Thursday, July 29, 2010

Moon Under Water: Victoria's latest brewpub

Victoria will have its 4th brewpub soon, with a bit of luck. How do I know? Because I interviewed the good people who are preparing to open The Moon Under Water and wrote it up for local free paper Monday Magazine.

Here's a link to the article. They used my photo, but I took a few others. I see no reason to repeat the article here, so I'll just post the images. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Homebrew Tips from the Masters#3: Sanitation

The third installment of homebrewing tips, which I bugged some Canadian brewers to dish out, covers sanitation. Brewing is basically the art of selective neglect. Your wort is a rich environment for any number of cultures to feed upon. But tasty beer can only be made by allowing a fairly narrow spectrum of yeast strains — or a handful of bacteria, in the case of some wild or sour beers — to ferment your wort. If you're not careful, undesirable cultures will infiltrate and utterly corrupt what you are trying to achieve. In a nutshell: your wort is Iran, and if you allow a single mullet to gain entry, the whole place will explode into a decadent cesspool of repulsive culture.

Sanitation refers not only to keeping your brewing equipment a. clean (as in, free of dirt) and b. sterile (free from bacteria or unwanted yeasts), but also to controlling the whole environment in which you brew. You might think you're a clean-freak, but your dwelling place harbours countless organisms that are easily transferred to your homebrew if you don't handle everything carefully. Prior to boiling, your wort may also contain unwelcome bugs, so you're up against it from the start. Here are a few tips from Canadian brewmasters for keeping on top of things.

Protect yourself from unwanted cultures
All of the brewers advocate stringent cleaning procedures. Your kit must be rigorously scrubbed and free of any dirt of particles before you can even start thinking about sanitizing it. This means that you must be vigilant about the condition of your equipment. If any cracks, fissures, nooks, or other recessed areas develop in your carboys, tubes, airlocks, etc etc, they must be replaced immediately. Bacteria is remarkably resistant when it has a place to hide.

Jason Meyer (Driftwood):
Keep it clean, or you’re wasting your time. Iodophore is a pretty good sanitizer, but you need to ensure the equipment is scrupulously clean before you can sanitize it.
Sanitation itself usually involves the use of certain chemicals that eradicate bugs without leaving tough-to-remove residues that can also make your beer taste like crap. All forms of home-fermenting (including wine and cider making) will need a sanitizing agent for best products, but some chemicals are better suited to beer-making than others:

Steve Cavan (Paddock Wood):
sanitize!!!  Do not use metabisulphate. It is fine for wine, but disaster waiting for  beer. Iodophor is a start, but really Star San is the only one that I would consider.  We have stuff mixed in the brewery which we give away to homebrewers.
Choice of containers is important too. Second-hand carboys are cheap, but make sure you know that they were only used for brewing beer, and not wine-making or penny collections, prior to purchase.

Terry Schoffer (Cannery):
If you have a love for wine that’s great, but remember, your beer doesn’t! Beer should never be brewed in the same containers as wine has been made in. Small cracks can harbor Lactobacillus, which will totally destroy all your hard work making that perfect brew. 
Again, if you are unsure how to properly sanitize your kit, call your local brewer. They will tell you what to use, where to get it, and if they are as saintly as this lot claim to be — they might even hand you some for free. Remember, cleanliness is next to hopliness.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Scottish Devils and Ruination

I didn't want this to turn into a food and beer blog so I've been holding back on writing about the pairings I've been experimenting with. But I accidentally invented the best beer snack known to man and I have to share.

Recently I was invited to a beer and food pairing event held at the Liquor Plus branch on Douglas Street. It was the first pairing event I'd been to and I'm excited to attend and perhaps even host some more. Left4Beer designed a menu and attendees had to bring a specific snack or beer. By the time I got my act together, there were only a few options left. I chose to bring devilled eggs.

Having never made them before, I did a bit of research on egg recipes and discovered that scotch eggs — a childhood favourite of mine — are not that hard to make. I really wanted to make scotch eggs, but the brief was for devilled, so I decided to combine the recipes and called it "Scottish Devils".

The eggs were partnered with Howe Sound's King Heffy, which is a total triumph of an imperial hefeweizen from one of BC's best craft brewers. They went down well with the beer guys.  I neglected to take my camera and felt like I could improve on them a little, so I recreated them at home later in the week. Here they are, partnered with a Stone Ruination IPA. I gave the recipe a good kick of heat and garlic which is ideal with a powerful IPA like the Stone beer.

Scotch part
4 large eggs
4 good quality sausages
1tsp cumin
1tsp garlic powder
1tsp cayenne
1tsp thyme
1tsp pepper
1beaten egg
panko breadcrumbs (or other)

Devilled part
half cup mayonnaise
2 minced garlic cloves
1tbsp dijon mustard
1tsp curry spice (curry powder is good, but use imagination)
2 green onions (chopped)
2 tsp vinegar

Hard boil and peel the eggs (5 minutes is enough). Split sausages open and mix well in a bowl with the cumin, garlic powder, cayenne, thyme and pepper. Divide mixture into four, wet hands to prevent sticking, and mold each portion around a peeled egg. One sausage per egg provides perfect cover. Dip each egg into flour, then beaten egg, then breadcrumbs. Bake in a buttered oven dish at 350f for 30 minutes. Remove when done and leave to rest for ten mins. Halve each egg (be careful, the coating can split, so use a very sharp knife). Gently ease out each yolk with a teaspoon and put in a bowl. Add all the devilled ingredients apart from the mayonnaise and smoked paprika. Then add the mayonnaise and stir well until the texture is creamy and easy to spoon. Spoon a blob into each egg cavity, sprinkle paprika over the top, and serve. The version below was a second batch. I followed the same recipe, but drizzled tabasco, chinese pepper/garlic sauce and some more chili powder over the top.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Homebrew Tips from the Masters#2: Yeast

In the second in a series of posts containing homebrew advice I solicited from Canadian brewmasters, we look at yeast. Yeast is the fermenting agent that turns sugars into alcohol and sculpts the flavour of the beer.  It is also a living organism that must be stored, fed and used correctly. Brewmasters tend to get obsessive about it.

Yeast is available in dry or liquid forms. Most professional brewers will use liquid yeast, and usually cultivate and store the same strains for use over and over again. The yeast that falls to the bottom of the fermenter once its work is done (flocculation) is not "spent", but merely dormant, awaiting a fresh meal of wort sugars that will restart the fermentation process.

To keep yeast viable for future use, brewers can store it under beer or water (which is becoming more common), although its potency will drop off over time unless the brewer is skilled and resourceful. Because it is such a picky creature to keep happy and potent, Jason Meyer of Driftwood Brewery advises "use pure culture liquid yeast only, and pitch lots of it!" Dry strains of yeast may be stored for much longer, but the results are not held in as high regard:

Steve Cavan (Paddock Wood): 
Liquid yeast. Yeast can account for 40% of the flavour compounds. Pick the right yeast for the style. (in the last 15 years, dry yeast has come a long way, although there is still limited variety)

Terry Schoffer (Cannery Brewing):
For increased flavor and body always use liquid yeast. Most micro brewery’s will welcome home brewers and give them yeast and sometimes tips for free. Show your appreciation and bring them a sample of your home brew or buy something from their gift shop.
For those who must or want to use dry yeast, Terry Schoffer flags the importance of rehydrating the yeast properly before use, "make sure you re-hydrate it by heating 1 cup of water to 40C, adding your dry yeast and letting it stand for fifteen minutes before pitching. This will promote healthy yeast growth and keep the nasty bacteria count down. Never use wort to hydrate your yeast."

Dry yeast can produce decent results. However, BA member Homebrew42 warns us about homebrew kits that come with packets of "generic 'ale yeast' that is typically of low quality. You're never going to brew a fantastic English bitter with an old, stale packet of characterless 'ale yeast'."

Overall, the message seems to be if you take the time to understand what yeast is and how it works, and get in touch with local beer makers who are experienced in handling yeast, your beer will turn out better. And you might even score some free yeast in the process.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Final Breakfast

Some breakfasts are so good that even the crappiest world cup final in history cannot ruin them.
Brooklyn's "Brooklyner-Schneider" Hopfen-Weisse is a wonderful beer. It is a "concept" beer that actually works. Story goes like this: Brewmasters Garrett Oliver (Brooklyn) and Hans Peter Drexler (Schneider, a.k.a. Private Weissbierbrauerei G. Schneider & Sohn GmbH) are friends. Oliver loves Schneider's Weisse beer, and Drexler loves Brooklyn's East India IPA. They decided to combine the recipes, with each brewer creating a version of the concoction in the other brewer's brewery. Sounds to me like a sordid plan to write off a drunken holiday as a tax-refundable business expense. Kudos. 

The resulting brew (Brooklyn version — I doubt I could get  hold of the Schneider version) is a 8.8% wheat beer with the hop profile of a double IPA. It smells like a banana milkshake laced with pine sap. The taste is incredible. The zingy edge of the wheat beer style is utterly corrupted by the hops and also by the black-spice flavours resulting from the beer's imperial treatment. As you expect from imperial wheat beers, there is a dry fruitiness and some soured-pear sweetness, which give the beer a big and complicated body. And that's before you factor in the thick and sticky soup of hops which — outrageously — sits in the balance just right.

Surely one of the only beers that could compete with a HP sauce-laden English breakfast without falling apart.

Get some if you can. It is one cup that won't let you down.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Homebrew Tips from the Masters#1: Malt

I recently sent out twenty emails to Canadian breweries, asking for some homebrew advice for beginners. I anticipated a few responses, hopefully enough to fill a blog post. The response was unbelievable. I'm very thankful to several brewers who took the time out of their busy schedules to provide extensive, thoughtful advice. I also want to thank "Homebrew42" — a BeerAdvocate member who responded to my forum post about extract-versus-grain boils with a veritable essay's worth of great tips.

I will therefore be publishing their words of wisdom in a series of blog posts dedicated to giving newb-brewers a headstart. Today I'll cover Malt; over the coming weeks I'll address the topics of yeast, sanitation, method, water and the social side of homebrewing.

Malted barley is one of the core components of beer (along with water, yeast and hops). Malt is partly germinated barley, rich in maltose and other goodies that turn into alcohol and flavour during brewing. Homebrewers face the choice of whether to use full grain or malt extract to create the wort that will become the backbone of the beer. Extract is said to be easier to handle, whereas grain should produce the best results. That's as far as my knowledge goes. What do the pros say?

Whichever way you go, Steve Cavan (Paddock Wood, SK) advises against supplementing malt with other sources of sugars, "All malt. That 1kg of corn sugar and a can of extract doesn't work." Overwhelmingly, the brewers who replied to me frown on adjuncts like corn syrup, and strongly favour full grain boils. As Jason Meyer (Driftwood Brewing, BC) sums it up, "All-grain only, screw that extract stuff".

That's not to say good beers cannot be made with extract. If you're nervous about mashing and boiling grain, or simply don't have the extra equipment you'd need to do this, Homebrew42 has some advice:
If you're doing concentrated boils, you're never going to produce flawless beers. If you're brewing 5 gallons of beer, you MUST start with at least 6-6.5 gallons of wort, and this is ESPECIALLY true for very pale colored or very hoppy beers.
2) Use only high quality, extra light, light, or pilsen extracts, and I much prefer dry extracts over liquid, as they tend to be fresher and lighter in color.
Every extract beer that I brew is based on either extra light DME, or pilsen DME. When an all grain brewer builds a recipe, they start with a pale base malt and work from there, even for the darkest beers, and a great extract brewer should do the same. Extra light extract is nothing but basic good quality 2-ro, and a touch of carapils, while pilsen extract is 100% pilsner malt, and either of these are a fantastic slate on which to build any amazing beer.
3) Use only FRESH extract!
Don't buy extract kits that have been sitting on a store shelf for who knows how man millennia. This is especially true with liquid extract, which has a much shorter shelf life than dry and tends to darken and taste stale over time. This alone is a good reason to completely avoid liquid as far as I'm concerned. And try to find a retailer that moves their product and always has fresh inventory. For example a larger online homebrew supply may be better at providing fresh products than your stagnant local shop.
Finally, if all-grain is the way for you, make sure you handle the grains correctly. Terry Schoffer (Cannery Brewing, BC) says:
If you are an all grain brewer beware of HSA (Hot Side Aeration). HSA takes place in the mash tun from over splashing when mashing in as well as from vigorous stirring. HSA will bring out off flavors when maturing in the bottle.
Homebrew42 adds:
Do NOT scorch your extract! This is yet another reason why I prefer DME over LME, as DME floats while LME sinks to the bottom of the kettle. If you decide to use LME however, remove the kettle from the burner and FULLY dissolve your extract before putting it back on the heat.
Thanks to all the brewers for their advice. Next time we'll look into yeast — acquiring, handling and pitching

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Review: Tree Brewing Serendipity no. 2

Serendipity no.2 is the sixth whiskey barrel-aged beer I've had to date. A few of those beers were great. Serendipity joins Innis & Gunn in being merely OK, but mildly baffling as a product.

The term "whiskey barrel" returns 825 beers on Beer Advocate. Spelling it "whisky" gives another 798. So I'd be a curmudgeon to call it a gimmick, but that's how I feel when I put my nose into this nice murky-looking brown ale and get a toasty blast of damp bourbon-cask in my face.

I like whisk(e)y. Uncapping a Laphroaig brings me to a state of physical arousal. I bet there's plenty of beer drinkers who really appreciate the depth of infusion you can achieve by aging beers in various casks. But a generic whiskey-whiff rising off the head of a beer doesn't move me. Maybe I'm damaged in some way.

Port casks are also involved in the aging of this beer, and word has it their next releases in this series may well be exclusively port-casked. I'd be interested to try one, if only to see which barrel is responsible for completely overwhelming the taste of the beer.

The nose is almost pure whiskey, with just a faint apple-ish odour coming through. It tastes like an old brown ale, but with whiskey supplanting the toffee. The aftertaste is dry, a little treacly, and suggestive of the bottom third of a good cigar. Five sips in and the head becomes a memory: flat cola-looking.

Halfway through the bomber I got hungry and exhumed a forgotten piece of brie from the back of the fridge which had grown a luxurious fur-coat. It completely resurrected this beer and I strongly recommend getting some powerful cheese if you find yourself with a whiskey-aged beer you can't quite bring yourself to love. The fat and sweetness meet the whiskey head-on. It stops being a beery experience, but I'm finishing the bottle with a grin and what else do you really want?

For the record, Old Rasputin XII is the best whiskey-aged beer I've had. Don't buy it, it's $30 or something stupid. But take my word for it, it's lovely.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Homebrew Diversions: U-Brew

Like many beerthusiasts, I have romantic ideas about brewing my own beer. I am deluded enough to consider myself a brewmaster of unique genius, trapped in the body of a man with no talent.

SO, as well as the usual guff, this blog will now also report on my forays into homebrewing. In the coming weeks I will publish: some reports on my attempts to brew; homebrewing advice I've gathered from Canadian brewmasters; information about the Victoria homebrew scene, and anything else I can find to stuff the column inches.

I'm not brewing yet. I intend to start in a few weeks. So far I have managed to gather some of the essential equipment:
i. A free 20l carboy that looks in decent condition
ii. A small room with a drain where I can hide things from my family
iii. Unwarranted optimism

Until then, my homebrew life is lived vicariously through the achievements of others. With perfect timing, my friend Jacqueline unexpectedly gave me three bottles of her own homebrew for my birthday last week — an IPA, a marzen and a brown ale (left).

Jacqueline brewed them at a "U-Brew" place. Purists might argue this is not strictly homebrew. U-Brews are places that house all the equipment and ingredients you need to brew beer. You turn up, choose one of their recommended recipes (or invent your own), and pay depending on how much you intend to make. You do the labour, with some supervision if you're a newbie, then you come back and collect your bottles when they're ready. I've heard it works out to about $2-3 a bomber (650ml) depending on the recipe. It sounds like a great way to become accustomed to the brewing process without having to do all the difficult stuff like cultivating yeast and sanitizing.

Jacqueline brewed hers at Bedford Brewing in Victoria. They have twenty or so recipes to choose from, and all three of the beers she kindly gave me were delicious. The IPA (right) was accidentally brewed with double the hops in the boil (I think that's what Jacqueline said). This gave what would have otherwise been a very restrained, light IPA an extra kick of mineral bitterness. It ended a tad astringent, but I'd love to drink some more of it. The marzen was very clean tasting, with only a hint of the coppery caramel flavour you expect. But again, very refreshing. My favourite was the brown. Once more, a simple version, and light, but massively drinkable and lively.

All three beers looked and smelled fantastic. A U-Brew might be a good place for a newb brewer to find their feet, and the results seem massively encouraging. Of course, I firmly believe that brewing is in my blood. Supervision and safeguards are completely unnecessary for someone as attuned to the natural rhythms of grains, herbs, and fermentation as I am. Just you wait and see...