Archive for March, 2013

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SweetWater IPA: A True Craft Beer

March 28, 2013

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There’s a lot of really good beer out there. And with national distribution channels and big brands buying up the little guys, in many cases, these delicious beers are available pretty much anywhere. But there are plenty of small-scale brewers maintaining a true regionality to their production, meaning us New Yorkers aren’t exactly their target consumers (Shocking I know right?). But that’s why it’s good to have friends who grew up in different areas of the country so that when they head home, they bring you back beers like SweetWater’s.

The story behind this Atlanta-based brewery is the inspiration that most beer lovers dream of. Two college roommates in Boulder, Colorado fall in love with brewing, head off to brewing school, and settle in Atlanta to launch their very own brewery. 16 years later, these guys are producing some of the areas best beer (so say’s Adam) and after a taste of their IPA I’m 100% sold. The quality and flavors of this IPA are really extraordinary. We’ve been trained to expect a hop bomb every time we pick up an IPA but as with anything, balance is key. The hop forward IPAs that forget about the overall drinking experience always fall flat, and the brewers at SweetWater must feel the same way. Crisp, hoppy, and really enjoyable to drink, their IPA is one of the best I’ve ever tasted.

So what about you all? Any regional gems you are obsessed with in your neck of the woods? And if so, mind if you ship me some…

 

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Porter and Enzymes

March 26, 2013

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It’s been over three months since the last time we brewed and Larry and I both agree: we can’t let that happen again. For one, we were on a nice little routine where I think we had sort of optimized the process a bit so this time we were a bit out of sync. But more importantly, I just absolutely love our brewing Sundays and I really friggin’ missed it. The good news is, this ridiculously long-lasting winter has made our “out of seasonality” a bit easier to catch up with and I’m really excited to see how our Porter and Pale Ale (with Sorachi Ace hops) turn out. Black and tans anyone?

I was particularly excited about the Porter after deciding on a malted barley blend that included some “chocolate malt”. My original thought on this malt as its own sort of varietal was a bit off actually. In fact, just like my affinity for bourbon aging, the key here is an element of heating. Not so much charring in this case; rather the chocolate malt is a more traditional malted barley that has been kilned at a fairly high temperature. This results in a “caramelization” of flavors bringing out the “vanillas” and “caramels” that we love in our Porters. But this high heat kilning has another interesting result as well.

The process of malting barley for fermentation purposes is all about the generation of enzymes. These enzymes act to convert the starch component of the barley to simple sugar molecules that are then digested by the yeast in the mixture. Of course, we know all about the yeast digesting sugar and producing alcohol, but those sugars have to come from somewhere. The amount of enzymes available for this conversion along with the flavor components of the barley itself help impart certain end notes in the product (let’s say beer in this case). So let’s bring it back to the “chocolate malt”. The kilning process actually degrades all of the enzymes. This means, our Porter mash must rely on some component of “pale malt” for the necessary enzymes to get fermentation. 

Man, all of this is getting me thirsty. What about you? Well, just a few weeks more and the next level of appreciation can begin.

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A Passover Cocktail: Charoset and Bourbon

March 25, 2013

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It’s been a busy few weeks as you could probably tell which means I’ve been slacking in the cocktail department recently. Sure enough, all I needed was a weekend out in Sea Cliff with some Cow Thieves Brewing and some family time to get me back in the game. We had a bit of an alternative Passover dinner this year. And by Passover dinner, I mean we ate matzo ball soup and brisket and drank a lot of wine 24 hours before Passover started. So yeah, I like our version much better…

One of the mainstays of a traditional Passover Sedar is charoset, a sweet fruit and nut “chutney” meant to symbolize the mortar used by the Israelites enslaved in Ancient Egypt (I know, pretty heavy stuff for a Monday). It’s actually a pretty simple yet often variable mix of dried fruit, apples, cinnamon, nuts, and red wine and while I’ve never been charoset’s biggest fan, it was the perfect canvas for my first ever Passover inspired cocktail. I swapped out the wine for bourbon because well, I love bourbon. And honestly, you don’t need to be taking part in Passover festivities to enjoy this guy. It’s really delicious and a great balance of sweetness and acidity. Plus you end up with delicious sugary walnuts for snacking in the progress. And it’s strong, so whatever you do, don’t leave this out for Elijah as he might not make it to the next home.

One small issue: I’m pretty sure you aren’t supposed to drink bourbon on passover so, um, yeah….not sure how to help you with that one. Early afternoon cocktail before the holiday starts?

Charoset and Bourbon

3 oz bourbon (your choice)

3 (1/4 inch) slices of granny smith apple

1 large lemon wedge

4 tsp of cinnamon walnut syrup (recipe below)

Crushed Ice

In a rocks glass muddle the apple slices with the bourbon. Add the cinnamon walnut syrup and the juice from the lemon wedge and fill with crushed ice. Pour into a pint glass and then back into the rocks glass to serve. Garnish with apple slices and cinnamon stick.

Cinnamon Walnut Syrup

2 cups water

1 cups sugar

3 cinnamon sticks

1/2 cup toasted unsalted walnuts

pinch of salt

In a sauce pan, bring the sugar and water to a boil. Add the remaining ingredients and reduce the heat to med and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the cinnamon sticks and simmer on low for another 10 minutes. Cool before using. Serve the walnuts as snacks along side of the cocktails!

 

 

 

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Aging, Lactones, and More Science

March 19, 2013
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Mason Jar Bourbon from the Night Cap

I’ve been writing a lot about the science of alcohol recently mainly as a means to distract you from the fact that I probably drink too much. But it must be resonating with a bunch of you because the response has been great!

For those who attended the Night Cap, you had the chance to hear some really interesting details around how bourbon is made. Why oak? Why charred? Why Vanilla? And if this sparked your interest, my good friend Joe found the Scientific American article that’s going to really get you going. This breakdown of the bourbon aging process is one of the best I’ve read and really gets into some fascinating details.

My favorite detail is related to the lactone levels in American Oak versus French Oak. Even if you don’t care to know what a lactone is or how it might impact your whiskey flavor, the point is, very recent analytical methods are now providing insight to tell stories of centuries old. And even more exciting, booze-loving nerds  are using that information to create even better products to enjoy. Can I get another high-five for science?

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Dondurma Days Revisited – Mastiha Liqueur

March 18, 2013

Back in my chemistry lab days, I worked for a pretty cool adviser in Professor Kirshenbaum. On the side from our day to day, we had a number of really interesting food-science related experiments running along with this amazing speaker series called “The Experimental Cuisine Collective” he initiated. I had always been excited about the overlaps between the science and food world myself, so to have been a part of the early days of this work is still something I’m really proud of. And one of the more interesting pieces of work we had going on was related to Dondurma.

Dondurma is a stretchy (yes, I said stretchy) Ice Cream from Turkey that is not only delicious, but pretty entertaining. While the ingredient list is fairly simple (typically milk, sugar, salep, and mastic), it’s the salep itself that we were most interested in. Salep (a flour made from Orchids) has a polysaccharide component called “glucomannan” that helps give the ice cream that stretchy consistency. This same characteristic also provides a sense of satiety making this ice cream particularly interesting as a “better for you” alternative to high sugar, high calorie traditional ice cream. The only problem was (maybe still is?) the Salep flour was not intended to be exported. Therefore we got to work on alternative ingredient choices as a means to make our own version of stretchy Ice Cream.

But as cool as that all sounds, it was actually the Mastic component of the Ice Cream that came flooding back to my brain this weekend. Mastic is a resin from the Mastic Tree that has been used for centuries in candy and gum creation. The flavor is intense and distinct but I hadn’t encountered since I finished school years ago. That is until this weekend when I came across Skinos Mastiha Liqueur. My buddies at Alphabet City Wine Co. had a number of unique spirits they had been tasting and I happened to stop by at the perfect time. This mastiha liqueur grabbed my immediate attention, even above all the other amazing grappas, cognacs, and whiskeys they had available.

As a liqueur, I expected this stuff to be quite sweet but the mastic flavor is what really got me. If you have never had it on it’s own before you’ll probably pick up some “bubble gum” like flavor references. But for those who have tried the resin, this liqueur is undeniably mastic in origin. I’m not sure exactly what I’d end up doing with this stuff but in cocktail mixing there is definitely some potential. Check back for more ideas later once I get a chance to play around with it but in the mean time, go check out more stretchy ice cream YouTube videos and check out the Experimental Cuisine Collective here!

God, I love Science!

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Shipwrecked, Norwegian, and Beer: The Return of the Cow Thieves

March 15, 2013

Jan Wennstroem (L), CEO of Aland's only brewery Stallhagen, and diver Christian Ekstroem pose with a picture of the bottle discovered in the 200-year-old shipwreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, June 8, 2012, Finland.

Sometimes you just have to admit when you are less awesome than others. So today I admit it: Jan Wennstroem, CEO of Aaland’s only brewery Stallhagen, and diver Christian Ekstroem. You two are way more awesome than I.

Here’s the story: In 2010, divers found preserved champagne and beer bottles aboard a shipwrecked Norwegian Schooner said to be sailing from Germany to Finland close to 200 years ago. That’s right. We’re talking 200 year old beer. And the unique conditions of the ocean managed to preserve this beer for close to two centuries leaving it drinkable, and maybe more importantly, analyzable (is that word?) so that a modern day replica could be brewed. Stallhagen says their “shipwrecked” beer will be ready for sales next year.

Quite frankly, it’s good timing for this story to come out because the Cow Thieves have been insanely busy the past few months but this is just the motivation we need to get back into our brewing quarters. Maybe we can try and replicate the beer found underneath the old retaining wall…what do you think Larry?

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Aged Vodka?

March 14, 2013

First taste: Absolut Amber, barrel aged vodka.  @absolutvodka_us (at Tomarps Gårdshotell)

I go away for 2 and 1/2 days and the whole world turns upside down! It seems Absolut is hoping to cash in on the growing preference for aged spirits (specifically bourbons, ryes, and other whiskeys) and are set to start selling their own version of brown liquor, in Absolut Amber. A little digging (although there isn’t much info out yet) suggests that this aged vodka will have seen a variety of wood (Swedish / American / Bourbon) barrels before being bottled at a pretty high 94 proof. One comment that scares me a bit is the mention of the familiar “vodka finish”.

For those of you who came to the Night Cap, you can already start to imagine how the wood will impart some interesting flavors on the alcohol, but to me, at least in my experience, so much of the final product in aging depends on what you are putting in. A high quality vodka has very little complexity, so I wonder how much nuance the Amber will actually have. But of course once I find it, I plan on trying it. More details to come!

What about you? Have any of you heard anything about Absolut’s Amber?

Just a quick side note of advice. When googling for further info, make sure you don’t end up searching for Absolutely Amber. She’s got a lot more content online, but it doesn’t exactly pertain to aged spirits…if you know what I mean…

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