Tag Archives: fermentation

Friday Linkage 8/15/2014

Moving to a new job is interesting. I have not had a job change in six years, so it kind of feels like a milestone but it is odd at the same time. Who knows what next week will bring?

On to the links…

Sales of Shark Fin in China Drop by up to 70%–I hope that international pressure and the realization that the soup really tastes like warm snot is starting to make people reconsider this outdated practice. Again, it could be just some spin from China’s PR machine.

China Will Install More Solar This Year Than The U.S. Ever Has—Is solar taking off? Well, here is one little stat to make you think about the volume of deployed solar. Remember, solar PV destroys demand.

Stacked Solar Cells could make Solar Power Cheaper than Natural Gas—Even cheaper solar power would be sweet. It’s already cost competitive, but if it were cheaper that makes the adoption curve go crazy.

Wind Farm Powering A Million Homes Nears Approval Deep In Coal Country—Considering that Wyoming is coal country this is a big deal.   3,000 megawatts of power would put this single wind farm on par with all but a few states total wind generation capacity. Damn.

Carbon Dioxide ‘Sponge’ could Ease Transition to Cleaner Energy—Here is the thing that climate deniers and opponents of the new EPA regulations forget, their vaunted market will come up with cost effective solutions because the demand is present.

When Did Republicans Start Hating the Environment?—When did Republicans start hating everything? Seriously, what does the party stand for as opposed to what it stands against? It’s a party devoid of big ideas.

20 Big Profitable US Companies Paid No Taxes—As you read this list, remember that Republicans want corporations to pay even lower taxes. The thing that kills me is that if corporations are people why don’t they pay taxes like people?

Absurd Creature of the Week: This Goofy Fish Poops Out White-Sand Beaches—A parrotfish is an amazing thing to watch when you are snorkeling. You can watch little puffs of white sand come out from their rear ends. Cool and gross at the same time.

Judge Refuses To Throw Out Challenge To Utah’s ‘Ag-Gag’ Law—This is important and should be followed by anyone with an interest in activism and free speech. If “ag gag” laws are allowed to stand there will be a chilling effect on speech and it will encourage industry to promote even more restrictions on our rights.

America Now Has Over 3,000 Craft Breweries—and That’s Not Necessarily Great for Beer Drinkers—The beer aisle is crazy now. How many IPAs and amber ales and bocks and sour ales and whatever else can a beer drinker choose from effectively? As I read more and more articles I believe a shakeout in the industry is coming.

Fermenting Beer Time Lapse Shows one Beautiful Breathing Sludge Monster— These open fermentation tanks are crazy mad scientist stuff:



You Must Read–Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

9781594204210When Michael Pollan writes something, especially a book, the food community listens.  Since the publication of The Omnivore’s Dilemma in 2006 there have been few voices as influential with regard to the national and international discussion of food than Pollan’s.  He continues the conversation with his latest book Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.

The book looks at food through four lenses—fire, water, air, and earth—which translate into the cooking techniques of barbeque, braising, bread baking, and fermentation.  For those of you who know me, I was particularly excited to get to the part about fermentation because of my love of beer.

I’ll be generous and say that the book wanders.  A person could easily claim that it reads like four separate ideas stitched into a larger narrative without the benefit of a true common thread save for the transformation of food.

Each method of food transformation serves as a clothes rack upon which hangers of tangents are affixed to make points about our modern food system.  In a nutshell: our food system is screwed up (no big shock to anyone with open eyes and half a brain) and a lot of the problem has to do with the food industry trying to “save” us time (you mean frozen pizzas are bad for me?).

If there is one common denominator to all of the cooking techniques described in this book it would be…time.  It takes a long time to slow cook an entire hog over the dying embers of a hardwood fire.  It takes a long time to braise a chunk of meat in a shallow bath of water just below the boiling point.  It takes a long time to develop a starter to bake bread and to wait for a batch of dough to be ready for the oven.  For those of you familiar with various fermentation techniques, it is up to the community of microorganisms to decide when things are done.  Think you beer is going to be ready for bottling after two weeks?  Sorry sucker, but the temp in the basement dropped and retarded primary fermentation enough that you get to wait a few more days.  If I sound bitter it’s because I have had this happen one too many times.

Real cooking teaches patience because real cooking takes time.  It’s not always about taking a lot of time, but when you have two kids fighting over which show is going to be on the television even chopping a few onions seems like a Herculean task.  Add in the troubles of any day for people who work outside the home and it becomes easy to see why we have outsourced the preparation of our food even if it might be killing us.

A criticism that is levied against Pollan, in general, and Cooked, including the essay that was the kernel of inspiration for the book, is that he romanticizes a very gendered notion of domesticity and cooking.  I am sympathetic to the idea that romanticizing a time when more people cooked meals at home is a hearkening back to a time when women’s work was primarily in the home.  However, it would be just as accurate to read what Pollan writes and say that he is romanticizing a time when McCarthy was on the warpath or the world faced impending nuclear doom.  Whatever the reason, the decline of home cooked meals coincides with women leaving the domestic workforce en masse and transitioning into the mainline workforce.

I think if someone were to stop there, it would seem like Pollan wants women back in the kitchen “where they belong.”  However, his ideas about the duty of people to cook, for themselves and for family, cut across gender lines completely.  This is not about getting some people involved in the preparation of food, it is about getting everyone involved in the preparation of food.

Pollan himself deals with that issue, it’s as if people stopped reading in the pages before and started writing criticism bu failed to notice what he wrote on page 184:

Now, whenever anyone–but, especially a man–expresses dismay at the decline of home cooking, a couple of unspoken assumptions begin to condense over the conversation like offending clouds.  The first is that you must be “blaming” women for the decline in cooking, since (and here is assumption number two) the meals no longer being cooked are women’s responsibility.

If there is one bone of contention that I have with Cooked it would have to be the scorn that Pollan heaps on the lowly microwave.  From his writing you would think that this was the one technological change that skewed our dining habits toward the awful end of the spectrum.  I do not understand why the microwave is anymore to blame for our bad dining habits than the freezer—couldn’t have those Hungry Man dinners without huge freezers, the drive-thru—can’t eat meals as easily behind the wheel when you actually have to get out of the car, or television—wouldn’t know about chicken that does not have skin or bones without a thirty second advertisement.

The microwave, in my opinion, is just a tool in the kitchen like a knife or a skillet.  It can be used to help you make good food or bad food.   I would much prefer to use a microwave to reheat leftovers of something I made at home for lunch rather than depend on the vagaries of quick service meal options near work.  Is the microwave preferable to a freshly cooked or prepared meal?  God no, but sometimes we just do not have the luxury of time.

If you get a chance check out Pollan and Michael Moss talking about food in a typical American supermarket.

The St. Louis Sampler

Okay, the title sounds like something you might find on the Urban Dictionary.  Nope, this is about beer.

In about a week I am going to be spending some time down in St. Louis, Missouri.  It seems like a good idea to prepare myself for the local beverage scene.  In the past this would have meant steeling my taste buds for the offerings from the legendary Anheuser Busch brew kettles.  Since the acquisition of Anheuser Busch by InBev, the meaning of a “local” beer in St. Louis has taken a totally different turn.

For many people a Budweiser is no longer a local beer.  It may be made in town, but it is not part of the fabric or identity like it once was.  This would have been unthinkable not too many years ago.  Ask for a local beer in St. Louis and someone will hand you a Civil Life or a Four Hands or very likely something from Schlafly Beer.

Opened about twenty years ago, Schlafly claims on their website to be “St.Louis’ largest locally owned independent brewery.”  It’s good enough for me.

My local HyVee liquor store was kind enough to stock a twelve-bottle sampler pack that contained four bottles each of Schlafly’s Kolsch, Pale Ale, and Dry Hopped APA (American Pale Ale).  I am going to talk about them in order of “perceived” strength, which for reasons that will become obvious that perception owes more to my taste buds than anything else.

So, we start with the Kolsch:

Schlafly Kolsch

When I think of a Kolsch style ale, called golden ale by a lot of American craft brewers, I think of non-threatening beers.  This is not a style that someone makes when they want the hop bitterness or aroma to smack you in the teeth.  It’s a style that rewards a steady, sure hand when brewing because balance is very important.

The example for Schlafly is very good.  It comes in at a drinkable alcohol (4.8% ABV) and mild bitterness (25 IBU).  All of this makes for a beer that you can have more than one without feeling like you have smoked a pack of cigarettes every time you burp a little.  Yes, I am looking at you Arrogant Bastard Ale.

I said perceived strength earlier in the post because I would have sworn that the Pale Ale was a stronger beer:

Schlafly Pale Ale

In color perhaps, but it comes in at a lower alcohol (4.4% ABV) and the same bitterness (25 IBU).  Had the Pale Ale been brewed with a typical American craft hop (Cascade or Willamette) I could understand the difference in perception because of the strong aroma those hops can have when added later in a boil.

This is considered the flagship beer of the Schlafly Beer lineup and it performs well in that role.  It’s not a niche or experimental beer meant to push the boundaries of what is possible with the dark arts of beer brewing.  Instead, it is meant to be a reliable drink.  Pint after pint.

The Dry Hopped APA is a different animal:

Dry Hopped APA

If you asked a beer aficionado to describe a dry hopped American craft beer, an ale clocking in at 5.9% ABV and only 50 IBU would not probably be the first description you got.  It would likely be something stronger and definitely more bitter, probably closer to 100 IBU which seems like the goal line of “cutting edge” brewing.  However, the Dry Hopped American Pale Ale shows what is possible by combining new techniques to deliver balances and drinkable beers.

It is because the beer does not clock in at some exorbitant IBU that the dry hopping is really allowed to shine as a component of the flavor profile.  More traditional American hops—Cascade and Chinook—make their appearance here and the flavor difference is noticeable compared with the Pale Ale.  By not being overly bitter, the dry hopped aromas hit your palate as you first drink the beers but little lingers as an aftertaste.  Try that with something that has an IBU closer to a Texas speed limit.  I prefer not to spend my night thinking that I mistakenly drank bong water in the back of a Denver head shop.

If you get a chance while you are in St. Louis order a Schlafly to enjoy a true local beer.

First December Beer Thoughts

The Christmas songs are out in full force wherever you go, people are carrying those red cups from Starbucks, and suddenly people think it is appropriate to put strange looking reindeer decorations in their cubicles at work.  The holidays always turn my thoughts to…beer.  Big surprise.

Dry Irish Stout

The latest beer is done bottle condition and is ready to drink.  It’s a Dry Irish Stout recipe:

Dry Irish Stout

The original recipe, as it came from Northern Brewer, called for a more bitter beer than I wanted.  So, I reduced the boil time for the hops to reduce the bitterness down to approximately 40 IBU which is where a lot of people place the popular Guinness Draught stout.

Unlike Guinness Draught from a tap or can, my stout does not get the benefit of a nitrogen dispensing system or whatever that little widget is in the can that rattles around when empty.  The result is that the homebrew version lacks some of the creaminess that I associate with stout.  Not a deal breaker, per se, but it is a little bit disappointing in some ways.

However, the bitterness profile is spot on and this is a great beer for colder nights.  One way to really take things up a notch would be to introduce some cold pressed coffee extract.  Like, I don’t know, Surly’s Coffee Bender…

Innkeeper, Brickwarmer Red, and American Amber Ale

A batch of the Innkeeper extract ale kit from Northern Brewer is set to be bottled sometime on Sunday or Monday evening.  I brewed this same recipe earlier in the year and was very pleased with the results.  For some reason I felt compelled to return to the recipe.  It revolves around my interest in brewing styles of beer that are harder to define than India Pale Ale or porter or whatever.  It’s also about a search for finding beer styles that can have bold flavors, both in terms of malt and hops, without becoming hop bombs.

Next up after the Innkeeper are two recipe kits: Brickwarmer Red and American Amber Ale.  The Brickwarmer seems like the perfect beer for January and February when the weather is the coldest and you just want to snuggle under a blanket.  Not the right time of year for a light wheat beer or saison, but perfect for a heavier beer with spice.  Maybe an ugly sweater will complement the beer perfectly.

The American Amber Ale kit is going to be a little bit of a departure from the recipe as specified by the good folks from Northern Brewer.  Originally, the recipe called out Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast.  Honestly, I am very bored with both strains of American Ale yeast (1056 and 1272).  The yeasts produce fine beer, but like the description points out these are yeasts that are meant to produce a beer that takes a backseat to bold hop flavors.

I chose to take the recipe kit and combine with the Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale.  My hope is that this yeast will produce a beer with a distinct flavor profile versus a somewhat blank canvas like 1056 and 1272.  Only time in the carboy will tell.

How to Identify the Hops in Your Beer

The more I delve into the manufacturing of beer and the vast array of ingredients available the more I think the entire community is getting a little Sideways at time with the hops.  I am half expecting to go into Benz Beverage Depot and see a couple of guys looking at a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon while wondering about the variety of hops it uses.

Nonetheless, some hops have very different flavors and aromas.  If you are brewing your own beer or spending $12 a six pack for beer it is important to know what you like and what you do not.  Here is a handy guide for starting to identify the hops in your beer.

Beer Mythbusting

Apparently, there is some truth to the oft told tale that the pilgrims ended up landing in present day Massachusetts because the supply of beer was running low.  Huh, who would have thought?

There are some other interesting beer mythbusting going on in the same article.

Peace Tree Brewing’s Hop Wrangler and Cornucopia

On Small Business Saturday following my trip to the NewBo City Market I made my way over to Benz Beverage Depot to see what looked good on the wall of beer.  The little bottles from Peace Tree Brewing in Knoxville looked enticing.

I have seen these little bottles in six packs at several stores in the area, but never pulled the trigger.  What got me this time was that one of the seasonal brews—Cornucopia—was available.  How can a good Iowa resident pass up a beer made with corn?  So, I ended up with two six packs of beer: one each of Cornucopia and Hop Wrangler.


Corn is considered an adjunct in beer and, in general, it gets a bad rap because it is associated with cheap mass market beers.  However, if all we did as beer aficionados was follow the edicts of the Bavarian Purity Law (Reinheitsgebot)we would end up with beers that only contained water, barley, hops, and yeast.  Corn is just another ingredient in the toolkit of the craft brewer.

In this case the results are not promising for corn.  Cornucopia comes across a little thin with minimal carbonation.  I gave the beer the benefit of the doubt on the carbonation, but bottles two and three were no different.  It’s not that I want a beer to be overly carbonated or bursting with artificial bubbles of carbon dioxide, but near flat beers seem to have less life to them in terms of flavor.

Additionally, the beer is overly sweet without a balance of hop bitterness.  Some people like their beer this way, but I would prefer more balance.  It’s one of the reasons I have avoided brewing up a batch of either homebrew recipe from the White House.  Too much sugar for my blood.

Hop Wrangler was a different story:

This is what I consider to be a well-crafted American-style IPA.  Before hop bombs and the obsession with going to the stratosphere in terms of IBU, the American-style IPA was about using non-traditional hops and new methods to break out of stereotypical molds.  Obviously, this was in the early years of the craft beer movement and the frontier has moved farther afield but there is a place for a well-balanced American-style IPA.

Hop Wrangler is dry hopped for aroma and you get a real whiff of that when your nose enters the glass.  It is not overpowering by any means and the bitterness of the actual beer is not overpowering either so the effect is appreciated.  Dry hopping is a nice touch when it is done to a level that is not like a punch in the face that is followed by a bitterness in the beer that is like getting strangled.  Too much of a good thing is definitely possible when it comes to hops.

Batting .500 is pretty good and it left me wanting to try what else the folks at Peace Tree Brewing are up to in Knoxville, Iowa.

Miscellaneous Colorado Beers

Unfortunately, I did not get to try as many beers along the Front Range as I would have liked but that leaves more things to do next time.

While on a break from biking along the Ten Mile Canyon trail at Copper Mountain I got a chance to have an Avery Brewing White Rascal:

The White Rascal is Belgian wheat.  Unfiltered, low bitterness (22 IBU), and moderate in alcohol (5.6% ABV) this beer is very drinkable.  Granted, I was over an hour into my light ride and the temperature was 10 degrees warmer than planned—thank you global warming—so I was a little dry.

Avery Brewing was not a company that I had heard of until I saw the beer listed on the menu.  This is the great thing about beer, there are so many different beers from so many different brewers that it always leads to discovery.  It’s why it is great to get out of your usual and try something new.

One thing I would like to see go away is serving a big chunk of fruit on a glass of beer.  Coors’ Blue Moon started this trend in bars a while back and now every unfiltered Belgian beer is served with a chunk of orange or a wedge of lemon.  Stop the insanity.

This pint made me want to see what else the folks at Avery Brewing are doing.  Next time.

At a shop in Breckenridge I picked up two six-packs of Odell Brewing Company beers: Easy Street Wheat and St. Lupulin.  Often, Odell is described as the other brewery in Fort Collins because of the omnipresent New Belgium.  I have found that the smaller brewers, owing to smaller scale, are able to push the boundaries because there is less push to satisfy mass taste.  Granted, even large craft brewers like New Belgium push the boundaries all the time with beers in the Lips of Faith series.

Easy Street Wheat is described as being “light and refreshing.”  That pretty much sums it up:

Low in alcohol (4.6% ABV) and very low in bitterness (15 IBU) Easy Street Wheat, like White Rascal above, is a very drinkable beer.  Not much else to say beyond that.

St. Lupulin is a different story:

Following Easy Street Wheat this beer is a little bit of a smack to the palate.  Not in a bad way, but a little shocking.  It’s a lot stronger (6.5% ABV) and bitter (46 IBU) than the first beer.  Furthermore, the beer tastes like it has been dry hopped which leaves a strong hop aroma in the beer because the beta acids are not driven off during the boil.  Used sparingly, this technique can produce strong aromas without making the beer overly bitter.  Used excessively, the beer ends up smelling like someone opened the door to a coffee shop in Amsterdam.  St. Lupulin falls more toward the sparingly end of the spectrum.

To no fault of the beers from both Avery Brewing and Odell Brewing, I got sick after my first morning in Breckenridge and spent the better part of a day in bed or hanging my head over a toilet.  It’s hard to separate the beers from that experience.  Getting sick sucks…

Left Hand Brewing Company

When I went to Colorado over the Labor Day weekend to visit friends in Breckenridge and Colorado Springs there were two breweries I was interested in seeking out: Left Hand Brewing Company and Great Divide Brewing Company.  Scheduling prevented me from actually visiting the physical breweries and tap rooms, but I was able to track down some of the beers I wanted to try in bottles.

Left Hand makes a sampler twelve pack.  Great mysteries are contained within:

The beers in the sampler pack are Stranger Pale Ale, Sawtooth Ale, Milk Stout, and Black Jack Porter.

Let’s look at the beers in order starting with Stranger Pale Ale:

I apologize for the quality of the images.  The dSLR did not make the trip to Colorado because I was trying to travel light to make room for two children’s stuff.

This is my favorite style of beer.  It’s a little lighter in body than the traditional American craft ale, but it has enough bitterness to balance that out.  There is enough alcohol (5% ABV) to know you are drinking beer, but not so much that after a couple you are wondering how to make the walk up 4 O’Clock Road.  Pale ales do not need to be overly bitter and strong to be successful.

Look who’s here…Cascade and Willamette hops along with their friend Centennial.  The two horsemen of the American craft beer movement.

Man, you can really taste the Willamette and Cascade hops used in this beer.  It’s not too powerful, but once you get used to looking for the particular flavor and aroma of these hops it is soooooo easy to point them out in a beer.  It is the signature of American craft beers.

That being said Sawtooth is a great example of American craft ale.  Since the arrival of Samuel Adams’ Boston Lager and New Belgium’s Fat Tire, the American craft ale has taken on a distinct form: medium amber color, Cascade and Willamette hops, long lasting head, and a strong mouth presence that lingers for a moment after swallowing.  Sure, there are variations on the theme but if you line the beers up those characteristics will be present.  It’s a good thing because it means that good beer is being made all over the country and the United States is developing distinct styles.

Milk stouts are an interesting breed of cat.  Like traditional stouts, a milk stout is a dark beer.  Also like tradition stouts, e.g. Guinness, milk stout will have the taste qualities of roasted malts and a rich mouth feel.  Where this variety differs from tradition is the use of lactose.  Lactose, a sugar usually associated with milk, is not fermentable by the traditional beer yeasts used in the production of most beers.  Thus, the sweetness of the sugar remains in the beer.

Left Hand’s Milk Stout is sweet, but not overly so.  The residual sweetness of the lactose gives the beer just enough to be noticeable but not enough to become sickly.  The beer is also amazingly light on the tongue for being 6% ABV which is something that attribute to the low bitterness (27 IBU).  Too often a strong beer is accompanied by a lot of bitterness from some serious hopping.  Not so with Left Hand’s Milk Stout.  This is a great alternative to the more well-known stouts available in the liquor store.

Last, but not least, is the Black Jack Porter

I drank the Milk Stout prior to pouring myself a Black Jack Porter because it was like stepping up a ladder on a progression.  The sweetness of the Milk Stout disappears and the alcohol (6.8% ABV) and bitterness (35 IBU) go up.

The dark flavors we associated with porters, chocolate and coffee, are present in spades but nothing is overpowering like a coffee stout.  The chocolate malt used in this beer is a great choice and an underappreciated ingredient in the beer universe.  Unlike actual chocolate or cocoa nibs added at various times during the brewing process, chocolate malt’s flavors get mellowed out over the process since the flavors are present from the first step in the brewing process.  It creates subtlety.

It’s pretty apparent from my notes on these beers that I really enjoyed what the fellows at Left Hand Brewing are doing in Longmont, Colorado.  I hope that I get a chance the next time I am out west to stop by the brewery and taste the liquid at the source.