Monday, November 29, 2010

Turkey and Beer Hoedown

Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends, but when you don't have the money or time to travel back to family, sometimes you just have to have a "Friendsgiving". Clarissa and I spent the day with some good friends, and I will brag a little bit by saying we cooked up a spectacular meal together. Clarissa and I covered the turkey, gravy, and dressing, and our friends helped with side dishes and dessert.
The latest Beeradvocate Magazine had an recipe by Sean Paxton on beer-brined turkey with Moroccan spices. I took this as a jumping-off point for my own cooking, but I left out the Moroccan spices, concentrating on traditional Thanksgiving savory herbs. I also changed out the beer. Instead of throwing down $12 on 3 bottles of Ninkasi Believer Double Red Ale (which I would rather drink than soak a turkey in), I used some good but not exceptional homebrew. I used my Alt, which is less robust than the Ninkasi, so I used a little more of it. What I did use was Paxton's basic brine proportions, which are the most important part.

Here's what I came up with:

3/4 gallon water
1 cup pickling salt (cuz we were out of kosher)
3/4 cup sugar
bay leaves
black pepper corns
1 chopped onion
3 stalks chopped celery
6 smashed garlic cloves
- Simmer all that stuff together for 10 minutes, then cool it to refrigerator temp.
- Add 3/4 gallon beer, in this case Alt.
- Remove the innards from a 17-pound turkey, rinse, and dunk it in the brine, keeping it at fridge temp for 2 full days.
** You could probably scale the brine down and use less, if you soak the turkey in a plastic bag.
- Day of: Remove turkey, drain and pat dry inside and out. Bring to room temp over a couple hours, then roast in a 350 degree oven to 160 degrees internal temp. Roast it on a rack, or some sticks of celery if you don't have one, to keep it off the juices. This took a little under 3 hours.
- Remove from oven, rest under tin foil, while making the dressing and gravy (vague recipe provided below by Clarissa's mom is their family recipe). Carve, dowse in gravy, and eat the moistest, best-seasoned turkey you've ever eaten.

Recipes provided by Ann Hitchon:

Mama Lowe's Cornbread Dressing
1 cup celery
1 cup onion Slighty boiled ( I have also added more than this never less)
2 or 3 eggs
1/2 Turkey drippings (save the other half for gravy)
sage or poultry seasoning
salt and Watkins pepper to taste
milk to moisten
dry bread crumbs (left over bread of almost any kind--toasted)
pan of cornbread
Mix together and place in a greased pan
Bake at 400 till done (golden brown and firm to the touch in the middle)
Mother ALWAYS used a large cast iron skillet, but I have never been that brave.

Giblet Gravy

cook all giblets in enough water to cover DO NOT DRAIN
2 or 3 boiled eggs sliced
thickening/ flour or starch
drippings from turkey
salt and Watkins pepper to taste
Cook the giblets and leave them in the water. When cool enough to touch, slice all giblets and clean all you can off the neck too.
Return them to the water and add sliced eggs
Return to a boil and add drippings and then starch and/or flour
All this together with some from-scratch creamed corn, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beens, and a zucchini dish made for an awesome feast.

As for the turkey, here is my opinion on the brining process: It produced by far, the best turkey I have ever had a part in. It was juicy, perfectly done, and perfectly seasoned. Even the leftovers stayed moist for days. No one was actually able to taste any beer flavors in the turkey. Since I have never done any other brines, I can't say if I think the beer contributed anything that a regular brine wouldn't have, but it was damn good. I guess this is one of my issues with cooking with beer. A lot of times I am skeptical about the actual flavor contribution of the beer. Certainly it can add flavor in certain applications, but would this turkey have been just as good with a regular-old brine?

Well, in any case, it was a great opportunity to pair a food with the beer it was made from, since I also brought a growler of the Alt to drink. However, the best beers to drink with dinner were the saison and the rye-amarillo pale ale I made recently, which reminds me I need to put up some tastings on the blog soon about those beers.

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, and if you had a chance to cook with beer, or found a great beer and food pairing, please feel free to share in the comments!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

E-Z Lambic

I brewed up my first ever batch of lambic yesterday, unless you are one of those people who doesn't consider it a real "Lambeek" unless you do a turbid mash and live in the Sienne valley, in which case I guess I did a pLambic. Close enough for me, all I know is I'm not going to spend my day off from brewing by brewing an even more time-consuming homebrew. I kept this as simple as I could! Not sure what my future plans will be for this beer, other than I want to bottle-condition it straight or blended, but not with fruit, and that I would like to pitch in some commercial dregs later on down the line.

It was a fun brewday, Ryan and a friend came over to check it out and keep me company. We had some great sour ale on tap (the kriek) and also the Rye pale ale, which is a good, very drinkable beer, but it doesn't have the flavor impact I would like (need to add a bunch more hops).

I don't see why it would be necessary to even do a protein rest when brewing a lambic this way. I didn't, because the pilsner malt has plenty of diastatic power to convert the wheat flakes. Any cloudyness or starchyess is going to be taken care of by the bugs in the next year or so.

E-Z Lambic
Recipe is for 7 gallons pre-boil, 5.8 gallons post-boil, all grain
O.G. 1.058 F.G. ABV IBU's ???-low.

6.5 lb. Weremann pils
5 lb. flaked wheat
.5 lb. rice hulls

72 gr. homegrown Cascade hops (aged 2 years at room temp in a paper bag) 90 minutes

Mash: 4 gallons + 3 gr. CaCl + 1 gr. Gypsum
158 for 1 hour, fell to 154
Sparge 5.25 gallons, same water additions as mash
83% efficiency
Boil 90 minutes

chill to 60, aerate by shaking and pitch:

1 pack Wyeast Lambic blend
1 pack Scottish ale yeast
(Thanks Owen who works for Wyeast for the yeast packs! Both these packs were 3 months old by the time I pitched them which is why I used a clean ale yeast too.)

Primary ferment at 68ish

12/14/10 Racked to secondary (corny keg). 1.019. Already developing some sourness and wonderful funk/barnyard/goat sweat character.

See? E-Z brewday. Just what you want for a beer where all the important stuff happens during the year-plus fermentation.

Any suggestions from lambic brewers for commercial dregs to throw in? My obvious choices would be Drie Fonteinen & Cantillon. Others?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lager season opens! Golden Dortmunder-ish lager

What would these guys drink? Probably not what I just brewed yesterday. It is probably too "heavy", and you might not be able to read a newspaper through it. Never the less, lager season is officially open at Chez Wonton and I felt a hunting image would do it the most justice.

Fredo! Wait, I mean, Stan, you are so melancholy and tragic, I want to dedicate a beer to you. Here it goes: A maltier than usual Dortmunder-ish beer, or whatever. A style free lager that is golden and bready, but balanced with a bitter bite. Let's forget style for a minute, brew a beer, and see how it comes out.

Check it out. I made an insulating jacket for my stainless mash tun, so I can keep it warm outside without constantly reheating it. Maybe a little overkill, but I set it on a heating blanket after I mashed in and it only lost 1-2 degrees over 60 minutes. I'll take that. This is made out of 3 layers of Reflectix and heat resistant tape, and yes, it was more labor than I thought it would be, but it's done! And seemingly working very well.

I wanted to get the Ayinger lager strain for this one (Whitelabs WLP830), but it would have taken 3 weeks just to get through the homebrew store. (Ayinger Oktoberfest-Marzen is probably in my top 10 favorite beers. I just can't get over that soft, bready and wonderful melanoidin character.) I didn't want to wait, so I went with the Wyeast 2124 Bohemian lager strain. I used the same yeast last year and had some sulfur or DMS issues in the first 2 beers. This yeast seems to kick off a butt-load of sulfur, so I will be monitoring that more closely and making sure it has plenty of time to off-gas and ferment out before capping it. I am also chilling the beers more rapidly to prevent DMS formation after the boil

Here's the recipe. Water is adjusted to emphasize the malts, hopefully giving it a softer overall profile. The bittering hops were 2008 Magnum, which were sealed in mylar. I adjusted the AA% down from 13.6% to 11.5% for age, but in reality this beer might taste like more IBU's than the recipe calculates. I'm still not sure if it is ever really necessary to adjust AA% down for time, if the hops are treated right.

Cazale Lager - Brewed 11/3/10
Recipe is for 6.9 gallons pre-boil, 5.3 gallons post-boil, all grain
O.G. 1.052 F.G. 1.013 ABV 5.2% IBU's 28

All malt is from Weyermann:
4.5 lb. Pils
4 lb. Munich
1 lb. Carahell

10 gr. Magnum pellets (2008, adjusted down to 11.5%) 65 min
28 gr. Sterling whole 7.9% 15 min

Mash: 4 gallons + 3 gr. CaCl + 1 gr. Gypsum
151 for 60 minutes
Sparge: 5 gallons + 3 gr. CaCl + 1 gr. Gypsum
Collect 6.9 gallons at 1.040 = 77% efficiency

Boil 90 minutes
Wyeast nutrient & Whirlfloc at 15 min
Chill to 59 through heat exchanger
oxygen 90 seconds
Pitch 3 liter stirplate starter of Wyeast 2124 (decanted)
chilled to 50 over 12 hours
Ferment at 50 for primary
Seemed to be nearly done after only 7 days!
11/10/10 Moved inside for a D-rest at ambient temp.
11/15/10 Racked to secondary to collect yeast. VERY bready! A good deal of yeast in suspension adds to the breadyness. Some sulfur and acetaldehyde still there. Maybe a week more before I keg and crash it.
12/14/10 Racked to keg. Tastes pretty good so far. Clean lager.

Soon up, a really smokey Rauchbier al la Schlenkerla

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tasting objectively: Harder than it might seem at times

Wow, I had a bit of a humbling, but very interesting experience today that I want to share. I was out in the garage, brewing my first lager of the season. I pulled a couple of tasters of some beers I have on tap: The Rye-Amarillo pale ale, and the Wontonamo Bay IPA. I was planning on doing a tasting of the IPA for the blog, which in a way this will be.

There has been a flavor to the IPA that a couple of my beer geek friends have noticed, but no one put their finger on until now, including me. It is an annoying flavor, and it's probably the reason I haven't posted a taste evaluation of it yet. I don't really like it, to be quite honest.

So this flavor was there, that my 2 beer geek friends and myself have been picking up, was being described by all of us as an overly sweet or caramelly. Even though the beer was heavily hopped, low on the crystal malt, and well attenuated to 1.012. So where was that sweet flavor coming from? I was chalking it up as an unknown, possibly a combination slight alcohol sweetness (it was fairly high in alcohol, at 7.3%), and possibly some esters (I had let the temp rise towards the end to about 72).

It took me trying it next to another hoppy beer to figure it out, and then it hit me over the head like an oversized wooden mallet. Diacetyl! Big time. Why did I not pick this out before? I know what diacetyl tastes like (artificial butter, basically), but I was not picking it out in my own beer. I have been able to pick it out in other commercial IPA's, so why not mine? Possibly, at least a little bit, because it was being overpowered to a degree by the heavy dose of hops. Possibly because I was dealing with a new hop (Citra), and I thought it might be coming from there. But more likely, most importantly, was that I have never really had a problem with diacetyl. I consider myself a pretty skilled brewer, so it never really crossed my mind! Cali ale yeast is usually a clean, hardy yeast that is not known for diacetyl production. It's not something I have had a problem with in the past. Yet, there it was, clear as day once I finally recognized it. Doubtless someone else could have picked out the problem on the first sip, which is what brings me to the important point: Sometimes the brewer is just too close to the beer to realize what is wrong with it.

It's a tough lesson. No brewer is ever good enough not to, sometimes, make a rookie mistake. I think the problem with my beer was just not pitching quite enough yeast (only a 1 quart stirplate starter) for the high gravity/ alcohol level, and not letting it finish out a little longer, which probably would have cleaned it up eventually. Also, the alcohol is just a bit too noticable, which again points to not pitching enough yeast.

I have always tried to give my beers an honest and clear evaluation. If anything, I think I err on the side of being too critical. In this case, I guess I just had my blinders on. It's something to try to look out for in the future, and I think it leads to the conclusion that now matter how good of a brewer you think you are, honest and critical outside opinion is of the utmost importance. I tend to be a little tough on other brewer's beers too, even though it is always in an effort to be helpful. For instance, when tasting any of my my friends' homebrews, I try to always be encouraging and focus on the positive, but also try to give a straightforward critique of what I am tasting. If I didn't do that, I think it would be a disservice to them as a brewer.

If I could try to evaluate the flavor of this IPA otherwise, I would say the hop flavor/aroma would be magnificent if not muddled up by a bunch of fake butter. I would have brewed it to a lower O.G., but I'm not sure that I would change anything else. Maybe this recipe deserves another shot with thsoe 2 easy fixes.