Big Burton!

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There’s more to Burton-on-Trent than mouth-puckering India Pale Ale. Back in the good old days (the late 1700s) the Burton brewers brewed a brew called Burton Ale. This was a high-gravity ale indeed, but with less of the high hopping rate that distinguishes IPA. It was often barrel-aged for several years.

Big Burton also draws inspiration from the tradition established by Ballantine Brewing Company, which produced a high-gravity ale for special occasions, often given free to established friends and contacts after as long as 20 years in the cellar. I don’t have 20 years to wait, and thankfully this recipe mellows out nicely in less than a year.

Burton salt is an important flavor component of Burton ale, as it recreates the hard limestone ground water of the Burton-on-Trent brewing area. The signature compounds in Burton’s water are calcium sulfate, potassium chloride and magnesium sulfate. Plaster of Paris mixed with Epsom salts, as it were. Fortuitously for Burton brewers, the mixture of minerals in their hard water allows the extra bitter flavor of the hops to come through without harshness.

Big Burton relies on a blend of five crystal malts of increasing darkness, from 10 Lovibond in color to 120 L, to provide a very rounded caramel profile. Small additions of chocolate and black malts complete the roasty flavor. Barley flakes create body and a firm head. Three kilos of Breiss light dry malt extract give it punch, with a starting gravity of about 13.5 Plato yielding around 6.5% ABV.

The full malty background of Big Burton allows it to carry plenty of hop character. High-alpha Summit hops offer significant bitterness, and Simcoe hops suggest citrus-like fruitiness. Centennial aroma hops are added at the end of the boil. White Lab’s Burton Ale Yeast ferments the brew out with a lot of subtle fruity flavors like apple, clover honey, and pear.

Burton brewers also perfected the art of dry-hopping their beer, and Big Burton pays homage to that tradition with an addition of Willamette hop pellets in the secondary fermenter with four weeks further aging. It’s a Simcoe-sensational brew with a nice citrus aroma and malty finish.

SixPoint Classic American Pilsner

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There’s a phrase that goes “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” That was not always the case. Back in the day when a mug of beer was a nickel, there WAS a free lunch. And it came with a pilsner beer that was about six percent alcohol. “Six point” beer pretty much disappeared after the great American experiment called Prohibition. Here that tradition is revived with Sixpoint CAP, a Classic American Pilsner.

This all-grain CAP version uses American six-row barley malt for historical accuracy, as well as a touch of grainy sweetness. Because it is higher in starch-converting enzymes, six-row malt is able to transform the other key ingredient in Classic American Pilsner: corn grits. This is an East-Coast Pilsner recipe, by the way. If it were a West-Coast recipe it would likely substitute rice for the corn, giving a dryer, more neutral flavor.

More specifically to this particular recipe, the corn grits are substituted with polenta, which is not processed with an alkali the way corn grits are. The result is a bit of added corny sweetness that is subtle but definitely there. I used Golden Pheasant Polenta from South San Francisco.

The mash consists of 76 percent six-row malt, 18 percent grain. To add malty complexity, 6 percent specialty malt is added. Carapils gives it the thick head and creamy mouth feel associated with CAP. Munich malt contributes subtle, caramelly umami. To aid clarification, the mash contains about .75 grams per liter of black malt.

The grains are mashed using the American Double mash schedule. Essentially, the corn grains are boiled to gelatinize them, and this boiled mixture is added to the main mash to raise its temperature after a half-hour saccarification rest. The raised temperature completes the conversion of the cornmeal mush.

A smooth Pilsner needs nice soft water. This one is brewed with Southeast British Columbia mountain branch water. I like calling it branch water. It gives it a classic American vibe.

Classic American Pilsner exhibits a refreshingly bitter hop character as well, from the generous but scrupulous application of Noble hops from Europe. For this recipe, first wort hops are added to the runoff, in this case Saaz. Cluster hops add bitterness and Tettnang are used for flavor.

The beer was fermented with White Labs San Francisco yeast, but any good dry-finishing lager strain would do, as long as the fermentation temperature doesn’t get higher than 60F. When fermentation was nearly complete, this batch went into the refrigerator in a carboy for 12 weeks of rest at 38F (3.3 C). With another 12 weeks in the bottle at cellar temperature, the result was a tasty, corny, stony beer, the kind you would have loved if you were twenty-two in 1922.

Singe de Reddition Biere de Garde

Biere de Garde2A fancy name for this brew, though it is a farmhouse ale from Northern France. I recall my first encounter with Biere de Garde. I had no idea what it was. I was with a pal who was living in Paris on the Rive Gauche. He took me to a place with a big blackboard covered with the names of different specialty brews. The waiter said something unintelligible to me. My friend said “He’s asking you what you want.” I looked at the board and said “Jenlain” because I liked the name. C’était un choix fortuit.

We’d just had a big meal at a restaurant on the Champs Elysees. The waiter brought a mug that contained at least a liter and a half of beer. “Wow” I thought, but over an hour’s conversation I managed to drink it all. My friend asked “Do you realize you spent $20 on that glass of beer?” I’d just been in Japan where the exchange rate was 135 yen to the dollar. The beer was 65 Francs. I thought that was cheap. It wasn’t–but it was delicious. And the view of the Tour Eiffel was great.

Biere de Garde is the French cousin of Belgian beers from Flanders. This one uses yeast from the Flemish region, very close to the Belgian border, White Labs WLP 072 French Ale yeast. It’s the real secret to the complex flavor, a clean strain that complements maltiness with estery fruitiness that is much milder than many of the Belgian strains.

The grain bill for this version of Biere de Garde features a step-infusion of Belgian specialty malts, together with pale malt, Vienna malt, cara-pils and dark wheat malt. A blend of seven grades of crystal malt plus dark Belgian candi sugar add full-spectrum caramel flavors. Aromatic malt contributes–aroma! A teaspoonful (12 grams) of coarse gray sea salt from Brittany creates subtle roundness of flavor.

I wish I’d had some authentic French hops for this attempt, but they’re hard to come by in Southern BC. Instead I used my homegrown Fuggles and Willamette hops for bitterness, flavor and aroma. It turned out to be a good thing–lots of full-spectrum hop presence on the palate and nose.

Starting out at around 15.5 Plato (1.062) and finishing at about 4 Plato (1.016) the beer has about 6.4% ABV. Copper color, malty nose, bitter finish, slightly sweet, it’s a roundly-balanced high-amplitude beer that won a bronze medal at the Calgary Yeast Wranglers competition. Despite it’s name it is no surrender monkey.

All Aboard! Steam Porter

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Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco gets credit for reintroducing Porter beer to the world, after its production declined to essentially nothing in the place of its birth, London, England. Strictly speaking, because Anchor owns the trademark for the term “Steam” as it refers to beer, this beer is not named Steam Porter.

The “steam” part refers to the yeast it uses, namely, White Labs WLP 810 San Francisco Lager. Plus, I can still remember the Coast Daylight steam train that ran from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the 1950s, and the porters that worked on it. A romantic beer in memory of romantic days. All Aboard!

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There’s no record of what the original porter beers tasted like, apart from descriptions dating from Edwardian times calling them “sweet, bitter, and a bit burnt all at once. Very warming.” The workers of the time, including porters, accustomed to a bland diet, are thought to have been attracted to the robust, astringent and bitter flavors rarely encountered in their everyday consumption.

Some information exists though, regarding what they were made of. The earliest available recipes, dating from around 1750, show that the most prominent ingredients were pale malt and brown malt. This was not the same as the brown malt that is available today. Back then, the malt was processed by turning it out on a metal floor above a fierce wood fire. Despite its dark character, it retained a lot of sugar and malting enzymes, making it suitable for assuming a large proportion of the mash.

Today’s brown malt is an English product still, but processed in drum roasters like its darker cousins the black malts. Black malts themselves now provide a significant addition to modern porter recipes. But porter is still distinct from stout. Significantly, historically accurate porter should not be opaque black. Rather, it is a very dark ruby red when it is brewed properly, as All Aboard! is.

Besides a hefty addition of modern brown malt to provide a nice rich nutty flavor, All Aboard! uses five grades of crystal malt, plus Melanoidin malt to add more red color to the brown. Small additions of chocolate and black malts create layers of complex flavor. Munton DME provides the base sugars, and flaked barley creates a thick head.

Historically, all manner of strange ingredients were added to create distinctive flavors, most notoriously Nux Vomica. Hangovers were inevitable. This recipe ventures less far. Instead, for interest it settles for 4 grams of gypsum, 2 grams of cracked Grains of Paradise and 12 grams of sea salt.

Traditional Golding and Fuggles English hops provide bitterness and flavor, and homegrown Willamette hops add aroma. With a start at 16 Plato (1.064) this is a beer up to the demands of the most hard-working porter in Londontown.

Aromas of nutty toasted grains combine with nice floral notes. Its malty-full richness, with a chocolaty bitter tang, contrasts with its residual sweetness. At 7.7% alcohol by volume it is an assertive but not hot beverage. Delicious and inebriating, it makes me want to pick up my bags and head for the station.

Country Bitter

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This is Country Bitter. Formally classified as an English “ordinary bitter“, there is nothing ordinary about this beer. When I first brewed a country bitter in 1995, I used a strain of yeast that I cultivated from a bottle of Thomas Hardy’s Country Bitter, purchased at Marty’s Liquour in Newton, MA. It was brewed by Eldridge Pope & Co. of Dorchester, England, and is no longer available. I would say my attempt was “spot on” as the Brits would, except it was better.

A bit of research told me that the Thomas Hardy recipe called for 85 percent Maris Otter English malt, and 15 percent crystal malt.

This version of Country Bitter uses 2.27 kilos each of Maris Otter and Fawcett Golden Promise base malts for a 20 liter batch. Golden Promise is Maris Otter’s less toasty, sweeter Scottish cousin. To this I added 800 grams of a blend of 7 progressively-darker crystal malts. A two-hour step-infusion mash developed the sugar content of the wort. Mash pH was adjusted with 8.5 grams of calcium chloride. The boil included a touch of sea salt to add roundness of flavor.

Fifteen grams of homegrown Fuggles hops went into the “first wort” runoff. Another 15 grams went into the boil. Twenty grams of Goldings , 10 grams of Willamette and 10 grams of Centennial hops provide flavor. The wort started at about 14 degrees Plato (1.056) original gravity.

I pitched a generous starter of White Labs’ WLP 026 Premium Bitter yeast, helped along with a half-teaspoon of their yeast nutrient. This yeast from Staffordshire England produces a strong, dry beer with mild but complex esteriness.

I had planned to dry hop with additional Willamette hops but the brew really didn’t need it. It was full-bodied and quite bitter, and as it aged the estery characteristics moderated, and the head became nice and thick. This is the third time I’ve brewed Country Bitter, and I’ll do it again!

ZBO: A New Style of Extreme Umami Brew

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The name of this beer, Zeer Bruine Oude, or ZBO, reflects its original inspiration from a type of Belgian beer called Oud Bruin–sometimes known as Flanders Brown. The Oud Bruin beers are typically a dark red-brown color, with medium body and very little bitterness. The “Oud” part (old) refers to the long aging these beers undergo, so that their yeast and bacteria content can develop an interesting sweet/sour flavor.

But because this beer draws inspiration also from Guinness Stout, is is a “Zeer” (very) Bruine Oude. It is an extremely dark red-brown color, with an aroma of dark fruits and malt. In the tradition of Guinness, about 3 percent of the wort was soured by incubating it with lactobacillus delbrueckii from White Labs. To this I added about 7ml of Bio-K+ L. Caesi L. Acidophilus blend in rice extract. About 700ml of wort was drawn off from the main batch, inoculated with the lacto bacteria, and incubated at 27 C (81 F) for 72 hours. This mildly sour wort was then pasteurized at 80 C (177 F) for 30 minutes and returned to the main batch, which was fermenting with White Labs Edinburgh Ale yeast. I felt it appropriate to use Scottish yeast because legend has it that Scotland provided the original Belgian yeast strains.

A complex beer demands a complex grain bill, and this is one of the most, incorporating cara-crystal wheat, chocolate wheat, black prinz malt, cara-pils, cara-aroma, and a Belgian blend of cara-Munich, Special B, biscuit and honey malts. Breiss extra-light dry malt extract provided the base. About 225g of Brewcraft Belgian extra-dark aromatic candi sugar helped boost the original gravity to 22.5 degrees Plato (1.090).

Typically, Oud Bruin beers have little to no hoppy character. This one does, though the hop additions are moderate in deference to the original style. About 12 HBU of bitterness are provided by a boiling addition of Warrior and Perle hops, and a flavor addition of German Hallertau. No aroma hops were added.

The result: a nicely sweet/sour beer reminiscent of Scottish Wee Heavy strong ale, Irish Stout and Belgian Oud. Mildly estery with flavors of malt and dark fruit, an intensely malty aroma, complex malt flavors and a bit more hop assertiveness than either the traditional Bruin or Heavy styles offer. The blend of caramelized wheat and barley malts provide an umami backbone that creates a nice, chewy, satisfying meal out of a pint of beer.

A year after the original brew date, and with three months in the bottle, this beer has a long cellar life ahead of it, during which the flavors will continue to meld and blend. It should be an amazing winter quaff next year!

Umami is where you find it…

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It’s hard sometimes for me to get the appeal of McDonalds. There I stand in the parking lot, watching the stream of customers going in to fill themselves with the most emblematic of crummy fast foods. And it ain’t cheap! Why do they do it?

Maybe it’s because it’s the umami bomb for the masses? And you don’t have to TIP A GUY to park your car for you.

That’s right, the unassuming burger is packed with umami. Start with the patty–let’s hope it’s “all beef“. Beef is full of glutamate. Grilling the meat induces the further tranformation of proteins in meat into savory glutamate compounds.

Ketchup, the ultimate taste eraser, is well-known to kids who hate their brussel sprouts. Load ketchup on a burger and you add an almost perfectly balanced blend of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. The tomato is full of umami. Cheese is a giant umami blast. Even the bun, with its toasted grain base, is a source of umami. Hold the lettuce. What self-respecting kid takes his burger with lettuce?

Too bad McDonalds doesn’t server beer. I might eat there.

PS: Ask and you shall receive, I guess. Burger King is selling beer some places.

Bombs Away!

umami bombIt has been five years since the Wall Street Journal posted its virtually unnoticed article about “A New Taste Sensation.” It’s about umami, and the way that top chefs and food companies are taking advantage of the natural presence of glutamates and nucleotides to perk up foods from the $185 “Umami Bomb” by cuisinier Jean-Georges Vongerichten to the humble bag of Dorritos.

The sources of umami are equally diverse in their cultural significance. Ketchup has plenty of umami-producing molecules, as do the “diamonds of the kitchen” Black Périgord truffles. Vongerichten’s breathtakingly pricey appetizer uses truffles, along with a Parmesan cheese custard (also high-umami) to carpet-bomb the taste buds of his richly epicurean clientele.

With the ubiquity of its flavors and industry interest, why is the concept of umami still obscure in the mind of the average consumer? Part of the reason perhaps is the influence of the so-called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” (CRS) more impressively called “monosodium glutamate symptom complex.” But while many people claim sensitivity to MSG, and many more avoid it because they feel it is somehow an abominably unnatural additive, double-blind placebo-controlled experiments have found no relationship between glutamates and the symptoms of CRS.

Because of the bad rep associated with chemical-sounding words in consumer’s consciousness, the food industry looks to umami in an effort to deliver highly flavored foods while cutting back on other onerous ingredients: fat, salt, sugar and artificial substances. So the glutamates may be in there, but they’re provided by yeast extract, soy or Worcestershire sauce, cheese, mushrooms, anchovy powder and the like.

What’s the implication for the world of beer? While the average quaffer of “lawnmower beer“may not expect or desire the over-the-top richness of an umami bomb in his or her beverage, I believe that the days of water flavored with beer may be drawing to a close, at least in the large US market.

The commercial brands losing the greatest percentage of sales over the past few years have been the light, virtually tasteless lagers. Meanwhile America now has more breweries in operation than it did before prohibition. And while some of these are taking the addition of umami to what I consider a ridiculous extreme, there is no doubt that beer advocates are returning to the classic, full flavor of the beers from the past. This full flavor is in large part contributed by the umami-producing ingredients in their recipes.

What’s That Umami Doing in My Yorkshire Ale?

Yorkshire Ale2Umami in beer comes primarily from two sources. First, barley malt has considerable protein in it (in the range of 10 to 15 percent) and the largest component of this is glutamic acid. The processes required to turn barley into beer involve reactions that convert this to glutamates. Most importantly though, I believe, is the contribution of the yeast. Nutritional yeast, known for its nutty, creamy flavors, provides a sample of this flavor.

Yorkshire Ale provides a vivid example of fermentation-induced umami flavor. The yeast produces a variety of metabolic by-products that create a well-balanced beer that is malty, and even meaty. The flavors are toasty with estery notes that accentuate the malt ingredients. These ingredients are chosen for their ability to contribute glutamates and nucleotides of a wide variety.

Archetypical Yorkshire Ale is a sweet, full-bodied beer with a deep red-brown cola color. It has a thick head and a mash/roast malty smell. It tastes of bread, caramel, chocolate, nuts, brown sugar, carob and earth. In the mouth it’s robust, mildly bitter and astringent, with a roasted finish.

My recipe relies on brown and chocolate malts, with a crystal malt blend, cara-aroma, and melanoidin malts to develop the glutamates derived from Maillard reactions.

Demerara and extra-dark aromatic Belgian sugar contribute caramel to the profile. Flaked barley provides raw glutamates that also contribute to a thick long-lasting head.

This version is bittered with a highly bitter variety, but in a mild proportion. Traditional English hops provide flavor and aroma that does not overwhelm the malty nose. It comes in at 7% ABV, which makes it, while not a Tadcaster Stingo, a funky, earthy–but in a good way–experience as rich as tucking into a plate of roasted mutton chops.

The Umami in Your Fermentation

What’s that missing flavor in the commercial fermented beverages you drink? 

The lack of which leaves you without a fulfilled feeling of gastronomic satisfaction?

It’s the one that’s filtered out of a full-spectrum drink, for sake of commercial shelf-stability.

It’s something called umami.

Why should you care?  Umami is the quality of roundness, of balance.

It works in foods and beverages in minute quantities.  By themselves, the substances in food and beverages that produce the sensation of umami don’t taste like much at all.  But when they combine with other taste and aroma sources, the sum is greater than the parts.