Monday, December 22, 2008

Homebrew... Minnesota Style

So, last summer for my birthday Nathan got me a propane burner and a wort chiller. I was in heaven... what would normally take me 3 hours at least (due to a very inefficient electric stove) indoors was easily cut down to 2 or less. I would sit in my lawn chair, homebrew in hand, just listening to the birds and soaking up a little sun while I watched my wort bubble away. Fall came, and I even did a batch on a crisp November afternoon. Fingers got a little chilly, but it was fun to watch the leaves fall and enjoy the last gasp of autumn. Fast forward to late December. Temps in the minus teens (and that's WITHOUT wind chill), air so cold that it sucks the air right from your lungs. Saturday night at a neighborhood holiday party I realize that if I'm going to have beer ready for my homebrew club's March competition, I'd better get my act together and get something thrown together fast. The next few weekend were totally out due to Christmas plans, so I in my barley-induced mania decided that Sunday was going to be it. I had a Patersbier and English Pale Ale planned out and damn it... they were going to get brewed. My neighbor Bryan has wanted to find out what this brewing thing was all about for some time now, and also happened to have an extra burner and pot so we comitted to a 1 pm brew date. A few things I learned yesterday:

1. What seems like a good idea when one is tipsy may NOT be such a good idea the next day. Yes, I'm surprised too that it took me this long to learn that lesson.

2. If you're going to brew after a major snowfall, clear the snow before setting out your brewing supplies. Needle in a haystack, hydrometer in a snowbank... it's all the same thing.

3. I need new brewing boots.

4. Snow is not nearly as good a cooling mechanism as one might think. I forgot that it's mostly made of air and does a better job of insulating the hot wort than of chilling it.

5. Subzero temps aparently aren't very good for thermometers. I really should start buying those suckers by the dozen. *sigh*

All kidding aside, it was a fun brew session and it was also great to "pay it forward" and teach someone new to brew. I think he's a convert.

I'll keep you posted on the brews; have never done either type of beer so I'm excited to see the results. I'm particularly excited to see how the Patersbier turns out. It's a simple concoction of pilsen malt, hops, a little carapils grain, and some trappist yeast but it's supposed to come out with a really delicate and complex flavor profile. We'll see... both batches are bubbling away under their towels in the guest room. Stay tuned, in 6 weeks or so I'll have a review or two.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Way to This Girl's Heart...

Once upon a time there lived a homebrewing, songwriting, recipe-inventing midwife. Last Christmas she wrong a song about beer and sent it to her homebrewing buddies as an electronic Christmas gift. Laughter ensued. The following year (that being THIS year), said midwife recieved a number of requests for another song.

This: was the result.

I'm not quite sure how I'm going to keep this up from year to year. If I run out of song ideas, does that mean I have to move??

Oh, and in case you never heard the song that started it all, you can listen to that here:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Greek Lamb Burgers with Feta Sauce

Ok, so I've made a smaller version of these lamb patties as a component of other dishes before, but this is the first time I've made them this large and hamburger-style. I was going to make a traditional tzatziki sauce (yogurt and shredded cucumber -- the stuff you get on a gyro) for them but my husband hates cucumbers, so I omitted the cucumber, added a few spices and some sour cream, and finished it off with some feta. Bam, hit that one out of the park... it tastes great and I like it even better than tzatziki. I have a ton of leftover sauce and don't know what to do with it, but it would be great tossed with sliced cucumber as a cold side dish. Could even use it in place of traditional blue cheese dressing on a green salad. Another idea would be to make up chicken wings with a curry sauce instead and use this as a dipping sauce.

Because this recipe makes up two pounds of meat, I did not use all of it in one meal. I used about half for the burgers, and made the rest into little meatballs. I froze these and plan on using them either in spaghetti sauce or in a curry. They'd also be great browned up and dropped into a pot of peanut chickpea soup or something like that. Guess I'll have to post that recipe sometime, too. ;)


1/3 cup of sour cream
1/3 cup of plain yogurt (greek style if you can get it, but any kind is ok)
1 4 oz. package of feta crumbles
pinch of salt
juice from 1/4 of a lemon
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/8 cup of minced fresh cilantro

1 lb ground lamb
1 lb extra lean ground beef (93% lean or more)
1 medium onion, diced very finely
2 TBS olive oil
20 grinds of fresh black pepper, or 1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
handful of fresh cilantro, minced


A few hours ahead of time, mix up the sauce. You can do this right beforehand, but the sauce really does improve in flavor after sitting in the fridge all day. In a small bowl, mash the feta and lemon juice together until the feta breaks down a bit. You still want some lumps, just smaller lumps. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend well. Taste, season as needed. May need more salt or lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate.

For burgers, first sautee the minced onion in olive oil until medium to dark brown. In a large bowl, gently mix the cooked onion with the rest of the burger ingredients. Shape into hamburger sized/shaped patties. Fry on medium heat on a lightly oiled grill until nicely browned and cooked all the way through. Mine took about 20 min total. Place on kaiser roll and top with a good-sized dollop of the feta sauce.

I served these with a pickled cucumber salad that I mixed up from sliced cucumbers and red onion, lemon juice, water, a bit of sugar and salt.

Nathan rated these as the best burgers I've ever made. They were flavorful and extremely moist because of the fat content in the ground lamb. The ground beef cuts the lamb flavor a bit, so even if you're a little timid about eating lamb, give these a try.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Homebrew Review: Vanilla Coffee Porter

This beer was my first attempt at a porter, and overall I'm really pleased with it. It was done as a partial mash, starting with a porter extract kit and some specialty grains. I made my own vanilla extract by steeping vanilla beans in vodka and added them to the secondary fermenter. Also added to the secondary was 2 cups of very strong french-pressed coffee (I used about 4 oz. of high quality fair trade beans). It aged in the secondary for a mere two weeks before packaging. I bottled a few for sharing, and kegged the rest. This review is that of the kegged version; if the bottles taste any different, I'll let you all know.

Appearance: Pours a mahogany brown, with slight deep caramel tones along the edges when held up to the light. Slightly cloudy. Tan-colored head, fair retention (I seem to always have issues with head retention unless I've made a wheat beer, but for a porter a mild head retention is acceptable).

Aroma: The overwhelming note here is dark chocolate/cocoa. I think this is actually an odd symbiotic aromatic dance between the vanilla and the coffee... or perhaps it's simply coming out from the chocolatey notes in the dark malt. Regardless, this beer smells a whole lot more like chocolate than coffee. In fact, I get little else here in the aroma other than a hint of malt and a very mild sweet floral note (the vanilla?). No hop aroma.
Taste: At first the chocolate aroma carries over into the taste of this beer. Soon however you get the rich maltiness and toastiness of the porter itself. There is a slight tartness to this beer -- I'm almost positive that it's from the vanilla. I noted a definite sour quality when I tasted the vanilla before adding it to the secondary. The finish is where the coffee shines; the bitterness of the coffee actually seems to take the place of what minor hop presence there would be in this beer, and lingers. The finish leaves a nice coffee aftertaste in the mouth.

This beer improves drastically as it sits out and warms up, I definitely need to turn down the keg fridge. The flavors blend much better as the beer loses its chill.

Mouthfeel: Added carapils insures that this isn't a watery beer, but it's definitely on the lighter-bodied side for a porter. The carbonation seems just about right for a porter -- it comes in on the finish rather than being up front. The last thing I wanted was a "spritzy" beer. I've had a tendency to overcarbonate my brews in the past, so I tried to be very careful with my keg temps and CO2 pressures this time.

Drinkability: I'm pleased with the drinkability of this beer. The body and alcohol content is light enough to make downing more than a pint of this beer absolutely doable. The coffee is dominant in the flavor but not so overwhelming that the tastebuds get overloaded.

So yeah. Stop on by, have yourself a pint, and tell me if you agree. :)