Beer & Health: What Ales You?

What the doctor ordered?

What the doctor ordered?

Did my title pun make you groan? Just be glad I didn’t go with “Beers to Your Health.” (Ha! Gotcha. I’ve already used that one.)

Readers of this blog may have noticed that I have not been posting much this year so far. Part of the reason has been the blasted polar vortex, also known as “a slightly worse than usual Minnesota winter.” When the temperature is dangerously low and the roads are icy, we are less keen to venture out and seek new beer experiences. Another reason for the reduction in my beer writing has been health. Namely, I’m trying to shed a few pounds. With the aforementioned winter scene, running outside (my main calorie-burner) is now reserved primarily for people who are looking to lose weight via the loss of body parts through frostbite or who are seeking to twist their ankles in order to get out of dancing at their cousin’s wedding (you know who you are). The treadmill at the gym is a great way to hate running, so consequently… many of us get a little extra padding this time of year. I eat pretty well and I rarely drink calories in the form of soda or juice. Beer, on the other hand….

I like to keep up with health studies, particularly if they help justify my favorite vice. Alcohol presents a hugely mixed bag of blessings and curses for those who imbibe. But let’s start there. Blessing #1: Those who drink moderately live longer than teetotalers. Researchers are not quite sure why, but they think it may have something to do with reduced stress and the social aspect of drinking. I’ve long said it: Beer is the beverage that bonds. New research suggests that alcohol lengthens telomeres, the little aglet-type dealies on the ends of our DNA that cause aging and disease as they become shorter. This leads to the next question of what “moderately” means. It differs for men and women, partially due to average body size and partially due to a difference in an enzyme that breaks down alcohol (ADH, alcohol dehydrogenase).

The one on the right might actually be two.

The one on the right might actually be two.

The recommendation for the upper limit on alcohol consumption is up to one daily drink for women and up to two for men. It is important here to understand what “a drink” means in this context: Wine (non-fortified) = 5 ounces; spirits (80 proof) = 1.5 ounces; beer = 12 ounces.

But hold on just a second. Did you see that there wasn’t a descriptor for “beer.” When you see that, you should understand that the guidelines are referring to the common beer that is widely consumed across the nation. That is, MacroCrap. MacroCrap beers are light lagers and rarely go above 5% ABV. Granted, there are many craft beers that are 5% or less, but there are even more that are “double” this or “imperial” that — and that means that you are probably hitting 9% or higher. So when you calculate your daily alcohol units, that 10 ounce glass of Lift Bridge Commander barleywine (oh, it’s yummy stuff) has more than twice the volume of alcohol as the guideline expects for beer and, at 12.5%., should actually be consumed under the guidelines for wine. Yep, that 10 ounce pour counts as two drinks. (I know. Bums me out, too.)

So what are the health issues with exceeding the recommended weekly alcohol amounts? (FYI, I respect booze and hope you do, too. Therefore, I will not cover issues of binge drinking, alcoholism, driving while impaired, or even heavy drinking, as I firmly believe in being a responsible drinker.) Curses #1 & 2: There’s obviously the effect on the liver, but there is also a link between moderate drinking and breast cancer. As someone with a family history of breast

Enjoying the product of these Lift Bridge tanks and contemplating our health.

Enjoying the product of these Lift Bridge tanks and contemplating our health.

cancer, I must acknowledge the risk every time I raise a glass, though I am heartened that the studies show only a “modest” increase in the risk. Speaking of being “heartened,” we come to Blessing #2: Moderate consumption of alcohol has been shown to reduce risk of heart attack. Yay! I also have a family history of heart disease, so maybe Blessing 2 and Curse 2 balance out the risk.

There are other studies about the health benefits and detriments of booze. While alcohol is a “super-sugar” and therefore can be harmful for diabetics (Curse #3), some studies have shown that moderate drinking can also reduce the risk of developing Type II diabetes in the first place (Blessing #3). But this back-and-forth is about alcohol in general. What of beer in particular?
 
For women with a gluten sensitivity, drinking beers gives them a higher risk of developing the skin disease psoriasis (Curse #4). However, beer has also been found to be a good source of silicon, which is a key ingredient in increasing bone density and preventing osteoporosis (Blessing #4). The beer types that contain the most silicon are lighter in color (read: not roasted) and highly hopped. So rejoice, all you hopheads out there! And a big cheer for beer in Blessing #5: Beer is the only alcoholic beverage to be linked to a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease. (I’ll have one for you tonight, Uncle Roger.)
 
(Note for you gluten-sensitive types: Burning Brothers in St. Paul is in full production now and they only make gluten-free beer. I tried Pyro, their flagship American pale ale, and was very pleasantly surprised. Other gluten-free beers I’ve had have not been satisfying, usually lacking depth or complexity. This beer, however, has a nice floral nose, strong hop flavor, and a pine-to-citrus aftertaste with just a hint of caramel. Though I have no problem with gluten, I would gladly drink this beer again.)
 
For you athletes out there (and as a runner myself who also does duathlons and triathlons, I guess I count in that designation),

Triathletes in need of beer.

Triathletes in need of beer.

beer can aid in your post workout recovery, which is a good thing given the number of running events that serve free beer afterwards. Early studies were done in Germany with marathoners given non-alcoholic beer. The polyphenols in beer were shown to decrease inflammation. Building on that, a Canadian company has developed a post-workout beer beverage that is low calories, very low alcohol, high nutrient, and high protein. I’m skeptical of its drink-worthiness, though, and I have a feeling that the runners of the Chicago Marathon might riot if their free Goose Islands beer ever get swamped out for a near-beer. A study cited in the workout beer link suggests that alcohol impairs protein synthesis, which is important after a strenuous workout. However, not only were the subjects in the study consuming excessive amounts, they were not drinking beer, they were drinking vodka! Not going to get any polyphenol boost there, guys.

 
More research must be done on beer’s benefits … and I suppose its drawbacks, if you must. I will take it upon myself to study the effects of moderate post-running beer consumption … as soon as it warms up a bit.
 
 

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Now Open: Day Block Brewing

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Barn art? No, a new brewpub!

January 27, a bitterly cold day here in Minnesota, saw the opening of the newest brewpub in the state: Day Block Brewing in Minneapolis. Two days later, once the temperature rose into the double digits above zero, I headed over with some trusty beer-loving friends to try it out. On Washington Avenue, just a block down from the Loft Literary Center (one of my other haunts), Day Block’s location is great for accessibility, but parking can be tricky. Mr. NN and I were fortunate enough to snag a spot in the parking lot (they score points for having one), and there is a street nearby where the meter rate is just 25 cents an hour, but the closer spaces are more expensive. (And no, I’m not divulging which street has the cheap parking; otherwise you’d steal my fallback parking spots!)

Main bar area

Main bar area

The first thing I noticed upon entering the spot (formerly the location of Spill the Wine) was how open it felt. For one thing, they knocked down the wall to the adjacent site, so it is larger than Spill the Wine. Secondly, they kept the large floor-to-ceiling windows on the front that prevent the space from feeling closed in. Though there are many tables and seats at the two bars, there could actually be a few more, if they should need them. Beyond the spaciousness, the brewpub itself is keeping things minimal: exposed brick walls, a basic tin panel background wall behind the taps. No frills, nothing fancy. Not very photo-worthy … but that’s not why we go to brewpubs, anyway, is it?

No, it’s not. Let’s get to the beer. Currently, Day Block has six beers on tap. It can be hard to choose which to get in a 16 ounce

The Six

The Six

glass when you are trying out a new place. Fortunately, Day Block offers two flights, either four samples or all six. Mr. NN and I split the six sample flight, so we would know which beer we would want to order. Here’s the line up:

  • The Winter Witbier was light and lightly effervescent on the palate, with fruit esters and a hint of spice. Decent, though better for someone looking for a subtle beer, as opposed to a strongly flavored one.
  • Frank’s Red Ale, their American amber, was surprisingly solid for a red. It’s not normally a style I go for, but it ended up being the beer I chose to have in a pint. If you like mid-range beers (not too hoppy, not too malty, not too roasty), then you will enjoy this one.
  • Hippity Hop Pale Ale was the beer about which we had the least to say. I could have actually appreciated more hops in this one.
  • Day Block Porter was problematic for me, considering that I thought it would be the obvious choice for the beer I’d want in a pint. I love porters. The first sip of this ale was fine, a solid robust porter. However, subsequent tastes left me with an aftertaste that I could only describe as “cigarette butt.” Maybe “old, burnt coffee” would be another way to put it. None of my table mates had a problem with the beer, though. Mr. NN normally doesn’t like porters, so he didn’t order it, and the other two may not have had enough sips for the aftertaste to kick in. Maybe my taste buds went haywire. Dunno.
  • Northern Discovery IPA was a solid IPA, though I did not care for it as much as the IPA at the Freehouse. In my opinion, it was too heavy on the bittering hops without being well-balanced by malt or shifting the hops addition more toward flavor / aroma. (That addition happens later in the boil.)
  • Day Block Black IPA was a surprising favorite of Mr. NN’s and of mine. The ale comes in at 8% ABV, which is a bit higher than a standard IPA. The higher alcohol, which comes from more malt, moderates the hops and gives the brew a nice balance.

Do you notice how I am not raving about these beers? While none of these ales came across as amateur, they also did not wow us. This is not a destination I’d

The Four

The Four

hit if I just wanted a beer — not with Town Hall just down the road. (It’s currently under construction, however.) There is another reason to spend part of your evening at Day Block: the food.

Pizza is the name of the game at Day Block. The “Bahn Mizza” called to me first. Vietnamese pork,

Half-eaten Bahn Mizza

Half-eaten Bahn Mizza

gochujang mayo, scallions, pickled slaw…. yum. The crust, the part of a pizza that can make or break it (IMO), was a good combination of oven-baked crusty with light and chewy. We also tried the one vegetarian pizza on the menu, “Roots,” which had squash puree, root vegetables, and ricotta. That received mixed reviews from our table. Some loved the hint of curry in the puree, others thought it seemed too “one-note” and could stand to have the flavors amped up.

The appetizers largely received thumbs-up from our group. The bacon flight offered three dipping sauces with three types of bacon, each differently cured or smoked.

A picture's worth a thousand calories.

A picture’s worth a thousand calories.

Gimmicky? Sure. Tasty? You bet. The flight of pickled vegetables was less thrilling but still a tasty nibble, and one that you wouldn’t have to feel guilty about eating. The garlic knots were rather bland, but the pretzels with two mustard sauces were excellent.

We did not stay for dessert, though the cheesecake did sound interesting. We were full and discovered that the new branch of Izzy’s Ice Cream, my favorite ice cream in the entire Midwest, was just a block away. (Btw, if you are interested in beer ice cream, they sometimes offer a Guinness ice cream or Summit Oatmeal Stout.)

I am not bothered by a brewpub where the beer is adequate to solid (not exciting), as long as the food offers a reason to come back. The Freehouse and Northbound Smokehouse are similar in that regard. (Northbound is now making more of an effort to have special seasonals available. Their “Snownami,” a double chocolate raspberry stout, may just lure me back there and off my diet.) Minneapolis Town Hall, on the other hand,  is a brewpub that draws you in with its exceptional beers. The food there, however, is forgettable. Pretty standard pub fare. Town Hall Lanes and Town Hall Tap are caught somewhere in the middle — the food is a step up from the Town Hall parent but the beer is a step down, in that there is a limited amount of the specialty beers.

So what can you take away from this review of Day Block Brewing? Here’s my score sheet:

  • Beer, on average: B- / C+   Note: I’d definitely try any new seasonals or releases, but I would not rush back just for the current beers.
  • Food: B+  Note: Focusing just on pizza helps establish their identity, though if you’re not in the mood for pizza, there is nothing else that would draw you here (read: the beer is not a draw on its own).
  • Atmosphere: B- / C+   Note: While I like the clean sparseness of the space, it lacks character. Get some art in there! The bar area is about as boring as can be. With many hard surfaces, it can get loud quickly, so they should consider putting up sound dampeners (curtains, fabric wall hangings, etc.).

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My Favorite Beers of 2013 & What’s Up in 2014

Happy New Year from Ninkasi's Niece & Mr. NN!

Happy New Year from Ninkasi’s Niece & Mr. NN!

I am a sucker for lists, any kind of list. Best-of / worst-of lists, grocery lists, to-do lists…. Not all of them make for good reading, but all can be considered helpful in some way. Around New Years, we are inundated with lists of the highlights and lowlights, the best and the worst, of the year that’s passed. I don’t always agree with the ranking of the items and sometimes I think things are put on certain lists that don’t deserve to be there and other things are left out. However much a person may agree or disagree with the contents of these many lists, a person’s reaction can be as illuminating as the list itself. Recently, Draft Magazine put out their list of the top 25 beers of 2013. My reactions were thus (in list form, of course):

  • I haven’t heard of half of these breweries.
  • Even of the breweries I have heard of, some of those specific beers were not seen in Minnesota.
  • One of the entries is also on my list.
  • Of the few that I have tried, I was underwhelmed by the majority.
  •  My own list will look inadequate by comparison. ::sigh::

For those of you not in easy distance of Minnesota, I do apologize; many of my favorite beers of 2013 are not available outside of the state. As I see it, that is just balancing out Draft’s list, which features many brews unavailable here. One additional note about my list: Some of these beers may have been available in earlier years; however, I have tried to keep my list to beers that made their initial appearance in Minnesota in 2013, or thereabout. As 2014 is already losing its new-year smell, I shall waste no more time. In 2013, I enjoyed these beers the most:

  • Amuste by Odell (CO): I do love hybrids and innovations. This 9.3% ABV Imperial porter is aged in wine barrels and contains juice from Tempranillo grapes (grown in Colorado, not Spain). It has a slightly sour tang in it, while not being a sour ale, and the dark malt goodness of a jacked up porter. Love.
  • Imperial Wit with Lime by Blacklist (MN): This nomadic brewery makes a different beer each month. In 2013, we were lucky enough to get our hands on the Imperial Wit with Lime, which is no longer available. It was a perfect fusion of fruit and grain. Thankfully, Blacklist is now available in the MSP area.
  • Black Ale  and Golden IPA by Bent Paddle (MN): Another northern brewery that made the trip south, to the delight of  Twin Citizens. The Black Ale (6.0%), a brew between a stout and a porter, marries the best of the two styles. Mr. NN, not a huge fan of standard stouts and porters (I married him anyway), likes this beer when he wants a dark malt beverage. The Golden IPA (6.2%) is a pleasantly floral IPA that reminds me of sunlight coming through the leaves. The price point for the cans is such that we could have these are our “go-to” beers, the ones you might bring to share at a party without breaking the bank or that you might always have on hand at home.
  • Dublin Raid by HammerHeart (MN): Sorry, folks. As far as I can tell, you can only get this at the brewery taproom in Lino Lakes, MN. This peated Irish Red Ale (6.5%) is so much more than the sum of its parts. I may possibly have had a cask or barrel-aged version when I was there, but I can’t be sure. The peaty-ness comes through, as well as smoked malts and rye. It’s a riot in your mouth. HammerHeart seems to do a lot of smoked beers, and now some of those ales are available on tap. But not this one.
  • Berliner Weisse by White Birch (NH), tied with Star of the North by Schells (MN): I previously declared the Berliner Weis (or Weisse) style to be the Style of the Summer. Maybe the year. Though this style has been around for quite a long time, it has only recently made an appearance (or resurgence) on the wider American craft beer scene. If you like effervescence but do not like fizzy pop, then you might like this.
    Something yummy from Schell's

    Something yummy from Schell’s

    If you like light-on-the-palate but you don’t like sweet, then you  might like this. Germans traditionally serve this (sometimes to kids!) with a syrup of woodruff or raspberry to cut the tartness. This two versions of the style don’t require any such modification, in my opinion.

  • Rise of the Burghers and the Fall of the Feudal Lords by Olvalde Farm (MN).: This beer from the one-man brewery in Rollingstone, MN, only crossed my lips once, but I have been on the hunt for it ever since. It’s a riff on medieval German ales brewed with herbs and bittered with hops and horehound. I recall it having the finish of a subtle red wine or fruit leather, a hint of sourness. If you can find it, let me know. I need more!
  • Cascara Quad by New Belgium (CO): This 10% ABV dark ale is brewed with dates and coffee cherries. It’s a quad that harkens to the leathery sweetness of cherry pipe tobacco. Plus it has llamas on the bottle. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I love me some fruit leather-raisin-sour cherry-pipe tobacco aroma and flavor profiles.
  • Bombay Berzerker by Clown Shoes (MA): Another big 10% beer. This one uses a chocolate stout as the base and adds ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and vanilla. Worth going berserk over, indeed.
  • My own homebrews! Both of recipes that I made from Extreme Brewing by Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head turned out wonderfully. As I mentioned in my post, I tweaked the recipes WP_20131015_002a bit to use up ingredients that I had on hand and I also added candied ginger to the stout. “Eldritch Root” (the stout with candied ginger an licorice root) and “Bog Braggot” (a cranberry braggot) may just have to make appearances in homebrew competitions in 2014 — if we don’t drink it all first.

Looking forward, I think 2014 holds plenty of excitement for the world of craft beer, particularly in Minnesota. These are the breweries/brewpubs that are either scheduled to open this year or opened in 2013 but that I have not yet been able to visit:

  1. Urban Growler. Opening in the spring in St. Paul. Read about my visit to their open house here.
  2. Day Block Brewing. Opening this month! (Grand opening on the 27th.) This pizzeria / brewpub is in the space formerly occupied by Spill the Wine.
  3. Wenonah Brewing. Just opened in Winona, MN.
  4. Tin Whiskers Brewing. Opening in downtown St. Paul, maybe this spring.
  5. Pryes Brewing. Still looking for funding for a Minneapolis location.
  6. Burning Brothers Brewing. I can’t tell if they are actually open yet, but they are producing. It’s an entirely gluten-free brewery in St. Paul.
  7. Kinney Creek Brewery. Already open in Rochester, MN. Finally something other than the hospital!
  8. Enki Brewing. Already open in Victoria, MN.
  9. Jack Pine Brewery. Already open in Baxter, MN.
  10. Bang Brewing. Already open in St. Paul, MN.

There’s one other development on the craft scene: spirits. A lesser-known provision of the so-called Surly Law is that business people who went to start a micro-distillery can now pay a licensing fee of only $1000 – $3000, as opposed to the previously prohibitive $30,000 fee.

Now made entirely in Minnesota! (Minus the olive, of course)

Now made entirely in Minnesota! (Minus the olive, of course)

Since that change, there have been at least 11 licenses issued. (Read more about it here.) In addition, a law was passed making it legal for the distillery to give out small samples of their products. Here are some of the craft spirit makers that we may find passing our lips this year:

  1. Vikre Distillery. Open in Duluth.
  2. Du Nord Craft Spirits. Minneapolis.
  3. Norseman Distillery. Minneapolis.
  4. Wander North Distillery. Minneapolis, not yet in operation.
  5. 11 Wells Spirits. Not yet open in St. Paul.
  6. Lost Falls Distillery. Minneapolis. Has Kickstarter campaign.
  7. Panther Distillery. Osakis, MN.
  8. Bent Brewstillery. Roseville, MN. Pour Decisions Brewing, which I have often panned but occasionally praised, has merged with a distillery to form this new company. The beer is different, the taproom will be improved, and spirits will also be poured!

Despite this amazing boom in small business in Minnesota, there are still some legal hoops to jump through. Distilleries cannot sell bottles of their product on premises, nor can they sell cocktails made with their spirits. I hope these laws can be changed, as it will help these small companies show their wares to best advantage and make the tours of the distilleries another fun outing. (The Old Sugar Distillery in Madison, Wisconsin, is a great place to stop in for a tasty cocktail.) Also on the legal docket: Sunday alcohol sales in Minnesota. Governor Dayton said he would sign such a bill, should it land on his desk, so let’s start calling our reps!

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,300 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 55 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Now Open: The Freehouse

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The Blue Plate Restaurant Company has added a new venue to its list of Twin Cities area restaurants, which includes the Longfellow Grill and the Lowry. All of the Blue Plate restaurants offer good food, often with an innovative tweak, a relaxed but fun atmosphere, and a respectable beer list. The Freehouse, their new place, however, may just be the jewel in their crown: It’s a brewpub! With a tag-line of “Breakfast to Beer,” how could we not check it out as soon as possible? And with the place being open 6:30 am to 2:00 am daily, “soon” was sooner than we would normally expect to get into an exciting new restaurant.

Yesterday, Mr. NN and I headed over to Minneapolis for a mid-week breakfast. That alone we appreciated; so many places are just open for breakfast or brunch on the weekends or they don’t open early enough during the week (okay, not that we got there early. It’s just nice to know that it’s an option.).

Lobster Toad in a Hole

Lobster Toad in a Hole

Readers of this blog may be aware by now that Mr. NN is a breakfast fiend. Not only is he a pancake artiste, but whenever I am out of town, I can be pretty sure that if he cooks any of his meals, it will be breakfast. (By contrast, when left on my own for breakfast, I will scrounge for crumbs, but for dinner I will whip up something interesting.) The Freehouse had many good options for breakfast, but we opted for the Lobster Toad in a Hole and the Brew Grain Cakes. The Lobster Toad in a Hole had plenty of sweet lobster meat, a tasty béarnaise, and perfectly poached eggs (soft only, puh-lease!). The Brew Grain cakes with the orange preserves were tender and sweet with the orange adding a nice tang. And did you catch the name of the pancakes? That’s right, folks. They made them with spent grain flour! The waitress verified this fact and pointed out that there were various other menu items that made use of their grains, including the Hippie Burger (the vegetarian burger). That’s just smart: They have plenty of it, and it adds flavor and interest to their baked goods. Bravo!

Now on to the beer! Sure, it was well before noon on a weekday, but we had to sample the ales of Minnesota’s newest brewpub. At the moment, the Freehouse just has three options, but by the end of the week, they should have a fourth. Eventually, they aim to have ten house-brewed taps.

Behind Mr. NN, the summer-time patio

Behind Mr. NN, the summer-time patio

The current options are No. 1 (a kolsch), No. 2 (an IPA), and No. 3 (a brown ale). No. 4 will be a stout. Mr. NN ordered the IPA and I tried a pony of the brown ale. Another plus is that you have three size options: a pony (3 oz.) for $2, a middy for $4, and a pint for $6. The brown ale was solid, which is about the best descriptor of a brown ale I can think of. As brown ales tend to be mid-range in both malt presence and hops, those two flavor components should meld together seamlessly in a beer that has evident flavor but nothing overwhelming. Some brown ales miss the mark by being too weak or watery or overly hopped to throw off the balance. This was not one of those. I would order their No. 3 again, as well as the IPA, which had piney notes from the hops and enough malt to form a platform for the bitterness of the hops. Well done!

There were not many customers there that morning, so we wandered around the restaurant. The builders did it right by making the place large

(read: many seats) but breaking the area into different seating possibilities. In the bar area, you can sit around the bar or at four-seater high-tops or long and narrow high-tops that would either work for larger parties or for mingling with strangers. Going up the steps, you come to the main dining area with booths and tables. Slightly off-set from there and up some more steps (if I remember correctly) is the Volstead Lounge, a cozy area with lights formed from kegs and a bottle cap portrait of Andrew Volstead. Ever heard of the Volstead Act? That was also known as the Prohibition Amendment.

The Volstead Lounge

The Volstead Lounge

Odd choice for a brewpub, no? Well, Volstead was from Minnesota (a fact I just learned), so the Freehouse is paying ironic tribute to one of our native sons. Eventually, the Volstead Lounge will be made even cozier with the addition of curtains.

With no plans for dinner, Mr. NN and I returned that same evening to experience Happy Hour. There are two happy hours at the Freehouse, both Monday through Friday and in the bar only: one from 4-6 pm and the other 8-11 am. Freehouse beers are $4, as are Bloody Marys (made with Hopquila!) and mimosas. For $5 in the evening, you can get wine or various nibbles. An extra buck, and you can get their featured cocktail. We ordered amply off of the happy hour “bites” menu: caramelized Brussels sprouts, oysters on the half-shell, Korean riblets, and Jack’d up mussels cooked with their kolsch. The sprouts were wonderful, the oysters were meaty, the mussels were served in a nummy curry broth. The riblets,

Moving bubbles on the letters

Moving bubbles on the letters

marinated in a kalbi sauce, were good, too, though perhaps a bit overcooked. The featured cocktail, which I ordered, was a Brown Ginger, was a refreshing concoction of their No. 3 brown ale, bourbon, and ginger liqueur. Mr. NN and I also tried a pony of the No. 1 (kolsch). It had more flavor than we were expecting, though it is not our preferred style. Only slightly more tinted than water, it would be a good gateway beer for someone accustomed to quaffing lite lagers.

If their three existing beers don’t appeal to you, never fear. The Freehouse also has a respectable guest

He would not approve.

He would not approve.

beer list, all served 16 oz. for $8–some of those guests beers are better values than others. The cocktail list is also tempting, and it includes beer cocktails and breakfast cocktails. Breakfast cocktails… ah, life is good.

In addition to the good beer and excellent food, the staff is friendly and helpful. Jack and Liz, two of the managers, made a point of stopping by to chat with us. (Okay, Liz recognized Mr. NN from her previous restaurant, but still … it was busy last night, so it was a nice thing to do.) The final plus I will mention is that this downtown Minneapolis restaurant has a good-sized FREE parking lot, a rare thing in that location. Hmm… I would tell you to check this place out and tell your friends about it, too, but then it might get crowded and we might have a harder time getting a seat, so…. Just pretend I never mentioned it, okay?  ;)

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A Beer Lover’s Gift Guide

I bought three of these, one to keep.

I bought three of these, one to keep.

Judging by all the winter and holidays ales on the shelves, I would say that it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Mr. NN and I put up the tree last night and, once again, I was struck by the beverage-orientation of our holiday décor. We have beer lights and glass beer mugs and a keg and two six-packs and a brewery memento and the go-local Minnesota beer ornament at the top of this page. (Lest you think we are just beer people, we also have a wine barrel, two coffee mugs, a tea pot, and three vodka martini-related ornaments on the tree.) You see, we regard our Christmas as a creative expression of ourselves: our hobbies (we have an oboe for Mr. NN and an orchid for me), our passions (some Star Wars ornaments, all the beer ones, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears), our travels (the Eiffel Tower, a gourd Santa from Peru, a gold one from

Ah, brings back foamy memories...

Ah, brings back foamy memories…

Washington, D.C., and one from Pike Brewing in Seattle), our past (lots o’ old family ornaments), and … well, I’m not sure where the Cthulhu with a Santa hat fits in.

Unspeakably horrific ancient ones aside, ’tis the season to be giving. If you are at all like me (and you just might be if you read this blog), then you probably have a preference for bottle-shaped presents. I will be giving recommendations on winter and holiday ales, to be sure, but what else do you give a person who rejoices in the foamy, fermented goodness and who is passionate about good beer? Draft Magazine has a gift-giving guide, but some of the recommendations are either not entirely beer-related (an axe? Really?) or are slightly silly (not always a bad thing). I decided to make my own guide. Here are my suggestions to make the holidays a little merrier:

Beer-related Ornaments & Decorations

Since I’ve already brought them up, why not complete the picture? The photo at the top of the page is new for me this year. It is made in Minnesota and can be bought at Bachman’s, the main location of which is located directly across the street from the Northern Brewer in Minneapolis. If there is a specific brewery that

your loved one likes, check the brewery’s website to see if they sell Christmas ornaments. Pike Brewing does, and Dogfish Head did — I think they sold out, however. If you are not sure what beer your loved one prefers, you can also go more general with your ornament gift. Many stores, including the above-linked Bachman’s and interwebs mega-seller Amazon, sell these very same ornaments or others in different styles.

Tiny little German brewers having a barrel of fun this Christmas.

Tiny little German brewers having a barrel of fun this Christmas.

One of my favorite decorations to put up this season, aside from the tree, is my Yulesteiner Brewery by Lemax, which I got at Menard’s last year. There are lights and spinning barrels and rotating “beer gnomes.” It also comes with sound, a rather drunken-sounded rendition of “Roll Out the Barrel.” (Thankfully, you can keep the volume off.) I have it sitting on a side table with fake snow and a couple little pine trees, so it looks right jolly.

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Beer Clothing & Glassware

If your loved one ever plans to attend a beer festival, you had better make sure that they have appropriate attire to wear to it. By “appropriate,” I mean “brewery t-shirt.” Again, this is easily done by going to the brewery’s website and shopping around. Most breweries have more than one design and some

A gift from Mr. NN's mama

A gift from Mr. NN’s mama

even offer women’s cuts and sizing. Surly Brewing has some of the best branding in Minnesota and you could outfit your friend–or even your friend’s baby–with Surly t-shirts, hats, jackets, sweatshirts, or onesies.

Want to try before you buy? Live in the Twin Cities metro area and want to save on shipping costs? Head on down to the Beer Dabbler store in St. Paul and load up on presents for everyone. WP_20131022_001They feature shirts, glassware, and other paraphernalia from most of the Minnesota craft breweries, plus a handful of foreign and other domestic breweries (Odell, Lagunitas, Alaskan, Stone, Duvel, etc.). I was impressed by the variety the small store had, not just with the brewery-specific items, but also with general beer-related art.

WP_20131022_002Another great place to get gifts for the homebrewer in your life is Northern Brewer. The kegging system too pricey for you? How ’bout a shirt? (I already have the “hop diamond” one — very comfy.) How about some glassware? Craft beer drinkers, and especially homebrewers, pay attention to the vessels in which they serve the beer, as some beers are better featured in a tulip glass, some in a snifter, and others in a pint glass. We like to get glasses from breweries we’ve visited, but when you’re a homebrewer, you don’t always have access to personalized glassware. That’s where Northern Brewer steps in. This one is my particular favorite, but this other one will do nicely, too.

Beer-related Food

If you follow this post, you are aware that I love to cook with beer, not just with one in hand. These days, many brewers are aware of the flavorful impact their beer can have on food and make things easier for you by selling the beer-infused product. You have probably already seen Sierra Nevada’s line of mustards at your local grocery (gift pack for $14, individual bottles for $3.50). Not to be left out, Founders offers their Dirty Bastard and Centennial IPA in mustard form for $7.50.

Elevated's hop candy temptations

Elevated’s hop candy temptations

But the food offerings don’t stop at mustard. Dogfish Head offers some tasty-looking pickles made with their 60 Minute IPA and “Hard Tack Chowder” infused

with the same beer. At Northern Brewer and Elevated bottle shop, you can purchase hard candy made with hops, Cascade, Saaz, and East Kent Goldings, in particular.

Of course, some of the best gifts are homemade. Pretzels pair well with most beers, so the next logical step is to make them into caramels. Oh, yes, readers! It can be done and it is awesome. I came across the recipe in a Food Network magazine, which you can read here.

A pan of uncut caramels

A pan of uncut caramels

The recipe calls for 12 ounces of a brown ale. I did not have one on hand, so I used 10 ounces of a farmhouse ale ( I think) we had left over from cooking something and 2 ounces of Ommegang’s Adoration. The caramels were the perfect combination of sweet and salty, crunchy and chewy. I will be making more of these for gift-giving, and I will

Mr. NN's holiday artwork

Mr. NN’s holiday artwork

probably use holiday ales to do so. If you like more snap to your sweets, you could also crack open a stout and make Food Network’s recipe for Pretzel Beer Brittle. Other homemade options: try experimenting with different flavors of beer bread or make cut-out sugar cookies made with beer. Wrap your homemade gifts up in a nice basket, and your loved ones will be touched (and gobbling up the goodness right quick).

Miscellaneous Beer Thingies

For the cycling freak: Jerseys from the brewery of choice (612 Brew, Boom Island, Summit are some local ones), bike bells and stem caps from New Belgium. For the avid bowler, you can purchase a New Holland bowling ball for $149. For the skier in your life, Founders features All Day IPA skis for $650.

After getting all sweaty their sport of choice, they can scrub themselves clean with beer soap. You can either get brewery-specific soap, such as this soap from Brooklyn Brewery, or buy style-specific bars at Elevated in Minneapolis, as seen in the photo.

For the homebrewer, you may also want to inquire what equipment they have or would like. Two pieces of brewing equipment that I would never do without are a wort chiller (runs from $65 – $200, depending on type) and an auto siphon (around $14). There are also packaged kits, whether the homebrewer does all-grain or extract-based. Or, if the person you’re buying for is interested in homebrewing but has not yet taken the plunge, you can get them started with an equipment starter kit ($50-$80).

Sudsy clean!

Sudsy clean!

For the person who wants to be festive while drinking their beer but not get their hands cold, you can get them Ugly Sweater Koozies from Sam Adams for $5. (Ideally, the koozies would already be wrapped around a beer.)

Perhaps your loved one likes to read. For the cook, I highly recommend John Holl’s American Craft Beer Cookbook. (You can read my review of the cookbook here.) For the homebrewer, I recommend these two books: Extreme Brewing by Sam Calagione (read about two brews I made that turned out wonderfully here)  and Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher. (Read a short excerpt from his book in this blog post.) For the beer lover / beer geek, try The Complete Beer Course by Joshua M. Bernstein or the impressive tome by Garrett Oliver and Tom Colicchio, The Oxford Companion to Beer.

In Draft Magazine’s gift guide, they recommend a Corkcicle, a device for chilling a bottle of beer from the inside. If you go to Bachman’s to get that nifty Minnesota beer ornament, you can also buy it there (look for “Beer Chillsner,” the specific type of Corkcicle).

Beer, Just Beer

Of course, the best gifts are bottle-shaped. This year, I am putting together a gift basket to raffle off at the Orchid Society of Minnesota (orchids are my other passion… that, and Mr. NN). In it, I have put three local, seasonal beers: Old Friend by Indeed, Yule by Boom Island, and Spiced Ode by Olvalde Farm. I’ve included the Minnesota beer tree ornament and some wrapped, homemade beer pretzel caramels.

You could put together your own gift basket, either around a specific theme (particular state or brewery or style) or just on the theme of “beer.” Many bottle shops now carry gift packs from breweries that include the appropriate glassware for the beer.

Corsendonk gift package at Elevated

Corsendonk gift package at Elevated

Whatever beer-related gift you give (or receive) this holiday season, it is sure to add to the cheer. Cheers!

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Filed under Cooking with Beer, Homebrewing, Trends

Craft Beer Cooking

Good stuff within.

Good stuff within.

Aside from being discriminating lushes —er, I mean, connoisseurs of fermented imbibables, Mr. NN and I are also foodies. We love to cook and eat and go out to restaurants. Mr. NN, a veritable pancake artiste, could write his own blog just about breakfast. The restaurants we frequent not only have good food, but they also tend to have good beverage options, beer in particular. Craft beer culture (and that of craft cocktails) has much in common with the foodie culture: tremendous care about the quality of ingredients, thoughtful preparation, and a dash or two of innovation. That is why the restaurant with the best beer list in Minnesota, the Happy Gnome, sees us as frequently as the bartenders at Cheers saw Norm: the beer list is exciting and ever-changing but the food cooked up by

Say "kimchi!" (Photo from www.grocery.com)

Say “kimchi!”
(Photo from http://www.grocery.com)

head chef Scott Brink is what gets us going back time after time. Sausage-stuffed quail with kimchi? Yes, please! (Having lived in South Korea for a year and a half, I am likely to order anything that has kimchi in it.)

This foodie-beerie aspect of our life is well-known, which makes us pretty easy to shop for. Hence, my sister bought us a book titled The American Craft Beer Cookbook by John Holl.  Tag-line: 155 Recipes from Your Favorite Brewpubs & Breweries. There is only one Minnesotan brewery represented, Surly with a ginger-garlic chicken stir-fry recipe (even though there isn’t a restaurant associated with Surly), so perhaps Holl will put some of the others in volume 2. (::hint, hint::) Really, though, it is beside the point where these recipes come from, as long as they are tasty. So far, we have tried four recipes, and a fifth is happening soon. Here are the results:

  1. Saison Vos Mussels. Strolling through the aisles of my local co-op, Mississippi Market, I spied mussels on sale for a tempting price. Living in a lake-filled but land-locked state, we get excited about shellfish though that excitement is tinged with a bit of fear:
    Food so good, you forget to take a pic until it's almost all gone.

    Food so good, you forget to take a pic until it’s almost all gone.

    Will we know a good piece from one that’s gone off? Will we be able to cook it enough so that it won’t kill us but not enough that it is overcooked and rubbery? Is that what that is supposed to look like? I couldn’t pass the mussels up, though, so we tried this recipe from Sly Fox Brewing in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Their saison is not available in Minnesota, however, so I substituted Wild Plum Farmhouse Ale by Tallgrass. With shallots, butter, garlic, and parsley, this meal / appetizer was sooo quick and easy, not to mention very tasty. I wish we had had some crusty French bread to sop up the broth, but even with our brown rice crackers it was good. The recipe only called for a cup, so we poured the rest of the beer into champagne flutes and toasted a great meal that took the fear out of preparing shellfish at home.

  2. Hopocalypse Ceviche. We first came to know and love ceviche on a trip to Peru. Mr. NN had a little trepidation at first about the idea of cooking fish solely with an acid, usually lemon or lime juice. No heat–cooking is all about chemical reactions, and those reactions can take place without heat. However, Mr. NN swiftly came around and
    My first ceviche & Pisco Sour in Pisco, Peru, 2006. A year later the town was destroyed in an earthquake.

    My first ceviche & Pisco Sour in Pisco, Peru, 2006. A year later the town was destroyed in an earthquake.

    was excited to try this recipe from Drake’s Brewing in San Leandro, California. Hopocalypse is a double IPA, which is not available here, so I used 2xIPA by Southern Tier. Cod and tilapia sacrificed themselves to be cooked in fresh lime juice with avocados, red onion, habanero, and coriander. It was refreshing, a little spicy, and quite satisfying. It made a ton of ceviche — we should’ve thrown a party.

  3. Grilled Diver Scallops & Fall Vegetable Shish Kebabs w/ Hazelnut Brown Butter. Continuing our exploration of seafood we do not normally cook at home (and that we pay a lot to eat at restaurants here in the Midwest), we moved on to scallops, one of Mr. NN’s favorite foods. The scallops were decidedly not on sale, but at $22 for twelve large scallops, it was still cheaper than getting them at a restaurant. This recipe uses Mama’s Little Yella Pils from Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont, Colorado. Again, that beer is not available in Minnesota, though it can be purchased right across the border in Wisconsin. My substitution was Klisch by Lakefront Brewery. Tons o’ vegetation in this preparation: four fennel bulbs (I used three), four parsnips, and butternut squash (I had 14 ounces of pre-chopped stuff). Our grill is currently out of propane–something I recalled at the last moment–so we decided to cook everything on the stove top, searing the scallops in a cast iron skillet. Another success! The scallops were buttery by themselves, but with the addition of the beer-based hazelnut and butter sauce, they were divine. The vegetable combination was a good complement, too, and there is plenty left over.
  4. Chocolate Ice Cream with Gonzo Imperial Porter. Flying Dog from Frederick, Maryland, of course, provided this recipe. Last Christmas, we got an ice cream maker attachment for our Kitchen Aid stand mixer, so I was ready to roll with this one. As you can probably guess, I did not use the named beer, but at least this one is available in Minnesota. I had a Zombie Monkie porter from Tallgrass hanging around, so why make the trip? (Okay, it’s not an imperial, which might have made a difference in the flavor, but we were not disappointed.) Making ice cream at home is quite easy if you have a maker; you just have to plan ahead for how long the various chilling steps take. This recipe only had a 1/4 cup of sugar in it, but it added more sweetness and flavor in the form of a 1/2 cup of dry malt extract. I used plain dark DME, but any variety would probably work well here. Just before the initial chill of the mixture, two tablespoons of whiskey or bourbon are added. Keeping with the beer theme, I chose New Holland’s Beer Barrel Bourbon. The resulting ice cream has a deep chocolaty flavor with a tweak–a hint of bitterness. Now the bitterness may not have been there if I had used an imperial porter or if I had chosen light DME instead, but we are not complaining! This is still really good ice cream. For adults only.

Not all of the recipes in this cookbook contain beer. For instance, the Fried Brussels Sprouts with Fish Sauce Vinaigrette, which I will be making next, are just something that is served at the Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery in Austin, Texas. But they would go very well alongside a beer, wouldn’t they? (Btw, Brussels sprouts are one of my favorite foods.)

Wielding an alien spine? No, just Brussels sprouts.

Wielding an alien spine? No, just Brussels sprouts.

There are some nice touches in this cookbook, aside from the awesome recipes:

  • Background information is given on the contributing breweries / brewers.
  • Some recipes have suggestions for alternate beers you can try.
  • There is a “Road Trip” section at the back with information on breweries, restaurants & beer bars, hotels, and beer-related attractions for Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, Portland, San Francisco, and San Diego.
  • There is a short section on important beer festivals from Anchorage, Alaska, to Madison, Wisconsin, and places in-between (and beyond).

My one critique, and it is a minor one, is that some of the recipes call for ingredients that most people may not have ready access to, such as wild boar, duck fat, huckleberries, and tobiko roe. Not that any of these are impossible to get; it’s just that a person may skip those recipes if they don’t know how to get them, don’t want a hassle in trying to get them, or don’t want to spend a lot of money. However, without the occasional culinary challenge, where would we be?

Answer: Eating mac ‘n cheese from a box and drinking the same old boring beer. ::shiver:: Nobody wants that.

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Filed under Cooking with Beer, Food Pairings

Use Your Grains!

(photo from lolroflmao.com)

(photo from lolroflmao.com)

I love — no, make that “looooove” — to make use of leftover ingredients, bits ‘n bobs of spare items, remnants of projects. It avoids waste and maximizes the dollars you’ve spent on the stuff in the first place. Doing so makes me feel responsible, not only for my budget but for the planet, as well, since I am not adding to the garbage problem. Homebrewing allows a person to avoid unnecessary packaging and the cost to the environment caused by the shipping of beers around the country or the world, so we can feel a certain amount of satisfaction at that. But is there more we can do? Oh, yes!

Many commercial breweries have arrangements with local farmers who will take the spent grain to feed their livestock. Town Hall, in fact, has a pig roast every

Our compost bins: the Death Star & the Bunker (bunny not included)

Our compost bins: the Death Star & the Bunker (bunny not included)

year, using the pig fed on their spent grains. That is not always an option for homebrewers, who may not have access to pigs, but at least we can throw the grains on the compost pile. As the grains break down, along with other organic material, it turns into humus,the nutrient rich substance that helps gardens grow (not hummus, the tasty chickpea paste). All good stuff.

But wait! There’s more. Those grains are edible. After brewing the stout, I had just over a half-pound of dark grains to use up. After squeezing out as much of the liquid as I could, I refrigerated the grains until I could make use of them the next day. (You could also freeze them if you don’t think you’ll have time to get around to using them in the next day or so.) The next day, I divided the grains into two unequal batches: one to use as-is (wet) and the other to turn into flour. Here are the results:

Pancakes!

Draft mag in background; flour, grains, honey up front; coffee always nearby.

Draft mag in background; flour, grains, honey up front; coffee always nearby.

Mr. NN is a pancake artiste and connoisseur. He is like a jazz musician, improvising with ingredients to create new flavor combinations that dance on the palate. (Pardon my waxing poetic there; he really is good with the ‘cakes.) He often creates his own recipes, but he is also open to trying the recipes of others, especially if they show him something new. However, he was a bit skeptical when I showed him a recipe from Draft magazine for spent grain pancakes. “Are the grains actually going to improve the flavor, or are they just there so you can feel good using up the grains?” Good question. I was determined to find the answer.

First of all, the recipe in the mag serves ten, which is just too much for two people, avid pancake consumers though we are; therefore, I reduced the quantities to a quarter, which would actually be enough to feed three. Secondly, the recipe calls for self-rising flour, which we did not have. I scanned various recipes Mr. NN had for other pancakes and made up for the non-self-rising flour by using 1 tsp. baking powder and 1 tsp. baking soda. Yes, the original 10-serving recipe calls for 1 tsp. of baking soda, but to get fluffy ‘cakes, that is a decent amount to use for a recipe with 1 egg and 1 cup of buttermilk. Trust us. We’re professionals. (Okay, not quite, but Mr. NN is pretty much a Pancake Expert.)

Saturday morning goodness

Saturday morning goodness

The verdict: Yum! The pancakes were flecked with bits of black and had a subtle roasty note that works well with maple syrup. (You do use real maple syrup, right? “Pancake syrup” is overly sweet, artificially flavored high fructose corn syrup and should be avoided at all costs. It may take you a couple tries to get used to the real stuff, but once you do, you will never go back.) The spent grains also add a bit more texture to the ‘cakes, similar (yet slightly different) to what the addition of cornmeal does. We will definitely make these pancakes again. In fact, Mr. NN, who has experience adding beer to pancakes, is planning to add beer to the spent grains, as well. I can’t wait!

Brownies!

I wanted to see what else I could make with spent grains, and a quick internet search led me to a fantastic website called the Spent Grain Chef. This is a site made by the Brooklyn Brew Shop, a homebrew supply site that also has information on How to Brew,  a blog called the Mash which features tasting notes, and the Spent Grain Chef. Here I found information on how to dry the grains and turn them into flour, which is required for many of the recipes on the site. It couldn’t be easier, though it takes a while:

(photo from Spent Grain Chef)

(photo from Spent Grain Chef)

  • Turn your oven to its lowest setting, which will be between 150-200F. (Mine was 170.)
  • Spread the grains on a baking sheet in a thin layer. You can use a Silpat or aluminum foil for easier clean-up.
  • Put the grains in the oven for four hours. At that point, stir the grains to prevent uneven drying and put them back in for another three hours.
  • Remove the grains. Some may be used as-is for recipes that call for such. The rest can be ground to a flour in either a cleaned coffee grinder or a food processor. Store in an airtight container.

Easy! Since my spent grains were from a stout (read: black and roasty), I opted for a recipe where their nature would not conflict with the end product. Brownies seemed a good choice, as they are dark and chocolate is a good complement to stouts. The recipe did not specify the size of the pan, so I used an 8″ x 8″ pan, which turned out to be correct. The chocolate called for is bittersweet; I had dark chocolate. A commenter said that she used semi-sweet and thus reduced the sugar by half. Two cups of sugar did seem like a lot to me. I wasn’t sure how sweet dark chocolate chips would be in comparison to bittersweet, so I only used 1.75 cups. I think the next time I make these (which I definitely will), I will use even less sugar. The commenter also used pecans instead of walnuts and added dried cherries. Likewise, I had pecans but not walnuts, but I did not have dried cherries so I used dried cranberries.

Come to the dark side...

Come to the dark side…

The verdict: Incroyable! Mr. NN was effusive: “Restaurant quality!” The brownies were dark and rich and moist, with some of the chocolate still molten. One small piece was plenty. I think I would like them even more with a bit less sugar, though. I have a feeling this pan of brownies will disappear quickly.

If you homebrew or know somebody who does, I strongly recommend the Spent Grain Chef. There is even a recipe for pretzel rolls, the bun of choice for me. Those tasty suckers cost 99 cents each at Byerly’s.

::sigh:: Don’t you just love it when you can eat well AND save money?

Spent grain pretzel rolls (photo from Spent Grain Chef)

Spent grain pretzel rolls (photo from Spent Grain Chef)

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Adventures in Brewing: October 2013

Sanitizing: the worst part of brewing

Sanitizing: the worst part of brewing

The Pink Boots Society is an organization for women in the brewing profession. I am not one of them, but as you see from the photo above, my homebrewing (okay, sanitizing) gloves are pink. Perhaps I should form the Pink Gloves Society for female homebrewers? Hmm.

Anyway, imagine my thrill when walking around Half Price Books to come across Extreme Brewing by Sam Calagione. Although I have several homebrewing books and old issues of Brew Your Own magazine, which has all of its recipes available online, I snatched up this particular tome right away. Why? Does the name Sam Calagione mean anything to you? To me, he is practically a brewing

Perfect match: beer & pizza!

Perfect match: beer & pizza!

deity, as he is the founder of the brewery-of-my-heart, Dogfish Head. (If you are not sure why a book by Sam Calagione would excite me, click on the Dogfish Head tag to read the many mentions of the brewery I have made since the inception of this blog.) Dogfish Head is known for its “off-centered” beers, beers containing unusual adjuncts or brewed in innovative or ancient ways. I had great success with my clone of Midas Touch, a brew based off of the residue found in 2700-year-old drinking vessels from Phrygia, thanks to the replicator section of Brew Your Own. (I called that brew “Ninkasi’s Nectar,” by the way.) Recipes that have been vetted by Calagione himself would be worth trying.

Now to decide what to brew–ah! That’s the tricky part. My last homebrew, which is already a year old and almost gone, was a smoked pumpkin ale (still tasty!), so nothing smoked or pumpkin-y. I even have a couple of bottles left of the Belgian strong dark ale I brewed more than two years ago with my New Jersey friend

How carboys are supposed to look

How carboys are supposed to look

Greedo,  (That’s still incredibly delish, too! Greedo, I’ll save a bottle or two for when you come to Minnesota for a visit.) so I did not want anything too Belgian-y or that would require a very long time to become drinkable. Heading into winter, I did not want something too light on the palate, as it will likely be consumed with stodgy stews and meaty roasts. The third consideration was how to make use of brewing leftovers that I have. Mark this as a particular personality trait of mine — I love and am driven to make use of leftovers in any way possible. Part of that whole “reduce, reuse, recycle” mantra, I suppose. My brewing pantry contained the following:

  • 1 lb. of plain wheat dry malt extract (DME)
  • ~8oz. of Belgian dark candi sugar (yes, that’s how you spell it)
  • slightly less than a quart of wort containing  1 lb. of wheat-light malt, leftover from when I was supposed to dissolve 1 cup of DME for priming but instead used an entire pound
  • various quantities (all just below 1 oz.) of these hops: Fuggles, Northern Brewer, Styrian Golding, Hallertau
  • 2-3 oz. of some unknown dark specialty grain, either roasted barley or chocolate malt

I finally decided on two recipes, as I have two carboys and plastic fermenting buckets: Dark Star Licorice Stout (with the addition of candied ginger inspired by another recipe in the book) and Crandaddy Braggot (a cranberry braggot). A braggot is a blend of mead and beer mixed with herbs and spices. (Read about this very old, even Chaucerian, style here and see a list of brands you can try. Let me know if you do, as I’ve never had a braggot. Why am I brewing a style that I’ve never even tasted before? That’s just the way I roll, honey.) One thing you can tell about me from my choices of homebrew is that I do not follow Reinheitsgebot, the German purity law of 1516, which states that beer consists only of water, barley, and hops (they didn’t know about yeast back then). I’m much more eclectic, almost Belgian, in my approach to brewing: Let’s leave the lid off the fermenter and see what falls in! (Or just experiment with interesting adjuncts.)

Side note: In a previous post, I denounced a certain video about how “ladies” can navigate a beer list. My problem with it wasn’t that there were fruity beers and “pretty” beers, but that it was assumed that women would automatically like those (if they are “ladies”) or that fruity-sweet beers are the only beers that women like. As you can see from my own homebrewing (and drinking — see the Twitter feed), I have no problem with beer brewed with fruit. Just don’t hand me a wine cooler masquerading as a beer and expect me to respect that. ‘Nuf said. Moving on.

Drinkers in Chaucer time liked braggot.

Drinkers in Chaucer’s time liked braggot.

After a swing by my local homebrew supply store, Northern Brewer, I was laden with all the other ingredients for these two brews. It may seem like brewing two batches in a week is asking a lot — and it is, time-wise– but I have a lot of time on my hands. Moreover, after brewing, the equipment all gets cleaned, usually in our tub. Cleaning is just one step away from sanitizing, which also happens in the tub. Instead of putting everything away, only to have to be cleaned again, I figured I’d just brew a second batch a couple of days later.

Batch 1: The Stout (partial grain w/ extract & adjuncts)

It was a dark and rainy day when I brewed this beer that I plan to be drinking when the snow flies. (That may be next week here. Beer won’t be ready then, though.) The recipe called for pouring 4.5 gallons of water into the kettle to start. I only have a 5 gallon kettle, which is fairly typical, so I only added 3.5. I put the

Steeping the grains

Steeping the grains

extra grains I had in the coffee grinder and added them to the grain bag. This bag o’ crushed specialty grains steeps in the water until it reaches 170 degrees (Fahrenheit, of course). The water turned black in seconds. Sometimes a recipe will call for “sparging” the grains, which involves pouring more water through the grain bag to get every last ounce of goodness, but this recipe specifically prohibited even squeezing the bag. (I saved the spent grains for cooking. More on that in a future blog post.)

The next step involves adding the malt extracts, 9.9 dark liquid ME and 1 lb. light DME. The sizes available at Northern Brewer — and my not wanting to have more leftovers — gave me only 9.15 lbs of the LME and my DME was wheat, but I was not too bothered by that. Maybe the reduced amount of malt will give me a lower alcohol stout, but it will still be in the ballpark. This concoction is brought to a boil and then the first addition of hops is added, in this case, Fuggles. Hops added at this point are for bittering. Thus begins “the boil,” which is usually an hour. Hops and other adjuncts and additives are thrown in the kettle at various points in the boil, so it’s important to keep track of when it starts and how far into it you are.

A couple of problems occurred during this homebrew session. The first was the dreaded boilover. After adding more than ten pounds of malt to the 3.5 gallons of

Wort chiller: a great time saver

Wort chiller: a great time saver

water, the wort (the non-fermented not-yet beer) was dangerously close to the top of the kettle. As I had an appointment later that afternoon, I also tried to rush it to a boil by putting the lid on the kettle, which sometimes makes it shoot past the boiling point. When it starts boiling, it often foams up … and over. Make that “all over the stove.” Immediately, I pushed the kettle off the burner and switched the burner off. I grabbed towels, both wet and dry, to mop up the sticky dark mess. (No photos of this incident, as I was in panic mode. No, Charlie Papazian, that was not the time to “Relax. Have a homebrew.”) The wet towels and a squirt bottle with a mild soap solution were what I used for the burner, since it was still hot. I didn’t want the wort to burn on, so I had to work quickly. There is still a crusty ring on our burner, but at least most of the mess is gone.

After the boilover, the wort maintained a steady and controlled boil. My thermometer showed that it never got above 211.7 degrees (212 is boiling for you metric folks), but since there were bubbles and roiling, and the burner was as high as it could go, I chalked it up to thermometer or atmospheric variance and continued. Flavor and aroma hops went in toward the end of the boil, along with licorice root and Irish moss, which is a clarifying agent. I got to use up the remaining Fuggles I had, as well as most of the Styrian Goldings. The recipe actually called for Willamette hops, but after checking the hops chart in Radical Brewing, I saw that both Willamette and Styrian Goldings are varieties of Fuggles and have similar alpha acid levels, which is key to hops substitutions as it determines the bitterness level of the hops.  At the very end of the boil, when the heat is off, I added 2 oz. of candied ginger. (The recipe in the book that used ginger calls for crystallized ginger, which is what I thought I had. Nope. Oh well.)

How you do NOT want your carboy to look

How you do NOT want your carboy to look

The wort chiller we have is a piece of brewing equipment I would not do without. After the boil, it is important to cool the wort down to 70 degrees in order to pitch the yeast. If the temp is too high, it will kill the yeast. The longer it takes for the previously boiling wort to cool to yeast-pitchable temperatures, the higher the risk of contamination. Even in a Minnesota winter, when I would put the lidded kettle into a snow bank, it would take nearly an hour to reach a safe temperature. With the wort chiller (a coil of copper with two hoses — one attached to the faucet, the other draining in the sink), that cooling time is now about 20 minutes. To sanitize the copper coils, you just put the thing in the kettle for the last ten minutes of the boil. Easy.

(A note about sanitization: Brewing has been around for millennia, but the knowledge about sanitization is only relatively recent. While one does not have to develop an ulcer worrying about things not being as clean and sanitized as they could be, it still is a very important part. Though you are unlikely to get sick from anything going wrong in your brew, improperly sanitized bottles and equipment could lead to off-flavors (rendering your 5 gallons of beer unpalatable), low fermentation rates, lack of carbonation, or “foamers,” where it takes an hour to pour one glass. So grab that bleach and/or stick your bottles in the dishwasher on the “high heat” and “sani-rinse” cycles.)

Once cooled, I took a hydrometer reading to get the initial gravity (it will be compared to the final gravity reading after the beer is done to determine alcohol content), poured the wort into a glass carboy, pitched the yeast (Irish Ale yeast), and put on the airlock. Safely set up on a table in our basement, I started the ten-day wait until bottling time.

After this blew off, a clamp was added.

After this blew off, a clamp was added.

Or so I thought. The next day, I heard a loud popping, exploding noise from the basement. I rushed down to see the krausen foaming out of the opening of the carboy. The airlock was on the floor. This is known as a “blow out,” where the krausen clogs the airlock tubes and the gases behind it cause an explosion. Luckily, the explosion came in the form of the airlock flying through the air and not of the carboy breaking. I frantically rushed around the basement looking for the blow-off hose gadget to use in place of an airlock. It needed to be cleaned and sanitized, so at least 20-30 minutes went by where my precious beer was foaming out of the carboy into the unsanitized basement. Once in place, the end of the blow-off hose is placed in a bucket of water to collect the residue and allow the gas to escape. So vigorous

was the fermentation, however, that it blew off the blow-off hose attachment a few hours later. Let’s just say that there was a lot of swearing in the Ninkasi’s Niece household that day.

Batch 2: The Braggot (extract w/ adjuncts)

Last night I made the Crandaddy Braggot. It called for 6 lbs. of light light malt extract. I added another pound to make use of

Just add a side of turkey!

Just add a side of turkey!

the mysterious wort in my freezer. The remainder of my Hallertau hops went into the kettle for bittering, along with the remaining smidge of Styrian Goldings (about .2 oz, so not much). This time, I did not try to rush the boil by keeping the lid on. It took longer, but the boil was controlled the entire time. In the last 6-7 minutes, I had to add a concoction made of two pounds of dried cranberries plumped up in a quart of water and then pureed into a “thin paste.” Thin? Not so much. At first I used the immersion blender (pictured), but when I reread the instructions and saw “thin,” I dumped them in the food processor. They thinned a bit, but I think I’ll leave the adjective off the word “paste.” Added to the kettle, along with the 6 lbs. of orange blossom honey, the wort was an odd mixture of hop particles, cranberry seeds, clumps of … stuff, and stickiness.

While sanitizing the equipment for this brew, I was faced with this question: To use the other carboy or play it safe with a plastic fermentation bucket? Ah, heck.

A mesmerizing mélange

A mesmerizing mélange

I am stubborn. I went with the carboy. Surely, I will not have two blow-outs! (I say while frantically knocking wood.) Besides, I like seeing the fermentation in progress and the sediment settling to the bottom. (Update: It’s the next day and nothing’s exploded!) The yeast for the braggot was a package of Champagne yeast, the stuff that comes in a little paper package. For a beer, that would be an odd choice, but this is a mead-beer hybrid, and my recent experiences in making wine and mead prepared me for the idea that the yeast for these not-quite or not-at-all beverages does not come in the chem-lab-looking test tubes or fancy “whack packs.” In addition to the yeast, the recipe called for yeast nutrient and pectic enzyme, both ingredients I happened to have on hand, thanks to the aforementioned mead and wine making. Yeast nutrient acts as a sort of “vitamin pill” for the little yeasties and the pectic enzymes  eat the naturally occurring pectin that fruit contains and that would cloud the beverage with gelatinous clumps. No one like clumps in their booze or their gravy.

Speaking of gravy, though this particular brew seems like it would be great with Thanksgiving feast, it will not be ready by then. Early to mid-December is when I’ll be cracking open the first bottle. The stout, however, should be ready by Thanksgiving. Something dark and festive for Black Friday?

In the meantime, I am not permitted to ferment anything else this year. Having two wines, one mead, one beer, and one braggot is the limit for the space Mr. NN allots me on the “fermentation table.” He’s next up to brew, anyway. So now my interests will turn elsewhere… say, to baking with spent grains and infusing some of Mr. NN’s vodka with some cranberries I found in the freezer….

Nothing says it's holiday time like boozy cranberries.

Nothing says it’s holiday time like boozy cranberries.

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The Annual Ale Jail / Wine Thief Free-for-All 2013

The best free event for beer drinkers

The best free event for beer drinkers

Last Friday the Ale Jail, my favorite bottle shop, held their annual anniversary party in the lot behind the store. This event is not to be missed, as they have at least a couple dozen breweries represented, some with the brewers on hand. In addition, since the entrance part of the store is actually the Wine Thief, there are several wine distributor pouring samples, but we tend to skip over that area (explanation to follow). The best part of all this? It is 100% FREE!

Mr. NN and I met up with our beer-loving friend Jen at the event, as we did last year. Just like last year, the Blue Door served a couple “Blucy” sliders with really excellent potato chips

Olaf the Stout

Olaf the Stout

for $6, as the party spans the dinnertime (4-7 pm). If you are not familiar with the Blue Door or a “Blucy” or its parent burger, the Juicy Lucy (or the Jucy Lucy), here’s what you’re missing: bleu cheese and garlic stuffed inside of an angus beef burger. The cheese-inside-burger thing was either invented or perfected somewhere in the Twin Cities (arguments exist for which location was the true creator of the Juicy Lucy), and the Blucy in particular was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives. (If you want to read something drool-worthy, check out this seasonal special, the Hullabalucy: Stuffed with bleu cheese, garlic and sweet potato mash which is made using our new favorite fall beer, Indeed’s Sweet Yamma Jamma. The burger sits on more sweet potato mash and topped with a maple marshmallow aioli. Served with a side of house made cranberry Sauce.

Where was I? Oh, right! The anniversary party. Vegetarians, you have to fend for yourselves. And I strongly recommend eating something beforehand, lest you overdo it and end up missing out on your Saturday plans, as happened last year to one or two people who shall go unnamed here. This year, those people decided to go into the beer festival (for that is basically what it is) with a plan. My advice to anyone going to a beer festival is to have a plan. Here’s what we did this year, which worked very well for us:

  1. Figure out who’s driving and can moderate their beer intake to able to drive responsibly. Carpool if you can. Mr. NN drove me and Jen had a friend drop her off.
  2. Either eat a snack before you go or buy a Blucy early on. It’s called “throwing down a sponge.”
  3. Bring water. Water is available there, but you have to make your way through the crowd to get to it. It might not be cold enough for your liking or they may run out and not fill it on time. I carried a plastic water bottle in my ginormous purse and Mr. NN had one in a big pocket of his shorts.
  4. Only sample beers that you haven’t tried or that are hard to come by. If you know there are certain styles you don’t particularly care for, don’t bother getting a sample. Remember, this is a free event, so it’s not like you are not getting value for your money. Even at expensive beer festivals, though, this should be your modus operandi because it leaves room for you to sample more new things without wrecking your palate or your sobriety on the stuff you order regularly.
  5. If you don’t like a sample, pour it out. Consider that you only have a certain amount of room on your beer dance ticket, so why waste the time and space on the ugly ones?
  6. If you go with friends (which you should), consider sharing your large pours instead of drinking the entire sample yourself. Okay, there are some that are so good, you will want the entire 4-5 oz. pour yourself. Go right ahead. Giving others in your party a taste of your beer sample, however, especially if it’s a style they might be iffy on, will help everyone slow down the drinking.
  7. Slow down your drinking! This isn’t a race. Pace yourself. Drink water between samples. Have a burger. Have a conversation.
  8. If you can, wear a brewery t-shirt. Beer t-shirts are good conversation-starters with strangers at a beer festival. By wearing a New Glarus t-shirt at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver one year, Mr. NN caught the attention of a Wisconsin journalist / beer-writer who interviewed us for an article, for which we provided such scintillating comments as, “I like beer” and “Beer is good.” At the recent Ale Jail event, the guy in front
    Great taste in beer and clothing!

    Great taste in beer and clothing!

    of me in line for Hammerheart was wearing a Dogfish Head tee, so of course I complemented him on it. (Is it possible for me to write a post without mentioning Dogfish Head? I don’t think so.) Mr. NN and I were wearing Ale Asylum tees, and not only did that spark conversation with the couple near us, but I also got ambushed by a woman shortly after I arrived. (See photographic evidence.)

Now on to the tastings!

Since we had some time before Jen arrived, Mr. NN and I decided (correction: I informed Mr. NN) that we would stand in the looong line for HammerHeart Brewing, one of Minnesota’s newest microbreweries in Lino Lakes. I didn’t want to wait until the line got shorter (I don’t think it ever did) and then find that they had run out of tasty, tasty beer. We hadn’t had any of their brews yet, but the list on their website got me excited: a smoked IPA! An oatmeal-maple-coffee stout! Line me up! Part of the reason the line was so long, I should add, was that their lines were foaming up and pouring slowly. The benefit of going with at least one other person is that one person can sneak out of line and get a sample elsewhere while the other holds the place. Mr. NN shared his pour of Beerhive Tripel by New Holland, which is a dangerously quaffable 8.5% ABV ale and was completely gone by the time I got around to the New Holland table. Eventually, though, I got my pour of Olaf the Stout, a 9% ABV oaked rye stout aged in bourbon barrels. Hello! There was a spicy bite from the rye and

The wife of one of HammerHeart's brewers pours Mr. NN something tasty and dark.

The wife of one of HammerHeart’s brewers pours Mr. NN something tasty and dark.

a roasty jagged edge to the flavor, which was very appealing. This was not a syrupy sweet, anything-in-a-bourbon-barrel kind of beer, but one I could easily picture my Nordic ancestors drinking before or after a busy day of pillaging.

Later in the evening, the crowd thinned a little (not much), so we went back to HammerHeart to try Black Cascade (a Cascadian dark ale) and a

smoked version of Hǿst Ǿl, a harvest ale. The Black Cascade was basically just a black IPA, neither better or worse than any other black IPA, but the smoked harvest ale was a lovely autumnal brew with a good balance of smoke. (More on HammerHeart in another post–we visited their taproom!)

Aside from HammerHeart, the stand-out beverage of the evening for us was not a beer at all but a cider. Crispin is my favorite cider producer, given all the interesting varieties they have. They change out the yeast (sake, Belgian ale, etc.) and experiment with adding maple or rice syrup or honey. Some are barrel-aged, some are left unfiltered. A relative newcomer to the Crispin line is Georgia, a cider made with peach juice, mint, honey and aged in bourbon casks. Sweet yet complex with the bourbon barrel-ness, yet kept from being cloying or heavy by the mint. Tasty stuff, highly recommended.

A new brewery for me to try was Cervejaria Colorado from Brazil. I must admit that my expectations were low. After all, Brazil is not exactly known for its brewing culture. (Cachaça, yes. Beer, no.) In fact, I doubt I could name a single Brazilian brewery prior to the Ale Jail party. I first sampled Bertho, a brown ale brewed with –appropriately, I s’pose — Brazil nuts. It was good! Or, at the very least, it was a respectable beer, solidly done.

A trio from Brazil

A trio from Brazil

Also respectable: Guanabara, the imperial stout brewed with black rapadura cane sugar. Vixnu, the imperial IPA, was less impressive, but still probably more than I expected. There is something to be said for being pleasantly surprised by fairly basic styles of beer; it proves to me that I haven’t become completely spoiled by bizarre adjuncts. (No, I’m not counting rapadura cane sugar or even the brazil nuts as “bizarre adjuncts.” One is most likely a fermentable sugar that has little impact on flavor and the other was not detectable.)

Chris, the local representative for Grand Teton Brewing, was on hand again. We have had many of Grand Teton’s fine brews, so we followed our plan and only sampled new ones, of which there were two. Bone Warmer is an imperial amber. If you follow this blog, you may remember that I am not a huge fan of ambers, usually so mid-range on everything (malt, hops, flavor) and I think they

Sharing the Grand Teton love

Sharing the Grand Teton love

leave a slightly sour aftertaste. By “imperializing” it, they increased the alcohol to 8.2%, which deepens the flavor a bit and lends it a richer mouthfeel. I think this beer could be a good Thanksgiving feast alternative, but I might just be swayed by the label: an adorable puppy sleeping in front of a fireplace. Chris also had a bottle from his own private stash to share with those in the know (or, basically, anyone with an interest in Grand Teton), a two-year aged Saison. Nice!

There are other beers that were enjoyed (Victory’s Red Thunder) and others that weren’t so much (Brooklyn’s Post Road Pumpkin), but I have little to say on those beers because they came toward the end of the party, so my palate was tainted. Case in point, my friend Jen actually felt the opposite about those two beers. It goes to show the ninth point of having a plan for a beer festival: 9. Hit the breweries / beers that you are most interested in first because you either won’t be able to taste them “cleanly” after an hour of imperial stouts and IPAs or they will run out.

Props to the Ale Jail / Wine Thief for yet another year of a well-organized beer and wine festival. Given the free nature of the event, it could easily turn into a drunk fest with “wall-to-wall puking”  or aggressive drunks getting into a brawl, but it does not. Kudos, too, to the attendees who help keep it that way. Cheers!

Non-rowdy revellers

Non-rowdy revellers

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