January 30, 2012

The Local Beer Blog Heads South!

Until further notice, the Local Beer Blog will be based out of Panama City, Panama.  This means two things:

1) I'll be welcoming contributions from anyone interested in writing about their local beer scene.  Though I will be located in Central America, I would like to continue to feature beer news and reviews from around the United States and elsewhere.  It's the paradox of my blog -- it's local, yet international.  Please send me an email if you would like to contribute.

La Cinta Costera (the Coastal Beltway) runs
alongside la Bahia de Panama. Photo: David Ackley
2) Many of my future posts will be about the beer scene down here in Panama and elsewhere in Latin America.  For example, what is the local selection like in terms of domestics and imports?  What is the homebrewing scene like in Latin America?  Is there one?  What kinds of local ingredients might I be able to incorporare into my future homebrews?  Which of these could I grow myself?

It's very exciting to relocate to another part of the world.  I hope you continue to follow along in my beer-related adventures!

January 28, 2012

Charlottesville, VA - Starr Hill's The Gift

Every time I walk down the beer aisle I'm confronted with a dilema: Do I really have to buy beer? (Usually yes) Ok, what to get? Of course it's nearly impossible for me not to buy beer when I'm already looking at it, but sometimes I just want to try something new. So what happens if you don't like the whole six-pack? Luckily, some stores will let you break down six-packs, which makes for a less risky investment than buying the whole sixer.  So, last time I went grocery shopping, I picked up one of these.

The Gift is a winter seasonal from the Crozet, VA, brewery Starr Hill. It is a Hellerbock, a strong lager that's lighter in color than a regular bock. Fun fact: Bocks are believed to have originated in the German town of Einbeck, which sounds a lot like ein bock, German for a billy goat.  That's why you'll sometimes find a goat on the label of a bottle of bock.

Smell - In the Gift, I found a lot of sweet malt in the aroma, along with some fruity notes, but essentially no hop aroma.

Appearance - The color is a light amber and the beer was very clear. The white head faded pretty quickly.

Taste - The taste echoes the aroma: lots of sweet, fruity malt, almost no hops. There is a tiny bit of hop bitterness on the finish.

Mouthfeel - The Gift is medium-bodied and with a somewhat frothy mouthfeel. Due to the relatively high alcohol content (6.5%), it provides a warming sensation, which is nice in the cold weather.

Overall - Starr Hill nails this style right on the head. The Gift actually reminds me a bit of Bass, because there was some definite fruitiness going on. Personally I prefer dark lager, but hey -- try it for yourself!

January 27, 2012

Cooking with Beer

One major benefit of being a homebrewer is that you often have a variety of really good beer on hand. This surplus of cerveza, while keeping you and everyone you know sufficiently buzzed, also lends itself to experimentation in the kitchen. Over the past couple months, I've used beer to make stir-fried brussels sprouts, spicy spent grain stew, and chocolate stout cupcakes.

Pale Ale & Garlic Brussels Sprouts

My girlfriend and I really love brussels sprouts. Sure, by themselves they're pretty bitter, but if you cook them right (for me that usually means lots of garlic), they're delicious. Plus, they're really good for you. Brussels have practically no fat (we'll fix that don't worry), are packed with vitamins C and K, have a nice dose of fiber and protein, and are low in the glycemic index. So, when I saw this recipe from Stone's new cookbook on BillyBrew.com, I knew I had to give it a shot - with a few personal tweaks, of course.

Steps 1 - 3: Steam 1 pound of brussels in salted water for about 4 minutes. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Slice the brussels in half lengthwise.

Brussels post-steam and about 6 cloves chopped garlic.

Steps 4 - 5: Heat 1/4 cup olive oil (that's good fat!). Start with high heat but take it down to medium before it starts smoking. Add 1/4 pound diced pancetta (the tasty fat!) and cook til brown.

Not good fat - but yummy fat.
Steps 6 - 7: Add 6 cloves of minced garlic. Turn up the heat and add the brussels. Stir fry for 4 - 5 minutes.

Step 8: Add a bottle of pale ale. Nothing excessively hoppy, because the beer will cook down and that bitterness will be condensed. The recipe calls for Stone Pale Ale, but since I didn't have any of that, I used some of my homebrewed Amarillo Pale Ale in a Stone IPA bottle. Is that wrong? I don't think so. Cook til the beer is almost all gone.

Steps 9 - 11: Use a 1/4 cup of vegetable stock to deglaze the pan, let it cook off completely, and transfer the brussels to a bowl or serving dish. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss with sun-dried tomatoes and parmigiano-reggiano cheese and serve!

Yup, I ate it all in one sitting.  The only thing I'd do differently next time is make sure that pancetta is nice and crispy.  Man, I'm getting hungry...

Spicy Grain Soup

Whether a homebrewer or a commercial brewer, one question that comes up a lot is what to do with your grains after they've been mashed. I suppose you could just throw them out with the garbage, but I usually compost my spent grains and trub. The grains, however, can also be used to make bread, cookies, or in this case, soup. I decided to hold on to some of my spent grains to use in this recipe from Food & Wine in place of the barley, bulgur, and rice.

Long story short, this soup came out great. Basically I skipped steps 1 and 2 from the original recipe because the grains we already cooked through the brewing process. You start by sauteing the onions, garlic, and chile peppers, roughly chopped because it all gets pureed in the blender later. Then comes the broth, cilantro, diced tomatoes, and seasonings. Just for fun, I substituted about half of the vegetable stock with some of my homebrewed chocolate stout.

After cooking this mixture for 45 minutes, it all gets pureed together. ***Let the soup cool a little before you blend it and be careful. You don't want hot soup to spill all over you, so fill the blender less than half way full to start with, blend in small batches, and hold the top on TIGHT. You'll end up with something like this:

Then come the mushrooms, black beans, carrot, zucchini and parsnips. Trader Joe's carries a bag of pre-diced parsnips and rutabagas that will work just fine.

For the last step, all I had to do was take a couple cups from my spent grains and throw them in the soup. There's still plenty of protein and fiber in those grains to make this a very healthy meal! Unlike what we have here for dessert...

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes

I don't have any photos from this experiment, but let me tell you -- these were pure evil, in the best sense of the word. My girlfriend and I made these right before Christmas using this recipe from the Food Network. Again, I used my chocolate stout in this recipe, but I'm sure Guinness will work just fine. The only tweaks we made were to use margarine instead of butter and to cut the powdered sugar in the cream cheese icing down to 3/4 cup. That was plenty sweet for us.

These turned out to be some of the best cupcakes I've ever had. They were super moist for days and the icing had flavor, not just sugar. From scratch is really the way to go.

So get in the kitchen already -- what can you make with homebrew or beer from your local brewery?

January 19, 2012

Brazil: Xingu Black Beer

Alright, so I don't usually review imported beers, but I'm making an exception with Xingu for two reasons: a) I really like black beer (aka schwarzbier, a dark lager style originating in Germany), and b) something about the six-pack caught my eye.  Yes, it's a cool-looking black package with an alligator and snakes in the logo, but in the top right corner there's a stamp for Y Ikatu Xingu, an organization aimed at protecting the Xingu River in the Amazon rainforest.  Now that's pretty awesome.  I'm a big fan of companies that make supporting social causes part of their business plans.  If you want to read a great book about companies that try to make the world a better place, check out Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World, by Gary Hirshberg, CE-Yo of Stonyfield Farm.

Now back to the beer...

Yup, that's a Sierra Nevada glass
Appearance - Xingu pours a nearly opaque brown into my pint glass, with red tints.  A moderate, light brown head fades pretty quickly.

Smell - Very clean aroma.  The most noticeable characteristic is sweet malt.  There's essentially no hop or yeast aromas, which is appropriate for the style.

Taste - Immediate caramel sweetness on the tongue.  A hint of chocolate with a lingering bitterness.  Hop bitterness is a little hard to find.

Mouthfeel - Light in body, crisp with prickly carbonation.

Overall, a pretty good representation of the style.  Not quite K√∂stritzer, the original schwarzbier, but I'd give Xingu maybe 4 out 5 stars.  This would be a great intro to dark beers for someone that's not quite into stouts yet.

Stay tuned for some cooking with beer!

January 18, 2012

Chicago, IL - Beer School Day 3

OK folks, apologies for such a delay on the next post -- between the holidays and procrastination I've let the blog fall to the wayside.  But big things are a-brewing (puns are great) so bear with me as I get you up to speed.

Day 3 of my Start Your Own Brewery class through the Siebel Institute began with an introduction of John Mallett, Production Manager at Bell's Brewery of Kalamazoo, Michigan.  With over 20 years in the beer business, we knew this guy was an expert.  Over the next few hours, John spoke to us about the brewing process, the anatomy of a brewery, including brewing, fermentation, and packaging equipment, and also about utilities and waste management.