Tag Archives: wheat

Steel Toe Brewing Provider Ale

The first beer I drank from Steel Tow Brewing was big and brassy—Size 7 IPA—but Provider Ale was a totally different experience:

steel toe provider

At only 5% ABV and 15 IBU there is little “big” about this beer. It is also hard to categorize. It’s not a wheat beer, even though it pours with a golden straw color and is unfiltered. It has some sweetness and the hop notes are floral as opposed to resinous.

If you were looking for an analog I would suggest a cream ale like New Glarus’ Spotted Cow or Galena Brewing Company’s Farmer’s Cream Ale. These are both light beers that pour like a wheat beer but have a very different flavor that is hard to categorize.

These beers are actually quite hard to pull off from a technical standpoint because there is little hop flavor and aroma to “hide” behind when off flavors present themselves in the malt body of the beer. I have also found these beers to be heavily influenced by the temperature at which they are fermented. It might be the exact same recipe, but the fermentation spent a few days at a temperature higher or lower than ideal which leads to a totally different beer. Trust me, I have brewed Northern Brewer’s Speckled Heifer partial mash kit a few times and each batch tastes noticeably different. Not bad, but definitely different.

If Provider Ale and Size 7 IPA were poured side by side a person would be hard pressed to know that these beers were from the same brewery. It is a very different approach to beer in each glass:

Two Mug Purchase

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The Real Preppers

Climate change is coming.  It’s not just that I believe our world will be fundamentally realigned because of human-caused climate change.  Businesses and investors are betting on climate change.

A while back I wrote about a book—Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming—where the global mad dash to acquire the rights to fertile land to grow food in a changed climate was on in the developing world.  Guess what?  That same trend is occurring in the developed world as well.

Let’s look at the state of Iowa.  Every year Iowa State University’s Extension and Outreach conducts a farmland value survey.  It is a treasure trove of data.  Here is what the results look like through 2013:

Acre Price Farmland

The chart above shows the weighted average price for an acre of land across the state of Iowa.  It’s a fairly stunning graph.

There are several factors at play in determining the market value of a parcel of land.  One such factor in the U.S. is that historically low interest rates and equity market volatility have directed investors into tangible asset classes like land and gold.

It’s my belief, however, that investors are also counting on an ever increasing value of land in a hotter, drier world where soil fertility will be of immense value.  Why?  Using the University of Illinois’ farmdoc database I was able to compare land values against the prices of commodities from 1960 onward:

Baseline Change in Price

To compare the vastly different scales in price I made 1960 a base 100 year and calculated percentage change from the baseline for each of the items (Iowa Acre of Land, Corn, Soybeans, Wheat).  Plotting those data points shows a remarkable amount of correlation prior to 1990, minus the boom and bust associated with the farm crisis of the mid-1980s.

Just a quick mid-week thought exercise about the world around us.

New Belgium Brewery’s Spring Blonde

The liquor store can be a frustrating place for me.  Given that I brew almost all of my own beer now the few times a year when I find myself pacing the beer cooler is an exercise in frustrated decision making.  I want to try something new—a new style of beer or a different brewer—but it seems like the cooler is just filled with derivative beers from a few larger craft brewers.

I went to the section populated by New Belgium Brewery’s offerings hoping to find the newly released Snapshot, an unfiltered wheat beer, or Accumulation, a white IPA.  Instead, the only new beer was Spring Blonde:

Spring Blonde

It’s described as a Belgian-style ale with “drinks malty, sweet and wonderful. And the easy Nugget hopping pedals towards a dry, lightly bitter finish.”  Forgetting for a moment the constant use of cycling metaphors in New Belgium descriptions, I found that the beer was really lacking in delivering any of those defining characteristics in a way that might have been considered intentional.  Sure, there were elements of maltiness and hoppiness but nothing that anyone would write home about.

According to New Belgium, Spring Blonde is a “seasonal” beer so if you want to try your hand at a six-pack you might want to jump soon because it may disappear from shelves quickly as more summertime seasonals round the bend.

In all honesty, the beer came off like a well-executed version of a pale American lager.  Overall, I thought this was a very weak outing from New Belgium.

Purchased One Mug Rating

Taking a Trip Down Deschutes

Here’s the thing about the craft beer “scene” in the United States in 2013.  You can walk into any moderately curated beer section, even grocery stores with well-run liquor departments, and find really good beers that you had not heard of until that day.

Take Deschutes Brewery out of Bend, Oregon.  Until I walked into HyVee and saw a monster display of six-packs I had never heard of the brewery that I could remember.  Beer festivals do not count because by hour three of samples a lot of the breweries begin to meld into one amorphous picture due to the quantity of breweries and brews.

I took a flyer on four six-packs because I hate friends coming over and my latest two batches of homebrew—a Lefse Blonde and Fat Tire clone—are not done bottle conditioning.  It also helped that the six-packs were a manager’s special for the Fuel Saver program.  Each six-pack got me 10 cents off per gallon at my next fill up.  Yeah, I got marketed.

Started in 1988, so this is the twenty fifth year of brewing, Deschutes Brewery is actually one of the major players in the craft beer scene.  According to some estimates it is the fifth largest craft brewer and the eleventh largest brewery in the U.S.  Okay, my source was Wikipedia.  Busted.

I walked out of the store with a six-pack of Chainbreaker White IPA, Twilight Summer Ale, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, and Black Butte Porter.  Let’s talk about them in that order starting with the Chainbreaker White IPA:

Chainbreaker White IPA

First off, I am a sucker for any beer that references bicycles.  It’s something in the DNA of anyone who spends a lot of time on a bike that they will also probably love beer.  Spend some time around the moving carnival that is RAGBRAI and you will understand that there is some connection.  Thousands of people on bikes in the height of an Iowa summer fueled on little more than fried food and cold beer.  I digress.

In general white or wit beers are not synonymous with the characteristics on an India Pale Ale (IPA).  The white beers are known for clean profiles and citrus/spice notes while an IPA is known for body and hops.  Mixing the two styles is a really interesting idea that works pretty well.  I would have classified this beer as a hopped up white beer rather than an IPA, as the name indicates, because the body of the beer just screams white ale.  Even though there are some pretty strong hop aromas and flavors, the light body does not allow them to linger very long so the effect is somewhat transitory.  For that reason the beer drinks a lot lighter than its alcohol (5.6% ABV) and bitterness (55 IBU) might suggest.

Chainbreaker White uses four different hop varieties, but the one that has me the most intrigued is Citra.  This particular variety has been showing up in a lot of craft beers and homebrews.  The last two times I have tried to order recipe kits using the hop it has been backordered.  A trip north to Minneapolis may be required so that I can get my hands on some to experiment.

Twilight Summer Ale is also a kind of hybrid:

Twilight Summer Ale

Craft beers brewed for the summer season are truly something that is very welcome.  At the start of the craft beer renaissance, it was like people expected you to drink heavily hopped and malted beers even in the heat of a Midwestern summer.  Sorry guys, but something lighter is appreciated.  Over the past few years brewmasters have really obliged our summer palates.

If Chainbreaker White IPA had an ensemble cast of hops than I guess Twilight Summer Ale is working from the Robert Altman script by including Northern Brewer, Amarillo, Cascade, Tettnang, and Brambling Cross.  Even though it is only one of the five varieties used, you can really taste the inclusion of Amarillo.  Like Simcoe, Amarillo is a variety whose flavor and aroma can cut through even the heaviest hand elsewhere in the brew.  At times this can be a detriment to the beer because it overwhelms subtler notes, but not with Twilight Summer Ale.  The inclusion of Amarillo brings hop aroma and flavor to the beer without imparting too much bitterness and making you feel like there is a Lucky Strike stuck in the back of your throat.

Surprisingly, Mirror Pond Pale Ale does the opposite of Chainbreaker White IPA and Twilight Summer Ale:

Mirror Pond Pale Ale

This beer drinks heavier than its alcohol (5% ABV) and bitterness (40 IBU) suggests.  If you put both Chainbreaker White and Mirror Pond in paper bags to sample I am sure that most people would point to Mirror Pond as the “heavier” beer.

Maybe it is on account of Mirror Pond relying solely on Cascade hops rather than a mix of four hop varieties.  I have found that single hop beers tend to really accentuate the “hoppiness” of that particular variety in a manner that is outsized compared to its stated bitterness.  It is like the undercurrents in aroma and flavor that might get lost in an ensemble shine through like a saxophone solo.

The other culprit is probably the malt.  Pale malt is heavier in body than either pilsner or wheat malt so Mirror Pond is going to have a heavier body, which may confuse the palate as to which beer is bringing the hops to the party.

Nonetheless, Mirror Pond is a very successful take on the classic American Pacific Northwest pale ale.  This style of beer, along with amber ale, are the standard bearers for the American craft beer renaissance.

Black Butte Porter is not a summer beer:

Black Butte Porter

Obviously, as a porter this is a dark beer.  It is also a heavy beer, more so than its alcohol (5.2% ABV) and bitterness (30 IBU) would dictate.  It is nice to see a porter not be overly bitter because it allows for the roasted and chocolate flavors of the malt to really shine.  I think a lot of porters and stouts are given a healthy dose of hops to mask the bitter flavors from roasted malts.  It takes a deft and delicate hand to get the right amount of flavor from roasted malts without making the beer reminiscent of burnt marshmallows around the campfire.

What is really nice about moderately bitter porters is that the beers are allowed to be creamy and even “bready.”  It’s an odd adjective “bready,” but I think that it describes the near chewiness from heavy bodied beers that do have a correspondingly heavy bitterness.  Maybe there is a reason a lot of beer champions refer to the product as “liquid bread.”

It is fairly obvious from my comments above that I came away impressed with the work that Deschutes Brewery is doing.  As the fifth largest craft brewer in the United States, it’s also apparent that a lot of other beer drinkers are thinking the same thing.  Go out and give them a try.

May Beer Thoughts

Just a few random beer thoughts a week into May…

Irish Red Ale

I brewed up my second batch of Irish Red Ale because…well, Northern Brewer was offering a free growler with the purchase of this particular kit so I bit.  If there is one truism about homebrewers, it’s that we love us some glassware.  It’s like crack cocaine.

It was about one year ago that I tried this particular recipe for the first time.  The beer turned out well:

Irish Red Ale Part Deux

This style is perfect for brewing up a crowd pleasing batch of beer.  I stuck to the recipe as called out because I felt that I should leave well enough alone.

Like a well-crafted wheat beer or saison, the Irish red ale is easy to drink and pleasing.  No one is going to sing from the mountain top about the notes of licorice and dragon fruit along with a lingering hoppy finish, but no one is going to complain when you crack open a bottle and slide a glass under their nose.

After putting over thirty miles on the bike this afternoon, a cold glass of this particular ginger beauty was a welcome sight.

A Guide to Sustainable Beer

What does it mean for beer to be sustainable?  The good folks over at Grist.org took a shot at the topic.  I agree that sustainable beer starts with craft brewers and ends there because there is no way that the AB-InBevs of the world can be sustainable.  Sorry, but these companies are the liquid equivalent of WalMart and Monsanto.

From there it becomes a question of what you think is sustainable.  Is it local?  Beer can be made and consumed locally.  Heck, it’s better that way.  But what about the ingredients?  You want to source hops locally and do not live in New York or the Pacific Northwest?  Good luck.  You want to go organic?  Some have tried, but the market does not seem to bear the extra cost—even though I personally loved Mothership Wit when it was available.  The discontinuation of that beer was one of the reasons that I started homebrewing in the first place.  Thanks New Belgium.

A Visit to the Tallgrass

The siren song of the sampler pack got me again.  I am lazy and did not bottle my latest batch of homebrew—an Australian sparkling ale—until this weekend, so I have found myself lacking in the liquid refreshment department.  A trip downtown to Benz Beverage Depot is always dangerous because the plethora of bottles and cans is overload for my brain.  In a good way, of course.

On an endcap was an eight can sampler from the Tallgrass Brewing Company out of Manhattan, Kansas.  At the time I was relatively unfamiliar with Tallgrass having only sampled a small glass of their Velvet Rooster at a beer tasting event over five years ago.  The sampler pack contained two 16-ounce cans of Buffalo Sweat, Oasis ESB, 8-Bit, and IPA.

8-Bit already won a place in my heart with its label art:

8 Bit Ale

I know that for a lot of people the term “8-bit” has little or no meaning.  For someone who grew up with a Nintendo controller the term brings back fond memories of marathon sessions of Contra—yes, I remember the sequence of inputs to get 30 lives—and RC Pro-Am.  I wonder if anyone will mythologize the later video game systems like individuals of my age bracket get misty when thinking about the original Nintendo Entertainment System?

The beer utilizes something called a hop rocket in its production.  The hop rocket is an in-line hop infuser that really puts hop aromas at the fore of a beer.  8-Bit uses the Galaxy strain in the hop rocket which gives it a distinct aroma over beers that use more common Cascade, Centennial, or Willamette varieties.  Normally, I am not a fan of dry hopped beers but 8-Bit was surprising.  Anyone up for a game of Super Mario Brothers?

Oasis is a big beer:

Oasis ESB

At 7.2% ABV and 93 IBU, this about as big a beer as you get without starting to enter into the “extreme” category.  By the way, who would have though a decade ago that a beer approaching 100 IBU would not be considered outrageous or extreme?  Bueller?  Bueller?

Even though Oasis is big, it manages to be a beer you can drink without feeling like you’re fighting each drink down in some exercise akin to self-flagellation.  I attribute this to a heavy malt profile that compensates for the beer’s bigness in other areas.  Too many “extreme” beers are thin on the malt and the attempt comes across as a carnival ride.  You know, cheap thrill that leaves you wondering why you spent $5 to risk your life on something held together by a cotter pin placed by a Joe Dirt extra.

The originally named IPA gets a little lost:

Tallgrass IPA

Why?  After the experience of the first two beers there is something that just seems so standard about IPA.  Sure, it’s hopped pretty well (60 IBU), but after a can of Oasis that seems like a cool down following a marathon.  It’s decently heavy at 6.3% ABV, but again after a can of Oasis you are coming down a little bit.

In the end, IPA is a well-crafted India Pale Ale.  The problem is that this style has flooded the craft beer market and, increasingly, it is hard to tell one brewer’s well-crafted IPA from another well-crafted IPA.  It’s an embarrassment of riches for beer drinkers, to be sure, but it has to be killing the marketing directors of these companies as they look for ways to stand out.

When something is referred to as sweat, buffalo or otherwise, the first drink is always a leap of faith:

Buffalo Sweat

At only 20 IBU, Buffalo Sweat is a very mild beer for a style that almost demands a little more bittering.  The result is that the primary flavor you get is not of alcohol or hops, but of the roasted barley.  It is almost like a smoked beer.  As a matter of fact, I would have sworn this beer used smoked malt if I had not read the description that was devoid of any mention of smoked malt.  Interesting.

On the same endcap was a four-pack of Halycon unfiltered wheat.  With the weather getting warmer it seems like such a perfect time for wheat beers to make a comeback into the refrigerator.  I picked up the cans as well:

Halcyon Wheat

Amazingly, at just 20 IBU this beer felt and tasted a little more “beer like” than Buffalo Sweat which also came in at 20 IBU.  Unlike some other wheat beers, hops are brought forward via the aromas rather than bitterness.  It works to make the beer seem bigger than it is without overpowering the delicate wheat base.

Thank you Tallgrass for spreading the good word about cans in you “Canifesto.”  If there is a downside to cans for craft beer, I cannot find it.  Small-scale canning equipment has been improved and brought down in price to such a level that it is within reach of almost any craft brewer packaging beer for retail distribution.  I realize that 22 ounce bottles and six-packs of longnecks are the calling cards of the American craft beer vanguard, but cans are the future.  Of all the craft beers that I have had in cans not a single one has had the distinctive “skunk” aroma or flavors associated with UV penetration.  Plus, the cans are just a more environmentally sensible choice.  Can all that you can!

Compostable Play Time

If your children are anything like mine you quickly discover that an hour of time can be carved out of any day by the introduction of a tub of play dough and a rolling pin.  Seriously, it’s an hour of quiet time to cook dinner or clean the house or whatever you need to get done.  Sure, I could turn on the television but that seems like the suburban cop out.

If you are like me you also probably wonder what the heck the commercial versions of play dough are made from.  According to Hasbro, the maker of the well-known Play-Doh brand:

the exact ingredients of PLAY-DOH compound are proprietary, so we cannot share them with you. We can tell you that it is primarily a mixture of water, salt and flour. It does NOT contain peanuts, peanut oil, or any milk byproducts. It DOES contain wheat.

PLAY-DOH compound is not a food item and is not intended to be eaten.

PLAY-DOH compound is non-toxic, non-irritating & non-allergenic except as noted: Children who are allergic to wheat gluten may have an allergic reaction to this product. Also, due to the high salt content in PLAY-DOH compound, the product can be harmful to pets if ingested.

There is no MSDS sheet required for PLAY-DOH compound.

Well, that makes me feel better.  Okay, maybe not.

Not only do I not know what is exactly in the product that my children will be kneading with their hands for an hour, I have no idea what I can do with the product at the end of its like other than throw it away.  I find that unacceptable.  I want to compost it like that couple from Portlandia wants to pickle that.

So, I spent part of the Christmas break searching out a recipe for play dough that produced a workable end product, contained nothing that was not a “food” ingredient, and could be composted.

Needless to say, the Internet is full of options.  Deferring to my sister-in-law, who spent the better part of four years working in a day care while pursuing her college degree, I decided on the following recipe:

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
2 tsp. cream of tarter
1 tbsp. oil
1 cups water

Pour all ingredients into a large pot. Stir constantly over medium heat until a dough ball forms by pulling away from the sides. Knead dough until the texture matches play dough (1-2 minutes). Store in plastic container. Should last for at least 3 months.

To add color I used a gel food coloring and added it during the kneading step.  The results were pretty darn good, if I do say so myself.

Nothing in the ingredients is odd and, an added bonus, I had every ingredient in my pantry.  Sure, it may be the same ingredient set as what Hasbro uses in commercial Play-Doh but I actually know what is in my play dough.  I also have found that the smell of the homemade product is inoffensive compared with a somewhat odd smell for the commercial product.  Go figure.

By the way, it’s definitely compostable.  I do not know how a ball of dough is going to break down in the bin but I’ve got the time.  Dig it.