Tag Archives: banana

Getting the Sugar Out

The modern American…er, Western diet is awash in sugar. It is estimated that Americans consume an average of 47 sugar cubes or 10 teaspoons of high fructose corn syrup per day. This compares with 39 sugar cubes in the 1980s or 34 sugar cubes in the 1950s. I do not know if those levels in the 1950s were healthy, as it is my sneaking suspicion that the health crisis related to sugar is really a story of post-war America which begins in the 1950s. Nonetheless, we eat too much god damned sugar.

All of this sugar—whether it is HFCS or table sugar or fair trade Turbinado or organic raw sugar from lowland plains of Maui—is killing us. Depending upon the measurement criteria almost 70% of Americans are overweight or obese. Almost 35% are obese and over 6% are considered extremely obese. The problem with our weight has gotten so bad that the U.S. military is concerned that the population is “too fat to fight.”

Our collective expanding waistline is just the first sign indicator of greater problems to come. If you think a lot of people being overweight is bad, just wait until those numbers translate into a lot of people having Type II diabetes. Diabetes and its related conditions are estimated to cost Americans over $250 billion per year and it is going to get worse as the prevalence of the disease increases. This is a direct function of our love affair with sugar.

However, these trends and statistics are not new. What has changed in the last few years is that focus has been put squarely on added sugar. This is a story about the sugar that we have put into processed foods making us sick. Any dietician will tell you that the fructose in an apple—chemically similar to HFCS and metabolically the same—is not the problem because you cannot eat enough apples to get the same deleterious impact as hammering home a Big Gulp full of Coca-Cola. It’s like trying to equivocate drinking a glass of wine with dinner to doing keg stands at a tailgate. There are some similarities, but the differences are what matter.

The easy answer is to make all of our food from scratch. I am sure that there are people with both the time and patience to pull that off. I congratulate them on their being awesome. I am not nearly as awesome. Sometimes I need a quick solution to hungry kids while I assemble dinner after working the entire day.

The go-to solution in my house to hungry kids is a cup of yogurt and a banana. The banana speaks for itself, but the cup of yogurt is a Trojan horse for sugar. I had never really thought about the sugar content until a few months ago. Guess what? You might as well give your children a candy bar if you are going to feed them most flavored yogurts. Compare the nutritional labels of a standard cup of national brand strawberry yogurt versus equivalent sized cup of strawberry yogurt from Kalona SuperNatural:


The strawberry yogurt from Kalona SuperNatural has 104 calories for a 6 oz serving and 6 grams of sugar. The irony is that the Kalona SuperNatural yogurt has significantly fewer calories while having more fat. Where do you think those calories are coming from? That’s right. Sugar.

Damn. 18 grams of sugar versus 6 grams of sugar. The Kalona SuperNatural yogurt has two-thirds the sugar.

Things are not as clear cut as the math would make it seem. Nutritional labels are not required to show the sugars that are naturally occurring versus the sugars that are added. In yogurt this means that you do not get to see the sugars present as lactose versus the added sugars like HFCS or sucrose. Depending upon the brand and variety of yogurt a six ounce serving may contain anywhere from 13 grams of lactose to as few as 2 to 6 grams of lactose. It matters if the yogurt is fat free where more lactose is present to take the place of removed fats or if the yogurt is Greek in style which has lactose skimmed out. This is why reading the nutritional label is not going to always provide a clear answer. A Greek style yogurt may appear to have less sugar, but the reduction in sugar is really a function of having less lactose not less added sugar which is the component we are trying to avoid.

Assuming that these two yogurts were made in similar ways with similar base ingredients you can really start to see the difference in added sugar.

Children are supposed to only get approximately 12 grams of added sugar per day. A single cup of grocery store brand strawberry yogurt puts them nearly all of the way to the total. And that was supposed to be a healthy alternative. See what I mean about yogurt being a Trojan horse for added sugar? It’s literally a battle of grams and teaspoons when it comes to cutting out the sugar.

The moral of the story is that we can find better alternatives to the things that we feed ourselves and our children. In my house, we went cold turkey on a lot of sugar laden items. One day there was your standard strawberry yogurt and the next it was replaced by something with a lot less sugar. I think there was one complaint and away we went.

Dry Dock Brewing Co. Hefeweizen

During my marathon tour of breweries in the Denver metro area—one day, six breweries, two visits to the Basic Kneads food trucks, and a wicked good falafel—I visited Dry Dock Brewing Co. in Aurora, Colorado. I came away with a good impression of the beer even though my stay at the taproom was relatively short for a variety of reasons, flagging endurance at the midpoint of the brewery marathon being the prime suspect.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Dry Dock’s beers in cans, so some of that golden liquid came home with me. First up is the Hefeweizen:

Dry Dock Hefe

I am reluctant to say anything about a hefeweizen because I never have anything good to say. This beer came in a sampler, so considered it a sunk cost of getting the other three beers.

Here is the deal: hefeweizens are known for having prominent notes of banana. I loathe bananas. I can’t stand the smell, taste, texture, and almost sight of that ghastly fruit. It’s probably bordering on a phobia.

Hefeweizens taste like banana, clove, straw, and barnyard ass that has been left to stew for a few weeks in the mid-summer heat of a county fair. Nasty. Other people with opinions on beer that I trust do not come away with this impression at all, so I know that the problem lies with me.

I refuse to even offer a rating of a hefeweizen because I will be less than objective in my criteria. Your experience may vary.

The Little Orange

I cracked opened a bottle of my latest homebrew this weekend, Northern Brewer’s La Petite Orange or as I like to call it the Little Orange:

Little Orange

First off, this has to be the most inconsistently bottle conditioned batch of beer that I have had the pleasure of drinking.  Some bottles almost foam out the top upon opening.  Other bottles barely have enough carbonation to produce a thing ring of head around the interior rim of the glass.  I do not get what happened with this batch, but it is one more push toward force carbonating my beer with a keg system.

The estimates from iBrewmaster put the alcohol at 5.37% and the bitterness at 19.  It’s a little hard to believe the estimate of the alcohol content because after a couple of these you start to feel things get soft around the edges.

One of my fears was that the yeast used—Wyeast 1214 Belgian Abbey—is known for producing banana esters at higher temps.  Naturally, I decided to brew this recipe when we went through a period of three weeks where the temperature barely ticked below ninety degrees and commonly topped out closer to 100.  We were fried and I was afraid my beer was going to come out like mofungo.  Good news is that my fears were not realized and the beer does not taste of bananas.  Whew!

Note to anyone using Wyeast 1214: it’s a slow start.  However, once this batch got going it was explosive.  I was afraid my blowoff preventer was not going to be able handle the volume of gas being belched out.

I really wanted to like this beer.  It seemed, from the description of the recipe, that it would really hit the spot as a late summer/early fall beer to drink on those days when the temperatures drop as the sun sinks below the horizon.  You know, something to bridge the season between the lawnmower beers of summer and the “heavier” beers of the cooler months.  It just did not come together in a way that I found satisfying.

The real problem that I had with this beer was that it was too sweet without any accompanying bitterness or body.  It sort of reminded me of the honey ales that friends have made where the sweetness of the honey added later in the brewing process overwhelms any other flavors.  With only 1 ounce of Styrian Goldings hops to provide bitterness, you are not likely to get much balance against six pounds of malt extract and a pound of candi sugar.

If I were to brew this recipe again, I would opt for a more potent hop or more hops in general to provide some bitter balance to the sweetness of the malt and sugar in the wort.

Next up is a batch of American Amber Ale and a Chinook IPA.  Stay tuned to see if I go the keg route and skip the horror that is two hours of my life spent bottling.

A Lightning Strike?

A trip to the liquor store to pick up some canned beer for an outdoor event where glass bottles are a no-no, which excludes my own beer brewed at home, yielded a couple of new beers from Lightning Brewery out of Poway, California.

When you open a bottle of beer you expect certain things to happen.  A nice pop is one.  A rush of aromas from hops is another.  However, this was something unexpected:


I popped the top of the bottle and was treated to a science experiment worthy volcano of craft beer.  Ugh!  Normally, I would associate such a level of carbonation with some kind of contamination particularly from a bottle conditioned beer.

So, what to say about Thunderweizen Ale:


The beer was not contaminated, which is a good thing.

I have a love-hate relationship with hefeweizens.  Sometimes, when the brewer plays down the spice notes and neglects the banana flavors I am all about a cold glass on a warm day.  Conversely, when the brewer gets cute with a sucker punch of cloves and an armload of banana I want to puke.

Thunderweizen was right on the line.  I could taste some notes of clove, just enough to taste good without making me think I was eating a spiced ham, and the flavors of banana were muted enough to be bearable.  The most disappointing thing is that I lost about half the beer to the Mount Vesuvius moment earlier.

The other bottle was Elemental Pilsner:

Elemental Pilsner

Brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot, or Bavarian Beer Purity Law of 1516, Elemental Pilsner should be brewed only with water, hops, and barley.  Notice the omission of yeast?  Interesting, huh?  Apparently, when the Reinheitsgebot was first written no one knew about the micro-organisms, yeast in this case, that were responsible for the fermentation of beers.  My guess is that the folks at Lightning Brewery are using yeast in addition to the original three ingredients.

Elemental Pilsner, like other well-crafted pilsners, is an extremely clean drinking beer.  In keeping with a beer that only has three ingredients, forgetting the yeast for a moment, the key here is execution rather than recipe creativity.  With so little room for mistakes to be covered up by bold flavors from non-approved ingredients the flavors need to be spot on or the beer comes across very poorly.

I am naturally inclined to favor ales as opposed to lagers, a pilsner being a lager, because I find a lot of lagers to be “middle of the road.”  Ask someone what to pair with a pilsner and you will likely get a list of every food type in the world because the beer is so vanilla that is complements everything.  It’s like chicken.  Everything tastes like chicken because chicken tastes like nothing.  At least the crazy birds that we have bred to reach maturity in as little as forty two days.

None of this should come across as an indictment of Elemental Pilsner or the work the folks at Lightning Brewery are doing.  The beer was crafted well and tasted good.  It just does not float my boat, so to speak.

The lineup from Lightning Brewery includes quite a few other styles to choose from, but only these two are available in my little corner of the woods right now.  The good thing is that on my next business trip to Poway—yes, I actually have trips to Poway scheduled about every six months for my “real” job—I have a new place to check out.

Seduced by the Sampler Pack

I am a sucker for the sampler pack, especially when on travel because I want to try as many beers that I cannot get at home.  Buying a six pack of each type is generally not practical because of volume or cost and a lot of craft brewers are foregoing the 22 ounce single bottles for multi-packs or cans.

On Kauai, I ran across this beauty at Costco:

Kona Sampler

If you spend any time on the islands looking for beer you will run across Kona Brewing Company’s products.  The primary facility is located on the Big Island of Hawaii in Kailua-Kona, thus the name Kona Brewing Company.  In 2010 I tried to visit the brewery but was thwarted by a tsunami warning and spent the day upcountry in Waikoloa Village.  Bad memories.  There is also a pub on Oahu.

So, four beers are included in this particular case: Longboard Island Lager, Big Wave Golden Ale, Fire Rock Pale Ale, and a season offering—Koko Brown Nut Brown Ale.

Kona Bottles

I apologize for not having any pictures of the beer alongside the bottles, but I did not have any glasses of sufficient clarity to really capture the color.  Use your imagination, I have faith.

It’s hard to swing a pint glass and not find Longboard Island Lager on the beer menu in the islands.  That is not a backhanded compliment because this a beer that fits its place perfectly.  When you sit down to have a drink after spending a day snorkeling or hiking or doing whatever outside in the brilliant Hawaiian sun you want a beer that is refreshing.  It also helps if the beer tastes good cold.  Longboard does this well.  I will admit that the beer is better as a draft than out of a bottle, but that may have been helped by a plate load of fried food at Kalapaki Joe’s during happy hour.

Big Wave Golden Ale and Fire Rock Pale Ale are a lot like Longboard in that respect.  These are perfect beers to drink while watching the sun go down on the lanai.  Do either of these beers blow me away with originality?  Nope, but that is not really what the future of brewing is all about.  I believe that crafting beers that are right for a certain time and place is the future of brewing.  You do not always want to drink a stout, but when the winter winds are howling and a bowl of hot soup is on the table a stout is an excellent choice.  Take that same stout to Hawaii last week and I would look at it askew wondering how it got there.

Koko Brown Nut Brown Ale is an abomination.  I did not read the label fully before taking my first drink and almost did a spit take afterwards.  What could be so wrong with a nut brown ale?  I love Newcastle, so it should be a home run right?  Except for the inclusion of freakin’ toasted coconut.  There are two flavors, in my opinion, that should never, ever be included in any beers: coconut and banana.  No ifs, ands, or buts about the exclusion.  It’s an absolute.  I left five full bottles for the cleaning crew to take home or give to friends, if they can find someone willing to stomach the sickly taste of coconut in their beer.

Since 2010 Kona Brewing Company is part of the Craft Brew Alliance.  CBA is a partnership between Widmer Brothers Brewing, Redhook Ale Brewery, and Kona Brewing Company to leverage the combined expertise of the three companies while executing independent business plans.  It’s an interesting answer to the trend of big macro brewers buying up smaller fish to improve their “beer cred.”  It’s something that I am going to have to look into.