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Friday, March 23, 2012

Saison de Noel

Today's brew is a limited edition kit from Northern Brewer. The kit is essentially a dark saison and uses a yeast blend that is only available for three months in the early winter. Brewing of the kit was fairly straightforward, with the only problem I had being that the original gravity of the beer was a little below what the kit indicated it would be.

0.5 lbs Belgian Aromatic malt
0.25 lbs Weyermann Carafa III
0.25 lbs Weyermann CaraAroma
6 lbs Pilsen LME
1 lbs D-90 Candi syrup
1 lbs Briess Pilsen DME
1 lbs Corn sugar
1 oz US Magnum hops

Wyeast 3726 Farmhouse Ale

The brewing process is similar to other kits, with the addition of the D-90 syrup and Corn sugar to provide flavor and fermentables in the case of the former, and fermentable sugar in the case of the latter.

Since I have given brewing instructions before, for this I am only going to note steps that were not taken in previous brews. For complete instructions, refer here. Note that this kit has steeping grains in addition to liquid and dried malt extract. The steeping grains are placed in a muslin bag with the water during initial heating for 20 minutes or 170 F, whichever occurs first.

Another step I have not written about before is the use of a yeast starter culture for fermentation. Yeast starters are generally a good idea for any beer with an O.G. <1.060, and I pretty much use them for all beers I brew. Essentially you are providing billions and billions of active, healthy yeast cells that should be able to withstand the high sugar environment of fresh wort, and give a quick and active primary fermentation. In this case, I broke the inner nutrient pack in the yeast package, and let it inflate for a few hours. When the bag was inflated, I boiled 1/2 C of Pilsen or Light DME in 650 mL of water for 15 minutes. I poured the wort into a 1 L flask with a magnetic stir bar (both sterilized), and covered the top with tinfoil. This flask was cooled in a ice/water bath in the sink until it was cool to the touch. I then poured the Wyeast package into the wort, and resealed with the foil. You can create a starter without a stir plate, but the constant movement and resuspension of the yeast cells helps to promote better growth. If you don't have a stir plate, simply give the flask a good swirl every time you walk by. Anywhere from 24-4 hrs seems to be a good range for a starter culture. After fermentation, you are left with billions of healthy, active yeast cells that will ensure a quick, vigorous and full fermentation of your actual beer. For very strong beers with O.G. in the 1.080 or higher range, you can make a larger starter or feed the cells more than once with boiled wort.

Yeast starters (for two batches), sitting on the stir plates.
The final issue I had to consider was temperature control. Saison yeasts ferment at higher temperatures (70-95 F) than most ale yeasts (56-72 F), and the ambient temperature in my basement wasn't going to cut it this time, even considering that the fermentation will add 2-3 degrees of heat to the beer beyond ambient temperatures. I planned on starting at 70 and ramping up the temperature by 2 degrees each day. Reading online, I had seen suggestions to use a heating blanket combined with towels, or to buy an aquarium heater and place that in a large bucket filled with water and then submerge your carboy in that assembly. Instead of buying supplies, I found a circulating water heater in lab that I borrowed for a few days to achieve a more consistent result. I filled a large styrofoam box with water, then placed my carboy with the Saison inside. The water came about halfway up the carboy, which should be sufficient for heating. I then had to jury-rig a stand for the water circulator to sit on. After that, I just switched on the pump and set my temperature. Periodically I had to add more water to ensure the pump didn't get dried out, but I had very vigorous fermentation after 6 hours of pitching the yeast into the wort. I'll probably use this setup in the future for winter fermentation.
The homemade water bath/heating apparatus. 
The setup is shown above. The beige/yellow device at the left supported by the weighed-down baking sheets is the water circulator/heater. Obviously, the carboy with the wort is in the center, and I have placed a thermometer probe in it to monitor the temperature of the fermentation. Sadly this probe was broken, as it told me later in the day that the liquid was at 140 F! Not shown is a later assembly of a blow-off tube from the top of the carboy, as I was afraid the rising yeast foam would clog up my airlock. The tube from the blowoff assembly went into a plastic bucket filled with water and serves the same function as the airlock does, mainly preventing bacteria and other microorganisms from getting into the carboy. For several days air bubbled out like crazy and filled the area directly above with a delicious, estery beer smell.

At less than 1 week in primary, the gravity had settled to 1.012 (about a 78% attenuation of the yeast). I racked into a secondary fermentation vessel and rested the beer for two weeks. Following that, I bottled using standard procedures and allowed the beer to condition for at least a week before drinking.

The final beer is fantastic. It has pepper, spicy notes from the saison yeasts used. From the color, you'd think you'd get lots of dark, roasted flavors but in fact they are very subtle. The 7.5% alcohol is strong, but not too noticeable. Overall, this was a great beer and I'd definitely make it again.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spiced Roasted Nuts: Secret Recipe Club

Welcome to another Secret Recipe Club post!  I've covered the basics of the club before, but a quick overview is that you join, get randomly assigned a blog and then have a few weeks to read the blog and chose a recipe to recreate and post about on a given day and time.  This month I got Sarah's blog biking and baking.  It was an interesting blog for me to read since there were a lot of recipes way outside my comfort zone.  She has many vegan recipes, lots of smoothies and some ingredients that just never really enter my kitchen, or cross my mind for that matter!  Tempeh, vegan cheeses, tofu aren't on my typical grocery lists.  I really did enjoy reading about 'another side' of the food world, so to speak.  I strongly considered making these sweet potato enchiladas, but left the final choice of two recipes up to Zach and he chose the roasted nuts.  I'm holding on to the enchiladas though, and hope they make an appearance on one of our menus soon!

These nuts were perfect for a party.  They are sweet, just a little spicy and have an addictive smell and flavor thanks to the curry powder.  I made a few changes to the recipe.  First, I added in pepitas, or shelled pumpkin seeds, since we had some on hand.  Second, I chose to roast the nuts in the oven instead of toast them in a skillet.  I had the oven going for a few other recipes and decided just to throw them in there and let the oven do the work!  Both of these changes worked out quite well!  I love when I can take a base recipe, make a few adaptations and still end up with a great product, it always gives my kitchen confidence a little boost, so thanks for that Sarah!  Read about my slightly adapted version of Spiced Roasted Nuts here then head on over to the Secret Recipe Club page to see what everyone else has cooked up!

Spiced Roasted Nuts
slightly adapted from baking and biking

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup almonds, roasted but not salted
1 cup pepitas


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a large bowl mix together the oil and spices. 
  • Add the nuts to the spice mixture and stir until they are evenly coated.  Spread the nuts into a single layer on a sheet pan.
  • Roast the nuts for 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so.  Remove from oven and let cool.  

Friday, March 9, 2012

Bed and Brew: A visit to the Inn at Cooperstown and Brewery Ommegang

For my 30th birthday Amy presented me with a trip up to Cooperstown, NY to visit my favorite brewery, Brewery Ommegang. As many of our friends know, we base our travels basically around fine dining options and local beers. This combined the best of both worlds.

Bed and breakfast room are always fun!
The Inn at Cooperstown offers a bed and brew package for visitors to the area once a month from October to May. The package includes a two night stay, a jeroboam of Ommegang Abbey Ale (a rich dubbel), two chalices, a sweatshirt or two t-shirts from Ommegang, a brewer-led tour of the brewery, a full tasting of Ommegang's beers, and a five-course dinner paired with the Ommegang beers. Your liver gets a good workout from the weekend. In case you were wondering, what is a jeroboam?, it's a 3 liter bottle (one step up from a magnum or 1.5 L bottle). Here's the jeroboam so you can get an idea of how enormous a bottle of beer is provided.

Jeroboam of Abbey ale and chalices

After checking in on Friday, we walked through downtown Cooperstown and grabbed some dinner at Alex and Ika's on the recommendation of one of Amy's Facebook friends who happens to work for Duvel, Ommegang's parent company. We had a nice dinner and got our bellies full for what came next: craft/homebrew beer night. Starting at 8, we went to town. All the guests brought some kind of beer, and it was all excellent. The owner of the Inn, Marc, brought over two growlers of his own beer, and a bunch of Ommegang employees came over along with special brews. We got to sample a bourbon barrel aged Three Philosophers that made me insanely jealous it's no longer available. We also tried out a brand new Ommegang beer, Seduction, a cherry stout brewed with cocoa. Other memorable beers included a cherry beer from New Glarus, the 2010 Christmas Ale I brought from Anchor Brewing, and several good Belgian beers from La Chouffe.
Part of the homebrew/craft beer night extravaganza
The next day we went around to continue our beerstravaganza. We joined up with a great couple we met from Philadelphia, Beth and Andy, and visited a few places. Our first stop was Fly Creek Cider Mill. They had just about anything you could think of there. Regular cider, hard cider, cider barbeque sauce, cheese, apples, candy, coffee, etc. We left with a regular cider and a bottle of raspberry apple cider. Next stop was Butternuts Beer and Ale. There we found one of the Ommegang staff from the previous night on hand to serve us all kinds of samples. They had some nice canned beer, and we got a cool tour of their production facility within an old barn. We ended up buying a six pack of their wheat beer, as it was delicious. Their pumpkin ale was also fantastic, but not in cans sadly. From there we pressed on to our final stop, Cooperstown Brewing. At the brewery, we went through another tour and sampled all of their beers. The styles were more English in nature, and we enjoyed several. My personal favorite was the Pride of Milford, a reddish fruity ale.

Saturday night was the big one: the trip up to Ommegang. We all gathered and were taken up to the brewery in a trolley. Upon our arrival we were taken into the brewery for our tour. We've been to a lot of breweries, but I've never seen a facility that was so bright and clean. The brewhouse smelled amazing, and from the looks of things Ommegang is thankfully expanding significantly in terms of space and production capability. From what we were told, production right now is around 400,000 barrels a year, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.7 million gallons of beer. All right!
The cleanest brewery I've ever seen
The brew kettle and mash tun
The bottling line
Awesome keg washer/filler

After the tour we headed back to the visitors center and cafe and proceeded to sample all of what Ommegang had on hand that night. We started with BPA, or Belgian Pale Ale, a spicy, hoppy and effervescent ale. From there we move to Witte (we learned pronounced Wit-ah), a refreshing, light and estery Belgian style wheat beer. The next beer was Hennepin, a traditional Saison-style beer that is slightly hoppy but full of spiciness from both the hops and the yeasts used for fermentation. Next was Rare Vos, a amber ale that is malty and a little sweet. The next to last beer was Abbey Ale, a Belgian-style dubbel that is dark, sweet, fruity and delicious. The final beer served to us was Three Philosophers, a super-strong quadrupel blended during the brewing with a cherry kriek, or sour cherry ale.
Sampling glass rack, with the regular beers on top (pictured with their corresponding glasses)

The various ingredients that go into the Ommegang beers. Besides grains and hops, there was also bitter orange peel, licorice root, grains of paradise, star anise, ginger, and candi sugar.
Following all that beer, it was time to eat! As I said before, each course was paired with a specific Ommegang beer. We started with a potato pancake served on cooked apples and some pulled pork, which was paired with Witte.
Witte- a traditional wheat beer with tons of clove and banana flavors
The potato pancake and pork goodness

The second course was a cheese-bacon soup paired with Hennepin.

Hennepin, a traditional farmhouse ale-spicy, a little hoppy and delicious
Bacon, cheese and beer in soup form? Yes please!
The salad was a frisee salad with goat cheese and roasted beets in a Rare Vos dressing.
Rare Vos- a very flavorful amber ale. 

For our entree, we were served a giant sausage plate, featuring three types of sausage (I believe a fresh kielbasa, a bratwurst, and a weisswurst), served over beer-infused sauerkraut and spaetzel. The rich food in this course was paired with Abbey Ale.
Abbey Ale- a traditional dubbel, full of dried fruit and tons of malt flavors
Can't go wrong with delicious sausages
Our dessert was a dark fruit-cake style cake paired with Three Philosophers
Three Philosophers- dark, somewhat sweet, with a great cherry flavor from the kriek blended in during brewing. Awesome with chocolate, most desserts, or by itself. Just be careful at 9% ABV.
I loved the cake, Amy wasn't as big of a fan
Overall the food was great. We had plenty of beer at each course, and ended up taking about six leftover bottles back with us to the Inn. Plus we bought plenty of great stuff in the giftshop and added to our glass collection with four Duvel tulip glasses. We shared the rest of our opened bottles with Beth and Andy back in their fabulous suite and went to bed full and satisfied.
Each table had four sets of these beers!
Our trip back was subdued compared to all the drinking that went on the previous few days. We did stop by Iron Hill Brewery in Lancaster, PA to meet up with my brother. They had some great beers on tap, including a dubbel, a great English brown ale, and a harvest Belgian ale. We walked out with another four bottles to add to my growing collection, but life's tough sometimes.

Overall it was a great weekend! I'd highly recommend it to any beer afficionados, especially if you like Beglian-style ales.