Biere de Mars

When deciding what to brew, I often consider the season the finished beer will be consumed in. For example, brewing Berliner Weisse in the winter to be sour and ready for a hot summer day or brewing a rich, robust porter at the end of the summer for the cooler fall days is perfect. I like to drink seasonally as much as I like to eat seasonally.

This past fall, while having friends over for one of those robust (pumpkin) porters (aged on roasted pecans), one of them gave me a copy of Phil Markowski’s Farmhouse Ales book. A very interesting read that explains the history, culture and brewing practices of French Biere de Garde and Belgian Saisons. I’ve long been a fan of Saisons and attribute my love for craft beer to Ommegang Hennepin, as it was the “gateway” beer that opened me to the world of great beer.  More recently, I’ve come to appreciate Biere de Garde through the classic example of the style, Jenlain. The story of these styles is too long for this entry, though well worth reading up on. Generally, as the name implies, the beers were brewed on farms and consumed in the French/Belgian countryside. Saisons are fermented at unusually high temperatures and, therefore, tend to be dryer. Saisons can also have a noticeable spicy hop character. Biere de Garde, on the other hand, focuses more on malts and goes through a long lagering stage in which the beer conditions at near freezing temperatures.

Within the styles, there a number of variations. Biere de Mars – or “Beer of March” –  is one example. This Biere de Garde is typically brewed in December and lagered until March. With a higher portion of wheat and a lower starting gravity, this beer is perfect for the return of spring. Refreshing and easy drinking, yet it still has layers of complex “countryside” flavors. After reading the Farmhouse Ales book, then listening to an interview with vegan-brewer Ron Jeffries of Jolly Pumpkin Brewing about farmhouse ales on Can You Brew It – an area Ron is exceedingly familiar with – I decided to try my hand at farmhouse brewing. Over the winter I brewed a Biere de Mars. using basic tips from Markowski regarding ingredients for the style and overall brewing techniques. I modified this a bit based on what Jeffries says about blending grains. Basically, if you want a “rustic” grainy character in your beer, use a blend of base malts (e.g., pale malt, pilsner malt, etc.). Additionally, I experimented with a new yeast from whitelabs – WLP072 French Ale Yeast. Here is the recipe:

5 gallon batch, OG 1.057, FG 1.010, IBU 27, SRM 14


4 lbs. German Wheat malt
3 lbs. Belgian Pilsner malt.
3 lbs. Belgian Pale malt
2 lbs. US organic Munich (10L)
1 lbs. 6-row malt
.75 lbs light DME
.25 lbs. organic sugar
.25 lbs. light Belgian candy sugar
.18 lbs (~ 3 oz) US Black Malt


1.0 oz Organic German Hallertaur Traditional (6.8% AA, 60 minutes)
0.5 oz French Strisselspalt (2.0% AA, 20 minutes)
0.5 oz French Strisselspalt (2.0% AA, 5 minutes)

Yeast: WLP072 French Ale Yeast, 1L starter stepped-up with a stir plate

Mash the grains at 151 for 60 mins. Collect 6.5 gallons of wort. Bring to a boil and add sugar and DME. Add hops at times indicated above. Chill to 65 and ferment for one week, letting the temp rise to 72. It is important to get the beer up to the 70 range at the end of fermentation, as this rest (know as a diacetyl rest) will cleanup some of the off flavors that come with the lagering. After primary fermentation is complete, lager at 35 degrees for 3 months. I put mine in a keg and stashed it in my keezer set to 35.

I think this one came out just as I had hoped. With a hint of spice and sweetness, it has a well-balanced aroma. The color is just awesome, a translucent amber with a rusty-white head that sticks around and laces the glass. There’s definitely a roughness to the malt flavor that gives it the nice rustic touch Jeffries describes. The yeast gives it a cellared mustyness, while the wheat lightness that up just enough to make it a really enjoyable, easy-drinking beer.   I’m going to enjoy having this one around for the srping. May even bottle a few and send off to be judged at the National Homebrew Competition.

IPA Chana Masala

A while ago I noticed this (scroll down to Oct 2004): Lee Chase, vegan and former brewmaster at Stone Brewing Co., preparing a Chana Masala dish with Stone IPA. India Pale Ale as an ingredient in an Indian dish – this seems like a perfect match. Through personal experience and some research I’ve found that hoppy beers intensify the heat in spicy foods, which works very well for me as Indian cuisine is my absolute favorite and I’m a self-proclaimed “hop head.”

I decided to get creative with the chana. Instead of using store bought curry powder or pre-mixed garam masala, I made my own spice mix. It was mostly based off of a recipe I found in Flavors of India. I changed a few of the ingredients, but I still found this to be much more authentic than any store-bought stuff (especially better than the stuff from the supermarket – seriously, how many Indians do you know named McCormick ??) So, the first step in this recipe is to make the garam masala. I suggest doing so, but if you don’t feel it’s worth the trouble, at least try to get your pre-mixed garam masala from a local Indian grocery store.

Making the garam masala mix:

The most time-consuming part of this entire recipe is getting the cardamom seeds out of the pods. A huge pain in the ass, but trust me, you do not want to bite into the pod. Often, Indian restaurants leave the seeds in the pods, which is a very unpleasant surprise. It tastes like poison. You can speed things up using a good  mortar and pestle. Crush a small handful of pods, then dig out the seeds from the crushed shells. After that, the rest is simple.

Getting to the cardamom seeds

Garam masala spice mix:

1/8 cup cardamom seeds
1/8 cup whole cloves
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns
1 piece star anise, broken into pieces (or 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds)
1 teaspoon cumin powder (or 2 tsp. seeds)
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Toast everything but the cinnamon in heavy frying pan (I used a cast iron dutch oven) until the spices begin to smoke (10-15 minutes), stirring frequently.  You can also roast them in an oven at 200 for about 15 minutes. When toasted, add to a coffee grinder with the cinnamon and crush into a powder. If you don’t have a coffee grinder, you can use a mortar and pestle.

Making the Chana Masala

4 (or more) dried red chillies
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
2-3 tablespoons Earth Balance
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon diced ginger
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
4 cups cooked chickpeas
2 cups crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon soy lecithin
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup IPA or Double IPA
1/2 onion, chopped and cilantro for garnish

Toast the mustard seeds and chilies in a heavy pan (I used the same dutch oven I toasted the garam masala spices in). When the seeds start to pop, remove and set aside. Add 2 tablespoons of Earth Balance to the pan and saute the onions and garlic for 5 minutes.  Add the ginger, cumin, garam masala, turmeric, mustard seeds, chilies and chickpeas (note: I soaked mine over night and cooked in the pressure cooker, but I’m guessing it’s about two cans worth). Stir to coat the onions and chickpeas in the spices. Cook for a few minutes, then add tomatoes, another tablespoon of Earth Balance (optional), lecithin (for a buttery flavor) and salt. Cook until the tomato liquid is nearly gone – about 20 minutes. Add in the beer and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Serve with rice (I used organic gaba brown basmati – excellent!) Garnish with the chopped onions (this is not an optional step! The raw onions make it so much better) and cilantro.

Adding Double Simcoe to Chana

I used a bottle of the unfiltered version of Weyerbacher’s Double Simcoe. I’m a huge fan of the regular Double Simcoe and had picked up a 750ml bottle of the special release a few days before making the chana. I expected it to be a perfect hop-bomb, but have to say I was very disappointed. The beer is way too carbonated and the hops seems significantly muted by the loads of yeast in the bottle. More hop bitterness than floral/citrus hop flavors. Nonetheless, I’ve read that high carbonation and bitterness are two of the main factors in the hop-spice reaction. I felt the chana got an extra kick from the beer, but I think standard Double SImoce or a nice regular IPA like Stone’s, Southern Tier ‘s, or Yard’s IPA would have been far superior.

Anyway, the chana was great. My best attempt at Indian food so far. I think the trick is lots of spice and oil, to the point where you begin to question whether you’re overdoing it. Also, I’ve been burned a few times at Indian restaurants when I learn there is “a little bit of dairy” in something. The Earth Balance and lecithin give it that you’ve-been-lied-to flavor you come to expect. The spices paired very will with the unfiltered Double SImcoe, but don’t be afraid to add even more heat or more hops. I think this recipe is far from the limit in both respects. Enjoy.

Rye Table Saison

Inspired by Kevin’s post on his Belgian session brew, I thought I should post one of my own. A few weeks back, I brewed up a beer I thought would be an American Rye. The ingredients of interest were rye (obviously), a Columbus-like hop called Zeus (the Z in the CTZ family) and Fermentis’ Safbrew T-58 yeast. I expected all of these ingredients to blend well, as they each have a peppery/spicy flavor. I’ve read that the T-58 is a Belgian strain, with an estery profile best suited for saisons or Belgian specialty ales. I used it in an IPAbbey clone I did over the summer, which fermented in the mid to high 70s. The beer was fantastic, but I felt it had almost no Belgian character. At the time, I wrote the yeast off as being too neutral for Belgian beers. In retrospect, I may have just missed the yeast contribution in all of the hops (3oz at the end of the boil and another 3oz for dry hopping). I had an extra packet of T-58 in the fridge and a bit of the 2008 Zeus crop in the freezer that needed to be used up. So, I decided to test the T-58 yeast once more, using it as an American wheat/rye yeast. My theory was if the peppery flavor came through at all, it would complement the rye and Zeus hops nicely. I also threw in a touch of crystal 120L malt. I’ve not really noticed myself, but I’ve read that 120L crystal gives, in addition to a dark fruit flavor, a slight smoky, pipe tobacco aroma to beers. Seemed like a nice touch. Lastly, I added a bit of sugar to dry it out and get the hops come through more.

The day I brewed this, it was a very last minute decision. I didn’t have much time – basically, I did it while my wife was out shopping! I did this as an extract batch with specialty grains and cut the boil back to 20 minutes. Since extract is already converted and boiled by the manufacturer, it really only needs to be boiled to sanitize it. The drawback to short boils is a loss of hop utilization, but since I was shooting for relatively low IBUs and I was trying to use up old hops with high alpha levels, this really wasn’t an issue.

I should also point out that I do not know if the rye in this recipe was just rye grain or Wyeremann’s rye malt. The label at the homebrew store just said “rye” and when I asked about it, the guy at the store had no idea what it was. I guess you could use either  – just expect higher gravity and less haze with the malted stuff. For what it’s worth, in the recipe below I treated the rye as if it were malted, steeping it at a temp it could convert at for 20 minutes, then “sparging.”

I think I set a record with this batch: steep, boil, cool and cleanup in something like 2 hours! Not bad. Anyway, here is the recipe:

3.3 lbs Breiss wheat malt extract
3 lbs Rye
1.5 lb Briess light DME
4 oz organic cane sugar
2 oz Crystal 120L

.65 oz Zeus hops (16.4% AA) – 20 minutes
.5 oz Zeus (16.4% AA) – 10 minutes
.5 oz Zeus (16.4% AA) – 0 minutes

Fermentis SafBrew T-58

OG 1.049, FG 1.012, IBU 28  SRM 6.4 ABV~5%

Bring 5.5 gallons of water up to 154. Steep the rye and crystal malt for 20 minutes. Bring up to 170, then gently pour water from your kettle over the steeping grains a few times to wash off any sugars. DO NOT SQUEEZE YOUR SACK of grains. I believe it’s been said before on this blog, squeezing your sack is never a good idea. Remove the grain and bring to boil. Add the extracts and sugar and boil for 20 minutes. Add the hops at times above. Chill to 65 and ferment at 68 for about 2 weeks.

Though this came out much different than I expected, I was pleasantly surprised. The yeast really gave the beer a noticeable Belgian character, much more so than the last time I used it. Perhaps the colder temperatures brought out more flavor, though that seems contradictory to typical yeast behavior (especially Belgian yeast). Anyway, it came out tasting like a really refreshing “table saison” – a farmhouse ale with lower alcohol content than the traditional style. Very balanced, yet evident spicy hop flavor. The estery yeast and black pepper flavors from the rye complemented each other very nicely, giving the beer a good amount of complexity. At the same time, the wheat gave it a refreshingly light finish. The crystal malt added a nice golden-orange hue and there was some light haze in the body, which cleared significantly as I got closer the bottom of the keg. Along with the low ABV, the balance in the body from the mix of barley, wheat and rye made this really easy to drink.

I will definitely be brewing this one again when the weather gets warmer. This will make for a great spring/summer session beer.

Organic Lambic

Drinking traditional lambic always seems to result in me saying “I’d like to brew one of these some day.” The complicated turbid mash and the very long aging have kept me from actually trying.  After reading Jeff Sparrow’s book Wild Brews: Culture and Craftsmanship in the Belgian Tradition I couldn’t put it off any longer. I finally broke down and brewed one.

To brew a lambic you have to change the way you think about brewing. Just about every part of the process violates a common brewing rule. The grist is typically made up of a large amount of unmalted grain – usually about 30% unmalted wheat. The idea behind this is the unmalted grain will leave unconverted starches in your beer, which the microorganisms (namely, Brettanomyces) will survive on throughout the long aging process. The mash schedule commonly used breaks down proteins to ensure you get that large amount of starch from the wheat. Sparge water is typically near boiling, with little concern about stripping tannins off of the grain. Hops are only used for preservatives and should be low-alpha and aged (never fresh). Finally, lambics are intentionally inoculated with the very same microorganisms we typically work so hard to keep out. Then the waiting begins.. at least a year for an unblended lambic and up to three years for a gueuze.

So, here is my recipe:


7 lbs.  Gambrinus Organic Pilsner Malt
4.5 lbs. Organic  flaked wheat

2 oz Organic Belgian Saaz (2.1 % AA) [2006 crop. Got these from the close out section on the 7 Bridges website, but they appear to be sold out]

Yeast: Wyeast 3278 Belgian Lambic Blend + dregs from an organic berliner I did with Wyeast 3763 Roselare Blend and the dregs of a Boon Kriek + dregs of Cuvee de Castleton

OG:1.058 FG: ? (should get pretty low) IBU:~5 SRM:3.9

I tried to stick to as many of the traditional methods as I could, beginning with the mash schedule. I did not, technically, do a turbid mash, but I followed the suggestions for a shortcut from Frank Boon, via Ryan Brews. Here was the schedule:

  • Dough in @ 86 with 3 gallons of water.
  • Collect about 1.5 gallons wort and bring that to a boil.

  • Meanwhile, dough in again with another 3 gallons to get mash up to 113 ( I added 118 degree water, based on calculation from this site. Hit it spot on.) Rest 15 minutes.
  • Bring up to 122 and rest for another 15 minutes.
  • Add boiling wort back to mash to bring up to 149. Rest for 45 minutes.
  • Here, I’ve read you should bring the mash up to 158 for another 30 minutes. I actually ended up higher in the previous step  (154), so I just kept it at that temp for an hour.
  • Bring up to 168 for mashout (I actually might have skipped this)
  • Collect wort, then sparge with 4.5 gallons of 190 degree water.

I had outstanding efficiency (89%) and ended up with about 7.5 gallons of wort. Boiled for 30 minutes, added the hops, then boiled for another 75 minutes. Chilled to 65, transfered about 5 gallons to a glass carboy and pitched yeast.

It took about two days to show any signs of life, but once it got going a healthy fermentation has been going strong. It’s been fermenting between 66 and 68 for the past two weeks. A film called a pellicle should form soon,which will protect the beer from oxygen/mold as the brett eats through the rest of the dextrins and starches. I will probably bottle a few after a year and keep the rest going for the next two years to blend into a gueuze. Hoping to make the fall lambic an annual tradition.

Oatmeal Stout

Portsmouth Brewing Company is best known for its Russian Imperial Stout, Kate the Great. Last summer, I was fortunate enough to be en route to a camp site in Maine when Kate was on tap and was able to stop in for a few pints. No doubt, Kate is amazing, but perhaps overlooked is Portsmouth’s Oatmeal Stout. During the visit to the brewery it was on cask. Outstanding. I couldn’t put my finger on just what made it so unique, but I later found a clone recipe in BYO that gave me some insight. The recipe calls for a high temperature mash, Irish ale yeast and steel-cut oats (also known as Irish oatmeal). The steel-cut oats are added during the boil. This is a bit unusual, but makes sense given the hardness of the raw oats. A unique twist I needed to try at home.  I decided to do this one all organic to enter into the National Organic Brewing Challenge. I made one change to the original recipe. Although I do have organic Chinook hops (what the recipe calls for) growing in my garden, they were not ready on brewing day. In their place, I used last year’s Centennials from the garden. Also, I toasted the steel-cut oats in the oven for about 10 minutes to give them more flavor and aroma. Otherwise, the recipe was made as instructed.


11.00 lb Munton’s British Organic Pale Ale Barley Malt
1.00 lb Briess Organic Caramel 60 L Malt
1.00 lb Organic Flaked Oats
0.80 lb Briess Organic Roasted Barley
0.20 lb Briess Organic Chocolate Malt
0.20 lb Briess Organic Black Malt

.50 lb toasted Organic Steel-cut oats (45 mins left in boil)

Hops: 1.5 oz Centennial (~8.5% AA, 90 mins)

Yeast: Wyeast 1084 Irish ale yeast (1 quart starter made with Eden barley malt syrup)

Other: 1 teaspoon gypsum added to mash

OG: 1.054 FG: 1.015 IBU:44 SRM:33.2

[Note: I had pretty poor efficiency on this. Probably due to all of the dark malts and unmalted oats. Adjusting your water more than I have may help keep the ph where it needs to be and improve your efficiency.]

Mash the grains at 160 for 1 hour. Add hops and steel-cut oats (in a grain sack) to the boil at times indicated above. Cool to 65. Let it climb to 68 over the next day and keep at that temp until complete (about 2 weeks).

I think it came out very nice. Lots of roastyness, a pleasant fullness in the body from the oatmeal and a good amount of sweetness. More than one person who has tried it said it reminds them of a fuller-bodied Guinness. Makes sense – roasty Irish stout. Just hope it’s not going to take me out of the style. Judging was yesterday – I’ll report back soon.

Indonesian Rice Tamales & Asian Romaine Spring Rolls

Anytime I reach for The Millennium Cookbook I know it’s going to be a long day in the kitchen. For this reason, it has been one of the least used cookbooks in the collection Jaime and I have amassed over the years. With the last recipe I made coming out pretty good without too much trouble, I picked it up again. This time, the recipes I picked out were a bit more complicated. Jaime thought I was crazy to even attempt these, but suffered through the cooking with me and enjoyed the results.

For a starter, we tried to make Asian Romaine Spring Rolls with Sesame-Lime Dressing. We used mango instead of papaya  (just because it’s far better) and oranges in place of kumquats (not available). Also, we were in the kitchen for probably four hours before we remembered the lotus root garnish, so that was skipped. The results were not so much “rolls” as they appear in the picture in the book. It was more like a really delicious salad made into some sort of burrito. If you are going to make this recipe,  just make it into a salad and save yourself the trouble of even trying the rolls.

For the main course,  Indonesian Rice Tamales with Carrot-Lemongrass Sauce and Caramelized Pineapple Salsa. These were pretty much made as the recipe instructed. The “fermented” black beans we used were found in the Asian market. They were labeled as “5 Spice Black Beans,” despite having only 3 spices and no mention of being fermented. Not 100% sure they were the same thing, but they definitely had a fermented, miso-like taste and seemed to do the trick. If you can’t find them, you could probably use miso. The construction of the tamales was quite a bit of work:

Very tasty stuff. I was a little skeptical about the carrot sauce, but we followed through and it worked very well. Probably the best piece was the Caramelized Pineapple Salsa. DO NOT skip this. If you’re going through the trouble to make this meal, go all out.  Make the effort – you won’t regret it. The flavors were all over the place – earthy sweet carrots, slightly spicy and tropical favors coming from the salsa and wonderful toasty sesame-lime flavors in the tamales. So what to drink with this? Wandering through the the local beer store, Jaime spotted this. The lime blossoms and Belgian spices seemed a perfect match.  I think it was an awesome complement to the meal, but probably a little weird on its own. It has some of the traditional Belgian strong ale spicy, phenolic flavor that I am not a huge fan of, but it has a lighter body and a more complex fruity flavor than similar Belgian ales. Overall, I think this all came together incredibly well.

Quick and easy Hoppin’ John

Way back in the early days of my vegan life, I picked up a copy of a “vegan cooking zine” called Please Don’t Feed the Bears. I don’t recall where I got the first copy, but it was one of very few cookbooks I had at the time and I used it constantly.  With it, I basically learned to cook. I’ll never forget the time I tried to make falafel from it, not knowing a “clove” of garlic is different than a bulb of garlic. What a mess. Anyway, soon after getting the first issue I was at a conference at Penn State and ran into the author, Brad Misanthropic, who was selling the second issue of the zine. I told him how great I thought the first issue was, so he gave me a copy of the second. More than a decade later, I still go back to that zine – usually for one recipe, Hoppin’ John.

I’ve made a few minor modifications to the recipe, mainly subbing “tofu or seitan” with a vegan chorizo called “Soyrizo.”

I can usually find the soyrizo in the produce section of the local supermarket. For the beer, I used Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I wanted to make this recipe simple and SN pale is a great beer that nearly everyone has access to. One other change I made for this recipe was inspired by the Hoppin’ John recipe on the can of black-eyed peas I used. The recipe suggested adding mustard greens as a garnish, so I added a bunch for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Here is the recipe, using canned beans instead of dried for simplicity:

2 15.5 oz cans black-eyed peas, drained
1 c uncooked white rice
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped (I never add this, but its in the originial recipe)
1 package Soyrizo
2 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
2 c water
1 c beer of your choice
1 bunch of mustard greens, chopped

In a large sauce pan, saute the onions and green pepper (if using) in oil for 5 minutes. Add Soyrizo and saute for another 5 minutes or until onions are almost clear. Add rice and stir to coat. Add drained black-eyed peas, spices, water and beer. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Stir, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Add mustard greens and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove from the stove and let sit for 10 minutes. Keep in mind, this makes a lot.

I’ve made this recipe many times, but this is the first with SN pale and mustard greens. I think it added a nice bittersweet flavor and I would definitely use them again. The greens also gave it more texture, so it’s not just a pile of mushy starch and protein. The slight southern spice from the food was perfect for the citrusy hop flavors in the pale ale. If you want to spice it up more (and I suggest you do), throw in some of your favorite hot sauce  and/or some Dinosaur Cajun Foreplay.

I’ve also made this in the slow cooker, which made it even easier. Just be sure NOT to add the onions to the slow cooker. For some reason, they just don’t do well in there and create a horrible flavor that will be overwhelming. Saute the onion in a frying pan for a few minutes, then toss it in at the end. When I made it in the slow cooker, I used an Aventinus clone I brewed for the beer. It came out hearty and more stick-to-your-ribs, stew-like, with a peppery flavor. I brought it to a barley wine and imperial stout tasting in the winter, so it went nicely.

Overall, simple, relatively cheap and very tasty. Enjoy.

Smoked porter review

A few months back, I brewed up a smoked porter – based mostly on Stone’s smoked porter.  I liked the results quite a bit, so much so I got through the entire keg in about 2-3 weeks time. Before finishing it off, I bottled up a six pack to enter in competitions. I did have some hesitation, as JZ says in Brewing Classic Style’s (somewhat of a bible here on VeganBrew), “(t)he worst smoked beers I’ve ever tried were all made with smoke flavoring or peat-smoked malt. I recommend never using either, no matter how tempted you might be.” Well, I was very much tempted by the Stone smoked porter clone recipe that appeared in the Dec 08 issue of BYO. I decided to ignore these words of advice from a champion homebrewer, which, surprisingly, was wise. I entered the peat-smoked porter into the 13th annual Brewer’s East End Revival Brew-off and took first place in the smoked beer category. Now, that’s not to say peat-smoked malt will always work. In fact, one judge commented “Nice job with the smoke. Peated malt can be a killer & I think you did a nice job taming it.” So, my guess is, if using peated malt, use it in moderation. A lot of recipes call for pounds of smoked malt – I only included a quarter pound, which went a long way. Anyway, here is my take of the beer:

Aroma: Slight sweetness, with a coating of smoke. No hops or anything from the fermentation.One judge noted musty cellar smells that he associated with the peat.

Appearance:  Rich dark, yet clear, body, with coffee colored foam. Plenty of head that sticks around as a thin film on the edges of the glass.

Flavor: Smoke is there, but doesn’t hit you over the head. More chocolate and roast. Smoked beers are judged by the balance of smoke and the flavors of the underlying beer. I find this to be quite balanced, with a clear porter character being enhanced with some smokeyness. One judge mentions some acid tastes, but says not enough to offset the beer. The Mt. Hood hops give it an earthy flavor that suits the style well. There might be a touch too much sweetness, depending on what style (brown or robust) of porter this is meant to be. I think it’s intended to be a robust porter, but one judge assumed brown. I may have to explore this further next time, as it might have helped to have a clear impression of the base beer. By the way, I did end up adding .3 oz of bourbon soaked oak chips in the secondary for 2 weeks. I don’t notice any bourbon or oak flavors. If you want that to come through, probably need at least an ounce, or use wood cubes and age longer.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with a dry finish. Light carbonation, but enough to help bring out some of the more subtle malty flavors under the smoke. A light ashiness, but not burnt astringency.

Overall: I really enjoyed this beer. I may need to bring down the mash temp a touch to drop some of the sweetness on the next batch. However, it might be that sweetness that is helping balance the smoke. I dont know what age will do, but I plan to keep a few bottles around for another competition in the fall.

The Great Potoo

Back in February, my wife and I left the tundra of Albany and took a vacation in Costa Rica. For most of the trip, we stayed at Cashew Hill Jungle Cottages in the very veg-friendly town of Puerto Viejo. The food was excellent and plentiful. Wendy, one of the owners of Cashew Hill, is a long time vegan and at least one other guest was also vegan. Their advice helped us choose among the many food options in and around town. For better or for worse, most of C.R. does not have the infrastructure we in the U.S. are accustomed to. The novelty of roads and an electric grid has barely worn off for most of the natives, so don’t go expecting to stock your cabinets with 365 deals from Whole Foods Market. Nonetheless, in large part thanks to Wendy at Cashew Hill, you can find soy milk at the local grocery store in Puerto Viejo and locally made tofu and tempeh is available in town. Also, Veronica of Veronica’s Place, a small vegetarian café situated in Veronica’s car port, makes her own seitan.  Most of the meals out  involved Gallo Pinto, a traditional Tico rice and bean dish, and generous portions of fresh “exotic” (to us anyway) fruit. Since we were on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, several meals involved really tasty jerk sauce or coconut curry. The beer selection was dominated by Heineken and fizzy yellow beers made by Cerveceria. The best beer available was Bavaria Dark, a Munich Dunkel. Good enough to hold me over, but boring enough to make me appreciate the micro-brewed cerveza available back home.

Two things that keep Costa Rica’s economy running are coffee and chocolate. Unfortunately, the sad reality is most of the cash crops grown in Costa Rica are stripped out by enormous agribusinesses, leaving behind pollution and exploited impoverished communities. Fortunately, not everyone is trying to F things up for this beautiful place. There are a number of businesses and organizations working with local farmers to promote environmentally sensitive organic farming and sustainable, community-empowering trade policies. In Puerto Viejo, we had breakfast at a place called Mighty Rivers, one such organization trying to make a difference. Part of Mighty Rivers is a “Coffee Factory,” where fair trade organic coffee and cocoa is roasted and sold as Caribean organic coffee and chocolate. I picked up a pound of whole cocoa beans and a block of bakers chocolate.  Crucial ingredients for a homebrew recipe I had thought up while relaxing in the hammock in our cottage. The cocoa, along with some old Dean Beans Italian Espresso seemed like a nice touch to an organic Imperial Porter, which I named The Great Potoo after a crazy red-eyed bird local to C.R. From our cottage, we heard the eerie cries of the Potoo in the middle of the night and wondered what the hell was about to attack us. Evil.

So a few weeks back, Kevin came up to Albany and helped brew up the porter, along with my friend Reed. Here is the recipe I came up with, using all organic grains from Northern Brewer.

14.00 lb  2-Row Malt
2.00 lb  Munich Malt
1.50 lb Caramel 60L Malt
1.00 lb Organic Quick Oats (added to the recipe last minute – see below)
.50 lb Chocolate Malt

1 oz Chinook (08 crop from my garden) 90 min
.5 oz Organic German Saphir pellets (4% AA) 15 min

2 packs Safale US-04

2.5 oz bakers chocolate (15 mins)
3 oz Dean’s Beans coarsely ground espresso beans (flame out)

1.5 oz Cocoa beans (secondary)

I attempted to Mash at 154 with 4.3 gallons of water, but it was a bit lower – maybe 152. That quickly cooled down to around 150 before we could get boiling water into the mash to bring it back up. To add some body I lost with the lower mash temp, I added a pound of quick oats I had on hand. Mashed for about an hour, then sparged and collected about 7.75 gallons of wort. I hit the gravity I estimated I would end up with, based on the shitty efficiency I keep getting (65%, which is, sadly,  good for me).  Pre-boil gravity 1.059. After a 2.5 hour boil, I ended up with 5 gallons of 1.082 wort. I tried to melt the bakers chocolate with some hot wort, before adding it to the kettle. It did not melt completely, but I expected the rest to liquefy in the last 15 minutes of the boil. Turned out to be a huge mess, as most of the chocolate did not melt and just gunked up the kettle with a waxy chocolate coating.

Fermentation was a little warm, despite the room temperature being in the low 60s. It started at about 68 and climbed up to about 70 – 72 for a day or two before finally dropping down to 66 for the last few days of fermentation. When I transfered to secondary, my gravity was 1.012, which is about .10 points lower than expected. Way over attenuated, hot tasting, and thin boddied. Not sure how this will come out. The color is off too – almost brown ale color. I would normally add black patent, but NB did not have any organic. Maybe more chocoalate malt could have helped with that.

Anyway, I removed the skins from 1.5 oz of cocoa beans, crushed them into nibs with a coffee grinder and added to the secondary.

I’ll keep it on the cocoa nibs for about two weeks and see how it tastes. I may brew up another full-bodied robust porter to blend with this to cut out the boozyness and give it more body. Just not sure if I want 10 gallons of heavy porter going into the summer.

Hickory Smoked Seitan Steaks in a Porter-Bourbon Demi-glace

One day, I hope to come up with a way to extract the gluten left in spent grain and turn it into “steak.” A lot of breweries give their spent grain to farmers to feed cattle. Why not skip the middle man? For now, however, I use store bought vital wheat gluten and a kick-ass recipe Kevin developed using bits and pieces of other recipes floating around the interwebs. Last night, I made some seitan and served it in a slightly modified version of Tim Shafer’s Stout-and-Whiskey Laced Demi-glace that was featured in the July 2007 issue of Beer Advocate magazine. I made some roasted potatoes & garlic and sauted collard greens for sides and paired with Stone Smoked Porter.

I only made minor modifications to the sauce recipe, using Jim Beam bourbon instead of scotch and my uncarbonated smoked porter instead of Irish stout. Also, I switched out the Kosher salt with smoked salt and used Earth Balance instead of butter. Here is the recipe with these modifications:

1/2 TSP. olive oil
1 white onion, diced large
10 organic whole peppercorns
2 oz Jim Beam bourbon
4 oz smoked porter
2 cups brown stock (I used Organic Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base)
1/4 TSP. smoked salt
1 TSP herbs (I used dried rosemary, parsley and thyme)
1 TBSP. Earth Balance

In a sauce pan, heat the oil and add onions and peppercorns. Cook for 5 minutes over medium heat until the onions have become tender and golden in color. Remove the pan from the stove and add bourbon. Carefully return the pan to the flame – the ALCOHOL WILL IGNITE! (since I use electric, I had to light mine with a match) Stir in the beer and cook 4-5 minutes until half of the liquid has evaporated. Add the stock and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. There should be about 1o oz remaining. Finish by straining out the onion and peppercorn, then season with herbs (note: I also strained out the herbs after infusing the sauce for about 15 minutes). Whisk in Earth Balance and set aside.

The steaks:

Dry ingredients:

1 cup vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 TBSP. corn meal
1 TSP. onion powder
1/2 TSP. adobo

Wet ingredients:

1/4 cup rehydrated porcini mushrooms (I usually use shiitake mushroom stems, but didn’t have any on hand)
3/4 cup water
2 TBSP.  Wan Ja Shan oyster mushroom sauce
1 TBSP.  olive oil
1 TBSP. tahini
1/2 TSP. Dijon mustard
1/2 TSP. truffle oil (optional)
1/4 TSP. smoked salt (optional)

Mix together the dry ingredients. Blend the mushrooms into the liquid ingredients (I use a hand blender), then mix the liquid ingredients into the dry. Form a ball, then pull off pieces and flatten into rounds.

Normally, the seitan is baked for about 10 minutes in an oven at 350 degrees, flipped and basted, then returned to the oven for another 15 minutes or so. I wanted to give the steaks a smokey flavor, so I decided to cook the seitan in my smoker for the first 10 minutes, setting the grill to low heat.  I used about 1/2 cup of the demi-glace as the basting sauce and returned the steaks to the grill in a baking dish on low heat for another 15 minutes or so, until most of the liquid was gone and the steaks were firm.

For the sides, I sliced about about 6 medium sized organic red potatoes and about 6-8 cloves of garlic, placed them in an oiled baking dish with 1/2 cup of light stock, black pepper and a pinch of smoked salt. Baked at 350 for about an hour. I sauted the greens in olive oil with a little pepper.

Everything came out great. The bourbon and porter gave the sauce a sweet toasty flavor, wihtout the boozy character you might expect. The texture of the steaks was perfect. I feared they would come out too doughy, which has happened in past efforts to grill seitan. The mushrooms give the seitan an earthy flavor, which removes the grainy gluten taste you get in most seitan recipes. It has a smooth smokey flavor, but it’s not an overpowering bacon-like taste. My wife Jaime, who does not care for bourbon or smoked beer, found the sauce to be really tasty. In fact, she even had some smoked porter with the meal, as it  complimented the sweet smokey flavors of the food nicely. The only complaint we both had was it was a touch too salty. I probably could have left out some of the smoked salt and adobo and maybe reduced the amount of Better than Bouillion I used to make the broth. Overall, a great steak and potatoes meal.