Monday, January 30, 2012

Sam Adams, Mighty Oak Ale

I love the pending change of the seasons, as it invariably means new seasonal beers.  Enter Samuel Adams Mighty Oak Ale.

Mighty Oak Ale

I have to admit, I really wanted to love this beer.  In the end though, we parted as friends with the hope to get together in a couple weeks.  Not exactly the fireworks I had expected.

Everything started off great, too.  The beer poured a beautiful ruby red color and was topped with a small head.  The nose hinted of vanilla.  My first taste was more vanilla, malt and an oaky woody finish which really stuck to my lips. The beer had a rather thin mouthfeel and also an interesting sourish cherry note, which I couldn't completely place.

The last note to myself was "not bad, but not great".  I would like to revisit Mighty Oak again in the future.  Preferably in a couple weeks because, you know, he promised.

NB: Samuel Adams provided Mighty Oak Ale for me to review.  Also, for all of you arborists out there, I am well aware the tree above is a Maple, and not an Oak.  I've cleaned enough of its leaves out of my gutter to know.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Brew Day: Jambalaya Edition

I believe we can carve this in stone.  Winter days make for better Brew Days.  Last week we ran a rarely held Sunday Brew Day.  Rare, because Monday means back to work.  Successful, because the Society continues to grow.

So much happened on Sunday, I need to break it up into parts.


The newest member of the society is my neighbor and good friend, Bryan.  Bryan and his brother Brad, are half of the band Brothers in Arms, an incredible rock band with a long local history.  Outside of Bryan's musical talents, he also has a love of great food and beer which naturally led to his foray into brewing the last couple of months.  He followed the Dave school of brewing.  Watch everyone else, figure out what works and then jump in with both feet.  So, after attending the last two brew days, Bryan was determined to not only brew again, but add something to the daily menu.  He did so in a big way, too, with his jambalaya.


When most of us take food to a brew day, it involves aluminum foil and tupperware. When Bryan does it, it involves a cast iron pot large enough to hold a small child and a burner with enough BTUs to heat a hot tub.  Thankfully, his transit was short.  It's as heavy as it looks.

The Light

Our Brew Day food prep started a whole day before.  Brian swung by and we both went about cutting up onion, celery and green peppers.

And More Prep

Actually, Bryan did the most cutting.  I probably took more pictures.  No surprise there.

More Prep

Thanks to the magic of gallon ziplock bags, everything was ready for the big day…which we will fast forward to.

All Burners Go!

When Bryan fired up his burner, I wasn't worried about carbon monoxide, I was worried about oxygen depletion.  Even with Dave & Drew's burners, this was the largest we had seen in action.  Fortunately, warmish January weather meant an open door, plenty of O2 and not some weird mass death scene our wives would have to stumble on later…and explain.

Bryan works his jambalaya by touch, so with his permission, I'm going to work in what he did, keeping in mind that it's scalable and I'm giving ingredients by the gallon bag.

First, he fried a pound of bacon.

Bacon Out

From there, he added the bags of onion, green pepper and celery and allowed them to sweat.

Celery In

Next, he added in several pounds of andouille sausage and chicken.  Both had been previously grilled.  After the mix cooked, he added chicken broth, a bay leaf, cajun spices, salt and pepper.

I think I'll jump in

When you are cooking this much food in this big a pot, you need an oar which, of course, Bryan had.

Paddling it up

I think this is the first time we ate so well and early at a Brew Day. The jambalaya was incredible and made the perfect base layer for a long day of brewing.  For the record, it also made great parting gifts and leftovers.  In short, it was great.

Warm Food, Cold Day


I started off Brew day crushing grain.  Dave and I are in to our second 50 pound bag of two row.  Thanks to our grain crusher, drill and plenty of hands, crushing grain has become cheap, fun and very fast.

The Grind

I also started something early I don't normally do. Pre weighing my hop additions into plastic bags.

Hop Scale

In the excitement of the day, at one time or another, we have all missed something.  I'm a little tired of that.  Although Brew Days are incredibly social, they are also Brew Days.  Making good beer takes a long time.  Which is why I'm going to do everything I can from here on out to "automate" the process.   This, as I informed everyone, also includes stapling my recipe to the Brew Cart.  I'm brewing an Imperial IPA and if you click the link through, you can see the recipe in detail.

Keeping on Track

I based this batch on several different factors including, most importantly, grain and hops I had on hand.  The other factors?  A high ABV and a lot of hops.  My needs are usually simple.


My end plan is to dry hop with the cones from my first hop harvest last fall.  To track everything, I continue to use my iOS app iBrewmaster to log my work.  It's pretty slick and the developers continuous improvements keep me a dedicated user.  Using the app, I can even print out my recipes, like I've done above.  I never thought I would have a use for air print from my phone, but I have.

Honey for Mead

With most of us brewing IPAs, Drew bucked the trend by bringing in gallons of local honey to brew mead.  He has " a source", as I perish to think what that amount of actually costs.

Temp Check

This is the second mead Drew has brewed.  During the process, he found it a challenge to get the honey into his pot while dodging all of the fingers dropping into the buckets striving for a taste.  The honey was amazingly good.  I'm sure the mead will be even better.


You would think the jambalaya would be enough to eat.  Nope, that's only our "breakfast".  We continued on with Drew's bacon wrapped poppers.

Bacon Cheese Poppers

And of course, brisket.


By the end of the day, there is nothing more satisfying than stuffing pieces of brisket in your mouth while preparing to ferment and clean up.

All Ready

It was an incredibly successful day.  Well, mostly successful.  Brian…the Brian with an "i" and supplier of the brisket, got a bit too close to the propane heater.

Slight Accident

Also, we somehow polished off a fair amount of beer.  Brew Days are for sharing, thus  the large presence of 22 ounce bottles.

End of the Day

Propane burners, CO Detector, hats, jambalaya, beer, fermenters…Brew Day.

The Backyard Brewing Society

Thursday, January 19, 2012

There's an Alpine Spring in my Kitchen

No, I'm not treading water, but I am enjoying the newest spring seasonal beer from Samuel Adams.  Appearing just about everywhere, is Alpine Spring, Sam Adams' new seasonal offering and wow, what an offering it is.  I don't know if it's the influx of all of those big winter beers I've been enjoying, but the crisp citrusy character of Alpine Springs is incredibly drinkable.  It is hitting my palate just right and, at just the right time.

Samuel Adams Alpine Spring

Alpine Springs pours with a huge head and a slightly spicy nose.  For a lager, it has a wonderfully full mouthfeel with bits of banana, orange and breadiness (bread-like-ness if breadiness isn't actually a word).  It is lightly hopped with Tettnang hops and when it slides down the hatch, the taste, oddly enough, abruptly ends.  There isn't really a lingering finish.  It's kind of like when Marshall, Will & Holly went over the falls.  That was it.  They were gone.  Now unlike Land of the Lost, I actually was immediately ready for another Alpine Spring.

This one caught me off guard.  I wasn't prepared to like it as much as I did.  In the past, I welcomed their Spring Ale as a move towards something lighter, but this, this is something I'm opening the door for ahead of time.  This is great.

Note: Although Samuel Adams graciously provided me with a sample of Alpine Spring, the thoughts here are free from influence and even if Sam Adams wasn't nice enough to hook me up, I would have bought Alpine Spring anyway and posted the same thing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What's on the Grill #237 Grilled Steak Salad with Buttermilk Dressing

Now when I type "Grilled Steak Salad", I mean grilled steak AND grilled salad.  This is, after all, a one grill meal.

One Grill Meal

While grilling a steak is natural and prudent, lettuce is a little different.  The heat of the grill changes taste and texture and really, isn't that different than throwing greens in a skillet.  The grill adds something completely different and having previously tackled romaine and cabbage I, for one, am hooked.  Hard to believe this is an endorsement for grilled lettuce from a guy who grew up not even liking lettuce!

Grilled Steak Salad w/Buttermilk Dressing
Adapted from Weber's On the Grill app

2 Steaks - I went with strip, but anything will work
1 head of Romaine Lettuce, quartered lengthwise
2 ears of corn
1 small red onion, 1/4 inch thick slices
10 grape tomatoes (again, any tomato will work)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
2 T finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 T finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves
1 T finely chopped fresh dill
1/2 t Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, peeled
olive oil
salt and pepper

For the buttermilk dressing, add the ingredients into a food processor and blend.

The goal, as with any meal, is to have all of your cooked food ready at the same time.  When fixing a "one grill" meal, this can get a little dicey, especially when cooking incredibly different types of food.  For instance, a smorgasbord of beef is as easy as bullseying womp rats in your T-16 back home, whereas grilling a mixture of beef, leafy vegetable and grain, is not.

Sometimes to do this right, it means having two grills, or at least one grill with enough space to work a 3 zone fire (Direct High, Direct Medium and Indirect).  For this recipe, I sort of "cheated" by deploying my island grillstone.  It allowed me to go indirect, while at the same time keeping my tomatoes and onions on the grill and not down the grate.

Brush all of the vegetables with olive oil and then grill the corn, onions and tomatoes over direct medium heat.  (Depending on the size of tomatoes used, a "grill topper" may be needed.) After several minutes, the tomatoes will be done first.  Move them to indirect heat.  Flip the onions and then, after a few more minutes, move them to indirect heat.

Griled Red

I was cooking steaks to two different internal temperatures: well done (not mine) and medium rare (mine).  This meant starting one steak early over direct high and then moving to indirect to finish out.

Steak 'n Corn

At this point the corn was still on. With the kernels blackening, move the corn to indirect to finish cooking.  Next, add the medium rare steak.

Loaded Stone

With the medium rare steak about done, move it to indirect medium and then added the romaine.

Grilled Romaine

The romaine should only be grilled a few minutes total; typically until it starts to slightly char and wilt.  Once it does, remove everything form the grill.  Chop the romaine and discard the core.  Chop the onions.  Remove the corn kernels from the cob and corral the tomatoes.

Fill a plate with the romaine, onions, tomatoes, corn and finally the steak, sliced.  Serve the dressing on the side.  It's not right to immediately cover up great looking red meat.

Grilled Steak Salad w/Buttermilk Dressing

This was so enjoyable, I made it two nights in a row.  I guess I would consider it a sucess.  Happy green leafy vegetable grilling.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sunday, January 08, 2012

2011, the year of the pepper beer

Last week on Twitter, I followed a link to a 2011 "best of" craft beer list.  I was surprised, yet not that really surprised, to see two beers that really had an impact on me in 2011: Left Hand Brewing's Fade to Black and Stone Brewing Company's Vertical Epic '11.


Stranger yet, both beers happen to be infused with chili peppers.  Although I've been lucky to have a lot of "good" beers in the last year, a lot of those, truthfully, aren't necessarily memorable.  It really takes something to stand apart from the pack and for 2011, I'm giving distinction to the pepper.

Although not in the aforementioned top 10 list, Stone's Smoked Chipotle Porter is also outstanding.  I had a couple on Friday night at my local.  Simply, incredible and definitely memorable.

Stone Verrtical Epic 11

The Vertical is an ale using belgian yeast.  It pours with a large head, indicative of the style.  The pepper blends in well to the background and lingers nicely on the finish.  It's kind of like having a good friend around for the day.  You know they are there, appreciate their company and by lunch are really glad to have them around, as they make everything better.

I've got one bottle saved for the series finish next year and one more for when I get the courage to break it out of holding for a special occasion.  When Stone's Vertical Epic series are gone, they're gone.

Fade to Black is all hot pepper.  It's a porter, which happens to be one of my favorite styles.  Taking this into account, along with the pepper heat from beginning to end, you have the making of a memorable beer.  If you have not had it, and have a love for all things hot, I can't recommend it enough.

In short, I can certainly validate this "best of" list.  I'm just lucky enough to have stumbled across two of the beers that help make it.  In the past, I certainly viewed peppery beers as a fad, but Stone & Left Hand have shown that when applied correctly, chili peppers really take beer to a whole new level…and a few top ten lists, too.

All-time Top Brewery on Planet Earth


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

What's on the Grill #236: Mexican Shredded Pork Stuffed Peppers

Almost a year ago, I tagged a post for for Slow Cooker Mexican Shredded Pork on Dad Cooks Dinner, a great blog ran by my fellow Ohioan, Mike Vrobel.  The dish sat for so long, as any chance I had to cook a pork shoulder, I always took it to the grill.  I just couldn't bring myself to haul out the crock pot when I knew I could cook over live fire.

Well, wait no more. After smoking a pork shoulder last Wednesday for Brew Night, I had my grilling in, which meant the second pork shoulder I had in the fridge was looking for its new friend, Mr. Crock Pot.

Check out Mike's blog for the recipe.  As always, it is well documented and photographed.

Which, brings me to confession time.  You see, after leaving the crock pot fired up all night, I felt a little spoiled as to how easy the process was and how great it turned out…while, I slept, I might add.  Also, when I was done, I had a TON of pork.  Mike calls for a 5 lb shoulder.  I had a gargantuan 8 pounder which took some work fitting into the pot.  Don't worry, I won.

With so much pork leftover, I knew some would go to the freezer and some would be devoured over the next couple days.  So, when I am looking for a different way of serving leftovers, I go to my old standby, the bell pepper.

Pepper Cups

Peppers are ripe to be stuffed.  With the grill prepped to indirect medium, I stuffed the peppers with the leftover pork and then topped them both with a little bit of gouda cheese.

On the grill, they cook for about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how many peppers you had stuffed.

Pork Stuffed Peppers w/Gouda

After a lunch, dinner and snack, the pork stuffed peppers made a great farewell meal, as the remaining pork went onto standby duty in the freezer.

Pork Stuffed Peppers w/Gouda

For a meal that is decidedly good (thanks Mike!), simple to prepare and even easier to clean up, stuffed peppers are the way to go.  I guess I need to give a little bit more respect to my crock pot, too.  Although the grill is always my turn to device, when I'm thinking time saving ease, I can't forgot about this beneficial little kitchen appliance.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011, I hardly knew you

Wow…what a year.  It seems like just yesterday we were giving 2010 the kiss off and now all of a sudden it's 2012.  Where did it go?  I was lucky enough to be off work between Christmas and New Year's and spent a ton of great time with family and friends.

Christmas was spectacular.  It was fabulous to have the entire family together.  This is something that rarely happens.  After hosting Christmas dinner and enjoying the time off, there are a few things I took away.

My Place

1.  Zoë is an organizational machine.  Although credit is often given to me for a "good meal", the truth is I'm just the guy who throws meat on the grill.  The true air traffic controller is Zoë and she deserves the credit.  For instance, this is our stove:

Stove at the Ready

On the day before dinner.  I, on the other hand, was concerned with more important things, like how to have a roaring fireplace in the kitchen.

The warmth of the TV

Yes, Amazon Prime's Streaming fireplace video is my new favorite show.  It adds such charm to the kitchen.  Now only if I could do something about the heat output.

2.  Always brine your bird.  When it comes to brining, I'm on again and off again, a lot like this season's Cincinnati's Bengals.

The Brine

This year I decided to get my act together and brine.  I'm glad I did.  After spending a healthy 24 hours in its salt and sugar bath, the turkey was finished off on the Saffire.

Smoke at Night

The results were better than I expected and left me wondering why I don't brine more often.  For the record, I followed Michael Ruhlman's brine recipe in Charcuterie.  I can't recommend it enough.

The Turkey

3.  Infinimum is a really amazing beer.

Popping the Infinium

We had our first taste of the '11 edition of Samuel Adam's Infinium at the last Brew Day.  The next day we all scrambled to find more.  I distinctly remember my ho-hum take on the '10 edition.  Not so this year, it's a solid collaboration.  The champagne like high ABV beer is something else.  In fact, I've got two my bottles squirreled away for later this year.

3.  Brew Days can become Brew Nights.  I would have never guessed a midweek late night brew day would be so attended by the Backyard Brewing Society, but it was.

Garage Brewing

As usual, we hard pork:

Mr. Pork

and pork:

The Obligatory Fatty

We also got a taste of Eric's annual Christmas themed beer.  Last year it was Santa's Sack.  This year it was a chocolate porter called Santa's Back Door.  Here's the PG label…as the actual label will is safely tucked away with an advisory warning over it:

Santa's Back Door

Not only did 5 of us brew at this off time, we broke Bryan in on his maiden brew.  It was quite a night that quickly turned into morning.

2011 really was a great year and I hope for 2012 to be even better.  To all of my faithful readers, you are an incredible part of this.  Thanks so much for all of your support, clicks and comments.  Happy New Year everyone.