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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Beer School Part 2 The King of Beer Grains

In my last Beer School entry I said that this time I would focus on different grains used in beers and brewing.

This is a little like saying that a blog would focus on how grapes affect wine. Grains are integral to brewing, and beer itself would not exist without them.

Beer has been known as "liquid bread" and that is essentially what it is. Both bread and beer go through many of the same processes to arrive at very similar ends. Just as a brilliant baker has both art and science to use in pursuit of great bread, so a brilliant brewer uses both in pursuit of amazing beer.


The first grain that we will look at is Barley, the undisputed king of brewing grains. Barley is a short season grain that grows well even in northern climates. This is part of the reason that beer is predominately in cooler climates than wine which needs warmer climates for the grapes. Barley in its raw form is still attached to its husk and is difficult to seperate from it. This makes it less pleasent to eat, and is the reason that barley for eating is often "pearled" or has the husk removed. However, the husk of barley is indespensible for making a good beer.

Barley is first malted in order to be made into beer. Essentially, malting is sprouting the grain, and then drying or roasting to stop the sprout. This allows all of the enzymes to form which convert starch into sugar, but does not allow the plant to use up the sugars. Depending on the roasting process after malting, you can arrive at vastly different colors and flavors of barley malt.

The first of these is base malts. Base malts are so named because they are the foundation for nearly any beer. These malts are dried at very low temperatures so as not to change their color. They provide most of the sugars (that are then turned to alcohol) in any given beer, and provide malty sweetness. Base malts will often create a pale yellow beer.

Next come kilned malts. Kilned malts are roasted at a slightly higher temperature for longer. While still contributing a yellow color (in most cases) kilned malts often have more forward flavors and aromas than base malts. They may contribute toasty, nutty, or graham cracker aromas and flavors to a beer.

Next are caramel malts. In caramel malts, the sugar conversion happens at the maltster prior to the roasting. The roasting then causes caramelization of the sugars. These malts will add a red or orange color to a beer. Their flavors range from toasty, to caramelly sweet, all the way through to dark fruit or raisiny flavors.

The dark malts are the last of the colored malts. These malts are used in small amounts to give a dark color to a beer. In addition to the color, these malts will add dark chocolate, roasty, or coffee notes to a beer. Too much dark malt can contribute an unpleasent astringancy to a beer.

Last are the dextrin malts. These malts are created in such a way as to have a large amount of maltodextrin, a non-fermentable sugar. While these malts add their own sugars, flavors and aromas to a beer, their primary contribution is to body or mouthfeel. Without dextrin malts, some beers would taste too thin for their flavors.

As you can see, Barley alone can create a huge variety of beers. Barley varieties and maltsters can create variations even in the same category. For this reason, brewers often use the same suppliers for their malt, as a variation in supplies is often a variation in the finished product.

Some specific varieties of barley are even named so that brewers may find the barley variety even after it has been malted. Golden Promise is an example of this. This barley hails from Scotland and the UK and has a light malty flavor, with a good grainy sweetness. It differs enough from other varieties that it is worth finding for brews that require its particular characteristics.

In the next installment of Beer School, we will look at adjunct grains and sugars that add their own characters to the beer.

For more information on beer and brewing grains I highly recommend

How to Brew by John Palmer

Radical Brewing by Randy Mosher

Eyewitness Beer

and Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A little bit about herbs

My yard is not very big.

Something I realized when we moved in was that the neighbors oak tree makes it even smaller. But one great thing about herbs is that they are small but mighty. A small amount of herbs can change a dish from ordinary to amazing.

The first things that I planted in the yard was mint. Now mint is the perfect herb for beginners. It is nearly impossible to kill, and the only care that it really needs is to make sure that it is not spreading too far. I built a raised bed with different sections for my mint, because I have a variety of different kinds.

Chocolate mint and Peppermint, close relatives of eachother grow side by side. Chocolate mint smells almost exactly like peppermint with a musky dark chocolate note to it as well. Then comes my favorite, eu de cologne or orange mint. This mint has beautiful round leaves and a subtle, not overpowering, mint aroma. It really does smell like it could have oranges in that aroma.

Then come Spearmint, Gingermint, and Applemint. While they are not my favorites, all of these are wonderful to have if just for the variety. Ginger and Apple mint make particularly good bath salts.

One warning about mints, they do have a tendancy to spread. I have divided my bed with wood dividers and they have found ways around it, and in some cases, have even pushed through it. Keep that in mind when planting mint.

Now my different mint plants have a variety of uses. Bath salts are simple to make, rock salt and mint are layered with each other, and then left to sit for a month. A little Epsom salt can be added for good measure. In addition to that, with a few mint plants you will find an endless supply of dried and fresh mint, as well as mint for teas (what I usually use it for).

Next I have my chives. Chives provide a mild onion flavor, and grow back when clipped. Chives also provide a lovely flower in the spring time. The Pink flowers are edible and can also be used to create a beautiful pink chive vinegar.

Next year I plan to plant garlic chives next to my chive bed. Garlic chives are similar to chives in that they provide a subtle onion garlic flavor to dishes. They are flat like grass rather than round like onions and chives, and have white flowers.

I have the Mediterranean garden in a sunny dry spot. This garden has lavendar, thymes and lemon balm. Thymes are like mints in that different varieties can smell massively differently. French thyme and lemon thyme are the two that I use the most. Lavendar is not often considered an herb for cooking, but as long as you have "English" style lavendars they have their own place in the kitchen. A great lavendar aroma and a slight bitterness can be added to a variety of foods, but shortbread cookies are the traditional way to eat lavendar. Lemon balm provides a lemon scent to tea and bath salts, and grows profusely.

The backyard garden has basil, oregano, tarragon, salad burnett, and sorrell. Basil can grow profusely and the trick is to keep picking off the flowers so that more leaves are formed. Tarragon can only be grown from roots or plants, as French Tarragon is the herb that you want to use, Russian Tarragon can be grown from seed but the flavor is not good at all. Salad Burnett is a pretty little plant with scalloped leaves. It tastes nutty with a hint of cucumber. It makes a useful addition to herb butters and to salads. Sorrell is another herb that can be used to add acidity to any dish.

The potted herbs are next. I have bay, rosemary, sage, and lemon verbena in pots because they must come in for the winter hear in Kansas. Bay forms a regal tree and will keep producing bay leaves that taste better than anything you can buy in the store. Bay tolerates very dry weather and seems to keep growing stronger. Tuscan Blue rosemary creates an upright bushy plant with wonderful rosemary flavor. I find a lot of rosemary has a flavor that is too intense or too resinous. Tuscan blue is subtle and pleasent. Rosemary also resist drought, and so makes a good plant for areas with hot dry summers.

Sage is the essential poultry herb. In addition to flavouring poultry and stuffing, it can be added to sausage to give its flavor. A careful hand is needed when you add sage as there is a fine line between just enough and way too much.

The last herb is lemon verbena. Lemon verbena is a tropical herb that smells exactly like lemon dum dums. I am not kidding. The aroma is sweet and lemony, and makes a wonderful addition to tea. Lemon verbena also keeps its aroma when dried and can be used to give a sweet lemon flavor to dishes like chicken and fish. I use my lemon verbena as a water meter. It requires more water than most, so when it is starting to look dry, everything gets a dose of water. Lemon verbena comes back wonderfully from being dry to perking right up.

My small yard provides me plenty of herbs for cooking and tea without much effort on my part. Whether in a yard or in pots, fresh herbs will help inspire you to cook in a whole new way.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Beer School Part 1 What is Beer

As part of my job as an assistant brewer, I teach the new hires about beer and brewing so that they can be informed when talking to customers.

One of the first things that must be taught is "what is beer?".

Put simply, beer is any alcoholic beverage made from grain and not distilled. So if it is made from corn, wheat, rye, barley, oats, or any other grain, it is beer. If you distill it, you get whiskey, vodka, etc., but undistilled it is beer.

If an alcoholic beverage is made from fruit, and not distilled, it is a wine. If you distill wine, you get brandy, or eau de vie.

There are drinks that fall into a gray area. Sake is typically considered rice wine, but it is grain based and therefore should be a beer. What about country wines made from parsnips or rhubarb? They are often considered wines as well.

Now that we have a general rule for what beer is, we can work on the various types of beer and what makes them unique. Beer can be divided into two basic categories depending on the type of yeast used in fermentation, ale and lager.

Ale yeast lives in the foam on the top of the fermenting beer, and like relatively warm temperatures (about 70 F). It can create fruity or spicy aromas and finishes fermentation in approx. 2-3 weeks.

Lager yeast lives in a cake on the bottom of the fermenting beer, and likes cooler temperatures (about 50 F). It typically is described as having a crisp or clean character. It will finish fermentation in 2-3 months.

Ales and Lagers are now based upon the type of yeast used in fermenting, but this was not always the case. If you read historical books about beer or brewing you will find that in England, Ale was brewed without hops, while Beer contained hops. In some states, Ale is higher alcohol percentage, and Beer lower (although the types of yeast have little to do with alcohol percentage).

There are also beers that do not fit into these two categories. Lambic is one such beer. Lambic is to beer what sourdough is to bread. Lambic uses wild yeasts picked up from the air in order to ferment. Because it uses wild yeasts, it is typically considered an older beer style than those beers that use yeast saved batch to batch.

But how old is beer really? Well, beer is older than recorded history. Some of the first civilizations to possess writing were already accomplished brewers. The Babylonians and Egyptians relied on beer as their drink of choice, and even had a wide variety of styles to choose from.

So you see that beer is a varied drink with a long history, but it can be divided into different categories to make it easier to understand.

The next Beer School post will look at the grains used in beer and the effects that such grains have.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Time for the Autumn Garden

One thing about living in Kansas,
The seasons sure seem to change quickly.

This spring I tried to grow some cool weather vegetables, like spinach and lettuce, but just as the ground is warming up, it seems that summer is upon us and the greens go to seed. So I am expiramenting with an autumn garden this year.

An autumn garden is basically a garden for cool weather vegetables that grow fairly quickly and most of mine will not be harmed by a little frost. I have a patch of the yard dug up and waiting for the transplants and seeds.

One of the first things I want to plant is mache or lambs lettuce. This is a small tender green that is not killed off by frost, although it can't take too much frost either. In addition to the mache, there will be spinach and arugula. I figure that little patch will be more than good enough for a few salads as fall appears.

I then have my cooked greens garden. I have Chard and Collards already planted, and more are getting ready to be planted. I have kale growing and getting ready for transplanting as well. Between these few plants, I should have plenty of cooked greens to munch on for the fall.

I have also sown beets and turnips, as well as some scallions.

Had I planned a little bit better, the garden would have carrots, kohlrabi, brussel sprouts, cabbages, and squash to go with these, but unfortunately, most of those crops have a growing season longer than what I am expecting before frost, and I hate to see a crop die simply because of my lack of planning.

We will see how my little garden progesses through the fall. I will keep you all updated.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Creating Infused Vodka's

Hello again everyone.

This time I decided to blog on a hobby that has occupied me for a while, and it seems to simple that anyone should be able to do it. I create my own flavored spirits or vodkas. One of the reasons that I do this for myself is that it is incredibly cheaper than to buy all of the flavored brand name vodka's at the liquor store. The other reason that I do it is because there are such limitations of flavor, and just like with home brewing, when you infuse your own spirits, you only have to please a pallete of one.

To creat an infused vodka or spirit is incredibly simple. Basically, you take the flavoring ingredient; fresh fruit, herbs, spices, etc. and you allow it to steep in the spirit for a certain amount of time. The longer the ingredient steeps in the spirits, the more intense the flavor will be.

Currently my personal favorite is my French Tarragon and Lemon Verbena vodka. Simply from the name you can tell that this is not a vodka that will show up in liquor stores, and yet it is incredibly tasty.

The first step is to begin with a measured amount of vodka or neutral grain spirits. Basically, neutral grain spirits are flavorless alcohols. If you are using pure alcohol, be sure that you dilute it to a drinkable proof before using. I like to steep my flavorings in a gallon glass jar. The glass does not react with the alcohol, it is easy to clean, and the wide mouth allows easy access to filter the flavorings out of the spirits.

For the French Tarragon Vodka, I used 6 long sprigs of Tarragon from my garden, and the Lemon Verbena was 4 tips of the plant that I obtained by pinching out the plant in order to keep it bushy. Normally the pinched out tips would be thrown out, but this way I get to use them as flavoring.

The Lemon Verbena is added to keep the vodka from being simply a one dimensional flavor.

For two weeks I allowed the herbs to soak in the vodka, being sure to shake it occasionally to eliminate air bubbles and to keep the herbs submerged. Then I inserted on sprig of Tarragon and a few Lemon Verbena leaves into a clean vodka bottle. I filtered the infused spirit through cheesecloth and poured it into the clean vodka bottle.

The bottle is easily identified by the sprigs of herbs in it, and the flavor is a wonderful mix of anise, lemon, and "green". I store the bottle in the freezer, and the drink becomes increasingly complex as it warms in your mouth.

This is just one example of many different vodka's that could be created at home, all using essentially the same process. I hope that you all have fun expiramenting with your own flavorings.


Live a hands on life with

p.s.- For more information on creating flavored liquors check out

Classic Liqueuers-


Cordials from your Kitchen


Lucious Liqueuers