11 Years of Stone Imperial Russian Stout & Vegan Feast

Stone IRS is like no other beer. In the opinion of VeganBrew, hands down, the best beer on the planet. I do not say this without due consideration of the “best beers of the world” from sites like BeerAdvocate.com and Ratebeer.com. A king’s ransom has been spent drinking through those lists and, more often than not, Stone IRS would have been preferred. It’s  uniquely flavorful and complex, yet balanced and incredibly drinkable…and the best part, it’s created by a vegan brewer: former Stone brewmaster Lee Chase.

Over the past few years, I’ve made it my mission to collect a bottle from each year’s release of Stone IRS. After a friend secured the last bottle I needed to complete the vertical (2001)  on ebay a few months back, I decided it was time to open a decade worth of this amazing beer. On October 2nd Kevin came up to Albany and the 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 bottles of Stone IRS were opened and enjoyed with friends.

The bottles were all opened at the same time and about 2 ounces of each year was poured into 11 cups labeled with the appropriate year. Unfortunately, we did not have enough glassware to use real glasses, so we had to use plastic cups. However, since all of the beers are pitch black, this didn’t change the experience much.

It was very interesting to see how the years (and storage) changed this beer. Without a doubt, the 2001 was the year favored by everyone. The chocolate and roastyness shined through and the bitterness was mellowed and complimented by the sherry notes and the sweetness of the beer.  I assume this bottle was also the beer that was handled the best. I’m fairly certain it was purchased at the Stone Winter Storm the year before, which means it was stored in absolute perfect aging conditions at the brewery most of its life. Anyway, it was fantastic, while the 2002 was terrible – seemed to be infected. The 2006 had some serious oxidation problems, which made it taste like a moldy basement. The others had a lot of the awesome flavors found in the 2001, just a bit more muted. Nonetheless, an epic tasting, which ended with a few other guest bottles (a growler of Ithaca Outdoor Harvest Ale, a bottle of Old Rasputin XII Kevin brought up, a bottle of Hair of the Dog Cherry Adam from the Wood and a bottle of Captain Lawrence Barrel Select). Also, we mixed in two bottles of the Stone IRS clone Kev and I brewed last year, which seemed to be enjoyed just as much as the original.

So, on to the food (after all, this is the Vegan Month of Food!!)…October 2nd also happens to be Mohandas Gandhi’s birthday, World Farm Animal Day and the start of Vegetarian Awareness Month. To commemorate the day and to make the omnivores who joined us more aware of the deliciousness of vegan food, Kev and I cooked up some good eats to pair with the decade (+1) o’ Imperial Stout. First, we made up some Gardein Beefless Tips in the porter-bourbon sauce from this recipe.

Next, made up the Apple and Squash Risotto recipe from Mac & Cheese, subbing the wine with Unibroue Ephemere (used for the last broth addition). All served up with a side of freshly harvested kale, sauteed in garlic and olive oil.

The food came out excellent, with many compliments from the non-vegans at the table. The meal provided a nice heartiness that helped us make it through the tasting fairly sober. The porter-bourbon sauce added a rich punch to the beefless tips and the Ephemere risotto was a very pleasant compliment of sweetness and stick-to-your-ribs starch.

Amazing beer, great food, good times. Maybe we’ll have to do something similar for a 12.12.12 Vertical Epic tasting?

Just Tomatoes Bacon Bits

Here we are: our first entry as first-timers in Vegan MoFo and personally my first post in a long while (Brett is the far better brewer and food-creator.)

This weekend I was making some vegan beer chili (we’ll cover this later in the week) and wanted to add a little something to punch up the flavor. Lots of chili recipes tend to include bacon, and I had no suitable bacon replacements in the house. Scanning my shelf o’ goodies, I spotted a small tub of Organic Just Tomatoes Bits that I have not used in a while. If you are not familiar with their products – they essentially have a whole line of tubs full of dried fruits & vegetables. You can find them at pretty much any co-op or natural foods store.  I figured I’d experiment to see how they’d turn out if I bacon-bit-ized a scoop full of them to add to the chili.

Just Tomatoes Bacon Bits

  • 1/2 C Just Tomatoes Bits
  • 1 tsp high quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbs liquid smoke
  • 1 tsp tamari

Smoked Tomato "Bacon" Bits in the Pan (Start)

Simple instructions: Add the olive oil to a pan over medium heat; Add Just Tomatoes Bits so they are coated well in the oil (lots of stirring); Add the liquid smoke and tamari almost immediately. The key is to keep an eye on it and stir often. They can easily burn if you get lazy (obviously I learned that lesson the hard way.)  It only takes a few minutes (5 for me; will vary depending on your cookware & stovetop.)  I was looking to brown the bits – but not make crispy.

Smoked Tomato "Bacon" Bits in the Pan (End)

Add some more oil if you desire – I think it can only help give it a bit of “greasiness.”

Smoked Tomato "Bacon" Bits After & Before
After on Left; Before on Right

I thought these turned out pretty awesome. They ended up giving the chili an extra oomph I was looking for, though I wish I had made & added more to that.  I can see other uses in the future too – these would be perfect as a topping on some Sunday brunch tofu scramble as an alternative to the tempeh bacon we’re all too often accustomed to.

Organic Wet Hop IPA

The warm, sunny days we had in the Northeast this summer resulted in very happy hop plants. I’ve picked several pounds of crystal, centennial and chinook hops from the plants in my community garden and have a fair amount of nugget waiting to be picked.  Without a doubt the best year yet, both in terms of quantity and quality. Now the challenge will be using them up!

Before I picked and dried the hops, I decided I would  make another attempt at a wet hop/fresh hop beer with the freshly picked chinooks and crystals. Commercial examples of wet hop beers have been popping up over the years, but since they can only be brewed this time of year and take a significant amount of hops that have to be used very quickly, it’s not too often that you will find one on tap at your local pub. Like most things related to hops (and craft beer in general), Sierra Nevada is the originator of the style. Without a doubt, the best I’ve had is the Estate Ale – made with organically grown hops and barley grown at the brewery. Taking a few tips from an interview with Brewmaster Steve Dresler on the Brewing Network – including the 5 to 1 ratio of wet to dry hops – I came up with the following recipe. I only used the wet hops, picked about an hour before brewing, for the late additions in the kettle. I stuffed them into cheesecloth sacks and used some stainless steel washers to weigh them down (like this), which is quite the challenge with so many whole leaf hops. Also, I realize I used a fairly dark crystal malt (120L), which is unusual for an IPA. It was the only organic crystal malt I had on hand. I used just a touch for coloring, which I think worked out fine.

5 gallon extract batch with specialty grains:

OG: 1.055 FG: 1.017 SRM: 6.2 IBU: (roughly 50??)

6 lbs. Briess organic DME
.22 lbs. organic crystal 120L
.60 lbs. organic cane sugar

1 oz dried organic whole leaf Centennial (~8.5% AA) at 60 mins.
12.5 oz wet/fresh organic whole leaf Chinook (~10.5% AA) at 15 mins.
6.25 oz wet/fresh organic whole leaf Chinook (~10.5% AA) at 0 mins.
3 oz  wet/fresh organic whole leaf Crystal (~3.5% AA) at 0 mins.
1 oz dried organic Chinook (~10.5% AA) dry hop
1 oz dried organic Crystal (~3.5% AA) dry hop

Fermentis US-05 Cali Ale

Place the crystal malt in a grain sack and steep in 6.5 gallons of 150 degree water for approximately 20 minutes. Bring the water up to 170, remove the grains, then bring water to a boil. Turn off the heat, add the DME and sugar, then return to heat. When wort reaches a boil, begin adding hops as indicated above. When the boil is complete, transfer 5 gallons to the fermenter and chill to 65 , pitch yeast, ferment at 68 for about one week. At this point I added half of the dry hops for a week, filtered, then added the other half of the dry hops to the keg after it carbonated. Alternatively, you can just add all of the dry hops and condition for another week or two.

I think this was about as fresh as it comes. Bursting with “chewy” (like biting into a hop cone, without the bitterness) wet hop flavor and aroma. I feel it was in large part due to the chinooks, which were dripping with oil when they came off of the vine. Chinooks are rarely considered for more than bittering in recipe formulation and I think that is a mistake, especially when you want a fresh, citrusy flavor and aroma. They pack quite a punch and the crystals give the beer a subtle, yet very nice earthy/floral touch. I was very happy with the results and received a lot of positive feedback from friends; however, it did not place in the National Organic Brewing Challenge. Still waiting for the score sheets – I’ll update with judge comments when I get them. Regardless, I loved the beer and kicked the keg in just a few days (sharing with friends, of course). Can’t wait to brew again next year.

Update: Scored a 31 in the Organic Brewing Challenge. Not too bad I guess, considering the third place winner for the category (Specialty Beer, Category 23) scored a 34. The judges comments were generally favorable, with the only flaw being that it wasn’t bitter enough for an IPA. I would definitely agree with that. Nowadays, I tend to brew hoppy beers with the focus being more on the flavor and aroma hops than on the bittering hops. Also, in the case of homegrown hops, it’s difficult to get the IBUs down during the recipe formulation. Anyway, one judge mentioned that if the beer were entered as an American Pale Ale, it would have done far better. I’ll give it a shot as an APA in the Knickerbocker Battle of the Brews.

Harvest Ale Beer Brats

Inspired by the amazing Tofurky Beer Brats, I have been on a quest to create a good homemade brat using Isa’s method for making sausages. It took a few attempts to get the spices right, but I think the recipe that follows is pretty solid. I’ve even had a few meat eaters tell me the brats are tasty. Previous attempts were  over spiced (particularly with caraway) or too fluffy from over carbonated beer. It’s best to use small amounts of the stronger spices and flat or lightly carbonated beer. Also, in the process I learned fat is key. Although I don’t have any desire to replicate meat grossness, a meat analogue recipe without lots of fat  would be like a cake recipe without sugar. What’s the point? Don’t be afraid of the oil and Earth Balance. I actually think this recipe could be improved with a little more of each.

It’s hop harvest time, so I went with a beer brewed with wet hops – fresh from the vine, no drying, right into the kettle. There are several good wet hopped beers out there, but I went with one I find to be exceptionally tasty, Southern Tier Harvest. As a wet-hopped ESB the “grassy” freshness of the hops are front and center, without the harsher bitterness of an IPA. This works well when cooking with beer.  More about wet hop beers soon, as I have one of my own fermenting right now.

It’s worth noting, I’ve also found German weizen beers (e.g., Pinkus Hefeweizen) and hoppy beers that aren’t very bitter  (e.g., Troegs Pale Ale) work well.  Just be sure to let the beer sit out for a while to flatten. Anyway, onto the recipe.


1/2 cup cooked brown/green lentils
1 cup wet hop beer, flat (optional: reserve a few ounces of the bottle to braise greens)
3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (or tamari)
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
2 tablespoon melted Earth Balance

Blend the lentils, beer, oil, Bragg’s, liquid smoke and spices together until the lentils are near liquefied. In a separate bowl, mix together the gluten and the nutritional yeast. Mix the wet and the dry ingredients together to form a firm ball. Tear into 6 even pieces, mold into about 4″ long sausages and wrap each in aluminum foil, tightly twisting the ends. Steam for 40 minutes. When the sausages have finished steaming, unwrap and coat in the melted Earth Balance, then grill for a few minutes on each side.

I served this batch with some kale harvested from our garden (braised with a few ounces of the beer) and some grilled corn from our CSA. Also, poured a Dijon mustard-nutritional yeast sauce over the brats (B-12 Tamari Dijon sauce from the Candle Cafe cookbook). Everything paired wonderfully with the beer. Hearty, yet full of flavor from the recently-harvested ingredients. It was Labor Day when I made this meal and it felt appropriate for the unofficial end of summer.


I was lucky enough to get an early start with the now coveted Citra hop. Immediately after Sierra Nevada released the details of its Torpedo Ale, I began a search to find a hop supplier that had any Citras that weren’t sent over to Sierra Nevada. Late in the season, I was able to find some of the 2008 crop through Hops2U. I thought the anticipated tropical flavors would work well in a refreshing summer wheat. Additionally, this clean, light-bodied style of beer lends itself nicely to hop experimentation, as it allows the hop character to shine through.  I brewed up a 5 gallon batch of all-Citra wheat, which went incredibly well…up until the final step. During the force-carbonation of the beer in the keezer, one of the quick releases was loose on the keg post. Sadly, by the time I had realized this, the entire batch had emptied into the bottom of my freezer. Smelled like heaven, tasted great, but all went down the drain.

Soon after losing my first beer brewed with Citra, I did make another – a session pale that also had a nice amount of Simcoe in it (recipe here). That came out great, but I couldn’t quite tease out the Citra. With the recent flood of Citra hops in the homebrew market, I decided to re-brew the wheat to see what this hop is all about. I had already invested a full day of my time in the previous all-grain batch, so I went with extract on the second attempt to save some time. Here is the recipe:

5 gallon batch, OG 1.047, FG 1.014, IBU 24,  SRM 5.3

7 lbs Northern Brewer Wheat LME

.25 oz Citra (11.1% AA) at 60 mins.
.75 oz Citra (11.1% AA) at 10 mins.
1.0 oz Citra (11.1% AA) Dry Hopped

White Labs WLP320 – American Hefeweizen Yeast

Ferment at 65. At the end of primary fermentation, add dry hops. Let it sit on the hops for 5 -7 days, then bottle or keg.

Very simple recipe. Only two ounces of hops, but they packed quite a punch. I feel the flavor is like Amarillo on steroids. Fruity, but not as citrusy as the big “C hops.” Definitely more tropical. Huge aroma, also bursting with a fruityness that matches the flavor. I wouldn’t say passion fruit though, which is what some describe it as. I think more papaya, guava, star fruit, etc. It definitely produces the type of beer you can smell from three feet away.  Even my cat Miso couldn’t resist!

I also filtered this one, which had a big impact on the appearance and flavor. The American Hefe yeast left a lot of yeast in suspension, which I felt dulled the hop flavor. After removing the yeast, the hop flavor was noticeably sharper. Other than that, I don’t feel the yeast added anything significant to the beer. I think it’s safe to say you would have as good or better results with something like Safale US 05 or one of the liquid Cali ale yeasts.

It was a lot of trouble getting to this point, but worth the repeated effort. Overall, this beer is delicious, though, by design, very uni-dimensional. I think the pale ale I brewed with Citra AND Simcoe had a lot more going for it. They complement each other well, much in the same way Amarillo and Simcoe work together. The hop is, without a doubt, a very powerful aroma hop; however, I would advise against something over-the-top, as I think you might end up with fruit punch. More is not always better. Anyway, it’s an exciting new hop. Get out and try it, if you haven’t already.

Beer ‘Cheese’ Soup with Smokey ‘Sausage’

OK, in a previous post, I said how pleasant it is it to eat and drink seasonally. Well, I guess when the highly-praised, revolutionary Daiya vegan cheese FINALLY makes it to Albany, I throw that philosophy out the window.

I have no idea what its origins are, but, ever since I heard a local beeradvocate friend mention making beer-cheese soup with leftover beer from tastings, I’ve wanted to give it a shot. Although it’s about four months too late for a hefty soup like this, the Daiya cheddar called out to me.  So, after doing some research on the web, I’ve come up with the following veganized recipe, which you should try making when it’s depressingly cold outside. It brings you happiness like only fat and beer can.

1/2 cup earth balance
1 medium white onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups vegetable broth
12 oz. beer (I used Troegs Pale Ale. I highly recommend it, or another pale ale with a lot of hop flavor/aroma and low bitterness)
1 8oz package Daiya vegan cheddar
1 cup cashew cream
1 cup almond milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
1 batch of Isa’s chorizo sausage sliced into 1/2″ rounds and sauted until brown, or 1 package Soyrizo smokey sausage.

Heat a stockpot over medium heat and add the earth balance. Add chopped onion, carrot, and celery and saute until softened (about 10 minutes). Add flour and mix into onion, carrots and celery. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the broth and beer. Heat until it comes to a boil, then add  the Daiya while stirring. Just as it’s coming to a boil again, add cashew cream, almond milk, salt, dry mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Reduce heat to low and cook until thickened. Add sausage to the soup and let it cook another 5 minutes.

To make eating hot soup on a warm, late-spring night more comfortable, I washed it down with a cold Victory Prima Pils outside on the deck. The soup was savory decadence. Extremely rich and creamy, with an unbelievable cheesy flavor. Also noteworthy was how much the beer really came through. The citrusy hop flavor and aroma detectable through the dense cheesy, smokey flavors truly showcases the wonderful product Troegs gets with the use of their hopback. Excellent pairing of outstanding beer and amazing vegan cheese.

Smoked Porter Mole over Grilled Seitan & Rice

This recipe involves roughly 2 million steps, which is why it has taken me so long to write it up. Making mole is, however, known to be a long, arduous process, so if you ever give it a shot – this recipe or another – plan ahead! Read through this entire recipe. Think about how you might be able to spread this out over a few days and how you can multitask when preparing the mole.

Before getting into the recipe, there are a few things you will need.

First the beer. I used homebrewed smoked porter for this recipe. A simple substitution would be a commercially brewed smoked porter, such as Stone Smoked Porter or, if you’re lucky enough to have it near you, Alaskan Smoked Porter or Captain Lawrence Smoked Porter. I used an extract batch I did, similar to my last effort. In place of the base malt, I used two 3.15lb cans of light liquid malt extract, upped the chocolate malt (1 lb chocolate wheat malt and .75 chocolate barley malt) changed up the hops (nugget for bittering and German traditional for flavor) and added 1/2lb. maltodextrin to get the residual sweetness I would have gotten from a higher mash temp.

The seitan: Make a batch of chickeny seitan sausage, and cut each “sausage” into about 1/4″ slices. Marinate these slices overnight in the awesome Veggie Works Mexican Sauce recipe that follows, then grill them up on a grill topper.

With permission from Mark Rasmussen, author of the Vegggie Works cookbook and chef at the now-closed Veggie Works restaurant in Belmar, NJ , here is the Mexican Sauce recipe:

1 c vegetable broth
1 T onion powder
1 t garlic powder
1 T chili powder
1/2 t cumin
2 T veg oil

Mix together in a saucepan and boil for about 5 minutes. If you are using this as a sauce, thicken by adding a cornstarch slurry (1 T cornstarch in 1/4 c of water) and simmer for a few more minutes. I skip the thickening part for marinade. Like every Veggie Works recipe, this is very easy to make and super delicious. I highly recommend the cookbook and check out Mark’s new company, VeggieBrothers

Now onto the mole. It’s largely based off of a veganized recipe I got from a Rick Bayless cookbook, which can be found here. I halved the original recipe and made several modifications, based on what I had on hand. I also wanted to use Organic Peruvian Aji Amarillos, which have a very interesting spicy raspberry flavor. I thought these would complement the chocolate in the mole very well.

From the long list of ingredients below, you will essentially be making four sauces, which are blended together and boiled into a paste.

5 dried organic aji amarillo
1 dried organic aji limo rojo (sub with habanero)
2 large poblano peppers
2 canned chipotle peppers
1/2 torn corn tortilla
2 unpeeled garlic cloves
1 c vegetable oil
1/4 c walnuts
1/4 c almonds
1/8 c black sesame seeds
1/8 c chia seeds (or sub with more sesame seeds)
1 14 oz can tomatoes rinsed (or 1/2 lb fresh green tomatoes)
2-3 chopped medium tomatillos
1 slice dark toasted bread (I actually used the equivalent in onion & garlic flavored organic croutons)
1/8 t ground cloves
1/4 t ground black pepper
1/4 t cinnamon
1 /2 t oregano
1/2 t dried thyme
1/4 ripe banana
3 c vegetable broth
1 1/2 c smoked porter
1/2 c chopped Mexican chocolate (I used chocolate brought back from a trip to Costa Rica)
1 T salt
1-2 T agave nectar or sugar (optional)
Cooked rice (may want to get this started in a rice cooker before starting on the mole)

1. Pull and discard stems from dried chiles and poblanos, separate the seeds from the chiles. Wearing gloves recommended.

2. Roast the poblanos directly over a gas flame, turning often, until the skins have blackened on all side, about 5 minutes (you can also roast on a baking sheet 4 inches below a broiler for about 10 minutes). Place in a bowl, cover with a kitchen towel and, when cool enough to handle, rub off the blackened skin. Set aside.

3. In an ungreased skillet, add the torn tortilla to the amarillo, limo rojo and poblano pepper seeds and burn to a charcoal black, about 15 minutes on medium heat. According to Bayless, this is a crucial step that has a significant impact on your mole’s flavor.  Rinse the seed/tortilla mix in a fine mesh strainer for 30 seconds, then transfer to a blender. When ready, the mix smells like spicy coffee. Very interesting.

4. Lay the onion and garlic on a piece of aluminum foil in an ungreased skillet, roast until soft and dark (around 15 minutes) then peel the garlic.

5. Return the skillet to medium heat, add 1 cup of oil, then fry the chiles until toasted (crisp but not burnt). Be sure to turn your vent on, open any windows, etc. This makes a dangerous puff of spicy smoke.

6. Drain the chiles, them rehydrate them in a large bowl for 30 minutes. Reserve the liquid and the oil, which you will use later.

7. Spread the sesame seeds, chia seeds and nuts onto a baking sheet and roast in the oven at 350 degrees until dark brown (about 20 minutes). You may want to do the seeds on a separate sheet, as they will roast faster and may need to come out of the oven sooner.

8. Add the nuts and seeds to the blender with the chile seeds and 3/4 cup of broth, puree, then transfer to a bowl. Sauce 1 out of the way.

9. Without rinsing the blender, add the tomatoes and tomatillos plus 1/4 c broth and puree, then transfer to a bowl. Sauce 2, done.

10. Without rinsing the blender, add the onion, garlic, bread (or croutons), spices, banana, and 1/2 cup of broth, puree, then transfer to a bowl. Sauce 3, done.

11. Without rinsing the blender, add the amarillo, limo rojo, poblano and chipotle chiles with 1/4 cup of the soaking liquid, puree, then transfer to a bowl.

12. In a large pot, heat 2 T of reserved frying oil in medium high heat. Add tomato puree and stir/scrape until reduced and dark.

13. Add the nut puree and stir/scrape until reduced and dark.

14. Add the banana puree and stir/scrape until dark.

15. Add the chile puree and reduce over medium low heat until thick and black, about 20 minutes.

16. Stir in 1 1/2 cups of broth and add the chocolate. Partially cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.

17. Stir in smoked porter and simmer for another 15 minutes.

18. Season with salt and sugar, then puree with an immersion blender or in batches in a standard blender.

Place the seitan on a bed or rice and pour a generous helping of mole sauce over this. Finally, enjoy this work-intensive meal with a side salad (lettuce, tomatoes, tomatillos, avacado, etc) and a glass of smoked porter. The flavors are incredible – nutty, spicy, coffee, chocolate, smokey, hints of pumpkin pie… I was surprised not to get much of the raspberry flavor from the amarillo chiles, but with so much going on it’s difficult to make any one flavor come out.  Overall, it’s an experience worth the effort!

Jets de Houblon (aka “hop asparagus”) and mushrooms over gnocchi

Spring has come early this year and my hops have noticed. I have four hop plants going strong in our community garden plot. The Chinook and Centennials are going into their fourth year and it’s the third year for the Crystal and Nugget hops.

I am especially excited to see the hops coming up early, as I have been looking forward to cooking up some hop shoots. After learning that hop shoots are eaten as a Belgian/French delicacy (known as Jets de Houblon), I wanted to try to use them in the veganyumyum recipe for pan-friend gnocchi with morels and fiddleheads. It’s a recipe I’ve made a few times and love, though in the off-season I have to substitute the fiddleheads with asparagus (and I’ve never made it with the morels, unfortunately.) The hop shoots are a prefect early-spring substitute for the fiddleheads and the recipe provided me with an excuse to cut back the hops while I get the trellis set up.

I followed the recipe as it is on veganyumyum, with a few additions/substitutions. I added some garlic and organic kalamata olives and gave it a splash of about 2tsps of  white truffle oil at the end. Also, I subbed the morels with a mix of organic shiitake, shimeji, abalone and “field” mushrooms (10 oz frozen bag from Wildwood Farms.) Finally, I used about 20 6″ hop shoots in place of the fiddleheads. I prepared the hop shoots in a separate pan, blanching them in about 1/4 cup of Biere de Mars for about 5 minutes.

When the hop shoots were softened, I set them over the other ingredients in a bowl. I also pan-fried some asparagus to mix with the remaining gnocchi. It turned out to be a very tasty meal. Though I don’t think the hop shoots had a tremendous impact on the flavors, they did add an interesting touch – a mix of asparagus and the “wild” flavors and crunchy texture of fiddleheads.  They had a slight bitterness (probably offset some with the sweetness of the beer), yet overall their flavor was somewhat subtle. Each ingredient added an interesting dimension and came together as a nicely balanced, highly enjoyable dish.

It was a perfect meal for a beautiful spring evening. It was enjoyed outside, paired with a very nice brett-infused saison from The Bruery, Saison Rue.  The “wild” flavors of the funky farmhouse ale went incredibly well with the food and the 80 degree weather. Indeed, a delicious start to spring.

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.