another 2010 list

Its that time of the year when every beer blogger comes up with their  “Best Of” lists. I generally avoid such listings on my site, and I also avoid doing much beer reviewing since there are a thousand others doing that and they can actually write. However, for some strange reason I thought I’d give it a go this year. So it is time to unveil the inaugural 2010 Golden Goblet Awards! Some of you may be thinking that this sounds familiar, but I can assure you that any resemblance to other yearly blog-based awards is purely by coincidence. Sure there is that thing called the Golden Pint Award, but that’s completely different. First of all it’s British, and then there’s….. ok, it’s plagiarism, thievery, flattery or whatever you want to call it,

Hopefully some fellow Belgian beery-types will follow suit and post their Golden Goblets online as well. If you would like to participate, either add your winners in a comment here or post them on your own blog and post a link here. Feel free to add, delete, or change the categories and have some fun with the open category at the end.

…And now for my winners!

  • Best Belgian Draught/Cask Beer Saison Dupont… its just so damn drinkable! Alvinne Wild Undressed was a close second
  • Best Belgian Bottled BeerOerbier Reserva This beer knows how to please me!
  • Best International Draught/Cask Beer – Tough one, but perhaps Marble Decadence. I really enjoyed all the Marble cask beers at the Borefts Bierfestival… Damn fine beer
  • Best International Bottled Beer – Tied betweren Jolly Pumpkin Madrugada Obscura and Haandbryggeriet Dark Force
  • Best Beer based/induced Experience – Nocturnal Brew and BBQ at Alvinne
  • Best Beer LabelOdell’s St. Lupulin (I know it actually came out in 2009 but I didn’t see it then) Odell’s labels are great in general with their screen print style graphics. I’d love to have some large prints for my wall.
  • Best Belgian BreweryAlvinne. Maybe it’s because I took a class there, maybe it was the collaboration brew I did with them, maybe it’s for all they do for craft beer in Belgium, maybe it’s because thery’re real good guys, or maybe it’s just because they brew some good beer and don’t mind taking a risk. Expect big things from them in the future.
  • Best International BreweryJolly Pumpkin
  • Pub/Bar of the YearMoeder Lambic Fontainas
  • Beer Festival of the Year – First place goes to Pre-ZBF (from now on called the Alvinne Craft Beer Festival). Second place, De Molen’s Borefts Bierfestival
  • Beer Retailer of the YearAlvinne. not only do they brew beer but they have a shop filled with gems from around the world… and that doesn’t happen in Belgium
  • Best Beer Book or MagazinePete Brown‘s Hops and Glory (again, I was late with that one)
  • Best Beer Blog or Website – First place- The Mad Fermentationist (great source of brewing inspiration). Second place- Thirsty Pilgrim (that boy can write)
  • Most interesting online pressence for a brewery: Real Brewing at the Sharp End with the 52 brews project.
  • Food and Beer Pairing of the YearAlvino 2009 with smoked Pork Tenderloin
  • Beer I’m most looking forward to in 2011Brasserie Dupont’s Monk’s Stout
  • In 2011 I’d Most Like To…  Brew on a real brewery system… perhaps get a true Birdsong beer out there.
  • Open Category – I’m calling this the “Get On That” trophy (Goes to any beer or beer related thing that showed a lot of promise but just seemed to miss the mark. Also known as the “Better luck next year” trophy): unTappd. Far from perfect but this little app has been getting some use on my iPhone. It allows you to quickly post what you are drinking and where you are drinking it. If only it had a bit more social interaction and the ability to add a simple rating to ratebeer if you so desire… oh yeah, and throw in a dash of Pintley‘s reccomendations and Beercloud‘s food pairings, then you’ll have a winner (They all offer something, but none offer enough). So get on that unTappd peeps!

testing testing

As previously posted I will be supplimenting my all-grain brewing with some quick extract batches in the hopes that I can experiment more often. Well, after a friend (one of the few Mexicans in Belgium) handed me a bag of Chipotle peppers straight from the mother land, I knew my first experiment had to be a Chipotle pale ale. Chipotle peppers are not exactly common here in Belgium so I was very happy to receive these. I know I’m not the first brewer to throw some peppers in a beer but I’ve never done it and thought it was time to try it myself. Time for the innaugural “Test Pilot” brew!

The things I want to test with this 10 liter (2.6 US gallons) batch are:
  • the handling and amount of peppers to use in a beer
  • the combo of Nelson Sauvin and firey spice
  • smoke (from the smoked peppers) in a pale ale
  • only using late hop additions (30 min or less in boil)
  • chipotle peppers and hops

    I kept the malt extremely simple. I did however use some old extract I had in the cupboard as a portion of the total DME bill…. hmmm, maybe that wasn’t the best idea though. A touch of chocolate malt was steeped in the kettle before adding the malt extract and boiling. The roasted malt will hopefully support the smoke and give a touch of earthiness. Since extract has already had the snot boiled out of it in it’s creation, a full 60 minute boil is not needed, and since I was only adding late hops I only boiled for 30 minutes. I added the small amount of chipotle peppers with 5 min to go in boil and let the wort sit for 20 minutes before cooling. The sample I tasted did show a very low spice level in the back of the throat and a nice level of smoke. We’ll see what the yeast does with this. If the final flavor and spice level seem to be a going in the right direction than I do plan on brewing a more “serious” all-grain version. Man, I really hope that old DME won’t get in the way too much. Damn my cheapness!

    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.

    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!

    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

    • 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
    • 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


    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.

    the go-to recipe

    While I always like to try out new things there is one dish that gets cooked more than any other… beer and honey marinated Pork Tenderloin. Simple and crowd pleasing.

    Grab yourself a good sized pork tenderloin between 700-900g (1.5-2lbs). Smaller is ok if you can’t find a big one. Throw it into a zip-lock bag (a bowl works too but you’ll have to use more marinade). Mix together one bottle of a good dark beer (stay away from anything too bitter) and a couple tablespoons of honey. Add that too the zip-lock bag and chuck it in the fridge for a couple hours, or 45 minutes at room temp if you forgot to plan well (yeah, thats usually the route I take). If you went the cold route then make sure your pork has come back up to room temp before cooking. Set up your grill for indirect cooking. Pull the pork out of the bag and pat dry. Here you can add a dash of rub if you like, or just season with some sea salt and black pepper. Quickly sear the pork loin over the coals and then cook indirect until desired doneness. Depending on the size of the piece the total cook time should be about 35 minutes. Let it rest for 10 minutes under tinfoil before you slice it up.

    This works out nicely for hungry groups because you can pack quite a few of these on the grill. You can also really play around with this by switching up the beer you use, adding a rub, mopping during the cook, different type of honey or sugar, or adding a sauce.

    Care to share your go-to dish in a comment below?

    bird in a bottle

    Early Bird is now bottle conditioning. After my brewday with Murphy and his so-called law I was pretty dissapointed and ready to dump this beer down the drain. I called off all extra experiments that I was going to try with this batch (no funkdafication, no bottling with maple-syrup, no oak). With much trepidation, I transfered the fermented beer to the bottling bucket and drew off a sample for the hydrometer. Much to my surprise the beer ended at 1.011 SG. I was expecting it to end lower. Still, its not the 1.016 I was hoping for but it shouldn’t be “too thin”. So not all is lost.

    Flavor wise it seems to be going in the right direction. The roast level is quite nice, assertive but not astringent in any way. A nice blend of cold steeped coffee and chocolate. It was a bit hard to tell, and maybe I was hoping for it too much, but the oat malt did seem to bring some oaty flavors to the mix. In the back there was also a definite fruitiness that I assume is from the raisins but it seemed a little more cidery than it did before fermentation. You wouldn’t necessarily pick it out as raisins… at least not yet. You never know what will happen once its bottle conditioned.

    To bring a little  experimentation back into this brew I decided to try out a variety of bottles. It will be nice to see if the different bottle volumes really do have an impact on the beer. I also just wanted to make the chore of bottling (I really need to start kegging) go a bit faster so I only bottled up a little over one case of normal bottles and the rest of the batch went into 75cl champagne bottles, a couple 37.5cl bottles, and one Magnum! It was my first time with the Magnum and the champagne style 75cl bottles. The Magum is quite impressive and will definitely call for a label. To finish them off I had to get out my old hand-capper (as opposed to my bench capper) for the 29mm crown caps. The capper didn’t like the thicker necks of those bottles but with a little extra persuading they seemed to go on just fine. Next time I will try my hand at corking and caging those bottles.