Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Steak and Ale Pie

Growing up I would occasionally eat a dish my parents called "pasty". It was a rather plain, but hearty dish. My grandma would bake them every time she came down from Wisconsin to visit the family. She'd make a large batch and freeze some so we could heat them up later. I was never a huge fan of the dish as I child, but as Grandma came over less and less I started to miss them.

Two summers ago I visited Europe for a couple weeks. We touched down in Glasgow and the first meal I had on Scottish soil was a "steak and ale pie" in Sterling. It was very similar to the pasty I grew up on and really hit the spot in the cold weather.

Last week I was brewing a Bohemian pilsner on the roof of my apartment. It took almost twice as long as usual due to the frigid 13F Oklahoma weather. My hoses were freezing, my propane burner was stalling, and my hands were comatose. Somewhere in the baltic madness of it all, I thought about how comforting a meat pie of some sort would be. So this weekend (just in time for the weather to dramatically warm up) I decided to try my hand at making one. I put my recipe together from numerous sources on the internet, along with some personal touches:


  • 1.5 lbs beef stew meat
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups peeled and cubed red potatoes (any potatoes will work)
  • 1 1/2 cups quartered fresh mushrooms
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 turnips
  • 8 oz carrots, chopped (I used a 16 oz bag of frozen carrots and peas)
  • 8 oz peas
  • 1 leek, chopped
spices and other:
  • 2 bottles of my winter porter (suggested substitute beers: any bitter, brown ale, porter, or stout. Common examples include Boddington's, Newcastle, Fuller's London Porter, and Guinness respectively)
  • powder mix for flaky pie crust
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • LARGE sauce pan (or a large skillet)
  • 9-inch pie plate
  1. Place the beef stew meat, onion, garlic, and ale in large saucepan/skillet. Simmer over low heat until the meat is browned, about 25 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  3. Season the beef with garlic, thyme, parsley, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Mix in the potatoes, mushrooms, turnips, carrots, and peas. Cover and simmer over medium heat until potatoes are just tender enough to pierce with a fork, ~15 minutes. Mix in the flour and stir.
  4. Mix the crust according to the directions on the box (follow the directions for a "double pie"). Fit one pie crust into the bottom and up the sides of a 9 inch pie plate. Spoon the hot beef mixture into the crust and top with the remaining pie crust. Cut slits in the top crust to vent steam and crimp the edges to seal them together (also: to make them look pretty).
  5. Bake in preheated oven until the crust is golden brown and gravy is bubbling for about 25-40 minutes.
I am very pleased with how the pie came out! I may use dough that's ready to go rather than a powder mix, as I'm not a very talented baker (as the pictures of my crust brilliantly display). If you don't enjoy the flavor of turnips and leeks, you should probably omit those. They are frequently used in English/Welsh/Scottish cuisine but are not incredibly common ingredients in the states. The recipe yielded a lot more filling than I suspected. I ended up with enough to make two pies. I filled a pie with half the filling and sealed the remnants for use in a future pie.

The pie was paired with the same beer I cooked it with, and I recommend you do the same. Let the beer warm up just a tad so you can better appreciate the flavors in the ale, and what they add to the pie.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Utopias Killer?

Not Quite.

Beer megacorp Carlsberg just announced a 10.5% abv barley wine. The beer is priced at nearly $400 USD per ~12.9 ounce bottle, dethroning Sam Adams Utopias as the most expensive beer in production. It is designed to compete with premium wine and champagne. The brewmaster claims given the amount of barley and time taken to make the beer, it is "cheap".

A couple points here:
  • At 10.5% it is not even half as potent as Utopias
  • The claims of the beer being "cheap", are laughable. The ingredients in Utopias cost at LEAST 2.5 times as much as the ingredients in this beer (since it uses nearly that much more fermentable sugars, many of them coming from maple syrup which is very expensive to brew with) and it will only set you back a "paltry" $150.
  • This is an attempt to make beer more sophisticated, but it just comes off as cheap and silly to me. A product aimed squarely at people that want to say "I purchased a FABULOUS bottle of beer last night for $400, it's quite rare"

Source: Bloomberg

Monday, January 21, 2008

Homemade Beer Bread

Lately I have heard a lot of talk about "beer bread" mixes you can buy in the store. All you do is add a bottle of beer, mix, and bake. I received a mix for Christmas and the bread turned out pretty good. "How easy is it to make from scratch?", I thought.

The answer is: incredibly. I stumbled upon an amazing blog, written by a farm girl in MO. She gives a template for a beer bread recipe that goes like this:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder (crucial ingredient)
  • 12 oz beer of your choice
All you need to do is mix together the ingredients, spread in a bread loaf pan(grease first if you do not have a non-stick pan), bake at 375F for 45 minutes and you're done! You can make many variations of this recipe by adding various herbs, spices, and cheeses. Here is the recipe I concocted with help from the farm girl:
  • 3 cups un-bleached organic all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon organic brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon clover honey
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 12 oz home brewed juniper porter
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
The bread turned out very good! Much better than the pre-made mixed I used the other week. I took it to a hombrew club meeting and there was none left by the end! An added benefit of making this bread is that your house/apartment/domicile will smell amazing!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Measuring alcohol in beer?

One of the most frequent questions I receive as a home-brewer is "so, how do you know how much alcohol is in it?" The method used to calculate the % alcohol by volume is deceptively simple and low tech.

An overview of how it works:
  1. Measure the amount of sugar dissolved in the wort before it begins fermenting. (A)
  2. Measure the amount of sugar remaining in the solution when the beer has completed fermentation. (B)
  3. Remove the decimal points and take the difference of these two measurements (A - B = C). Divide C by the constant 7.36 to get the alcohol by volume.
    C/7.36 = % alcohol by volume.

That's really all there is to it. The measurements in steps one and two are the "specific gravity" of the liquid. Specific gravity is a ratio of the density of one substance to the density of water. Substances with gravity greater than 1.000 are denser than water while substances with a gravity less than 1.000 are less dense than water.

The measurements are taken with a device called a "hydrometer". A sample of beer is taken in a small tube (similar to a graduated cylinder). The hydrometer is a glass tube with a bulb on the bottom. The device is calibrated to measure gravity in part due to a chunk of lead inside the bottom of the glass bulb. The hydrometer is allowed to float in the beer. When the hydrometer stabilizes, graduations on the glass tube indicate the gravity readings which vary depending on how high or low the hydrometer comes to rest in the liquid.

The measurement in step 1(A) is often called the "Original Gravity"(OG) or "Initial Gravity". For most beer this can be as low as 1.035 (Berliner Weisse beer) or as high as 1.120+ (in the case of barley wines).

The measurement in step 2(B) is termed the "Final Gravity"(FG). For most beer this can be as low as 1.000 (some sour ales) or higher than 1.030 (barley wines, scotch ales, imperial stouts, etc.)

There are various methods for calculating alcohol based on the two measurements, and none are 100% correct. I chose this method because it's the easiest to estimate off hand. The beer becomes less dense as it ferments. The sugars are processed by yeast into carbon dioxide and alcohol. The CO2 gas bubbles out of the fermenter while the alcohol (which is less-dense than water) remains. The more sugar that remains in the beer (the higher the FG), the sweeter and thicker it will taste. The lower the FG, the drier and thinner the beer will taste.

A couple weeks ago I brewed a Russian Imperial Stout. I measured the OG to be 1.106. The beer has now finished fermenting, at left you can see the hydrometer floating in the fermented beer. The FG looks to be about 1.033.
Using (OG - FG)/7.36 we get:
~9.9% abv

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hangover Soup

pictures of soup: no easy task

I recently fell ill and had no canned soup in the house. I decided to see what I could make with ingredients I had on hand. I found a great recipe over at allrecipes.com called "Mullingtawny Soup" and modified it to my needs. This will help with any illness, whether self-induced or not.

Hangover Soup
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • handful of spinach
  • handful of mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup butter (unsalted)
  • 2 tablespoons all-grain wheat flour (I used organic)
  • 3 teaspoons curry paste (you can also use curry powder)
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup amber beer (for your ale-ment: preferably a bitter, mild, or ESB)
  • 1 apple, cored and chopped into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup jasmine rice (any rice will do)
  • 1 skinless, boneless chicken breast - cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • salt to taste
  • ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 pinch dried thyme
  • couple shakes of red pepper flakes (optional)


  1. Saute onions, carrot, mushrooms and butter in a large soup pot. Add flour and curry, and cook 5 more minutes stirring frequently. Add stock and ale, mix well, and bring to a boil. Simmer about 1/2 hour.
  2. Add spinach, apple, rice, chicken, salt, pepper, thyme, pepper flakes. Simmer 15-20 minutes, or until rice is done.
  3. Consume soup for warm feel in the stomach. Drink remaining beer and go back to sleep.
Feeds one person with leftovers or two without, adjust accordingly. This is honestly one of the best soups I've ever had. Even if you do not like the taste of curry or are perplexed at the idea of apples in soup you, fear not, you will love it. I added the pepper flakes in for some mild spice. I plan on making this a lot in the future, in good health and bad.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

La Roja

The Beer:
La Roja
The Brewery: Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales of Dexter, Michigan
The Style: Sour Ale
ABV: 7.2%
Brewer's Description: La Roja, an artisan amber ale brewed in the Flanders tradition. Deep amber with earthy caramel, spice and sour fruit notes developed through natural barrel aging. Unfiltered, unpasteurized and blended from barrels ranging in age between two and ten months. Truly an ale of distinction.
Color: Poured into gator pint glass, deep, dark, brilliant copper
Aroma: Vinegar, apple juice, sour cherries, cedar
Taste/Mouthfeel: High carbonation. Initial flavor of apple peels and pungent yeast flavors with biscuity malts. Subtle spices emerge, perhaps cinnamon and anise.
Finish: Very tart, almost like apple cider, but not to the point of being mouth-puckering.
Notes: Purchased in Tampa, FL. This was a very different beer. The typical Belgian sour "funk" was prevalent, although it was not overbearing. Unusually high in strength of a sour ale, this tastes more like a sour ale of lower alcoholic content.

Saturday, January 5, 2008


The Beer: Penndemonium
The Brewery:Pennsylvania Brewing Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Style: Maibock
ABV: 8%
Brewer's Description: Something has gone terribly wrong (or terribly right depending on your view) in the Brewhouse. One of the brewers must have added too much malt to the mash and made a very strong beer. Stronger than your used to from the brewery that makes authentic German styles. This super strong beer has put the whole place in a state of pandemonium.

- The beer is golden colored but very heavy with alcohol of about 8% by volume. It’s dangerously easy to drink, so as the bottle label states: “You’ve been warned."

Color: Brilliant gold, very small head
Aroma: dough, bread, light caramel
Taste/Mouthfeel: Ample carbonation, medium mouthfeel, sweet malt, toasted bread, very clean. Not many fruity esters present here, the emphasis is all on the malt.
Finish: Slightly sweet with a very subtle alcoholic warmth. This does not taste like an 8% abv beer.
Notes: Purchased in Tampa, FL. This beer was incredibly malty for a brew so light in color. The Maibock style can be thought of as a pale colored traditional bock, or a strong Munich Helles beer. This example is atypical in that it is brewed to doppelbock strength. Although hop presence was almost non-existent the beer still managed to not come off too sweet. A great beer to pair with some brats doused in stingy horseradish mustard.