St. John's Wort Beery Musings And Amusing Beers

Monthly Archives: August 2012

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So You Want To Be A Brewer: Beau’s/St.John’s Wort Karma Sumac

Toronto Beer Week is fast approaching, and one of the marquee events, if the lineups from last year are to be believed, is the Barrel Bragging Rights afternoon at The Monk’s Table. The fact that it’s as popular as it is has to do with publican Adam Grant’s special genius for promotion. If you manage to include all of the beer writers in Toronto in an event, you can bet that the hype surrounding it is going to be somewhere near all consuming.

The event is Mike Warner’s brainchild, and focuses around getting all of the interested beer writers in Toronto to team up with a brewery in order to make a beer. The winner last year was determined by public voting. This year, there will be a panel of judges involved to make the voting a little more even handed.

Originally, I was of the opinion that, having been to brewing school, I should come up with a recipe and brew it myself, without the assistance of a brewer. The truth of the matter is that I don’t have a brewery, and I’m pretty sure that attempting to serve homebrew at a pub is at least moderately illegal. That would have been bad.

Also, the fun of the thing is getting to hang out with brewers and learn from them. I wanted an excuse to work with a specific stunt brewer that I hadn’t worked with since my first public brew nearly two years ago.

Some say that he ate John Bonham’s heart in order to gain his facility with a snare drum. Some say that he can control the direction of the whirlpool with his mind. All I know is that he’s called The Bartle.

The Bartle, in a rare moment of contemplation.

The difficulty here is that The Bartle is currently a graduate of Niagara College and works at Beau’s. Beau’s is in Vankleek Hill, which is just outside the range of my decrepit Schwinn fixie. Also, there was the problem that the Barrel Bragging Rights uses barrels that are about 38 litres in size. Beau’s doesn’t really have a pilot system. We discussed the brew at the National Capital Craft Beer Week festival last weekend and decided that we would simply do a double brew on a homebrew sized system at the Beau’s brewery.

It was going to be straightforward. It was going to produce the exact amount of beer needed for the event and no more than that. It was going to contain pilsner malt, wheat and Staghorn Sumac. I don’t know if the world is ready for Staghorn Sumac beer, but I see all the Quebec brewers making White Spruce Beers with yeast from the vaults of Jean Talon and I’m darned if I’m going to let them have all the fun with indigenous scurvy fighting ingredients. My entry for this event last year had sumac as well. It was called Manitou and it was brewed with the inestimably talented Paul Dickey. I like Paul so much, I’m throwing in a cheap plug for Cheshire Valley in a post about another brewery.

Spent grain and sumac.

The Bartle is more frenetic than Paul Dickey. The Bartle makes Animal from The Electric Mayhem look like Gary Oldman as George Smiley.

Beau’s seems to have their planning meetings on Fridays. I was getting ready to go down to Vankleek Hill when I received the news that we were not going to be brewing on a homebrew scale after all. Instead, it was going to be 15BBL of beer. Beau’s has undergone some changes recently. They have a new wing with several 240BBL fermenters. There’s a new 60BBL brewhouse that has been installed very recently and which is apparently just getting under way. By the time I arrived, they had done two brews on it. This means that the 15BBL system is more or less their “pilot system” at this point.

The new 240BBL fermenters, which live in their own wing of the building.

15 Barrels is something like 17.5 hectoliters. That’s about 30 58.6 litre kegs of beer (minus QC sampling and general spillage). So far, at this point in the ol’ collaboration regime (which has worked out pretty darned well) I think the total volume that I have brewed is something like 4 hectoliters. If you include the batches I was brewing in a student group at Niagara College, we’re looking at maybe 6 hectoliters. Staghorn Sumac is an ingredient for which there’s no real literature to draw upon, so it’s hard to say how it will work. Also, Beau’s, in their six years of operation, has never lost a batch.

What’s the old punchline? “Bring me my brown trousers?”

Rakau hops going in at the start of the boil.

I was worried until I got to the brewery, at which point it became obvious that everybody was really excited about using Staghorn Sumac as ingredient. Some serious contemplation had gone into what could be done with it to make it really work. It ended up being a more complex beer than I had originally envisioned. There was going to be Belgian yeast. We were going to use Agave Nectar in place of Cane Sugar. New Zealand Rakau hops throughout, with some low alpha Belgian Cascade hops for aroma, eventually reaching around 30 IBU. It’s going to be higher in alcohol than we thought. It’s going to be dry and lemony, because of the puckering sumac tartness. The sample we took from the line for a gravity reading sort of looked like a Hefeweizen with a pinkish tinge around the edges.

As I was raking out the mash tun, I realized that I have no idea what style the beer is actually going to be. Moreover, I don’t care. You can’t go into this kind of experiment paying attention to BJCP categories. Well, you could, but that’s not very much fun. I guess I’d probably lump it in under Belgian Strong Ale if I had to choose a category. The Bartle thinks it’s a Belgian Golden Ale. He might well be right. It will, at the very least, be interesting.

It puts the trub in the bucket!

We played with some creative names, but in the end, we decided on Karma Sumac. It will be available at The Monk’s Table during the Barrel Bragging Rights competition. It will also be available during Toronto Beer Week at any bar crazy enough to take a chance on a Sumac beer. Thanks to the great people at Beau’s for getting excited about what is a potentially insane thing to attempt.

Beer and Food Tuesday: National Capital Craft Beer Week

On Friday night, I got to go to a beer dinner hosted by Stephen Beaumont at the Capital Dining Room at the National Suites Hotel in Ottawa. You know Stephen Beaumont. He doesn’t really need any introduction. He’s been writing about beer for 23 years. He has a book coming out soon. It’s the World Atlas of Beer. If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you will get a copy for Christmas. I say go buy it now and make life difficult for your relatives. They’ll probably be forced to buy you beer if you already have a copy.

Stephen Beaumont would later go on to reveal that he cannot do the moonwalk, proving that no one is perfect.

He’s been writing about beer and food for a long time, so let’s see what we can learn from his beer dinner.

FIRST COURSE – Tasting of Duck Prosciutto with caramelized onion and peppers, sausage, cured ham, grilled asparagus with marinated buffalo mozzarella, warm olive and black plum relish

PAIRING–Black Oak Pale Ale

I quite like the creative shape of the flatbread as a plating element. Dynamic.

This is a fun plate because of the contrasting components. It’s a playful first course because you get to match flavours. Black Oak Pale Ale is balanced enough that some element of it stands up to just about everything on the plate. The earthy hops stand up nicely to the ham and asparagus bundle. The carbonation is enough to lift the fat from the sausage and prosciutto off the palate before the next bite. The crystal malt sweetness works double duty here as it matches the sweetness of the onion and peppers and also provides a nutty character that works with black olives. I was not expecting that last part. Discussion around the table on a dish like this is fun, because people begin to suggest combinations. Lets you get to know your dining companions a bit.

SECOND COURSE – Pulled Pork Ravioli with roasted pepper fennel sauce and crumbled goat cheese

PAIRING– Spearhead Hawaiian Style Pale Ale

Never having had pulled pork in ravioli format, I am now curious as to the potential of a pierogi and zywiec application.

Spearhead works well here because the pineapple aroma is evocative of Luau, so it’s a natural for a pork dish. The body is full enough to stand up to the combination of the pulled pork and sauce and there’s some pleasant interaction before the bitterness cuts through the richness of the goat cheese. One element that isn’t listed are the watercress microgreens, which added a mild, bitter, peppery note that helped with the transition between each bite and sip. It’s a minor touch, but because it reduces the fullness of the goat cheese on the palate, an important one.

THIRD COURSE – Spiced Potato Broth with clams, mussels, shrimp, spinach, double smoked bacon in beer broth

PAIRING – Green Flash West Coast IPA

Stephen warned us in advance that this pairing might not work. Mostly he wanted to be able to launch the Green Flash West Coast IPA in Ontario. This is fair because if I’d been given the option I probably would have too. I’m unused to the progression here from hoppy to hoppier to hoppiest.

It’s a good dish, but difficult to pair because I feel like the IPA is there to cut the sweetness of the shellfish in combination with the smoky, salty broth. The natural inclination of a diner presented with a bowl of shellfish is to eat the shellfish first, leaving a pool of broth. It’s tasty, certainly, but the pairing sort of falls apart at that point. Possibly you could trick the diner into making it work with a deeper bowl, but then it wouldn’t plate as nicely. Good separately, not a great pairing.

FOURTH COURSE – Stuffed Squid with Chorizo Sausage and Rice cooked in tomato beer broth

PAIRING– Beau’s Venskab

For a relatively small dish the squid packed a lot of flavour.

I’ll let Steve Beauchesne explain the Venskab.

This is a pretty complex beer. There’s some citrus from the yuzu, and some earthy mint from the bog myrtle and perle hops. The sweetness from the cane sugar and ice wine chips plods down the centre of the palate, but the whole thing results in a dry, oaky finish as a combination of the barrel aging and champagne yeast. Maybe Anders Kissmeyer is a genius. I don’t necessarily get it.

I feel like no single dish is going to stand up to all of the flavours in the beer. I think the best you can do is attempt to accentuate a few characteristics. The earthy combination of chorizo and rice plays with the bog myrtle. The dish is fairly salty, right down to the tomato broth, which works well with the drying finish.

I saved some for dessert, because it seemed like a dessert beer to me.

FIFTH COURSE – AAA Strip Loin marinated with beer-soy-honey, Yukon mash in Yorkshire pudding

PAIRING– Marston Pedigree

Yes, it’s beef. Yes, it’s served with English pale ale. Sometimes these things are classics for a reason.

This is a combination that you’d be happy to see on the groaning board of any English pub. In that respect it’s a classic pairing. Pedigree has enough malt character to stand up to beef with its grainy nuttiness. The thing that elevates this is that the beer is used in the marinade and also in the saucing on the plate. With the honey and soy in the reduction, there’s a more intense version of the nutty character that is bolstered by the soy and sweetened by the honey. This means that the two versions of the same flavour range complement the beef during either bite or sip. The Yorkshire pudding is mostly there to mop up the rest of the sauce, as is traditional.

DESSERT, ALREADY – Chocolate Pot de Crème, blueberry scone with fresh cream and mini chocolate soufflé

PAIRING– Sinha Stout

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you can’t finish dessert. This was one of those times. Delicious, though.

Well, Sinha is going to work with Chocolate. It just is. There’s chocolate and coffee and practically a crème brulee burnt sugar character in amongst the roast character. It’s syrupy, which just reinforces the Pot de Crème and soufflé by causing a lingering sensation of melting chocolate. The odd thing is I’m not sure I’d had it previously.

The Venskab went fairly well with the blueberry scone, which had a mild lemon element to it. I think that’s the interplay of the yuzu. I practically want to try a plum galette with a citrus cream to try and match the Venskab. Maybe someday.

WHAT DID WE LEARN

1)      We learned that when faced with the phrase “I’m going to steal that honey soy reduction idea,” Stephen Beaumont is unfazed.

2)      Anders Kissmeyer is probably a misunderstood genius (by me, anyway).

3)      Beaumont’s dinner menu illustrates a good balance of classic pairings and slightly riskier ones. This is actually a good tack to take as beer dinners will always have standout courses that will probably be different for each diner. You may as well try out a complex pairing next to a classic one. It provides some refreshing contrast for the guests and encourages conversation about each course. That’s important. No one likes eating in grim silence.

Beer and Food Tuesday: Nua Pad Prik with Miranda

Sometimes, Beer and Food Tuesday just falls in your lap and today was one of those days. I got a call from Troy Burtch at Great Lakes Brewery this morning. Shockingly, he wasn’t called to yell at me for the outcome of the Ontario Brewmaster’s Cup. I would have been yelling, but Troy is a laid back fellow who understands that sometimes the rules just don’t work in your favour.

The reason they didn’t work in the favour of Great Lakes is that, while they make many beers that range towards exceptional, they’re seasonal. One of the best things they’re doing this year is taking advantage of the R&D that Mike Lackey has been doing over the last couple of years and releasing fairly large batches of what would have been pilot brews. The first one was the Robust Porter, which was well received by just about everyone. Hell, even Alan liked it and he’s a hard man to impress.

The one that they’ve got out now is the one that I’m excited about. It’s the 25th Anniversary Belgian Saison. Lackey has been working on a number of Saison variants for a while, and I’ve been following the process relatively loosely from point when he started experimenting with fermentation temperatures. It was a while back. Probably a year and a half. I figure that’s no time at all in craft brewing. This is how good Lackey’s experiments have been: Other people have followed suit. There are a bunch of breweries experimenting with this now. Nevermind whether it’s commercially viable on the large scale; they like it and they’re doing it. That’s awesome.

Troy Burtch wants me to tell you some things: It’s going into the LCBO real soon. There are about 3000 bottles total. It’s going to cost $9.95. It will be in bars starting later this week. There is no wax on the bottle this time around because the folks at Great Lakes figure people will want to dive in and drink the thing. You could probably age it, but why would you? It’s a refreshing summer beverage.

Troy Burtch does not want me to tell you some things: His street name is “T-Bu”, even though that’s not very forceful. He is thought of as the gentlest and most respectful hustla.

THE RECIPE:

If you’re hungry when you’re making a stir fry, it’s hard not to snack on the veggies as you wait for your electric element to reheat the faux wok.

The release for the Saison suggests that you pair this beer with seafood. I can tell you that this is something that definitely works. It’s an extremely complimentary pairing that reinforces the sweetness in shellfish and lobster. It’s actually strong enough to stand up to Salmon because of the peppery character of the Dupont yeast strain they’re using and the spices they’ve added. The body is light and relatively highly carbonated.

The release also says, “or go in a different direction with… Thai Food.” Groovy.

THE RUNDOWN:

I’ve been wanting to experiment with Thai Food and beer. To be honest with you, people send me beer. Sometimes, it’s the good stuff. Sometimes, I nod politely. Either way, I’m generally happy about it. Thai Food, people only bring me if I dial up Just-Eat.ca in Google Chrome. Learning how to cook Thai Food with a sort of faux wok on an electric element is, I can guarantee you, some foodie’s version of hell. Sisyphus ain’t got nothing on a faux wok on an electric element. Your temperature control is basically zilch.

Not bad for a faux wokkin’ mook.

I’m not necessarily that worried about the technique. The flavours are important here. I suspect they’d be even better if you had the proper equipment.

Nua Pad Prik is, as far as I can tell, something no one agrees on. The only concrete elements seem to be Beef, chilies and bell peppers. The sauce changes from recipe to recipe, but I’ve used this one, partially because I remember the episode of the show the blog is talking about and I’m thinking about going to see Jamie Oliver at Massey Hall. He is a well intentioned man with a silly accent.

The recipe calls for fish sauce, oyster sauce and chilies. I had those kicking around. I was lucky enough to discover that there’s a Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays near my apartment. I went over and got some beautiful bell peppers, garlic, onion and some grass-fed round steak. Also, I got some Oaxacan Coffee from Chocosol. 12 bucks a pound. I love beer, but without coffee I start freaking out.

I’ve been playing with the recipe with various proteins over the last week, and I’ve left out the cornflour, which is really only there to act as a thickening agent to coat the beef. I’ve changed it so that the garlic goes in the marinade for the beef. The farmer’s market garlic was incredibly pungent, so I liked that component at that point. I had the beef sliced thinly enough that the garlic would never have had the chance to char. Also, I substituted half of the chilies for Sambal Oelek. It’s hard to predict how hot a chili will be. Sambal never changes.

Nua Prik with Miranda, which I think was the gist of the beer’s original name anyway.

THE VERDICT:

This is pretty complex, when you take the component ingredients into account. The beef, probably because I’ve used good beef, is relatively mildly flavoured. The bell peppers shine through with a sweetness and a slight bitterness of their own. The difficulty is that because it’s a stir fry and my julienning skills are … uh… rusticated… it’s hard to get a composed mouthful that brings everything into focus.

What you end up with, then, are the impressions of two separate pairings that are reinforced by the sauce. Both the peppers and the beef seem to take on the fermented tang and salt of the fish sauce and the subtle sweetness of the oyster sauce. This means that as an underpinning you’ve got that sort of shellfish sweetness pairing that they actually suggested 500 words ago. If you get a bite with enough bell pepper, it’s a race between the sweetness of the saison and the sweetness of the pepper on to the palate, and as those cascade (or rather Columbus, I suspect) into the mid-palate, you get the pop of citrus from whatever hop is being used here before a mild spice finish. If you get a bite with the beef, which seems to take on the more of the heat, you end up with a really exaggerated sensation of carbonation, but instead of the hops it’s an exaggerated kick of coriander and white pepper with a sort of lifting sensation on the swallow.

This is a really interesting pairing, food wise, and probably worth trying. You either need better knife skills than I’ve got or the willingness to accept that this one is a thinker. The different textures combine to make it even more interesting. Plus, the beer seems to relieve the heat completely.

WHAT DID WE LEARN:

1)      Even if you’re surprised by the effect of a pairing, that’s going to be a useful lesson down the road. Plus, at least you ate. There are Children starving in Freedonia.

2)      My knife skills, while not bad, ain’t chef level and I should probably take that into account.

3)      “T-Bu” is indeed the gentlest hustla.

Beer and Food Tuesday: Flammekueche

As regular reader, Darren Siddorn, that long haired lover from Liverpool, pointed out last week on Beer and Food Tuesday, the dish that you’d expect to see associated with Strasbourg and Kronenbourg is Tarte Flambee or Flammekeuche.

It’s essentially an Alsatian flatbread dish that’s very close in makeup to being a pizza. The difference here is that instead of a tomato sauce or even a white sauce, crème fraiche is substituted into the mix. It makes sense that you would pair it with Kronenbourg because it’s probably what the people developing Kronenbourg would have been eating at the time. It’s a staple in Strasbourg, and the beer was developed in 1952. I theorize that the in post war period, this is the kind of dish that would have been popular because it doesn’t use much in the way of expensive or difficult to find ingredients. Onion, bacon, soured cream. Some nutmeg, if you have any.

My brain has been in and about the Rhine for much of the week, as I’ve been re-reading Patrick Leigh Fermor’s marvelous travel memoir A Time Of Gifts. It’s the account of his attempt to walk from Rotterdam to Constantinople in the early to mid 1930’s. Patrick Leigh Fermor may, incidentally, be the best beer writer that ever lived. His chronicle of traveling on foot through a changing Germany in the 1930’s includes what may be the best thing ever written about the Hofbrauhaus in Munich:

“I squeezed in at a table full of peasants, and was soon lifting one of those masskrugs to my lips. It was heavier than a brace of iron dumb-bells, but the blond beer inside was cool and marvelous, a brooding, cylindrical litre of Teutonic myth.”

What can I say? The man can write. Later that night, the combination of beer and schnapps cause some severe consternation, as you can well imagine. Pick the book up, if you get the chance.

The Beer:

While the dish is definitively Alsatian, I noticed while reading that the food being eaten throughout Germany on his travels is not so distinct even as the changes in dialect he encounters. For that reason, I’m allowing myself a certain amount of peregrination in terms of selecting beer.

It may be a mentality developed as a result of living in Ontario, which is just a massive province, but it seems to me that Strasbourg is close to Stuttgart and Bitburg and Munich. I am sure that all of these places have developed extremely distinct cultures. I am therefore limiting myself to a radius of around 200km. I take some solace in pointing out that Sophie’s Brauhaus in Stuttgart has Flammkuchen, and it’s pretty popular in Munich as well (to the extent that I can tell some of the discussion on the subject is a forum flame war about whose is the best without google translate).

For this reason, I’ve chosen Kronenbourg and Bitburger.  I also got an Ayinger Brauweisse, which I have chosen on the basis that it looked so very lonely on the shelf, its brethren purloined.

The Recipe:

I’m easy. I went with this. I like it for this purpose because the recipe for the dough includes beer, meaning that I get a chance to experiment with how the flavour takes on. I’ve used Kronenbourg in the dough because I had some sample bottles left. It only calls for a quarter cup, but I feel like that’s probably going to have some influence. Possibly it will not be enough to make the other possible pairings work less well.

I’ve amended the recipe slightly to include some Munster on one side of the flammekeuche, which is apparently a pretty typical variant. I figure if you’re going to play around with flavours, go with the biggest, stinkiest cheese you can get.

Please do not send an Alsatian hit squad. I am joking.

I am including it because it is delicious, but also because I was at Alex Farm Products on Bayview and debated with the nice man in the frock about the merits of Munster or Gruyere.  We decided on Munster because it’s that quintessential regional touch. It turns out that I’m not the first beer writer to come to him for advice. Beaumont used to do more or less the same thing. It’s kind of neat because it means that there’s an ongoing dialogue in taste in a larger community.

Beaumont’s been everywhere, man. Last I heard, he was in Mexico on the run from the Federales.

The Rundown:

Okay, look. This is pretty much beer food. It’s got bacon and onions and is more or less pizza, but with an earthy hint of nutmeg and a slightly sweeter crust and a hell of a lot more richness. It contains enough calories to make a handful of farmhands plow a dozen furrows. This ain’t everyday eating. For the love of god, this ain’t even monthly eating. Throw a couple beers on top of half of this thing and you’re taking the express line to foodcomaville, population: Tubby “Thunderchunks” McGee.

Man, that kueche got totally flammed.

It is, however, exceptionally tasty.

Believe it or not, the Kronenbourg doesn’t seem to have an advantage here despite being used in the dough. The dough is not overwhelmingly sweet, but because of the crimping around the crust, it is the last thing that you taste. The first flavour is the smoke from the bacon and saltiness leading into the rich earthy onion and nutmeg, with a depth of flavour reinforced by the crème fraiche. The last thing you taste is the sweetness from the dough.

Kronenbourg was found wanting. I find that hard to explain. Possibly the recipe has changed since ’52. I see maize and hop extract on the can. This may have something to do with it.

The Kronenbourg is actually a little too malt heavy and the Strisselspalt hop is overpronounced, which will be the only time anyone ever writes that. It is also the case that you don’t get whatever peppery subtlety is in the tail.

I am glad that I went a little farther afield and got a Bitburger. First of all, it’s a Pilsner, which means that the additional hop bitterness is there to combat the sweetness of the dough. It’s not a perfect match because it contributes grass and a little bit of lemon on the nose. The higher carbonation is a vast improvement, providing some cleansing of the palate from the crème fraiche. It is not as sweet a beer, and that is the key issue there.

What about Munich, I hear you ask? How dare you forget plucky little Munich?

The Ayinger really excels here. Poor photography does not.

The Ayinger Brauweisse is maybe the best pairing here, despite the fact that it’s a completely unrelated style from over 200km away. It has carbonation enough to cleanse the palate and has an interesting side effect. The very slight clove notes seem to call out to the nutmeg in the recipe. The fruit and banana yeast character actually somehow reinforce the caramelized onion. It’s an example of two different sets of flavours coming together in an unexpected and pleasing way. Eine kleine difference, leibchen.

What Did We Learn:

1)      Sometimes, when the damn recipe says “serves four” they mean “small families.”

2)      Although tradition frequently dictates one set of flavours or pairings, food doesn’t care about 200 kliks. We have the internet to spread ideas. We have beer from all over. Let’s play.

3)      Even though I don’t speak German, internet forum flame wars are pretty much the international language.

NEXT WEEK:

Something that don’t even include bacon.