Stroke Update: The Saga Continues

20160918-waiting

In April I had a bit of a set back. A planned surgery didn’t really go as planned. If you remember, the cause of my stroke in 2015 was because of a tear in the lining of my carotid artery (the cause of that is unknown). The hope was that this tear would heal itself over time. It didn’t. So into surgery I went. The idea was to fill in the leftover aneurysm in my carotid artery with some metal coils and then let it heal by itself. Once the surgeon got in there he realized that the aneurysm had ripped open more and he would have to go to plan B. This involved placing a stent in order to “bridge the gap” and seal off the aneurysm. Not what I had hoped for. Unfortunately during the delicate placement of the stent a few blood clots were released and I suffered another stroke. So that unfortunate stroke, that I should never have had, has become two. Thankfully this second one was a bit milder but it has still been quite devastating for family life, and of course It has been a big set back in my recovery. One month before the surgery I had finally started working full time again. Now I am back to half time. Hopefully I’ll be able to work full time by the end of the year.

Now let’s get back to blogging…. again.

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Fire roasted coffee

20160203-coffee-roasting-grillIn my college days, I was often found in a dark corner of a coffee house, sitting on a couch of questionable character, with my face glued to a mug of coffee. I’m talking about unadulterated coffee here, not the sugar-filled-chilled-froufrou-skinny-double-whipped-cocoa variety. Caffeine fueled my studies. Moving to Belgium was like entering rehab. The coffee culture here is completely different and it’s all about the French or Italian roast. Great for espresso, but the beans are so roasted that their origin doesn’t come through. I missed the days of tasting the differences between an Ethiopia Sidamo and a Kenya Bora. Over the past few years though there have been a number of more American style coffee houses/roasters popping up (Thats sounds odd to Belgians because they think that all coffee in the US is watered down truck-stop style coffee). When Mrs. Smokey brought home a bag of beans from the coffee roaster near her office, part of my brain woke up from its coffee coma. After 10 years I was addicted again. The smell of good coffee puts me in a euphoric trance. A complex melange of nuts, chocolate, leather, earth, tobacco, ripe fruit, leaves, and more. When something like that gets a hold of my imagination I want to dive into it.

There are many home-roasters around the world and there are many techniques for doing it. They range from dedicated electric coffee-roasters, popcorn poppers, ovens, to cast iron skillets. After reading a few posts online about turning a rotisserie into a backyard roaster, I knew I wanted to try it out. About a week later, Weber introduced a fine mesh basket for their rotisserie (Only in Europe at the moment). It looked perfect. But would it work?

Weber 22 inch charcoal grill with rotisserie ring and fine-mesh basket

Condensing coffee roasting down to its most basic form you get this:
  • You need high heat
  • You have to keep the beans moving
  • The beans will go through stages of “cracking” (1 or 2 depending on the roast level you want)
  • You want to cool the beans as quickly as possible and remove the chaff
  • Let the coffee beans develop their final aroma and flavor for 48 hours after roasting

 

(in the above video you can hear the end of the First Crack)

On my first attempt, I used the Weber “Steak House” lump charcoal (Quebracho wood from Paraguay) since this is a very hot burning charcoal. I was really happy with the resulting coffee and the color was spot on for a City+ roast. There was a very light “campfire” smoke note on the nose, with a little carry over to the flavor. Some roasters see smoke as a flaw but there are other roasters (both professional and amateur) that roast over wood-fire and are looking for that character. I for one found it a nice, subtle addition.

For the next few roasting sessions I used coconut briquettes just to see if I could make a “clean” coffee without any smokey notes. The resulting coffees were smoke free, but the fire was lower in temperature. This creates some problems. You have to make sure that you get all the heat right under the coffee beans. If the fire is too cool you end up baking the beans rather than roasting them. Then you get a more bready and grainy coffee. The chaff also doesn’t “explode” off the beans like it should giving you some odd looking beans.

Cooling and de-chaffing the beans is pretty simple. Just pour the beans back and forth between two colanders in front of a fan. After that you will have roasted coffee but you’ll notice that the aroma isn’t quite right yet. Let the beans sit and mature for at least 48 hours. The aroma develops further while the acidity and roast notes mellow.

20160203-coffee-before-after

My process (usually going for a City+ to Full City roast):
  • Light a full chimney starter of charcoal. Wait until all the charcoal is well lit, then dump the charcoal into two charcoal baskets.
    • If using high heat lump charcoal, place the two charcoal baskets a little ways from center on either side of where your spit will be turning
    • If using briquettes, place your charcoal baskets back to back in the center of the grill, under where your spit will go.
  • Add your green coffee beans to the Weber Rotisserie basket and place the spit on the rotisserie ring. I usually roast 1 kg at a time but you could probably fit 2 kg in the basket.
  • make sure all vents are fully open on your grill and close the lid. Resist the temptation to lift the lid and peek.
  • After 7-10 minutes you should hear the first crack beginning (if not, next time try to get a hotter fire going).
  • Once first crack seems to be slowing down, you can start taking a quick peek to keep an eye on the color of the beans.
  • When desired roast level is reached pull the spit out and immediately dump the beans into a colander or screen.
  • Cool the beans by pouring them back and forth between two colanders (or screens) in front of a fan. This will remove the chaff too.
  • Put the cooled beans into a container and let them sit for 48 hours (If it is a completely airtight jar, vent it every once in a while during that time).
  • Don’t waste the charcoal. Throw a chicken on the spit for dinner!

20160203-coffee-roasting-chicken

Roasting coffee in this way is a lot of fun and it’s another excuse to fire up the grill and experiment with flavors. It is also quite easy and quick. Just try it out if you like coffee and have a rotisserie. I was quite surprised how much I liked the slight smoke character when I used the quebracho lump. There are a lot of possibilities playing around with smoke and matching it to specific coffees. Of course there is also the whole question of blending which I haven’t really played with much. Once you get into it there are millions of ways to create new flavors in coffee, and that’s before the geeking out really starts.

 

The beans I’ve been using have been ordered from Fascino Coffee (NL) and Redber Coffee (UK)

Do robots dream of electric beer?

 

robot-beerHomebrewing is always evolving. In the old days, brewers had to make do with what information, ingredients, and materials they could get their hands on. Today there is a wealth of information online and in print and numerous retailers supplying high quality ingredients. This availability has helped bring in new brewers and broadened the homebrewer profile. Combine that with the maker movement, the “App-ification” of life, and crowdfunding and you have the recipe for some pretty interesting developments. Ones that will in turn have an impact on homebrew culture. Move your blue coolers and converted kegs out of the way, the robots are coming!

Our robot overlords

When the Picobrew Zymatic first popped up on Kickstarter in 2013, it sparked heated debate in the homebrew world. Can it work? Is it cheating? Who’s the brewer? Where’s the fun? The gadget guy inside me loved it, but the brewer in me was extremely skeptical. That same skepticism lead Annie Johnson (AHA Homebrewer of the Year 2013) to contact Picobrew when she heard what they wanted to do. Now, Annie is the Picobrew Brewmaster and sings the praise of this wonder machine.* I too started to believe it could work after seeing several other respected homebrewers testing the units with great results. Ok, maybe it works, but the big problem is that it seems to take away too much of the fun. I like brewing. No thanks!

After my stroke, I see it a bit differently. The two parts of brewing that I get the most enjoyment out of are recipe formulation and playing with fermentation. Don’t get me wrong, the actual wort creation is fun, but its hard to fit it into my life. The Zymatic seems to give you lots of control over all aspects of the mashing process, but you set it all up in advance during your recipe formulation. Thats good since I currently have trouble with concentration. With its 2.5 gallon batch size and a shortened, semi-automated process, the Picobrew would allow me to brew more often. I could put the kids to bed and still knock out a brew that night. Then when the family runs off to the beach for a day, I could get out the old setup and brew up a larger batch. What really sold me on the idea that a product like this does have a place in home brewing is what I read from numerous users of the device, “The Picobrew allows me to get back into brewing.” That’s big! However, so is the $2000 price tag. Maybe if I start saving now I’ll be able to look into it in a couple years. By then there may be even better options on the scene. Since the Zymatic came out there have been a few similar products passing through the crowdfunding scene like Brewie and BrewBot. Both have advantages and disadvantages on paper, but neither one is actually shipping products yet. It will be interesting to see what happens in this product category.

picobrew-brewbot-brewie

These may be the droids you are looking for

There is also another type of device that keeps popping up. I’ll call it the new-age Mr. Beer. These products take away almost all control of the brewing processes and seem to be geared towards new or non-brewers. These range from the overly complex and ridiculously high-priced Williams Warn extract brewery (don’t be fooled by their slogan) to the newly announced Picobrew Pico (yes, the same boffins behind the Zymatic) and MiniBrew. While these are certainly interesting products, they have a very different intended use as the Zymatic, Brewie, or Brewbot. I am definitely still in the skeptical phase with these products. I have my doubts about the MiniBrew working, but I do believe the Pico will work based on the success of the Zymatic. What I would argue is that these products are too expensive for the intended audience. If any of them will be successful they will have to have a unique selling point that clearly adds value beyond it’s price. Picobrew is trying to do this by setting up partnerships with established Breweries. They see the Pico more as a beer distributor rather than a home brewery. Purchase a Pico pack, pop it in, and push go. No one off creations you make yourself, just prepackaged recipes which you can tell the Pico to brew stronger or milder depending on your preference. The problem here is that once the wort is created by the Pico, there are many ways for the user to screw up the beer. Do breweries really want to risk people’s first experience with their beers being handled this way? Only time will tell.

pico-minibrew

Thoughts

For many homebrewers, the idea of fully automated brewing robots is a step too far. I would say that the hands-on aspect is a big part of the appeal of homebrewing. The satisfaction of saying, “I made that with my own two hands” is enormous. The new wave of brewing tools still has plenty in store for them too. From all-in-one units that help save space and simplify brewing like the Grainfather and the BREWHA, to products that give you realtime SG and temperature data of your fermenting beer on your smartphone like the BeerBug (if they get the kinks worked out). Whether or not we like the way it’s going, the next few years will have a very large impact on the future of homebrewing. Our homebrew toolbox is about to be blown wide open. We are only now seeing the first strip tease of the smart homebrew gadgets. There may be opposition to some of these within the homebrew community but as the new wave of tools bring in new brewers, the community itself will change. All of these products are tools that we can use to help us brew better beer, and help us keep brewing as our lives change. I am certainly looking forward to seeing how the future will help me dive deeper into brewing without taking away from the most important part of my life, my family.

 

 

*I had a quick exchange with Annie Johnson and asked her what it was that actually convinced her that the Zymatic wasn’t a gimmick. It was of course the beer. Annie emailed Picobrew and asked if she could see the Zymatic (still in prototype phase). After she tasted some of the beers made on the machine, she encouraged them to enter some homebrew competitions. A few weeks later the Zymatic had racked up several awards in some difficult categories like IPA. That was also with someone who was new to brewing, using recipes from BYO and Zymurgy. Later, Annie brewed her light lager on a Zymatic and it won gold in it’s category in the CA State Fair, 4th best in Show. No more convincing needed! On closing Annie said, “Still, it’s just one more tool for a Homebrewer. It is not designed nor meant to replace more conventional gear.”

The new plan

20151113-blog-update

Now that I got that first post out of the way, there are going to be some changes around here. First off, you can now check out The Smoking Bottle on Facebook. I plan on sharing things like what’s cooking on the grill, photos from events, or news in the beer world. It will not be too often and I promise I will never post cat photos, no matter how grumpy they look. I haven’t even liked my own page yet so I’m very curious who the first person will be.

Secondly, there is the new address. The old smokingbottle.wordpress.com still works, and will continue to do so, but the more official sounding thesmokingbottle.com is now in action.

Lastly, I have started working on how this blog looks. It will take a while until I’m happy with it, so don’t be surprised if it looks different every time you come back. Any feedback you want to give would be appreciated. Is there anything you would like to see on the site?

The original plan

2015-year-of-change

2015 was penciled in as my return to brewing. The past few years have been chaotic… birth of a second child, fixing up our old house, selling our old house, finding a new house, moving, working, and keeping sane all while trying to be a good husband and daddy. Sure I probably could have scheduled in a brew session here and there, but it just seemed too selfish to block out that much time for something that no one else in the house gets any enjoyment from. I am the type of person that obsesses over details and data so I am completely unavailable while I’m brewing, plus all the planning, transfers, bottling/kegging etc. Then, as life seemed to be smoothing itself out, I started planning my next brew when something unexpected happened. At the not so ripe age of 36, I had a stroke. More precisely a Spontaneous Carotid Artery Dissection that caused a stroke. That put a stop to many things.

What I found really sad was that there was no reason why it happened to me. I did not live a “risky” lifestyle. It was just a bit of bad luck. Part of my carotid artery just decided it would be funny to fail. I’m more or less OK now, but It’s still recovery at the moment. My big problems now are the lack of concentration, patience, and tasks such as writing (It took quite a while to write this short post). Now I just want to get back a little control of my life. Of course there are many things in life more important than grilling and brewing, but this blog is not about those. It is my outlet for all things brewing and grilling related. The situation has made me think about what aspects I like the most about my life, work, and hobbies as well as how they can or can not be combined. Outdoor cooking can continue just as it always has. It’s something that the whole family can enjoy, and it generally doesn’t take too much time. Brewing is different. It takes more planning, more time, and more concentration. Thankfully, the kids are growing up (now 4 and 6) and I know I will be able to find some time to brew. However, I also know it won’t be as often as I’d like. I really need to find some ways to either shorten my brew days or make the process more automated so I am more available while I do it. Something like how my BBQ Guru PartyQ gives me some precious time with my family when I’m smoking a pork shoulder for 15 hours. Any good suggestions will be embraced with open arms.

If you read this post hoping for some sort of amazing conclusion or revelation, you will be disappointed. I didn’t really have a goal for this blog post. It was really just a way of me trying to get back at it. A bit of therapy for myself. Now that I got that out of the way, perhaps I can post something more interesting next time.

… now I really need to spend some time bringing this old ugly blog up to date. I never liked the way it looked.

Daddy’s little helpers

daddyWith two Little Smokies running around it’s hard to find time for the selfish contemplation that is brewing and barbecuing. Brewing takes a good 5 hours from the time I get the supplies out untill everything is cleaned up. Cooking up some pulled pork takes about 15 hours, not to mention the prep time the night before. True, I don’t have to sit next to the smoker for 15 hours, but it’s always on my mind. In my search to be more zen with my barbecuing I’ve found a couple “helpers” to keep my alter ego of Super-Stressed-Out-Action-Man at bay.

First off, for the past couple years I have been using terracotta flower pot bases and tin-foil in my water pan instead of water. This is definitely nothing new or groundbreaking, but I finally got around to trying it and now I wouldn’t have it any other way. The whole point of using a water pan is to help keep a steady temperature in your smoker by increasing the thermal mass. Unfortunately water evaporates and needs to be topped up. Then there is the mess of dirty water with all the fat drippings from your meat. Now I just peel away the top sheet of aluminium foil and throw it away.

That alone is not enough to keep the fire under control. Luckily I now have the PartyQ from BBQ Guru. The PartyQ is one of the cheaper Automatic Temperature Controllers on the market. It isn’t the most feature rich ATC but I was looking for a simple set it and forget it solution. I don’t need to see a temperature log on my smartphone. It also runs off of 4 AA batteries, which is good since the nearest electrical socket is far from my smoker. I did read some negative reviews of the PartyQ but those seemed to be coming from people who were trying to use the PartyQ to bring their fire up to temperature. This can take a while, lead to a massive overshoot in temp, and kill your batteries. I have had no problems so far and the temperature in my smoker stays rocksteady. The only time I see a change is when I open the lid to mop the meat, but this is quickly taken care of without any action on my part. The PartyQ has been a dream and if you follow a couple of basic rules then it is a very powerful tool.

The PartyQ has one probe with an alligator clip on it. The clip can be pulled off so that the probe fits through the BBQ guru probe eyelets I installed years ago for my wireless Maverick ET-73. Since I have the Maverick I didn’t need to get an ATC which has a food probe too, and I can still monitor my smoker and meat temps from inside the house.

How I use the PartyQ:

  • Install Maverick ET-73 and PartyQ
  • Start the fire with the Minion Method and assemble the WSM
  • Bottom vents 80% open (Except for where the PartyQ is attached of course. Follow instruction manual for that)
  • When smoker is close to target temp, close bottom vents & switch on PartyQ (if the temp overshoots it can take a while before it comes back down)
  • When the cook is done pull off the PartyQ and insert the kill plug.

now here is a very boring video of the PartyQ in Action

 

Hogtied

Pork tenderloin gets cooked around here quite a lot. Normally its a bit of a no-thought-needed item to throw on the grill. This time I wanted to stir things up a bit. First I decided upon some flavors (apple, pecan, whiskey, maple syrup) and set about figuring out how to combine them. I ended up stuffing the tenderloin with the apple and pecan, and saucing it up with the whiskey and maple syrup. Since it turned out so well I thought I’d share it.

Stuffing:

  • 1-2 slices of bread depending on size (cubed and toasted)
  • 1 large apple
  • 1 small onion
  • 1+ tsp dried sage
  • -1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

For the stuffing, sautee the onion and chopped pecans in a decent amount of butter. After the onion goes translucent add the diced apple and sage. Let that cook till the apple softens a bit and then add the toasted bread cubes. Off the fire, lid on, set aside.

In the meantime slice open the tenderloin in a sort of upside down Y and then open it up. Heap the cooled stuffing onto this sheet of meat, fold it closed, and attempt to lace it up. A third hand can be useful. After that, season the meat with fresh ground black pepper and sea salt. Cook indirect (not above the coals, with the lid closed) and baste several times with a 50/50 mixture of whiskey and maple syrup.

Sauce: as usual I didn’t take notes on the sauce so this is an approximation.

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup whiskey depending on how boozy you want it.
  • 4 tbs maple syrup
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • Pepper and salt to taste

Sautee the onion in a tablespoon or two of butter. Deglaze with the whiskey. Let that reduce to 50% and add the maple syrup and cream. Simmer until its the desired thickness (stir frequently) then run the sauce through a sieve. If you do make it too thick, don’t try diluting it with more whiskey. Don’t ask.

Golden Goblets 2011

2011 was yet another great year. The highlight was obviously the addition of a second little one to our family. This blissful year didn’t really carry over to the blog though. I have a back-log of grilled treats I would like to share since the grill was fired up quite a lot (not so much in the last few months). On the beery side though I really didn’t accomplish much, and my Golden Goblet picks reflect that. I had to drop several categories from last year because I simply couldn’t come up with any winners due to a “lack of entries”.

  • Best Belgian Beer – Orval (see pub of the year)
  • Best International BeerVerdi imperial stout
  • Best Homebrew I made in 2011Road Runner Rebel Stout
  • Best Beer induced Experience – working at the Alvinne Craft Beer Festival
  • Best Beer Graphic(s) – this was a tough one but I ended up going with the overall look of Red Brick Brewing’s new packaging. Too bad they didn’t carry these new graphics over to all parts of their brand, like their website. Work on that guys.
  • Worst Beer Graphic(s)Westvleteren Brick
  • Pub/Bar/cafe of the YearMelkerij. This is not a cafe you will find in any beer guide or hear about from any other beer geek. Its just not that kind of place… But in 2011 it was exactly what I needed. Its in the deep dark woods, has lots of outdoor seating and a massive playground. Yup, I said playground. With a baby and a toddler it wasn’t easy to get away and explore far off specialty bars, but when you can see your little girl having a ball on the slide while you and your baby sit in the dappled sunlight enjoying an Orval, those specialty bars just seem a bit ridiculous
  • Beer Festival of the YearAlvinne Craft Beer Festival
  • Beer Retailer of the YearDranken Geers. They have really done a good job in getting some of the better rare stuff and some great non-belgians. All for a good price too.
  • Best Beer Blog or WebsiteOh Beautiful Beer
  • Food and Beer Pairing of the YearPulled Pork, RodenQue sauce, and Rodenbach Grand Cru
  • Beer I’m most looking forward to in 2012New addition 2011
  • In 2012 I’d Most Like To – like last year, Brew on a real brewery system… perhaps another collaboration?
  • Open Category – This year the Open Category is awarded to the brewer who has done the least in 2011 and who really needs to get things going in 2012. I’m calling it the “Get your ducks in a row trophy,” and the winner is… (drum roll)… me!

Hope you had a good 2011 and hope you have an even better 2012!

The proof is in the barrel

I’ve had a few chances to play around with the Gueuze barrel chips now and thought I’d share my findings (on both grilling use and beer use).

The Beer side: When I first opened the bag of chips I immediately threw some into starter wort to try and grow up the critters living on the chips. Not surprising, the bugs did get going pretty quickly. Also not surprising it developed some green mold. It looked and smelled decent for about 4 or 5 days and I thought that it might end up being usable. Then the aroma really went down hill and the green monster started growing. Oh well. I still haven’t dumped it out (too afraid) and I was thinking that I could possibly pull some of the beer out from under the mold and try to culture that up… but really, I’m too lazy for all that. Plus I like the reliability of buying pure strains and mixing them myself, or culturing up dregs from bottled beers.

The Fire side: The chips have been used to add some smoke to pork, fish, and numerous chickens. Result… Shocker, the smoke flavor is just like oak! Well, to be fair I think there may be a slight difference that I haven’t yet been able to nail down, but unless you are going to do a side by side oak vs gueuze barrel (made from oak) smoke test, I don’t think anyone would pick up on a difference. I actually do plan on doing that some time though (Bourbon barrel chips vs Gueuze barrel chips).

That being said I do actually like using these chips. In general, they are chipped quite small and don’t need to be soaked too long before throwing on your fire. That makes them ideal for quickly adding smoke to items that aren’t slow-cooked for 60 hours. Also handy if you are “planning-challenged” like me and realize that you forgot to soak your chips as you’re about to throw the meat on the grill.

Conclusion:

  • Gueuze Barrel chips are great for a quick burst of smoke when grilling
  • Don’t bother using them for long smokes
  • Keep them out of your homebrew (just culture up dregs from a bottle if you must)

I wonder if barrel chips from a good kriek would offer anything extra? Hey,Peter De Clercq,  how about that? I’ll help test them out for you.!