Tuesday, December 27, 2011

AHA Big Brew: ginger witbier

May 7 was the American Homebrewers Association's Big Brew celebration of the 2011 National Homebrew Day. The idea is to participate in a group brewing event with a local club using one of the suggested recipes. My brewing gear isn't mobile, so I had to brew at home and catch up with the North Seattle dudes later.

The witbier recipe caught my eye along with the suggestion that homebrewers "add local, seasonal adjuncts such as flowers, herbs, spices, or fruit." About the only thing growing in my local garden at this point was chives, though, and I was not willing to commit so robustly to the seasonality of the event. Instead, I purchased a couple of pounds of ginger root and decided to experiment with a ginger witbier.

The Cellar sells LME in six pound tubs and the recipe called for 7.25 pounds. Having been repeatedly annoyed by the darkness of my witbiers I decided to use rice extract to make up the difference.

The ingredients ended up being:
  • 6 pounds liquid wheat malt
  • 1 pound dry rice extract
  • 25 grams Mount Hood pellet hops at 5.5%
  • 780 grams ginger root
  • 30 grams orange zest
  • 120 grams coriander
  • Wyeast 3944, Belgian Witbier liquid yeast
I used a single smack pack of yeast. I've never used two and am not sure why this recipe called for two since the original gravity is a mere 1.051.

Based on some experimentation I figured I'd want about two teaspoons of ginger puree per eight ounces of beer. That amounted to 780 grams (28 ounces) of ginger for the batch. I used the Kitchenaid grinder attachment to produce that pretty quickly.

I savaged three oranges with a microplane to obtain the 30 grams of zest. 

It takes just a few seconds to bust up the coriander seeds in a grinder.

To the boiling water I added the rice extract and hops. Still in pursuit of a lighter color I went with the late malt addition at 40 minutes. In 15 minutes it was back to a boil. I waited five minutes, then added the separated ginger liquid and hops bags containing the zest, coriander, and ginger pulp. It took another five minutes to return to boiling. Five more minutes then flameout.

Cooled to 74 degrees and 5.5 gallons, with a gravity of 1.046. Without doing the computation, that seems about right for the original recipe's 5.3 gallons and slightly more malt.

And, I did achieve a significantly lighter color. Compare to the first witbier and second witbier.

The wort had an excellent ginger kick, and nice balance between citrus and ginger. At the pre-fermentation sweetness it was actually quite delicious!

The wort started bubbling within 5 hours. It was vigorous for about 24 hours, slowing down to nothing very noticeable after 48. I did not rack to a secondary.

At bottling on May 15 the final gravity was 1.013, exactly on target.

The flavors were of pronounced bitterness, strong ginger, and both grapefruit and orange citrus. It was very cloudy but I think that may be unavoidable with this much ginger.

I screwed up during bottling, forgetting to add corn sugar until I'd already filled several bottles. Had to pour those back and then try to blend dissolved sugar into the full bucket. This is the second time I've done that and it makes me concerned about oxygenation, infection, and uneven distribution. Well, checklists have been shown repeatedly to greatly reduce all sorts of mistakes even amongst expert practitioners of an art. Probably time to make one.

Carbonation of bottles did end up being hit-or-miss. I think it's due to uneven bottling sugar distribution. However, even the ones that are closest to still have a good ginger bite that seems to accentuate even the mild carbonation.

It has clarified beautifully, although this photo doesn't do it justice.

Of course that's not the proper way to serve a witbier. It's best with the settled yeast poured into the glass, improving both flavor and body. This was from a bottle that did not develop much carbonation, but the ones that did produce a lovely white head.

The color is supposed to be 5 SRM units. I haven't applied the correct methodology with the BJCP color guide but eyeballing it in a glass with a light background leads me to believe it's pretty close.

I've been enjoying this witbier for several months and it is one of my favorite homebrews so far. I love the ginger kick and I'm pleased to have obtained a more appropriate color. Proper management of bottling sugar is the only change I would certainly make for the second attempt. Additional coriander would be interesting as well.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

tasting the March 2009 witbier

Opened a bottle of the first witbier I brewed, in March 2009. It was problematic, but by May I'd figured out what was going on and ended up thinking it was at least not abominable.

Unlike the aged Tipsy Bird red ale, I'm not sure this has improved over time. It's not much different from what I recall. Perhaps the phenolic component has rounded off a bit, but spicy phenols are still the dominant flavor by far. The citrus is there if I look for it in the aftertaste. If it were a little more dry I might like it better.

tasting the Tipsy Bird after three years

During a bit of garage cleanup I found a box with some bottles of Tipsy Bird red ale, my first real brew from late 2008. It poured with an enormous head, which concerned me at first, but it was delicious. Incredibly smooth with a sweet caramel maltiness. I remember it being simpler and sharper. Quite interesting to see how it has changed. I think I'll go see what else I can find!

Friday, March 25, 2011

2010 potato harvest

The second attempt at obtaining a massive potato yield through the use of potato towers was not as successful as the first. I did change more than one variable, so it's not highly valid as an experimental result,  and the weather was uniformly rotten.

The 2010 result was about nine pounds of All Blues

and ten pounds of German Butterballs.

The were of excellent size and quality, but the yield was really disappointing. Last year I got 29 pounds of Desiree Reds and 18 pounds of Yellow Finns from the boxes.

The blues are (were) really lovely and delicious:

Although I did attempt to keep the vines much more covered as they grew, in comparison to 2009, I don't think I did it well enough. Here's an interesting comment from a thread on this site about potato towers:
I'm both amazed and amused that nobody has taken the time to explain the facts. In the first place, the thread title is 100% correct. Potatoes do not grow along the stem. They grow at the ends of modified branches called stolons. Those grow only from a certain portion of the stem which is just above the roots. If allowed to grow without interference, all of the stolon buds will form in a tight little ring at the base of the stem. Immediately above that will begin the true stem. If that basal portion of the stem is allowed to elongate, stolon buds continue to be formed. 5 stolons equal 5 potatoes, 20 stolons equal 20 potatoes. It is that factor which makes tire planting so very effective. At the same time, it is why tire planting can be a total flop. As long as the stolon-producing portion of the stem is well underground, and the true stem has not formed, it is able to continue growing longer. If that portion stops growing, it doesn't matter if 10' of vine is covered as there will never be another stolon.
It sounds critically important to keep the young vines covered long enough for the stolon-producing portion to develop some length. I'm sure I did not do that effectively. That's what I'll focus on in 2011.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

recipe development notes

This entry is a placeholder for recipe notes.

black prince tomatoes

We've been getting lots of tomatoes from the greenhouse lately. I haven't kept very good track of the varieties I've most enjoyed, but the Black Prince is a standout both visually and for its flavor. I planted seeds from Territorial. It's an indeterminate variety from Russia that is supposed to tolerate cooler conditions.

They range from golf ball to baseball in size. This one isn't the prettiest but it's fairly representative of ones that should probably be harvested.

I'm still trying to figure out the optimal color and firmness at which to pick them. They tend to have a softer texture than I like when too ripe, but by appearance alone it's tempting to not pick them early enough. I think there should still be a fair amount of green showing to get firmer flesh with good flavor.

The flavor is really outstanding. I've enjoyed them plain, in green salads, and in insalata caprese. These are some of the tastiest tomatoes I've grown. The flavor is rich and sweet. Wedges with cracked black pepper and salt satisfy perfectly.

All the tomatoes are still going strong in the greenhouse, so I'm not sure yet whether these will prove to have a longer season than the others. I will definitely plant Black Prince again next year, regardless. I've had no problems with them at all.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

fresh hops American pale ale, part 1

This is an American pale ale made with hops fresh from the garden. When using fresh (wet) hops rather than dried, somewhere between 4 and 6 times the quantity by weight is required. I have just enough fresh Centennial and Cascade to make what I hope will be a robustly aromatic beer.

Here's an interesting article and slide show from the NY Times about fresh hops beer and a hops farm in Salem, Oregon.

I looked to Palmer's American Pale Ale recipe from How To Brew as a starting point, as well as the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale clone recipe from BYO's May/June 2005 issue.

I probably would have gone with the recommended Wyeast American Ale if The Cellar hadn't been out. Instead I got Wyeast yeast strain 1272, American Ale II, described thusly:
With many of the best qualities that brewers look for when brewing American styles of beer, this strain’s performance is consistent and it makes great beer. Fruitier and more flocculent than Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast, slightly nutty, soft, clean with a slightly tart finish. Ferment at warmer temperatures to accentuate hop character with intense fruitiness, or ferment cool for clean, light citrus character. Expect good attenuation, but this will vary with grist makeup, mashing protocol, or other wort characteristics. Reliably flocculent, producing bright beer without filtration.
Flocculation is high, attenuation is 72 - 76%, and temperature range is 60F - 72F.

The recipe I ended up with for a 5.5 gallon batch was:
  • 6 pounds light liquid malt extract (The Cellar's house brand)
  • 1 pound Briess Pilsen light DME
  • 1 pound 2-row malt
  • 1 pound crystal 40 malt
  • 1 ounce Northern Brewer hops, 8.5 AA, 65 min
  • 4.1 ounces fresh (wet) Centennial hops, 35 min (AA unknown)
  • 4.1 ounces fresh (wet) Centennial hops, 15 min (AA unknown)
  • 2.8 ounces fresh (wet) Cascade hops, 5 min (AA unknown)
  • Wyeast 1272, American Ale II liquid yeast
This is a little heavier on the bittering hops than Palmer's recipe, which would have called for about .65 ounces of Northern Brewer after AA adjustment.

I steeped the grains for 30 minutes, starting at 170 degrees and ending at 156, in 3 gallons. I see from Palmer, page 136, that it's best to have no more than a gallon per pound, so I should have used only 2 gallons.

Refilled the kettle to 3 gallons, added the DME at 200 degrees, brought to boil, and added the bittering hops.

At 30 minutes, added the Centennial. At 45, added the LME and returned to boil. I brought the container of LME up to something over 150 degrees in a hot water bath to minimize the recovery time. At 50 minutes, added more Centennial. At 60, added Cascade. Knockout at 65 and into icy sink where I removed the hop boiling bags.

Cooled to about 90 degrees, aerated by pouring between kettle and fermenter three times, and topped off with refrigerated Crystal Geyser spring water. Mixing of wort and water was very poor, so poured off about 4 gallons into the kettle and back to the fermenter, which did the trick. Temperature was 71 degrees and volume was 5.5 gallons.

Original gravity was measured at 1.052, smack in the middle of Palmer's range of 1.045 to 1.060. That agrees very well with the calculated gravity using 22 points from the steeped crystal, 42 from the DME, and 216 from the LME, or 50.91 points per gallon, or 1.051 gravity.

Pitched the yeast and transported to the downstairs bathroom where I think it will stay at the lower end of the temperature range. After seven hours it was down to 68 degrees, with no noticeable activity.

Next time, I need to drain the hops bags into a sanitized bowl. There was 8 or 12 ounces of wort that didn't make it into the primary. I poured it into a jar (unsanitized), added a little water, and pitched the dregs from the yeast pack. Maybe I'll get a picobrew out of it. It was already active after just a few hours.

The wort is quite bitter. There is some hop aroma but it's not a blast in the face or anything. I believe that much of the aroma is transported to the snout via carbonation so it's probably inappropriate to draw any conclusions yet. There is definitely a flavor I have not experienced in a wort before and I'd say it's something close to the aroma of the fresh hops, perhaps a little vegetal. I'm not sure I'd say grassy, though, which is one description I've heard of fresh hops ales. I think I'm going to like this!

Update: 24 hours later I still wasn't seeing any bubbling, but I did notice a strong (and delicious) hoppy aroma in the vicinity. Realizing that I'd first noticed it much earlier in the day I inspected the stopper and found it to be loose. Jammed it in and the blowoff tube began bubbling immediately and continuously. The temperature is holding at 68 degrees. The picobrew jar has a thick layer of krausen.

Update: After a week, racked to the secondary/bottling bucket. Gravity is 1.015 and bubbling is very infrequent. I'm hoping it will clarify considerably in the next week. There's not a particularly strong hop aroma but perhaps that will become evident once carbonated. I'm quite pleased with the overall flavor at this point, though, and the body is really nice. I'll be a bit disappointed if the aroma hops don't make an appearance, but it's likely to be a nice pale in any event.

I think this is the first time I've used a bottling bucket as a secondary. This lets me take gravity samples easily and safely through the spigot and since it's off the trub they should be clean. No racking and less cleaning on bottling day will be a nice convenience.

Update: Final gravity on 10/29 before bottling is 1.014 for an apparent attenuation of 72%. Tastes excellent. Very smooth, good body, nice bitterness, a little sweetness. I'd say it mainly exhibits the expected characteristics of warmer fermentation with this yeast. Still not a particularly hoppy nose. Clarified pretty well, but the sample is from the bottom of the secondary and I'm sure it will be crystal clear in bottles.

Friday, October 8, 2010

face full of lupulin

It was hop harvest day! For 15 rapturous minutes I was in a cloud of aromatic Cascade and Centennial hop cones. It was a delicious sensorily immersive experience, like standing in the cloud of smoke from roasting coffee beans.

Not that I have all that much to show for it. There were 2.8 ounces of Cascade, and 8.2 ounces of Centennial. But it's more than enough to use for aroma in a five gallon batch of fresh hop pale ale, which I plan to do tomorrow.

I should have brought these in sooner, since quite a few cones have brown spots, but I haven't had time to brew and really wanted to do something with them fresh.

Once I got them into bags I noticed that they are pretty buggy. Probably nothing to worry about, but this brew may have a little extra protein.

The Golding hops did not grow very well and the few cones were already completely dried.

Next year will be the third for these plants. They should be substantially larger, but I also think they need more nourishment than I provided this year.

Monday, October 4, 2010

baked Scotch eggs

I had Scotch eggs once, years ago, probably at a restaurant in Victoria. Unlike the fine people of Scotland I don't regard deep frying to be the apotheosis of cooking methods, but a breaded, sausage-wrapped hard-cooked egg hurled into boiling oil is indeed heart-stoppingly delicious.

Deep frying really doesn't seem necessary, though. I thought I'd attempt to make them in the oven.

I like baking eggs rather than boiling them. 30 minutes at 325 degrees is just right. The yolks become exceptionally creamy and it's much easier to hard-cook a dozen or two eggs this way than it is to boil or steam them.

I used a mild Italian bulk sausage mixed with a handful of minced onion and chives. I patted a couple ounces of sausage into a thin oval, dredged a wet egg in flour, and packed the meat around the egg. After being bathed in raw egg beaten with Dijon mustard, the egg was rolled in panko bread crumbs.

They rested on a cookie sheet in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, then went into a cold oven set to 350 degrees. After about 35 minutes I turned on the broiler for a few minutes to brown the bread crumbs.

The only problem was that the sausage split on most of them. I really didn't use a thick enough coating. I'd purchased only a pound of sausage and that just wasn't enough for eight eggs. Three ounces per egg would probably do the trick.

Despite this aesthetic glitch, the boys and I were quite pleased. The breading was crisp and not at all greasy, and the flavors and texture were just what I was looking for. And baking is so much more convenient than deep frying. I think I'll be trying this again.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Brother Juniper's wild rice and onion bread

I just got the updated edition of Peter Reinhart's Brother Juniper's Bread Book: Slow Rise as Method and Metaphor. I've only skimmed it, liking very much what I've seen, but I did take a stab at the recipe for wild rice and onion bread.

Rather than wild rice I used leftover red jasmine rice, and I also chose the fresh onion variation rather than dried. Executive summary: fantastic!

It's slightly sweet, nicely oniony, very tender, and when freshly baked had a superb crackly crust.

  • 4 cups bread flour
  • 4 cups AP flour
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2.5 tablespoons active dry yeast proofed in 4 tablespoons water
  • 1.5 tablespoons salt
  • 1 cup cooked red jasmine rice
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1.5 cups water

All the dry ingredients are mixed and then liquids added. I kneaded it in the KitchenAid for about 8 minutes. With this much yeast and sugar it rises aggressively. The first rise was an hour. I formed two loaves and let them rise for another hour. Baking time at 350 degrees was close to an hour. Because the dough contains brown sugar and buttermilk it's important to bake at a lower temperature or the crust will scorch.

This is a good way to use leftover rice. I'd like to try it with a wild rice blend to see how it differs, but the red jasmine rice is also very flavorful, nutty, and firm. I wonder how the recipe would take to a doubling of the rice.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

purple gusto pepper pico de gallo

Although the gardening has been wretched this year there are now a few usable purple gusto peppers among all the lovely blossoms on the plants I grew from Territorial seed. Since I'm now also harvesting a reasonable number of tomatoes it seemed like Salsa Night!

I've had one plant in the greenhouse and one outside. The peppers in the greenhouse are slightly but consistently larger.

They are fairly zippy. The flesh is thin and firm and I minced it very finely; any sizable piece would be fiery enough to incur significant displeasure in some of the household salsa eaters. Three of them went into a basic pico de gallo: peppers, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, lime, salt, and pepper.

It's very good, but I'd like it better with heftier chunks of pepper. Something meatier like a jalapeño would be preferable. But it's sure nice to be eating something new from the garden.

Monday, September 20, 2010

second biltong

It's been nearly a year since the first satisfying biltong venture, and while I still have a bit in the freezer it feels like time to try again. I did receive a slight prodding from the sight of the disassembled components of my homemade drying rig during a recent garage cleanup operation.

Biltong does freeze quite well, although my wrapping wasn't ideal and I can detect a bit of freezer flavor. We last enjoyed it during World Cup while watching one of South Africa's games. Our respectful gesture did not seem to help them any.

The interior of the first biltong is still pretty pink. It oxidizes in a matter of seconds after being sliced. I think this is probably on the rare side for biltong but there doesn't seem to be any problem with it spoiling in this state.

This time I thought I'd try flank steak. QFC had it on sale so I picked up a little under nine pounds at $5/pound. I used something pretty close to the same recipe, doubling it and also adding a teaspoon of red pepper flakes. I did not double the salt, however, sticking with two tablespoons.

The steaks were sliced in half with the grain, yielding eight long slabs. These should all fit in the dryer just fine despite the doubling of quantity.

It went into ziplock bags. I later noticed that the marinade dregs included perhaps a teaspoon of salt, so this recipe is using considerably less than the last. It is very tasty and I should come up with some other use for it.

After marinating for more than 24 hours they went into the Meat Wardrobe on Monday evening. I ran it it a little cooler than last time, probably averaging less than 100 degrees. Since the fan runs only when the heating element is on there's less air flow as well.

Friday evening I took a sample. It was still quite rare inside.

The flavor was good and I liked the texture at that point, although it will certainly become a little less pliant after a few more days. The sheen on the sliced surfaces is fat, not water. It's not nearly as moist as it looks.

Saturday morning I pulled one out to take to Matt's pig roast, wrapped it, and forgot it. The rest came out Monday morning, for a total of 6.5 days in the dryer. The final weight was 63 ounces.

I'm very pleased with it. It strikes me as more flavorful than the first one. There's no detectable heat from the red pepper flakes, so next time I might crank that up. It certainly doesn't need more salt for flavor. I wonder to what extent the salinity affects the transfer of marinade flavors into the meat, though. Too little salt may be detrimental in that regard.

I think the slices at an angle across the grain of the flank steak produce a better texture than either the tri-tip or sirloin.

So, good result. If I didn't keep poking at it and taking pictures it would be an entirely hands-free operation between hanging and harvesting, so probably only about an hour of active time is required. It works out to a little more than $11/pound, while I see it advertised for more like $25 - $40/pound. It's much tastier than any beef jerky I've ever had. Definitely a worthy undertaking

Monday, September 13, 2010

homemade biltong dryer AKA the meat wardrobe

Biltong is a cured, air-dried meat. Some people dry it outdoors for a little extra tree and insect flavor, some hang it in a closet for a hint of cedar and lint, and some use a low oven and live without baked potatoes for a whole week. An artificial heat source is optional, although temperature and humidity obviously have a large effect on the drying time.

For my first attempt last year I wanted a somewhat controlled and sanitary environment for drying the biltong, as well as one that wouldn't conflict with other household activities. I ruled out the garage, oven, and my sock drawer and figured I'd build something.

My thoughts quickly turned to the wardrobe moving boxes we purchased several years ago. They were so expensive that I just couldn't bear to throw them out. They have over 10 cubic feet of volume, a shirt and meat hanging rod, several cutouts for carrying and venting, and a convenient access panel. I also had a small thermostatically controlled forced air heater with a safety shutoff. Perfect!

I cut a piece of scrap plexiglas, probably left over from the construction of some reptile enclosure, for a viewing window.

This spare oven thermometer goes down to 100 degrees F, which seems fine for the low end. The heater, pretty close to its lowest power and thermostat settings, holds the temperature just fine at 100 to 120 degrees.

I lined the bottom of the box with aluminum foil for sanitation. At least initially the meat does drip a bit. Here's my five pound first batch hanging.

And here it is all done.

One reasonable modification would be to raise the height of the bar. There's plenty of room to go up with it, and very long cuts of meat might hang low enough to be undesirably close to the heater.

Overall it ends up being a convenient and multitasking tool. The box breaks down for flat storage, and the heater keeps the garage smelling meaty fresh when I'm out there in cold weather.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

first homemade kvas, part 2 (the sour!)

While the first bottle of my first homemade kvas was disappointing, I wasn't entirely surprised. The second bottle made up for it by being something completely unexpected and quite good! The third was the same. The difference? Months of conditioning.

It has been nearly nine months since I bottled it. I opened the third and final bottle tonight, having opened the second several months ago. I don't think there was much difference between those two. But the difference between them and the first was stunning. An aged kvas can apparently be a delightful thing.

It has become something akin to a sour Belgian beer. It's not a beverage I'd want to drink in any great quantity, but a small glass is delicious and refreshing. The molasses flavor, for which I don't much care, is basically gone. There's a slight dark fruitiness, perhaps in part from the few raisins or perhaps as a byproduct of the fermentation. The tartness combined with a medium body and robust mouthfeel is really pleasant. As far as I know bread-based kvas is intended for fresh consumption so this result was a complete surprise.

I've been wanting to brew a sour beer ever since tasting the fantastic Flanders red ale that Zach brought to a homebrew club meeting last summer. Maybe I'll do one of those next.