I’ve been doing these On-Tap Recap posts documenting my weekend beer tasting adventures for a few weeks now, and it seems I’ve just been reviewing bottled beers from my home cellar. I haven’t actually posted a review of anything on tap. Guess that’s my bad, but I do have a good excuse. With a small child at home to take care of, I just don’t make it out to the pubs like I used to. For the most part, I drink what I can drink at home.
Luckily for me, my adopted home town of Austin has many pockets of craft brew indoctrination, with more popping up all the time. Craft brew taps are appearing in the unlikeliest places, and so it’s getting easier for even a boring old homebody like me to get a pint. One such unlikely place is the Happy Trails Saloon at the Whole Foods Market a mile from my house. Springing from the floor of the store like an oasis in the desert, halfway between the pizza counter and a refrigerator case stocked with hummus in little plastic tubs, Happy Trails is a bar with about a dozen taps, four devoted to wine and the rest to a rotating selection of craft beers from the likes of local heroes Austin Beerworks, Hops & Grain and Adelbert’s to national favorites like Southern Tier and Ballast Point. Here the weary grocery shopper can take a break with a beer and food from either the Happy Trails pub menu or from any shelf or counter in the store (including the esteemed pizza counter).
This Sunday, halfway through our weekly family grocery trip, we stopped at Happy Trails, bolted the baby’s high chair to a table and let him bat his eyes adorably at Whole Foods employees and customers while he munched finger foods and we relaxed with slices of mushroom pizza and a couple of pints.
First up, a Baltic porter from Hops & Grain’s Greenhouse rotating line of experimental beers. This beer, I was told, was made with Whole Foods’ in-house roasted Allegro coffee. The coffee was noticeable, but mostly a background flavor in a very smooth, smoky black porter. Medium body with a lot of flavor, not too much alcohol, and not syrupy or thick. Great for an afternoon pizza break with the weather outside getting into the 70’s.
Next, a Southern Tier 2XSTOUT. Much as I love (almost) everything I’ve had from Southern Tier, and as fond as I am of milk stout, this one was a little anticlimactic after the Baltic porter. It was smooth and sweet, what I want out of a milk stout, and a good example of the style. But next to something as complex as Baltic porter, a milk stout was like a blunt object, beating me over the head with malt/sweet instead of the nuanced profile of the previous beer.
Really, the true star of this story is not either of the beers I drank, but the location. Good beer and good food right in the middle of a market I visit once or twice a week? That gives me hope that maybe the pub life isn’t behind me after all.
Monday. It gets a bad rap for bringing to an end all that fun we had for two-sevenths of each week. As though Monday is personally responsible, as though it rose up out of the shadows of the future to personally smother the weekend in the prime of its youth with a lumpy, off-white pillow.
Now I hate the moon’s day as much as the next guy. But I’m changing that starting today by giving myself – and hopefully you – a reason to look forward to Mondays. What is this gift, you ask? Why, nothing less (or more) than the vicarious and voyeuristic thrill of hearing about some beers I drank over the weekend.
Excited yet? I am. Let’s begin.
Sunday was brew day. To get myself going, I started with breakfast at home: scrambled eggs and center-cut bacon cooked perfectly by the gal I love while I made these yeasted brown butter waffles from Bon Appétit magazine. They’re the best waffles I’ve ever eaten, easy to prepare – most of the work is done the night before – and they go great with real maple syrup or mixed-berry compote (for an added brewer’s-breakfast touch, I sometimes have mine with homemade barley malt syrup).
I discovered they also went wonderfully with a Founders Breakfast Stout. I hoarded a few bottles of this October-December seasonal offering, and these were unfortunately the last, but I will be brewing this clone recipe from Brew Your Own in the very near future. There’s just something about this beer I can’t get enough of. Is it the childlike joy of having the flavor and aroma of chocolate on my palate first thing in the morning? The silky smoothness of satisfying oats? Or the skillful use of coffee in exactly the right amount to achieve a perfect balance of bitter with sweet, no mean feat for an ingredient as easy to overdo as coffee? I don’t know, but it’s sublime. At 8.3% ABV, it’s a wake-up of the most pleasant kind. I wouldn’t recommend getting it in your mouth before that first bite of waffle, but I won’t judge you if you do.
After the grain dust had settled on my brew day and my blood orange witbier wort (details to follow later this week) was safely locked away in its fermentation chamber, I went on a mission for Indian take-out: chicken tikka masala and saag aloo. I paired this with a bomber of Ballast Point Indra Kunindra, a 7% ABV India-style export stout with curry, cumin, cayenne, coconut, and kaffir lime leaf (say that list of ingredients five times fast). Ballast Point is a brewery I’m still getting acquainted with, having only had their Sculpin IPA … but Indra Kunindra was such a unique idea I was looking forward to trying it. The curry and kaffir lime came through with a noticeable fresh/tart/hot burst, but the export stout at the beer’s base was just too middle-of-the-road for the aromatics overlying it. It might have worked better as a fuller bodied sweet stout (with more residual sugar to bring out the coconut and lime) or even as a dry stout (with more roast to accentuate the spices). As it was, it just felt dissonant. It didn’t go all that well with the food, either. The spices and aromatics were analogous, but the stout demanded a heartier protein pairing. My favorite Indian spot doesn’t do beef curry, so I’ll stick with IPA for my next take-out.
Sadly, I missed out on the hat trick by not being able to make it up to one of my favorite weekend stout spots: Pinthouse Pizza Craft Brewpub. Late last week they tapped The Big Lebarrelski, a special offering on both nitro and CO2 of their White Russian Imperial Stout (“The Dude” – definitely my favorite stout in Austin) aged in Four Roses Bourbon barrels. Here’s hoping they still have some next weekend. If they do, I’ll tell you all about it next Monday …
I’m pretty sure every homebrewer and beer geek has at least one personal story about how they surprised – and perhaps even converted – some non-craft drinker they know with the awesome power of real beer.
Maybe one night in college you handed an Imperial IPA to your malt liquor chugging buddy, and he quickly commended it before twisting open another 8 Ball. Or maybe you once convinced a co-worker to try a fruity wheat beer at a happy hour instead of a hard lemonade, and she now stocks her fridge with lambics. Or maybe you triumphed over decades of wine supremacy by pulling off a really successful beer pairing with a dinner, to the amazement of friends and/or family. My latest such story is a variation on that theme: a 3-course dinner with beer pairings, served in my own dining room.
The day was Thanksgiving (November 22 for those reading outside the U.S.) and the objects of my proselytization were my wife Lisa’s family: my mother-in-law and father-in-law in town from New Orleans, and my sister-in-law and her husband visiting from the United Kingdom. To set the stage, let me introduce them instead as: a coffee drinker, a whiskey drinker, a Bud Light drinker, and a foodie/pub manager from the south of England.
Out of everyone in attendance, Lisa was the only person who was as convinced of the greatness of this idea as I was. She co-envisioned this event with me but couldn’t join us in the beer tasting thanks to an unfortunate medical condition called “expecting our first child” that isn’t expected to clear up for several months. This toast is for you, X.
The dinner itself was rather unorthodox. We haven’t done turkey on Thanksgiving in my house for nearly ten years, and saw no good reason to start now. We decided to build an utterly un-Thanksgiving-y menu with several commercial Central Texas beers from my cellar as inspiration, while also giving everyone in the family a chance to cook something. Here’s what we came up with.
I should disclose at this point that I don’t usually cook. Brewed beverages and the occasional steak are all I make that’s fit for human consumption, so most of the actual cooking (except for the steak) was done by Lisa and my brother-in-law. But I did choose the beer, so I’ve snatched the right to bill myself as director of the whole production.
Salad Course: Romaine with blue cheese, pecans, dried cranberries, and homemade mustard vinaigrette paired with a bomber of South Austin Brewing Company Saison D’Austin. As a longtime fan of this ubiquitous local saison, I had been dreaming about this pairing for a few days beforehand. This is a very light and refreshing saison, and everyone at the table enjoyed it (especially my sister-in-law the Bud Light drinker). But I found it lacked the backbone to stand up to the bold flavors of the blue cheese and mustard. Something with a bit more spice and/or funk would have served the dish better, so next time I’ll go with something a little more intense – a more phenolic Belgian or something with some Brett – and save the Saison D’Austin for a cheese course.
Main Course: Grilled sirloin with a coffee-chipotle rub served with a relish of tomatoes, tarragon and mustard; dill-roasted tricolor potatoes and oven-roasted asparagus paired with a bomber of Jester King / Mikkeller Weasel Rodeo Imperial Oatmeal Stout. The rub and the steak were the only food items I prepared myself, carefully trying to match the flavor profile of the beer, which features chipotle and kopi luwak coffee. Coffee and pepper were more pronounced in the steaks than the beer, if I do say so myself. But the pairing was a match made in heaven, and the in-laws enjoyed it all so much that we actually drank not just one bomber of Weasel Rodeo, but also the second bomber I had chilled just in case.
Dessert: Pecan pie from the Salt Lick paired with a 12-ounce bottle of Real Ale Sisyphus Barleywine Ale from 2011. Okay, so we didn’t actually make the pie, and I had no idea how it was going to pair with the 2011 Sisyphus, which I had never tried. As it turned out, the rest of the family were stuffed and satisified by now, so the barleywine was shared by me and my brother-in-law alone; 6 ounces for each of us was more than enough. The beer was robust and nutty with toffee overtones, and I thought quite a good match for my favorite pie in the Austin area, though I found myself wishing I had some good vanilla bean ice cream to complete the ensemble. I wasn’t disappointed for long, though, because I soon found myself satiated and … well, let’s just say “sleepy”.
So. A fantastic dinner that we had fun preparing together, and a great opportunity to demonstrate for visiting family why I’m so excited about the Central Texas beer scene. Hopefully I even got them thinking about beer in new ways. Would I do it again? Hell yes. And since there’s nothing “Thanksgiving” about this meal, I may do it again before next year’s holiday season. I hope it inspires you to try something similar.
On Monday I finally kegged my Crescent Moon Café au Lait Stout after 4 weeks in the fermenter. I also finally added the eponymous coffee to the beer, crossing the line from a plain old milk stout (albeit one made by my own from-scratch recipe) into something truly unique.
The coffee and chicory was cold brewed on Lisa’s Toddy system: combining a pound of ground coffee with 9 cups of cold water, and letting it steep overnight, we brewed about 40 oz of concentrated coffee extract. Theoretically, this coffee extract is stronger than regular brewed coffee, but when we mixed a little bit of the extract with a sample of the beer at the planned ratio of 16-24 oz of coffee and chicory per 5 gallons of milk stout, there just wasn’t nearly enough coffee flavor. So we ramped it up, added more and more coffee until we got to a point where we were happy. The ratio we landed on was 64(!) oz of extract in the 5 gallon batch of beer. That’s a lot more than any coffee/beer recipe I’ve ever seen, but I let my tastebuds do the deciding. And I did want a bold coffee flavor.
The extract was added directly to the keg, and the beer was racked on top of that. This displaced a half gallon of the beer, so we ended up with .5 gallons of coffee extract to 4.5 gallons of beer, or a ratio of 1 part coffee to 9 parts stout. What I sampled really did taste like café au lait, so I’m pleased. Now it’s carbonating in the kegerator, and will be ready to drink in a few days.
This beer has made me feel like being a newbie homebrewer all over again: The anxious counting of day after day while I wait for the beer to be ready. The adventurous experimentation. The excitement over the unknown. If these phrases sound like ways to describe a brand new romance, it’s no accident. I’m in love with homebrewing, and this stout has reminded me why I fell in love with it in the first place. I want more of this thrill.
With June nearly upon us, I’ll look to a wheat beer for my next brew, as they’re much more forgiving to make in the heat of a Central Texas summer, even in my air-conditioned home. I’ve talked about a blood orange or other citrus wheat for a while now. I could resurrect one of my wheats from previous summers – lemongrass, ginger, or agave – but the wanderlust of experimentation is consuming me, and I think I’m itching for something new.
Read my original post about the recipe and brew day for the café au lait stout here.
For a long time now I’ve been in love with milk stouts, and have wanted to brew one. Lisa has also been asking for a coffee stout, specifically one using New Orleans-style coffee and chicory (we’re both New Orleanians by birth), to slake her thirst for java. In a flash of inspiration, I decided to combine the coffee/chicory stout and milk stout into one brew: a “café au lait” stout. You know, just like Café du Monde on Decatur Street would serve if they had a liquor license.
A sweet stout is a great beer style to honor my hometown. Like New Orleans, sweet stout is dark and mysterious, but full of character. It may be intimidating to the uninitiated, even harsh at first; but it’s warm and inviting when you know what to expect. And you discover something new about it with each new taste. That’s all very poetic, I know, but it’s a lot to explain when filling a glass. So adding the ingredients of a real French Market café au lait was exactly what I needed to bring my lofty symbolic interpretation of the city back down to earth.
I named the brew Crescent Moon Café au Lait Stout in honor of New Orleans’ nickname “the Crescent City” and a current obsession I have with all things lunar. I’d like to give a quick toast here to the HomeBrewTalk.com community, and the great people at Austin Homebrew Supply, for helping me finalize the recipe. The grain bill:
- 9 lbs 2-row malt
- 1.5 lb Coffee Malt
- .75 lb Roasted Barley
- .5 lb Crystal 90L
I chose specialty grains with coffee-like flavor profiles to accentuate the coffee in the finished product. I’d never used coffee malt (which despite the name is just barley malt – it has no actual coffee in it) before, but it was advertised as being kilned to 130-170L with a smell and taste like coffee, and it didn’t disappoint. Roasted barley, too, is known for its coffee characteristics, so I opted for it instead of black patent malt to get a little more flavor. The medium-dark crystal malt was added to round out the malt profile of the beer and leave some respectable body.
I started the mash at 153°F, and it dropped to 152°F by the end of the 60-minute mash.
I did two batch sparges and ran 7.75 gallons of 1.032 wort into the kettle. For my last several brews, I have been forced to run off extra wort and boil it down for 90 minutes to hit my target OG. Someday I’ll figure out why that’s the case, but for now I don’t mind the longer boils. It gives me time to catch up on reading and Words With Friends.
I took a sort of bare-minimum approach to the hops, as I really wasn’t interested in a lot of hop character. I want the aroma and bitterness of the coffee and chicory to come through. So I added just .75 oz of 12.4% AA Nugget hop pellets to the boil with 60 minutes left to go, and no late hop additions. I added 1 lb of lactose (the ingredient that makes a milk stout a milk stout) later in the boil, with 20 minutes left.
Notice that I haven’t actually added the coffee and chicory yet. So far, this café au lait stout is just a milk stout begging for a wake-up, but it’s amazing how much it already smells like coffee, thanks to the malts I used. At kegging time, we’ll cold brew between 16-24 oz of coffee and chicory and rack the beer onto that. Cold brewed coffee is recommended because of its smoothness, and it’s really the only way we drink coffee and chicory in this house anyway.
The OG of the wort was 1.064, and I pitched 14 grams of rehydrated Fermentis Safale S-04 yeast. After years of using liquid yeast and rarely using the same strain twice, I’ve recently started using more dry yeast, and this simple English ale strain is rapidly becoming my go-to strain. That’s partly because I’ve been making a lot of British styles, and partly because my busy schedule hasn’t left me with much time to properly prepare liquid yeast for pitching (making a starter, etc.). But I couldn’t have settled down with a finer microbe, because S-04 works fast and flocculates like a rock star, leaving some fruity esters behind but mostly a very clean beer. I brewed this beer on Saturday, and as of yesterday, the kraeusen was already starting to fall.
I’m really excited about this brew. So much so that I couldn’t wait to make it, even though my timing means that I’m going to have a thick, malty stout on tap during the brutal Texas summer. But a friend said to me recently, “Any season is the right season for stout,” and I couldn’t agree more. Especially when my respite from the heat will be a tall, delicious pint of the Big Easy.
So, who’s bringing the beignets?