Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Make beer for your dogs!


OK well maybe the beer itself isn't for your dogs - but the spent grains are! Homebrewers, don't let those grains go to waste. You can make dog biscuits with this stuff, and dogs LOVE them! They take a long time to bake, but provide a healthy treat your dogs will love. Our friend Rachel's American Eskimo flips out for these things. And humans can eat them too (yes, I tried one - they're actually pretty good).

Here's a recipe, courtesy of Bodensatz Brewing:
4c spent grain
4c flour
1c peanut butter
1 egg

Mix everything together, spread it out on a cookie sheet, flatten, score, and bake at 350F for 30-60 minutes until they harden. Take them out of the oven (and lower the heat to 225F). Break the cooked biscuits into pieces and put them back into the oven, baking again for 8-10 hours.

There's a discussion thread on realbeer that discusses additional or substitution ingredients for the recipe in case your dog tires of the plain ones. It's probably more likely, however, that you'd exceed your annual allowance of homebrew before exhausting your dog's palate.
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Please note - if you hop your mash, DO NOT feed the spent grain to dogs. Hops are poisonous to canines.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

I don't like fruity beer, pt. 2

Inspired by my experience with Samuel Smith's Organic Strawberry Ale, I picked up the other two Samuel Smith fruity beers: Raspberry and Cherry. I tried the Raspberry one yesterday and am enjoying the Cherry one today on this warm summer afternoon. These are great beers that highlight the fruits of summer we love so much, and are perfect for sipping outside (or inside while sitting in front of the air conditioning).

The raspberry one, pictured to the right, was significantly fruitier and more sour than the strawberry beer. The Merchant duVin site describes it as "intense" - I think that's about right. While the strawberry ale tastes like a light ale with strawberry juice added, the raspberry beer tastes like tart, funky raspberry puree. It was certainly drinkable, but probably not something I'll buy again.

The cherry ale, at left (in my Rogue Santa glass), lands somewhere in-between. While not as light and refreshing as the strawberry ale, it's certainly less tart and intense than the raspberry ale. The sweetness of the cherry juice balances out the inherent tartness, leading to a sweetly-mouthpuckering flavor that has just a hint of maltiness behind it.

In short, the strawberry ale's the winner. The cherry ale tries hard for Best in Show but can't compete with the refreshing lightness of the strawberry ale. The raspberry one would probably be better served with a couple scoops of vanilla ice cream. Which, really, is hardly something to complain about.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It's a Coupon Letdown Extravaganza!

About a month ago, I was at Barley's Midland for lunch and our server handed out a few coupons announcing KC Hopps' anniversary week. The coupon had the logos of all the KC Hopps businesses (Barley's, 75th Street, Blue Moose, 810 Zone, O'Dowds) and 5 little scratch-off circles. If any two icons matched after scratching off the silver covering, you received that prize - free meal, $5 off, and various other little prizes.

The first day of "anniversary week", we walked over to 75th Street Brewery for some grub and brought our tickets. The tickets apparently confused our bartender, who stepped away for a few minutes to figure out what they were for. When she returned, she explained that they were only good at the Barley's Midland location. Okay, no problem. We go there frequently and would exchange our coupons later (totaling $10 off our bill, by the way).

... but it begs the question - why put all the KC Hopps logos on there without ANY specification of valid locations? The coupons clearly stated a date range in which they were valid, so it wasn't as if they were generic prize coupons that could be used for any event. I never did figure that out and, to my discredit, didn't bring this up with KC Hopps management.

Fast forward to today. We went to 75th Street for lunch on this dreadfully hot June afternoon. I ordered a Royal Raspberry Wheat (which is refreshing and dry) and one of their seasonal salads, the Spring Beet and Chevre salad. Now, I had the Pear & Endive salad a couple of weeks ago at Barley's Midland and absolutely loved it. It was fresh, had a nice balance of flavors, and definitely large enough to be an entree - I didn't even finish it. When my beet salad arrived at 75th street, though, I almost sent it back (and, perhaps, should have).

What was placed before me was a handful of greens topped with a few pieces of baby asparagus, two slices of chevre (the only item I felt was of an appropriate amount), some walnuts, and nine 1/2" cubed pieces of yellow beet. Nine. !!! I've had SIDE salads bigger than that! This is the second time I've ordered a salad at 75th Street and found it to be grossly underwhelming. I got their pecan-crusted goat cheese salad once, and my experience was similar - a tiny pile of greens drenched in oil and topped with about 1/2 ounce of goat cheese and accompanied by a couple of crackers. I wish I had a camera phone so I could provide an example, but the pile of greens on both salads was about the size of a softball.

To top it off, while we were wrapping up our meal, someone whom I presume to be the shift manager presented us with a 25% off lunch coupon. YAY! I love coupons! But as I got to looking at it, not only is it for our next visit, the holder of the coupon has to bring another person with them AND it has to be on Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday between 11-2pm. Seriously?

Maybe I need to come up with some coupon rules, a la Bull E Vard's Happy Hour guidelines... Though I haven't said anything to management before now, this was my breaking point. I mean, really... You guys can do better than this.

Friday, June 26, 2009

June's Beer Club Selections

I haven't posted about my beer club in months! For those of you who missed it, I've organized a small but fun beer club at work. There are six of us in the club, and we pick a beer style at the beginning of each month. Each of us is responsible for finding a six-pack of beer that fits into the style and bringing it in on the last Friday of each month to trade. At 3pm, we gather together and talk beer while swapping bottles. Sometimes the anticipation gets the better of some of us and we crack open a bottle or two. The last Friday of the month always means that each of us goes home with a horizontal sixer of a given style.

We've done American Pale Ale, Irish beers (3 reds, 3 stouts), Bocks (traditional, mai, doppel, eis - anything bock!), and American IPAs. June's style was German Weizen/Weissbier, and I picked up a six-pack of Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier. (Impress your friends and family - get some free beer wallpaper!) My clubmates brought Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat, Paulaner Hefeweizen, Hofbrau Hefeweizen, and Shiner Hefeweizen (2 of those). This is the 2nd time we've had duplicates, so perhaps it'd be a good idea to just email the group when we pick up our beer. The element of surprise, however, is hard to give up.

German Hefeweizen is significantly different in flavor from the American Wheat style, primarily due to the type of yeast that is used. The German yeast provides a prominent banana or fruity flavor, with undertones of clove or sweet spiciness. Compare that to an American Wheat which should have no detectable banana flavor or tropical fruitiness. It should be light and a little malty with just a hint of citrus or floral taste (depending on the type of hop used). While either style can be served with a lemon slice, you might find yourself at the wrath of Germans and beer purists alike if you add a lemon to your Hefeweizen. I'd advise against it, anyway, as it'll ruin the head retention of that lovely German beer - and mask the delicate but complex flavor of your beer.

But I digress... I was hoping to see Sierra Nevada's new Kellerweis on the shelves before the end of June, so that I could bring that as my selection. Alas, though it's made its way around both coasts, it has yet to appear in Kansas City. I have a feeling, however, it'll be here soon. My mouth is already watering.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Excellent Things are Rare"

The New York Times today has an article about two of my favorite subjects: beer and food. Specifically, the article explores why it seems so difficult to find places that excel at both, and do it via great service and knowledgeable staff. Though the article is specific to New York, I find it applies anywhere.

Great beer abounds today in New York, and the choices keep getting better. Nowadays, almost every neighborhood bar has at least a few craft beers. The better beer bars offer an expanded selection, scouring the world for unknown brewers and new beers. And the mark of a top-flight spot is one or two cask beers, served unpasteurized and unfiltered with natural carbonation, rather than from a pressurized keg.

Yet an imbalance exists that threatens to undercut the pleasure to be found in a perfectly drawn pint. While aficionados yearn to have beer taken as seriously as wine, too often beer is presented in a context that diminishes the respect it deserves.

Sometimes, the problem involves food, as with Studio Square. At Pony Bar, a new bar in Clinton that specializes in American craft beers, the River Horse ESB, served lightly chilled from a cask, was pure and delicate. The beer selection was excellent. The roast beef sandwich was tough, the burger desiccated.

Other times, it’s simply a clueless staff...

I was recently reading an article on Beer Advocate about the top beer bars in the country. The article was from four years ago, but most of the places on the list still exist. I read the BA reviews for over half of those places, and noticed three consistent trends, all of which apply to one or more of my favorite watering holes here in KC:
  1. Bad service. Not just mediocre, but bad. Do these places even train their staff?
  2. Bad food. Why provide something that is guaranteed to disappoint your customers?
  3. Bad atmosphere. What? I can't hear you over the Ozzy and guys cheering over beer pong.

Now, I'll point out that we are lucky here in KC to have the options we do: Waldo Pizza, Barley's, 75th Street, Flying Saucer, Gordon Biersch, Harry's Country Club, Grinders... and I'm sure I'm forgetting some. However, it seems like no one place has it all nailed. Gordon Biersch comes pretty damn close with great beer and pretty decent food - but the service?

All I ask for is this:
  1. Make sure it's easy for your patrons to hear others in their party. Barley's has this nailed. Flying Saucer, not so much.
  2. Educate your staff about beer. I don't care if they all hate beer; if you have it on tap, your staff should know what it is. They should be able to describe a Kölsch and how Schlafly's compares to Reissdorf's. That goes for your wine selection as well. There's no reason I should hear "ummm... let me go ask" when I ask about a new beer on tap and what it is. Sell me your products!!
  3. Be creative with your menu. Many of your customers eat out frequently and tire of the same old things - burgers, wraps, sandwiches, fries, onion rings, and so on. Gordon Biersch gets it, and Barley's is starting to (they now have seasonal salads). Check out The Brewer's Art in Baltimore or Higgins in Portland. Yes, these are bar menus. You don't have to get ultra-chic, and should provide at least some staples (can you spot the burger on Higgins' menu?). But get adventurous and offer seasonal, different items for those of us who enjoy trying new things.
  4. Mind your beer. Rotate your taps and bottles frequently, clean your beer lines, and, for the love of all things holy, please don't serve us stale beer.
These seem kind of obvious, but they're clearly harder to pull off than it appears. Many places come close. I will say that it seems restaurants that focus primarily on food tend to have somewhat-decent beer menus, offering at least some Belgian beer and perhaps a couple items from Bells, Schlafly, or Boulevard. So why is it that good restaurants can make a decent attempt at providing good beer, but so many beer bars fail at providing good food?

There's one bartender at Barley's in Shawnee I always look for when I go, because he clearly knows beer. Elliott over at Waldo Pizza is now a Cicerone-certified Beer Server and also loves to talk beer. Both places have good food and beer selections; Waldo Pizza seems to swap out their kegs more frequently than Barley's, but Barley's usually has new stuff in bottles every time I go. They're about as close to great-beer-bar as we have here in KC... and guess where I spend most of my beer money.

title quote attributed to Plato

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fermentation Nation

Is it ready yet?

The Duvel clone is fermenting like crazy and the anticipation is insufferable. We've got John's (Russian Imperial) Birthday Stout going as well and may have sampled a bit. The rye and oats gave it an incredible mouthfeel, almost reminiscent of the oily Dark Lord. I'm looking forward to trying this one out when it's ready in late fall. He used about 25 pounds of malt, which made our brew-in-a-bag process a bit messy and difficult when lifting that bag of water-soaked grain out of the pot. Some homebrewers make their bags cone-shaped, but I'm not sure I have enough faith in my stitching ability to prevent a Mash Explosion. I'm thinking the guys who have rigged a cable-and-pulley system have it right.

We went to La Bodega tonight for happy hour and I think I drank about 3/4 of the pitcher of white sangria. I was trying to beat the 6pm cutoff for happy hour so I could get a cheap bottle of Duvel, but didn't quite make it. Regardless, this was my first time at La Bodega and went specifically for happy hour - and WHAT a happy hour it is! John got the spanish fritatta (3 big slices for $2.50!) and some green bean & potato dish. I got a red pepper & membrillo-with-goat-cheese-over-toast dish which was fantastic but not quite enough food. A couple of friends ordered the same as well as a white bean & toast dish and a serrano & bread plate. Everything we had was fantastic and extremely cheap relative to the quality and quantity. Highly recommended and worth the hype.

And yet... despite my enthusiasm over their happy hour, I couldn't stop thinking about the Duvel. I think I have a problem. And by "problem" I mean "perfectly healthy obsession."
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Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Day with the Devil and the Dark Lord

KC Hop Head and I put together a brew day bringing together homebrewers, people interested in learning about homebrewing, beer nerds (including fellow blogger Bull E. Vard), and friends. I've been wanting to make a Duvel clone for a while now, so I chose it for our brew day. It's a Belgian Golden Strong ale whose name means Devil - presumably because it appears so innocent and harmless, until it reminds you that it's 8.5% ABV. I got the clone recipe from Jamil Zainasheff's book; KC Hop Head brewed up a milk stout from Northern Brewer that came with a novel for instructions, and his buddy Ryan made an American Brown. We were all having a great time, but the hardest part about a brew day party is paying attention to your brew while you're busy chatting, drinking, joking, and generally focusing on other things. Most of your time home brewing is spent waiting, making it too easy to be distracted. Thankfully, a coworker/friend of mine had a timer set on his phone to keep us on track.

The Duvel clone goes something like this:
  1. Fill the brew kettle with water, light the burner, and wait about an hour for the water to heat
  2. Turn off the burner, add the grain, and wait about 90 minutes to mash the grain
  3. Remove the grain, light the burner, and wait for the wort to boil
  4. Boil, add the hops, and wait another 90 minutes to finish the boil
  5. Turn off the burner, start up the chiller, and wait about 45 minutes for the wort to chill
  6. Add the wort to the carboy, pitch the yeast, then wait a few weeks
  7. Transfer to a keg and wait a few days for the beer to carbonate

So during all that waiting, we were all having quite a bit of fun and had a few (relatively expected) mishaps - KC Hop Head had a boil-over, I let my mash temp get a couple degrees too low and I forgot to take my yeast starter out of the fridge to let it warm to room temp (someone saw it and reminded me, thank goodness). At the very least, we were still all pretty good about sanitation - one of the most important aspects of home brewing.

Amid all the brewing, we managed to get in a few games of washers (thanks to KC Hop Head's homemade washer 'kit'), as well as some games of horseshoes in our newly-installed backyard horseshoe pits. And, with about half a dozen homebrewers there, we shared plenty of homebrew and rare commercial beer. I got to try KC Hop Head's Hop Explosion, which was a very well balanced double IPA - nicely done! Another home brewer brought over a very delicious Abbey ale, and we shared our IPA, Maibock, Mild, and what's left of my haul from Philly (I was so happy to share one of the Dogfish Head 90 minute IPAs - that was my first foray into imperial IPAs and has a special place in my heart).

Toward the end of the night, KC Hop Head dug out the prized posession of the night - a bottle of Three Floyds Dark Lord. For a few bottles from Boulevard's Smokestack series, he got the bottle of Dark Lord as well as some Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout and ... other stuff - I was too anxious to try Dark Lord to remember what else he got.

This "Gargantuan" Russian Imperial Stout is sold at the brewery on one day per year - the last Saturday in April. This year, the brewery sold "Golden Tickets" ahead of time, which granted you the ability to buy up to four bottles of the stout. This results in pretty steep demand for the brew, as well as beer-geek jealousy over those who possess a bottle.

And it's no wonder why. This is one big beer that's heavy on the mouthfeel and amazing in flavor. Its consistency is described as motor oil, its flavor like molasses, and its aroma as charred fruit. All of those are true, and we all also agreed that the carbonation and roasted maltiness hits you on the roof of the mouth. (yes, I know that's not the best glass for the beer, but it was either those or the martini glasses...)

Overall, Brew Day 2009 version 1.0 was a success and I'm already looking forward to the next. Send me a note if you're interested in attending. Learn about homebrewing, try some new and different beer, and meet some laid back and fun people who share a love of craft beer.

Friday, June 5, 2009

This ain't no Bud Lime

A month ago, the Wall Street Journal posted an article about micheladas. These beer-based cocktails are typically a mix of beer, lime, worcestershire, and hot sauce with a chili/salt rimmed glass. With a bit of investigation, however, it appears there are all sorts of regional variations. The addition of clamato juice is the most common, and it appears that key limes are to be used. Another common variation I've noticed is whether light (Corona, Dos Equis, etc) or dark (Negro Modelo) beer is used.

A couple of years ago, John and I made micheladas using Negro Modelo, worcestershire, hot sauce, and regular limes. I wasn't impressed, but it wasn't bad either. We both thought it was decent but something we wouldn't be inspired to make again. I thought tonight I'd try making a different style of Michelada, one that includes Clamato (which, according to some people on the interwebz, makes it "authentic". I'm sure reality is closer to "regionally authentic".).

I tried a recipe by some internet stranger "Ruben," who posted it via a comment on a mixology site. I picked this one on the sole fact that it sounded good. You can see my ingredients - Arrogant Bastard hot sauce (bought over 2 years ago at Belmont Station in Portland; it gets better with age, right?), Modelo especial, worcestershire sauce, Clamato, key limes, and celery salt for the rim of the glass.

The verdict? Delicious. It smells a bit weird - like sour beer that was left out overnight. As I went for my first sip, the aroma convinced me this was a bad idea. Much to my delight, it's a winner! Spicy and sweet, a little salty, beery, and citrusy. I bought some Tostitos Hint of crack Lime chips to go with it.

I'm definitely going to be making this again. Try it with or without the clamato but definitely avoid using any lemon or soy sauce, and use key limes & worcestershire sauce instead. Good stuff.

Monday, June 1, 2009

I don't like fruity beer, but....

I am going to have to stop saying that. I've had enough fruit beers in my life to finally admit that, yes, I like fruit beer. Mind you, I don't like all fruit beer. Some of it is just plain gross (cue 't Smisje Blond), but I find that quite a few of the fruit-inspired beers are more than palatable.

We stopped at Gomer's Midtown tonight to see what they had and hoped pick up some Founders. We ended up getting Founders' Dirty Bastard, New Holland's Dragon's Milk, and Samuel Smith's Organic Strawberry Ale. If you keep up with my preferences, I tend to like drier, hoppier, more astringent or citrusy beers. I don't like the cloyingly-sweet stuff, even those double-IPAs that, despite the 99+ IBUs, go down like cough syrup.

This ale poured quite well, with a giant head that took a few minutes to die down enough for me to take a picture. It's a bit spritzy, and that characteristic stays through the entire beer. As soon as I opened the beer, it smelled of strawberries. It's pretty apparent they add strawberry flavoring to the beer, but not overwhelmingly-so. This is still a beer.

The initial taste of the beer is strawberry, followed by a nice bready flavor, followed by a somewhat intense sourness. It is just like eating strawberry rhubarb pie or cobbler, in that you get the up-front sweetness & doughy flavor, but have that lingering sour/bitter flavor for a while... this is truly a great "fruit beer" and one that I think could be appreciated by beer connoisseurs and beer-snubbers alike - especially as summer nears. Bottoms up!

* Edited - Gomer's midtown has the Samuel Smith's Winter Warmer (which is fabulous) on sale for under $3 per bottle. It is one of my favorite "Christmas" beers.