There are several things to keep in mind when you’re on the precipice of enjoying your well-deserved beer. To name the essentials:
TEMPERATURE — don’t treat beer like it has to be as cold as the Rockies: would you serve a Malbec at a freezing temperature? No, so please respect your beer enough to let it breathe a little and warm up to cellar temperature (45-55°F) so it can properly display and perform its wonderful components. You can tell the difference even in a terrible beer: if the mountains on the can turn blue, your beer will smell and taste like cold, like licking the freezer crust off a Stouffer’s mac ‘n’ cheese, but if it warms a little you get the actual aroma and flavor. Think about it the next time you see those commercials about “drinkability” and “Cold as the Rockies” — what are they hiding behind all that cold?
GLASSWARE — proper glassware is another must. Accelerated in the wine industry by the Riedel family was the idea of specific glasses for certain wines to enhance the experience of drinking the product and enjoying it to the fullest degree. This has been a part of the good beer world since the beginning. Beer steins, goblets, snifters, tulips, kolsch, pints…the list goes on. I personally dread the presentation of a beer in the common, all-purpose shaker glass at most bars — the whole thing seems off if the beer isn’t showcased in the best light or in this case the best glass for its contents.
THE POUR — I can’t even get started on how many terrible pourers there are working in the bartending industry or just in casual settings. There is no excuse not to pour a beer correctly, because it’s too ridiculously easy. If you need video instruction, here’s your man.
One of my favorite parts about beer, besides the taste, are the different types of bottles they come in and their labels. You can get growlers at most any microbrewery brewpub, where for a fixed charge you can buy a half gallon of beer on tap and then bring it back when you’re done with that beer for a lesser charge for a refill. This is a great system and provides a solid link between the brewery and their customers. There are also bombers, which are the 22 oz. bottles you can find now in most any good grocery store. Some breweries only do bombers, like Buckeye Brewing but others do a mix of both bombers and the regular 12 oz. bottles. When you venture into lambics, you get to experience the delight of the champagne style bottle with cork and cap. Or if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on De Molen, you’ll have the treat of holding a sweet bomber with cork, champagne cage and wax top.
Alright I’m done geeking out on beer. Contribute comments or questions — I’m happy to answer!
Every brewer starts with 4 ingredients: water, hops, barley and yeast. Yeast is weird, gross but also kind of magical — for some reason the image of the gross kid from middle school eating his scabs keeps popping up in my head … that’s what yeast is like in the trio of other noble ingredients. But without that gross kid, middle school wouldn’t be the same and without yeast, beer could never exist.
But before yeast is added, the mash must happen. Mashing is the part where you put your grains or extract in a large vessel and bring it to a boil for about an hour or sometimes longer. Hops are added at different times during the boil to impart their particular characteristics in the bittering, flavoring and aroma aspects of the brew.
Next is the magic of fermentation, when the wort (the chilled result of the mashing process) gets to play with the yeast. The sugars broken down from the starch of the grains or extract are eaten by the yeast to produce the all mighty alcohol and CO2 content. There are three famous strains of yeast used in brewing: Saccharomyces cevisiae, this ale yeast is the variety that causes foaming on the top of the wort during fermentation while Saccharomyces uvarum is a lager yeast that is known as a bottom fermenter. Brettanomyces is hands down my favorite yeast because it is responsible for the funky goodness that is lambic. A brewer can choose between a dry yeast or a liquid yeast which has already been rehydrated as the yeast “starter” and offers the brewer more stability and fewer possibilities of infection in the brew.
Conditioning is another important step. For homebrewers it means the addition of priming solution (cornstarch and water) or spiese (practice of using unfermented wort) into bottles before the beer is bottled. This process is important to the development of carbonation in your bottles so your beer won’t be flat. Most big breweries force carbonate their brews with specialized bottling equipment. Conditioning can smooth out the flavors of the beer as well as provide carbonation. It is vital that you keep an eye on the gravity (what determines or estimates the original and final alcohol content of the brew) during the whole process and before bottling.
Now go study …. which translates to, go drink a beer and think about it.
After a full year of blogging about beer and food, I’ve realized that perhaps not everyone reading this blog is a die-hard beer geek and might be interested in the basics of what makes beer awesome. Therefore, in the next weeks I’ll be rolling out Beer School 101. The first installment covers “The Harvest”, wherein I’ll discuss the growing of hops and barleys, and the different varietals among them.
Hops are an essential ingredient to beer and are a product of a female plant. They provide an array of different flavors and aromas in beer when used at different periods of the beer making process which will be discussed in greater detail later. As for growing hops, something I have yet to try, their process is fairly easy and has been likened to the rapid growth of kudzu. They are trained up stakes or trellises as they are a climbing plant. Only the cones/flowers are used in the brewing process and look like spikey, leafy pine cones but smaller and bright green.
Pictured above are fresh hops which can be used in brewing but offer some difficulties in consistency for the brewer. More commonly, hops in pellet form are being used for their increased stability and consistent flavor delivery during the boil. If you have access to your own fresh hops, you can crush one of the cones between your fingers then drop in the bottom of a glass and pour say an IPA over it: having crushed the cone you’ve released the aromatic oils of the hop flower which can greatly enhance your drinking experience.
There are many different varietals of hops, each with their own distinct profile that results in a spectrum of flavors and aromas. Two uses for hops are bittering and finishing: bittering is used to make a beer have a bitter bite to it while a finishing hop is used to produce certain aromas that are citrus/piney/resinous/floral/grassy.
Barley is the second ingredient essential to beer. It can be grown in two-row or six-row which indicates the style of beer in which it will be utilized. The row number refers to the amount of barley on the plant that will later be husked for use. The lower the row number = the higher amount of sugar available for fermentation which yields a higher alcohol content. Most English Ales and traditional German brews use two-row for this very reason while American ales sometimes use six-row if they’re using additives such as corn. Barley is malted for brewing use, meaning the barley is soaked in water until it germinates which gets the enzymes working so the starch of the plant turns into usable sugars. Remember that sugar is what the yeast will feed on later to create alcohol and CO2.
I could go on and on about the complexities of these two important ingredients, but hopefully you get the general idea. Now you know a little more about what goes into that beautiful thing called the beer in front of you. Cheers!
Last week was my second time working at Buckeye Brewing this summer. Two weeks ago, all I did was wipe down the bombers before packaging them in cases and transporting them to the coolers. As boring as that may sound, no task is menial at a brewery and it allowed me to keep my ears open and ask a lot of questions about the brewery and its history. My second time round, I worked a 9 hour day: the first half went the same as the previous week and the second half I got to bottle. I was doing alright until I mixed up the buttons. The bottling machine works by placing 2 bombers under the fillers and pressing 2 black buttons at the same time. Then you move the bombers over to the capper and press 2 yellow buttons and 1 bottle is capped at a time.
However, I managed to accidently press the black buttons instead of the yellow when no bombers were under the fillers and so 2 bombers of Hippie IPA went spraying all over the machine, the table, the floor and me while I yelled, “NO NO NO!!! STOP STOP STOP!!!” I pressed the stop button and called over the owner who was very sweet and told me “It wouldn’t be a brewery if you didn’t get soaked in beer at some point”. To insure it didn’t happen again, I wrote in red sharpie on the back of my hands, “Black Beer” and “Yellow Cap”.
That was one highlight of the day, but the real highlight was being shown and allowed to dry hop the Hippie IPA with Cascade pellets for aroma. Hop pellets are so funny looking, they remind me of gerbil food from 5th grade science class. However, they offer brewers a great advantage in that they are more consistent in their bittering and aroma capabilities and more stable during the boil than regular full hops. Anyways, the point of this little story is that even after my little accident I came away feeling like a big girl and one step further on the brewing yellow brick road.
A few weeks ago, I tried my hand at pairing an interesting beer list around a dinner prepared by a friend. I knew my audience: 11 friends and some family, a few winos and some dedicated but uneducated hopheads. The menu was a delicious hodge-podge: Cambodian chicken rice (details below), bbqed thick cut steaks, chickpea salad and for dessert crepes with homemade walnut frangipane.
To whet our appetites I started the diners off with a personal hop favorite, Bell’s Hopslam (only downside is the pricey nature of a 6-pack so go singles and mix it up with other hoppy friends like Thirsty Dog Hoppus Maximus, etc.).
Beer truly made its place known at our table and garnered the attention of everyone. To compliment the juicy chargrilled steaks: Lakefront Organic ESB. For the spicyness of both the Cambodian chicken rice and the chickpea salad a bottle of Saison Dupont Vielle Provision and a Cantillon Gueuze – the tartness of both played off the spicyness and citrus aspect complimented the ingredients of the salad well. Dessert was incredibly rich and very sweet, so in order to pay respect to this classic French sweet I served up small doses of Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout. LIke a shot of coffee as an aperatif, this brew is lavish but bitter enough to stand beside the crepe. Hell, you could pour this over vanilla ice cream and call it a night.
CAMBODIAN CHICKEN RICE:
Saute in a large and decently deep skillet one large yellow onion and a large garlic clove in olive oil over medium heat
Over the sauteed onions and garlic toss in 3 large chicken breasts cut in bite size pieces
As soon as the chicken starts to turn from pink to white start coating the surface of the entire pan with turmeric, cayenne, ground or fresh shredded ginger and black pepper. Alter the spice amount depending on your spice threshold. Add in about a cup of fish sauce (you can find this around the soy sauce at any large grocery store) and half a bag of frozen or fresh peas.
At the same time you start the process of the chicken and spices, start making a few cups of white rice depending on how much or how little rice you want to eat with your creation. Once this is prepared (the simplest way I’ve found is just taking another large skillet over medium heat, throwing in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Cook the rice until it starts to turn translucent around the edges and then start adding water, let it cook out and then add more until the rice is al dente).
Once the rice is complete turn back to your chicken stew and toss in a can of coconut milk and the rice and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Serve up with some lime wedges and cilantro.
I started off my journey through the beer world at a very young age learning from my father that light beer was the enemy and so were the macros. What I didn’t know about was the world of beer that existed outside my father’s Guinness, Boddington’s and Murphy’s. Now my eyes have been opened to the panoply of earthly delights created by geniuses operating mash-tuns and fermenting delicious hops, weird yeast strains and varied malts. My interest has been peaked and I doubt my fascination with this micro/craft industry will ever plateau.
My appetite is voracious for trying beer and food outside my comfort zone and I hope to share this journey with others who share this dual passion. I wish this to be a haven for everyone obsessed with the pursuit of all things right and beautiful in food and beer. As women we are a minority in a male-dominated industry, but we are no less welcome. Cheers to all!!!