You Had Me at Beer Butter

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My BFF sent me a picture of this recipe today. It is from Better Homes and Gardens magazine.

Stout-Soaked Porterhouse with Beer Butter

Ingredients

1 Porterhouse steak, 1-inch thick (about 1 1/4 lb.)
1 12 ounce bottle stout beer
1 T Dijon-style mustard
1 T Worcestershire sauce
2 t dried tarragon, crushed
1/2 t salt
1/2 t ground black pepper
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 t olive oil
1/2 c butter, softened

Directions

1. Place steak in a self-sealing plastic bag set in a shallow dish. Set aside 2 T beer; in a small bowl combine remaining beer, mustard, Worcestershire, 1 t of the tarragon, the salt, and pepper. Pour beer mixture over steak in bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours, turning occasionally.
2. Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium heat, cook shallot in hot oil 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in reserved 2 T beer. Remove from heat. Cool 10 minutes. In a small bowl combine softened butter, shallot mixture, and remaining 1 t tarragon. Transfer to waxed paper; shape into a log. Wrap and freeze.
3. Preheat broiler. Drain steak; reserve marinade. Season steak with additional salt and pepper. Place steak on the unheated rack of a broiler pan. Broil 3 to 4 inches from heat to desired doneness, turning once, broiling 12 to 15 minutes for medium rare (145 deg F) or 15 to 20 minutes for medium (160 deg F). Transfer to platter. Tent with foil and let stand 5 minutes.
4. Place reserved marinade in a small saucepan. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes (Do not overcook; marinade can become bitter).
5. To serve, slice steak into portions. Drizzle with some of the marinade reduction, and top each with a slice of frozen butter. Makes 2 to 3 servings.

I fully intend on testing out this recipe with a few modifications. First, a good porterhouse steak is hard to come by, so I’ll most likely substitute either ribeye or NY strip for the steak. Second, I only grill steak, never broil. And finally, I prefer my steaks somewhere between blue and medium-rare, depending on the cut.

The Porter Turns Four

Nestled into a long, narrow space in Atlanta’s Little Five Points, you can find a real treasure on the thoughtful craft beer front, with a terrific, locally-focused menu beside it. The Porter Beer Bar is always an experience, and September marks four years in the space.

Creative Loafing interviewed co-owner Molly Gunn, and I think her comments on Georgia’s legal situation are well worth repeating:

I’m looking forward to the emergence of a crowded local beer scene in Atlanta. I hope that one day we can rival Asheville and San Diego as great beer towns. I think many folks would agree that further relaxation in Georgia alcohol laws would also be a boost to the beer scene. Everything from the complex and long process of label approval to the still limiting ABV laws stand in our way of becoming a true beer destination.

As I’ve been working through some of the launch-glitches with this site, I’ve relied on input from friends near and far, and I’ve been asking what type of information they’d like to see on a site devoted to beer and brewing. Because many live in states with a better legal framework around alcohol than Georgia has, I’ve had to explain that there are certain avenues the site just can’t pursue because of the potential for legal problems.

What we have in Georgia is an accidental collusion between distributors with a near-monopoly on what comes into the state and the narrow, stingy brand of faith practiced by our large population of evangelicals, many of whom appear to seriously resent Atlanta (for our freedoms?).

At the same time, we are living in a time of increasingly relaxed liquor laws, and our legislature (which increasingly relies on home rule to save itself from having to make any hard decisions) understands that Georgians want access to more of the world’s great beers.

In 2004, the 6% ABV limit was lifted (my understanding is that the owners of Decatur’s Brick Store Pub were instrumental in achieving this victory), and in 2010/2011 we saw growler sales approved, with credit going to the owners of The Beer Growler, which got its start in Athens, opened a second location in Avondale Estates, and is now up and running all around metro Atlanta. Last year, municipalities in the state voted on whether to allow Sunday package sales, and Georgians again overwhelmingly opted to make their own choice about what and when to drink.

So if you live here, understand that this state is in the middle of a small revolution when it comes to great beer. The next time you drop in at The Porter or the Brick Store or any of Atlanta’s other great beer destinations, raise a glass to that.

Pear Beer: Minty Fresh?

This is my “pear beer,” which has been conditioning in the bottle for two or three weeks. If memory serves, this was 55# of juiced pears (see – I’m a juiced fruit pro), 4# white sugar, boiled for an hour with 1 oz of Centennial hops. Nottingham yeasts.

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What a strange flavor. There’s something almost “wintermint” (fake mint flavor) to it. I don’t know if I’d peg this as a pear-based drink if I didn’t know. It’s not bad, and certainly in same flavor profile range as a number of gluten free beers I’ve had (including some I’ve brewed) – and haven’t really cared for. This works for me more because it isn’t a beer, just hopped pear juice. But the aftertaste that lingers is fruity. It pours with a nice little foamy head, which is gone in a flash, and it’s got a nice hazy character like a wit. When someone brings me a crystal clear yellow beer, I ask for lime and clamato. It’s only right. I think this is going to be just fine – a couple more weeks in the bottle should give the carbonation a little more staying power, but I think this wintermint taste is here to stay. Holla for homebrewing experiments!

Use the Fruits!

I’m a fan of infusing fruit and berries into meads, and making country wines (i.e., wines that don’t rely on grapes for their base sugars) with whatever fruits or berries – or a mixture thereof – are on hand. To me, it’s a way of capturing a season, using a quantity of standard white sugar and a quantity of fruit juices or, even better, whole, in-season  fruit.

But how best to get the terrific flavor of, say, a peach or a pear, into the neck of a one gallon demijohn?

I have tried a number of methods by now, and by far the best approach is to keep the fruits or berries as whole as possible. If you put fruit through a juicer (which I have repeatedly done), the resulting juice will have a tremendous amount of pulp in it. It’s not something that you might necessarily notice if you just drank the glass of juice, but when you’re going through the process of clearing a wine, using juiced fruits tends to require more racking, and the sediments are wispier, lighter, and more easily agitated into suspension – meaning more racking down the road.

One of my favorite fruit adjuncts is blueberries. They’re small enough to fit into any vessel’s neck without damage, and they add a wonderful depth and richness to the flavor. Because they’re so easy to use intact, they result in a pretty no-fuss ferment/rack/clear process.

I find that a long simmer, as though you’re making a fruit stock, can give you a lot of good to work with if you have larger fruit. Twelve or twenty-four hours in a stock pot or crock pot, just covered by water (replenish as needed), usually results in a rich liquor (in the old school sense, not in the booze sense) to be mixed in with your other sugars.

I don’t have a lot of experience with fruit infusions in beers, but maybe this winter I’ll get something light started that can secondary on something weird, like a wheat beer infused with dates and a jalapeno.

Hey, it’s homebrew. Dream weird.

Do you see this line?

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So our weather has jumped from summer to autumn in the last couple of days, and temps inside my house have gone from upper 70s in late afternoon (turned AC off a week ago or so) to low 70s during the day and down to low 60s overnight (I love open window season). Anyway, I often marvel at the weird layers that develop in a carboy over time, and the geometries of yeast halos in the hour or two after pitching a healthy batch. Spyke texted me one day to let me know that one of the brews at her house had developed clear striations on a rainy day. Atmospheric pressure? It’s as good an answer as any. As for this, it’s the pear wine I photographed with the sun behind it yesterday morning. I think the lower temperatures are helping various solids to drop out of suspension. It’s like having a five gallon weather monitoring station in my dining room.

FailBrew: Diary of a Bad, Bad Beer

I thought it might be fun – for you, not for me – to take a look at the long, strange tale of a beer I made recently which has caused me no end of trouble.

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You sir, are a dick.

It was July, and a friend had issued invitations to her getaway weekend celebrating her 30th birthday. I’m… older, but really value the friendship we have, so I happily accepted. She asked if I’d be interested in brewing a beer for the occasion, and off I went.

I picked up a kit for Brewer’s Best English Pale Ale. As I mentioned in another post, my small, cramped kitchen and electric (not gas) stove make all grain brewing unrealistic in my house, so I stick to extract and partial mash and – usually – make some pretty great beer with it.

My friend Sirkka joined for the brewing of what we named “English as a Second Language Pale Ale,” which swapped out the Fuggle hops for Cascade and added two pounds of honey with 15 minutes left on the boil. (While we brewed, we drank Magic Hat’s summer mixed pack – great stuff. You know, by the way.)

Oh, how I would come to regret that honey.

The fermentation kicked off normally but never quite died down. After a couple of weeks, I transferred ESL to secondary and dry hopped it on  Willamette. I figured the agitation and oxygen would give it a little boost and finish it off. I was wrong. Activity in the airlock continued. Weeks passed.

My friend’s getaway was scheduled for the second weekend in September, and as September neared I realized I was in trouble with her beer. I assumed the problem was the honey, which can take a really long time to ferment fully, so with a couple of weeks to go, I decided to take extreme measures. I pitched a packet of Montrachet wine yeasts into the carboy with a B-vitamin to pep everything up, then crossed my fingers that in the next 48 hours, 72 at the most, ESL Pale would finally die.

But ESL Pale did not die. Airlock activity picked up, then dropped off again, but ever so slowly it continued bubbling.

With a little over a week to go, I put my cooler\mash tun on a chair, put the carboy in, and filled the cooler with ice. Over and over and over again. I cold crashed it for three days, then bottled it without priming sugar. Since I knew (or suspected strongly) that it was still fermenting a bit, I had to check the bottles for carbonation. Each morning, I’d open one bottle and then cap it again. In the evening, the same with another.

I thought it would carb rapidly and on its own, risking bottle bombs to have a nice fizzy beer for my friend’s birthday trip.

But of course, ESL Pale didn’t care what I thought. It stayed flat, with an overly dry flavor and a syrupy mouthfeel.

A few days after returning from the trip, I opened a bottle. A slight hiss, but basically no carbonation. Beyond frustrated now, I googled for sugar-to-bottle ratios and weighed out a requisite amount, then boiled it into a 1:1 mixture with water.  I uncapped the entire batch, all 30-some bottles, and used a giant syringe (minus needle) to inject 3CCs into each one. Then I recapped them, packed them onto a shelf, cursed the day I started brewing, and went about my business.

Last night, maybe ten days after the syringe craziness, I opened a bottle to see if anything had changed. When I poured it – more roughly than I usually would – it built a small but promising head of foam on it, which quickly dissipated. The flavor is still drier than I’d like. It still tastes like some idiot threw wine yeast and B vitamins into a perfectly good beer, but that’s mellowed, and there’s definitely a good kick to it, maybe in the 7% range (based on my highly scientific, “Would I feel comfortable driving a car 15 minutes after drinking this beer” test. The answer: No.)

So that’s the story of English as a Second Language Pale, a beer that required far too much manipulation and will end up being okay, I think, but never great. If there hadn’t been a clock on it, it might still be sitting in secondary, bubbling once a day, and I wouldn’t care. I like to let a beer sit until it’s well and truly done, and then let it sit a while longer. I’m certain that most of the problems in the world are caused by people being motivated by the wrong things, so I’ve decided that laziness can be a virtue in its own right. Since most people object to the glorification of laziness, I just tell them that my beers are “aged on lees.”

Some may call it patience, but I’ve come to believe that the secret to great home brewing is really just simple neglect.

Did honey boost human evolution?

Here’s a great piece on the role honey may have played in delivering bulk calories to early human (and proto-human) bands. I didn’t realize that the 25,000 year old Altamira Cave paintings depicted honey robbing, but I’m not surprised.

No mention of alcohol, but modern beekeepers working in modern, humidity controlled, temperature controlled spaces report “bottle bombs” of honey sometimes when they aren’t even trying to ferment it. It seems unavoidable that communities with more exposure to the elements and lacking screw-on lids and such would have developed a certain ABV in their honey, and it’s also likely that they considered this a benefit.

For a video look at how a traditional Tanzanian community brews with honey, check out the Tanzania episode of the show Three Sheets (link opens to Google search results. The show has also been available on Hulu). As a beekeeper and mead maker, I enjoyed the short segment on “Bee Brew.”