Tartly Balanced Monk’s Flemish Sour Ale 

On 16th Street in Center City Philadelphia, you’ll see the black, red and yellow awning before you see the neon sign in the window:

Beer Emporium
Monk’s Café

Known as the soul of Belgium in the heart of Philadelphia, Monk’s Café is Tom Peter’s Belgian beer mecca, and possibly one of the most beloved craft beer bars in the city. Boasting two draft bars, a bottle list the size of a phone book and a top notch menu, Monk’s satisfies the thirsty and hungry, and is almost always packed.

But the Belgian bar takes it one step further: Monk’s Cafe has its own Flemish Sour Ale, brewed and bottled by Browerij Van Steenberge.

I’ve had the Flemish Sour on tap several times, but when I saw a bottle on my local liquor store shelf, I knew I had to have it for a night when I couldn’t make it out to Monk’s.

The beer pours a dark red-brown with virtually no head. There’s a nip of tartness in the nose, just to remind you that you’re drinking a proper Belgian sour. The beer is rich with plum notes and other fruit, and I was happy to see no strong traces of vinegar (I had a sour brown once at an Italian restaurant and the vinegar smell and taste were overpowering!).

According to the bottle, the beer is blend of young and old, which probably accounts for how balanced it is. At 5.5% ABV, the beer is a thirst quencher without being a stool-toppler. I think it would pair well with any red meat (perhaps steak frites?) or even venison. A must find if you’re in the Philadelphia area!




Hazelnut Brown Nectar Ice Cream with Brown Butter Almond Tuile Cups 

Making a dessert with beer can be one of the easiest “cooking with beer” tasks you can do, depending on the dessert (if you can’t bake a regular cake to save your life, then baking a cake with beer in it might not be any different, sorry to say). But, if you can crack open a bottle of craft beer, pour it in a goblet, and then scoop in your favorite ice cream, then voila! You’ve just made a beer ice cream float, and trust me, it’s delicious.

But that’s not actually making a dessert with beer. So let’s try a one that is: Homemade beer ice cream. If you have an ice cream maker and the ingredients, then you’re all set. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, but REALLY like ice cream, think about spending $40 and getting the machine. It’s worth it, and a great way to wow guests at dinner parties.

I did this just the other night when friends came over; I made a Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar ice cream with Spiced Brown Butter Almond Tuile Cups. Now, only the ice cream has the beer in it, but if you want to fancy things up a bit, I suggest making the tuile cups—they’re easy, they’re tasty, and you could probably figure out how to use a little beer in them as well.

But first, the ice cream.

I use a base recipe that is for a Philadelphia-style ice cream (it doesn’t contain eggs, so you don’t have to fuss with cooking it—bonus!)

Hazelnut Brown Nectar Ice Cream
2 cups light cream
1 cup beer (I used Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar)
1 cup sugar
Pinch of kosher salt

Whisk the ingredients together until combined; pour into your ice cream maker and process per the manufacturer’s instructions. I’ve noticed that when I make beer ice cream, the final product out of the ice cream maker is the consistency of soft serve, but once I get it into the freezer, it firms up. You could also use heavy cream, which thickens the finished product a bit, but I had light cream on hand and rolled with it.

If you were going to serve this without the tuile cups, then during the last 5 minutes of the processing time you could add nuts like almonds or hazelnuts to amp up the nuttiness. Or just add them as toppings when you serve them.

Now for the tuile cups. I originally found the recipe in Bon Appetit magazine, but have made a few changes.

Brown Butter Almond Tuile Cup Ingredients
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of Chinese five-spice powder
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup minus 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1/8 cup finely chopped almonds

Preheat to 350°F. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick silicone baking mats. Place 4 pint glasses, upside down, on the countertop.

Stir butter in small saucepan over medium heat until nutty brown and milk solids are dark brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Carefully pour browned butter into small bowl and cool slightly.

Combine egg whites, sugar, five-spice powder, and salt in medium bowl; whisk until mixture is foamy, about 1 minute. Add warm browned butter, leaving dark brown milk solids behind in bowl; whisk until blended. Whisk in vanilla. Add flour and whisk until blended and smooth.

Drop batter by tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets, spacing so you fit 3-4 cookies on each sheet. Spread out using an offset spatula or butter knife, getting the batter thin and to the shape of a 4-5 inch circle. Sprinkle almonds over each.

Bake the tuiles, 1 sheet at a time, until evenly golden all over, about 11 minutes. Working quickly and using wide metal spatula (hint spray the spatula with a little non-stick cooking spray), carefully lift each tuile immediately drape over pint glass. Press the tuile to mold to the bottom of the glass, making cookie bowls. Cool until tuiles are set. Repeat making total of 12 cookie bowls, or less, depending on how many guests you may have.

Scoop the ice cream into a cup and garnish with a cookie shard on top. The nuttiness of the ice cream and the nuttiness of the brown butter and almonds go together well. Definitely give this a try!

A few notes on beer ice cream:
• I’ve found sweet, malty beers work best for this, though I’d be interested to see a big, citrusy IPA in ice cream form—I’m curious if the flavor and aroma would make it through the freezing process, or if you’d be left with bitter cream.
• If making a stout ice cream, add a little unsweetened cocoa powder (maybe a tablespoon or 2). This amps up the chocolate flavors in the beer, and is especially wonderful (I had great luck doing this with Middle Ages Brewing Co.’s Dragon Slayer Imperial Stout.
• Yes, you will taste the alcohol. You will taste the beer. If you have friends over that do not like beer, I suggest serving them French vanilla with the cups.




Feel the Burn: Rogue’s Chipotle Ale 

Rogue's Chipotle AleI grew up in a household that used the McCormick’s Mild spice blend when my mom made chili. I didn’t have a jalapeno until I ventured outside the realm’s of living with my family. So spicy food wasn’t really on my radar.

But things have changed; I make homemade chicken chili with jalapenos, I regularly make up batches of homemade sriracha (and nearly destroy my hands when I handled the peppers improperly), and I am always up for trying a chile ale.

My first was Patty’s Chile Beer from Wynkoop. I found it a bit too pepper-y for my tastes, but nonetheless very balanced and tasty. So, when I saw Rogue’s Chipotle Ale on the shelf at Wegman’s, I knew I had to snag a bomber and give it a shot.

According to Rogue’s website, the beer recipe is based off of the brewery’s American Amber Ale and the chipotle chiles are roasted, which is evident in the nose. Their smokey goodness explodes from the pint glass—you don’t even have to bring the glass up to your face to know that there is some serious chile action going down.

The beer pours a hazy amber, with a thick, fluffy head. Great for taking pictures. But possibly the best thing about this extremely drinkable ale is that the smokey chile flavor is completely balanced; you realize that you’re still drinking beer and not a liquefied chile. And the chipotle on top is the pleasant slow burn that lingers, begging you to take another sip.

Rogue’s Chipotle Ale took silver at the 2009 World Beer Championships and silver again at the 2010 Australian International Beer Awards. It’s definitely craft beer I won’t hesitate to pick up in the future, maybe to pair with a pulled pork or pull chicken sandwich. Yum!




Bottling Beers without Ending Your Relationship 

Sanitizing bottles in the dishwasherWhen it comes to homebrewing, a lot of people gripe about bottling: about how it’s messy or annoying or frustrating or how it totally ruins your day and leaves you yelling at your partner. Luckily for Ray and me, we’ve never had a major issue with bottling. We have a set procedure that we don’t stray from, and that helps a lot.

To give any of you fed-up homebrewers a hand, or for the newbies that are curious about how to get beer into a bottle effectively, here are 5 tips on how to keep bottling from driving you mad and ending your marriage.

1. Schedule your bottling day. While bottling when the whim hits isn’t necessarily a bad thing, actually putting it on your brewing calendar not only keeps you accountable (hello … we put off bottling a beer for nearly 3 months!), but it ensures that you make time for it and that you have the necessary supplies: bottles, caps and priming sugar.

2. Make sure you have enough bottles for the size of your batch. I know offhand that a 5 gallon batch of beer yields approximately 2 cases of 12 oz bottles, give or take. I also like to include a few 22 oz bottles in the mix, which means I often don’t need the full 48 bottles. Nonetheless, it never hurts to have extra bottles on hand. You can purchase cases of bottles at your LHBS (we’ve gotten them for $13/case) or recycle the craft beer bottles you consume.

3. Sanitize your bottles—the easy way! We take unlabeled, non-twist top bottles and place them on all the spokes in our dishwasher’s bottom level. The bottom can usually hold the full 48, but if necessary, you can poke some through the top rack, depending on your dishwasher.

We run a heavy load cycle without soap and turn on the heated dry. This is great because it’s pretty much hands-off, giving us time to transfer the beer from the fermenter to the bottling bucket, boil our priming sugar and sanitize our other equipment. Once the bottles are done, I repackage them into 6-pack cartons to make them easier to handle. (I realize not everyone has a dishwasher, but if you do, try this!)

4. Use a bottling checklist. This will keep you organized and less likely to forget something. We use the following list:

Bottling Check List
1. Calculate the number of bottles needed; remember, a 5 gallon batches yields approximately 2 cases of 12 oz bottles.
2. Sanitize all of the following:
• Bottles
• Bottling bucket
• Siphon
• Tubing
• Brew Spoon
• Sample-taker
• Bottling wand
3. Line up the following:
• Priming sugar (or DME if you prefer)
• Refractometer or hydrometer (for final gravity reading)
• Caps
• Capper
• Sharpie (to label caps)
• Empty beer cartons
4. Dissolve 4 oz priming sugar in 1 cup of water, bring to a boil for 5 minutes,?then let cool to room temperature.
5. Pour boiled sugar into the bottling bucket.
6. Carefully siphon beer into bottling bucket without splashing and introducing oxygen.
7. Gently stir the beer with the sanitized spoon to distribute sugar.
8. Take a sample for the specific gravity reading. Record reading from refractometer or hydrometer.
9. Attach tubing and bottling wand to the spigot.
10. Fill the bottles and place a cap on top.
11. Cap the bottles, placing them back into the cartons.
12. Label the caps and store in a cool, dry place. Try a bottle 2 weeks after conditioning. If not ready yet, try again in about a week or two.

5. Assign roles. For homebrewing, I handle the bottle sanitation in the dishwasher, priming sugar prep, filling the bottles, labeling the caps, stowing the cases and washing smaller items. Ray transfers the beer to the bottling bucket, sanitizes all the other equipment we use, caps the bottles, and does the bottle and fermenter cleanup. Once again, it helps to know who is doing what and stick to it!

Using these tips, Ray and I attack bottling with an assembly-line precision, all the while talking and singing along to our favorite tunes. Bottling day is never a tense, unpleasant experience for us, and it doesn’t need to be for anyone else!




Looking at the Bottom of the Glass: Oatmeal Stouts 

Oatmeal StoutI thought I’d take a moment to take a look at one of my favorite styles of beer since our carboys and most equipment for brewing have been packed up for the eventual move … now we just need to find a tenant and an adorable apartment to call out own! (More on that later)

Much like the oatmeal your mother encouraged you to eat during the winters of your childhood, oatmeal stouts have been described as “nutritional” in the past, especially for breastfeeding mothers (the practice of drinking stouts while lactating is still supported by many, as seen by a quick Google search).

But oatmeal stouts aren’t just for the ladies—mothers or otherwise—they are an excellent beer for anyone to drink and brew at home.

According to the BJCP Guidelines, oatmeal stouts are a subcategory of stouts (category 13) and have a medium-light to medium-full bodied, creamy mouth feel. Brewers can thank the oats for their beer’s mouthfeel; the grain’s addition to the brew kettle gives this type of stout its recognizable silky texture without adding too much sweetness.

Aroma is rich with coffee and roastiness—most often from the darker malts used, like black patent. Flavor mimics the aroma; oatmeal stouts are described as roasty, malty and sometimes chocolately, depending on the malt bill. Appearance is brownish-black, with a latte-colored head that can be thin-to-thick, depending on the glassware and pour.

Hops are not the stars of this beer, and should be selected to balance the malt; many brewers like to use East Kent Goldings, a traditional hop variety from the UK. More specifically, the IBUs for this style should range from 25-40 for a regular-strength (non-imperial) oatmeal stout.

The amount of oats used in each recipe differs, but most home brewers should shoot for 1-1.5 pounds of oats per 5 gallon batch. Also, something to note is John Palmer’s opinion on cooking oats before adding to the mash.

From his website:

Rolled and flaked oats have had their starches gelatinized (made soluble) by heat and pressure, and are most readily available as “Instant Oatmeal” in the grocery store. Whole oats and “Old Fashioned Rolled Oats” have not had the degree of gelatinization that Instant have had and must be cooked before adding to the mash. … Cook according to the directions on the box (but add more water) to ensure that the starches will be fully utilized.

If you’re not familiar with this style, it’s always a wise idea to try a few varieties from your local pub or liquor store first to decide what qualities you want to impart in your brew. Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout is a classic, pouring a deep brown-black with a thick, mocha-colored head and giving off coffee and roast in its nose. But if you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, then Stone Brewing Co.’s 12th Anniversary Ale would have done the trick (if you can still find a bottle hidden somewhere in a cellar). This ale was more commonly known as the Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, and it packs an intense flavor punch in the way of dark chocolate, coffee, and roastiness. According to the label, the 2007 hop shortage contributed to the genius of this beer because the brewers opted to use unsweetened chocolate from Chuao Chocolatier for most of this oatmeal stout’s bittering.

For novice homebrewers, it might be best to lean more toward the traditional angle of this style, but if you have a bit of a creative streak, go hell-bent for challenging the style’s guidelines and try adding chocolate, fruit, or even infusions of tea.




Curling Up with Ithaca’s Cold Front 

Ithaca Cold Front
When people ask me where I’m from, I tend to be a smartass and say “the entire East Coast.” It’s not completely hyperbolic, seeing that I’ve lived in 5 different states up and down the coast. But while I might proudly call the Philly metro area my home, there will always be a special place in my heart for Upstate NY.

And in Upstate there’s a fantastic city called Ithaca, bordering the beautiful Finger Lakes Wine Region. Ithaca has a green reputation, Cornell University (Go Big Red!), and a steadily growing brewery: Ithaca Beer Co., nicknamed “The Spirit of the Finger Lakes.” And it’s “gorges” … yes, that’s an inside joke. Look it up.

I know my Uncle Larry—Cornell alum and Ithaca native for at least 30+ years (probably more)—favors Ithaca’s Nut Brown Ale; a lot of folks in NY do. For me though, I have to hand it to Ithaca’s seasonal offerings and its Excelsior! series. The other day, while perusing the cold case at my local Wegmans (yet another jewel of Upstate NY), I heard a six-pack of Ithaca’s Cold Front, a Belgian Amber Ale, calling my name.

According to Ithaca’s website:

Cold Front is our Belgian-style Amber Ale brewed in autumn to keep us inspired as the days grow shorter and the nights colder. It’s brewed with European Malts and hops and fermented with a legendary Belgian ‘Farmhouse’ yeast.

Cold Front stands at 7.2% ABV, technically outside the prescribed limits of a “session beer,” but it’s extremely drinkable as a pint or two. The beer pours a deep amber brown with a fluffy white head. A spicy, Belgian yeast aroma erupted from the glass as I poured—I knew this would be good.

Taking a whiff, the nose is chock-full of spice. Taking my first sip, I’m greeted with a deep caramely sweetness with just the hint of dark stone fruit. Cold Front finishes slightly dry, demanding the drinker to take sip after sip.

What I find particularly clever is that Ithaca’s spring seasonal is called Ground Break. It’s a hoppy American Saison that celebrates spring and the waning of winter. As someone who spent five winters in NY, I can appreciate the care Ithaca’s brewers take to remind us that there are good (and warmer!) things around the bend.




Raise a Pint to National Lager Day 

LagerDec. 10 marks National Lager Day, a day when every good beer-drinking citizen should lift a pint of their favorite lager in celebration.

In the Philadelphia area, most people belly up to the bar and order “the lager” as in “Barkeep, good sir, I’ll have ‘the lager.’” What they mean is “I’ll have a Yeungling Traditional Lager.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, but there is so much more out there in the world of lagers! Explore! But first, a little background: Lagering is a process of cold fermenting (usually between 35-40 degrees, give or take) the beer with lager yeast, which are bottom fermenters. The cold aging process produces a beer clear of haze and crisp in flavor. Lagers range from light in color (Standard American Lager, Munich Helles) to amber (Vienna Lager, Oktoberfest) to dark (Dunkel, Schwarzbier).

Some lagers to try:
Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel
Bell’s Consecrator
Dixie Blackened Voodoo
Dock Street’s Royal Bohemian Pilsner
Heavy Seas Marzen
Iron Hill’s Vienna Lager—which Iron Hill Maple Shade took Gold medal at GABF this year for their Vienna Lager!
Riverhorse Lager
Sly Fox Oktoberfest
Stoudt’s Gold
Stoudt’s Pils
Victory’s Festbier
Victory’s Prima Pils

What’s your favorite lager?

Fun fact: Lager yeast emerged in the Holy Roman Empire due to a spontaneous mutation or hybridization effect. As a new variety of beer, it often had to be produced outside city walls because it faced opposition from the Catholic Church. — MyPunchbowl.com




Review: Unibroue’s Quelque Chose 

Unibroue Quelque ChoseI amused Ray by translating the French on the Unibroue bottle, “It means ‘something.’”

“That’s it?” he said.


“Huh. The French.”

You don’t need four years of studying la belle langue français to understand that Quebec’s Unibroue has a little somethin’ somethin’ up its sleeves with Quelque Chose. Described as a 50% dark ale, 50% brown ale brewed with cherries, this sweet-and-sour beer stands at 8% ABV. But you don’t notice it (trust me).

Quelque Chose pours a beautiful ruby red with no head, and according to the bottle, the beer has “very little carbonation.” The cherry notes are strong and lovely, but there are also some hints of caramel and plum, which add to the depth of its flavor.

Sharing a goblet of the cherry-drenched libation with Ray, he proclaimed, “This is a ‘start your girlfriend’ beer!” I agreed—for someone who might not know where to start with craft beer, Quelque Chose would be a good choice, but only if the drinker understood that this is a slightly sour beer. I think once that’s out in the open, a new-to-craft-beer gal could really get behind Quelque Chose.

For food pairings, Quelque Chose would be smashing with duck (you could even make a reduction of it to serve over top) or any other red meat, as well as a mild bleu, maybe even a creamy cheddar—the slightly sharp sourness could cut through the fat well.

While this isn’t the kind of beer you’d pair with dessert, it certainly can be used to make dessert. Check out the recipe for the Quelque Chose Raspberry Tart or Quelque Chose Crepes.

On Beer Advocate, Unibroue’s Quelque Chose has a rating of B+, but I argue it’s a solid A. This is most definitely a bottle I would pick up again.




BeerCamp Philly 2011: Serving 10 Gallons to the Masses 

Photo by the ever talented and lovely Marissa, who writes the most excellent Food in Jars.

It seems like eons ago, but on June 4 Ray, my dearest friend Rach and I served nearly 10 gallons of Bathtub Brewery’s homebrewed beer to a crowd of beer enthusiasts. And it was AWESOME.

We joined the BeerCamp crew earlier in the year, meeting 1-2 times a month at IndyHall where we would taste each others beer, chat and slowly figure out how we wanted the event to turn out (though really, Kelani, Johnny, Dave and Alex were the logistical masterminds behind ALL of it…we just made the libations!)

And then the first weekend of June rolled around and we hauled 4 cases of our bottled beer into the patio/garden area of the Jamaican Jerk Hut on South Street. We iced down some bottles, poured chilled beer into mammoth pitchers … and then got to drinking our fellow brewers’ beers during the VIP Brewers Hour.

Mel and Rach serve Bathtub Brewery's homebrews at BeerCamp Philly

Mel and Rach behind the table, working the crowd. Gotta love Rach's "Say wha?" face.

The three of us worked seamlessly as a team, with 2 people pouring while the other either cracked open bottles, ran to get food, or took a bathroom break. Rach and I attracted quite the crowd from time to time, and it was funny to see guys’ reactions to the fact that I was a brewer, not just a “table babe.” Ray and I fielded a fair amount of questions, and even Rach picked up enough lingo to explain what she was serving. We’ll make a brewer of her yet!

We served the much hailed Bee Sting and a new beer, simply named Cherry Wheat (recipe to be posted soon). We were happy with our offerings, but what blew us away was people coming up to the table and saying, “So we heard about this Bee Sting …” Say wha?! Apparently our fellow brewers were sending folks our way, heaving praise on our little hybrid pale ale. Talk about an awesome feeling.

Parker samples the Bee Sting

Parker samples a Bee Sting as a friend looks on

And we surprised more than a few people with our Cherry Wheat. Typically you say “Cherry Wheat” and people shudder at the Robitussin-like memory of a bottle from Sam Adams. But our brew was far from that. Instead, it was light, wheaty and a balance of sweet and tart. Attendees were shocked and asked for seconds.

After sampling the beers of my fellow homebrewers throughout the night, I’m proud to say I was part of BeerCamp, and I’m pretty sure Ray would agree with me. Why at least half these brewers aren’t pro already floors me. What I was drinking that night was innovative and downright delicious.

Tom and the Big Spoon Brewery Gang

Tom (far left) and the rest of his Big Spoon Brewery crew

Tom, from Big Spoon Brewery, brought his Wobbly Bass Brown, Mmmmm Creamy Milk Stout—and for the lucky—some bottles of his Russian Imperial Stout brewed with coffee. We were blown away and super happy when he took the Brewer’s Choice Award at the end of the night. People’s Choice Awards went to MelloProto Brewing’s Blood Orange Berliner aka B.ö.B., Saint Benjamin Brewing Co.’s Transcontinental (a California Common or “steam” beer) and B WeeRd Brew D’s CHOCRILLA, a stout brewed with sarsaparilla.

The food was fantastic, the beer superb and the company we kept was excellent. I can’t wait until the next BeerCamp Philly event!

Last 3 photos courtesy of Ray who isn’t in any photos because he was too busy taking them!




Victory to Debut Otto in October 

Victory Brewing Co., based in Downingtown PA is a power house of a brewery. I seriously wish we lived closer so we could mull about in the mammoth brewery and restaurant and sip pints on Friday nights. But for now we have to admire from across the water.

And here’s a new reason to envy all the other PA folks who live close enough to the brewery: On Oct. 15, Victory will debut a new beer called Otto, a Belgian-style, bottle conditioned dubbel ale available in 750 ml corked bottles.

This won’t be just any dubbel—which are pretty fantastic in their own right. Otto is brewed with smoked Munich and Belgian caramel malt, German hops and Trappist yeast. The ABV will ring in at 8.1%. Yum.

According to the press release I received, co-founders Bill and Ron developed the recipe for the smoked malt dubbel based on their experience with the style during a 1987 trip to Bamberg, Germany (Note: I was 5 in 1987). The combination of the traditional smokey flavor of a rauch beer married to the Belgian caramel malt will give the beer “a perfectly harmonized final flavor,” according to Victory’s founders.

“The complimentary flavors of smoked malt and Belgian yeast seemed like an obvious combination,” said Bill. “As far as we know, no one has bothered to put them together until now.”