It’s OK to guzzle beer on occasion…

“And there are few things in this life so revolting as sipped beer.  But let is go down your throat ‘as suds go down the drain,’ and you will quickly realize that this is a true friend, to be admitted to your most secret counsels.  Long draughts with an open throat are the secret.”  Maurice Healy


There was a time when I held fast to the notion–contrary to Mr. Healy here–that there was nothing more revolting than quaffed beer.  Good beer etiquette demanded that the beer geek dissect and scrutinize every far reaching detail of a brew, and this could only be accomplished in minute sips, swished around every flavor region of the tongue, whether I was drinking a pale ale or a barleywine.  In fact, I might have snobbily argued against Mr. Healy’s statement.

Things, and people, change, however.  Case in point:

Last week a tile fell off the wall of our bedroom shower…than, two, than three…  Behind the tile lurked black mold.  Ughh.  So my project for the coming weekend became taking care of that little problem.   The weekend came and pulled of the tile and rotten drywall behind.  Inside I discovered years of moisture had twisted and buckled the studs.  So those had to be replaced, along with the corroded plumbing.  After the walls were rebuilt and the plumbing fixed, I hung up hardy backer (heavy stuff) and then laid tile, floor to ceiling.

After two days of working hard, morning to night, I was beat…and thirsty.  So last night at 9:30 p.m., I pulled open the fridge and grabbed a Boulevard Pilsner.  I was so thirsty, I guzzled the thing in only two glass-to-mouth occasions.  It was perhaps one of the most satisfying beer moments I’d experienced in a while.  I found that it was not only refreshing, but tasted great…the flavor of the hops were somehow more up-front that when I had sipped this beer a few nights ago.  The flavor took me back in time to some of my earliest memories of beer.  Who knows…it could all be psychological.

Anyway, not all beers are good for guzzling, and the vast, vast, majority of upcoming times I’ll be sipping my brews.  BUT…I am not against guzzling.  It has it’s time and place within beer nerdery, perhaps more often than we care to admit.

The Lagunitas Coin Flip

In the past, I’ve not made it a secret that Lagunitas is generally hit and miss for me.  Not that I’ve denigrated their brand…some of the beers just aren’t my (pardon the expression on a beer site) brand of vodka.  As a result of my hot and cold attitude toward the brand, I leave her a bit befuddled when I wax and wane between praise and disappointment.  Tongue-in-cheek anthropomorphic painting of the the brewery aside, it is generally a coin flip as to whether I’ll purchase a bottle of something.

Well, I’m happy to say that I took Nate’s advice and tried their Bavarian-Style Doppel Weizen that is a limited release from the brewery.  According to the bottle, the recipe was designed by brothers who are, aside from the homage on the bottle, perhaps best known for founding ROLEC; a company that designs breweries and other beverage systems.

Aside from the brewery system they installed, the brothers also donated a yeast strain for the brewery to use.  The link to the story about yeast also has its own review of the beer with a risotto pairing.  But what did I think of the beer?

It was great.  It was authentic and was very traditional.  The phenols that are associated Bavarian Wheat beers were popping.  Plenty of cloves and bananas were notable.  Plenty of haze and straw color graced the brew.  The carbonation was a bit lower than it typical of the style…or it seemed so too me.  There is plenty more to describe about the taste profile but I’ll let you the drinker of the brew consider what you would like to add to the discussion. However, I will note one more thing; my surprise.

I was truly and pleasantly surprised by two aspects of this brew.  First, the alcohol of 9% was, in my opinion, very well hidden within the overall structure of the beer and its strength.  Second, its authenticity surprised me.  Many American wheat beers tend toward clean yeast strains and lack the phenols and esters of more traditional wheat styles.  Don’t mistake me, I’m not being critical it’s simply an experiential observation.  But Lagunitas nailed the traditional flavors.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an authentic strain with which to work.

At any rate, I heartily recommend this limited release brew to you.  Let’s just hope that they change their minds about the limit part.  Pick one up today.

What have you done for me lately…as in today: A Chocolate Ale Story

This post is about Chocolate Ale and a respectful advocacy for Boulevard.  Please know that we are hoping for a respectful conversation to take place here.  Remember, craft beer still represents a small portion of the total beer sales in the world.  

It’s a great time to be part of the Kansas City beer scene.  People here are getting more and more enthusiastic about beer.  In fact, I am frequently running into folks who are having the “this is beer” epiphany.  The fever-pitch has peaked, it seems, surrounding their Chocolate Ale.  Perhaps all of this points toward a paradigmatic shift in the love of craft beer.  More on that momentarily.

A few months back, during our fund-raising efforts, the Pitch ran a story on the beer scene in Kansas City.  To no one’s surprise, and rightly so, they spoke in length about the pivotal role that Boulevard Brewing played in upping the beer culture in this city.  I would also note that upping the beer culture has gastronomic implications as well (i.e., good food spots with good beer).

I remember the days when I lived in Springfield (MO) and before I myself even brewed (let alone pursued opening a brewery), when I would get a Boulevard Wheat on tap, look forward to a Nut Cracker Ale, or tipple an Amber or two.  This was before the Smokestack Series days.  Boulevard was often the lone respite from macro beer oblivion.  And I truly appreciated what I could get.

Time went on and the Smokestack Series came out.  I had my first exposure to it right before my move to California.  I traded some other brews with a woman named Carrie at Kahn’s in Indianapolis for a couple Smokestacks.  During the move, I stopped and stayed with a friend in Springfield.  Of course, I had to visit Brown Derby International to purchase some more Smokestack stuff.  Some of the beers I purchased were new, and I hadn’t heard of them.  Sometimes life is about fortuitous occurrences, and I am glad when I have them.  

So, I’ve got a long standing history with Boulevard…about 10 years.  Many people out there have an even longer history with drinking Boulevard.  Some probably remember when it was exclusively at this or that location.  I would venture to say that Kansas City itself has an impression of the Boulevard’s history stamped on it as well.

By all accounts, people in this area have a positive history with Boulevard.  Everyone I’ve spoken with has a positive antecdote along the lines of “they have had the same people there the whole time,” “they’ve kept the same group of investors,” “they really raised recycling awareness in the city”…  I could go on and on.

Bottom-line is that Boulevard Brewing has, for a long time and consistently, given people in Kansas City and awesome experience.  There is a positive and long-standing history of their presence.

Why set-up so much stuff preliminarily to get to the point?  Well, I think it adds some perspective (both historical and immediate) to this Chocolate Ale thing.  It also points out that Boulevard, it seems, has always acted with the best intentions and is community-minded.

So, why is there such criticism from folks when they didn’t get the Chocolate Ale?  ”Boulevard handled it badly,” etc., are the sort of criticisms I’ve seen.

Well, I don’t presume to know the logistical methods that Boulevard employed on their Chocolate Ale. I also presume that they didn’t dictate to retailers how to deal with their allotments.  What I do presume is that they did their best and didn’t intentionally deprive anyone.  If some feel it could have gone better, then that is for them to say.  However, overt anger and pointed disgust over not getting one’s hands on Chocolate Ale does seem a bit short-sighted given Boulevard’s otherwise sterling reputation.

Did some people hoard bottles?  Sure!  It that Boulevard’s fault, no!  Again, they are in the business of making good beer, not determining the actions, behaviors, or attitudes of purchasers and retailers.  That’s why I tried to add some perspective above.  It is unfortunate that some got a lot and others got none.  It is unfortunate that bottles will show up on Ebay for ridiculous prices.  However, the wider ills of free market consumerism aren’t the fault of Boulevard Brewing.

There are have also been criticisms leveled concerning the notion that Boulevard should have released the beer to Kansas City first and then gone into secondary markets.  Again, I don’t presume to know that marketing tactics and techniques that factored into the decision to be in other places first, etc.  What I do know is that wider appreciation of Boulevard beers has afforded them the chance  to make their beer more affordable to Kansas City.  The more grains, hops, yeast, etc. they can buy, the more their purchasing power is upped.  For that reason, you can regularly find their terrific Sixth Glass Quadruppel for the price of $7.99 (ridiculously cheap, in my opinion).  So, while many of us would love only homegrown production, we have also enjoyed the boon of being able to buy their other beers at great price points.

That may not be consoling to many folks, but it is to me.

I’ve also noted in this discussion that some have said that Boulevard’s heads have gotten too big.  Have you met John, Steven, Jeremy or some of the other Boulevard folks?  I have, and I can tell you this is demonstrably untrue.  Sure, they’ve gotten recognition, but little of it (if any) is by way of self-proclamation.

But let’s assume that everything levied at the lack of Chocolate Ale were true.  Let’s say that they only got it to K.C., that they only let people purchase one bottle, they they didn’t take interviews that created more buzz, that the logistics went perfectly, and that every last iota of the process went off without the proverbial hitch.  There is still the issue of supply.

It appears that demand far outstripped the supply.  I gather that more and more and more could have been made.  But then what about that one person or, tenth, hundredth, thousandth, who didn’t get it.  There will invariably be a complaint from somewhere.  In the end we are imagining Anselm’s Ontology or the Perfect Island when we say everything could have been perfect.  I myself have been on the losing end of scoring some BBQ or Rye on Rye, along with dozens and dozens of other beer from other breweries…it happens.

This is a plea.  Please do not denigrate Boulevard based on one beer.  Remember that they will continue to make great beer and will do it to the best of their ability.  Please, especially if you do not normally support Boulevard by purchasing their other beers, do not complain.  How about trying some of their other brews instead?  I mean no one is relegated to drinking Victory Gin in a world that equitably bad…I think I prefer the free market.  Thoughts?

A Book Review of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

It seems that people who share the name Reinhart (or Reinhardt, in my case) are an obsessive bunch.  My obsession is all things beer and fermentation, and Peter Reinhart’s is bread.

I purchased The Break Baker’s Apprentice for my wife over Christmas and was glad that she wanted it as a gift so I didn’t get stuck in the proverbial “you bought me an iron” or “you bought this for yourself” type gift.  Truth be told, I won’t begrudge the claim that I wanted this book for myself as well as offering it as a present to my spouse.

The above being said, I dove into this book with a notable celerity and fervor.  Now that I’ve been combing the volume and making some (even better) homemade bread, I feel compelled to offer my thoughts on the book.

Do you make your own bread?  Do you want to?  Do you want to understand the how and why behind making really good bread?  Look no further.  This book is terrific and I highly recommend that you purchase it.  Following is my take on what you should expect as a buyer of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread:

Bread as Science and Art:

Too often, art and science are spoken of in mutually exclusive terms.  And while it is true that dichotomies exist in many respects, culinary process is a happy marriage of art and science.  The name “Artisan,” when speaking about making unique and tasty breads, is apt nomenclature.  So, expect to see some formulas for making great bread but also expect that tactile nature and experience of bread making to be emphatic in this book.  ”Know thy bread by touch” might be an accurate characterization of how Peter Reinhart sees bread making.

But make no mistake, process is an important aspect of this book as well.  I won’t belabor the point too far by listing them out, but the book walks through the twelve stages—yes, I said twelve—of making bread.  It also emphasizes the important of temps, timing, and waiting.  Reinhart makes arguments for natural sugars in bread (via flour) being the source of fermentation and flavors (a bit of a head trip for those of us who “proof” our yeast with some 105-115 water with some sugar before mixing).

Instead, he offers methods of fermentation, including cold, that tease out the complexities of flour and creates fantastic results.  I read about cold fermentation awhile back via Jeff Varisano’s great pizza crust technic, but Rinehart’s book filled out the ideas.

Reinhart spares no science when he speaks about the role of enzymes and amylase (terms I’m familiar with due to my brewing experience) in making a great loaf of bread.  However, the concepts and language aren’t inaccessible and unwieldy for those who want to perform a little “food for thought.”  Ultimately, the explanations he gives offer the science and reasons behind the tasks undertaken while making bread.  Who wants to perform rote activities without knowing why?…even the most pragmatic person couldn’t turn away from Reinhart’s discussions.

In the end, the reader will not only begin to grasp what is happening during the bread process, he or she is encouraged, based on their newly found skill sets, to explore and be an artist.  Put your touch and your signature on any bread you want.

The Tradition of Gastronomy:

Speaking of unique breads and creating bread on your own.  The book spends time speaking a bit about those ever iconoclastic Americans and their penchant for exploration.  Reinhart notes that one of the reasons American bread makers are making great new loaves, as well as traditional ones, in unexpected ways, is lack of rigid tradition (i.e., we just, unlike some French bread makers, love to explore and play…an easy matter without some of the more hard and fast expectations).

Bread and Humans

Bread is as old as civilization itself.  Bread is a past time.  Bread is a staple of life.  If I had to pick a reason I think Reinhart is so passionate about bread and teaching us how to make it, I think I would say that he believes it is intimately human.  Bread is simultaneously ridiculously simple and absurdly complex.  It is one of the simplest and greatest pleasures of life.  The above, at least in my estimation, is the real point of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, namely, a passionate prose that is meant to re-discover the pleasure of a good loaf made by the hands of person eating it.

Concluding Thoughts:

Peter Reinhart alludes to the meaning and asthetics of bread making by asking us to consider the response that even an ordinary homemade loaf of gets in comparison a store bought one.  He insists on his students not calling the loaves of bread products.  Apart from the inherent critic on our ever industrial process of food making, he simply loves seeing bread making as a learning and teaching journey that builds in us something we might not otherwise have known.

This is a great and inspiring book.  Give it a read.


German Beer from South of the Border: Bohemia Clasica

Bohemia beer from Mexico is perhaps the most overt appeal to the fact that beer from Mexico, as we know it, is actually, from a stylistic and heritage perspective, German and Czech.  Traditional Mexican alcohol beverages are generally corn or agave based.

There were early influxes of barley to Mexico circa 1500 A.D., but beer didn’t truly take hold until a large transplant of Germans in the mid 1800s under the ill-conceived and short lived empire of Mexico that ruled by Maximilian I.  At any rate, this all took place within the immediate proximity of Pilsner being born.  Of course, Vienna style lagers were already established.

So, without too much more in the way of detail, it is important to note that, Bohemia’s name appeals to the history that established a barley-based beer culture in Mexico and is part of the FEMSA portfolio.

The Beer: It seems popular, on some websites, to give this beer a “C” on the rating scale.  I suppose the main detriment in the minds of many folks who have rated it low is the simple fact that it’s a lager.  Depending on who you talk to, many find lager stylistically quotidian compared to the boldness of an American IPA. However, there is very little that tastes better than a lager on a hot day…I suppose context is worth considering when rating a beer.

So, how does Bohemia stack up to the competition?  I have to say that it is certainly better than most macro lagers.  Everything I’ve read states that it has added adjuncts and is, therefore, not an all malt beer.  However, I find the depth to be more than typical American and Mexican brews (especially Tecate and Sol, which are brewed at the same location).

Having said that, Bohemia Clasica is better than most of its counterparts that contain adjuncts.  So, if you normally drink Bud, Tecate, Sol, Miller, Coors, PBRP, or other beers in this vein, Bohemia might just give you a bit more flavor.  By the way, this beer was graciously sent for review by Formulatin.  Thanks, Natalia.

Rightly Placed Methane from Brewing Grains

Landfills.  On the drive from Kansas City to Indianapolis, Andrea and I always pass a landfill just East of East Saint Louis.  Invariably, white birds fly contrastively over heaps of human waste.  Green hills jut out of the otherwise flat landscape and appear fertile, despite the underlying material.  It’s always a notably strange site.

I won’t go into a tirade about consumption and waste.  I won’t, in fact, dispute that landfills are a perceived necessity of modern life.  However, I will point out that none of us would want to live directly adjacent to one.  Be that as it may, I’m constantly rethinking how to escape the learned behavior of simply “tossing it out,” as though-it-goes-nowhere mentality.

As most of you know, Nate and I are avid brewers.  So much so, that we are starting a brewery.  A while back, I thought about my brewing grains.  I sat and wondered what happened to them when I threw them out.  I could only make a limited amount of spent grain bread.  Well, I had to put them in a bag, put them in the garbage, wait for the trash truck to pick them up, and sent them to become methane in a landfill.  There had to be another way.

Luckily (really by choice), Andrea and I frequent our local farmer’s market.  There are a myriad of reasons we buy local produce from local producers.  Mainly we like knowing the people who sell us our food and love our local economy.

At our local farmer’s market, there are a few people who sell meat…which is awesome, by the way.  Of course, many animals love spent grains, and it was a natural choice to start looking into off-loading some grains to some farmers in the area.  First, it reduces some of their feed costs.  Second, it keeps my grains out of the landfill. Third, I might score some free eggs or chops now and again (they brought me some pork sausage a couple weeks back).  Fourth, it adds a direct connection to my food supply.  Other reasons could be noted.

Why all the hubbub, bub?  Trust me, this isn’t an attempt to make you go green or assume my position on an aerie while looking down on anyone.  It is an appeal.  Please believe me when I say that someone wants your brewing grains.  Even if you are in an urban area, there is a lot of farming happening.  Find someone to take your grains; you are going to get rid of them one way or the other.

The one way is that they become methane in a landfill.  The other is that they become methane out of an animal. Don’t pass on the animal gas.

Brewery Update

Well, the rewards are now, for the most part, in the mail.  To send Kickstarter rewards to 372 people is not an easy task, and I’m pleased to say that swag is in the mail.  Barring a small issue here and there, we have fulfilled, with joy, our obligation to send out rewards for our fundraising efforts.  We are glad to have them done.  But that isn’t the end.

Our next obligation is to start getting our great beer into the Kansas City area.  There is plenty to do.  We have a location to find, equipment to purchase, and all the government processes to work through.  However, we are getting ready to turn on the jets as the new year has begun.

This seems as good a time as any to re-iterate our thanks for all the support we have and are receiving from all of you.  2011 was a year that we can look back on and be very thankful.  Our hopes for a great 2012 are high.  By all appearances, Wilderness Brewing Co. will be a working reality by the end of 2012.

When I reflect on that fact alone, I just beam with excitement…I know that Nate does as well.  So please keep looking out for us and keep letting everyone know that our Wilderness wanderings are bearing fruit and that you have been happy to journey with us.

It’s going to be a great 2012.

Fermenting Cabbage

Sauerkraut in the making

Fermentation is a miracle that beer enthusiasts often subconsciously relegate strictly to the realm of beverage, when in reality, fermentation plays a part in the production of countless and diverse foods:  Soy sauce, sour cream, pickles,  and yogurt are a few common refrigerator staples that could not exist without microbiological activity that not only preserves, but imparts unique flavors, just as in the production of beer.

Perhaps one of my favorite fermented foods–as per my polish upbringing–is sauerkraut.  Typical grocery store sauerkraut is often lackluster.  In fact, some of your cheaper varieties are made by simply adding vinegar to salted boiled cabbage, and the real-deal kraut is usually flash pasteurized, leaving a somewhat tasty but dead product.  Just as I prefer my beer to be a living product, teaming with live yeast and/or bacteria, so I would like prefer my sour cabbage.  Thus being said, I have been fermenting my cabbage the old fashion way, just like my ancestors did…and let me tell you, the freshness factor makes the minimal amount of work that goes into it worthwhile.

In layman’s terms, here is how I make my sauerkraut:

The tools needed are:  A sharp knife, a fermenting vessel (pros will recommend a ceramic crock, but I just use one of my stainless steel boil kettles), and some sort of a weight (as you can see in the pictures a plate with a few mason jars filled with water work fine).

The ingredients needed are: Cabbage, sea salt.  Yup.  That’s it.  Bacterial cultures are not necessary as they are naturally occurring on and between the leaves of cabbage.

To make sauerkraut, first one must slice the cabbage in thin slices (but don’t keep the core).  I prefer mine a bit wider than the average store-bought sauerkraut.  As I slice my cabbage, I put it aside in a pile.  After all your cabbage is sliced (I use 3-5 heads, but if you use red cabbage you may want to use less as it is more dense and you will get a higher yield.  After all your cabbage is sliced, you start adding it to your fermenting vessel a few handfuls at a time, sprinkling in some sea salt over top of each layer.  The amount of salt used may vary to preference.  I use a heaping 1/2 teaspoon per one pound of cabbage.  After all the cabbage and salt is in the vessel, mix well and then tightly pack down and compress the mixture. This mixture must remain compressed, as your kraut will need consistent water coverage.  You will not add any water, as the salt will pull the water out of the sliced cabbage through a process called osmosis.  Within 24 hour you should see your cabbage covered in this watery solution called ‘brine.’

Slicing the cabbage

Mixing in the seasalt

Using mason jars and a dinner plate as weights

The finished product

At home next to homebrew

Now, you just wait and push your weight down every day or so as needed to keep the cabbage covered in brine.  You will see foamy bubbles emerge when fermentation really kicks in.  After about two weeks, a very delicious sauerkraut that far surpasses the stuff on the shelves a Walmart is ready to eat.  I put my kraut in jars (but don’t pressure cook them…I want them to be an evolving product that gets more sour over time) and store in the fridge.  I put apple chunks in one batch and it tastes fantastic.

Bud Light…Suspicion Confirmed by Way of Anecdotal Evidence

While going out to grab some beers with with friends a while back, a rare occurrence in that I normally drink at home, I got up and headed to the bathroom. I left my beer on the table.  I suppose the above statement concerning the placement of my elixir sounds innocuous and sensible enough.  Right?

Apparently not all patrons are of the same ilk.  What did I behold?  The end result of too many Bud Light commercials.  The gentleman in question subscribed the philosophy of AB advertisement; namely someone might take his true American Lager.  Therefore, the brewski sojourned to restroom.

First off, let me state, without waffling on the matter… yuck!  Secondly, I subscribe to an alternative explanation that better accounts for a Bud Light near the urinal.  I think he knew where to refill his beer.

Some thoughts just need to be shared.

The Absentee Landlords of Shall Return

As might be conspicuous to many of you, Nate and I haven’t exactly been writing machines as of late.  The reasons for our absenteeism are multitudinous.  Is the absence excusable?…maybe, maybe not.  We have been busy, make no mistake about that. Aside from the ill-conceived bout of self-justification mixed  with just the right amount of self-deprecation that I can offer, let me say that our absence isn’t baseless.  I can only say anon and anon so many times when speaking about our intentions to write.

Writing.  What can we say?  We wrote nearly a post a day for the period of 3 years.  For any of our fellow writers or even our avid readers out there, you know that to be quite a imposing mountain of pages and words about beer.  In short, we have found it difficult to keep writing substantive posts about beer on a daily basis.

We are not really interested in writing beer reviews.  There are plenty of good sites for that.  Our goal has never been to write about popular/trend beer topics.  Again, plenty of good sites exist and can fulfill that niche.  Nate and I set out to add what we considered to be a unique voice to the topic of beer…that can be a difficult proposition to fulfill on a daily basis.  So, as you know it is ending. Please keep reading.

We have decided to keep writing interesting articles about beer.  Yet, we’ve decided that doing that on a daily basis isn’t ultimately a tenable goal.  For that reason, we have decided to be a bit more expansive in our approach.  Like the rest of you, we have several interests, other than beer, that we like to explore.  Some of them we are into almost as much as beer.  In short, we are planning on adding some dynamics to what we will now be calling “thankheavenforbeer and more.”

We hope that we continue to impact, spark, and generate conversation around this blog and the various topics it addresses.  Please keep joining us as we freshen and expand our blog.

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