Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Beer Brats, Craft Style

Back in Los Angeles.  It was a good month in the Far East, but I'm pretty happy to be back in SoCal for my favorite time of year: Summer.  2 fridges and a cellar full of delicious craft beers is quite a site to come home to, I wasn't even sure where to begin.  My first brew back was a Dry Hopped St. Rogue Red and I wish I could say I liked it better, but it was still a nice re-entry into a world of brewing where they use copious amounts of hops and grain, rather than corn extract, yeast and water.

This weekend we were throwing a barbeque, and keeping with the tradition of beer dishes, I wanted to find a way of using beer in whatever we made.  Since last December, I've had my eye on doing some beer brats, so it was a clear choice for the weekend.  However, after quite a bit of research online I found very few sources that used anything beyond the crappiest beer in the fridge.  On a side note, I did find a lot of recipes that instructed you to use one can of "ale or lager," as though those were specific styles you could find in the store.  I found it pretty hilarious.  These poor people are so uninformed about brew they don't even understand the basic types of beer.  It'd be the same as if I suggested they cook vegetables or meat... leave's a lot of questions  unanswered.

Anyway, after scouring the internet for the better part of a few hours, I found a handful (literally) of recipes that used something better than bud light.  However, what I didn't expect to find in my research, was some excellent advice about how to cook beer brats from Wisconsin natives.  Despite their lack of good beer knowledge, they had some excellent tips on the do's and don'ts of perfect beer brats.  So using pieces of advice I gleamed from the beer brat veterans and ingredients from some of these recipes, I set out to make the perfect Craft Beer Brat.

In my case, I was making around 12 brats, so this recipe is large, but you could easily cut down the proportions. Credit to Dethroner, for much of the ingredients of this recipe, although I made my own variations based on some reading.

12 brats uncooked.
- You can get the pre-cooked ones, but you're going to have a hard time imparting the beer flavor to them.  Get the raw ones.
1 - 2 Yellow Onions, cut into rings and halved.
2 Tbs Butter
1 Tbs Olive Oil
2 Tsp sugar
2-4 cups of beef broth or stock
12 thick cut buns (the hot dog buns are a little too flimsy for this, get the thick ones)
2 22 oz bottles of brown ale. (Brekle's Brown)
- The beer of course took a lot of thinking. I decided to go with a brown because of their sweetness and toasted malt flavors.  I've used a brown ale once before for cooking meat and had excellent results.  Since I didn't want to spend a fortune on beer that was going to be cooked, I found a reasonably priced $5 Brekle's Brown from Anchor brewing.
2 - 3 extra beers on hand, you could use almost anything, more browns, pale ales, even some pacificos. I chose Sierra Nevada's Kellerweis because it's also a little sweet.

Using a big pot, melt the butter and oil at medium-high heat, add the onions, and pinch or two of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are almost caramelized, about 15 - 20 minutes.  The way to tell is if they're soft and just starting to turn brown.  Towards the end of this cooking add your sugar.  I used regular granulated white sugar, but brown would be good too.

Add your brats, beer, and enough beef broth to cover the the brats and then cook for about 30 - 45 minutes on medium heat.  You don't want to boil the brats.  Boiling will cause the skin on the brats to split which lets out all the flavor you've been cooking in.  Instead keeping at a simmer, so you see little bubbles continually rise.  Meanwhile your house will smell amazing as these babies cook.

After cooking them, transfer the brats with tongs to a grill.  You should have the grill going at about medium to medium high heat.  You can tell the ideal temperature for the grill by putting your hand about 2 inches above it.  You should be able to hold your hand there for about 4 - 5 seconds.  Score both sides of the brats to your liking, but probably about 3 - 5 minutes per side.  Keep your beer and onions mixture on the stove and up the heat.  It should start to thicken and you'll get some great glaze and beer onions.

When the brats are done, transfer them directly into a beer bath with the remaining beer, in my case the Kellerweis.  This last second beer bath will add a little more beer flavor (so you may want to stick with your original beer choice), but also keeps them nice and moist, everyone hates those dried out disgusting hot dogs and sausages at bbqs.

Put the brats in buns and top with the beer glaze and onions and anything else you like.  We offered people a hot pepper relish, sauerkraut, mustard and banana peppers.

They turned out fucking amazing.  Try it out!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Beer in China, Part 3, Homebrew

I find myself in South China, about 10 to 12 hours from the Vietnam border. We're walking down a well lit and touristy street simply called Xie Lue, or West st, in Yangshuo in the Guanxi Province. The reason we're wandering the banks of the Li river is in pursuit of a French Restaurant called Le Votre that supposedly brews its own beer.  A French restaurant in China is definitely an odd concept, but I'm assuming that this close to Vietnam there was probably some overflow during the colonial era. However, that still doesn't explain why a French restaurant would be brewing it's own beer. The French have always been somewhat lukewarm to beer, never letting it surpass their infatuation with wine as the number one drink of choice.  All of these are questions that I would normally expect to find answers to, but the one thing traveling in China has taught me is that there are often no logical or satisfactory answers to the anomolies you encounter.
We find the restaurant located midway down the street, it's a big establishment by Chinese restaurant standards with a large courtyard and steps leading up to the kitchen and more seating.  There's a guy with a keyboard setting up at the top of the stairs and I can't decide if this is another one of young China's inane musical acts, or an homage to the synthesizer demo, which, after all, must be entering its 25th or 30th anniversary by now.
On the front of the menu it advertises two types of beers, available in two sizes. There's no descriptions of the beers, simply pictures, and I don't have the language skills to delve into the finer style details with a waiter in Chinese, and judging by the wait staff I'm not really expecting them to know anyway. But the pictures show light and dark and I'm quickly told that the light beer is not available tonight, making my choice relatively simple.
I suppose to an outsider this type of menu looks pretty cheesy, not the product of an expensive French restaurant. While I can't argue with the menu's resemblance to camembert or brie, such is the common design of menus in China. Menus are more akin to short novellas, complete with pictures and strange Freudian mispellings. One of the first restaurants we stopped at in Beijing had a menu that was 76 pages long!
So left with only one choice, I ordered the "dark" beer. It is, much as I expected, some basic variant on an export version of the Munich Dunkel.  What I don't expect is the fact that it actually tastes homebrewed, true to the name!  There's just enough roast and residual sweetness in the grain to give it some uniqueness before the flood of lagery water takes over. Still it's a nice change from the malt liquor and mass produced lagers that have been otherwise dominating my palate on this trip.
The lighter beer, while I'm unable to try it or get any description of it, I'm guessing is a blonde ale or more than likely since they have lagering capabilities, a Czech style pilsner. Questions such as their production process, ingredients, capacity, all had to be left in the giant chasm of misunderstanding that is the language barrier.
However, still an interesting discovery in the south of China. The journey continues...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Beer in China part 2, Tibetan Barleywine

As our travel in China continues, we find ourselves much farther West than Beijing, in the fiery province of Sichuan. Megan and I came here largely for the famous spicy cuisine, but also because it sits at the base of the Himalayas and offers some amazing hikes and even more spectacular views.
Last week while pursuing some of those views, we found ourselves in Northern Sichuan, an area called Juizhaigou. The pronounciation on this name varies depending on who you ask, but "joe's-hi-go," seemed to be more or less correct. Its a stunning national park on par with our Yellowstone and Yosemite. The park consists of 9 lakes, all with crystal clear blue fresh water, making them completely transparent and breathtaking. Unfortunately, like many tourist attractions in China, the park is strictly controlled with paths and expensive one day passes and ridiculously overcrowded with Chinese tourists. However, the scenery is so stunning that it's still worth making the arduous trip up there.
Rather than staying at one of Juizhaigou's many overpriced hotels, we decided to stay with a small family that lived near the park.  The villages in that area are all composed of native Tibetans and many of the women still wear a traditional dress. While staying with this Tibetan family, the grandmother showed me an area of the yard where she kept around 20 or so beehives. We had already tasted some of the honey with homeade bread and I was aware of how delicious fresh honey is, but this seemed like a tremendous amount of beehives for just a little honey and bread. It was then that the Grandmother showed me that she used it to make Barleywine. Amazing. It's unbelievable that I can travel halfway around the world, and bus out to the most remote Tibetan village in the mountains, and yet I still come across a new beer.
The Tibetan Barleywine, or Chiang in Tibetan, is a barleywine in name alone, and due to all the honey, is really much more like an Ethiopian T'ej.  Due to the language barrier it was difficult to get all the information a hungry beer deprived mind like mine was looking for, but I was able to gleen a few things about the process. Barleywine is the most popular Tibetan alcoholic drink and is considered to have healing qualities.  Before drinking, the Tibetans often dip the fourth finger of their right hand and flick three times to show respect for heaven, the earth, and ancestors.
Chiang is made from a barley base, which is washed, roasted, and then fermented along with the honey for anywhere from 3 to 12 months. It was difficult to find out what they used for yeast, but I read that it's usually yeast that's derived naturally from Tibetan wildflowers and medicinal plants. They said it's around 3% alcohol content, but it tasted closer to 5% when I tasted it. The flavor, as you might have guessed, was overwhelming sweet. Like T'ej, it had that sort of syrupy body bordering on boozy; it actually tasted a lot like an apple vodka.  But all that being said, it was still fun to drink and was a nice alternative to the watered down mass produced lagers and malt liquors that were otherwise available.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Beer in China, Tsingtao

For those that don't know, I'm currently traveling through China. In an effort to keep the unquenchable appetites of my readers fulfilled, I thought I'd try some mobile blogging.
So far while wandering around Beijing I've seen a few different mass industrial produced lagers.  Most of them resemble the malt liquor I drank out of 40s in college, and a few seem to match that unmistakable essence of Milwaukee Best.  However, when in China there is one name that dominates almost all beer, Tsintao, pronounced "chin-dao."
This staple of Chinese beer, widely available in the states, is something of a Budweiser of China, and in taste its not too far off the mark from that: watery malts, with no apparent hops presence, and massive carbonation.  In pairing with all the rich and often spicy foods we've been eating, the beer is often too thin to stand up to such bold flavors.  But even with all its faults, when served cold it does a remarkable job of cutting through the humidity and smog of the city.
Tsingtao comes from an area just Southeast of Beijing and nestled on the coast of the Yellow Sea called, Qingdao.  The area was claimed by Germany in 1898, which helped to begin its beer production in 1903, and thus Tsingtao was born, making it one of the few active breweries in the world over 100 years old. After a brief ownership under the Japanese occupation, as Dai Nippon Brewery starting in 1914, they returned to their namesake under communist China in 1949.  After that the beer flourished and is now owned by the giant InBev, I guess that explains the flavor similarities to Budweiser. 

While they started out with two styles: a light pilsner and dark munich, it's the pilsner that is found in most restaurants around the world.  The taste as I mentioned isnt really worth writing about, but under Anheiser-Busch leadership they do remain consistent.  Supposedly you can still get a version of their dark Munich if you go to the original brewery location in Qingdao, where the beers are served traditionally in bags rather than bottles.  As of yet I have no plans to make it out there, but things may change as the trip continues.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

BrewDog and Mikkeller, Devine Rebel

The collaboration is all the rage these days.  Hopefully, you've all at least had a chance to taste one of  Stone's many beers from their collaboration series, which includes breweries like Ballast Point, Nogne O, BrewDog, Dogfishead, Victory, Jolly Pumpkin, and many other notable brewers.  But it's not just brewers that collaborating these days.  Some of you were probably lucky enough to check out the ColLAboration event at Tony's this past weekend. ColLaboration is a series of pop-up mobile craft beer gardens where true beer enthusiasts can gather and enjoy the best in brews under the warm California sun.  It's led by some of the best beer bars in the city joining forces: Verdugo/Surly Goat, Blue Palms, 38 Degrees, and Tony's/Mohawk Bend.  You can check out their page here.  So it seems only fitting that tonight I'm drinking one of craft beer's biggest collaborators and extreme beer makers, Mikkeller and BrewDog.
For those that don't know, and there can't be many of you if you've even read my blog once, Mikkeller is a "gypsy brewer," originally hailing from Denmark with a love of American Style Ales.  The self-titled term, "gypsy brewer," comes from his lack of a home brewery, relying on the kindness and collaboration of other breweries to make his beer.  BrewDog is the Scottish brewery created by the young brewmeister rebels James Watt and Martin Dickie.  They are known for their eccentric and high gravity beers, including the famous Sink the Bizmark and Nuclear Penguin, weighing in at over 40% abv.  When these two get together, it only makes sense that they should chase after a style that is one of the grandest of all, the English Barleywine.
For the uninitiated, a barleywine is in fact a beer, not a wine.  The term wine is applied because it has a similar alcohol content to wine and is one of the strongest beer styles.  They tend to load up on every ingredient characterized by rich malt and fruit flavors and often bold hop bitterness.  The color can range anywhere from amber to brown and the body is usually very thick.  The only thing that separates the American Barleywine from the English is the use of hops.  American Barleywines tend to use more high alpha acid hops than their British cousins.
According to the bottle, this Devine Rebel is inspired by the experimental and rebellious nature of the two brewers who made it, using ale and champagne yeasts along with partially aging the beer in Speyside whiskey barrels.  The color is a beautiful rich ruby with very little head. Aromas are of malts with sweet raisins and toffee.  Despite having a failry boozy taste, it's still very drinkable.  There's a very strong malt and rich raisin flavor with a roasted essence that wasn't apparent in the aroma, but is quite strong in flavor.  True to the style, the hops are present, but certainly don't dominate.  It's not overly carbonated, but has just enough from the champagne yeast to have a nice balance against the otherwise creamy mouthfeel.  Unfortunately, I'm not tasting any of the whiskey barrels in this.  Still an enjoyable drink though.
Devine Rebel: ***1/2

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Grand Teton Trout Hop Black IPA

Last week I was speaking with a good friend who just finished a two week trek from Indiana to Oregon and one of the first things he tells me is what an amazing beer scene there is in… Idaho.  For those of you trapped in the smoggy SoCal beer scene, the hip Bay Area beer scene, or the burgeoning Philadelphia and Maryland beer scenes, this may come as a bit of a shock.  But if you've spent any time in  Oregon, Washington, or had the fortunate opportunity to travel through the Gem State, you're probably well aware that there are some skilled artisan brewers starting to make a name for themselves in Idaho.  And why not?  Situated in the blue mountains, between Yellowstone and the Tetons in the East and the Blue Mountains in the West, Idaho has all the peaks, rivers, and valleys that really can't be called  complete unless there's brewery not too far around the corner. 

One of the leaders in Idaho brewing is Grand Teton Brewing.  Grand Teton was originally started just over the border in Wilson, Wyoming by Charlie and Ernie Otto, two brothers who, like so many micro-brewers of the 80s, were inspired to explore their German and Austrian heritage.  Twenty-three years later, they have a brewpub based out of Victor Idaho that houses a 30 barrel production line and 660 barrel fermenting tanks.  Their signature brews include a pale, amber, ESB, pale golden, and a bavarian hefeweissen and are all made with glacier run off water, which is a nice touch.
In the past six years, however, Teton has embarked on a Cellar Reserve series using specialized ingredients, bottle aging, and a longer production process, lasting anywhere from 3 to 8 months.  The styles on these reserves run the gamit from imperial stouts and scotch ales to maibocks and farmhouse saisons.  Megan bought me this bottle of their Black IPA last hannukah, and I've had it cellared... until now...  The reserve bottles do look really nice and you can't help but feel like you're opening something special.  It's a 1 pint 9.4 fl oz with the wider bottom and thick glass.  The label is full glossy four color print with a custom local artists painting on it, but the material really picks up the light.  Best of all, the bottle comes with a card hung around the neck that talks about the making of the beer and has a bottled on date.  In my case it was July 30 2010.  Since we're almost upon a year, it seems like the perfect time to open this bad boy.
I was a little disappointed to see that they called the style listed as "Black IPA," rather than Cascadian Dark Ale, which I guess just isn't catching on.  Oh well, at least it's better than BJCP's atrocious moniker, "American-style India Black Ale."  Blasphemy!  Can you imagine walking into a bar and asking, "yes, I'm wondering what good American-style India Black Ales you have on tap?"  They'd ask you to leave or perhaps offer you a straw with your beer.  Anyway, enough venting, let's drink this.
The color is brown with a fairly sturdy head.  Aromas are lightly sweet with a hint of chocolate and a backbone of sweet fruit.  Minus the chocolate, it actually smells a lot like Titan IPA by Great Divide with that sort of saccharine powered sugar aroma.  As I really get my nose in there I'm getting a little more cocoa than before.  This is far and away the most unique Black IPA I've tasted to date. The body is definitely heavier than most Black IPAs I've had, which is a good thing, especially when you consider they've been able to preserve the strong chocolate and coffee flavors without getting that chalky mouthfeel that often comes with poorly made Black IPAs.  What's missing though is that overbearing Northwest hop kick.  The hops are tightly woven into the chocolate malts and never really separate themselves in a final bitter blast that you'd expect from the style.  But the bitterness is undeniably present and it's piney essence creeps up ever so slowly until you're left with a very rich and dark bitterness in the aftertaste when you purse your lips.  Otherwise the beer is just an amazing mixture of cocoa and coffee with a hint of smoke that is just a joy to drink.  Even though this departs from the style as I know it, I'm still going to give it 4 stars.  The style is relatively new and I think a fair amount of interpretation should be allowed.  What's more, the drinkability on this beer is just off the charts.

If you're interested in trying one of Grand Teton's brews, you can check out their distribution here.

Trout Hop Black IPA: ****

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


There are a few of us beer drinkers who still have hopes of trying to stay in good shape, while at the same time spending our free time and spare money consuming massive quantities of high abv beer and otherwise drinking in a manner that would suggest the complete opposite.  I am one of those confused and naive patrons that still clings to that hope of health and beer, and while the results sometimes vary, I've managed to find a good balance.  I've never been a fan of drinking low cal beers or low gravity beers in order to stay in shape; the beer world is too delicious and vast for that.  Instead, I just say work off what you drink.  So this weekend Megan and I cycled a roundtrip 25 miles from Santa Monica to Manhattan Beach and back in order to sample one of my new favorite beer bars in the Southland: Simmzy's.

I had been hearing about Simmzy's for some time on the weekly Beer Blast, where their excellent selection and beer pairing dinners had been touted.  Sometimes it takes a while to make the short trip down to the South Bay, but we decided this was the weekend to do it.  After getting some air in the tires and filling up our camelpak, we set out on our ride.  Cutting through the side streets and back alleys of Santa Monica and Venice wasn't too tough and was actually a pretty enjoyable ride.  Once you get to the Marina, you can pick up the bike trail, which leads you all the way there.  It's actually amazing simple and I imagine even the directionless among you couldn't mess this one up.  I did pretty well on the ride there, I was in decent enough shape to not get tired, but man my butt sure was sore after an hour or so of sitting on a hard seat.

When we got to Simmzy's it was jam packed, standing room only.  What's more, there was a line of people sitting outside with drinks that extended around the corner.  We put our names on the chalkboard, I ordered a Cismontane Blacks Dawn Stout and sat down to prepare for a long wait.  I knew by the map's location that it was close to the beach, but I actually had never seen pictures of the joint and so I wasn't sure what to expect.  Despite being half inside half outside with mostly patio seating, the giant open deck on the place makes it feel like you're on some sort of patio bar as sunlight seeps in through every direction.  This was a welcome feature as I wasn't looking forward to sitting in a dark bar after riding there in the sun.  The place is pretty small, hence the wait, but they pack it full of people making for a pretty lively environment.
The wait ended up passing fairly painlessly and it gave me a chance to check out the crowd.  I was a little shocked that most people were drinking sangria rather than beer, but the manager got them off the collective hook after explaining that they do a sangria special on Saturday afternoons.  It was definitely a Manhattan Beach crowd, predominantly white with a mix of late 20-30 somethings having a beer after a surf sesh, and 40 something beach bums who still refuse to grow up.  Glad to see their down with craft brew too.
I don't know what it is about beer bars that so often inspires well designed or just cool interiors, but this was no exception.  Wood counters with about 20 tables and 10 bar seats and 24 taps.  It's a bit hard to read some of the names off the blackboard, but highlights would include: Avery Dugana, Port Mongo IPA, Blind Pig, and of course staples of the trade like Allagash White, Green Flash West Coast IPA, Primo Island Lager, and Stone IPA.  Emphasis was predominantly on ales, in fact other than Primo and Scrimshaw, I didn't see any other lagers on the list.  They also featured a Simmzy's Heff, which is brewed for them by Firestone, but I didn't order this, so can't tell you much more than that.

My second round was a Dugana and we accompanied that with a couple of burgers.  The menu is fairly short, but focuses on quality over quality featuring mainly sandwiches and burgers with a few salads, tacos, and breakfast options.  We of course went for the test drive on the burgers; after biking 12 miles to get there we weren't short on hunger.  I appreciated their attention to local and organic sourcing, a tough aspiration for a bar located on the beach, but it's not lost on me.

We ordered a Simmzy's regular and added balsmaic roasted shitakes and fresno chili rings.  Then we got there Bacon Bleu Deluxe which featured bleu cheese, candied bacon and frizzled shallots.  As you can see here, both were incredible, although the bleu cheese was the clear winner.  But definitely one of the better burgers I've had in a while, really great.  We also got an order of fries, which were good although nothing to write home about.

So after a nice two hour break of beers and burgers we headed back for a long ride.  It was considerably harder on the way back after drinking and eating, but we still managed fine other than my butt being ridiculously sore.

And that was the weekend trip.  Pretty fun one and I highly recommend checking out Simmzy's and having a taste of their burger.  It may be packed an weekend afternoons so I'm guessing weekday evenings may be a better shot.  Be sure to check it out though. If you're interested in making a bike trip yourself, I've posted a rough, although not the exact route we took below.

Simmzy's is located at 229 Manhattan Beach Blvd. in Manhattan Beach

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