). The result? In a word: awesome. The chicken was really, really flavorful. I like to think the beer had a lot to do with that. The spices blended well, though I was a little heavy-handed with the oregano and a little light on the garlic. And obviously a bowl of my chili and a pint of the Flossmoor Station Dunkel made an excellent pairing. Overall, this was definitely a keeper.

You know, it's funny. For the copious amounts of beer we have on hand at any given time, we rarely cook with beer. I guess I can credit a.) the incredible brewer's dinner at Rock Bottom Chicago that we attended last month, and b.) the most recent Drinking & Writing Radio Show in which Steve Mosqueda talked with chef Chris McCoy and brewmaster Pete Crowley about said brewer's dinner for inspiring me to make my beer chili. As you can see in the picture below, even Jonas liked it!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

(Gluten-free) brew day: Piper at the Gates Saison

As I've discussed previously, my buddy Pete (pictured in the label to the right) is gluten-intolerant and occasionally I like to brew gluten-free beer for him. It's fun for me because I get to do some outside-of-the-box thinking, and it's fun for him because my gluten-free beers are better than anything currently on the market (or so he claims). In the past I've brewed White Riot Gluten-Free Witbier and Folsom Prison Gluten-Free Stout (which actually came out more like a porter).

Pete liked the Wit more than the porter, and I think that beer worked particularly well for two reasons. First, the spices in the Wit mask the unique character of the sorghum syrup. Second, the one character of sorghum syrup that's hard to hide is a slight tartness, and a slight lacto bite is appropriate for a Witbier. Well, this time around I decided to go with another style that has a similar spicy, slightly tart character: Saison. And thus, Piper at the Gates Saison was born (yes, I'm sticking with the music theme for my gluten-free beers; if you don't know what I'm talking about, you need to purchase this).

One of my favorite Saisons is Hennepin, so I started with the BYO clone recipe. I tweaked the spices a little and changed the yeast but here's the recipe I'm planning on brewing at this point:
  • 6.6 lbs. sorghum syrup
  • 1 lb. cane sugar
  • 1 lb. dark brown sugar
  • 8 oz. maltodextrin
  • 6.5 AAU Styrian Golding hops (bittering hop)
  • 1.75 AAU Saaz hops (aroma hop)
  • 1 tsp. Irish moss
  • 1/2 oz. dried ginger root
  • 1/4 tsp. grains of paradise
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/4 oz. coriander
  • 1 oz. bitter orange peel
  • White Labs WLP500 (Trappist Ale) yeast
  • 3/4 cups corn sugar (for priming)
One of the nice things about gluten-free brew days is that after brewing 10-gallon all-grain batches for the past three years, it's a quick and easy brew day. The problem, as I learned today, is that when it's quick and easy you can make rookie mistakes. And I made three.

Things went pretty well early on. I brought 2.5 gallons of water to a boil (as I cut my 5-gallon recipe in half), added the sorghum, cane sugar and brown sugar as well as 2 oz. of Spalter Select hops (I went with Spalter Select because they were old and I didn't trust them for flavor/aroma hopping; I assumed 90% of their alpha acid as well due to aging).

Mistake #1: at twenty-five minutes I realized that I was supposed to augment the 2 oz. of Spalter Select hops with .4 oz. of the Saaz hops (with the rest of the Saaz added at knockout). I added them at that point but according to Beersmith that'll drop my bitterness by two IBU's and may contribute a flavor I wasn't planning on.

At fifteen minutes I added Irish moss and yeast nutrient and submerged my buddy's immersion chiller (I figured using the plate chiller for 2.5 gallons was overkill). I ground the coriander, black pepper and grains of paradise in a coffee grinder and got the ginger ready to go as well. At five minutes I added the spices.

Mistake #2: as I started to type this blog post, I realized I forgot the bitter orange peel. Fortunately this is a Saison, not a Witbier, so it'll change the character somewhat but won't take it out of style.

At knockout I added the final 0.6 oz. of Saaz hops and turned on the water to the wort chiller.

Mistake #3: I thought I had my thermometer between the coils such that my reading should be fairly characteristic of the wort overall. Apparently I was wrong because I thought I chilled it to 80°F but it turns out it was really around 100°F. And, because I'm an idiot, I added the yeast and THEN measured the temperature.

The good news is the Trappist yeast is supposed to be fairly temperature tolerant, so I threw the carboy in my chest freezer (which is around 40°F) and I'll pull it out once it gets down to around 75°F. I guess we'll see how it affects the flavor profile.

So there you have it. Gluten-free beer #3 is complete, even if it wasn't exactly as planned.

UPDATE: I was able to get the temperature down to 75°F in about two hours, and 30 hours later I'm seeing signs of fermentation so I think everything will be okay. :-)

UPDATE II: You can read my final analysis of the beer here.

Looking for an engineer who will work for beer

At any given time I usually have three beers and one non-alcoholic selection on tap in my basement kegerator, and it can be hard to keep track of how much is left in each. I've looked into various options for monitoring the levels but the best I found (the Keg-Meter) would run $400 for four kegs. Ouch.

Well, the other day I came across plans for this: a tweeting kegerator! Basically, you buy four 100-lb. force sensors and hook it up to an Arduino Ethernet Shield which sends the info to a webpage. You then use a software script to send updates to a twitter account. It seems that it would cost somewhere between $150 and $200 for everything, but how cool is that??!! Now, the problem... Even though the website gives detailed instructions for everything, I still have no idea what the hell they're talking about.

Sooooo... any engineers out there who are willing to work for beer? ;-)

Friday, November 13, 2009

FotoFriday #18

Leah bought a new lens this week. I don't know anything about it except that it was expensive. I guess it's pretty good, since I'm pretty clueless about photography but managed to snap the photo above. The subject? The kegerator, of course.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Doin' the dumb things I gotta do

I've been doing a lot of kegging lately in preparation for Saturday's Novemberfest party, so before I forget here's a quick rundown of what's in what:

F5 Altbier (WLP 038) - Krabappel
F5 Altbier (WLP 320) - Terwilliger
Gust Front Leipzig-Style Wheat - Quimby
Mr. Kim's Secret Microbrew - Frink
Hoar Frost Oktoberfest - Nahasapeemapetilon
Paddy Whacker Cider - Wiggum
Black Moon Black Witbier - Syzlak [EDIT: It finally kicked right before the party!]
Springfield Lemon Co. Lemonade - Krustofski

I also have a gallon or so left of two beers donated for our HOPS! Oktoberfest (the rule is if you supply the keg for Oktoberfest donations, you get to keep whatever's left at the end of the party):
Flossmoor Station Ruby Brown Dunkel - Hutz
Gordon Biersch Altbier - Lovejoy

Okay, with that all out of the way, a couple other notes... Today I kegged both the cider and the Mr. Kim's Microbrew. The cider finished at 1.003 and I'll be backsweetening the 2 gallons of fermented cider with a half gallon of fresh cider tomorrow morning (once it's dropped to around 35°F). The Mr. Kim's finished at 1014, which means it clocks in at a hefty 7.1% ABV... enriched indeed. I also took a sample of the Scottish ale, and it's already down to 1030 and tasting pretty damn good if I do say so myself.

On a completely unrelated note, yesterday I posted over at the HOPS! blog about three beers I'm looking forward to enjoying this winter. Check it out here and chime in with your favorite winter beers while you're at it.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Vor zwanzig Jahre fiel die Mauer

Twenty years ago the Wall fell. I think it's hard for many of us to truly understand the devastation caused by the erection of the Berlin Wall. For starters, I encourage you to watch this six-minute documentary:

To get a better idea of communism's impact in Germany, I recommend checking out two movies: Das Leben Der Anderen (The Lives of Others) and Good Bye Lenin! The former is a drama and the latter a comedy, and you can get both through Netflix.

I celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall by enjoying a glass of my homebrewed Leipziger Gose (as Leipzig was in the East) and following that with a bottle of Einsiedler Doppel Bock (from Chemnitz in the East). The Einsiedler was particularly appropriate as its history reflects the tumult caused by the rise and fall of East Germany.

I realize that twenty years later, there are still cultural rifts that have yet to heal, but here's hoping that twenty more years of freedom brings prosperity, both economic and cultural, to the former DDR.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Novemberfest is only a week away!

So when we moved back to Chicago in 2003 and, coincidentally started homebrewing, we decided to throw a party to catch up with all of our college friends living in the area. We were too busy in October (what with our homebrew club's Oktoberfest party, my church's Oktoberfest party, other Oktoberfest parties, Halloween parties, Columbus Day parties... okay, no Columbus Day parties, but you get the point) so we decided to have a Novemberfest party instead.

Well, five years later Novemberfest is still going strong. The only problem is, I kind of dropped the ball on the invites this year. I put together an evite about a week ago, but finished it around midnight and only got about half my invite list together before I got too tired and called it a night. I meant to finish up the invite list the next day but never did. So here's the deal... If you're reading this you're invited to Novemberfest. I'm going to try and get the rest of the invites out today (after the Festival of Barrel-Aged Beer), but given my level of disorganization and the amount of high-gravity beer I'll be consuming, I might miss a few people. So if you're in the Chicagoland area and want to stop by, drop me an email at rchibe [at] gmail [dot] com.

Now on to the specifics... The party is next Saturday (the 14th) and will start at 6:30 for those of you with little ones (well, anybody's welcome at 6:30, but we're starting early specifically for those who will be bringing their kids, as Dorrie's bedtime is 8pm and that should give them time to play before hitting the hay). We'll have our F5 Altbier, Hoar Frost Oktoberfest, possibly cider if it's not too harsh at that point, and some surprises. Feel free to bring some sort of snack or dessert if you're one of those people who can't show up empty-handed, but you really don't need to bring anything.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Good times, bad times, you know I had my share.

First the good times...Our Scottish Ale is fermenting away! Despite my worries about a dead yeast starter (as posted yesterday), something is generating a Kräusen in the carboy, and I strongly suspect it's brewer's yeast.

Now the bad times... We went 0-for-3 at the Chicago Beer Society Spooky Brew Review. The three beers we entered were our F5 Altbier, our Hoar Frost Oktoberfest and our Gust Front Leipzig-Style Wheat. My criticism of each are as follows: the Alt isn't hopped enough, the Oktoberfest is too hopped, and the Gose is too sweet. I'll be curious to see what the judges say. And one of these years I'll finally win something in my hometown's only homebrew competition.

If it's tangy and brown, you're in Cider Town!

We wanted to have some hard cider on hand for our Novemberfest party, but time kept getting away from us.

Exhibit A: Time-Sucks #1 and #2

We also weren't sure how to get preservative-free cider without making a special trip to an orchard which would have turned into some sort of all-day outing. And again, we didn't have a free day. But during one trip to Trader Joe's (It is kind of like my version of Mecca. Maybe if they offered massages or delivery it would be perfect, but it is awfully close anyway.) I noticed that their 1/2 gallons of cider said "UV pasteurized." I double checked on the label and with an employee, and yup, no preservatives at all. So, I called Russ to check on the amount we needed and threw 5 of them in my cart.

Then, of course, I got distracted for a week or so, and then by the time I finally remembered to do it (today) it may be too late for it to be ready for Novemberfest. D'oh.

So, today I asked Russ to run the numbers for back-sweetening and let me know the recipe he had finalized. Then dissolved some white and brown sugar (1/2 lb. and 1/4 lb. respectively) into some cider, then put that mixture plus 4 of the 5 1/2 gallon containers into a carboy. I added 1/8 tsp of potassium metabisulfate to ward off wild yeast, proofed the dry yeast in some warm water, and dumped it all together. Oh, and took a few pictures.

While I was doing that, I also restarted Martha Speaks on the tivo for Dorrie twice, let her help weigh and pour the sugar, and did the vast majority of the above one-armed while holding a very tired and cranky Jonas who just wanted me to sit down and nurse him to sleep and he just did NOT UNDERSTAND WHY, WOMAN, GET YOUR BOTTOM IN GEAR, I NEED MY MILKS.

I would like my award now, please.


Click on the picture for the flickr page with the notes. I would particularly like to draw your attention to the teeny weeny funnel that I used because I couldn't find the big funnel. The big funnel was 10 inches to my right from the above perspective - in the sink. Now Russ can make fun of me for that one instead of the time I couldn't find the orange juice in the fridge.

P.S. (update) Quit making fun of my blogspot photo formatting.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Brew day: North Kilttown Scottish Export/North Pole Export Christmas Ale

As we did last year, today we brewed a double batch, some of which will be fermented as is and some of which will be spiced (likely with vanilla) for a Christmas beer. We decided to go with a Scottish Export (80/-) for the base style... a style I love but haven't brewed for a while. Our trip to Scotland earlier this year definitely got me motivated to brew one again, and after completing our frenzy of Oktoberfest/Novemberfest German-style beers, we're finally getting around to brewing a Scottish beer for the first time since we went all-grain.

A quick note about the recipe... Historically, Scottish beers have a huge jump in gravity between an 80/- Export (which the BJCP indicates has a starting gravity between 1040 and 1054) and a 90/- Strong Scotch/Wee Heavy (which the BJCP says should be at least 1070). We wanted to go higher than an Export so that it's a nice winter warmer but not as rich as a Wee Heavy, so while we call this an Export it's really stronger than it should be. Maybe we could call it an 85/- ale?

Now, moving on to the brew day... I think I average one stressful brew day for every two smooth brew days. Today was a stressful one. I had issues with my water filter (the nylon that keeps the charcoal in the filter broke, leaving me with gray, charcoally water); my pump crapped out again (I'm pretty sure I need some sort of seal or o-ring replaced); I undershot my target mash temp by three to four degrees; my mash tun manifold came disconnected from the outlet--twice; I believe we had raccoon pee dripping down outside of our garage door (don't worry, it was NOT near the beer, nor did it get on anybody; but I'm pretty sure there are raccoons living in our garage loft); and I might have pitched a dead and/or infected yeast starter.

But those complaints aside, it was a successful brew day. I usually brew on Saturday mornings, but we spent the non-trick-or-treating part of our day going to car dealerships (you can check out our new wheels to the right). So today I fired up the brew kettle as soon as we got home from church. The mash seemed much thicker than usual (I used Golden Promise pale malt; maybe it's more floury than others?) so it took me longer than usual to dough in, leaving me with a mash temperature of 152-ish instead of my target of 156°F.

By 2:10 we had the sparge water ready to go and I started recirculating. Unfortunately, as I started to recirculate I noticed I was getting a TON of grain coming through the hose. My manifold had first come undone from the mash tun outlet when I was filling it with the strike water and I thought I had reconnected it successfully but apparently not (memo to myself: buy a clamp to connect the manifold to the outlet). As such, I had to dump out half of the mash into another pot so I could reattach the manifold. I suppose if I'm ever going to experience hot side aeration, this would be it. That being said, I've had to do this twice before and never noticed any issues.

After recirculating for twenty minutes or so, I started sparging at 2:30. Since Scottish ales are known for their caramelization, and I'm too lazy to do a two-hour-plus boil, I took the first gallon of runnings and sent it to the kitchen for Leah to reduce. Meanwhile, I started the kettle boiling at 3:00pm, when I had collected in the neighborhood of three gallons. By 3:45 I had collected 9.5 gallons (I was shooting for 8.25 gallons of wort, enough for a five-gallon batch of Export and a half-batch to be spiced for Christmas) and was ready to add the hops.

A note on the hops: I've always suspected that bittering hops are pretty much interchangeable, as any flavor or aroma is driven off. I decided to test that theory today, bittering the beer with Simcoe hops, a style generally considered NOT appropriate for European-style beers. We'll see if anybody notices.

At 4:30, I checked in on the reduction and it was down from a gallon to a quart. I tried a little and--damn--it was tasty. It was like liquid caramel corn. Leah was saying it would be great on ice cream or other desserts, and we might just try that with the finished beer. I added the reduction, along with an additional quart of water, back to the wort and also threw in some Irish moss.

By 4:50 I was ready to chill. I collected 8.5 gallons at around 63°F and then began to add the yeast starter of WLP 028 Edinburgh Ale yeast. It was then that I noticed a slightly odd, tart smell. I poured a sample of the yeast starter and it was kind of weird. It didn't seem sweet enough to suggest the yeast was dead, and it wasn't funky so I really don't think there was any wild yeast or bacterial infection, and the flask had been washed and used several times since I had the lacto starter in there, so I'm not sure what the deal is. Maybe it's nothing. I guess we'll see if we have fermentation tomorrow.

So yeah, that was my brew day. The wort tastes awesome and we ended up with an original gravity of 1070, four points above target, so I was happy with that. I'm just hoping we don't have any issues with the yeast and/or an infection. If it ferments well then this will fall into the category of "all's well that ends well." If not, I may try to turn this into some kind of sour ale. Lets hope it doesn't come to that.