Beer and Mood #1

Every once in a while I feel like writing something a bit different. I could hop on the beer trend bandwagon and do pieces on beer and food pairings, but I find all that a bit ridiculous. Not the beer with food, that’s just logical to me, but everyone seems to be making this a “new” idea. Plus I kind of throw some of that into my cooking posts anyways. How about Beer and Mood pairings? A look at enjoying beer and matching it with a mood, atmosphere, event, music or whatever floats my boat. This will not be a regularly scheduled series of posts, I will just write something up whenever the mood strikes me (read that as probably not too often).

Beer and Mood # 1 – The secret delicacy
“So what is your favorite beer?” It’s the dreaded question for most beery types. Many have some lame answer along the lines of “the next beer,” or “I haven’t tried them all yet,” or even worse they go off on a diatribe about beer styles. I don’t really mess around anymore. I throw out a couple commercial beers and a homebrew. One beer that always gets mentioned is Oerbier Reserva from De Dolle Brouwers. Despite my favoritism for lower ABV beers, this 13%ABV brew always tickles me in places I probably shouldn’t admit.

Oerbier Reserva is a complex dark sour ale. Each vintage has its own variation on a theme of utter brilliance. I am always surprised with the all around balance, layered tart and funk, and the way it dances around my mouth doing back-flips off my tongue. Dark fruit compote tainted with rich balsamic vinegar, infused with a hearty bordeaux, prodded by autumn spice, poked with tannins, and at times sprinkled with cocoa. That only begins to describe some of the aromas and flavors you have the privilege of discovering when drinking this beer. More simply put, it’s a damn fine glass of beer.

Oerbier Reserva vertical @ De Kulminator

Normally, big beers like to strut their stuff in front of a group of beer snobs, while they talk at length about its many facets and compare the various vintages. While I have definitely enjoyed a vertical tasting or two of this beer with like minded nerds, this is not the best way to enjoy it.

Mrs. Smokey has a day job that involves thinking and all that smart stuff that I don’t have to worry about. Due to this daily brain-drain she tends to watch the more mindless programs on TV in the evening. The kind that normally make me fearful for the future of mankind… I’m talking to you Kardashians! While I detest these shows, it is at this time when I find my own bit of beervana. After making sure Mrs, Smokey has her cola I sit down in the corner of the couch and begin to pour the beer. Already the world starts to get a little foggy. As I lean back and put one arm around my wife and stick my nose in the glass, the world completely falls away. The only things left are the beer, my tastebuds, my wife and an occasional glimpse of the TV. At this point I can actually appreciate the hilarity of the intellectually challanged rich celebrity on TV (normally they just make me angry). It’s a bit of a secret moment. Since Mrs. Smokey doesn’t drink beer I feel no need to share or talk about the beer. Its all mine. No beer geekery to get in the way or take away from my moment of pure enjoyment. Brain-off, beer in. The flavors intermingle with the comfort of the couch and the warmth of Mrs. Smokey while the lighter side of life floats on by. One of the beer world’s greatest achievements paired with the worst that pop culture can throw at you. A real double rainbow moment in my head.

rant: hit with the ugly brick

The monks at the Sint-Sixtus abbey have been well know for brewing up some top-notch beers. Look at any beer ranking site and Westvleteren 12 is sure to be close to the top. It is also one of the facts that every Belgian likes to spout at Americans who start talking about beer. That statement is then usually followed by something like, “much better than your Bud, eh?” Of course that proud Belgian has probably never tasted Westvleteren (or Budweiser) and if it’s not available at the corner store for next to nothing, he/she will never taste it. Of course there are people here who do care about good beer so I don’t let me paint too grim of a picture.

Back to the cheap and wide availability of beer. About a year ago it was announced that the monks had struck a deal with Belgian low-cost-leading grocery store chain Colruyt to sell a limited release gift pack of Westvleteren beer. This was to bring in some much needed funds to renovate the deteriorating buildings of the abbey. Seeing that Colruyt is a client of the product design firm where I work, my boss decided that I, being the beer guy and all, should throw together a quick concept for the gift box. A few hours later we sent our vision of how it could be done to Colruyt. Eventually they got back to us saying that they really liked the concept but said that the packaging had already been settled upon long ago. Oh well, it was worth the try.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago: As I was reading through my daily feeds I came across a post on Danny’s site saying that a date had been set for the Westvleteren/Colruyt release. I clicked on through to read the details when all of a sudden my beer-loving mind was smashed against a cliche covered brick. Photos of the gift packaging had been released. It wasn’t a pretty sight. (and I’m not the only one who thinks so)

Someone must have thought “hmm beer, monks, and rebuilding. I’ve got it! Lets create the most uninspiring drivel we can think of and make this special fundraiser with one worlds most sought after beers into nothing more than a cliche. Brilliant!*” WTF! There was no thought put into this box. In this case, I know the beer will sell itself, but now it just seems like a silly marketing stunt rather than a worthwhile fundraiser for the abbey. Ok, sure, the idea behind the box is a brick and by buying “bricks” you are helping to rebuild the abbey. Really? That’s the best you could come up with? And the over-used ye olde font and gothic arches? Oh right, they are monks and monks are religious and religion is old. Have you seen the plans for the new buildings? They are modern and sober and there are no effing gothic arches!

In my not so humble opinion they really should have put some more thought into it and designed a package which links to what they are doing, sans cliché. I am not saying that my design (below) is the end all be all of monk-made-beer packaging, but it’s certainly no brick with gothic arches.

(if you want to see the PDF presentation we put together for Colruyt then click here)

Obviously I am biased, but sometimes I look at the state of Belgian Beer labels and graphics and just get pissed off at the level of creativity and care. I guess brewers here just take the nonchalant path and say that it is the beer in the bottle that counts and not the look of the label. True, in an ideal world that’s right, but here on planet Earth we can’t taste the beer through the packaging while we are at the store. The label is all we have to go by. If you see a beer with a beautiful label next to one with a crappy photo and some comic sans text, then you know which beer will be selling fastest (in this case I know the Westies will have no problem selling, but that doesn’t excuse the other 500 belgian beers with sh**ty labels). I also think it gives an impression of how the brewery works. If they care enough to put some time, effort and thought into a nice label then they probably don’t cut corners on the beer behind the label either. Of all countries, Belgium has the most exceptions to this rule. So many good beers get overlooked because their packaging looks like a 10 year old designed it.

Keep up the good work you wonderful Belgian beer label designers*

*read with a shot of sarcasm

the end of summer

Summer seems to have already ended here in Belgium. Ok thats not completely true beacause Summer never really showed up this year. With the end of Summer also comes the end of my vacation days. Now its back to the harsh realities of the working world.

Thankfully I do have some new sources of inspiration. Mrs. Smokey, Lil’ Smokey and myself have been joined by Smokey Jr! Since his birth I obviously haven’t had a whole lot of time to post on this blog, but that will slowly change as he settles into the Smokey-family life. Then he sould inspire many grilling posts because I’ll have my work cut out for me once this little guy grows up and starts eating meat… he is a BIG boy…. no really big boy!

Originally I started this blog to have a place to ramble on about brewing and grilling without boring those around me. Much to my surprise some other people do actually read this and find some informative quality in it. Unfortunately I am not always quick to post updates or results from the different experiments/brews/products that I try. I have been working on this lately though. If you go back to some of the recent brews you’ll notice that I am starting to add notes at the bottom of brewday posts as the beers progress. I will also be adding a few posts to help catch up on the lack of info. Hopefully this will make this blog more useful to people other than myself.

other items I need to post on soon:

  • Smoking with Gueuze Barrel chips
  • Ugly Duckling in the bottle
  • the cold smoke generator
  • my first cider
  • Alvinne/Me Night Owl evaluation
  • … the list is too long

can’t spell Birthday without R I B S… wait

Spelling aside, I turned a year wiser. Ok, it was actually a couple months ago but let’s not get carried away with details. To celebrate I decided to cook up some Ribs. Realizing I have never written a real post about ribs, I thought I’d throw this one out there.

First the meat: In Belgium there is only one type of rib, the Baby Back rib (bottom of the photo to the left). Strangely enough on menus all across the kingdom they are always called Spare ribs (top of the photo to the left) . After some discussion with my local butcher I finally figured out what real Spare ribs are called here, Vleesribben (or “Meat ribs”). They are usually cooked and served as individual rib bones here, but I wanted full racks of course. Armed with this new knowledge I ordered up three racks of meat ribs for my birthday.

The racks were cut a bit taller than what you typically get back in the US, but not as long. I trimmed the ribs St. Louis style and rubbed them with the latest version of my evolving rib and butt rub.

Rub:

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup paprika
  • 1/3 cup coarse sea salt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. fresh ground black pepper (I may up this a touch next time)
  • 4 tsp. dry mustard powder
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. cayenne pepper

The ribs went into the smoker at 100C (212F). The minion-method fire was made up of coconut shell briquettes with 4 large chunks of hickory and apple wood buried throughout. The smoker stayed right between 100 and 110 (212F to 230F) for 5 hours until I ramped it up to around 130C (265F) for two more hours. None of that 3-2-1 nonsense, just a well controlled smoker and some good meat. I was using water in the water-pan but plan on doing it with a clay-saucer next time to compare. The ribs were mopped twice during the cook with straight apple juice but one rack did also get a slathering of RodenQue sauce 30 minutes before pulling them off. The meal was complete with a whole grilled chicken, cornbread, coleslaw, salad, RodenQue sauce, and one of Ribs best friends… beer.

These were my finest ribs yet. They were nicely smokey and tore away from the bone cleanly, but weren’t so tender that they were mushy (like in a lot of restaurants). I’m still dialing in the rub and the process, but these meat sticks made me darn proud. This cook reignited my love of ribs. I’ll have to start cooking them more regularly from now on.

New Addition 2011

I recently had my last brew day as a father of one child. The beer was brewed to mark the very closely approaching arrival of child number 2 (I’ll have to think of a better name than Child Number 2). When the first lil’ Smokey was born I brewed New Addition 2008. Not only was  “New Addition” a nod to my baby but also the first time I had added any wild bugs to my beer. The idea was to brew something between a Porter, a Flanders Red and an Oud Bruin. A Flanders Oud Porter? For New Addition 2011 I needed to find another interesting ingredient that I had never used, but always wanted to. This time it’s Belgian cocoa powder. The base recipe has also been altered, but the “feeling” is the same. I want the New Addition beers to feel like they come from the same family but each one has its own distinct personality.

Knowing that I am not always the most patient person, and fearing the possible heart-attack caused by two children that won’t listen to me and just get into the car so I can buckle their seatbelts and get out of the rain, I’m trying to be more “zen.” With that in mind I decided that coming into brew day I wouldn’t have a fixed recipe. I did have a clear idea of what I was going to do but I wanted to just wing it a bit and go with the flow. It seemed to go well because the wort sample tasted great!

The cocoa powder was added with 10 minutes to go in the boil. With 15 minutes to go I tapped off a little of the hot wort to mix with the cocoa powder and make a paste. I thought that it would be a little easier to incorporate into the boil without clumping up.

On the yeast side, I am again adding some critters on top of the normal brewers yeast. In primary I pitched a mixed starter of Wyeast1762 Belgian Abbey II and Wyeast Roeselare Blend. This will hopefully kick up the funk a bit more than in New Addition 2008. Those Belgian yeasts are great, but since my babies are half Belgian and half American it needs some American Funk too. For that I will be adding (into the aging vessel) part of a starter of Jolly Pumpkin’s Lambicus Dexterius (batch 1), their 100% spontaneously fermented beer. It also has the nice bonus that Dexter, where Jolly Pumpkin is located, is very close to where my parents live so the beasties in the Lambicus Dexterius will literally add a touch of home.

New Addition 2011:
  • Volume: 20 liters
  • OG: 1.064
  • FG: we’ll see but I hope around 1.008
  • ABV: should be around 7.3% – 7.5%
  • IBU: 22 (rager formula)
Fermentables:
  • 66% Pale Ale
  • 13.5% Munich
  • 9% Aromatic
  • 5.3% Flaked Oats
  • 3.5% Chocolate Malt (900 EBC)
  • 2.7% Roasted Barley
Mash:
  • single temp infusion @ 68C (154F)
Hops:
  • 30g East Kent Goldings for 22 IBU (60min from end)
Extra:
  • 75g Belgian Cocoa Powder (10min from end)
Yeast:
  • Wyeast 1762 Belgian Abbey II (in primary)
  • Wyeast Roeselare Blend (in primary)
  • a bit of a starter made from the dregs of Jolly Pumpkin’s Lambicus Dexterius (during aging)

Notes:

June 13th 2011 – Brew day was very smooth. First time using my drill with the Barley Crusher… man thats quick!

June 15th 2011 – Fermentation was rather slow to kick off. I think the Roeselare blend may have lowered the starters pH too quickly for the somewhat old WY1762 and that didn’t grow as much as it should have. Fermentation is going though.

taking it for a spin

Roasting a chicken on the grill has never been a real problem, but I always felt that it could be done better. The skin was never crisp enough, some parts were more juicy than others, and you have to tend the meat quite a lot. I wanted better results with less work. Thanks to a recent birthday I now have the tool to allow me to achieve this, the Weber rotisserie. It’s a real “set it and forget it” solution to perfectly done poultry… and non-feathered meats too.

The reason a rotisserie makes a difference is because you can evenly and easily cook a large hunk of meat at a higher temperature without worrying about burning one side of the meat. If you tried that temperature with a normal indirect steup then you would have to watch your chicken like a hawk, constantly open up the lid to turn your chicken, losing all the heat and therefore not getting crisp skin.

A full chimney of lit charcoal was divided on two sides of the grill and a drip pan nestled inbetween. The zwarte hoevekip (black “farm chicken”) was then skewered, seasoned and set in place. The chicken seemed dwarfed by the whole setup but was soon having fun pirouetting over the hot coals. The rotisserie’s electric motor was very quiet and I found myself looking for signs of movement to make sure it was still running. When the meat looked like it was almost done, I applied a light glaze. This was more for looks than anything else. It does add flavor to the skin but it doesn’t really give the meat underneath anyting extra. The chicken received three layers of glaze in the last 10 minutes. Total cook time was a quick 35-40 minutes. Thats pretty quick.

  • Seasoning: grey sea salt, fresh ground black pepper and a decent dash of ginger powder.
  • Glaze: 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/4 cup orange juice and the juice of one lemon.

The resulting chicken was very tasty. I probably could have left it on a couple minutes longer since not all of the skin had crisped up yet but none the less the skin was much better than usual. The maple and citrus glaze was a great addition and next time I will try injecting some of that into the meat before cooking rather than glazing. All in all I am very happy with my new grilling gadget and can’t wait to get some other meats spinning!

stick your wood in it

Belgium can be a bit of an outdoor-cooking wasteland. When the sun comes out everyone does love to run out in the back yard and blacken some meat, but it is rarely taken seriously and is never combined with the idea of high quality food. Often if I talk about cooking a very nice cut of meat on the grill I get the response “Aww, thats a shame.” Because of this attitude it is rare that Belgium offers something unique to the outdoor-cooking world. Perhaps it was born from a pure marketing idea or perhaps it came from a genuine search for new flavors, but never the less, woodchips made from Gueuze-barrels is an interesting and uniquely Belgian product.

I was surprised to find these wood-chips but I was flabbergasted that they were at my local grocery store, not some obscure online barbecue specialty store. Peter De Clercq, Belgiums one and only outdoor-chef, has been trying to bring grilling to a higher level here and is the man behind this new idea. Thanks Peter! Now I just need to see if they are any good. Hmmm, what would go well with Gueuze smoke?

Not only am I excited to throw these chips onto the fire but I am also wondering if I can inoculate some beer with them. According to the package the chips come from barrels at Timmermans that were either at the end of their life, or broken. I am not sure of the conditions in which the wood was “chipped” but I tossed a handfull into some starter wort to see what happens. The chips should be full of brettanomyces, pediococcus, kloekera and hopefully saccharomyces (among many other critters). I flushed the starter with CO2 to try to prevent any acetobacter from taking hold. As long as I don’t get any black or green mold I should be able to start up a useable culture, or at least make some interesting vinegar. Of course it would be a lot easier, and probably more fruitful, just to use the dregs from a bottle of Gueuze… but then I couldn’t say that I stuck my wood in it.

boy meets plank

Cooking on a wooden plank has been popular amongst the grilling kind for a while. For some reason I have only now gotten around to trying it, but I now know what many others already discovered, cedar planked salmon is damn tasty!

The plank was soaked for an hour in water, with a coffee mug on top to keep it under water. When the fire was ready for indirect cooking (fire to one side) I placed the salmon on the plank and smeared a Lemon/Dill/Garlic butter mixture on top. The plank went directly over the fire to warm up, about 3 minutes, then it was moved to the cool side of the fire. Lid went on and the fished cooked about 20 minutes.

Garlic, Dill, Lemon schmear

  • 3tbsp butter
  • one clove of garlic – chopped
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • leaves off two sprigs of fresh dill
  • a good pinch of sea salt

I suggest using a blender for mixing this up or else you will have a heck of a time getting the lemon juice to incorporate into the butter (as in never gonna happen)

The cedar flavor was more subtle than I thought it would be, so it had some trouble showing through the garlic, but the overall flavor and aroma was fantastic! Looks like cedar planks will have to get some more use around here. Its always nice to add another tool/flavor to the grilling toolbox. Now I’d like to try out some planks from other woods, and perhaps even a salt “plank

What? Pork without beer?

Yes. I even surprised myself, but it is possible for me to cook without using beer. Searching for ideas the other day, I noticed that there was just a scoche of dark Cuban rum left in the liquor cabinet. Realizing that rum, no matter how good, does not make a complete meal for 6 people, I figured I’d throw together a rum glaze to apply to some pork. It turned out pretty tasty so I’m sharing it here.

The rum was matched up with some dark chestnut honey. Sweet, spicy, smokey and leathery this dark and complex honey pairs well with grilled foods. Wrap all those flavors up with some pecan wood smoke, and you have yourself wonderful piece of pig. Everything melded together very well.

 

Rum and Chestnut Honey glazed pork medallions

  • set up your fire for indirect cooking. Medium heat.
  • take your pork tenderloin (s) and cut into roughly 4cm (2″) thick medaillions
  • Wrap each with a slice of bacon and secure with a tooth-pick
  • in a saucepan combine (rough measurements)
    • 60 ml (1/4 cup) dark rum with
    • 4 tbsp chestnut honey
    • 1 tbsp grain mustard (optional)
  • heat only until the honey is dissolved
  • throw a chunk of pecan wood onto your fire (hickory, apple, cherry would all work well)
  • Sear the pork directly over the fire (about 2 minutes each side) then move to indirect.
  • Brush on the glaze and put the lid on.
  • repeat the glazing every 5 minutes or so until the meat firms up nicely and is done (roughly 20-25 minutes)
To go with the pork we served salad, a couscous and carrot dish, and some delicious grilled zucchini slices. The zucchini was first tossed in equal parts olive oil and cider vinegar (about a tbsp each), seasoned with salt and pepper, then grilled and thrown back into the bowl with the oil and vinegar.
There was also a sauce made with the leftover glaze, a touch more mustard, sauteed onion and a touch of heavy cream…. but the meat was more than confident enough to stand on its own.