Archive for September, 2012

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Time for Pumpkin Ale

September 28, 2012

We look to be getting a bit of relief this weekend, but there’s no question about today: it’s fall, rainy, and dark. Which may sound depressing to some of you, but we can’t be drinking rum punches and summer shandy’s all year round, now can we? No, instead the fall represents some of the more exciting drinking trends of the year including the now everywhere Pumpkin Ale.

It was only a few years ago where the seasonal beer market was beginning to take off, and the typical fall offerings included Oktoberfests and heartier wheat brews. But then, seemingly overnight, the Pumpkin Ale made its way into bars and stores alike and now the number of breweries producing this variety is overwhelming.

The history however is a bit more interesting and certainly a bit more patriotic. We often associate the pumpkin with Thanksgiving pies and Halloween spooks, but the pumpkin was one of the early American sources of nutrition widely available to the early settlers. As those settlers looked for ingredients to continue their ale-drinking ways, the pumpkin offered all of the necessary requirements. But over the years, as American beer making simplified (that’s a nice way of putting it), the pumpkin was all but forgotten.

When a few small-batch breweries started to bring this variety back into the market, the interest outran the availability. Now, like I mentioned, the grocery store beer aisle is filled to the brim with pumpkin ales and having tried a number of them, it’s amazing how much they vary. I have personally found that Brooklyn Brewery’s Post Road is my favorite of the six-pack varieties. The Southern Tier Pumking, mostly available in the larger 22 oz bottle (at least around here), is also damn delicious, and a bit stronger. If you were interested in drinking your Thanksgiving dinner, this would be the one.

There are a few watch outs as you go through the varieties to determine your favorite, however. There are a few breweries out there who simple add spices to their mash that we have referenced in our pumpkin memories. This means, pumpkin pie spices like nutmeg and cinnamon are used to make the sensorial connection in our brains. These are typically the beers I don’t end up liking. They tend to be sweet, and not at all complex. The reason for this method is that brewing with actual pumpkin isn’t that easy. The water and starch/sugar content plays a crucial role in the fermentation process and adding pumpkin will obviously tweak this a bit. There are amazing tutorials out there for the home-brewers but if you are simply drinking the stuff, head to your best beer distributor, make yourself a variety pack and get to drinking some true American brew!

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To Smell or Not to Smell

September 27, 2012

I may often paint my fellow Noblers as booze-fiending, loyal followers of the experiment but…Well that’s true. However, some of them can write…

Why do we smell wine?  It’s a question so many people have, yet are often too embarrassed to ask.  It’s amazing that no other beverage releases as much anxiety around its enjoyment as wine does, and the reality is that the practices we go through, like smelling the wine, just help us enjoy it more, not make us better or worse than those who don’t smell a particular “scent”. Seriously, if someone actually judges you because you say you smell a certain something in the wine that they think is incorrect, take their glass out of their hand and dump it on their head.  Wine should not be pretentious, and if people must revert to childlike actions such as making others feel inferior, they are clearly not mature enough to be drinking in the first place. The fact of the matter is, you will only smell what you know, and each person has their own repertoire of “smell memories” to pull from, so naturally each person’s experience with smell will vary. 

When wine is first poured into your glass, the first thing you should do is swirl the liquid around a bit.  Swirling the liquid allows the wine to come in contact with oxygen and “opens it up,” therefore allowing many of the aromas to be released.  After you swirl the wine, stick your nose into that glass. Just close your eyes and sniff.  When you smell, think about what you are smelling: Do you smell tropical fruits, dark plums, cherries and strawberries or do you notice smells that would be more at home in a barnyard?  What you smell offers your brain a preview of what you’re about to taste, and actually helps you enjoy the wine more. For additional proof, take a sip of the wine while plugging your nose, and then take a sip of the wine normally.  Notice how different the experience is?

So, while smelling a wine can look snobby, it’s actually an integral part of your overall wine experience.

– Adam

 
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The Admiral Schley Punch

September 25, 2012

As you know, I love to mess around with all sorts of ingredients in coming up with new cocktails. But, sometimes, finding a classic recipe that hits the spot is even more exciting. And when that classic recipe is named after a 19th Century Naval Officer involved in a controversial battle near the end of the Spanish War, it’s easy to get all jazzed up and slug a few of these while imagining life on board the USS Brooklyn, the flagship of Winfield Scott Schley’s Flying Squadron.

The Flying Squadron and the USS Brooklyn in particular were key players in the defeat of the Spanish Navy in the summer of 1898. But the historical records of Schley’s role aren’t as clear cut. His rival and senior in rank, William Sampson, felt Schley’s actions were rogue and disobedient. When a historical account of the US Navy was published with Sampson’s input and approval claiming Schley to be “caitiff, poltroon, and coward”, shit got real. Schley was never able to fully reverse the claims but since has remained a strongly considered war hero and is buried with honors in Arlington National Cemetery. So take that Sampson…

But maybe his most important contribution to modern day society is this cocktail (okay, that’s probably not reasonable). It isn’t entirely clear (besides the Caribbean and American liquor combination) why this drink was garnered as his namesake, but the little I’ve read about Schley makes me think he enjoyed his booze. So much so that he couldn’t choose between bourbon and rum and realized how delicious they were together. When I first saw this recipe I wasn’t so sure how this combination would be. But it turns out the two liquors play off each other extremely well. The age of the bourbon with the molasses like sweetness of the rum matches with the lime juice to make a seriously strong and flavorful punch.

And the real proof of cocktail greatness: I had two of these and felt like I could command a warship…

The Admiral Schley Punch

 1 ½ oz Bourbon

1 ½ oz Dark Rum

1 ½ oz Lime Juice

1 tbsp honey

Mix all of the ingredients vigorously in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. For the best results, stir the honey and the lime together in advance so the honey does not clump. Pour into a glass with the ice and garnish with a lime. The original recipe called for mint and a pineapple wedge as garnish which sound delicious but I didn’t have. Feel free to mess around with these and other garnishes.

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Cow Thieves Witbier Eliminates Anxiety

September 24, 2012

“The coriander may potentiate the anxiolytic effects of the alcohol..”

Orange Peel, Coriander, and Lemongrass

So the Cow Thieves Brewery was up and running again this weekend pumping out two batches of Witbier. Turns out we are getting quite efficient in brewing as we’ve got multiple pots on multiple burners and only once did one of us almost die: a little mishap where our sterilization solution was mistaken for water…

This time around, we decided to use subtle flavor additions as our variable change. In the first batch we used a somewhat straightforward mix of orange and coriander and for the second, a little pungent lemongrass. I’m really curious to see how the lemongrass shines through because the acidity I associate with the stuff for cooking, is one of my favorite flavor profiles. The coriander and orange peel blend is a riff off of some more common wheat beers like a Blue Moon and considering (according to their wikipedia page) the coriander adds some extra anti-anxiety punch to the alcohol (see awesome quote above), I’m anticipating a few fantastic evenings, sipping on our brew, without a care in the world.

Who knows, maybe this is the beer that finally gets me to sit still!

 

 

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Gluten Free?

September 20, 2012

This weekend, Cow Thieves Brewery, is back at it again, this time working on our very first wheat beer batches. We’ve got a few interesting flavor profiles we will experiment with (Coriander / Bitter Orange and Lemongrass / Grapefruit), but one thing is for sure, our wheat free friends will have to hold off until the next round of brewing. Sorry Wheat Free Sarah…

But this got me thinking. I’ve been hearing more and more about gluten-free beers that are coming into the market place to capture up the ever-growing market of gluten avoiding beer lovers. If you aren’t familiar with the gluten-free on-goings these days, the majority of the awareness has come from the more readily diagnosed Celiac disease. Celiac disease is essentially an auto-immune response to certain peptides (found in gluten) that has some pretty nasty symptoms. The only real remedy is to completely avoid gluten.  An important distinction however, is that Celiac Disease and a wheat allergy are not interchangeable. So…there are some folks out there that avoid wheat, but eat other sources of gluten without problem.

So with my handy-dandy chemistry background in tow, I had always assumed that those that did suffer from Celiac, should skip the beer and go straight to liquor. And after a little double checking, celiac-disease.com confirmed my suspicion that all distilled products are indeed gluten-free. That in fact, the distillation process leaves behind those nasty proteins causing all the problems. But then I went back to my Google search and found a few interesting rebuttals. There are quite a few folks who claim to have had not so great reactions to wheat based distillates like many vodkas on the market. So maybe this isn’t so clear after all…

One important comment I read was essentially “why risk it?”. With so many alternative choices out there producing non-wheat based vodkas for example, Chopin from potatoes and Ciroc from Grapes, what’s the point in drinking the others.  But that still limits you at weddings, happy hours, dinner parties, and I’m not so sure I’m convinced one way or the other. So I’m leaving it up to you Gluten-Free readers. What do you do when choosing liquor? Have you ever had a bad reaction to a wheat based vodka?

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Mead Tasting and Axe Throwing

September 19, 2012

This weekend we went beer and mead tasting in Tuxedo, NY. And by beer and mead tasting, I mean we went to the Renaissance Faire. You may be looking for further explanation here, but I can assure it’s not necessary. Next year, go, drink, and throw some axes and tell me it wasn’t one of the more ridiculously fun days of your life.

Oh, you mean, you were looking for a further explanation on mead? And that last little rant was defensive and unnecessary? My apologies…

Mead is one of the more ancient forms of liquid courage we still enjoy today. At its core it’s quite simple. Honey and water mixed together, and fermented until the alcohol content mirrors that of wine. This of course is why it’s often referred to as honey wine. But the interesting thing here is how like so many other alcoholic beverages in human history, the original form came from natural fermentation of wild and local yeast. Those naturally occurring yeast, feast on the sugars in the honey and produce ethanol. And like this amazing recipe translated from the 1st century (yep, I said 1st) suggests, making mead was as natural as it got:

Take rainwater kept for several years, and mix a sextarius of this water with a pound of honey. For a weaker mead, mix a sextarius of water with nine ounces of honey. The whole is exposed to the sun for 40 days and then left on a shelf near the fire. If you have no rain water, then boil spring water.

Nowadays, you don’t see mead too often. In fact, I’m not sure if I have ever seen the stuff outside of the Renaissance Faire. But other interpretations of mead have been making their way into the market place. Melomel for example is mead fermented with the addition of fruit. Some wineries have even begun to ferment this variety of mead from their excess grapes. As for the basic stuff however, it seems like a fun thing to make on your own. With the starting materials being about as simple as they come, I imagine it wouldn’t be too hard to make some mead, and make it quickly. I think I might give it a shot in time for Thanksgiving, so the family and I can sit back and enjoy a few glasses of mulled mead. Another perfect example of the versatility of this concoction! Huzzah to mead!

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The Nobler Mixer and Bathtub Gin

September 17, 2012

“I… (insert name here)… Member in good standing of the He-Man Woman Haters Club… Do solemnly swear to be a he-man and hate women and not play with them or talk to them unless I have to. And especially: never fall in love, and if I do may I die slowly and painfully and suffer for hours – or until I scream bloody murder.”

– The Little Rascals

We at the Nobler Experiment are not nearly as barbaric as those Little Rascals. However, for the nine times we have gathered to date, the Noblers have met sans the ladies. So for our tenth installment of the Nobler Gathering series, we felt strongly it was time to to branch out. And branch out we did, at the Nobler Mixer…

Just like we had in the past, we showcased one particular type of liquor, one of which made it’s name close to 100 years ago during Prohibition as men and women gathered for cocktail parties just like ours. Well sort of. Their cocktail parties were held in secret locations with the added excitement of breaking the law but that’s just semantics. One major difference however, was their drink of choice, bathtub gin, was driven by necessity, not preference. As the high (or even average) quality liquor became wildly expensive and hard to locate, folks looking to let loose and throw a party were forced to buy low quality, and in some cases dangerous alcohol. Let’s ignore the purchasing of wood based alcohol (which actually can kill you) for now, and focus on the “Popov” like grain liquor that was nearly un-drinkable.

We’ve all had the plastic jug vodka before, and we all know how nasty it can be. Vodka is kind of ironic in that way. We typically pay more for the stuff to taste like less. But for both taste and finish alike, these plastic bottle, $7.99 vodkas are a good comparison to what our Prohibition friends were faced with. These folks were smart, however. By adding herbs, spices, and other ingredients, they were able to mellow the grain alcohol and add some well needed flavor. In many cases, juniper berries were used to impart that “gin” like flavor profile as the strength of this flavoring went a long way for drink-ability. So why the bathtub labeling? Turns out, in order to mellow the grain liquor even more, bottles were topped off with water. And the most efficient and hidden method: using the bathtub faucet.

For our Mixer, I made three “bathtub gins” and served them in three fantastic cocktails. My lavender and honey martini was a perfect way to kick off the evening as we snacked on cucumber sandwiches, homemade ricotta and sweet pea and mint puree. Following up the martini was a citrus “bathtub gin” that had bright flavor notes from the lemon and orange peels paired with rosemary and lemon thyme. Mixed up with a rosemary lemonade and a cucumber slice, this cocktail was wildly refreshing (see top photo).  And last but not least, a more traditionally flavored “bathtub gin” with juniper berries, cardamom, rosemary, and fennel seed made for a perfect gin and tonic.

While the drinks went over exceptionally well, the food was just as delicious. Co-host, Kelly created some of the more memorable bites of the night with her mushroom and olive stromboli and most amazingly with her plum and rosemary tart with sweet corn ice cream. Friggin delicious! And to be completely candid, it was nice having the ladies there. They make us all look good!

So what to do if you are looking to make your own “bathtub gin”. It’s actually amazingly simple. With a few mason jars, and a couple bottles of decent vodka, you can replicate the process with almost any flavors of your preference. This is a great time of year as your herb gardens are dying for new applications and the fall months are perfect for a stiff drink. While it was really fun to replicate the traditional gin flavor, my favorite of the bunch ended up being the lavender. I used a few sprigs of fresh lavender and tasted daily. After about a week, the flavor was perfect. With a little bit of honey and a squeeze of lime, this martini is unreal.

The Nobler Martini:

4 full sprigs of fresh lavender

32 oz average vodka (don’t skimp but don’t go crazy)

4 tbsp honey

1 lime

1 lemon

In a 32 oz mason jar steep the lavender in the vodka for one week. Strain the vodka to remove the lavender and pour through a coffee filter to remove small impurities. Add the honey, the juice of the citrus, shake and keep in the refrigerator until ready. Shake 4 oz of the mixture in a cocktail shaker with ice and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with a lime peel.

 

 

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