Sunday, April 27, 2008

Yummy gruit

With rising hop prices, brewers have been looking to find other non-traditional bittering and aroma agents, such as heather, lavender, rosemary and pine sprigs, or gruit. These and other similar herbs have been used in lieu of hops in Scandinavian countries and Scotland for centuries, and their beers have seen a resurgent in recent years, irregardless (that's a word, right?) of hop prices.

So I picked up a bottle of Alba Scots Pine Ale, from Heather Ale Ltd. out of Scotland. From their website:

Introduced by the Vikings, spruce and pine ales were very popular in the Scottish Highlands until the end of the 19th century. Many early explorers, including Captain Cook, used spruce ale during long sea voyages since it prevented scurvy and ill health. Shetland spruce ale was said to "stimulate animal instincts" and give you twins. Alba is a triple style ale brewed to a traditional Highland recipe from Scots pine and spruce shoots pickled during early spring. Pure malted barley is boiled with the young sprigs of pine for several hours then the fresh shoots of the spruce are added for a short infusion before fermentation.

It was pretty darn good--not piney at all, but sweet and malty, almost Scottish ale. I'm excited to try other beers with herb mixtures. Gruit, here I come!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cheese and Beer

Think wine and cheese were made for each other? Syeah, right. Try BEER. My friend and neighbor Don hosted a beer and cheese pairing this past weekend, with each guest bringing a beer and cheese. There was a great array of cheeses and beers available. We brought Fourme D'ambert, a creamy blue, paired with Rogue's Shakespeare Stout, and Avec Les Bons Voeux from Dupont (that's the beer....) with Bucheron, a French chevre (goat cheese). Both were great pairings. Other winning combos were Bell's HopSlam with an aged English cheddar, New Holland's Dragon's Milk (a strong dark ale) with a strong blue, and Don's home-made Helles with a Spanish goat cheese. What was clear is that while there are some general guidelines to beer and cheese pairings, they are easily broken, and quite forgiveable.

Don has some more great photos over at his Flickr page.

Monday, April 07, 2008

All grain IS all that

For the past couple months, my brew partner Tony and I have been talking about making the move to all-grain brewing, that is, no more pre-made malt extract. With extract brewing, you buy concentrated liquid malted barley, thick, gooey, sweet and expensive. 6 lbs is about $16, and it comes in a bunch of flavors, depending on the kind of beer you want to make: light, dark, pilsen, wheat, etc. I had often referred to extract brewing as being like buying pancake syrup instead of making your own.

Oh, was I wrong.

There are about 7-8 kinds of extract malts, and dozens kinds of grains, each of which can be roasted differently. All-grain allows the brewer to better control and determine what the end product will taste like. Of course it takes about twice as long, as you have to soak the crushed grains in hot water for an hour, and then drain off all the liquid and rinse as much sugar from them as possible.

We nailed the starting gravity at 1.052--really, anything that would have be within a few points of that would have been great. Time will be the test of course, but I have a good feeling about it. We're trying to recreate a brown IPA we made a while ago that was fantastic.

Speaking of IPAs, there's new one on the TC market that I highly recommend. The Crooked Tree IPA from Dark Horse Brewing out of Michigan is phenomenal. And if you can find it's souped up cousin the Double Crooked Tree, grab a bottle. They're about $13 for a four pack, and run close to 14%, so they should be shared and sipped, but wow. Barleywine-esque, in the same way that some barleywines are double IPA-esque. I'm saving one for a year.