Friday, February 4, 2011

Beer for All

As part of our plan to add more bloggers to the LTIR mix, we're happy to introduce Mike, the Gay Beer Guy, as a regular columnist. He first posted a fabulous beer/food pairing post in December and we got a good response from folks, so we asked Mike, who we've known for years, if he'd be game to become a regular. Happily he was.

If you've ever thought about brewing beer but weren't sure how to go about it, or maybe you just like to think about beer and drink it, this column is for you. Mike will be posting the first Friday of the month, offering ideas on how to brew different beers and letting us know how he's doing in his beer experiments. Let him do the failing for you! You can just pick up on the successes. (Oh by the way, Mike is a mighty fine homebrewer. He just entered 3 beers in the Upper Mississippi Mashout, a beer competition out of Minneapolis that is the 2nd largest in the USA, and his Barleywine won a silver medal, and his Light Belgian Ale (which we've had the pleasure of tasting) won a gold.) He'll also periodically add some food ideas to go with his beers. So, without further ado, heeerrre's Mike!

Thank you both SOOO much for including me in Life Told in Recipes; I’m so excited that I’m not quite sure where to begin ... maybe describing how I got started brewing, especially since I’m not the stereotypical person to do something like this. First a bit about my formal background: I have a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in violin performance (technically, I also have a performance certificate) and have studied with some of the greatest musicians and teachers in the world. In addition, to being a professional musician (I have a very nice freelance and teaching career so far), I also have interests in food (that’s why I get along so well with LTIR) and in long distance running. I have completed a few half-marathons and one full marathon. Oh, and by the way, I’m gay (not that it’s anyone’s business, but don’t you think it’s odd to have a gay long-distance running violinist who also brews beer?!?!?!?!).

So what does this have to do with beer? Well, absolutely nothing. But after grad school, I found myself working with a few beer guys. We were working as stage managers for a music school (as a musician, this was great!! I heard every major artist to come through Boston — Gil Shaham, the Emerson Quartet, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players — just to name a few), and often we would find ourselves at a pub after closing the concert hall for the evening. These guys who I worked with (no no, they weren’t gay, too) had brewed together before; I tried to get them to brew with me, but they kept putting me off. So I took it upon myself to research (like the good Virgo I am) the craft, order equipment and ingredient kits, and away I went!

At the time, my roommate and I were renting the basement apartment out of a house in Brookline. We had a microwave, convection oven and electric hot plate nicely furnished by our landlords who lived upstairs, but that wasn’t going to cut it for boiling 3-4 gallons of wort (aka unfermented beer). I approached my landlords with the idea of using their kitchen and gas range for my new interest, and they welcomed me with open arms. Ah, my first batch...I vividly remember the smells, nervously transferring the liquid from kettle to fermenter, and anxiously checking to see if fermentation had started, finished, and of course if I had ruined anything!

I maintained somewhat of a musical life, even though I was working full time. Although I was out of school, I sometimes took lessons with my former teacher, and religiously attended his summer festival in Maine during the month of July. At this festival, I met my good friend Tim, professor of viola at Penn State (ironically, in the last few weeks, he and I have been having many a conversations about brewing. His wife bought him a startup kit for the holidays, and I’ve been coaching him through his first batch). In addition to being a fantastic musician and violist, he is an expert on beer, has a palate like none other, and I trust his opinions exclusively. If my beer could pass his tastes, I knew I had something going for me! He took one sip, and ever since has looked forward to my latest concoctions every summer (and tried to convince me to open a pub!). He has even encouraged me to enter some competitions, make styles I had never thought about, and even asks my violin playing every now and then.

Eventually I moved to Kansas City, and here I am. My violin playing has GREATLY improved and my beer making has evolved not only into personal enjoyment but is a crowdpleaser for all my friends. I certainly don’t think of myself as an expert on beer or brewing (although I find I have no trouble talking to anyone about the subjects!), but I have, since starting out, won a few medals from competitions!

The artist in me LOVES spaces: With beer, much like a blank canvas or a quite concert hall, I can work in a flavor space. What experience do I want the drinker to have? What food might it go with? Even technical aspects: what yeast, what hops, what color? There are so many things to think about. Only once did I have a recipe I loved after the first batch. For most it’s like sanding down the chiseled marble sculpture; I always return to it, working out the rough edges until it’s smooth. For a violinist, always striving to produce the ultimate for the craft, much translates to the beer world (ok ok, I admit it’s not EXACTLY the same worldliness as playing Brahms or Beethoven). But I DO think that being a successful brewer, like being a successful chef or painter or whatever, requires 80% artistry. The other 20% is a balance of technical skill, chemist, mad scientist, and of course someone who likes to drink!

Hope you enjoy this month’s recipe!

-Mike TGBG (The Gay Beer Guy)

Recipe of the Month
Dry Stout
Brew sometime in February so it’s ready to serve by St. Patrick’s Day.

In the United States, the two most popular styles to brew, whether at home or in the professional brew pub, are pale ales (or a stronger version being an IPA) and stouts; both can be made with their traditional European roots, or Americanized as we’re finding more and more. To be honest, I usually have very little interest in stouts. If I want something easy to drink but still with a lot of flavor, I usually turn to the Scottish ales or British pub ales. But I’ve always brewed this recipe around St Patrick’s Day (always meaning in the last 3 years I’ve been brewing, of course!). It’s an instant crowd pleaser (come on... who DOESN’T like a Guiness). It’s also very smooth, so you can drink a few pints and not fall over! But best of all, with dry stouts you can throw out the stereotype that all dark beers are thick, syrupy and full of alcohol. Of course there are other styles of stouts, and other dark beers, that do fall into this category, but not this one! Because I brew this beer in the cold winter months, I don’t think I’ve ever done an all-grain batch (there’s nothing quite like standing outside over my propane burning in sub-freezing temperatures!).

Looking back at my notes, I did 2 extract batches which produced an “OK” result, and 1 partial-mash batch with some extra ingredients that produced an AWESOME beer! My recipe is based on Jamil Zainasheff’s recipe from Brewing Classic Styles, but I’ve changed it slightly over the last few years to suit my tastes. I make it a little more bitter/hoppy and then use my house yeast, which rounds out the malt characteristics and accentuates the hoppy and minerally flavors (I feel this blends very well with the roastiness of the dark grains). When I brew this in the next week, I’m going to split my batch (or maybe even brew a double batch) so I can try WY1945, which is Northern Brewer’s proprietary NeoBritannia strain (re-pitch from a few other batches I’ve done). Based on what I’ve tasted so far, I think it has potential to be good! Cheers!

Dry Stout - Partial-Mash
OG 1.041, FG 1.009, IBU 34, ABV about 4%

2 lbs Base Malt. Although I use American 2-Row for just about everything, this beer needs a little TLC. Use something British!
2 pounds flaked barley
1 pound roasted barley
2 ½ pounds Light DME
2 ounces 5.4% AA East Kent Golding hops - 60 minutes
Pacman Yeast. Use WY1056, WLP001, or US-05 as a sub. You could also try an English or Irish Ale yeast (Jamil recommends an Irish Ale yeast), but it probably won’t attenuate as much, resulting in a possibly sweeter and more estery beer. Again, this time around I’m going to use a pitch of WT1945

Mash grains low around 147-149* F. I’ve fermented Pacman as low as 60* without any attenuation problems, resulting in a very clean profile that works well for this style. I would ferment any of the other American yeasts around 65*. When I try the WY1945, I’ll ferment it in my basement, where the ambient temperature is around 65* as well. Carb it low and serve on Nitrogen if possible!

Here’s what I’m working on now. I’ll let you know how they do next month.

On Tap
Keg 1 - Nut Brown Ale kit from Northern Brewer
Keg 2 - Scottish 60/-
Keg 3 - Dark Saison Ale with Brettanomyces (aging)
Keg 4 - Light Belgian Ale with Brettanomyces (aging)

Brown Porter

On Deck
Dry Stout with WY1945. I’ll brew it this week so it’s ready for St. Patrick’s Day and my next post
Maybe a Belgian Dubbel
Maybe a Belgian Tripel. I’ve never brewed one of these before

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