Dead Man Gnawing: Mexican Cold Ones

I believe that we need more salt-rimmed beverages in our lives.  Or, at least, in my life.  As the salt cures me, it will preserve my liver as well.  This is all about science.

We all know about salt-rimmed margaritas and licking the salt before taking a shot of tequila.  A few years ago, however, I was turned on to micheladas, Mexican beers mixed with various lime-tomato-chili combinations and served on ice in a salt-rimmed glass. My favorite has long been the one served at the incomparable Chevela’s in Prospect Heights.  Their tomato mixture is some kind of spicy bloody mary mix and the salt on the rim is mixed with something tangy.  Shannon speculates dried tamarind.  (Shannon, who loathes tomato juice, loves micheladas; so what does that tell you?) Last night, though, we ate at El Centro in Hell’s Kitchen after watching Alvin Ailey’s dancers kill it, and the micheladas there are simply Modelo Especial mixed with fresh lime and mottled costeño chile, a moderately hot chili used in sauces.  They were fresh and refreshing.  Presented with straws, we sucked them down in minutes.

They got me wondering, though, about the origins of the michelada.  And the wondrous internet provides a handful of different possibilities. Continue reading

Don’t Be a Bunghole: Know Your Beercabulary!

The Vocabuwheel of Beer Tasting

Allow me to apologize before we begin: as much as I like a properly aged beer, I myself am not particularly mature.That said, beer brewing is an activity rife with words and phrases easily manipulated into dirty puns. That then, is why when brewing, I am subject to fits of snorts and snickers that make even my husband roll his eyes. Below is a list of beer vocab words that make me titter (ha, ha!). See if you can correctly match them to their decidedly pedestrian definitions.

  1. Balling Degrees
  2. Bung hole
  3. Endosperm
  4. Head Retention
  5. Mouthfeel
  6. Sparge
  7. Turbidity
  8. Wet Hopping
  9. Wort

a)  The addition of the freshly harvested cones that have not yet been dried to different stages of the brewing process.
b)  The scale indicating density of sugars in wort.
c)  The starch-containing sac of the barley grain.
d)  Having sediment in the suspension; hazy, murky.
e)  The opening in the side of a cask or older-style keg through which the vessel is filled with beer and then sealed.
f)  The sensation derived from the consistency or viscosity of a beer.
g)  To spray ground grains with hot water in order to remove soluble sugars.
h)  The bittersweet sugar solution obtained by mashing the malt and boiling in the hops, which becomes beer through fermentation.
i)  The foam stability of a beer as measured, in seconds, by time required for a one-inch foam collar to collapse.

Continue on to see the answers!  Continue reading

Pardon Moi? Beer Lingo Defined, Part Un

Ha, ha -- See, magic!

Whenever I go to a French restaurant (which, let’s be honest, is not all that often) I feel immediately intimidated by the real cloth napkins and, more importantly, the menu. I always end up ordering something with mushrooms in it, because champignons is my favorite French word. And parapluie, but they rarely offer umbrellas at those places.

I know for some a beer menu can seem to be in a foreign language, too, so I thought I’d start a series in which I translate a few of the trickier bits of beer lingo.

Let’s start with the ABV, which stands for Alcohol by Volume. This is often found as a percentage on the menu listing and describes how alcoholic or strong the drink is. This number means very little to me in a science-y sort of way, but I know what the percentages mean in a how-fast-you’ll-feel-drunk sort of way. Boring old Buds and Millers, etc are generally in the 3.5% to 4.5% range. They are not very alcoholic. I can only imagine this is why people buy it by the truckload. Five to six percent is fairly average with anything above seven being ones to be careful with, that is to drink slowly or forever hold your tongue. Continue reading

Beer for the Big Screen

Can someone get this man a towel?

When I was 25 my roommate and I concocted an elaborate drinking game to play while watching John Cusack’s High Fidelity. Every time a top five list was created: drink; every time Rob got rained on: drink; and most importantly, every time Rob unearthed some greater life truth: drink.

By the end of the movie we both had empty wine bottles in our hands and felt wise in a way you only can when you’re drunk, 25, and just watched a John Cusack movie with your best friend. Turns out we may have been a little over-ambitious in our rules, like, maybe Rob’s line about the sad cottony reality behind women’s choice of day-to-day undergarments shouldn’t have counted as a greater life truth. If I were to do this all over again, I’d definitely do things differently. First, I would have beer, instead.

Llalan’s top five movie/beer combinations:

And don't try to tell me this isn't horror: it's effing scary!

1. Horror (The Shining)
My gut reaction with this is stout, and everyone knows you must go with your gut reactions in horror movies; if you over think it or are black, you’re dead. Drinking a stout gives you something to hold on to, something heavy, solid, both a companion and something that could be easily used as a weapon. For The Shining, I’d go with a Russian Imperial like North Coast Brewing’s Old Rasputin, which’ll have you spinning spells by scene in the hedgerow maze. Continue reading

When Two Hop-Heads Fall in Love…

Last year's ripening hops

Four days from our wedding and I find myself sitting in the dirt of a mostly unplanted garden, wishing I could turn the hose on myself. Ben and I have just finished uprooting an entire row of hops plants from his parents’ old home and replanting them at my family’s place out in the countryside of central Ohio. Bill, my parents’ orange cat, is rolling around in the dust next to me, but knew enough to not get too close. It is so hot and sticky and dirty and we haven’t even set up the trellis yet. But if we want to make beer right ourselves, we have to do it right. Ourselves.

Hops on a trellis

Hops are a climbing perennial plant, much like grapes, only taller. They grow in rows on trellises about 12 feet high. They are said to have originated in China, but apparently no one there thought, “Hm, I wonder what would happen if I threw this in water and drank it after several weeks!” There are records of the Dutch processing hops as early as the 1400s, which is how it got some fun-to-say phrases attached to it like “oast house” (drying barn) and “scuppet” (flat spade for turning drying hops).

We knew the plants were pretty tenacious and spread easily, but we did not fully grasp how hard they’d be to move. First, I have to admit here that I’m not exactly the most experienced of gardeners. So when I was handed a shovel I eyed it warily before pushing at it ineffectively with one tennis shoe. Fortunately Ben’s father saw I was struggling (as much as you can call not trying “struggling”) and took the tool from me — clearly this was not a two-person job for these particular two people. Continue reading

Great GoogaMooga: Kelly Taylor from KelSo Beer Co.

nut brown lager

Kelly's personal fave (photo courtesy of KelSo)

From vegan cupcakes we leap to beer, which, if you ask me, is not a bad leap to make, particularly if it’s the delicious Brooklyn-made brews from KelSo Beer. In fact, I think that a fairly good test of a local bar is whether or not it has KelSo IPA on tap; it’s a magical substance that tastes like someone waved a wand and turned a juicy grapefruit into a beer.

So there’s good news for beer lovers attending GoogaMooga, as KelSo will be serving up refreshing craft beverages all weekend long. Here’s more from KelSo brewer and co-owner Kelly Taylor on how he and his wife and business partner Sonya Giacobbe keep Brooklyners happy:

What is KelSo’s specialty and why is Brooklyn a good place for it?
Fresh, classic, and satisfying beers. The people of Brooklyn appreciate quality and freshness, and demand a lot in their local foods. In our beer, it doesn’t have to be a “blow to the head” to be appreciated.

What is your favorite beer of the moment?
Our nut brown lager. Great with food or alone. Malty/toasty/clean. Good to cook with as well. If not ours, I love the Captain Lawrence Freshchester pale ale. Very fruity and smooth.

What’s your favorite Brooklyn restaurant that’s still off most people’s radar?
I love love love al di la in Park slope. Always excellent food. Down the street and known for great beer but lesser known for great sandwiches is Bierkraft. Truly amazing. Continue reading

Issues of Connotation in the Phrase, “Beer-Themed”

Beer-themed subtlety is not our forte

When I saw the phrase “beer-themed” noted on the wedding photographer’s invoice, I felt surprisingly embarrassed. My stomach fell in a way it hasn’t since the Fritos incident of 1988. Yes, the wedding is beer-themed, though we had never used those words to describe this momentous occasion. I felt “beer-themed” better described certain dude movies like Beer Fest or, you know, real beer festivals (which, coincidentally, are actually dude-themed).

As a beverage, beer has earned a certain reputation — that being that it is not wine. Or champagne. I believe I’ve soap boxed before about beer being my drink of choice to cheers with for celebrations large and small. But how do we differentiate between a “beer-themed” celebration of a union of two people in love and a thinly veiled (sorry) excuse get blotto. …Perhaps the larger question here is: does it really matter?  Continue reading

Brewing for the Masses: Always Be Prepared

Wedding beer label prototype

Ben and I are attempting to make our homebrew as non-beer-drinker-friendly as possible. We are getting married in a month (…a month from tomorrow, exactly. Holy shit.) Anyway, the plan is to craft our Matrimoni-Ale with home-grown hops and lots of love and to have enough to send everyone home with a bottle. It seems strange that we would be friends with many non-beer drinkers, but family had to be invited too, or so I was told.

There are a number of differences between homebrewed and store-bought beer, some which may frighten off the uninitiated. Par example, sometimes there is a weensy bit of bonus beer sludge at the bottom of a bottle. In my opinion, not nearly as gross as a worm in bottom of my tequila, but what do I know, I won’t eat any dead animals, in bacon form or no.

Scientifically known as "beer sludge"

When you let your homebrew sit and stew for a minute, a sizable amount of sediment settles out of it into a righteously gross sludge on the bottom. It’s composed of yeast, hop detritus and other nontoxic beer-making byproducts, but discovering a bit of this roughage in the bottom of the bottle really freaks some people out, especially if they’re used to crystal clear, ice cold, virtually tasteless, but very well-marketed American lagers. We are siphoning our beer off the yeast bed from one fermenter into another carboy a few times to have as little of this harmless but unappealing phenomenon as possible. Continue reading

Beer-Making Take II, Featuring Brita and The Bavarians

My baby is already two weeks old!

I was told beer-making was easy, and based on the Spaghetti-Os-heavy diet of the dudes who told me this, I believed it. After all, your basic beer has (or should have) only four ingredients: water, grain, hops, and yeast. This has been the basic recipe for hundreds of years. Despite our mutual distaste for following the rules, Ben and I embarked on another brewing adventure with this in mind, even as our first attempt still sat in the basement, sulkily maturing into an adolescent IPA. (They grow up so fast!)

First, of course: water. After having soundly lost the Brita vs. Tap Water battle last time, I fished the pitcher from the fridge and began the grueling process of filtering water and pouring it into the kettle. Now, I am not known for my patience…but this takes FOREVER. I’ve got to say, there really is something to be said for boiling water, like, that it sterilizes things. I’ve heard that way back in the day, before germs and public sanitation were discovered, everyone drank beer because it was safer than the water. Everyone! Or so I’ve heard — this would take far too long to actually research.

Barley: not just for horses

Next comes the grain, in our case barley. Barley is the grain of choice for most beers, rye and wheat beer being obvious exceptions. This wasn’t always the case. Before the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, or the Reinheitsgebot (geshundheit!), laid down the literal law about what could go in beer, it was anything goes. Afterwards, only water, barley, and hops were allowed in beer. (Wild yeast fermented the concoctions, but those little guys weren’t given any credit till discovered in the 1850s.) It was less purity of the drink they were actually concerned about and more the price of bread; that is, ensuring a sizable-enough quantity of wheat and rye that they could be bought cheaply and made into affordable bread …that is, for relatively little dough (eesh, sorry). Continue reading

Making Your Own Beer, Step 1: Have a Beer

The gloves are on: no more messin' around

By far the most time consuming step of last Tuesday’s brewing process was the argument that took place before even pouring water into the pot. Nothing serious. Just a tap water vs. Brita-filtered water disagreement; a this-is-going-to-take-forever vs. it-will-taste-like-ass-otherwise spat; a so-you’re-too-good-for-city-water-now? vs. and-here-I-thought-you-were-a-real-brewer quarrel. Turns out it takes just as long for Ben and I to reach a draw as it does to pull five gallons of water through a filtered pitcher made for drinking water. Whatever.

Ben -- I call him The Sanitizer

The first, most important ingredients for any decent batch of home brew are the beer you will be drinking and the music you will be playing while cooking it up. We chose a classic craft beer: Dogfish Head 60 Minutes, and one of my favorite snowy-afternoon albums: Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica. During the approximately seven hours it took to watch five gallons fall drip by drip into the pitcher, we used a one-step sanitizer to clean everything that would come in contact with our future brew, including both of us up to the elbows and a good deal of my sweatshirt. By then it was time for another beer and The Kills’ Blood Pressures.

Stew of dirty socks and thermometer

The first step in which something actually happens is when you heat the water to between 150 and 160 degrees and steep the grains. The difficult part of this is, of course, taking the temperature of the water. In our case, brewing is less of a science and more an engineering project. To save us from burning our hands, Ben rigged our thermometer on wire that he wound around both pot handles so it dangled in the middle of the hot water. Clever boy, this one. The barley grains are knotted into a bag made of cheese cloth-like material that is, when floating in an increasingly dark kettle of liquid, reminiscent of a soaking pair of dirty, balled-up socks.  Continue reading