Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Baby's First Beer Dinner

Beer is not my only love. Anyone who has been acquainted with me for longer than a year knows that I harbor a secret ambition.   My greatest aspiration in life is to become the next Adam Richman, or at least his personal assistant (If you are reading this, Adam, we have a beer challenge here that NO ONE has beaten yet).  There is something about the concept of Man V. Food that appeals to me on about thirty different levels.  I don't know if it is the massive quantities of food (awesome) or the varieties of deliciousness that he gets to consume (super awesome), but all I want out of life is a chance to prove how much I LOVE food too.  That is one of the reasons why my first beer dinner, last Wednesday, excited me so much (I am imagining my mother putting a picture from this occasion in my baby book under the statement "Baby's First Beer Dinner").

Adam Richman -- My celebrity crush
One of the events that people come across quite often in the brewing industry is the ever piquant beer dinner.  This is an opportunity for restaurants to combine the two most delicious things ever invented, food and beer, in a way that opens the diner's eyes to a whole new experience.  Many restaurants will use the beer dinner to break away from their normal menu and experiment with flavors and ingredients that fall outside their usual offerings.  They then choose to highlight either one particular brewery or  many different companies.  When a single brewery is offered a beer dinner hosting gig, the restaurant will often send staff members to the brewery to sample all of the beers, while making pairing decisions with the input of the brewers.  Then, on the day of the event, either the brewer or one of the other brewery experts will speak on the chosen beers at the dinner, generally between courses. I HIGHLY recommend this experience to anyone who loves food and beer.

On Wednesday, the chosen locale for the beer dinner was Roma -- the very restaurant where I first made the awkward acquaintance of my new coworkers.  I was super excited, as the wine dinner there last month impressed me so much AND I am kind of the biggest fan of their staff.

I arrived there shortly before the dinner began with the intention of helping Britt arrange some of our marketing materials on the tables.  As usual, she was four steps ahead of me. Everything was in order when I walked through the door.

Was there ever a more beautiful sight?
The dinner commenced with the ONE menu item I did not take a picture of (probably because I was starving and devoured it instantaneously); the seared scallop with white bean salsa.  This was combined with GiGi's Farmhouse Ale. I was BEYOND ecstatic.  For starters, it was THE MOST DELICIOUS PAIRING EVER.  The white bean salsa had a little bit of mustard in it, which complemented the mellow taste of the ale to perfection.  I hesitate to admit my initial bias toward this course, but scallops and GiGi are both some of my favorite things (I am currently imagining Julie Andrews singing that).

The second course was an asparagus bisque with white truffle butter poached shrimp.  Helles Lager was paired with this and it was very good.  The crisp taste of the lager complimented the salty, creaminess of the bisque.  When I said that the previous course was my favorite, I had not yet tried this. (I apologize for the pictures, my camera is abysmal.)

Asparagus Bisque
When the Brew Master tried the next course, he made the unequivocal statement that he would never eat any goat cheese but fried goat cheese again in his life.  I must second that opinion.  If you have not tried fried goat cheese, you have not lived (I am fairly certain that is a direct quote from Thoreau).   Technically titled a "goat cheese fritter" and garnished with citrus vinaigrette and micro greens, this crispy, tangy, flavor explosion was made 72% more enjoyable when consumed with Wisteria Wheat.  The subtle clove and chamomile flavors in the Wisteria Wheat danced across my palate, enhancing the vinaigrette atop the fritter.  This was my favorite dish at the conclusion of this course.

Goat Cheese Fritter

The final real food course (not to be confused with fake food: i.e., dessert) was a short rib slider, perched atop a brioche roll, and liberally decorated with shallots, bleu cheese, and tomato jam.  The Doppelbock was chosen to accompany this treat.  The caramel undertones of the Doppelbock paired perfectly with the savory slider.

Short Rib Slider
Dessert followed hard upon (I have been reading Shakespeare lately.  Forsooth, my language reflects that).  Now, more than anything in life, I am a dessert person.  I hesitate to call myself a future diabetic, but it may be true; my great-grandfather was a diabetic dentist.  For dessert, Roma paired cinnamon donuts with espresso ganache and Oak Barrel Stout.  It was fried perfection. The espresso ganache cascaded my taste buds and contrasted with the semi-sweet donuts; the vanilla undertones and oak chips in the stout juxtaposed the decadence of the dessert.

Donuty Goodness
In many ways, this dinner reminded me of the line from the movie Office Space (except the opposite) -- Every single course was better than any one before it.  So that means that every course was the best course of my life.

Mr. Richman, if you are reading this.  I think I just proved that I love food as much as you do.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Beer Is Fun

There appear to be many incorrect perceptions floating around based on my last post that I would like to clarify:
  • I am new to the business.  I have been working in the brewing industry for 10 weeks.  I am not claiming to be an expert; I’m not sure anyone can be.  I was just sharing the process of becoming acquainted with a new industry to those who are interested in it from my perspective.  Beer is fun, the people are wonderful,  and I have been thrilled to enjoy this experience.
  • I chose to try home brewing because I was informed that it was an invaluable undertaking.  It was and I had fun trying it.  I did not expect such a reaction to my first time -- I was under the impression that this was a skill I might develop. I was not writing a scientific dissertation on the process or trying to tell anyone else how to brew.  I was not turning a mirror on the home brewing community, but rather myself.  I acknowledged the fact that I did not know what I thought I knew. I was hoping for guidance.
  • To say that Fordham and Dominion hates home brewers is entirely incorrect.  Most of the people who work here are home brewers (even my brother is a home brewer). Many of our best beer recipes have come from an experiment that someone in the brewery made at home first. The process of home brewing is invaluable to our process.

  • We encourage and engage home brewers every week when they come in for our tours.  Wednesday nights at the brewery have unofficially become home brewers night, when the community comes to share the wonderful things that they have made.  By far, the best beer I have ever had was a gingerbread ale made by one of the friends I have made at this event.  I look forward to the ideas that are shared at these meet-ups more than anything.
  • I am not a man.

I would invite you to stop by any time to share your home brewing ideas or to meet up with other home brewers.  We have a small, 10-gallon system that we would be more than happy to show you and many beer samples we are happy to pour.

I look forward to trying to brew again. If anyone has any beginner recipes that I should try, please let me know! And, if you are still looking for something to get angry about me with, I highly recommend my brewery sex tape.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Lesson Before Homebrewing

If you are ever given the opportunity to try homebrewing, do it once.  Mostly because, once you are done reading what I write, you will have as much ability to be the pretentious know-it-all that I was when I was given my shot.  This is my confession.

A couple of weeks ago,  at the Superbowl Party, the gentleman who kept trying to get me to fight people mentioned that he brewed at home (side note:  everyone that I have ever met in the past week brews at home.  If you are trying to be the different one, try brewing in a morgue). Three weeks later, he walked up to me at church to tell me that he was making his next batch of beer, a cream stout, and I should come and check it out.  Now, a smart person would not choose to enter the home of someone that thinks they are a wildly unpredictable pugilist (I am pretty certain that will be the plot to Fight Club 2).  However, someone in search of knowledge and adventure would do that at a minute's notice. Particularly when they want to write about the experience in dulcet tones.

There is a whole mess of things that go into home brewing.  For starters, you have to purchase fermentation buckets and bottling equipment.  Then, for each particular batch of beer, one has to procure an ingredient kit.  The contents of these kits depend upon the difficulty of the particular beer.  In general, a kit contains some grain, the malt extract, yeast, hops, and the directions.  Because we were making a cream stout, it also contained lactose.

I was put in charge of the directions, which was an instant mistake on the part of everyone there.  I spent the next twenty minutes memorizing the directions and cross-referencing them with the facts that I have attained at work and the book on the science of fermentation that happened to be in my backpack (seriously, I did not pack it.  I just happen to carry it with me everywhere).  I found the directions to be very general and less technical than I was expecting.  What I could not wrap my mind around was how this process could be completed without the range of equipment to which I am accustomed. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this fellow did NOT have a Lauter Tun in his backyard.

You can tell that serious brewing was occurring, as there is malt extract spilled on the directions
We were finally able to begin the process by measuring out five gallons of water into a giant sauce pan (when you are Italian, every pan is measured in terms of what is most commonly cooked in it, e.g. meatball frying pan).  I may have asked a question regarding whether or not the pH of the water was chemically corrected for the beer in question.  But, for the sake of this story, I did not and was not told that I was the giantest nerd in the world.

Once the water had boiled, we threw in a mesh bag of grains.  It appeared to be a mix of pilsner malt and some form of toasted malt, and maybe a little caramel malt.  The directions firmly stipulated that the temperature be maintained at 155 degrees.  I calmly explained that raising the temperature to anywhere above 172 degrees would shut off the necessary enzymatic activity.  I was then informed that maybe I should stop talking, let my hair down, and try to be normal.

Steeping the grains
Once the grains had steeped for 30 minutes, it was time to remove the wort (the sugar water that was created) from the stove and time to add the malt extract.  Seriously, this stuff is gross looking.  It was a pitch black syrup in a carton (imagine high-fiving a T-Rex from the Le Brea Tar Pits.  That is the level of sticky this stuff is) that is then dumped into the sauce pan. Once it was stirred in and disolved completely, we added the lactose.

Imagine High-fiving THIS T-Rex
It was then time to bring the wort to a boil and add the hops.  This was by far my favorite part of the process.   The hops were Northern Brewer.  Because they are added at the beginning of the boil, they are used for bittering the wort (meaning these hops have high alpha acids), but not aroma.  Stouts generally do not have an estery smell.

For the first time EVER, I got to watch the proteins coagulate and boil away. One generally does not want proteins in beer, as they aid in the creation of diacetyl, the chemical that leads to spoilage and off-tastes in beer.

You can see the coagulated proteins in this picture....
Right as the wort finished brewing, my sister decided that it was time to go home, so I am not quite sure how the wort was cooled before being introduced to the yeast.  I can only assume that the reason there was no Lauter Tun is because the fellow invested in a heat exchange system to cool the wort instead.

The finished product....or a container of beef broth....

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Who is R2Hop2?

Over the past few days, I have been fielding many questions regarding the identity of R2Hop2. Many people wonder if that is the nickname for our peg-legged brewer; it is not, we call him "Peggy".  Today, this chilling expose will attempt to shine a light on the skyrocketing stardom of our metallic friend.

I am sitting in the brewery when R2Hop2 arrives for the day.  As usual, he looks a little hungover; they say that this is common in the life of a dry hopping machine. After all, he does spend all day consuming beer.  He rolls up to the desk where I am sitting and I have a cup of coffee waiting for him.  He takes one look at the cup of coffee, and instead opts for a cigarette.  I can already tell that this interview will be like getting blood from a stone.

R2Hop2 mugging for the camera

We begin with a little small talk.  R2Hop2 spent the evening at the casino.  Apparently, he was on a roll playing craps for a while.  But then his luck took a turn for the worse.  That explained why he had shown up for the interview without his shirt.  He literally gambled it away.  His bloodshot eye shifts down, a little defiant as he tells the story, and there is hop residue all over his face. This machine is a hot mess.

Life was not always like this, he tells me.  He spent the majority of his youth as a keg, just traveling from bar to bar, restlessly.  He has seen a lot of the world and spent quite a bit of time in Virginia. Then one day, he was plucked from obscurity by the Head Brewer at Fordham and Dominion.  The Head Brewer will claim that he immediately saw the potential in R2, however, there was nothing that separated him from any of the other kegs at this point in his life.

The Head Brewer immediately made R2Hop2 his pet project, beginning with total cosmetic alterations.  He attached legs on wheels, a new head, and even an arm.  At this point, he commenced his dry hopping training. This training takes DAYS even HOURS to complete.

R2 begins to tell me about a normal day at work. He arrives there, usually around 8 in the morning, sometimes later if he was out making paid appearances the night before.  Before any of the beers can be hopped, he has to make sure that all of his internal compartments are completely sanitized, so he spends the first hour essentially at the spa.  Next, one of the technicians mixes up a slurry of hot hop water.  R2Hop2 then spends the next couple of hours hooked up to one of the fermentation tanks, circulating the beer through the hops.

He tells me that this process of dry hopping during secondary fermentation is common to craft brewing. The reason for this being that dry hopping gives many beers their pleasant and inviting aromas.  If you smell a beer and detect notes of citrus, pine, or even a little spiciness, that is due to dry hopping.  In fact, outside of adding hops for bitterness and flavor during the boiling process, the ONLY thing that dry hopping can do is provide aroma.

Not going to lie, I have always wanted to be an illustrated character too....

R2 does not know that I researched this prior to the interview, but as it turns out, he is the only keg-based dry hopper in existence.  That might explain his aloof attitude and overall sense of entitlement. It does not help his ego that the brewery chose to honor his work this year by naming their beer and music festival after him.

The interview concludes abruptly when one of the dry hopping technicians showed up.  Apparently, R2Hop2 is going to be dry hopping a double IPA today.  On his way out, he tells me that he will be making a special appearance at the May 19th beer and music festival, if I want to see him again and all of this beer does not kill him first. I sense foreboding as I watch him go; he is exactly the type of machine who would get involved with nitrogen doping.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

All In All, It Was A GRATE Day!

Last week, I was once again given the opportunity to enjoy the metallic coffin that is the Lauter Tun.  You see, once a week or so, the kettles all undergo something that is referred to as CIP (which in my mind still stands for Capital Improvement Program).  This is the process whereby all of the equipment is scrubbed and cleaned within an inch of its life.

Favorite Early Brewer Dan was telling me how difficult the CIPing of the Lauter Tun is, so of course, I wanted a turn to try.

Damn, it feels good to be a brewer
The reason why this is more difficult than normal Lauter Tun cleaning time (Everytime I say that, the lyrics to Peanut Butter Jelly Time get stuck in my head for days) quickly became apparent.  As it turns out, the little pie pieces that I cleaned so compulsively weeks ago actually lift out of the plate in which they are set.  And that plate has grain residue stuck to the bottom that needs to be cleaned.

All of the pie pieces have to be lifted in the proper order, because they are interlocking, and the first piece is screwed into the base plate.  Dan unscrewed the first piece, and then showed me how the other pie grates have to be slid toward you and then balanced against the wall.  This has to be done 10 times AND THE GRATES ARE FREAKING HEAVY. I know this because I dropped one on my leg while I was hosing things down.

This is what the pie pieces in the Lauter Tun look like, just FY-izzle
As indicated, each of these grates has to be hosed down.  Any of the grains that might have become stuck in the little grates on the plates (call me "Dr. Seuss") has to be scrubbed and washed out.   Dan scrubbed the individual pieces. I then hosed the grate down by leaning it toward myself and spraying my jeans with water. 

We had some riveting conversations while cleaning.  As it turns out, I am not the only person who thinks that the acoustics in the Lauter Tun are fabulous. I also found out that Dan also usually has to CIP the Lauter Tun by himself.  

When that was finished, the whole Lauter Tun was filled with boiling hot water.  Once it had been emptied, we cooled it down with the hose (thanks to the steam, my skin has never been better), and jumped back in to replace the pie pieces.  It is a lot harder to put the pieces back than it is to take them out.  It was like playing a deviated form of Tetris. 

I am proud to report that I only smashed my fingers three times between the plates and it was only two days before I could use my hands again. All in all, it was a GRATE day (see what I did there?).

Friday, March 9, 2012

If You Noticed A Spike In The Twizzlers' Stock Last Thursday, That Was Me

There are two things in life that indicate "roadtrip" to me. First, is the fact that I actually fill up my gas tank.  Second, is that I stock up on Twizzlers (If you noticed the spike in the Twizzlers' stock last Thursday, that was me). So when it came time to travel to Annapolis for the release of GiGi, it comes as no surprise that both of those elements were present (My traveling buddies will claim that no Twizzler consumption occurred, but that is just because I did not share. Shhhhh).
I am eating Twizzlers in 45% of my Facebook pictures
Mr. Hobbs, Mr. Mabrey, and Mr. Rhoads joined me on this epic adventure (I like to compare this to the Fellowship of the Beer. Cue Lord of the Rings walking music).  It began at 3:07 on that Thursday afternoon, approximately 37 minutes later than anticipated on the project agenda, because Mr. Hobbs wanted to shower.  Each of us had a clear objective in mind for the evening:  I was picking up GiGi's release glasses for two coworkers; Mr. Hobbs had never visited Annapolis before and really wanted to see it; Mr. Mabrey wanted to take his picture with as many people as possible; and Mr. Rhoads wanted to experience a release party.

Through some form of time warp, we made it to Annapolis by 4:15. 

When we rolled into Rams Head, it was already completely packed.  Apparently, GiGi was the most anticipated beer that had been released in months.  Consequently, we realized that we would have to lock down all of our take-home glasses quickly, before they could run out.  By 4:25, we had four full pints, one in front of each of us, and four empty glasses that were souvenirs.

Obviously, my camera phone sucks
That was when the evening started getting weird.

I happened to be sitting on the end of the bar, which is something that I never do (In fact, I always insist on sitting with my back against the wall because when I was in third grade I read a book about Wild Bill Hickok. He always sat with his back against a wall. On the one day he sat with his back out in the open, he got shot and died.) This fellow started talking to me.  We started by discussing GiGi.  I raved about the subtle nuances of flavors, he remained nonplussed (negative friend points). Then he started telling me about his drug habits and his life in the music business (I cannot believe the candor of strangers). The conversation ended abruptly when he gave us a sample CD to listen to.

Three beers each later, it was 8.  The release party was a success; they had sold out of GiGi's cups within an hour (I like to think it is because everyone was drinking it, not because they were just buying them for friends).  So, we decided to move on to our next destination.

We ended up grabbing dinner at the best sushi restaurant in Annapolis and then we went to one of the Irish bars.  We happened to hit it on karaoke night.  While we were there, we had the distinct pleasure of watching a gentleman, who was obviously intoxicated, perform his version of some death metal song, while he repeatedly hit himself on the head with the microphone. He was later calmly carrying on a conversation while throwing up blood outside.

This is pretty much how the 30 pint glasses in my car looked
For the most part, we accomplished all of our objectives for the evening.  However, the next morning, I found a giant stack of glasses in my car and some of them were definitely NOT release glasses.  In fact, somehow a shot glass made it home with us.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Third Treatise on Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

I have found that people who are drinking will listen to a bartender talk about ANYTHING.  They will stand there, drink in hand, with their attention totally rapt, listening to the bartender wax poetic.  Now, to a normal bartender, this is no big deal.  They just talk about things in their life, the weather, sports, and the internet.
This was the most sympathetic looking bartender I could find
Then there are the other people, like me.

I cannot lie. I literally keep a list of topics to talk to people about.  This quirk was mentioned in a previous post and I am not quite sure that the severity of this condition was completely grasped.  Usually, I limit myself to topics where I know 87% more than the average person knows.  That way, they leave the conversation feeling like they got knowledged...in the face.

I am Italian.  Anyone who has seen me can tell that instantly (I cannot tell if that is because of my blonde hair, my blue eyes, or the way that I tell them that they are going to sleep with the fishes).  As a consequence of this genetic blessing, I believe that there are not five love languages, but six.  And the sixth language is food.  There is nothing that I know 87% more about than food.

Now, imagine combining these two annoying traits with people who are willing to listen to anything.

Last week, a group of tour-goers experienced the great pleasure of the "Third Treatise on Grilled Cheese Sandwiches."  This conversation literally lasted for 30 minutes AND PEOPLE LISTENED AND ASKED QUESTIONS THE WHOLE TIME.

This is how I picture the following conversation in my head.
The conversation began innocently enough.  It was a group of servers from a restaurant, and I had asked if they served grilled cheese and how exactly it was served.  They answered nicely and then one of them asked me the fatal question of whether or not I would want to eat it with ketchup (or "catsup" as they say in places where English is not spoken).  The contents of the next 30 minutes of conversation can be broken down into the following three truths, which I hold to be self-evident:
  • Grilled cheeses served on white bread must have American cheese.  That sandwich must be cut into four squares and served with ketchup.  It must be served with a Helles Lager.   
Something is wrong with this picture - This sandwich was mutilated when they cut it into triangles instead of squares when they served it with ketchup.
  • Grilled cheeses using sharp cheddar cheese must be served on wheat bread.  That sandwich has to be cut into two triangles.  It may be served with tomato soup, depending upon the eater's preferences.  It pairs perfectly with a Copperhead Ale.
  • This final method of grilled cheesiness was a recipe the coolest kid I ever met in college shared with me while we were working the fryalator in the cafeteria.  This grilled cheese is made on wheat bread with mozerrella cheese.  It is cooked with garlic salt in the butter in which the bread is cooked.  This sandwich absolutely must be cut into four triangles (it promotes dunkability) and served with marinara sauce.  The Tavern Ale compliments the garlic to perfection.
4 Triangles -- Needs Marinara and Tavern Ale
People tell me that my obsession with perfect grilled cheese sandwiches (and food in general) is ridiculous.  To those naysayers, I ask: Was Mozart ridiculous when he wrote perfect music? Also, when was the last time you walked into a restaurant and the waiter walked to your table with a grilled cheese, made exactly the way that you ranted that it should be a week ago, paired it with the correct beer, and gave it to you for free WITHOUT YOU EVER ORDERING? Cause for me, that was yesterday.