Saturday, July 30, 2011

Beer is Food

Beer has gotten a bad rap as a second class beverage. We can thank our ancient roman ancestors for helping to establish beer as a beverage of the barbarians. Wine was the prefered drink of their region and due to their prolific territorial expasion, cultural diffusion passed on the concept of wine being the choice of the aristocracy. Over the last seventy years, we as beer consumers have driven this concept home by falling for modern beer advertisement. Thanks to the Bud Bowl, frost brewing (which is impossible), clydesdales, 'twins', blue mountains that tell us when beer is cold, and bikini clad volleyballers, beer has been relegated to cookouts and frat parties. We have been taught that wine is for white cloth dining, fine cheeses, and glass swirling philosophical exhortations. Notice that there are no wine bongs. Beer has become fast food, McBeer is pervasive.

I believe that beer is food. Food is meant to be enjoyed and savored not slammed down our gullets in super sized portions. The same holds for beer. I love food the same way I love beer, and this love of food comes from family.

In my family, we eat. We eat well and for long stretches. We make noise when we eat, not lip smacking, but sublingual utterances. Others around the substantial table return serve. Then when one course is done, we lean back from the table and talk, laugh, and reminice. Then we do it again. This is what family is to me.

This is how we eat:

The first course is the antipasto course. Platters of cheeses, soft to hard, pepperoni, olives (with pits or stuffed with cheese), roasted red peppers, roasted garlic, bread (always bread), marinated artichoke hearts, etc.

The second course is usually pasta. The range is of pastas and sauces are wide: penne, linguine, raviolli, gemelli, rotini served with marinara plain or with various meats, white cheese and cream based sauces, or various vegtable based options. Oh, and bread.

The third course is often times the meat course. Beef, pork, chicken, or fish. One this to be sure, there is always more food than those assembled can enjoy at one sitting. There is usually a salad and another vegetable to accompany. Did I mention bread?

Dessert for my First Communion party, and for all of the parties in our family is The Cake. It is a multilayer cake, chocolate filling in the middle layers, heavy whipping cream frosting, all on the base of a fluffy and moist white cake. 

I don't care for cake, but The Cake is something different.

When my family gets together, they do so around the table. We eat, talk, rest, and repeat until the host decides that enough food has been served. We laugh and we laugh loud. We hug, we pinch, and we punch as well. It might sound strange, but food seems to be at the root of our familial bond, because it is there around the dinner table that that bond is forged.

This is why I think beer is food. I love beer, but I rarely crack open a bottle unless I have someone to share it with. No one throws together a five course meal just for themselves, it is a waste of something good. The same stands for beer.

That's why I say, drink good beer with good people.


Friday, July 29, 2011

I Heart Stainless

Hey all!

I've just received word that half of the brewhouse is being delivered on Monday! You can be assured of many pictures of some sexy stainless steel upon delivery! Stay tuned...

Drink good beer with good people!


(Apparently this is my all '!' post.)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Selling Craft Beer

Here is a great video from Stone Brewing CEO Greg Koch. He makes a compelling case for the profitability of craft beer when compared to BudMillerCoors products. Check it out!

Until next time, drink good beer with good people!


Friday, July 22, 2011

To Helles Or Not To Helles

I am a bit of a beer purist. Magnify that by the fact the I teach and love history and you get some pretty old school beer style dogma. I am all for innovation in beer, but the old school styles are something special. Pilsner, munich helles, bock, vienna lager, dortmunder - all are beer styles that organically grew out of the agricultural and environmental necessity of their respective birthplace. I find it fascinating that german pilsner's color, malt, and hop profile are largely a result of creating the beer that went best with the water profile of Plzen (Pilsen). Talk about drinking locally. To me beer is history as much as beer is food (more on that on another day).

Every brewpub has it's light beer. Let me say first of all that there is nothing wrong with a beer that is gently flavored. If you are a BudMillerCoors (BMC) drinker that is fine. Those beers aren't for me and I would argue that they aren't for you either. In my opinion, all BudMillerCoors drinkers should be drinking well made fresh munich style helles. First of all, it tastes like beer. We all have a conception of what beer is supposed to taste like and a crisp helles hits those marks better than the BMC products. Munich helles has a light bready pils malt flavor with just a hint of herbal hop aromas. That leads into a low hop bitterness that provides a gentle malty sweetness that serves as the beer's focal point. It is light, crisp, and easily quaffable. Better yet, it is real, it has roots and history, and it is delicious.

It is a goal of mine to have the light beer of Cranker's Brewpub to be a munich helles. This can be tricky. A helles is a lager. That means that it uses a style of yeast, lager yeast, that is traditionally fermented in the 48-52F range. Ale yeasts ferment in the 60's to low 70's range. Because they work at lower temperatures lager yeast takes a longer time to ferment. As a homebrewer time is no issue. As a pro brewer on a production schedule time is more vital. It will be my challenge to produce a quality lager efficiently.

Now to the beer. I decided to go with all pilsner malt with a small portion of light munich malt. The munich malt is meant to add a slight malt complexity to what is a very straight forward pilsner malt base beer. I have been kicking around different concepts when it comes to hopping. I can either utilize a hop that has great bittering power called magnum, or use a hop that has less bittering power called hallertau. If I use the magnum, I will be adding less hops to the kettle. This will mean less hop mass which will lend less hop flavor and aroma to the final beer. If I use the hallertau, that means more hop mass in the kettle to achieve the same amount of bittering as the magnum. However, the greater portion of hallertau will lend pronounced hop characteristics compared to the magnum only beer. I brewed the beer with hallertau the first time and I feel as if it took the beer out of range style wise due to the hop profile, not that that is a serious concern for a professional brewer. I have kicked around the idea of blending the magnum and hallertau to dial down the hop impression. I am going to go with the all hallertau version for the upcoming Michigan Homebrew Festival and see how it is received there.

That's all for now. In the meantime, drink good beer with good people!


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Being the Bulldog

My employer Cranker's Brewpub has been interested in an amber ale to be our first beer in package available to the public. Throughout my homebrewing career I always stuck with recipes from a great book called Brewing Classic Styles by Jamil Zainasheff. Jamil was really my brewing mentor. Aside from his book on recipes and beer styles he also hosts a couple of shows on The Brewing Network, a homebrewing podcast that I have spent countless hours listening to. (Did I already mention my 135 mile commute?) Jamil has won every homebrewing award and medal you can win and he is gracious enough to share any and everything he has learned with the public.

As a homebrewer and a father of three, now four, I couldn't brew whenever I felt like it. With the lag time between now and the opening of the brewery, I am branching out with the concepts that I learned from Jamil and forming my own recipes. Case and point: Bulldog Red.

There are a few ways to go with amber ales. Malt driven, hop driven, or a give and take of both. For my own personal preference, and per the style guidelines, I prefer this beer style on the hoppier side. The competition brewer in me is driven to brew that beer because that is what will score best with beer judges. The flip side is that I am not brewing for competition anymore, I am brewing for the public who will pay for my beer (hopefully).

With my first iteration of Bulldog Red I decided to go with a complex malt character achieved by using three different british caramel malts. I have heard from the brewers at Fuller's in England that the british caramel malts carry a different level of complexity than their american counterparts. I decided to go with two hop additions, a sixty minute bittering addition with magnum hops for the lions share of the beers clean bitterness, and a late kettle addition of chinook hops to leave a backing impression of citrus. The beer weighs in at 5% ABV with 25 IBU. I used the WLP007 Dry English Ale yeast from White Labs as it is a workhorse and flocks like mad. This is the ale yeast I plan on using for all of my ales brewed at Cranker's. It is very versatile.

I was pleased with the outcome with this beer but found myself feeding a critter in the back of my mind that was trying to get me to make this beer hoppier. I rebrewed this beer twice. Version #2 was the exact same beer as the first batch but dry hopped with amarillo hops to drive up the citrusy aromas. Version #3 used a different blend of caramel malts calculated to give me the same color as the original batch of beer. The goal here was to play with the caramel impression. I have both beers kegged up in the basement and will be bottling them up tomorrow for my employer. I am looking forward to these beers coming together for a week or two to see how they stack up to the original recipe.

I am really looking forward to the Michigan Homebrew Festival ( in late August. I will be rebrewing the original Bulldog Red recipe and I will share the three versions with some trusted palates and use that feedback in going forward with the beer's formulation.

In the meantime, drink good beer with good people.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The One To Blame

His name is Dave and it is his fault that I am in this mess.

Years ago, my wife Peggy and I were struggling to find a way to get our friends together around the holidays. People were always tied up with family obligations. I am mostly Italian and Peggy is mostly Hungarian, so naturally we decided to begin hosting a yearly Oktoberfest party. After one of the early fests, my good friend Dave suggested that I brew the beer for next years party. I was teaching in Grand Rapids at the time and it just so happens that it is home to Michigan's premiere homebrew shop, Siciliano's Market. They were having their fall sale on homebrew kits so I went for it.

My first brew day was a nightmare. I had no idea what I was doing, I fumbled through the poor directions from the beer kit's manufacturer, made a massive mess in the kitchen, and cursed more than I should have. A couple of weeks later I had beer, bad beer, but beer nonetheless. It was an 'English Pale Ale' according to the kit, and it came out tasting like cardboard flavored beer.

I was thrilled.

I dove headlong into my new hobby. Within weeks I found the best source in homebrewing: The Brewing Network. Through their podcasts and website my beer rapidly improved, it even bordered on decent. I began judging beer and became a certified beer judge. I began entering competitions with vigor. When I first got into judging, I found that other members of the statewide beer scene did not have much interest in talking beer with me. I decided to try and earn my way into beer circles by winning medals in competition. At my peak, I was entering well over 100 entries a year in various local, state, and national competitions. I was a serious beer hoarder, rarely drinking my own beers, stashing them for anonymous judges.

For a long time having my beers poured for judges was a big thrill. Since I have shifted my focus to professional brewing, I have come to get more out of having my beers poured in front of friends.

Thanks Dave.

Drink good beer with good people!


In the beginning...

At the advice of a wise cousin I have decided to create this blog to track the up coming months and years as I transition into a new phase of my career. For the past ten years I have been teaching in Alternative Education, high school for at-risk youth. I had always thought that teaching would be it for me, fun with kids, summers off, and occasionally being verbally berated by my malcontented teens. Teaching always just fit. I love the routine: up early, teaching history, having fun with the kids, time in the staff lounge. Everything about it was intense and that was one of the things that I enjoyed about it. Sure there are ups and downs in teaching, and especially in Alternative Ed, but I always saw it as the highs being higher and the lows being lower. The good always out weighed the bad.

Then seemingly out of nowhere, an opportunity presented itself to turn my hobby of homebrewing into a profession. It was the chance to live the homebrewer's dream: get paid to craft beer. Just as enticing, the pending brewery is close to home, a half mile away to be exact. It makes me twitch to think about the 135 miles round trip I did in order to get to school. So with the support of my wonderful wife I have taken a sabbatical from teaching and taken the plunge.

Leaving teaching was terribly difficult. I am sure to post in the future about that experience. As a parting gift my coworkers had a t-shirt made for me. It read, "Those who can, teach. Those who can't teach, brew." In trying to figure out this blogs title, my wife suggested running with the slogan that my coworkers coined, and it seemed appropriate.

I will be discussing a wide range of things in during the course of this blog: the trials and tribulations of a green horn professional brewer, beer philosophy, recipe formulation, progress on the brewpub, accounts of my teaching withdrawals, and I am sure some family stuff as well.

In the meantime, drink good beer with good people.