Experimental Beer 1

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I've got these tried-and-true recipes that keep my taps flowing and keep my wife happy (the most important):  Scottish 80 shilling, maple syrup porter, nut brown ale, to name a few.  I've got a few I like and am working a few minor bugs out of, like a smoked Scottish Wee Heavy, chocolate milk stout and American wheat ale.  I've got some standard beers I want to add to me repertoire:  American pale, IPA, saison, doppelbock.  So many beers, so little time.

But I also want to try to come up with a really catchy, kitschy beer.  Something that pushes the envelope just a little.  Something that stands out from the crowd and challenges my personal creativity.  FSM-knows I can't draw or paint.  Woodworking is out.  But come the Zombiepocalypse, I can make the Funny Juice.  That's how I know I'm still human.

So here's where the stage is set.  Sunday afternoon last week was a bright, beautiful day.  The snow was wet as the temp hovered just below freezing; with the sun beating on it, suspended in a liquid-blue sky, it was perfect packing snow.  I took the boys to the woods near our house.  We played Star Wars (they each had light sabers), threw snowballs, worked on a fort, and built a snowman once we walked back home (which they promptly beat to the ground with their lightsabers).  And what do you do after a fun winter afternoon outdoors?  Drink hot chocolate.

Bear with me.  I'm getting to the beer part.

The boys don't really want anything more sophisticated than a Swiss Miss packet and some marshmallows, so a few minutes in the microwave had three happy boys sipping merrily away, complete with chocolate mustaches and sticky fingers from fishing the marshmallows out of their mugs.

But me?  I wanted more.  Hmm...Girardelli dark chocolate mix?  Mmm, nah.  Oh, hey, Girardelli dark chocolate hazelnut mix?  Hey...mmm, nah.  But wait.  What's this?  Near the back?


Hot chocolate like I had in the Yucatan.

Cacao powder, bits of ground pure dark chocolate, cane sugar, chili (cayenne), and cinnamon.  This cup of hot chocolate was bliss.  Dark, bitter-rich, with that spicy cinnamon that goes so well with those velvety chocolates dominates the taste.  Sweet, lucious, slightly complex.  Then the cayenne hits and bites the tongue and back of the throat just a little; just a touch so the next sip carries that much more flavor.  That much more punch.  This hot chocolate is alive.

And then I started thinking.

There are chocolate beers.  There are chili beers.  There are holiday beers spiced with (among other things) cinnamon.  I think there's even a chocolate chili beer on the market somewhere.  But I want to make a chocolate beer spiced the way the Mayans do.  Xocolatl.

This is not a unique idea, I found to my dismay.  A few beers were even named Xocolatl; one a porter, the other a barleywine.  But I do want to experiment based not only on the "Mayan" aspect of the spices - cinnamon, cacao, and chili - but also on the experience I had drinking the hot chocolate I had.  Hence, the story.  I had to get myself there, in that place: happily worn-out, frothy mug of spicy-sweet xocolatl that woke me right back up again on top of being just damn comfortable.  That.  That's what I want to recreate.

I consulted the brewers' tome of unimaginably weird stuff for beer (Randy Mosher's Radical Brewing) and found some sage advice about when to add spices, non-hop bitterers (like cacao) and sweeteners (like chocolate).  The question now is how much.

I am going to start with Northern Brewer's Chocolate Milk Stout as a base.  It has received some smashing reviews, especially after they replaced the artificial chocolate sweetener with real cacao nibs, and I have brewed it here before.  The keg was drained in a week.  Starting with a tried-and-true base recipe gives me the beginning foundation I am after:  dark, slightly bitter chocolate with a milky sweetness and creaminess (from the addition of lactose).  I don't have to tinker with that.  What I have left now is the interesting stuff:  cinnamon and chili.  Perhaps I'll boost the chocolate flavor and add some shaved dark chocolate (60% cacao), perhaps not.

So the base recipe:

  • 8 lbs Rahr pale malt
  • .75 lbs of Fawcett pale chocolate malt
  • .25 lbs English extra dark crystal
  • .75 lbs Weyermann DeHucked Carafa II
  • .75 oz Cluster hops (60 minutes)
  • 1 lb lactose (60 minutes)
  • .5 oz Cluster hops (30 minutes)
  • 4 oz. cacao nibs - secondary fermenter
  • Wyeast 1332 Northwest Ale Yeast
Like I said, maybe I add some more cacao, like 1 or 2 oz more, maybe I add some shaved dark chocolate, maybe not.  This base recipe is good stuff, but given the emotion I am trying to recapture relies on a heavy chocolate flavor, maybe I will.

Chili and cinnamon are left.  You could taste those ingredients in the hot chocolate.  They were present individually, but not overpowered; they were definitely part of the total, working in conjunction with each other flavor, not as some dominant stratification.  But I've had enough baaaad chili beers to know that one misstep gives a beer that makes you quite literally choke.

Advice?  Ideas?  Shut up and trust myself?


Cold Beer

Monday, February 27, 2012

What did I do this past weekend?

I went here:

Oh, how spectacular.  Just to rub it in, click here to see a list of the breweries and beers from the festival.  62 breweries.  Over 450 beers.  I made a solid shot at trying every one, but hit a wall of drunkenness somewhere around 30.  Thankfully, I organized a bus trip to the fest and had Mrs. Smitty come lift me up off the curb when the bus dropped us off in Lansing.

Some highlights for me:

  • Atwater (Detroit) Decadent Dark Chocolate Ale
  • Bells' Wild One Raspberry
  • Big Rock (Birmingham) Blueberry Ice Tripel (WOW)
  • B.O.B's (Grand Rapids) Tiramisu Stout (tasted like a tiramisu; good for 1, but damn good)
  • Brewery Vivant (Grand Rapids) Barrel Aged Triomphe
  • Copper Canyon (Southfield) Melange des Fleurs Saison (like 5 types of flowers and a hint of cayenne...amazing)
  • Hopcat (Grand Rapids) Fornicator Doppelbock (for the name *and* the taste!)
  • North Peak (Traverse City) Passion Brew Black Belgian (collab brew with Right Brain, also in T.C.)
Don't get me wrong; hundreds of beers, and hundreds I liked quite well.  These are just the ones that really stood out.  One in particular really blew me away, though.  In Spring Lake, MI, you'll find a little brewery called the Round Barn Brewery.  Their Cocoa Cognac Brandy Barrel Aged Chocolate Stout was unreal.  Not of this world.  Incredible.

Yet again, the Brewers Guild threw a helluva party, and once again, I was not Father of the Year the following day.  So worth it, though.


If It's Not Scottish...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Just a quick note:  I fired-up another batch of beer for The Highest Holy Day of Most Extreme Magnitude.  I have 2 taps on my kegerator, after all, and The High Holy Day is on a Saturday this year, so I do anticipate a good deal of beer consumption at this year's annual Smitty St. Patrick's Day Celebration!

Allow me to digress; for those of you closest to Clan Smitty - namely, most of the contributors here - the annual feast of beer and authentically-Irish-themed food is Saturday March 17 (of course) from 5:00 on.  Email invitations being sent shortly.  For our extended ATK family, you're welcome to come.  I just can't cover your airfare.

Where was I...oh, right.  Beer.

I brewed a Scottish "80 shilling" ale.  Sure, it's not an Irish Red or a Guinness clone (I would never defile Guinness by trying to clone it), but hey...the Scots are kindered spirits right?  It is Jennifer's current favorite in my repertoire, so it pleases me to keep an ample supply on-hand for her enjoyment.  It tends to be malty-sweet and grainy with ne'er a hint a hops.

This brew day, I had to fly solo.  It doesn't add much time to my brew day - maybe just an additional half hour or so - but it does get lonely.  During the mash and part of the boil, I have time to play with the kids.  They also really enjoy helping me crack the grains in the grain crusher, but I still have a total of about 2 1/2 where I am tied-up cleaning, rinsing, sanitizing, sparging, dumping, boiling, adding stuff, cooling and pitching.  Lots of busywork, but Mrs. Smitty doesn't mind if I give her ample warning and the kids are OK for a couple hours playing amongst themselves.  I don't need to be up their asses every minute.

Scottish 80 Shilling:
-- 9 lbs British Golden Promise
-- 1 lb. English Medium Crystal
-- 1 oz U.S. Fuggle (60 minutes)
-- Wyeast 1728:  Scottish Ale

Sacch' Rest:  153 degrees for 60 minutes
Mashout:  170 degrees for 10 minutes

That's it, people.  This recipe is that simple, and it is really quite malty-tasty with a tad of grain for character.  This is a massively sessionable beer, coming in right around 5% abv.  No hops to dry the tongue, not so malty it's cloying.  It is everybeer in everypub in Scotland.  And it's on tap at Smitty's Pub on March 17!


Quiz of the Day

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What is wrong with this statement and who is the moron who said it?

“This week, President Obama will release a budget that won’t take any meaningful steps toward solving our entitlement crisis. The president has failed to offer a single serious idea to save Social Security and is the only president in modern history to cut Medicare benefits for seniors.”
Answer here:


Maple Syrup Porter

Monday, February 06, 2012

With my kegs at home dangerously low or otherwise depleted, I came to the stark realization that I have fallen-out of my brew cycle that assures at least 1 operational keg in my kegerator at all times.

Coupled with the facts that:

  1. The High Holy Day is a mere 7 weeks away;
  2. The ales I wish to brew for the High Holy Day are 6-week ferment and force-carb; and
  3. The Smitty family has an annual St. Patrick's Day party,
I realized I better get on the ball.  FSM-forbid I have empty kegs for the Highest Holy day of Most Extreme Magnitude.

This weekend started the 1st of the 2 beers I will have on tap:  the Maple Syrup Porter for which I have become famous:*

  • 9lb Maris Otter
  • 1 lb Briess caramel 40L
  • 1 lb English Brown Malt
  • 10 oz. English Chocolate Malt
  • 32 oz. pure maple syrup
  • 1.5 oz Fuggle (60 min)
  • 0.5 oz Fuggle (5 min)
  • Wyeast London Ale 1028
  1. Sacch' Rest:  154 degrees F for 60 minutes
  2. Mashout:  170 degrees F for 10 minutes
  3. 2 hour boil** (but add hops with 1 hour left and 5 minutes left)
  4. Add maple syrup at end of boil (cut heat, pour syrup)
Add a few friends and some beers in the garage, and it's a Brew Day Social Event!  This beer is ready to serve on March 10.  If I brew the other beer by this coming Saturday, it'll be ready on...March 17!

*Well, as famous as one gets with the lot that reads this blog and the handful of people who drink all my beer...

**The grain bill in this recipe is such that the amount of water needed for each step yields about 8 gallons.  You lose 1.5 G/hour during the boil, and I want to pitch yeast into 5 gallons.  Thus:  2 hours.  So you wait an hour, then add the 60 minute hops, etc.


Fun with Graphs - Job Growth

Friday, February 03, 2012

It took three years to stop the slide and make up the lost ground, but unemployment is finally back to where  it was when Obama took office.


Pile On

When your top public health and medical advisory board officials resign over your decision, that tells me there is more to this Komen story than a bunch of dirty hippies getting pissed they lost a few bucks to screen women for breast cancer.

It tells me some conversations were had internally that led people to believe that they cannot have their name associated with Komen any more.

Funny that this internal struggle inside Komen that led to this short-sighted, politically-based decision coincided with the hiring of a former conservative Georgia gubernatorial candidate who has nasty things to say about Planned Parenthood.

Finally, this article discusses the short-sightedness of this particular decision.  It ends with a particularly interesting quote:

In a ghastly coincidence, the same day Komen pulled the money from Planned Parenthood because Stearns thought they were spending federal funds on abortions, the Journal of the America Medical Association published a damning study that almost half of women receiving second surgeries after lumpectomies didn't need the procedure. Painful, disfiguring, unnecessary surgery. At least three of the four sites studied in the JAMA report -- the University of Vermont, Kaiser Permanente Colorado, and the Marshfield Clinic -- has a relationship with the Komen Foundation. Kaiser Permanente is a "corporate campaign partner," the University of Vermont received a research grant, the Central Wisconsin Komen affiliate sponsors programs at the Marshfield Clinic. Maybe Komen should concentrate their granting criteria on whether the recipients are actually helping cancer patients.
Well well well.  Look who came to their senses.



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