Archive for August, 2011

Home Brew: Colonial Style

Never seen such an angry face on someone making beer... only in Jersey.

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams… besides being our nation’s Founding Fathers, what did they have in common? They all rode horses. Bingo. But, the answer I was looking for was…. they all made their own beer. Even our colonial forefathers knew getting down home brew-style was awesome.

Here’s George Washington’s actual home brew recipe:

I don't know what bran is, and I don't want 30 gallons of beer, but this is pretty cool.

What it says:
To make Small Beer
Take a large Sifter full of Bran Hops to your Taste. — Boil these 3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gallons into a Cooler, put in 3 Gallons Molasses while the Beer is scalding hot or rather drain the molasses into the Cooler & strain the Beer on it while boiling Hot. Let this stand till it is little more than Blood warm. Then put in a quart of Yeast if the weather is very cold, cover it over with a Blanket & let it work in the Cooler 24 hours. Then put it into the Cask — leave the Bung[hole] open till it is almost done working — Bottle it that day Week it was Brewed

That recipe calls for some pretty funky ingredients, and some pretty funky brewing practices, but hey… those guys were making beer before anyone had any idea what Germ Theory was… in fact, historically speaking, those guys were making beer in the medieval tradition of brewing. You know, back when people brewed beer because their drinking water was full of crap, and monks thought spontaneous fermentation was a religious miracle. Can’t blame them for that. The Enlightenment had just kicked in… science was new to all these guys. Cut them some slack.

They did know about soaking grains in warm water to get beer… just like the “bran” called for in George Washington’s recipe. But, they were also throwing all kinds of stuff into their brews for something different and some unique flavors… whatever they had on hand… roots, pine needles, herbs, fruit, hops (yes, someone back in Medieval times randomly threw some vine’s flower cones into their brew one time and though, “man, this is good”… and that’s how hops made their way into beer). American colonists made their own beer the same way… with whatever they had on hand.

But, let’s fast forward a few hundred years to modern times. We have modern malts… modified like crazy to be more efficient and tastier. Our knowledge of yeast health and proper fermentation. And our knowledge of proper brewing practices to get good, clean, tasty beer. That’s what I want to bring to the table to produce an “in the style of” the beer colonists could have brewed.

Here’s my recipe:

5 lbs Maris Otter
.5 lb Crystal 60
.5 Victory
2.5 oz Debittered Chocolate / Caraffa II

Mashed at 152°F, 90 mins.

.5 oz Cascade hops, pellet, 5.5.%AA @ First Wort Hopped
.5 oz Cascade hops,  pellet, 5.5%AA @ 60 mins
.25 oz  Cascade hops, pellet, 5.5.%AA @ 20 mins
.25 oz Cascade hops, pellet, 5.5.%AA @ 7 mins

Fermentis S-04 yeast, ferment 2 weeks, room temperature in a wet swamp cooler.

I’m going to brew this Brew In A Bag-style (BIAB), which is an all-grain brewing method that works great in limited space and with minimal equipment… all you need is 5 gallon stock pot, and a paint strainer bag from Lowe’s or Home Depot. Then you just get your grains, hops, and yeast, and you’re ready to go. I’m not going to go into detail about my process, but read the link if you’re interested… I’ll probably do a “How To” BIAB at some point… but this isn’t it… yet.

Anyway… after primary fermentation is over (after about 7 days, or so), I’m going to add a spruce tea to the fermenting beer to give it a piney taste… similar to a colonial brew that would have used pine needles. The recipe should hopefully lend a bready, kind of malty taste to the beer, which is something I like to think colonial beer would have tasted like. The English strain of yeast will lend a little bit of a nice, fruity ale flavor… and heck, the colonies were English, right? It’ll be a little hoppy, but nothing overly bitter because I want the pine taste to come out. And… that’s pretty much it. I’m brewing it as I write this post… the wort is coming to a boil now. I’m not pretending to brew like the colonist did… but I’m hoping I’ll get something fun, and unique… which maybe… in just the littlest way tastes like the beer the colonists could have made. Cheers to that!

And some fun… video of some brewing at Colonial Williamsburg


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UPDATE: Cask Beer

This is an addendum to my Cask Beer post


First, after looking into cask beers a little more in an effort to find a directory or listing, it seems there’s a few reported incidents of “simulated” cask beer… bars are portraying cask beer by using beer engines to pour regular old keg beer… and of course, likely charging premium prices for the “cask” beer. The scam was figured it out when someone excitedly-reported seeing cask-conditioned Fuller’s ESB being served at some bar back in 2008… trouble was, Fuller’s Brewery (on jolly ole Chiskwick Lane South, in London) wasn’t shipping cask beer “across the pond” to the U.S. in 2008. PHONIES! So be leery… if you’re at a bar more infamous for being a nightlife hook-up spot than for pouring quality beers, think twice about seeking out a delicious cask beer.

Now to the good news…

A directory was located… check out this site for a listing of places where cask beer is available. Not sure when it was last updated, but it’s a great start to find some good beer:

And a resource for good craft brew and micro brew pubs… I look this site over whenever I am travelling to a new place to scout out the good pubs:

Lastly… props to one of the best craft brew bars in all the land… the International Tap House (aka “iTap”) in Soulard in St. Louis, MO… for taking the cask beer initiative! They actually bought four firkins… they send the firkins to the brewery, the brewery fills the firkins as it would a normal keg, then the filled firkins get delivered BACK to iTap with the regular beer delivery. Awesome. There’s an article on the whole cask effort on the Hip Hops section of the St Louis Post-Dispatch‘s website… “We know there is a demand and delight for cask beer, so we are making every effort to bring as many unique casks as we can to the bars,” iTap co-owner Sean Conroy says. “It’s yet another costly commitment iTap is making to improve the craft-beer scene in St. Louis. The margins are low, but the reward we feel is exceptional.” True that.

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Cask Beer

Tapping the keg to start Oktoberfest... finally, the joyous union between drinking beer and hitting stuff with a hammer!

I have to admit that one of my favorite trends in beer-snobbery is the rise of cask ales. It’s an English tradition… been going on in pubs for hundreds of years. A giant cask of bier is ceremoniously tapped at the commencement of Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. It’s the way beer has been served since forever… and it’s finally reemerging in brew pubs right here in the good ole U.S.of A. Beer lovers rejoice.

There’s something about drinking a cask beer… it’s served at cellar temps (around 50°F… not warm “room” temperature, so get that misconception out of your head), so the flavors and aromas of the beer are a lot more pronounced since they’re not maksed by the cold temperatures of draught beer. The carbonation level is a little lower, as well, so that flavor isn’t overshadowed by the carbonic bite associated with more highly-carbonated beer. Since the cask isn’t airtight, the beer has a slightly oxidized, earthier taste, which I find enjoyable. And, one of the greatest things about cask beer is its freshness… since the beer starts to lose carbonation after the shive is popped open, the beer will quickly go flat… meaning the turover on a cask of beer is usually less than two or three days. Fresh. It all adds up to amazing flavor… yes, beer is SUPPOSED to have flavor. And, it’s something a little out of the ordinary… and there’s something cool about drinking beer the way people have been drinking beer for hundreds of years.

Let’s take a look at the setup of a cask system…

Learning the parts of a cask setup are easy... you just need to know the lingo.

Understanding the lingo of cask beer:

Firkin – the cask/barrel… historically made of wood, but are now usually stainless steel.

Bung – the plastic or wood stoppers used to plug the bung holes of the firkin

Shive Bung – The bung that vents the firkin as the beer is drawn out

Spile – the wooden peg pounded through the shive bung that allows excess CO2 to vent, and air to flow in as the beer is drawn out of the firkin.

Keystone Bung – bung through which the tap is pounded so you can pour out the beer.

Tap – the spout/spigot that is pounded through the keystone and allows the beer to drain out of the firkin.

One the tap is pounded through the keystone, the beer can be directly served from firkin… just open the tap valve and fill your glass. But, since most pubs keep the beer in the cellars, a hand-powered pump is used to draw the beer from the cellar to the bar. This little device is called Beer Engine. It’s invention piratically revolutionized the beer industry… no longer did bars have to be built around the firkins in cellars … no longer did beer wenches and bar keeps get rock hard calves from running up and down the stairs to the cellar to fetch a pint of beer. It was the first “draught” system.

The cask beer system...

This "engine" powers drinking. Awesome.

Like I said, cask beer is awesome. It’s something very nostalgic, which I like. It lets you connect to the ancient roots of beer drinking… to a time when beer was consumed not because you were chasing tail in a bar, or downing $2 pints of Bud Light because of the funny commercials. Beer is something social. It’s meant to be drank slowly… enjoyed… savored. Remember, people used to drink beer as an alternative to unhealthy water… not because beer tasted like water.  So the next time you’re at the bar, don’t order something that comes from an insanely large brewery more concerned with maximizing profit margins than making good beer.  Even if you love craft beer, don’t scoff at that beer engine sitting on the the bar or stare at it, bewildered. Don’t think some weirdly-warm beer is going to come out if if you dare drink from it. Know that good beer is going to come out that thing, and enjoy.

BrewingTV episode featuring cask beers from Summit Brewing Company.

An important UPDATE

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Beer-Brined Smoked Chicken

My in-laws came for a week-long visit and I took a few days off of work to spend some time with them on their “vacation”. I conveniently figured out a way to stay at home in the air conditioning, while everyone else sat up at the pool in the 115° heat and humidity. “Well, I thought about smoking a chicken, but I would have to stay here and tend to the smoker… but you guys go ahead and have fun at the pool.” Bingo. Classic son-in-law… avoid spending time with the in-laws while making it seem like you wanted to be with them during every second of their visit. Just kidding, of course… I love my in-laws. My father-in-law loves craft beer and going to brew pubs… and he also know his way around a barbecue. What better way to impress them than busting out the smoker and throwing a chicken on there? But… there’s a secret to maximizing the “impressive” factor and having the moistest, tastiest meat possible. Brining.

I’ve brined turkeys before for Thanksgiving… let them “marinade” in a spiced salt-sugar water solution. Osmosis pulls out the less salty “juices” out of the bird, then the salt-sugar water flows into the meat… the salt breaks down some of the proteins, which tenderizes the meat, and all the spices and salt ad a TON of flavor. And… I’m a fan of figuring out ways to sneak beer into recipes when ever possible.

This is a twist on Sean Paxton’s (The Homebrew Chef) recipe for beer-brined chicken. His podcast, The Homebrewed Chef, on The Brewing Network, is quite possibly a foodies dream come true. The show’s theme is cooking with homebrew and other craft/micro brews… but he uses that theme as a launching point for all things food… how to find a good butcher, making your own cheeses, summer food idea, beer and wine pairings, cooking techniques and theory… it’s awesome. I highly recommend giving him a listen… his podcast is available on iTunes.

The Brine:

  • 1 Cup Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1 Orange
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled, roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper corns
  • 2 quarts (5 and a 1/3 12-oz bottles) of beer (a good craft American Pale Ale… like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale, Mirror Pond Pale Ale, something slightly hoppy, but has a nice caramel-sweet malt profile)
  • 2 quarts cold water

Add all the brine ingredients, except the cold water, to a large sauce/stock pot. Make sure to squeeze out the juice from the lemon and orange, then quarter the fruit and add to the pot, as well. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 mins. Remove from heat, and add the cold tap water to cool the brine to room temperature.

One 4-5 pound roaster chicken from the grocery store, thawed (set it out in the fridge for two days before brining overnight, then smoking the next day… so three to four days of lead time),

Butterfly the chicken… like this:

… then, put the chicken in a clean bucket. Pour the brine over the chicken, making sure it is completely covered. Then, put the bucket in the fridge. Optionally, use a small, clean cooler. Put in the chicken, and cover with the brine. Use ziploc bags of ice to keep the brine as cold as possible… you’ll have to switch out the bags quite often to keep things nice and cool… but remember, this is raw meat, so good food handling practices are a must.

Let the chicken brine at least 12 hours… 16-24 is best.

Take it out of the brine, rinse it, and pat the meat (externally, and in the cavity) dry with paper towels. Optionally, you could work your fingers under the skin of the breast, and get some rub worked up on the breast meat. Lay the skin back down and “stitch” back onto the meat with some toothpicks so the skin doesn’t fall off during cooking. It works surprisingly well… and you could rub some galric cloves, or whatever under the skin to change up the taste of the skin and the breast meat.

Next, smoke the meat. 250°F for about 4-5 hours… you’ll want to use a sweet fruit wood, like apple or cherry, not something “over powering” like hickory. Stick your probe thermometer into the thigh, without hitting any bones, and smoke until the internal temp reaches 165°F. If you’re having trouble hitting your temp, preheat your oven to 170°, take your chicken off the smoker, put it in a pan, cover with aluminum foil, and put it in the over until it reaches its temperature.

When it’s done, it’ll look like this…

That’s it, really… carve it up…

….and serve to your guests. They’ll love it, I promise. It’s so moist and tender and tasty that there probably won’t be any leftovers… but if there are, it’d go great mixed up with mayo, celery, onion, pickles, salt and pepper for a great chicken salad.

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