Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Writing about beer quite a bit...just not here

I have been doing quite a bit of writing about beer, thanks for asking. Fortunately for me those posts are going up at Beer City Guide instead of here. So If you're looking for great new beer content from me, go there and check it out. While you're there, check out some of the other stuff. It is all good.

I am really enjoying these opportunities to check out breweries in the Asheville area. I've been able to review old favorites as well as brand new operations in the area.

Seriously, go read them. I might cry if you don't.

In the tiny glasses laid before me were the Porter, the ESB, a cask ESB, the IPA, and their summer seasonal Wheat. Our bartender, Autumn, declared the ESB the best beer but said that IPA was most popular. She did concede that it was popular for potentially all the wrong reasons – everyone (*cough* hipsters *cough*) wants to try IPAs even if they don’t like them. The ESB has been my favorite since I discovered it, though. It is a delicious example of a bitter beer with just the right caramel notes. I was surprised to find myself unimpressed with the cask ESB, however. I thought the regular tap was more complex while the cask tasted strongly of the caramel and chocolate with less hops coming through.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

International Beer Blogger

The reason I have included a link over on the right for the Beer and Now UK is because I am writing for them!  This is super exciting for me mostly because of the way it happened. I was just minding my own business when I got an email from Andy in Manchester saying they just started a website called Beer and Now and whilst Googling their name they came across this site. He loved what I was writing about and asked me to do some blogging for them. It took a while to get things rolling, but now you can check out my posts there.

Laura hails from the source of some of our favourite beers, the good old US of A so she is perfectly positioned to keep us up to date with all of the latest and greatest beer related developments across the pond.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Oh the places you'll go...with beer!

Quitting my job and moving to Asheville to pursue writing full time has proven to be most advantageous. Among my favorite new projects is writing for the Asheville Beer City Guide.  Seriously, check it out!

I began my exploration of all that Beer Week has to offer by starting the day at Mellow Mushroom. At 11am Tuesday they offered specials on Southern Tier; all two styles available. I enjoyed a 2XIPA, but that wasn’t the most exciting part of the experience. Talking to a colorful gentleman visiting from Atlanta about jail and leather bondage gear was way more fun. There is no limit to the things you might discuss with strangers in Asheville.

There are several more projects that I am very excited about and I can't wait to share them with you!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

First Big Asheville Beer Adventure

I just moved to the Asheville area on Wednesday, May 9th. The move had been planned, to one degree or another, for about three years so it is super exciting to actually be here and settled in.  You can read about that adventure here.

Now that we're here, we decided to spend our first Saturday on a grand beer adventure to the great city of Black Mountain NC, home of Pisgah Brewing.

The day actually started out pretty early with a trip to the Asheville City Market - a farmer's market. We had signed up for a CSA before our move and this was the first day they would be set up at the market. It started at 8am but we figured we'd get there around 9ish, so we did.  But once we were out we didn't want to go back home.  We put our findings in a cooler and made our way out to Black Mountain.

The town is only about 20 minutes east of Asheville so it didn't take long. We parked in the little downtown area and just wandered about. We stopped at a couple little shops including the general store and then just kept walking until lunchtime. At this point, we found a new place called Trailhead.  It is owned, in part, by one of the owners of Pisgah Brewing so they had a lot of Pisgah beers on tap. We sat down, ordered a beer and some food.  Matt got the Pisgah Pale, a beer that is pretty popular in this area.  I ordered the Riverbend Brown. But out of curiosity, we couldn't pass up a tap labeled "Bacon". I'll tell you a little more about this beer soon, but when we tried a small sample glass as Trailhead we were surprised that is was kind of good. I'm not a fan of smokey beers, which seem to be very popular these days. In fact, I have written about how much I disliked smokey beers in the past. I wouldn't drink a pint of the Pisgah bacon, but it really wasn't that bad.

After lunch, we found a little walking path around a lake near the downtown area and went for a stroll. The ultimate endgame for the afternoon was to end up at Pisgah's tasting room but it was too early right after lunch to head out that way. We walked and talked and enjoyed the slightly overcast day in the mountains. We started to make our way toward the brewery, but since we had only been there once over a year ago, we couldn't precisely remember how to get there.  So we drove around a lot, mostly making wrong turns. Eventually we called for directions and finally we made it to the brewery.  We bellied up to the bar and each ordered an IPA when a gentleman walked up to us to let us know a tour was about to happen. Awesome! As soon as we got our beers we caught the back of the tour line and walked into the belly of the beast.

As a home brewer, small commercial breweries fascinate me. While I use couple pounds of malts, I love to see the bags and bags and bags lining the walls of a production facility.  We were told that they muscle all of the grains by hand into the mill and then into the mash tun.  You could tell from the tour that Pisgah was truly a labor of love.  And what makes Pisgah truly unique is that everything they brew is certified organic.  And that, my friends, is why it tastes so damn delicious.

It was at this tour that we learned more about the Bacon Stout. They used a chocolate stout base but added 60 pounds of USDA certified organic bacon to the secondary fermentation. Yes, you read that right. Real, actual, bacon. They seasoned and smoked it up before adding it to the beer process and then let it do the magic.  When it was ready, everyone at the brewery tried a glass and quickly realized that while it wasn't bad it was also about half grease. They let the beer sit a little longer until the grease separated out and then it was ready for the public. 

I failed to get the name of our tour guide, but he was very informative and fun to listen to.  I was glad we accidentally stumbled in right as the tour started.  Because it is a pretty small brewery, the presentation didn't last too long so we were able to sit in the outdoor area for a while enjoying our beers.

We eventually made it back to Asheville and stopped at Barley's Tap Room for some pizza and a couple more local beers - this time favorites from French Broad. We were still back at our little mountain home before dark to put away our stash from the farmer's market and settle in for the night.
The beer scene in Asheville is super inspiring. Lots of fun events coming up, including the Beer City Festival in just a couple of weeks. I suspect that this sadly neglected blog will be getting some additional attention now that we live in Beer City USA.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A short apology

I was reviewing my stats and learned that someone found this blog by Googling the words "How to make Zulu Beer."  My sincerest apologies as you would have discovered that you will not learn to do that here.  In fact, I should have titled the post "How NOT to make Zulu Beer." 

Thanks for reading the Beer and Now Adventures! 

Thursday, April 5, 2012 was *that* bad!

I recently tried a highly experimental home brew project.  As I explained before, the idea came from South Africa and a traditional Zulu beer that is made for celebrations. Because of our work with the Zulu Orphan Alliance in South Africa, I wanted to do something creative and different to raise money for the organization to build a shelter and feed the kids. I thought to myself that I should make a beer based on the traditional ingredients of Zulu beer - sorghum, pineapple, white bread and oats. At the same time, I wanted to make something that was part of the American Craft Beer culture and I thought the flavors would work well. 

As you can see from my last post, I figured I might as well go big or go home.  That was 3 quarts each of sorghum and pineapple along with 7 pounds of honey wheat malt extract and a mini mash that included oats.  The mini mash and malt extract were the only thing the beer actually needed for the recipe. It was all my fault that I added so much more stuff.

The wort was sweet and fruity.  It fermented wildly for several days indicating that whatever the outcome, the beer would be very strong.  We waited patiently for the time when we could bottle.  Once it was bottled, we waited patiently again for it to condition enough to drink. 

The day before it was ready, we put a couple of bottles in the refrigerator and gave it a night to chill.  The next evening the anticipation was overwhelming as we opened those two bottles.

There was not the exciting "Fffsssipt" noise when I opened the bottle. Uh oh, it didn't carbonate.  I had added the priming sugar, but perhaps the concentration of sugar from the juice and syrup caused a very different chemical reaction. Maybe there was no yeast left in the beer when we bottled it because off all the juice and syrup. In any case, neither bottle Fffsssipted.  But boldly, I poured them in to tall Molson Canadian glasses to see what happened.  Matt and I toasted to experimental beers and each too a sip.

And gagged. 

It was that bad.  I took another tentative sip to make sure I fully understood just how horrid it was.  It tasted like a juice box that had been left in a car for 7 years then put back in the refrigerator.  A fermented pineapple juice box.  Or a mix of pineapple juice and rubbing alcohol.  There are many ways I can describe the badness that was this beer.  We stepped back, the abject horror visible on both of our faces.  This was not just the worst beer we had ever tasted - it was the single most disgusting thing we had ever put in our mouths.  I quickly poured out the contents of the glasses and set the sullied bar ware to the side. I got out two fresh glasses and poured us two different, commercially available, and taste tested beers. 

When I was a kid learning to ride a bike, I was told that when I fell I just had to get up, brush myself off and get back on that bike.  I think every kid was told this. I don't feel discouraged at all by the failed beer experiment.  Though the task of opening and dumping 5 gallons worth of beer from the bottles will be a little tedious.  I think I understand what I did wrong and can try again.  Next time, I won't be quite as aggressive.  I think I need to start with a solid wheat beer base that probably includes oats.  Then I just add some juice and some sorghum for flavoring. Just like my Pomegranate wheat, I didn't add 5 gallons of pomegranate. Mostly because Pomegranate juice is expensive and I didn't want to buy that much. But when the beer was done, I could taste a bit of the fruit and it added to the beer, it didn't ruin it. I just need to take my ow advice.

So, I'll be trying again one day. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

And then I became a "Beer Person".

I use to be the first person who would scoff at beer as a beverage option.  When offered a can or bottle I would wrinkle up my nose and politely decline opting for just about anything other than beer to drink instead. A few years ago that all changed for me and now every time I hear someone make similar statements I want to jump in and help them understand that beer isn't the enemy.
"Beer Yucky!"
I was known by friends for this definitive statement. Once, when handed an aluminum can of some light beer or another I reacted strongly and they knew never to offer it to me again.  Then one day, years later, the same friends met me at a bar while I sat with a deliciously dark ale in a pint glass and they were dumbfounded.  "I thought Beer Yucky!?"  And I responded with, "Oh no, I was wrong. Beer Yummy!" So, what changed? 
Acquiring a taste for beer is just like acquiring a taste for anything else - such as coffee or sushi.  You have to continuously taste it and determine what you do and don't like about it and keep trying new things.  Drinking a Bud Light and declaring all beer evil, which is exactly what I did, is not productive.  It doesn't teach you whether or not you might like certain flavor profiles.  But trying lots of different styles of beer and determining what flavors and aromas work for you can enhance your experience. 
For me, it started when I began to spend more and more time in Asheville, NC.  The city has been voted Beer City USA for several years in a row and its beer culture rivals Portland, Oregon.  It is one of the "ground zeroes" for the craft brewing industry.  One weekend, several years ago, we found ourselves as a new bar in town called The Thirsty Monk.  It is now an Asheville institution, but at the time it was a Belgian only beer bar hidden in the basement of a hard to find building.  We found it, ventured inside and sat down at the bar.  I was instantly overwhelmed with the choices.  I knew very little about beer, much less Belgian style beer.  The people I was with, and the bartender, told me that Belgian beer was like wine; there are tons of types and they each has a different complexity.  So, with some help I made my initial order of a beer sampler.  I ordered a Lambic - a fruit beer that I had many times before and enjoyed. I also ordered a local Belgian-style beer from a brewery called Pisgah.  The beer is called the Pisgah Solstice and is a Belgian Tripel. The third beer in my sampler was recommended by the bar tender - St. Bernardus Abt 12.  I started with the Lambic, because it was a known quantity. It was, as I already knew, a sweet and fruity beer that tastes more like raspberry champagne than beer at all.  I then move on to the Solstice. I started to read the complexities but at the time still didn't like it. It tasted too much like "Beer" not exactly like "Beer" and I couldn't quite put my finger on it.  I have revisited Pisgah Solstice several times since then and understand it to be a full bodied, strong Belgian style ale. But then I tried the Abt 12. I knew nothing about this beer except that it is brewed by monks in Belgium. With that very first taste I knew I had never had anything like it before.  It was a deep chestnut brown color, which caught my eye because most of the beer had seen was light gold or deep black like Guinness. The red color caught the light when I held it up.  The aroma was sweet but not cloying. It smelled like caramels and Christmastime.  The taste was something I had never expected. The flavors burst across my tongue - the sweet caramel, well toasted malts, and Belgian candy sugar.  It was truly incredible.
With that sip I knew I wanted more. This is going to sound like hyperbole - and it is - but it was like the scene in The Miracle Worker when Patty Duke, as Helen Keller, suddenly realizes that the symbols her teacher is signing into her hand are the names of things. When she makes that connection that the sign for water represents the water from the pump and suddenly a whole world opens up before her.  St. Bernardus was the key that opened the door to beer for me.  I suddenly wanted to try other beers to better understand them. I started to evaluate the beers on menus to determine what might re-create the St. Bernardus experience for me.  Truth is, nothing ever really recreated it but as I expanded out from the St. Bernardus epicenter, I started to recognize flavors in other beers the I liked.  For me it was like a spiral from the middle. I went from the Belgian beer to porters and stouts and then spiraled out to browns (for a long time it was a favorite style of mine) and then ambers and wheats and finally made my way to pale ales and IPAs, finding the bitter hops the hardest flavor to fully grok.  Now, as a point of interest, pale ales and IPAs tend to be my first go-to at a new brewery or bar - I have learned to really love the crisp refreshing flavors. 
For anyone who thinks they might like beer but can't get past that beer taste I suggest just trying some different styles when you're out. If you don't like the bitter flavor, start with a malty brown or an amber.  If you like light refreshing beer, try a Kolsch or a Pilsner (but not Bud, Michelob or Coors). Try draft over bottle, but if bottle is the only option ask them to put it in a glass.  It opens up the flavors and aromas and gives you the full experience.  When you try something new consider the things you like about it and the things you don't.  Then, next time you order something articulate that. A bartender at a good craft beer bar is usually pretty knowledgeable about the beers they have.  Tell them what you like and they can help you with a few choices.  
It is possible to develop a taste for beer.  I am living proof.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Mad Zymurgist: Experimentations in Beer

In November I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa to start working on a project with an incredible group of people.  The organization I work with is called the Zulu Orphan Alliance and they raise money to feed orphans and vulnerable children living in the townships outside Durban.  One of the reasons that Matt and I went over was to start the process of building a shelter for the kids.  The trip in November was more informational - we met the people we would be working with, saw the land where we will be building and got permission from the Zulu Councillor to build.  We can't wait to go back, but the number one most important thing we need to do now is raise the money.

Zulu Beer in the making for a wedding celebration.
While we were there, I learned about Zulu beer.  There is no one recipe for Zulu Beer, but it is often brewed with pineapple, oats, and bread and other versions are made with sorghum. I wasn't able to try any for myself while I was there, but my friend who lives in South Africa tried some traditional beer and got some photos for me. 

I was inspired by this beer and wanted to try to make something similar back in the states.  But what I really wanted to do was take the concept and integrate it into a more traditional American style beer.

I bought the ingredients.  To replace the bread, I chose a honey wheat extract.  Also, I used a mini-mash of  Belgian Pils Malt, white wheat and flaked oats.  A mini-mash, if you've never brewed beer, is where you put all the grains in a cheesecloth bag and soak it in hot water to make a beer tea before adding the liquid malt extract and boiling the whole thing. When I added my honey wheat malt, I also added 3 quarts of sorghum syrup.  I also added Hallertau Hops, a mild German hops that will add just a tiny bit of earthiness to what was going to be a very sweet beer.

Now, here is where things got a little crazy. When the wort was done boiling, I cooled it and put it in the carboy. Then, instead of adding water I added Pineapple Juice.  This is incredibly insane.  This made my original gravity very high, which is one of the measurements that help determine what your alcohol content will be in the finished product. I tasted the wort, which is tradition for home brewers and it was super sweet but potentially very good. It tasted like bread and pineapple. Then I added the yeast to the beer and the real magic will happen over the next few days.  After a couple of weeks it will be ready to bottle and a few weeks after that it should be drinkable.

I have some plans for this beer. I am hoping that eventually I can use it to raise money for the Zulu Orphan Alliance.  Since I am a home brewer, I can't sell my beer but what I can do is continue to perfect this recipe and then potentially contract brew to get it on the shelves and at the bars. The intention along the way would be for all the proceeds to go back to the ZOA to help feed the kids and build the shelter.  Wish me luck.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Happy Groundhog Day and a prayer for beer

7 years ago today, I was in Ireland for the Feile Bhride, a festival honoring St. Brigid of Kildare. It is a shame at the time I had not yet discovered my taste for beer and left the treasure of Guinness behind. But it was in Ireland on that trip that I first heard this 10th century prayer attributed to St. Brigid herself. 

I'd like to give a lake of beer to God.
I'd love the heavenly
Host to be tippling there
For all eternity.

I'd love the men of Heaven to live with me,
To dance and sing.
If they wanted, I'd put at their disposal
Vats of suffering.

White cups of love I'd give them
With a heart and a half;
Sweet pitchers of mercy I'd offer
To every man.

I'd make Heaven a cheerful spot
Because the happy heart is true.
I'd make the men contented for their own sake.
I'd like Jesus to love me too.

I'd like the people of heaven to gather
From all the parishes around.
I'd give a special welcome to the women,
The three Marys of great renown.

I'd sit with the men, the women and God
There by the lake of beer.
We'd be drinking good health forever
And every drop would be a prayer.
 So pour yourself a pint and enjoy the beautiful pre-spring season and hope that the groundhog sees what he should.