Saturday, January 30, 2010

From the top you can see Monterey, or think about San Jose (though I know it's not that pleasant)

So here I am sitting in the San Jose airport, waiting for the fog to lift so I can head home. San Jose isn't that bad (their airport has free wifi; their hockey team--the San Jose Sharks--gracefully lost to the visiting Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night; the weather was in the 60's), but aside from a Gordon Biersch (which had a tasty Sticke Alt on tap, by the way) they don't have much beer-wise. Fortunately I spent a full day in Monterey, where my good buddy Eric introduced me to two local brewpubs.

The first brewpub we stopped at was called Peter B's Brewpub. It sits right off the harbor, and seeing that a little over 24 hours earlier I was in sub-freezing temps, we took advantage of the sun and decidedly warmer temps and sat outside. Eric had heard that their food was better than their beer, which indeed seemed to be somewhat of an afterthought for management. The only seasonal they had was a porter, which seemed like a fairly pedestrian style for a specialty release. (In their defense, the waitress said they were about to tap a Scottish Ale--too bad they were too late for Robbie Burns Night.) With nothing jumping out at me, I opted for their sampler. While nothing blew me away, their beers were solid (and I realize that probably sounds pejorative but I mean it in a good way). The Pilsner was a little light for my liking (clearly their offering for the Bud/Miller/Coors crowd), but the Hefeweizen was pretty tasty. Their IPA was rather balanced, which would probably bum out hopheads but I appreciated. And their seasonal porter was really good... roasty but rather clean, the way I like my porter.

Their food was quite good for pub fare. We started out with their "stinky fries," which were hand-cut french fries drenched in garlic butter made with local garlic. Stinky? Yes, but also awesome. Eric had the pulled pork which he seemed to enjoy and I had fish tacos made with local fish. Was it the most amazing brewpub I've been to? No, but the food was tasty and the beer--while nothing I'd go out of my way for--was enjoyable. If you're in Monterey and are heading toward the water, it's definitely worth stopping by. And while it appears management isn't really catering to hardcore beer geeks, hopefully they give the brewmaster some more latitude in the future to brew some more adventurous seasonals.

Later that afternoon we stopped by English Ales Brewery in nearby Marina, CA. Unlike Peter B's, English Ales was clearly all about the beer, and specifically all about the U.K. pub experience. It had a bit of a hole-in-the-wall feel, but in a good way. It had a wooden bar with English-style taps, including what appeared to be two beer engines for casks. Around the bar they had small tables that appeared to be patio furniture. There was one older gentleman working the entire pub. And as you can see in the accompanying picture, the place was covered with mugs for its mug club members.

We got there around 3pm with it rather empty and by the time we left an hour or so later it was pretty packed; they definitely seem to have a following. After I tried my first beer, an English-style IPA on cask, I could tell why. It really was an English-style IPA, bright and fruity with a bracing, earthy bitterness in the finish. Anybody brewing that kind of beer in the middle of West Coast Hop Bomb Land is serious about their English ales. Next I had their Good King Senseless Winter Ale, which I thought was on cask but I'm pretty sure was not (at least not the pint I was served). It was a really nice winter warmer; rich at ~7% ABV but not too heavy; fruity and spicy but not overdone; and just enough roastiness to keep it from being sweet. Overall, I'm not obsessed with British ales, but if I were I would have been in heaven.

So anyway, that was my pub experience in Monterey. Nobody's going to confuse it for the San Francisco/Santa Rosa area further north, but you could certainly do worse than to spend a day visiting Peter B's and English Ales.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Electric Beer and Mustard Test

Sunday night I decided to give this mustard-making business a go. The two ingredients you need for mustard are mustard seed and liquid. I wanted to get an idea for the basic flavors I'm dealing with, so I made four small test batches: yellow mustard seed with beer (our North Kilttown Scottish Ale, to be specific); yellow mustard with cider vinegar; brown mustard with beer; and brown mustard with vinegar.

My procedure was pretty simple: I took one tablespoon of seeds and soaked them in one tablespoon of liquid for two hours. After the two hours I added a little more liquid so that you could see liquid at the top of the seeds (the seeds soaked up liquid--especially the yellow ones--so after a couple hours it didn't look like there was any liquid in the glasses). I then ground the seeds. The volume of seeds was so small that our small food processor wouldn't work. I tried putting the mixture in a zip-loc bag and crushing them with a rolling pin but that didn't work too well either. Eventually I used the flat end of a meat pounder to crush the seeds in a zip-loc bag. That seemed to work well, though hopefully when I up the quantities I can use an actual food processor.

Last night I again added more liquid to get the mixture to roughly the consistency of ketchup. It's recommended you let it age at least a couple days so the flavors can blend, so tonight (two nights later) I decided to do a tasting with Leah. (As you can see in the picture above, I decided to pair my mustard with some Half Acre Magnus Schwarzbier; an awesome brew despite the fact they spell it "Schwartz," which would not please my old German professor.) Here are our tasting notes on each:

Yellow mustard seeds with beer:

Leah- "Tastes somewhat like rottenness, but with a mustardy undertone."
Me- "Kind of bitter and flavorless up front. You get a little mustard heat in the finish, but otherwise it's rather bland."

Brown mustard seeds with beer:

Leah- "Mild but noticeably mustardy, with a hint of heat though it is still not at all spicy."
Me- "Horseradish-like brown mustard flavor; kind of mellow but still noticeable as mustard."

Brown mustard seeds with cider vinegar:

Leah- "A fairly typical-tasting spicy mustard. The spice is noticeable but not overwhelming. The texture is really good."
Me- "Initially it has a tart, sour mustard flavor; after you swallow you get some noticeable mustard heat."

Yellow mustard seeds with cider vinegar:

Leah- "Quite vinegary, with the mustard taste coming through a bit after the vinegar. Still has a decent amount of heat, but it's overwhelmed by the vinegar taste."
Me- "This one tastes the most like yellow mustard. It's tart like the brown, but it seems to bring out the mustard flavor more. It has more heat and pungency up front, but lacks the slow burn of the brown mustard."

A couple thoughts in response to the notes above... First, as I mentioned earlier, the yellow mustard seemed to soak up more liquid, which is why I think the yellow mustard with beer tasted so weird and the yellow mustard so vinegary. I'm thinking if we do something with predominantly yellow seeds we may want to add some water to whatever liquid we use if it's too thick. Second, according to this site introducing acidity will stop the formation of heat, so if I want really hot mustard I should use water first and then thin it out with vinegar (or any other acidic liquid) later to lock in the appropriate level of heat. That may be a fun thing to experiment with later.

For now, it seems that beer and yellow mustard isn't too good of a combination by itself. For a mild mustard, perhaps initially soaking the mustard seeds in yellow and THEN thinning it out with beer may work better. Brown mustard seeds definitely work better with beer, though even then it's fairly mellow. Both brown and yellow mustard seeds have more of a kick with cider instead of beer.

A good start to our mustard-making experiments. Look for more to come!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Final analysis: North Pole Export

A while back I said I need to catch up on tasting notes, and tonight I'm finally getting around to making good on my promise.

Style: Christmas/Winter Specialty Spiced Beer. Orig. gravity: 1070. Final gravity: 1019.
ABV: 6.7%. IBU's: 25.

Appearance: As you can see above, the beer pours a deep ruby, almost mahogany, color. It's fairly opaque with just a wisp of head. I'm not sure if it's due to subdued carbonation or the addition of vanilla beans (which introduce oil into the beer), but it's not something I'm too hung up about given that Scottish beers aren't exactly known for their head.

Smell: Mmm... vanilla. It definitely predominates. There's a hint of sweetness from the malt, and I swear there's a touch of brandy (which is what I soaked the vanilla beans in), but I'm guessing I'm only picking up the latter because I know it's there. I suppose some people might complain there's too much vanilla, but as somebody who rarely spices his beer, when I do I like to go all-out.

Taste: The vanilla hits you up front and then gives way to a honey-like malt sweetness. You pick up a little of the kettle caramelization before you get more vanilla in the finish. The sweetness at the end is tempered by a slight, neutral hop bitterness and a kiss of roasted barley. There's also a weird flavor that lingers that I can't put my finger on. When I brought the non-vanillaed Scottish to a recent HOPS! meeting, it was suggested the flavor might be the result of fermenting at too high of a temperature. I also noticed the same flavor when I brewed my Irish Red a while back--which I then attributed to the use of melanoidin malt--and also when I tried Short's The Magician London Red Ale.

Mouthfeel: It's a little thin, but I suppose similar to what you would find on cask. Still, I would probably make it a little more carbonated next time.

Overall: For a Christmas ale, I wouldn't mind getting the gravity down just a hair and upping the dark malts (maybe complement the roast barley with some Carafa?). I could also see complementing the vanilla with a little clove or allspice to add a little complexity. As it is, it's still a satisfying winter warmer.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

We said Yes! to M!ch!gan!

I'm a huge Blackhawks fan, and Leah--a native of Petoskey, MI--grew up a Red Wings fan. However, she's never been to Joe Louis Arena, so for Christmas I got her tickets to see Sunday's Hawks-Wings game (which, incidentally, the Hawks won in a shootout... LET'S GO BLACKHAWKS!!!).

We left yesterday morning and spent the night in Ann Arbor. Of course, you can't drive across Michigan without hitting up some breweries, right? Well, we planned stops at two brewpubs: Dark Horse Brewing Co. in Marshall for lunch, and Arbor Brewing Co. in Ann Arbor for dinner. Here's my review of each...

We pulled into Marshall, MI (conveniently located just off of I-94) around 1:00pm local time. Dark Horse wasn't hard to find. From the outside it didn't look that impressive, but inside it was awesome. It had all the cool elements of a dive bar--beat-up hardwood floors, odd pictures along with some random graffiti all over the walls, metal on the jukebox. But there were little touches that told you this clearly wasn't a dive bar. Hand-designed wrought iron decorations over the windows (which we stupidly forgot to take a picture of). Great beer on tap. Oh, and the mugs.

The entire place is lined with hand-made ceramic (?) mugs for their mug club members. Despite having seating for somewhere in the neighborhood of forty people, they have over TWO THOUSAND mug club members. Apparently it's $46 to join but you get a lifetime membership, so it's not that big of a commitment to sign up. Hell, I was ready to sign up if I knew I'd be back more than three times in my lifetime (and I certainly hope I will be). The food was great pub fare, but I don't feel like writing about food. On to the beer...

Dark Horse is one of my favorite breweries, and they're widely available here, so I tried the three selections that aren't available here. The first was their Boffo Brown Ale. Brown ales can be quite hit or miss, but this one was definitely hit. Not too sweet, not too roasty, with just enough Pacific Northwest hops to give it a little citrus note without being bitter. Next I had their Four Elf Winter Warmer. I'm not a huge fan of spiced beers, but the combination of alcohol plus rich malt and roasted notes (it was a dark beer, almost stout-like though not that roasty) stood up well to the spices. Nice. Finally, I tried a sample of their Smells Like Weed IPA. Having been to many a concert I'm familiar with the smell of pot, and I didn't think it smelled that much like weed, but it was tasty nonetheless. Overall, I highly recommend anybody trekking across I-94 take a quick detour to Dark Horse.

That evening we proceeded to Arbor Brewing Co., in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor. I'm afraid to say our experience there was not as positive. The inside was nice enough, though not terribly distinct. I started out with the Olde Number 22, which they claim is a Sticke-style Altbier. It came without a hint of a head and, not surprisingly, tasted flat. On top of that, it didn't really taste like a Sticke at all. It wasn't hoppy, it wasn't malty. At first I seriously wondered if they accidentally gave me their porter on cask. It was simply a thin ale with enough roasted specialty malts to give it a dark color without making it overly roasty (perhaps they used Carafa?). But an Alt it was not. To say I was disappointed is an understatement.

Next I had the aforementioned porter on cask (which allowed me to confirm it was different from the Olde Number 22). Fortunately, the porter on cask was much better. Unfortunately, after drinking about a third of my pint I suddenly came across a bit of something slimy. I reflexively spit out my beer and discovered a glob of something floating in my glass. Upon further inspection it wasn't a piece of a hop leaf; honestly I'm still not sure what it was. The waiter got me a fresh pint though he didn't seem particularly troubled by my discovery.

I will say in Arbor's defense that the two beers which were most highly recommended--their breakfast stout and Doppelbock--were both out, so maybe I would've had a different opinion if I had tried those. And hopefully the random floatie in my porter was a freak occurrence. Overall, however, I'm not in any hurry to return.

So that was our weekend from a beer-centric perspective. Michigan is definitely spoiled when it comes to breweries (as the folks over at Michigan Beer Buzz will tell you) so I've still got plenty of other breweries to check out. But I'm definitely glad to have finally gotten to Dark Horse and hope to return soon.

P.S. On the way back, I snapped the following picture at a gas station. It's a good thing they had the "out of order" sign on the pump, or else I would have had no idea:

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mean Mr. Mustard

A while back I ordered some soft pretzels at Rock Bottom Chicago and they were served with a whole-seed beer mustard. That's when I first got the idea to try to make mustard with my beer. Then I visited Düsseldorf, home of the famous Düsseldorfer Mostert. Not only did I bring home three bottles of Altbier, but I also brought back two jars of Füchschen's mustard (yes, my favorite brewpub there makes their own).

Well, I finally decided to take the plunge and ordered five pounds of mustard seed--three pounds brown and two pounds yellow--from (which surprisingly was cheaper than eBay). Initially there are two types of mustard I'd like to try to make . . . the first is the whole-seed mustard like the one I had at Rock Bottom, and for that I found this recipe:

12 ounces stout beer [I'll likely substitute whatever homebrew I have on hand]
1 ½ cups brown mustard seeds
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice

The second mustard I'd like to make would be a Düsseldorf-style mustard, but I can't seem to find a recipe. The best info I could find is this:
The original Düsseldorf mustard is the ABB (Adam Bernhard Bergrath) brand which used to be available only at a certain market stall here, but nowadays can also be found at a couple of high-end supermarkets located in department stores. Traditionally, it is made only with brown mustard seeds from which the oil is not extracted, as well as with verjuice instead of vinegar. Today, commercial Düsseldorf mustard is made with yellow and brown seeds, and with aromatic spirit vinegar.
Is it true? I have no idea, but it sounds good to me. Anyway, for now my plan is to start simple (perhaps make four mustards--one brown seeds with vinegar, one yellow seeds with vinegar, one brown seeds with beer and one yellow seeds with beer) so I can familiarize myself with the flavors involved and then go from there. I also think I'm going to pick up a book or two on mustard to get a better idea of what goes in to various styles of mustard.

In the meantime, I figured I would post this in case anybody out there has 1.) information on Düsseldorf-style mustard and/or 2.) experience making mustard themselves. I'll definitely post recipes and results once my mustard seeds come in. Beer and mustard . . . does it get any better than that?

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A different kind of brew day

My good friends Doug and Tracy Hurst of Metropolitan Brewing know their beer. If you're in Chicago and have tried their beers, you know what I'm talking about. However, nobody's perfect, and to demonstrate that Doug and Tracy foolishly solicited my input when developing their spring seasonal, I-Beam Alt. Of course, I wasn't about to turn them down (especially with the prospect of free beer!) so this afternoon the family and I headed up to Andersonville to help brew an 8-gallon pilot batch of Altbier.

We had an awesome time. Quasi-Metro brewer John Laffler (who primarily practices his art at Goose Island's Fulton brewery) joined us and ended up doing more work than I did, and a constant parade of visitors trickled through as well. As you can see above, having a forklift makes a three-tier brewing system a piece of cake. And as you can see below, Dorrie had a blast being chased around by Tracy and Phelps. The brew day itself went rather smoothly, save a couple issues with the burner. Needless to say I'm excited to see how this first batch comes out; the thought of having a true Düsseldorf-style Alt on tap in Chicago makes me kind of giddy.*

As a bonus, we met Robert Birnecker, the owner/distiller at Koval Distillery (which is conveniently next door to Metro). He invited us to stop by and check out the place . . . and sample a few spirits of course. I must confess I'm fairly ignorant when it comes to grain spirits (if you don't believe me, I invite you to check out my post describing my trip to a Scottish whisky distillery), so I may have missed some of the subtleties of their offerings, but I really enjoyed their Rye Chicago which was almost like a cross between whiskey and vodka. As you can see below, I'm really good at drinking things and looking like I have any idea what's going on (and that's Robert in the "Master Distiller" sweatshirt dumping yeast into the mash).

Oh, one last thing to note. Leah and I finally busted out our final bottle of Döllnitzer Ritterguts Gose so we could do a side-by-side tasting with our Gose. The result? Döllnitzer was definitely more sour, but the sour-to-salt balance was actually quite similar to ours. The two other big differences were the coriander was much more evident in our beer (though I actually liked ours better in that regard) and we had a slight fruitiness from the yeast that wasn't present in Döllnitzer. Overall, I think ours turned out pretty well considering it was our first attempt at souring a beer with lactobacillus, but I'd still like to jack up the sourness next time.

So that was our day. A little exhausting (though I'm not quite sure why since I mainly stood around talking and drinking) but a great time. Now get off your computer and go find some Metro beer!

*I guess technically I should say another true Düsseldorf-style Alt on tap since Kevin Blodger, the brewer at Gordon Biersch's Bolingbrook location, brewed an Alt last year that took bronze at the GABF, but that awesome brew was only on tap out in the 'burbs so it doesn't count. ;-)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

One item checked off my to-do list

So, in addition to neglecting the blog over the holidays, I also neglected my kegerator (shameful, I know). Fortunately I finally welcomed my kegerator into the new decade tonight. Out goes the Metropolitan Krankshaft (the only commercial brew to ever take up residence in our basement), the Hoar Frost Oktoberfest, the F5 Altbier and the Paddy Whacker Cider. In comes our Mr. Kim's Secret Microbrew, North Pole Export Christmas ale, Gust Front Leipzig-Style Wheat (aka Leipziger Gose) and Ten Percenter Seltzer. As you can see in the picture above, I printed out the labels and updated the tap handles so if somebody breaks into our house and decides to pour a beer, they'll at least know what they're drinking. I'll hopefully post reviews on all of these soon (well, all except the seltzer, obviously; for some reason, Leah really likes seltzer when she's pregnant. Oh yeah, I guess I should mention Leah's pregnant again. I know... some of us never learn).

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Formed a blog; we formed a blog. Look at us! We formed a blog.

Okay, so we started the blog a long time ago, but given that I've neglected it for the past month it feels like I'm starting all over. In fairness to myself, I haven't brewed in a couple months so there hasn't been that much to blog about, but there were plenty of times where I meant to post something and got distracted. Funny how that happens around the holidays, especially when you have two kids.

Anyway, we did do a few beer-related things over the holidays. Most notably, we bottled some of our North Pole Export Christmas ale to give away as gifts. Why is this notable? Well, we actually used bottle wax for the first time (I thought it would make them look more fancy when I gave them to my bosses).

The process actually went pretty smoothly. I started by putting some wax beads in an old soup can, which I then heated in a double-boiler.

This took too long, so I removed the top pan and just heated the can in boiling water. That worked just fine. Once the wax was melted, I just dipped the bottle into the can (duh).

Since I was only doing about eight bottles, I didn't add a ton of wax beads to the can, which meant I didn't get as much wax covering the bottle as you see on most commercially-available waxed bottles. Nonetheless, I thought the finished product looked pretty cool:

Not bad for a first time, right?

Anyway, that's the first thing I was meaning to post over the holidays. Besides that, I have a whole bunch of tasting notes I need to post. Maybe I'll start knocking those out one a day. Ah, who am I kidding? That ain't gonna happen. But I will try to start posting more often (which is more than I can say for Brian over at the Daily Ikura or Señor Brew™ at Noble Square Brewing--yeah, I'm calling you guys out!). Here's to lots of great beer in 2010!