11 Oct 2010 @ 7:58 AM 

Hooray! I was one of the lucky brewers that was able to respond quickly enough to gain entry into Round 5 of Iron Brewer. The point of Iron Brewer, in case you’re too lazy to click on the link, is that – just like Iron Chef – you are given an ingredient or ingredients that you are required to use in the recipe.

For this round, the ingredients are:

Fruit (in whatever form)
Medium Toasted Oak
Saaz Hops

This is a complex challenge.

Fruit is easy. I’ve made a lot of fruit beer, and I’ve got some good ideas of what works and how much works, so fruit – to me – is just a matter of finding flavors that I want to blend together. My only concern is that any good fruit flavor will pretty much obliterate the Saaz hops in the recipe, and if you use enough Saaz to taste the hop flavor you’re going to intrude on the fruit. That’s a tough balance.

The most difficult part of it, I think, is the oak. Oak can be both delicate and overpowering. It seems like an oxymoron, but there’s a lot of nice subtle flavor in oak, but too much or too young and all you really taste is wood. Oak requires a lot of time in aging to really mellow out the flavor and time isn’t really available in this case, since this beer is being tasted in the beginning of December. I decided to make up for this by making a really high gravity beer. Why? Because there’s so much other flavor and strength that the rest of the flavor will be able to stand up against the oak when it hasn’t completely mellowed out.

My first thought was to make an Imperial Pilsener – just 100% pilsener malt and let the rest of the ingredients define the beer. A friend suggested making a brown ale to go with fruit and then inspiration truly struck. An Imperial Pils? What was I thinking? The beer would totally get carried away in the ingredients! You need something that will be able to stand up against the combination, not just something that the ingredients will stand out in. This contest is supposed to be about making the best beer. By god, let’s make some beer.

After some deliberation, I settled on an Imperial Black Ale, with tart cherries.

A big black beer, I think, will stand up to the power of oak and promote the subtle vanilla flavors. The cherries will (hopefully) tone down the toastiness and blend together with the chocolate/espresso flavors as well as the oak. The Saaz hops? Well, there’s a ton – not enough to make a bitter beer – not with such a low alpha acid hop – but hopefully the earthy/grassy flavors show up in complement.

Without further ado:

“Black Forest” Imperial Black Ale w/ Cherries & Oak
(scaled up from a 3 gallon batch)
Target OG: 1.138 (Actual when I brewed it: 1.143 after temperature correction)
Estimated IBU: 40 – Estimated ABV: 13%

15 lbs. Marris Otter (62%)
3.3 lbs. Munich Malt (14%)
1.67 lbs Chocolate Malt (7%)
.75 lbs Black Patent Malt (3%)
.75 lbs Franco Belges Caramel Munich 60L (3%)
.75 lbs Torrified Wheat (3%)
1.67 lbs of Dark Brown Sugar (added during boil w/5 mins to go)

Mash at 150F for 75mins.
Mash Out/Sparge at 170F.


1.75 oz Saaz at 120 mins
1.75 oz Saaz at 60 mins
1.75 oz Saaz at 20 mins
1.75 oz Saaz at 5 mins

A BIG ol’ starter of Edinburgh Ale Yeast (WLP #028).

Aging in secondary on 3.3 lbs of unadulterated dried tart cherries & 5 oz. of French Oak Cubes, Medium Toast.

Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 11 Oct 2010 @ 04:37 PM

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 01 Feb 2010 @ 7:59 AM 

I’m a big fan of using every part of the buffalo, as it were. I try to recycle my brew water (especially in the summer months) and be as eco-friendly as possible. My spent-grain goes directly into my compost pile so that it can go right back into a garden somewhere, but sometimes it seems a shame to let microbes and other beasties get all that great grain when I could be eating it, myself. So I make bread.

It’s a lot like brewing, really. I mix up water and grain, I add yeast and patience, and in the end I come up with something awesome that I can consume.

It’s taken me quite a few tries to come up with a good recipe for bread with spent grain. Since the spent grain is so wet it’s easy to make a loaf that is cooked solid on the outside but still pretty much raw dough on the inside. It can also make a huge difference in the composition of your bread; it’s rather hearty – after all, the grain is only crushed not milled – if you add too much it can be incredibly dense and chewy. So, since I’ve gotten this down to a recipe I enjoy, I’ll share it with you.

Caveat: I tend toward artisanal free-form loaves, rather than something in some sort of fancy pan. I like my bread rustic and chewy. On the other hand, that’s really easy to make. Here’s the deal (all these photos are clickable, if you want a closer look):

3 1/2 cups of flour
1/4 to 1/2 cup of spent grain
1/4 tsp of kosher salt
1 tbsp bread yeast

Put all that in a bowl.


Add 1 1/4 cups of lukewarm water. Mix it. There. Bread dough. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

You know all that stuff that your grandmother does with putting yeast in a cup and letting it soak to make sure it’s going before adding it to the bread? Yes, she’s making a starter. Never thought about it that way, did you? Well don’t worry about that. Bread yeast science has gone through just as many leaps and jumps forward as beer yeast science has. Unless you’re using yeast that’s as old as your grandmother, just stick it in the bowl and mix the whole thing together. I have a Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook and it is my friend. If you don’t have one, switch arms so you don’t look like Popeye from one side.

The dough - pre-rise.

It makes a pretty wet dough, but not so wet as to be soupy. It needs to be firm enough that you can shape it later, but not too firm or it’ll be a rock later. It’s not going to be a pretty ball of dough that you can knead. It’s a sticky mess. That’s okay. You also don’t have to knead dough to make awesome bread. Now that you’ve got that sticky lump in the bottom of your bowl, just cover it up with something breathable like a kitchen towel and leave it for a few hours.

Letting the dough rise.

I find that the top of my kegerator works quite well because in the meantime I also get to have a beer. You want to let the dough rise for at least 2 hours, until it’s flat on top.

The dough: risen.

That is dough that is ready for action. If, at this point, you’re having a busy day and you have something else to do, this is a good stopping point. Just throw the dough into some tupperware and throw it in the fridge. It’ll keep in there for up to a week. If you do end up refrigerating it, just take some extra time on the next step.

Preheat your oven to 425F. If you can, use a pizza stone. If you don’t have one, a cookie sheet will do, but you may want to lightly grease it and dust it with flour. If you have a broiling pan, put it in on a rack below your pizza stone (or below where you’ll put the cookie sheet). We’re going to actually steam-cook the loaf.

You want to take that sticky mess of a dough (throw some extra flour on it so it’s not as sticky) in your hands and shape it into a loaf. Keep on adding flour to the outside of it as you form it in your hands to keep it from sticking to you. You can make a big round boule, if you want. This time, I went for the oblong loaf. Go ahead and place it on a pizza peel that’s been dusted with corn meal. If you’re using a cookie sheet, throw a little corn meal on there, too, and go ahead and stick the dough on it.

The dusted loaf (great name for an artisanal bakery)

You want to let the loaf rise at least as long as it takes for the oven to heat up. 20 – 30 minutes. Longer, if you’re working with cold dough. After it’s risen, use a serrated knife to cut a few slashes in the top of the loaf or maybe a scallop or an X or whatever you want and then slide it carefully into the oven onto your hot pizza stone (totally not a euphemism).

Pour about a cup of regular tap water into the broiling pan. The water will evaporate during cooking and help caramelize the outside surface of the bread. It’s the secret to a nice chewy, flavorful crust.

In the oven

Let it bake for 35 – 45 minutes. The top should be golden-to-dark brown, and if you tap the loaf it should sound hollow.

Fresh out of the oven

Remove the bread from the oven when you deem that it is finished, but allow it to cool before cutting into it for best results. In the first few minutes after you take the bread from the oven you should be able to hear it cracking as the caramelized crust contracts. That’s how you know you’ve got the dial set to awesome.

Full admission – my sister-in-law got me a really misleadingly named book about making bread a few years ago, and I’ve been a full convert ever since – this recipe is not from there, but I made it following the theories and basic recipes from this book. It is Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and I still use it pretty much constantly.

If you try this recipe out, let me know how you like it.

Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 01 Feb 2010 @ 09:46 AM

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 21 Aug 2009 @ 6:51 AM 

Short and sweet today. I’ve had a few requests for the recipes I’ve made up recently, so I’m taking a step outside my normal crank rambling about beer, internet, and industry to talk homebrew.
Basil, my good man! What what?
I give you two recipes: Basil Wheat and Lavender-Pepper Saison. I brew all-grain, so that’s what you get for recipes.

I have no claims about them. They haven’t won any prestigious prizes or anything crazy like that (though feel free to enter them in whatever competition – I don’t do that stuff), they were purely experimental on my end and have turned out great.

You can use these recipes with the following stipulations:

  • If you make it, let me know how you like it (or let me try some of yours!).
  • If you make any changes that improve the recipe, please let me know so that I can try it.
  • If you happen to win a prize, you owe me a beer.


Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 21 Aug 2009 @ 07:00 AM

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 15 Jun 2009 @ 2:06 PM 

I always thought that when people talked about how the beer in England was “warm” they meant “room temperature” or at the very least “cask conditioned” but a little find by my lovely wife titled “In Commendation of Warm Beer” caught my attention today.

We care not what stern grandsires now can say,
Since reason doth and ought to bear the sway.
Vain grandames saysaws ne’r shall make me think
That rotten teeth come most by warmed drink.
No grandsire no; if you had us’d to warm
Your mornings draughts, as I do, farre less harm
Your raggie lungs had felt; not half so soon,
For want of teeth to chew, you’d us’d the spoon.
Grandame, be silent now, if you be wise,
Lest I betray your skinking niggardize.
I wot well you no physick ken, nor yet
The name and nature of the vitall heat.
Twas more to save your fire, and fear that I
Your pewter cups should melt or smokifie,
Then skill or care of me, which made you swear,
God wot, and stamp to see me warm my beer.
Though grandsire growl, through grandame swear, I hold
That man unwise that drinks his liquor cold.

Source: Anecdotes of literature and scarce books By William Beloe (published 1807).

That’s evocative, isn’t it? It sounds to me, from the construction of the line “God wot, and stamp to see me warm my beer.” that the beer is actively being warmed. Is it warm beer … or hot beer?

A little more researching brought me to In Praise of Ale or Song, Ballads, Epigrams, & Anecdotes Relating to Beer, Malt, and Hops (1888). Check this out from page 599!

When beer was the staple drink, morning, noon, and night, it was natural that our ancestors would prefer their breakfast beer warm and their “nightcaps” flavored, hence the variety of comforting drinks.

Warm breakfast beer! The 19th Century is starting to sound pretty awesome. But wait! There’s more!

Southey, in his “Commonplace Book,” records the process of roasting porter, a once fashionable tipple, as practised by Sir J. Beaumont : —

“He had a set of silver cups made for the purpose. They were brought red-hot to table, the porter was poured into them in that state, and it was a pleasure to see with what alarm an inexperienced guest ventured to take the cup at the moment that the liquor foamed over and cooled it.The effect must have been much the same as that of putting a hot poker in a pot of porter, which I have often seen done at Westminster; or a piece of red-hot pottery, which we sometimes use here.”

Holy moly! Hot for certain! In fact, the chapter goes on (and on and on) to talk about how much better for you hot beer is, than cold (I might dispute their science.) and finally gives recipes for what can only be called warm beer cocktails!

Here’s my last excerpt, a recipe for “Egg Flip”:

Take two eggs, and break them into a basin; add about three ounces of sugar, and beat those together. In the meantime, make a pint of table beer or mild porter hot, but do not let it boil, otherwise the eggs will be curdled, in which state they are termed by many “hen and chickens.” When the beer is near boiling, take it off, mix the eggs and sugar already prepared and the hot beer together, by pouring the mixture backwards and forwards from the pot to the basin. Add a wine glass of gin, or any other spirit which may be preferred; but gin is the liquor generally used. Grate a little nutmeg or ginger on the top, and it will be ready for drinking.

If anybody is really looking for a 19th Century feel to a tavern or pub, they should start experimenting with this stuff. I wonder how long it will be before Dogfish Head packages something like Egg Flip, along with a DIY red-hot-poker kit.

If I can find a print copy of this, I will work up a little book review and summary of available recipes. Until then, browse through the book via Google Books, all 632 pages of it. It’s a real treat.


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