Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Moving up to All Grain

My friend Andy wrote:
I am just starting to investigate mashing so don't really know what is involved. ...  I was at a brew store today and they pointed at a large modified tank cooler that they were using for mashing. I guess I would be interested in what the proper equipment would be in doing my own mash and also if the gains over purchasing extracts are worth the additional investments in mashing equipment.

It wasn't that long ago that I was in the same situation as Andy, and I thought I would respond to this in a more permanent way, in hopes it will help others. 

Why change from extract to all-grain?

I made the change because of two things:
  1. All grain was cheaper per batch than extract (after you figure in the cost of some additional equipment).  The cost savings is because you are buying grain and extracting the sugars (mashing) yourself, rather than buying LME or DME. It costs me $10-20 for a 5 gallon batch of all malt beer (adding fruit or other adjuncts might add to the cost).  DME is close to double the cost, LME is a bit more, I think.
  2. Control over the process.  When you mash you can control whether you get more or fewer long chain sugars (controlled by mash temp).  That's really the main thing.  When you use extract you are at the receiving end of someone else's process, and they are  mashing at a specific temp (probably 152 deg F) which is sort of a typical medium bodied beer.  

In making the change I gave up a couple things, too:

  1. Time. On average it takes my 6 hours to brew a batch of beer using the all grain method, where it took 3 when doing straight extract, and maybe 3.5 hours doing a partial mash.  So one question to ask yourself is whether your time is more valuable.
  2. Space.  I now have about 3-4 times the equipment that I did when I did when I was doing extract.  Some of that is stuff I would have gotten do do extract anyway, but mash tun with a false bottom is not one of them, nor is a hot-liquor tank. It takes a lot more space to store that stuff!

So what's the proper equipment?

 Brew in a Bag

The latest "innovation" in home brewing came out of Australia, where it is very popular.  It is called "Brew In A Bag", and if I were starting all-grain again, this is what I would do. I use it now for small batches.  Basically, you use a single pot to mash and boil. You can do this by using a fine-mesh bag (http://www.brewinabag.com/) to hold line the pot and hold your grain during the mashing process, when the mash is over, you simply (but with great effort, if you are making a big batch) remove the bag with all your wet grain and let it drain back into the pot.
  With my 1.5 gallon batches on the stove, this is no big deal.  With a 5 gallon batch and 10 lbs of grain (dry weight), I would need a pulley, which I really can't install in my kitchen.  Why do it? Simplicity!   If you are brewing outside, or in a basement, you just need to have something over the brew pot that you can use to remove the bag.  Your equipment needs are small, and you get the same results as with any all-grain technique. However, you have to have a big enough pot to handle mashing with ALL the liquid you need to brew, and the extraction may be slightly less efficient than when you are fly sparging, so you need a little more grain (negligible cost, however).

3-vessel Setups

 The more traditional method is to use 3 vessels:
  1. Hot Liquor tank - holds your hot water for mashing and sparging (requires a heat source).  I have a 7.5 gallon aluminum turkey fryer pot that I put on top of my gas stove.  When I was doing extract, this was my boil kettle.
  2. Mash/Lauter tun - This holds your grain at mash temp (or temperatures, if you are step-mashing).  You can control mash temperatures in several ways,depending on your approach: direct heat, indirect heat (HERMS or RIMS, which circulate hot water from your hot liquor tank through a coil to heat the mash or circulate your mash water through a coil in the hot liquor tank to heat it), or infusions of hot water.  Yup, it is confusing!  I have a converted 10 gallon Rubbermaid cooler
    with a stainless false bottom, and use the infusion method.  This way I don't need heat.
  3. Boil kettle - this is where you boil your wort, simply enough.  It needs to be big enough to do a full boil, which means roughly 50% -75% larger than your batch size. I have a 9.5 gallon stainless pot that is about 17" in diameter and covers two burners on my stove.
Now, it is not sufficient just to get the 3 vessels, you also need a way to transfer the wort and hot liquor around.    I started with the gravity fed method, which was highly dangerous!   Because you have to get the hot liquor tank higher than everything else, you need to use milk crates or some sort of structure (there are lots of plans for this online) to create a stepped system, the lowest level of which is for the boil kettle and is high enough off the ground that you can just run off the boil kettle (which must be on a burner) into your fermenter.  Everything else goes up from there!  I was using a 7 gallon bottling bucket as my hot liquor tank, and had to climb on a stepladder with 7 gallons of hot water to put it up on its platform--talk about dangerous!

Better still is to use a pump! Not only does this save your back, but it will most likely keep you from getting scalded by falling 170 degree water!  Probably the best $100 I ever spent!  In the picture above, you can see the pump moving the wort from the mash/lauter tun to the brew pot, while the hot liquor tank gravity feeds sparge water into the mash/lauter tun.  This simplifies the process considerably because you can push liquids uphill.

Brewing Structures

Some folks use brewing structures, which seem to me to best fit outdoors, especially if you can keep them in a shed or garage.  These are permanently put together and often have burners and gas lines welded into them, along with pumps and control panels. The Brutus 10 (http://www.alenuts.com/alenuts/brutus.html)
is an example of an "open source" plan for such things, and if you would rather buy one, there are commercial examples like the Ruby Street Brewery (http://www.rubystreetbrewing.com/tp60/page.asp?ID=318741) which comes in a variety of sizes, as well as others made by Blichmann and More Beer, which are all excellent and work well.  The biggest issue is that you need to have the space and good ventilation (hence garages, and outdoor brewing).  My ex-wife kicked me out of the house (for brewing) because she didn't like the smell of wort boiling, so I ended up on the deck with my turkey fryer burner and my gravity fed set up.  I aspired to something like Brutus, for sure!

Electric Brewing

The other option is to go electric!  My friend Mike has an electric brewery he made himself, and it is really fantastic!
We can brew in his basement,as you can see.  He has 2 pumps to circulate wort and transfer from place to place.  Best of all, on a cold winter day, you aren't out in the snow and ice, you can be warm in the basement with no worry about exhaust fumes.  You can buy or make (http://www.theelectricbrewery.com/) these systems, but if you are going to make your own, you need to be really comfortable working with high-voltage systems in wet conditions--not for me!   Next time I have a basement, I'm planning to buy the electric brewery equipment.


So, in the end, what do you need, Andy?  It really depends how you want to do your brewing, and how much you want to spend for your initial investment.  You can buy a lot of this stuff used on Craigslist as people either stop brewing or move up to some other system. Of course you can support your LHBS or buy online.  I bought most of my stuff at Austin Homebrewing or Northern Brewer. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How I stopped worrying and learned to love the fruit!

Raspberry Porter!

For years I have been planning to brew a chocolate porter. I found a recipe in Zymurgy (July/August 2007) for a chocolate -cherry porter shortly after I started brewing, and I filed it away against the time when I could actually make it happen. It sounded great, but got lost somewhere in my pile of recipes that I had also saved against the time when I could get around to brewing them.  Oops!

Finally, last year I bought a can of raspberry puree, with the intention of making a chocolate raspberry porter--something in flavor that I imagined would be like the muffins of the same sort.  This year, I finally got to make the beer, and it turned out to be both better, and easier than I imagined.

Step 1: Brew the base beer

I had to start with a recipe, and found one on the internet that sounded interesting.  Not the Zymurgy recipe, but another porter recipe, which I adapted a bit. Here it is:

Amt Name Type # %/IBU
10 lbsPale Malt, Maris Otter (Thomas Fawcett) (3.0 SRM)Grain157.4 %
2 lbs 8.0 ozMunich Malt (9.0 SRM)Grain214.4 %
12.0 ozCaramel Malt - 60L (Cargill) (60.0 SRM)Grain34.3 %
9.6 ozMelanoidin (Weyermann) (30.0 SRM)Grain43.4 %
8.0 ozChocolate Malt (450.0 SRM)Grain52.9 %
0.70 ozNorthern Brewer [9.70 %] - Boil 60.0 minHop626.5 IBUs
0.50 ozNorthern Brewer [9.70 %] - Boil 30.0 minHop79.6 IBUs
0.28 tspIrish Moss (Boil 10.0 mins)Fining8-
1.0 pkgSafAle English Ale (DCL/Fermentis #S-04) [23.66 ml]Yeast9-
3 lbs 1.0 ozRed Raspberry Puree (12.0 SRM)Extract1017.6 %

Gravity, Alcohol Content and Color

Est Original Gravity: 1.093 SG
Est Final Gravity: 1.023 SG
Estimated Alcohol by Vol: 9.3 %
Bitterness: 36.1 IBUs
Est Color: 25.5 SRM
Measured Original Gravity: 1.069 SG
Measured Final Gravity: 1.010 SG
Actual Alcohol by Vol: 7.8 %
Calories: 231.5 kcal/12oz 

Mash Steps

Name Description Step Temperature Step Time
Mash InAdd 19.94 qt of water at 166.9 F152.0 F60 min
Mash OutAdd 10.05 qt of water at 206.2 F168.0 F10 min

Sparge: Fly sparge with 1.47 gal water at 168.0 F 
What I wasn't thinking about was that this was already a high gravity recipe at 1.069--high for the style, anyway.  On top of that, I was going to add Raspberry Puree that would add more gravity points on top of that  to make it even stronger.  Oh well, it would be a Raspberry imperial porter, I guess!

So I brewed, and I fermented. And it finished at about the right final gravity, 1.020.  The biggest trick was managing the temperature using a cooler and regular additions of ice to keep it under 70 degrees. The flavor and mouthfeel weren't quite what I imagined, being a bit thinner and less roasty than I anticipated.  However it was good!

Step 2:   Secondary on Raspberry! 

For almost 3 weeks, the beer sat on raspberry puree. When I finally kegged it the gravity was 1.016, so another few percent of alcohol! I put it on CO2 at about 2.6 ATM for a couple of weeks, and it carbonated nicely.

The results

The beer has a really lovely raspberry flavor and aroma, but is not particularly sweet. It is really delicious, but does not have the chocolate overtones I would have liked, nor does it taste particularly like a porter. I think next time I brew it, I will change the base to be lower in gravity and use a robust porter as the starting point so it will have more of a standard porter starting point. Mind you, this is not a bad beer, but I expect if I were to enter it in a competition as a Raspberry Porter, I would get dinged because it did not taste like a porter, although the raspberry aroma and flavor are wonderful!
This was actually not my first, but the first I did to really go with a bold fruit. Last year I co-brewed an apricot Saison with my friend Mike, and that also came out well, but apricot is such a mild flavored fruit, it was almost hidden.

Please reply with your fruit beer experiences. I would love to hear what you have done that has worked, or not!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Importance of Calibration

Skipping neatly over the last twelve months since the AHA Conference in Philadelphia, it is time to get back to blogging.  2014 has been an interesting brewing year, and I will post on some other topic that have come up, but I wanted to start with one that is really critical, and I have been overlooking.

When I started brewing, I started with extract and recipes that someone gave me.  Since I was dealing with known quantities and gravities (add 6.6lbs of extract to 6 gallons of water), there was not a lot of need for calibration, as long as I could measure accurately.

When I moved to all-grain brewing, things changed! Suddenly, it was much more complex, since the number of variables increased--something I understood at a high level, but didn't really appreciate. These are some of the things that affect your brewing:
  • How good the crush of your malt is--finer isn't always better, you need intact husks to make a filter bed, etc.
  • Grain temperature
  • Weight of your mash tun (mine is a 10 gallon Rubbermaid cooler with a stainless steel false bottom)
  • What your strike water temperature is, and whether it will get your single infusion mash to the desired mash step temperature.
  • How big is your mash tun?  Can you do a 5 gallon all-grain version of that Old Numbskull clone, or, because it would require 25lbs of grain, do you need to scale back the grain to 20lbs and plan to add some DME in the boil?
  • How much dead space is there in your mash tun, and how much water will the grain absorb? How much extra strike/mashout/sparge water do you need to get 8 gallons in the brew kettle?
  • What is your boil off rate?  In other words, how much water will boil out of your wort each hour?  This is critical, and it is affected by the strength of your boil, geometry of your kettle (as in how much surface area).  A short fat kettle may boil off more than a tall skinny one because there is less surface are in the skinny kettle, even if they hold the same volume).
  • How much wort will the hops absorb?
  • How much dead space is there in your kettle? That is, when you open the valve in the bottom of your kettle, and let all the wort run out, how much will be left in the bottom? This shows a dip-tube to reduce the amount of dead space and get every last drop of wort that you can!
Whew!  That's a ton to worry about, and that's why we often use brewing software.  When I started on all-grain, I bought a copy of ProMash, because that's what the BFD club members I talked to were using.  I figured out all my parameters, and hey, everything worked.  Every so often I swapped out equipment, which caused some minor changes, but things worked pretty well until I changed my brewing software to BeerSmith and bought new carboys.

Why would carboys cause problems?  Well, I switched from glass to the plastic kind because of two things:
  • The weight of the glass carboys is a pain.  I'm really not interested in lugging so much around and risking my back!
  • Breakage!  I read some stories about broken glass carboys that scared me, frankly!  People have severed nerves, lost a lot of blood, etc., and for what?
 So I moved from 6.5 or 7 gallon glass carboys to 6 gallon plastic.  That meant my batch size had to go down, and that's where the trouble started!

 BeerSmith is a fine piece of software, but I discovered that it was less "forgiving" than ProMash when it came to calibration.  I had been making 6 gallon batches (that is 6 gallons going into the carboy, 5.5 gallons out after trub settled).  I had also been kind of lazy about actually measuring the dead space in my mash tun and brew kettle.  Only myself to blame there!  I did calculate the boil-off rate, at least.  But I plunged in with BeerSmith and used a sort of default equipment profile that was close to what I had--but not exactly.  Finally, I used BeerSmith to scale the ProMash recipes from 6 gallons to 5, but wasn't using an accurate equipment profile so it (apparently) didn't work out so well.

Suddenly my batches were coming out weird.   Pre-boil gravities were low.  I ended up with 4 gallons in the fermenter instead of 5.  Original gravities (post-boil) were off, or required supplementing with DME.  In some cases after I tinkered, I ended up with a higher post-boil gravity, and had to dilute---which was OK because I collected less in my fermenter than the recipe predicted.  In short, things weren't working the way they were supposed to!

This past weekend I measured the dead space in my mash tun and fermenter.  I trust BeerSmith can figure out all the rest of the data from that, and I am looking forward to my next brew, to see how close I get to hitting my numbers.  But the moral of the story is, measure, so you know how your equipment will behave!  I will post a follow-up when I make my next batch.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Adventures in Public Transportation

This is totally off topic, but I had to share the experience and the absurdity I found on a recent "commute" to Boston via public transportation.  I normally work from home in Lowell, MA, but I had to go to the Longwood area of Boston for work, so I thought I would be virtuous and use public transit.  Here's how it went:

View Larger Map

6:00 AM

I left home and drove to the Lowell parking garage.  No traffic, got there in about 10 minutes or so, and I was feeling great!  As I drive in, I roll down my window and stick out a hand to take a ticket. The guy at the entrance greets me with an open hand, too.  Oops, he's looking for a $5 bill to cover my parking for the day!  At that hour, there were lots of spaces, so I was quickly in the terminal, looking for the ticket office for the commuter rail train to Boston.  No office, so I bought a Charlie Card for $30 in the machine there, figuring that was the way to buy my ticket.  
I am struck by the fact that I have to go up and down several flights of stairs to get to the platform from the garage.  It would be incredibly slow and inconvenient to do this with a rolling suitcase or in a wheelchair as the elevators are not fast or easy to get to.
Cost so far: $35

6:18 AM

The train leaves Lowell for Boston on time!  Great start, so far.  I settle in with my bagel and coffee and prepare to eat breakfast while waiting for the conductor to pick up my ticket.  When she comes around I offer my Charlie Card, only to find that it doesn't work on the train, only in the subway (so why sell them in Lowell?).  I have to buy a paper ticket (no surcharge because the ticket office hadn't opened yet) for $8.75, cash only.  The conductor is really nice, though, and she tells me about an app for my phone that I can use to buy a ticket for the commuter rail and just flash when she collects.  I make a note to use it on the way home.
Cost so far: $43.75

7:05 AM

We roll into North Station and I head down into the subway (green line, E route).  To do this, you have to actually EXIT the station, down a short flight of stairs, and then go into a subway entrance about 50 feet away.  Again, if I had a rolling bag, this would be a pain, as the escalators are busy and narrow.  There are 3 different flights.  And this is a new station!
Once I'm down in the station, I head for the turnstile brandishing my brand new Charlie Card.  When I tap in, I discover that for my $35 I got a hunk of plastic--it doesn't actually have any stored value! Wish they had told me THAT up front!  Off to the machine to feed the card $20 so I can use the subway.  Once I do that, now I can use the subway, and off I go to find the Green Line train.
Cost so far: $63.75

7:35 AM

Miracle of miracles, I arrive at my destination.  I am supposed to meet my co-workers and the client at 8:00, so I have time to get more coffee (I finished my original cup on the train).  Nice to be early, and the worst I endured was a crowded train.  Expensive, but a good experience.
During the day, I download and install the Commuter Rail pay app that the conductor told me about, and so that is installed on my phone. I ordered up a ticket for the trip home, so that is all set as well. That's another $8.75.
Cost so far: $72.50

5:00 PM

I dash out of my client meeting to catch the 5:00 Green Line trolley back to North Station so I can catch the 5:30 train to Lowell. I get the trolley (using the Charlie Card again to pay), but it is delayed, so I arrive in North Station at 5:33 and the train is gone.  RATS!  Next one is at 5:50, so there's nothing to do but wait.  On a beer related note, there is a Paulaner Bier "Garten" in the station waiting area, and it is open.  Hefe can wait, though. Exhausted, I opt not to get one so can get some work done on the train home and not fall asleep. 

5:50 PM

The train departed on time--Yea!  I spent the ride home watching recorded lectures for course I'm taking, and after 7 stops, I arrived at the Lowell station again.  It is 6:40pm. I reverse the process of parking and hop in the car to go home!

6:55 PM

I'm home.  Tired and hungry, but home.  It has been almost 13 hours since I left. I resolve never to take a job that requires me to do this every day!
The total cost for the day:
  • Parking: $5.00
  • Commuter Rail: $17.50 ($8.75 each way)
  • Charlie Card: $30 (sunk cost, this never expires, but has to be reloaded)
  • Subway fares: $4 (note that I loaded $20 on the card, so I have $16 left)
Out of pocket expenses are $72.50, but only $27.50 was for actual transportation ($16 still on the card is still available).  For $27.50 I could park all day in Boston, but there would be more wear and tear on me (and on my car), fuel cost, etc.  I do feel slightly virtuous (but dirty) because I took public transportation, so there's that.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Apricot Saison and the AHA Conference 2013

I'm getting ready for the AHA Conference in Philadelphia in June of this year.

Brewing Apricot Saison in collaboration with my friend and fellow BFD Mike Damiano, and Patriot Oatmeal Stout.   We brewed the Saison in a 15 gal batch on Mikes electric brewery, which was pretty freakin cool!  I have about 4.5 gals on apricot puree sitting in my apartment right now, while Mike has the remaining 10 gals.  So we have 5 for AHA and about 4 for each of us!  This is my first fruit beer (unless you count a pumpkin ale I made right after I started brewing).    Here's the info on how to add fruit:  http://www.homebrewjunkie.com/2008/05/adding-fruit-to-home-brew.html

After speaking to a couple folks who have done this recently, I think we may have been light on the Apricot, but we will see.

Today I am brewing the Oatmeal stout, and I have had the difficult experience of trying to do a double infusion in a 10 gal cooler.  I added another 2 gals of boiling water to the mash to get to Mashout temp (168 degrees F) and ended up with minor overflow.  This was one of the most difficult brew days I have had in some time, and it all started with the grain crush. I couldn't get it to crush properly, and I ended up with the grain still in the husk, even though I conditioned it and re-milled it.  I think there could have been two issues:
  1. I was using some Valley Malt 2 row that is now 2 years old, I think.  It is possible that it isn't good anymore.
  2. I was trying to mill the grain using a drill instead of hand cranking, as I usually do.  I wonder if I milled too fast and it just squirted through.
  3. (oh, yeah, I said two--well tough) I might not have sprayed sufficient water to condition the grain .
So from the start, my gravity was low.  Of course, I had a hard time telling that because for some reason my refractometer seems to be messed up.  The line you read is now on an angle, which is not so good.  Also, the plastic cover doesn't seem to line up properly.  I checked it with a hydrometer though, and it was accurate once I nudged it back to place and re-calibrated with some distilled water.  I was shooting for a relatively high OG for the style, but ended up with 1.054, which is in the guidelines, but not what I should have had given the grain bill--that would have been 1.069!  A major miss, that one!   Of course the calculation was with Thomas Fawcett Maris Otter, not Valley Malt 2-row, so it might not have hit exactly, but I expected to be closer.

One cool thing that I tried (anyone but a brewing geek can stop reading here) is to recirculate the boiling wort in the last 15 mins and after knockout to cycle it around the kettle and the immersion chiller. Got the fasted cool down I have ever had with that chiller, so I guess it works! Thanks, Jamil, for idea.

Here it is in the fermenter.  Notice that there is a TON of headroom, because I had to boil for 2 hours to get the gravity UP to 1.054.  I only collected 4.5 gals, and then I pitched my dry yeast.  I hope it tastes good, but we will see in a week or two.

Next up for tasting is the apricot saison. I may get another can of apricot and add that in as well.

Happy brewing!

Monday, July 30, 2012

A week in Belgium--Wow!

Some time ago I received a copy of Beer Traveler Magazine in the mail. In it there were several beer vacation itineraries, including a two week trip to Belgium that caught my eye! You see, I had a big birthday this year, one ending in zero, so I wanted to commemorate it with a really fun and interesting trip. Accordingly, I decided to plan a trip around the itinerary they suggested. I'd like to share it with you because I think it worked pretty well, and I had an awesome time!

First of all, I went with my girlfriend, who is not a big beer drinker, though she likes some beer and is a good sport about trying it. We didn't want to have to drive everywhere, particularly if we are drinking, so we opted to stay in two places and take trains everywhere--usually an easy option in Europe. We stayed in Gent (or Ghent or Gand, in English and French, respectively) and Antwerp (or Antwerpen or Anvers in Flemish and French). This allowed us to cover the West and South of Belgium from Gent and the North and East of Belgium from Antwerp. Only having one week limited us a bit, and we didn't want to just spend each day drinking, but sightseeing and enjoying Belgian culture as well.

Day 1 (Sunday): 
Gulden Draak 9000
Arrive in Gent We stayed at the Charme Hotel Hancelot, which was excellent! On arrival we discovered that Gent was having a big music festival, which had free music and stages all over the downtown area.  This was fantastic from an entertainment standpoint, but it meant that the bars and restaurants might be more crowded than normal--and reduced the beer menu at at least one place.  Nevertheless, we headed into the Oud Stadt (old city) to check it out, and found that they had beer tents set up where you could purchase some pretty good beer, including Leffe Blonde, Leffe Bruin, Gulden Draak, etc.  I LOVE a country with good beer, and so we enjoyed some music, some beer and had fun.  I had a Leffe Blonde at one stage, and then a Gulden Draak 9000 (Quad) that was delicious while we watched a rock band at another stage. Then we went for Moules et Frites at a restaurant on De Graslei, which is a beautiful spot, but a main site of the festival to so hard to appreciate it for its beauty. 

Day 2 (Monday):

Westy 12
What beer lover's trip to Belgium would be complete without a pilgrimage to Westeverleteren (Abbey St. Sixtus)?  Not mine, that's for sure!  Of course, if you are going to get there, it turns out that you must do it by car or bicycle, because public transportation is not even CLOSE to convenient--so we rented a car.  I also wanted to bring back some beer, after all, Westy 12 is supposed to be the best in the world, so I tried calling to reserve a crate but was unable to get through at the right time by getting up at 4am!  Nonetheless, when we got there, I was able to buy a six pack of Westy 8, which also scores pretty respectably, at In De Vrede, their shop and restaurant.  Of course, I had to have a glass of the 12, and I also tried the blonde (not so great, IMHO).  The coolest thing was being there, which is one of those beer experiences.

After Westverleteren we drove toward the coast, and ended up stopping at a nice little town called Veurene to buy some bread, cheese, and meat. I, of course, had to get some local beer as well, and the woman we spoke with at the grocery suggested three: Poperings Hommel Bier, Sporkin, and Boeteling, which I purchased and drank later.  All three were good, but not great.  Popering is an interesting place (we drove through it) for two reasons: It was a big WW I battlefield, and it has a hop museum and festival!  I also caught sight of some hop bines growing along the road as we drove.  All in all it was a good beer day!

Day 2 (Tuesday):

We got up early and after breakfast we took the train from Gent to Brugges.   While this is not the biggest beer destination on the planet, you can't go many places in Belgium without finding something beer related and (usually) interesting!  Here we found the brewery De Halve Man, where they brew Bruggse Zot and a couple other beers that are very nice!  This it the ONLY brewery tour we took, and it is also the best tour I've been on anywhere.  The woman who was our guide was extremely knowledgeable, and we (literally) saw the brewery from bottom to top, ending with a stop on the roof to enjoy the view!  Along the way we saw modern and old brewing equipment including open fermenters, a kuhlschip, and stainless tanks and brewing gear.  They no longer use the open fermenters or kuhlship, but they keep them around (probably expensive to remove) as sort of a museum exhibit.  They also used to do their own malting, so you get to see the malting floor and kiln.  We followed the tour with a lunch in the courtyard and an unfiltered Zot (only served at the brewery), then headed off to explore more of this beautiful city.

We stopped at the old Gruuthus, now a museum of unrelated things, but you get the importance of Gruit (or Gruut in Flemish) when you see how nicely this place was appointed!  We finished the day with a stop at De Garre, with a glass of their own tripel, which was quite nice.  This place is a very cool old, old bar that is off in a tiny little alley you would only find if you are looking for it.  Thanks to the article from Beer Traveler and the nice person at the Brugges tourist office, we knew how to find it, and surprisingly, so did a lot of others.  We found a table on the 2nd floor and the bartender served us up there, which was great! Outside there was a nice little canal, and I would have loved to linger, but my wonderful GF had other plans: a birthday dinner in Gent at Faim Fatale, so back to Gent we went!  Dinner was wonderful, as was the Rochefort 8 that accompanied it-absolutely one of the best beers of the trip!

Day 3 (Wednesday):

(l to r) Bruin, amber, blonde, wit, all made with Gruit.
We decided that we needed to explore Gent more thoroughly than we had on Sunday, so we took the day and did it in a leisurely way.  Our first stop was at Brewery Gruut, the only brew pub in Gent, and one of the few women head brewers.  Of course, I had to try the Gruut beers, since it is the only place I've been where they make commercial beer without hops!  I was underwhelmed by the Wit (on the right), but the bruin and amber were delicious, and the blonde was pretty good.  I would definitely buy some if it were available in the US!  Alas, it is not exported yet.  I discovered that you could get it in a number of places in Gent, at least.

After a visit to the castle, and a few interesting stops to watch the Tour de France and various bands, we ended the afternoon at Het Waterhuis, and here's where we hit a shortcoming of the festival: limited beer menu!  I had a couple of nice local beers, MAMMELOKKER, and  a Floris Frambozen, which was absurdly sweet.  We struck up a nice conversation with a local retired gentleman, who is a sculptor and was very interesting.  And we watched the end of the day of the Tour de France to see how it came out before we headed back to our hotel to freshen up, then out to dinner.  No unusually good beer for dinner, however, just a Westmalle Dubbel.

Day 4 (Thursday):
We decamped to Antwerp and settled into our hotel (the Hilton, right on the Groenplatz), before grabbing some bread and cheese and hopping a train to Mechelen, home of the Het Anker brewery, which brews Gouden Carolus.  This is an interesting town, and unfortunately, one of those breweries (like Gruut) where you need 12 people to have a tour.  They also have a nice hotel and pub at the brewery, but rather than head that far from town, we elected to check out the Vismarkt (Fish Market) area and have a beer there, then explore the town, and end up at another highly rated bar near the other train station.  And that's what we did!

 The bar we started at was Den Akker (on the Vismarkt), and we ended at T' Afspraak, which was a neat old bar with a nice modern, garden section.  They had a very impressive beer selection, but between the two places, I had to try a number of the Gouden Carolus beers: Hopsinjoor, Ambrio, and of course the Classic.  After that, we headed back to Antwerp (it is a 25 minute train ride), and had a nice dinner on the river called Zuiderterras, where I had a Tongerlo bruin.  It was a nice beer, but the food was better than the beer.

Day 5 & 6 (Friday/Saturday):
You can't go to Antwerp and not see Ruben's house and museum. Pieter Paul Rubens was perhaps the best painter to come out of Belgium, and apparently quite accomplished in other areas as well.  So on Friday morning, off to visit the house we went. I managed to set off the alarm one time by leaning too far over the rope in front of the exhibits, but it was a great thing to see! 

We followed up with another museum, and then searched the city for Kulminator, #8 on the top 150 places to have a beer.  We found Kulminator, but discovered that it didn't open until 4, so we put it on the back burner until after dinner.  We finally got there around 8, and I had a 3 year old Gouden Carolus (on draft), which was quite nice.   I confess that I was underwhelmed by the bar, however.  The article had led me to believe that this would be a really fantastic, happening place, but in reality, nobody in Antwerp seemed to know anything about it.  It is truly a beer geek's bar, and there's no reason anyone else would go there.  In fact, when I was in Antwerp on business in November of last year, I tried to find it, even giving the cabbie the actual address, and he couldn't find the place!  Nevertheless, they do have an amazing selection of vintage beer, and we went back the next day (earlier--before dinner) and I had a 2001 Chimay Grand Reserve (blue) and a Maredsous Tripel (on draft) that were really wonderful, and we sat in the garden out the back.

I finished off the trip with a nice Duvel, while we sat in the Groenplaats watching the sun set.  It was a great trip, and I had some wonderful beer and great experiences (lots of sight seeing not discussed here, too)!  Belgium is a wonderful country to visit, and I feel like we left some great things to come back to on the next trip. The people we met were friendly and helpful, and we enjoyed the scenery, and even the rain! 

I hope that the links I posted above will be useful. Gent, is a great city, and if the festival is not on, even more historic sights await.  During the festival it is fun, but not quite as easy to view the medieval buildings in the old city.  Antwerp is also beautiful, and has a lot to offer.  We deliberately skipped Brussels because we thought it would be fun to be more off the beaten track.  The only regret about that is that we didn't get to see the Belgian National Day celebration in Brussels, but that's OK! 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Passover and beer--not a kosher combination!

It is Passover the Jewish holiday of liberation, celebrating the Jews' exodus from a life of slavery in Egypt, led by Moses.  If you haven't seen The Ten Commandments, or read the story in the bible, go check it out.

Each Passover, Jews all over the world stop eating leavened bread for the duration of the holiday (8 days) in sympathy with our brethren who fled Egypt without the time to let bread rise, as they were fearful of being pursued by Pharoh's soldiers and prevented from leaving Egypt. That the Jews ate matzoh then was driven by necessity, of course. 

Today, the practice extends not just to bread itself, but to any food which might actually contain leavening (yeast or baking soda) such as breakfast cereal, or bagels, but also extends to those things that rise for other reasons, such as rice or corn.  I bet you see where this is going!  Beer is on the prohibited list, of course.  Wine, which is also made with yeast, is not prohibited, AND we are commanded to drink four cups of it at the seder!

Doesn't seem fair, does it? 

Even worse, beer (as are other "chametz" products--the link gets into some detail) are supposed to be disposed of before Passover starts.  For someone with a beer fridge full of several batches of beer or expensive collected beer, this is just not an option!  Luckily you can sell it to a non-Jewish friend, so there is no prospect of it being consumed, even by accident.

According to a conservative rabbi I consulted, the explanation of why beer is prohibited has to do with the fact that beer is made from malted barley, and the malting process causes the barley to be in contact with water for more than 18 minutes, which causes germination of the seed, and swelling of the husk (the 18 minutes is the significant bit).  Thus it appears to me to fall into the same category as rice, as something that grows/swells not from leavening, but because water is introduced for more than 18 minutes.  Hmmmmm.

One of the things I love about being Jewish is that EVERYTHING is open to interpretation and review.  There is an old saying that if you put two Jews together, you will get three opinions.  There are two branches of Judiasm (stick with me for a second, this will be clear): the Ashkenazi and the Sephardic.  The Ashkenazi's are the main group in the US and come from Northern, Eastern and Western Europe (Russia, Germany, Poland chiefly).  The Sephardim are from Southern Europe (Italy, Spain, Portugal) and North Africa for the most part. The Jews airlifted from Ethiopia in the '70s were Sephardic Jews. I bring this up because the Sephardic tradition ALLOWS the eating of rice during Passover!  Right on!

So, in my own modern interpretation of Passover, while I come from an Ashkenazi background, I adopt the Sephardic traditions when celebrating this wonderful holiday.  I eat rice, and I eat matzoh.  And, under the principle that if wine (made with yeast) is allowed, therefore  beer can't be disallowed because it is made with yeast.  And if the Sephardim can eat rice, which plumps from water, that beer, therefore, should be OK for the same reason!  Hooray, I'm Sephardic at least for 8 days a year.

For reinforcement, I think this is even backed up by Christian tradition, when the monks in Germany gave up bread for Lent, replacing it with Bock beer. OK, I'm stretching the point a little, but I think it is not entirely invalid. 

And with that decision, I am going to drink beer during Passover!