Thursday, July 28, 2011

An Underground Beer Culture Surviving in Wine Country Part 2

My next few attempts at finding delicious beer in France were nothing short of brilliant successes.  One of the days when we were walking around the city of Narbonne, we had stumbled upon an underground bar/brewery that was advertising lambics for only 2.50€.  But, of course, with our luck it was closed.  I do have the best wife in the world though, and she promised me that we could go back another night.

Well that night came and it was everything I could ever want in a bar.  L'Antre de l'Echoppe was literally an underground beer culture.  It was a tiny brewpub that was built into an old cobblestone cellar with a medieval theme and with plenty of both domestic and import beers on tap for reasonable prices.  This brewpub was so small in fact that they actually brew in the bar, and when it is open, they just push the equipment off to the side.

They only had two of their own beers on tap, but they were both spectacular. 

The first that we had was La Blonde Maison.  At 5% ABV, this was an extremely easy drinking beer.  It was cloudy, very light, and fruity with a slight sharpness at the end.  La Noire Maison was another 5% ABV beer.  Surprisingly, for having a dark, strong, and chocolaty aroma it was unexpectedly light.  It had a deep chocolate malt flavor with almost no linger.  I hope that some day I am fortunate enough to get back to Narbonne and to L'Antre de l'Echoppe again.

When we went up to Carcassonne after Narbonne, I was hell bent on finding some Biers de Carcassonne, but we had no such luck.  We did however find a couple of other beers in a small boutique shop.  At first I was a little skeptical about them, but chilled that night in our Barcelona I indulged and was more than satisfied.

Abbaye Fontfroide not only is a remarkably beautiful abbey outside of Narbonne, but the namesake has been used for an artisanal beer.  The nose is a very subtle spicy (peppery) aroma from the yeast, and there is an excellent head, so good, it made pouring difficult.  It was very heavy beer that was both sweet and spicy notes that shockingly did not linger long at all.  There was an excellent floral flavor as well, and after tasting some of the raw honeys in the area, I would not be surprised if that was where it was coming from.

We never went to the Abbaye de Valmange, but much like Fontfroide, they lent their name to a beer.  It was extremely aromatic with overpowering caramel notes.  The beer itself some subtle spicy notes along with the chocolate and caramel flavors. 

So in the end, I would have to say I am pretty impressed with the beers the south of France had to offer.  (Their wines weren't that bad either.)  I just wish I wouldn't have been so blind when I was traveling around Europe in the past not searching an scouring for the artisan beers.  I can only imagine how many delicious ones I have missed on my travels.

Primary: German Pilsner
Secondary: Lite American Lager, Ginger Ale
Carbonating: Honey Dunkelweisen
Total for 2011: 65 Gallons

Monday, July 25, 2011

An Underground Beer Culture Surviving in Wine Country Part 1

I was a bit skeptical at first and for good reason. Sure, in northern France you can find some great breweries, including the ones that are credited with reviving the Bière de Garde and the Bière de Mars styles, but in southern France, the heart of wine country, really?  At one point the master blender at the estate we were at (Château des Karantes) had remarked to us that the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France (where we were) produces more wine in one year than all of Australia combined.  And I was supposed to find good beer here?  I went in a skeptic, but I came away a believer.

My first experience was at a small cafe in Gruissan.  There were signs in the window tempting: 'Découvrez nos bières artisanales.'  It was a hot day and I was quite parched, so it was my duty as an inquisitive brewer to partake in a nice cool, frosty beverage

La Néou is an aromatic, 5% ABV white beer brewed with spices and water from the Pyrenee mountains range.  It was a light, sweet wheat beer, and it had light honey notes to it. (Honey is one of things that this region of the world prides itself on, so it makes sense that they would use it in their beer.)  There was the slightest diacetyl (butterscotch) flavor to the beer, but it wasn't off putting at all.  It actually worked very well with the beer.  These pleasant flavors lingered for a while and it was a perfect way to quench my thirst on the Mediterranean coast.

My next sampling wasn't a beer, but a cider, and being it is my goal to familiarize myself across the lines of the BJCP guidelines, I thought it would be another great learning experience.


I am not an expert in ciders by any means, so I do not know if it is actually one of the high quality ciders on the market, but I do have to say it was one of the best I've ever tasted.  It was Loïc Raison's Cirdre Breton Brut.  At 4.5% ABV it is relatively low alcohol compared to most that I have drank in the past, but it's flavors were unmatched.  Upon the first sip, you're hit with a light, dry crisp flavor that has just a touch of sweetness and a hint of honey.  The more and more I drank, the more the tannin flavors of the skin became present and gave the illusion that you were biting into an apple.  It was a wonderful thing to have happen.  Flavors like this are going to be hard to match when I start making ciders, and I can only hope to achieve results close to this.

This one completely ripped off Delirium Tremens (only a pig instead of an elephant), so how could it be bad?  The big pink pig was calling my name and I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker.  Had I been able to speak and read French a bit better, I may have steered clear (Rince Cochon translates to Pig Rinse...ugh...).


Although this beer is very crisp and refreshing like a lager, it is actually an ale that has a very soft nose, similar to a pilsner, and just slightly fruity, like an English ale.  The flavor and after taste were exactly the same, the slightest maltiness along with a hoppy/fruity after taste.  Though this beer wasn't necessarily what I was looking for, it did have a nice sweetness and crispness to it that has its own time and place, and a BBQ in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean Sea was just that (though I do not think that is what the brewers had in mind since it is from Belgium).

Look out for part two of this series later this week... 

Primary: German Pilsner, Ginger Ale
Secondary: Lite American Lager
Carbonating: Honey Dunkelweisen
Total for 2011: 65 Gallons

Friday, July 22, 2011

Portable Kegerator/Jockey Box Round 2

As I had left it in the last post, I had just finished assembling the top.  My original plan was to just use some 2"x4"s and build a basic structure underneath, but I was convinced by Marygrace to just go the fancier route (and easier) and buy four pre-made table legs with mounting brackets.  It really wasn't anything more difficult than screwing on a few brackets and then screwing in the table legs.

I was a bit worried about having enough room underneath to maneuver the kegs and have room for all of my attachments, but I ended up having about 5" which was plenty of room.

Here's a picture of it fully assembled.

Here it is after some staining and varnishing.

I got a fancy four valved manifold for the CO₂ line.  This way, if one of the kegs got kicked I could shut off the gas so it wouldn't drain the keg if someone pulled the tap.

And here is is fully assembled.

Marygrace's mother had made me a skirt to go around the bottom of the kegerator, blue and white checkered.  Unfortunately, I didn't manage to get any photos of it while it was set up.  So next time I use it, I will post some pictures up here.  I also designed this kegerator to be able to fit into the back hatch of my car, so if I ever have to transport it, I'll have to post those photos too.

Primary: Lite American Lager, Ginger Ale
Carbonating: Honey Dunkelweisen
Total for 2011: 60 Gallons

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Spent Grain Pretzels

This year, Waldfest was on Sunday, July 17.  This year, we would do it in style.  What better way to kick off the day than to have and authentic Bavarian breakfast with weisswurst, a hefeweisen, and of course pretzels.  Not only pretzels, homemade pretzels using spent grain.

I decided to try something different this time with my grains, don't get me wrong, I like them in my breads, but they and the remaining husks can be a bit obtrusive when you are trying to eat a slice of bread.  In the past, I have tried to grind them using a food processor, but it is very difficult and more and more water has to be added since it turns into a paste and the grains are not properly ground.

As an alternative, I decided to dry out my grains by baking them in the oven at 250ºF for about an hour, occasionally turning them.  When they were dry, I put them in the food processor on high for about a minute and ended up with an excellent consistency, just about as course as sand, with no large husk pieces.  I was very happy with the results, as was my wife since I decided that from now on I would dry and grind my spent grains and put them in a Tupperware as dry storage, and they would no longer take up a shelf in the refrigerator.  The only problem is, the two cups that I saved (I needed one for the pretzel recipe), once dried and ground was only about 1/2 of a cup.  Looks like I would be making a half batch of pretzels.

Here is the recipe I used (the recipe is for a full batch, I just made a half batch).  The half batch made about 7 decent pretzels that are about 3/4" thick at the centers, so a full batch should make about 10-14 depending how big you make them.

1 pkg yeast
6 cups flour
1 cup dried and ground spent grain
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups warm water
5 tablespoons baking soda
Coarse salt for topping

Heat oven to 425 degrees F.

Combine all ingredients and knead.  Do not leave dough to rise.  Flour surface and then take a ball of dough, roll it out, and shape the pretzel.

Once all the pretzels are made, drop them in a pan of boiling water that has 5 teaspoons of baking soda.  Once they are done cooking, they will float to the top.  Remove them, put them on a greased cookie sheet, and sprinkle them with coarse salt while still wet.

Bake for for about 15 minutes, until they start to brown on top. Cool on a rack and enjoy.

When they are done baking, they should look like this:

For everyone that isn't going to be making these pretzels, I will give you a little something you can enjoy, even if you're not coming to Waldfest:

Primary: Lite American Lager, Ginger Ale
Carbonating: Honey Dunkelweisen
Total for 2011: 60 Gallons

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Recipe and Review (R&R): Chili Lime Pilsner

This chili lime pilsner isn't exactly what I would hope it to be, but I can't complain.  The base beer, an American Pilsner, is spot on.  The flavorings I used however, are not.  The lime flavor is a bit stronger and more earthy (most likely because I used zest rather than the juice) than I hoped for, and the chili peppers are a bit weak, but it is an excellent summertime beer.

Here is my 33 Beers entry:

And now for the recipe:

Chili Lime Pilsner - 2 Gallon

23 Specialty Beer (Classic American Pilsner)

Author: Aaron Piskorowski

Size: 2.0 gal
Efficiency: 70.0%
Attenuation: 81.0%

Original Gravity: 1.053 (1.044 - 1.060)

Terminal Gravity: 1.010 (1.010 - 1.015)

Color: 2.79 (3.0 - 6.0)

Alcohol: 5.65% (4.5% - 6.0%)

Bitterness: 49.1 (25.0 - 40.0)


1.0 lb 2-Row Brewers Malt
1.5 lb Corn Flaked (Maize)
1.5 lb Belgian Pils
0.25 lb Cara-Pils® Malt
0.5 oz Cascade (7.5%) - added during boil, boiled 60.0 min
1.0 tsp Irish Moss - added during boil, boiled 15.0 min
0.5 oz Cascade (7.5%) - added during boil, boiled 10.0 min
3 ea De Arbol Chili Peppers - added during boil, boiled 10.0 min
2.5 tbsp Lime zest - added during boil, boiled 10.0 min
1.0 ea WYeast 2124 Bohemian Lager

Results generated by BeerTools Pro 1.5.16

Primary: Lite American Lager, Ginger Ale
Carbonating: Honey Dunkelweisen
Total for 2011: 60 Gallons

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

1-A Lite American Lager Introduction

The number one best selling beer style in the United States seems like the proper way to start off my BJCP challenge.  Although it is generally considered, even by myself, generally a low quality beer, this will be a difficult beer to meet the style guidelines for.  It is a very light, smooth, and rather tasteless beer where any flaws will be extremely apparent.  There is nothing to hide behind like a strong malt body or overwhelming hop presence, everything (or nothing in the best case) will be on display.

The American lager was developed as a alternative to the heavier German style beers that had formed the bases of the American beverage scene.  They were made lighter and smother with the use of corn and rice without losing any alcohol percentage.  Fast foreword to the 1970's and Americans are clamoring for an even lighter beer with fewer calories.  In walks light American lager, first made readily available by Miller.  These light American lagers are low in alcohol and calories, typically ranging from 2.5% to 4.2% ABV and near 100 calories per beer.

When I do my reviews of this style, I decided that I should go for the original, Miller Lite, which just happened to win gold at the Great American Beer Festival last year for American Style Lager or Light Lager.  My second beer that I will be using will have to be the local favorite around here, Labatt Blue Light, which has multiple ties to the area.  It is brewed right across the boarder in Ontario, its US headquarters is in Buffalo, and it is owned by North American Breweries, based in Rochester, NY.

I expect that my beer will taste a bit different than either of these beers, but of course, I haven't had 40+ years to "perfect" my recipe.  Hopefully it will taste a bit better, but that also has yet to be proven.  Either way, I am not going to be able to lager this in my 65ºF basement, I am going to need a Son of Fermentation chiller.  Eventually when I have a permanent residence I will most likely build a refrigerator chiller, but for now, this will have to do.  Check back soon to see my progress on that.

On Deck: Ginger Ale (7/14)
Primary: Lite American Lager
Carbonating: Honey Dunkelweisen
Total for 2011: 58 Gallons

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A New Challenge

I have decided to give myself a new challenge, and I have yet to decide how much I am going to hate myself for initiating it.  My guess is very much but at the same time, it will give me a lot more experience and help to expand my horizons in regards to beers that I haven't brewed yet.

Is the anticipation killing you?  I bet you can't wait to hear what it is.  I, Aaron Piskorowski of Lake Effect Brewing, plan on brewing my way through the BJCP 2008 Style Guide (even the meads and ciders just to try something outside my comfort zone), much in a cooking your way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, just with more drinking and less Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.

I want to lay down a few ground rules before I embark on this task.  First, this is going to be my main source of beer, so all of these batches will be five gallons.  If I want to do something a bit more out of the ordinary, I always have my two gallon batches or even an off five gallon batch (There may be a quite a few of those just because I already have ideas floating around in my head).

Second, in order to keep a variety, I will be brewing one from each category/subclass, then move onto the next (ie.  1A - American Light Lager, followed by 2A German Pils).  This is a necessity since when you get to Scottish Ales, brewing a 60/-, 70/-, then 80/-, I don't think I will get the full appreciation since they are pretty much the same beers just at different alcohol levels.

Third, I want to try to give a short history lesson (one to two paragraphs) about each beer as well as a couple random facts.  This will be more of a check for myself, making sure that I have done thorough research on the style of beer before I attempt to brew it.

Fourth, I want to do a couple reviews on the style of beers that I will be brewing.  This will work on a two fold level.  This way, I can immerse myself in the style of beer.  You can read all you want about a beer but until you actually taste it, you're really missing out and not fully appreciating it and the style.  I also want to do this as a way to compare the beer that I brewed once it is drinkable.  It will serve as a gauge as to how close I am with the style and might give me some insight into where I may need to improve the recipe.

I realize that this will take an extremely long time, years in fact, but it is something that I think will definitely be worth it and fun along the way.  My 1-A Lite American Lager was just brewed today.  Details will be coming soon.

Primary: Lite American Lager
Carbonating: Honey Dunkelweisen
Total for 2011: 53 Gallons