flight of the Night Owl

Last saturday at Den Proefzolder the Night Owl took her first flight. This beer had only been in the bottle for about 10 days so I was a little worried about what I would find in such a stong but young beer.

Taking my nose to the glass I was hit with caramel covered apples and pears. Molasses and a touch of licqourice show up as well. Luikse siroop (a popular pear and apple based thick syrup that Belgians spread on bread) would be a good descriptor. Surprisingly there was no real trace of the quite generous East Kent Goldings dry-hopping, just a faint unidentified herbal note that faded in and out under the fruit.

Flavor-wise it is much the same story. Big bold fruit (Luikse siroop), some licqorice and caramel notes. Perhaps a touch of butterscotch too. There is enough herbal and lightly spicy bitterness to keep the beer from becoming too sweet. I also get a slight roast character in the very back. The beer does feel quite balanced and the alcohol is well-hidden. You do get a good swoosh of sweet alcohols but you have the impression that this is a 8-9% ABV beer, not almost 15%. That makes it a dangerous brew, so like it says on the bottle “Don’t turn your back on this one.” Overall I am very happy with where this beer is going.

The label did not turn out as well as I had hoped. Somehow the printer had taken my vector files and managed to create a low resolution print. Everything is pixelated! That isn’t too bad for the main image on the label but the finer text on the right is barely legible. After taking a few sips of the beer you won’t be able to hold the bottle still enough to read it at all. Oh well, like I tell myself every morning, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right?

Once this beer has some age on it I will do a proper evaluation. Its just too young for such a massive beer. I am sure that that will be the consensus when this beer is served at the Borefts Beer Festival at Brouwerij De Molen in a couple weeks. We’ll see what all those Ratebeerians think (now that makes me nervous!). Night Owl should start to show her true colors around christmas time, and therefore help to make the holidays warm and merry!

basics and beyond

Life seems to get more and more busy as Lil’ Smokey grows older. It is nearly impossbile to schedule a period of 5+ hours, just for myself. Consequently, my lists of “beers to brew” and “experiments to try” keep growing longer. Well, enough is enough. I’ve decided that I’m going to supplement my infrequent all-grain brewing with some extract brewing.

While brewing with malt extract (and steeping grains) is very common back in the US, here it has a bad reputation. Everyone has made it clear to me that you can’t brew good tasting beer with extract. I take that as a challenge. There were some pretty kick ass extract beers coming out of our kitchen before I made the dive into all-grain. Plus, it will allow me to brew more often. In a couple of hours I can brew up a batch and have the kitchen all cleaned up. Perfect for a quick night-time brew after the little one is in bed. Whether it is making a simple beer for poker night or a split batch for comparing yeasts, I think extract brewing will help keep me sane.

Speaking of things to try, I have been thinking of ways to cut down on oxygen exposure during the fermentation/transfer/bottling processes. I may have come up with something worth testing (perhaps with an extract batch?). It involves using two fermentation buckets. One is of course for the fermenting beer, and the second one collects the CO2 from fermentation. This bucket full of CO2 then becomes your secondary fermenter or bottling bucket. With a little hose magic you can ensure an oxygen free transfer between the buckets. I put together a quick PDF that explains it in more detail. Click on the image below to see it.

if you are wondering where the top photo was taken… that is the brew hall at Mort Subite.

the smoking twit

A quick note to say that you can now follow the Smoking Bottle on Twitter. I may not be the most proficient tweeterer, but if you are of the twiteriffic type than you can follow me. Don’t worry, I won’t bombard you with messages of where I am every 3 seconds and what jam I decided to put on my bread… unless its really good!

oh yeah.. above is also a logo I was working on for this site (minus the bird of course). Hmmm, I never did anything with that did I?

@smokingbottle

Hops and Glory in a sea of wine

Coming back to a rainy Belgian reality after 10 days of sun, sea and grilling on the Cotê d’Azur can hit you like a ton of wet bricks. Thankfully I can dull the pain with a variety of good beers. Something I missed while in the south of France (unless you call Kronenbourg 1664 and Heineken “a variety of good beers”). Now I do appreciate a nice wine, but sitting in the hot sun looking out over the sea while lil’ Smokey splashes around in her pool just doesn’t feel right with a glass of wine. A nice chilled beer in a glass that you can grab without your little finger sticking out feels so much better. That and the fact that I was finally getting around to reading Hops and Glory by Pete Brown meant I was really hankering for a decent pale ale.

I’m not going to give an in-depth book review here but if you like the idea of an awkwardly British man carrying a heavy keg of beer across oceans of mishaps while uncovering that the history of binge-drinking goes way back… well then this book is for you. Part Fawlty Towers, part Indiana Jones this book will make you laugh, cry, desire to travel the world by tall-ship and make you quite thirsty. Pete definitely has a knack for telling a good story and for getting himself into just enough trouble to make sure that story has some zest. So put down that copy of Twilight you’re reading and dive into the world of international beer smuggling, brazilian hookers and cartoon meat with Pete. (If you go to Pete’s blog you can order the book via an amazon link).

Now, down to the cellar to see what IPAs I have waiting for me!

and finally (recipes)

Ok, this is the last post about the Nocturnal Brew n’ Que at Alvinne. I have had several requests for recipes, so here you go. Recipes for almost everything we served! If you are a homebrewer and would like to look at the recipe we brewed that day, I scaled it down in my previous post.

For European readers 1 cup = 237ml Other useful conversion can be found with this link, or this one

Guacamole:

  • 3 ripe avocados
  • juice of 1 large lime
  • 1/2 – 1 hot red pepper, finely chopped
  • small handful of coriander leaves (cilantro), roughly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (optional)
  • 1/2 small red onion finely chopped

Scoop the flesh out of the avocados and coarsely mash with a fork. To maximize the juice from the lime you should place it on your work surface and push down on it with the palm of your had. Now roll it around while pressing. You can then cut it in half and squeeze out that lovely juice. Mix in the remaining ingredients and serve with tortilla chips. It’s best if you let the quacamole rest in the fridge a couple hours before serving.

Salsa:

  • 1 cup seeded and finely diced tomato
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1 hot red pepper
  • juice of 1 large lime
  • small handful of coriander (cilantro) leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons Alvinne Morpheus Tripel
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Mix together, chill for a couple hours. Serve with tortilla chips.

Alvinno Shrimp:

Simply shrimp marinated in 2-3 parts Alvinno, 1 part olive oil and a dash of Piet Huysentruyt honey-mustard seasoning. Marinate for a couple of hours and then impale them on some skewers. Cook over direct heat on your charcoal grill.

Ribs:

marinade:

  • 70% Alvinne Wild (Rodenbach is an easy to find substitute if you can’t get a hold of the Wild)
  • 30% apple juice

rub: (This makes more than you need but you can store it for a long time)

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sweet paprika
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons ground pepper
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon pilli pilli
  • 3/4 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoons cayenne
  • 1 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

Marinate overnight in the fridge with enough liquid to cover all the ribs (if you marinate the ribs in zip-lock bags you don’t need as much marinade). 45 minutes to an hour before placing in the smoker, remove the ribs from the marinade, pat them dry, liberally cover with your favorite rub and let them come up to room temperature. Smoke between 100-120C (210-250F) till done (around 5 hours) with a combination of cherry and pecan wood chunks. Don’t go too high with the temp because the sugar in the rub will burn.

Mop the ribs with some of the marinade a few times during the cook.

Salmon

Simply brush your salmon filet with olive oil, sprinkle with some dill and slap it on the grill.

Pork loin:

  • 1 well-trimmed pork loin (about 1kg or 2lbs.)

marinade:

  • 1 bottle Alvinne Wild (Rodenbach is an easy to find substitute if you can’t get a hold of the Wild)
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey

rub:

  • see rib rub above or use your favorite spice rub

Marinate the pork loin with the Alvinne Wild, apple juice and honey for 2-3 hours in the fridge. about 30-45 minutes before cooking, take the pork out of the marinade, pat dry, dust it with the rub and let it come up to room temperature. Place in your smoker (or grill set up for indirect cooking) at a temperature of around 120-140C (250-280F) with some Cherry and Pecan wood chunks for that smokey goodness (apple, pear, hickory, cherry, and pecan all work well with this). It should take about 60-75 minutes depending on the size of the loin and the temperature. Use a thermometer and take the pork out of the smoker at 65-67C, loosely cover in foil and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice and serve with a touch of Honey-mustard Beercream sauce.

Honey-mustard beercream sauce: (this is a bit of an approximation since I usually don’t measure stuff out when I make sauces)

  • 1/2 small yellow onion
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 bottle Alvinne Wild
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons grain mustard
  • 2 dl  (3/4-1cup) heavy cream
  • thickener if needed

Sautee the onion in the butter until translucent and then add the beer, apple juice and honey (you can use the marinade here but then you will need to skim off the “fatty foam” that will appear during cooking). Cook this down to about half the volume. Addthe mustard and cream and continue cooking for 5-10 minutes. If you desire a thicker sauce then use your tickener of choice (corn starch, maizena, etc.)

Cornbread:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup corn meal
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F). Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the butter to a baking dish/pan and set in the oven. In a separate bowl mix the eggs, milk and oil. When ready, add the wet ingredients all at once to the dry ingredients and stir together, but don’t over-mix. Just make sure there are no lumps. Take the pan out of the oven and swirl the butter around. Pour the mixture into the hot dish/pan and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly golden brown on top. Test with a toothpick for doneness.

Coleslaw:

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups shredded green cabbage (roughly half a cabbage)
  • 1 cup shredded red cabbage
  • 1 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/4 finely chopped green onion

Mix the mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Then mix in the cabbage, carrots and onion. Refridgerate for at least two hours.

Melon Mint and Feta salad:

  • 1/2 each of 3 different melons (watermelon, gavia, and cavaillon were used here)
  • half a small block of feta (roughly 50 grams)
  • a small handfull of fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • dash of pepper

Use a melon baller and scoop out the three melon halves. Break or cut the feta into small bits and add to the melon. Take the mint leaves, stack them, roll into a cigar, finely slice and add to the salad. Just before serving add the oil, vinegar and pepper and toss.

Mocha Bomb Sabayon:

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 tablespoons Imperial stout (Struise Black Damnation Mocha Bomb works great!) but it apparently you have to use beer that is above 10%abv

Simply add all ingredients to a pan. Now comes the hard part. Over a very low fire you need to start whipping the mixture with a whisk. Pretend your life depended on it. Oh, and this will take a while. If you stop too soon then your egg mixture will quickly separate. If you have the fire too high, whisk too slow, or cook too long then you will end up with bits of omlette in your sabayon. If you manage to do that right then serve the creamy smooth and frothy mixture with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. This recipe should be good for 4 servings.

If you want to see someone making Sabayon check out this video (ignore the ingredients… just watch the process).

Moink balls à la Alvinne:

Take 1 kg (2.2 lbs) “gehakt met kruiden” (ground veal and pork mixture with some herbs that everyone here uses anytime ground meat is needed) and roll into bite-size balls. Ours were perhaps a bit on the large side. Then wrap each with a strip of proscuitto. Secure with a toothpick. Dust with your favorite spice rub or seasoning (we used the above mentioned rub). Place on the smoker and cook for an hour or so. As with the other dishes, we used Cherry and Pecan wood for the smoke. Lastly slather each one with a good amount of BBQ sauce, jam or jelly and cook for another 15 minutes or so. We sort of threw together our own beer based BBQ sauce but no one remembers what exactly was put into it. The recipe will remain a mystery forever.

the more the merrier – part 2 (brew)

The Nocturnal brew session at Alvinne was not just about barbecue. As the name suggests it was also about brewing beer. Glenn, Davy and Marc (the Alvinne three) had been toying around with the idea of doing a night time brew-fest for quite a while, but they didn’t have a recipe. I suggested a big ass barleywine since they needed a big beer to test the alcohol tolerance of their new house yeast. Normally I prefer more sessionable brews but I thought that this could be a fun challenge. Davy asked if I wanted to come up with an idea for the recipe so I promptly got to work in Beer Alchemy. To my surprise the Alvinne boys agreed to brew it as is. Not only were they going to brew it, but they wanted to release it as a “collaboration” beer with Birdsong Brewery (that’s me). To make the beer complete, I was also asked to design the label. I am not a graphic designer but I do like to play one in the brewery. As you may have figured out from the image above, the beer is called Night Owl. That is not the actual label but rather the design direction that the Alvinne crew chose from some quick ideas I showed them.

We’re calling it a Belgian Barleywine. Now I am certainly no fan of “beer styles” and I don’t like to try to pigeon hole beers, however, beer styles can be useful when coming up with ideas for beers, or when describing beers. For Night Owl I basically started with the idea of an English barleywine and twisted it into a truly dark Belgian beast of a beer. It won’t be a Belgian Dark Strong, it won’t be a Quadrupel… it will be a Belgian Barleywine, whatever that is.

3.5 hectoliters of Night Owl were brewed but I adapted the recipe here for homebrew scale, 20 liters (5.3 gallons). You may need to adjust the recipe for your brewhouse efficiency:

Night Owl:
Wort Volume After Boil: 20.00 l
Expected OG: 1.134 SG (including sugar addition during fermentation)
edit: above SG was our target.. we actually were just a touch lower. About 1.130
Expected FG: 1.020 SG
Expected ABV: 15.6 %
Expected IBU (using Rager): 77
Expected Color: 112 EBC (43 SRM)
Boil Duration: 75 mins


fermentables:
  • 52% Belgian Pale – 5.7kg (12.6 lbs)
  • 21% Munich – 2.27kg (5 lbs)
  • 4% Biscuit – 450g (1 lbs)
  • 4% Special B – 450g (1 lbs)
  • 2% Dehusked chocolate (800EBC) – 225g (.5 lbs)
  • 17% Dark Candi Syrup (200 EBC) – 1.8kg (4 lbs) – added a few days after fermentation begins
hops:
  • 28g (1 oz)East Kent Goldings – first wort hopping
  • 28g (1 oz) Magnum (just a touch of Pioneer was added at Alvinne since we ran out of magnum) – 60 minutes from the end
  • 28g (1 oz) East Kent Goldings at flameout
  • we will most likely be dry hopping this beer with the equivalent of 56g (2 oz) East Kent Goldings

single infusion mash at 67-68C for 90 minutes

relatively hard West Flanders water

yeast:

Use the newly introduced Morpheus yeast from Alvinne. Culture this from a bottle of Alvinne beer but make sure the bottle says “Morpheus yeast inside.” You can read about the yeast here, if you can read dutch. This yeast is pretty clean for a belgian yeast and highly attenuative. It can produce a slight apple note. Its not as clean as the California Ale yeast but that may actually be a good starting point. If I was really trying to mimic this yeast then I may try a mix of California Ale yeast and the Duvel strain.

This beer was brewed at night. By the time it was chilled and pumped to the fermentation tank it was around 2am. By 9am when we looked into the brewery we saw that the Morpheus yeast had certainly been busy. For more photos of the brewing of Night Owl (intertwined with photos of barbecue), click on the photo above.

Keep your fingers crossed and pray that this beer turns out fantastic or no brewer will ever trust me again.

the more the merrier – part 1 (smoke)

Friday July 2nd was a busy day for the Smoking Bottle. Picobrouwerij Alvinne was having their first (hopefully annual) Nocturnal Brew Session. 30+ friends were invited to join them while they brew a special night brew, opened up a collection of beer from around the world  and served some tasty BBQ. The reason it was so busy for me is because I was asked to provide the beer based BBQ (and more, but thats for Part 2).

the production line and some chips, salsa and guacamole

The prep/cooking started at 10am up in De Proefzolder (The Tasting Attic). An attic is usually not the best place to be on a very hot day, however we pushed on and proceeded to slice, dice, bake, marinate, mix and clean up before guests started arriving at 6pm. Once they did they found themselves greeted by cold beer and tortilla chips with freshly made Salsa and Guacamole. The salsa was very nice and had a touch of Alvinne Tripel thrown in for an extra twist. The Guacamole was also a hit. I’ve been on a mission lately to show the Belgian folk what guacamole is supposed to look and taste like. The jars of radioactive goo that people buy here is a disgrace. It doesn’t even taste like guacamole. The fresh stuff was almost a revelation for some people.

the "outdoor kitchen" and ribs in the smoker

Next we threw Alvinno and olive oil marinated shrimp onto the grill. The tasty shrimp were able to tide people over until the ribs were ready. Almost as fast as I could get the 15 racks of ribs out of the WSM they disappeared. I barley had a taste of them. To be honest I wasn’t all that happy with them but everyone else seemed to like them quite a bit. I think they needed just a little more time on the smoker and less sugar in the rub.

Abracadavre steaming up the attic and pork smoking up outside

After a great performance by brewery friends Abracadavre it was time to for the main course, smoked pork loins. This is basically my go-to grilling recipe but done on the smoker. After being marinated and then smoked for an hour and a quarter (until 66-67C internal temp) with a combination of Cherry and Pecan wood, the pork was served with a honey-mustard-beer-cream sauce, good old Coleslaw, Cornbread, potatoes, and a melon salad with mint and feta. It all turned out really nice. I heard someone say “I didn’t know barbecue could be so good.” Mission accomplished.

Glenn whipping up some Sabayon and Moink balls doing their thing

To finish all that meat off, Glenn made his world famous Sabayon with De Struise Brouwers Mocha Bomb. Sabayon is one of my absolute favorite deserts and the Mocha Bomb suits it so wonderfully. Excellent stuff! But thats not the end. To further feed our caveman like urge for meat and fire we threw together an interesting “Belgianized” version of Moink balls as a late snack. I think that was around 2am… or was it 3am?

I am certainly not used to cooking for large groups, and I tend to over analyze everything, but at the end of the day it was an enjoyable cooking session with great people. If only my wife and baby girl would have been there then It would have been perfect. Fire-cooked food, great beer and good people… what else do you need?

click on the photos above to see more.

Sorry that this was just a bit of a run down of events, but I will post all the recipes soon. I don’t want to have a 3000 word post… no one wants to read that. I sure ain’t no good writer.

she’s asleep, ferment something!

daddy drinks because I cryThats what I thought last friday when I was home taking care of a child who was just sick enough not to go to daycare. When the little angel took her afternoon nap I remembered that there was a bucket of 5kg of honey waiting to be turned into mead. “Perfect, it should be just enough time!” It was close but I was finishing the cleanup when I heard her cry out to be freed from her crib.

Mead is not one of my favorite drinks but I do find it interesting enough to make a batch every year or two. Thankfully my mother in law really seems to like what I have made so far. Sweet meads are definitely not my thing so all I have made are dry meads. The nice thing about mead is that you can very easily and quickly make it at home. Just grab some honey, mix with water and pitch some yeast. The bad thing about mead is that it generally needs to age for at least 6 months before you want to drink it (a year is better). My last batch of mead still needs to be bottled after aging for almost 2 years (post coming on that soon I hope). It was tasting very nice last time I drew a sample off of it.

15 liters of Sleep Like a Baby Mead (temporary name):

OG 1.108
expected ABV 14.5% (if the yeast plays along)

5kg of mystery honey (lost the info but it seemed like wildflower honey)
edit: I found my info and apparently it is Linden blossom honey
11 liters of water in total
3g Wyeast yeast nutrient
1 packet of properly re-hydrated dried Kitzinger Bordeaux yeast

crystallized honeyProcess: In a large pot I combined 4 liters of water with the 5kg of honey. This brought the volume up to 8 liters. On the stove, the mixture was brought up to 70-75 celsius (158-167F). Since this batch of Honey had been sitting quite a while it had all crystallized so it took a while to dissolve. After it was dissolved I added the yeast nutrient and let the brew sit at 70-75 for about a half an hour. There is a big debate in the Mead making world whether or not you should boil your mead or make it cold, so I go in the middle and try to hit pasteurization temps. Hot enough and long enough to kill most spoilage critters but not hot enough to drive off too many aroma compounds. The pot was then stuck in the sink with cold water to try to cool it down a bit. While that was cooling I put an additional 7 liters of cold water into my fermentation vessel. Once I added the must, or honey-water, to the vessel the temperature was right around ideal yeast pitching temp. Pitch yeast, shake it a bit, set aside and clean up.

This will be the strongest mead I have made yet. All the others have been in the 1.080 OG range and ended nice and dry, around 0.996 FG. This one may end up just a touch sweeter, but if it does become super dry I won’t be disappointed. This mead will also be the first time I will use some oak in a mead, which I will add when I rack it over in about a month.

If you’ve never brewed up a mead it may be worth a try. In under two hours you can whip up a batch and have the kitchen all cleaned up.

M.I.A.

I’m still here. Over the past weeks I have been on vacation, spent some more time sick, and been too busy digging in dirt to post here. You can expect some upcoming posts very soon though… but just as a small preview of whats to come:

  • After more than a year of aging, New Addition has been bottled
  • grilling up some good eats for a hungry group professional brewers and drinkers
  • experiments with corking and caging bottles
  • various grilled meats have been making the spring taste great
  • a brewery was actually crazy enough to let me create a recipe for them and design the label
  • a very funky stout recipe
  • some well-matured mead
  • and a few other items.
non-beer or BBQ related vacation photo