Our sixth original recipe: the Wit Rabbit!

June 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

Brew day, once more! We recently made a batch of Blackjack (our third batch) which included a British ale yeast and a modified grain bill, but the weather has been a persistent foil to our efforts: a cold snap after a few nights cut the fermentation short! Furthermore, the 5 gallon batch was bursting at the seams of the 5 gallon carboy; much of the yeast was likely lost in the initial robust phases of fermentation. Learning from that experience, I decided to invest in a few choice pieces of equipment: a second 3 gallon glass carboy for splitting 5 gallon batches into 2.5 gallon portions, a temperature controller, and a fermentation heater (a thin sheet with a metal grid attached).

With this equipment unwrapped and the weather warming, we embark on our next journey: our first original wheat beer! The “Wit Rabbit” is a wheat ale infused with a touch of lavender and a healthy dose of honey. It remains to see if the ale will have any true witbier or Belgian character; I am trying a dry wheat yeast for this maiden voyage, so we will see what happens.

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Splitting the batch into 2.5 gallon portions also means splitting the ingredients, including the yeast! Have to keep things even.

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An important part of any brew day is the drinking of homebrew. Here’s a glass of Big Chief Hazel about to happen! Yes, that is a fork AND a bottle opener. I never set sail without it.

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We’re trying to be better about conserving and using the water that otherwise might be wasted in the brewing process. The cooling water is going into our 5 gallon carboy to be used for watering the garden.

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Look honey, we have twins!

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Time for the fermentation dance to get things started! A little yeast nutrient doesn’t hurt too!

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The bunnies were very busy during this brew day.

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Overall, a successful brew day: 5 gallons of lavender-honey wheat ale, tucked in  and fermenting!

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Your Brew Captain,

Blackjack

“Union Jack”

May 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

It has been a cold spring: winter keeps coming, again, and again, and again. The temperature has been unstable, making for unhappy yeast. The mood swings remind me of many a night on the Northern seas, that cold and harsh mistress. The solution to this problem: more Blackjack, our ginger and blackstrap molasses ale!

We started off the brew day with spent grain crepes. Very tasty, great texture. The First Brew Matey knows what she is doing.

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This time, I used a British ale yeast, for better or worse (it had a higher low threshold for fermentation of 64 degrees). I also used a plain liquid “Gold” malt from Northern Brewer with steeped grains of Caramel and Biscuit to make it more hearty.

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The use of nylon bags for steeping grains and hop pellets has been a lovely modification to our brewing strategy: it keeps the wort nice and uncluttered.

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The brew day went pretty smoothly, but I was surprised by how avid the S-04 yeast was: it burned through the yeast over 36 hours and kept overflowing. I think a lot of the yeast might have exploded out of the carboy, which was further complicated by another cold snap that we had a couple of nights after the brew day. The final gravity was not as low as I would like it to be, but it will still have a decent ABV.

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Today, I bottled the beer: it’s a little bit sweeter than I would like, but hopefully it will mellow out in the conditioning chamber below decks.

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This experience did give me the resolve to make a further investment: a digital temperature controller, an electric fermentation heater, and another 3 gallon glass carboy. In the future, I plan to do more 5 gallon batches (compared to my prior 2.5 gallon experimental batches), and I will plan to split them between two 3 gallon glass carboys to prevent overflow. I hope I can use the electric fermentation heater as a flat heating element providing some warmth to both carboys.

Until next time,

Blackjack

Spent Grain Banana Bread

April 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

Anyone else out there have a freezer full of blackened bananas that you threw in when they got a little too ripe on the counter, and now they are just waiting for their chance to be banana bread? Oh yeah, and a bunch of spent grains in need of a home? Well, this might be my favorite spent grain recipe yet. The nuttiness of spent grains subs well in the classic banana-nut combo (but without the nut allergies, if you or your homebrewing buddies have issues with that), and the texture of whole spent grains plus spent grain flour is a great counterpart to this moist bread.

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Spent Grain Banana Bread
Adapted from Joy of Cooking

for three loaves (just divide by three for one loaf… I had a lot of frozen bananas… but the bread freezes well, so why not make a big batch!):

  • 2.5 cups (10 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (6 oz) spent-grain flour
  • 4.5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2.25 sticks butter (18 tablespoons) at room temperature
  • 6 eggs at room temperature, beaten
  • 3 cups mashed banana (from about six-eight bananas) at room temperature
  • 1.5 cups (about 7 oz) loosely packed spent grains (not flour)

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Grease and flour three loaf pans.
  3. Cream butter and sugar until creamy on medium speed with a hand or stand mixer or a rubber spatula.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt.
  5. Beat the eggs and the banana in to your butter/sugar mixture.
  6. Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients in three additions, beating each time until thoroughly mixed.
  7. Gently fold in the whole spent grains.
  8. Bake at 350 until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes.
  9. Try not to eat the entire loaf as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Or try spent grain banana muffins! (Just reduce the baking time.)

Grape Leaf Soup

April 6, 2013 § Leave a comment

We are lucky to have a Concord grapevine out in our garden that our landlords planted years and years ago. It didn’t have such a great year for grapes last year because of an infection, but a grapevine sure does produce a lot of leaves. And apparently it is good for grape vines to cut them back… way back… multiple times. I kept pretty much anything that didn’t seem gigantic and tough. So, we wound up with lots and lots of grape leaves. (P.S. the infection only affects the fruit, not the leaves, but thank you for your concern) We made stuffed grape leaves (dolmades) which were frankly amazing – I had never much liked most store bought ones, but fresh homemade ones completely changed my mind.

All that blanching and shocking and stuffing and rolling took care of maybe a fifth of our grape leaves. So I made my own water bath canned preserved grape leaves. But there were still more leaves. So I preserved them but skipped the canning and just kept them in the fridge. But there were more leaves. So I rolled them up in neat bundles and carefully placed them in the freezer. Still more leaves. So I wadded them up in a ziploc bag and shoved them in the back of the freezer until now. Heh.

Now, I’m just mad at myself for not trying this sooner. Ten times easier than making dolmades and with a delicious flavor that is a cross between dolmades and avgolemono soup:

Grape Leaf Soup

  • olive oil
  • one onion, coarsely chopped
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 3T preserved lemon – peel only, sliced or coarsely chopped – I did not rinse mine off
  • two bay leaves, in a muslin spice bag if you have one
  • one pound grape leaves, fresh or frozen or canned, blanched and shocked at some point in their lives
  • 10 cups of broth – I used somewhat dilute chicken broth
  • optional additions: browned ground meat, cooked rice, lightly poached egg

Spoiler alert: you will need a blender, preferably an immersion blender.

  1. Lightly brown the onion in the olive oil over medium heat. When the onions become translucent, add the garlic and preserved lemon. Make sure to smell at this point.
  2. When the garlic is lightly browned, add the bay leaves, grape leaves, and broth.
  3. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat then reduce to a simmer. Allow to simmer until the leaves are tender, which will depend on how young they were. I just let mine simmer for about an hour because that is what I always do with soup but I bet you could get away with much less.
  4. Fish out the bay leaves if you can find them – the spice bag makes this easier.
  5. Puree with your immersion blender, or transfer carefully to a regular blender, until the soup is uniform. Adjust the amount of water to get the texture you like. After you adjust the water, adjust the salt as needed (remember, your preserved lemons will add salt, so you may not need any more).
  6. At this point, you have a nice light springy/summery veggie soup. To make it a meal, add some browned ground beef or lamb, some cooked rice, and/or a poached egg (highly recommended!) You could always cook the meat or rice in the same pot with the soup but then they would get blended along with the rest of the soup so it would wind up as a thicker puree rather than a broth with discrete pieces of other things, it just depends on which texture you prefer.

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Beverage recommendation: the Grecian Spring (yes, I’m making this up)

  • 1.5 oz date-infused vodka
  • 0.5 oz dry vermouth
  • 1-2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

Shake with ice and strain into chilled glass.

This is a simple martini variation with the date and anise flavors I associate with Greece, made from what I happened to have in my bar. I’m sure you could use ouzo or another anise-flavored liqueur instead of or in addition to the Peychaud’s. Let me know what you come up with.

For date-infused vodka: Slice or coarsely chop some dates, a few ounces left over from making Christmas cookies for instance. In a resealable glass container, add vodka to cover the dates. Allow to infuse in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Mine sat for about five days, but taste yours periodically. When it’s done to your liking, strain through a coffee filter (I used a gold filter) lined with a paper towel and store in a clean sealable container. That’s it!

Smoky Hazelnut Spent Grain (Flour) No-Knead Bread

April 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

The next step in the Spent Grain Utilization Project was spent grain bread. You can just throw some of your spent grains into your favorite bread recipe for some extra grainy goodness, but I also wanted to beer-ify the backbone of my bread so it wouldn’t be just white bread with a sprinkle of whole spent grains. So I tried my hand at making spent grain bread with spent grain flour. This isn’t interchangeable with regular flour because the gluten/protein content is so low in pre-brewed malted grains, but it can be mixed with regular flour in your favorite bread recipe, or as below I tried it with bread flour to replace some of that lost protein. I’m lazy and forgetful, so Mark Bittman and Jim Lahey’s famous No-Knead Bread is right up my alley. A few minutes of work, then go poke around in the garden (or, you know, go to work) for 18 hours.

There are tons of instructions for spent grain flour around the internet, but I based mine on the instructions in Brooklyn Brewer’s Spent Grain Chef series. Because it is so cold in our house at this time of year, drying the grains in the oven was definitely key. There isn’t really a time I can be in the house near the oven and awake for eight hours or so, but it worked fine if I just turned the oven on low (“keep warm”) whenever I was around, turned it off when I was asleep or out, and repeated over the course of a day or so.

To grind the grains into flour, I can report the following experimental outcomes:

  1. The blender: lots of whirling, not a lot of actual size reduction. Fail.
  2. Old burr coffee grinder that has been used for spices now that we have a fancy coffee grinder: some grinding followed by a pathetic screeching noise and then a puff of fire and smoke out the back, prompting me to throw it into a handy nearby snowdrift. Epic fail, but points for special effects.
  3. Cheap blade grinder specially bought for this purpose in case it also dies screaming: success!

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A few 5-10 second pulses in the blade grinder made my spent grains more flour-sized. If you want you can also try and filter out the remaining husk bits, but I have not noticed them much even when using the grains whole. In this bread, you are throwing in whole spent grains anyway so it doesn’t matter. If you want to make something more refined, shake the flour through a wire mesh strainer. If you brew beer, perhaps you already own one… the mesh does have to be pretty open for any of the flour to get through, though.

I used the spent grains from Big Chief Hazel. Yummy smoky nuttiness.

Spent Grain / Spent Grain Flour No-Knead Bread

  • 1 cup spent grain flour
  • 3 cup bread flour
  • 1/2 cup spent grains (not flour)
  • 2 T salt
  • 1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 cups water

The instructions are unchanged from Mark Bittman’s version (my version is based off the ingredient list in the version of this recipefrom How to Cook Everything but the technique is the same). The spent grains can be added at the same time as everything else is mixed together in the beginning.

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Tada! I sprinkled the top with more spent grains but they got a little too toasty so I would skip that next time. And I’m new to bread-blogging so I forgot the obligatory photo of the interior with the crumb. But I promise it was good! If only I had something to drink with it…

Spent Grain Scones

April 4, 2013 § Leave a comment

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While the Brew Captain brews, I wander around and try to be helpful. But if left unsupervised I tend to start baking. So thanks to Brooklyn Brewer, this happened while we brewed Bonne Idee. Check out their website for a whole bunch of spent grain ideas, and stay tuned for some more experimentation…

Belgian Special B Spent Grain Scones

  • 3/4 cup spent grain like Belgian Special B
  • 1.5 cup all purpose flour
  • 6 oz shredded low-fat cheese (we had a Trader Joe’s blend on hand)
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter – 2 melted with the milk, 4 cold
  • 1/2 cup skim milk and 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar, mixed to curdle
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2.5 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg

The instructions are the same as the Brooklyn Brewer recipe, so wander on over there and check out their site because it is awesome.

Recipe Notes:

  1. I used the spent grain straight from the brew bag, but if you are making the recipe later you have to either dry them out really really well (in a dehydrator, or in a barely warm oven for 8-24 hours thinly spread on cookie sheets) or just freeze them.
  2. I didn’t have buttermilk so I subbed it with milk and vinegar as above, which is not the same but works in a pinch if you have a spontaneous scone-making session.
  3. Once you cut your scones and before you put them in the oven, space them out more than I did above because they will rise and spread a bit.

How did they turn out? Well, let’s just say I was too distracted by eating them to take a picture once they came out of the oven… Recycling is delicious!

Our fifth original recipe: The Making of “Big Chief Hazel”

February 19, 2013 § 1 Comment

I am a son of New Orleans. While I wasn’t born there, I have lived there since age seven and lived there since (except for the past few years in the frigid north). The city took me in, and it is the place I have called home despite my wandering. It is a unique city and world: a place with a deep, shared culture of music, food, interpersonal warmth, and, well, sharing. One of the liveliest and most classic demonstrations of this theme is Mardi Gras, the annual carnival. And part of that, each year, is the Mardi Gras Indians, close-knit bands of men (mostly African American) who celebrate their kinship by parading with intricate costumes of feathers and sequins that they hand-sew. To celebrate that culture, I am planning a “Crescent City” series of brews, the first being a celebration of the Mardi Gras Indians.

While some consider brown ales boring, I think there is a lot of room for creativity, warmth, and easy enjoyment. The laissez-faire attitude of New Orleans natives fits well with the easy drinkability of a good brown ale. To accompany this Southern pace of life, I figured that hazelnuts would be a good accompaniment. Especially toasted hazelnuts.

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I tried patting down the toasted hazelnuts with paper towels to absorb any oils, but nothing picked up. We might lose some of the head of the beer due to oils from the nuts, but ah well; such is life. It will still be a majestic brew. In the future, I may try smashing the nuts on something absorbent; these were pre-cut nuts.

So, I figured I might as well throw in some caramel malt as well. Oh, and how about a little smokiness, say with cherrywood smoked malt? Smoky, tasty, hazelnutty, caramel goodness. Steeped, boiled, and brewed on this flame of righteousness.

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This is one of the burners on our gas stove. It is… robust. It’s no banjo burner, but I wonder if it can give most propane burners a run for their money.

We have taken to steeping grains which adds a few more minutes to the brewing process. The steeping is mostly occurring during the heating of the cool water to the first boil, so that doesn’t really add any time. However, the grains do need to be measured out, placed in a nylon bag, and then held above the pot to drip once they are done. I have separated the grains into 4 oz, 8 oz, and 16 oz batches, so hopefully this will expedite further brewing with these various specialty malts.

One area that provides significant time savings is the use of a wort chiller. I use a typical standard wort chiller that I obtained from Northern Brewer. It didn’t come with the proper fitting for my sink, but that I could obtain for a few extra dollars. It takes perhaps 5-10 minutes to cool what initially took a minimum of 30 minutes of spinning a lidded enamel pot in cold running water lined with ice packs. Even if running water is still involved, this requires much less effort on my part and frees up my hands, which means more consumption of home brew.

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So, another successful brew day completed! However, I did break my first hydrometer: it slipped out of the plastic sleeve as I was brandishing the hydrometer like Thor’s hammer Mjolnir (actually, I was just moving it from the sanitation bucket to the countertop). Ah well, good thing I had the forethought to obtain a spare. Someday, if we open our own brewery-airship, I will break a hydrometer against the hull to christen it on its maiden voyage.

I admittedly was surprising by the original gravity that resulted from the steeping of the grains.

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Behold, this is the Big Chief Hazel!

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(For those of you who have not read the great rabbit classic Watership Down, this beer is also a tribute to Hazel, the protagonist of the adventure novel and the leader of a group of homeless rabbits on a journey to find a new home. At our future brewery, we plan to serve “Fivers” [5 oz tasters] and “Bigwigs” [22 oz bombers].)

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