Friday, December 10, 2010

I Choose Beer

I lost a bunch of weight over the last few years (25kg). To lose that much weight, you have to give up something.

So, given cookies or beer, I choose beer.

Beer comes in packs of 6, 12, 24, and sometimes (rather very often) it can be purchased individually. You can buy an individual cookie, but then it's at least the size of three normal cookies.

If I open a 6 pack of beer, the rest of the pack won't go stale, if I decide not to have another in a few days.

Order a beer in most any country, and you'll get something drinkable, although probably just a pilsner. Order a cookie, and you never know what you will get. (There are exceptions, because there are "dry" countries, but I've never visited them.)
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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Beer Tour starts in Heidelberg

You may be wondering, of all the cities in Germany why have I started in Heidelberg? The main reason is, I was there on a business trip. But, there are other reasons. First, there is a US military base there, so people speak English. There are also two brewpubs in town. There's a local beer called Heidelberger. It also seems like a good jumping off point, since the castle remains have a giant keg on display.

I started with the Heidelberger, which I got on tap at Bräustüberl, a restaurant at the NH Heidelberg hotel. It looked like a cozy restaurant, but looks are where it stopped. The service was awful, after waiting 15 minutes for our beer, they came back and asked for our beer order again because they couldn't remember what we ordered. I ordered the dunkelweisse but I was uncertain whether it was just a dunkel, or if it was, in fact, a dunkelweisse. The taste was uninteresting and slightly bitter, with no characteristic wheat taste. The food service was even worse, and then the credit card machine didn't work with any of our cards, so all in all a bad experience.

I also checked out the town's two brewpubs: Kulturbrauerei Heidelberg, and Brauhaus Vetter.

Kulturbraueri is big and even has room for private parties, but it is often quite busy. They also have a beer garden in the summer. They had 3 beers available:

Kräusen, a pilsner, which is unfiltered, and therefore naturally cloudy, the waiter described this as a pilsner, and I don't have much of a taste for pilsner, so I didn't try this one.

Hefeweizen, a wheat beer, which is a drinkable wheat, but nothing special that sets it apart from any other hefeweizen. This is a seasonal beer.

Oktoberfest, which they describe as a dark beer, was a bronze delight. Slightly sweet and malty, I think this is the same as their Märzen style Kellerbier. This was a very tasty beer, one I would return for.

The thing that Kulturbrauerei Heidelberg seemed to be missing was that brewpub creed: if you want to know about the beer, I'll tell you all about it.

Brauhaus Vetter had promises of being better than Kulturbrauerei Heidelberg, it was so popular that when we arrived the first time for dinner, there was no room available. We returned for lunch the next day to find out what it was all about.

Unfortunately the waitress wasn't willing to share any beer wisdom with us so we ordered blindly and didn't end up with any prizes.

I chose their Dunkel. This tasted almost like a carbon copy of the Heidelberger dunkel I had at Bräustüberl, not much taste, but slightly bitter. I left disappointed.

It turns out what makes Vetter so popular is their 33. It a doppelbock with a starting gravity of 33%, which means if all the sugars were fermentable, the beer would have 33% alcohol. This was once the beer with the record for highest starting gravity. The end result is a beer with 10.5% ABV. Could be interesting, could be sickly sweet. If I end up in Heidelberg again, I think I'll try the 33, and just pace myself.
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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Microbreweries, Oktoberfest, and Even More Microbreweries

After spending more than a year with little more than a single beer, it was finally time to tempt my tastebuds with some suds. And what a better way to do so, than to see some of Germany, have some fun at Oktoberfest, and try some lesser known, yet better quality, German beers. Join me and my family for a trip through the German countryside and see what I discover.... First stop Heidelberg. Prost!
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Thursday, November 11, 2010

My First Brewing Failure -- Although not a Total Loss

This years Midsummer brew was to be a plum porter. Again Kim, Krzysztof, Karla, Jakob and I got together for the brewing. I added a chiller to my equipment this time which didn't work quite as well as planned, due our makeshift setup, but it clearly worked well, and once we got things flowing, it took no time to get the beer to the approx. 24 C that we needed for pitching the yeast. Of course we also had problems with the thermometer saying the beer temperature was over 70 C after coming out of the chiller, but we quickly figured out that could not be right (the hose going from the chiller to the fermenter was cool to the touch, as well as the fermenter itself) and tossed the thermometer.

Other than that, brew day went smoothly. We were a bit concerned about our original gravity, but when I measured the final gravity before adding the plums, it turned out the beer had slightly more than the 5.5% alcohol that it was supposed to have (yes!). The beer smelled heavenly going into the secondary fermenter (ah, that chocolaty smell of porter drifting through the house), but the addition of the plums turned out to be too much of a challenge for me.

During the 10 days the beer was in the primary, I searched on the Internet for how to add fruit to beer, specifically plums. It seemed like the consensus was that you either added them sliced or crushed. A few people said they blanched them to remove the skin, but others said that was not necessary, some used canned plums, but that wasn't an option for me. I ended up taking 3kg of ripe plums and threw them in a blender with the skin on to chop them up a bit. Then I added them to the secondary and hoped all would go well.

Another couple of weeks of waiting, and then it was time to bottle. We quickly discovered that having crushed plums was a problem and the bottling took forever because the spout on the fermenter got clogged very quickly. This made bottling slower and messier than normal; the two things that I dislike about home brewing, it's slow and messy.

Finally after another week of waiting, it was time to try the beer. The first beer I opened was the last one I bottled, it turned out to be plum juice with a hint of porter, and completely flat. I knew the last couple we bottled would probably be the same, which meant fewer beers for me and Kim, and maybe the beer would all be totally flat and a complete loss. A couple days later I decided I'd have to see, so we tasted the next one. At least it wasn't flat, but was too sour to drink. Not wanting to waste any beer I at least came up with a way to make the beers drinkable, maple syrup. Just a little bit of maple syrup (about a teaspoon in each glass) and, viola, the beer was quite tasty, although it tasted more like a Belgian beer than a porter.

So no more fruit beers for me, at least until I perfect my craft a little better, but I am still looking forward to the next brew. Maybe I'll just go back to basics and try another IPA, I'm sure Kim would be happy about that.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Extreme Beers

The race is on to make a beer that is 50% ABV:

Beer shots anyone?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Paris - the next great beer destination?

It's been almost a year since I've been to Paris, so I thought I better do something with my beer notes before they made no sense any more....

When you think of France, beer isn't the first thing that springs to mind, but maybe it will be, and sooner than you think. Take a walk around Paris and see what everyone is drinking. Chances are you'll see as many people having a beer as having a glass of wine.

With Paris being an easy weekend trip from Denmark, I decided to see just what there was on offer.

Starting my trip in virtual reality, I found there were two brewpubs in Paris -- one of which was a chain with several locations throughout Paris and elsewhere in France -- several specialty beer stores, as well as a farm brewery that would hopefully be accessible by public transport.

After investigation, my goal for the weekend was to visit Brasserie O'Neil and The Frog & Princess brewpubs, the Cave à Bulles specialty beer store, these were located close to our hotel, and then make a trek out to Ferme-Brasserie de Gaillon (Farm Brewery de Gaillon). Unfortunately the trip out to the farm brewery was difficult to plan with the information I could find on the internet, so it didn't work out. Our failed attempt did work well as a reconnaissance mission for a future trip, but that's another story.

Cave à Bulles is a beer store specializing in French and Belgian craft beers. The staff member we talked to spoke great English and was very helpful with recommending French beers we should try based on our preferred tastes. After Kim told him that our favorite beers were stouts and IPAs, he proceeded to show us which French breweries made beers of those styles. We even got some beer glasses for our growing collection. The biggest problem was steering him to show us the world of French beers aside from our preferences. In the end we managed to express this and came away with a selection of beers to get us through the weekend as well as a few to stash in our luggage to drink once we returned home.

We also talked up visiting Ferme-Brasserie de Gaillon, whilst selecting a couple of their beers. What we found out is that had we made the trip all the way out to the brewery, we probably would have been disappointed, as we could have seen or done nothing, just purchased the same beers we were buying in the shop. On the plus side, we learned that it's good to visit when they have open house once a year in October. At the open house, they have tours and other brewing events for two days. A future trip?

Brasserie O'Neil is a restaurant and brewpub, so we decided to have dinner there as well. This turned out to be a wise decision as the bar area was small and packed, and you could only get a table if you were eating as well. We waited about 5 minutes before being seated in a small balcony section. The menu was only in French, but the waiter was very good at English and did a good job translating the menu when we needed it. Flammekueches are the specialty of the restaurant; there is not much else on the menu. The waiter described them as basically a white pizza with bacon and onions, and then various toppings. Sounded like good beer food, and it turned out it was.

O'Niel's beers didn't have very inspiring names, but at least they were easy to figure out: La Blonde (blond), L’Ambrée (amber), La Brune (brown), La Blanche (white), and you can buy them by the glass (25 cl), mug (40 cl), or even a pitcher (1.8 l). Between us we tried L’Ambrée, La Brune, and La Blanche. They were all good beers, La Brune being my favorite, followed closely by La Blanche, which also made an excellent palate cleanser. There was no information about how strong the beers are, that you'll have to gauge on your own after a few pitchers.

The Frog & Princess, our last planned destination, was totally packed and we barely made it to the bar. The sign on the wall showed 4 beers on tap, here they used some creativity in the names: Frog Natural Blonde (4.2%), Maison Blanche (4.2%), Inseine (4.4%), and Dark de Triomphe (5.0%). Kim chose Inseine, for the hops, and I chose Dark de Triomphe, a milk stout. As we moved away from the overcrowded bar and found a spot to stand by the wall that wasn't totally blocking traffic, we sipped our beers, and had a conversation that strained our ears and throats. As we drank, the crowed thinned out a bit, or maybe it was just that a lot of people went outside for a smoke. The Dark de Triomphe was mild and pleasant at first, but the aftertaste was odd. A milk stout is sweetened with lactose, and this one, while not tasting too sweet, had a decidedly milky aftertaste. As this was my first milk stout I wasn't sure if they were all this way, or if it was just the Dark, or if this batch was just bad. In the end, I did not think I could follow this beer with a different one, or drink another of the same. Creativity in the brewing as well, but maybe a tad bit too creative for me.

In addition to what I scouted out on the net, we also found a Belgian restaurant, La GueuzeAdresse:, which had lots of beer options, including Belgian beer on tap and a large, diverse list of bottled beer as well. If you visit the Jardin du Luxembourg, or the Pantheon, it's just right around the corner, so stop in and have a beer!

Still not convinced that Paris is the next great beer destination? I can only urge you to see for yourself.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Beer and Pregnancy

Now that I am pregnant, I have to ask myself the question, "How do I handle the 9 months of pregnancy, and following months of breast feeding, when it comes to one of my favorite subjects, beer?"

Will I let myself have a beer or two each week that they now say is safe? Will I abstain completely, but still go out on Fridays and watch others drink? Will I meet somewhere in the middle and have a beer occasionally? Are there other options?

For me, I think it best to abstain, although I don't claim to have lost the desire for a beer now and then. In fact I have even had a sip or two of beer with a meal, when there was a new beer to try. I felt it better to have that little taste to satisfy my curiosity, than to have that little voice in my head windering, possibly forever, did I miss out on my potentially favorite beer.

I have also tried drinking some alcohol free beers, but funny thing about that, they often have them on the menu, but don't actually have them available. And those are almost always pilsners, my least favorite beer, although Erdinger makes a wheat beer that's alcohol free. Now if I could just find an alcohol free stout!

If I am eating at a bar, brewpub, or what have you, I look on the menu for something made from a beer, perhaps a pork bbq sandwich with a beer based bbq sauce, or something in a beer broth, or marinated in beer. After all, the alcohol is cooked away.

It's even a good time to brew some beer with your friends. It will definitely be good for the beer to let it age during your pregnancy. I know I usually have to have at least one beer as soon as it's drinkable, but if I brew now, I will hae to let it age, and I can tease my frineds when they are out of beer and I still have all mine.

And what about when you know you are pregnant, but you don't want everyone else to know yet? How do you turn down that beer when you are known as the one who never turns down a beer?

When I wasn't ready to tell everyone i was pregnant, I kept myself "busy", and didn't go out with my drinking buddies. I once ordered a beer and then pretended to drink a few sips over dinner, and drank water the whole time, no one seemed to notice. It's also possible to say you are sick and don't think you could stomach a drink, or even one step further, that you are on medicine that prevents you from drinking. You could even volunteer to be the designated driver.

And what about after the baby is born. I know I will want to celebrate my happy, healthy baby, whether it's just with a few friends or a party for the baptism. But I plan to breast feed? Will I drink? I think I probably will have to celebrate with a few beers, but I can always store some extra breast milk in the freezer during the first few weeks, and it will be ready for the baby when needed, and then I can "pump and dump" while there is alcohol in my system. Besides, after 9 months without drinking, I will probably be a cheap date, anyway. And while I am under the influence, this will be the one time my husband has to be the responsible one and actually take care of the baby, and then he will have to be the sober one! As for drinking on a regular basis, that will still have to wait until the breast feeding is done.