Friday, February 20, 2009

Homemade Pizza Oven 101

Part 1--Getting right to it, I made a pizza oven from an old Weber BBQ. You know which ones I am writing about, those round BBQs on a tripod of three legs--two legs with wheels and then a non-wheel leg. It is beer related, so I will put it on my blog because few things are as good as beer enjoyed with a great pizza.

While most of those old Webers may be rusting away in someone's backyard, why not rescue one and make a pizza oven. Here's what you do.

Stop! First things first though, you need the dough recipe. If you do not have the dough for the book (pun), then I can give you the gist of it. Just let me know.

Here's what you need so far:
  • Old Weber BBQ
  • Propane burner
Regarding the old Weber. It should be in reasonable condition. You might know someone who will just give it to you, but in this economy, they may try to get a few bucks for one. Heck, I paid $10 for mine. I like the red color.

Do that for now, then wait for my next blog. I will give you the design and resources then.

Until then... Cheer with a beer.

Monday, February 16, 2009

I Got Goosed!

If you happen to be following the blog, you would have noticed my subtle reference to it being my birthday. Well, my in laws wanted to show their appreciation of my birth by having a nice dinner last night for me and family.

After finishing my dinner and dessert, I was asked if I wanted to sample a gift from a fellow beer aficionado who was unable to attend, Kim. Kim has an acquired taste for barley wine. At a modest 13% alcohol content, barley wine is rarely served with anything and is meant to be enjoyed by itself--save for maybe raw oysters or something. Regardless, the timing was perfect.

Black as night, smokey and having a reminiscence of oak cured scotch Bourbon County Brand Stout is a 13% barley wine with huge character attached. It is a somewhat dry stout with charred oak, vanilla and caramel flavors that complement its moderate hop aromatics. Pour into a broad mouth glass and enjoy. I approve this barley wine.

Bourbon County Brand Stout is priced at $6.00 for 12 oz. bottle made by Goose Island Brewing Co. Chicago Ill. brewmaster Greg Hall.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pizza and Beer, The Anticipation

Before I begin, I want to thank the one responsible for creating/duplicating the recipe for Napoletana Pizza dough, Peter Reinhart —He wrote the book on breads and doughs, literally. (See image). If you like bread, want to make it and make it well, you need this book.

For my entire life, as long as I can remember, I have listed pizza as one of my favorite foods whenever asked. At a very young age, I had drawn pizzas often, and I had made mini pizzas using muffins for the crust when I was old enough to help in the kitchen. Now that I am older (Happy Birthday by the way Jeff) I have set out to finally make great pizza starting with the crust.

To make a long story short, my pizza quest taught me that different crust recipes were used for different styles of pizzas. Chicago deep dish, the classic European crust are to name a few, but the one I like is that of the Napoletana crust. The former crusts mentioned are not inferior by any means. They are simply created differently in order to accommodate the unique style of the pizza sought after. And, for lack of a better description, the Napoletana is a crust of medium thickness with a thin, crisp, outer crust that envelopes the moist, moderate airy crumb inside. It bubbles a bit along the outer edges but the moisture stays inside.

My first pizza dough attempt was a disaster. It looked similar to an over sized, very thin, tough, chewy crumpet, if there is such a thing. Determined and driven by both my love for pizza and my tenacious nature, I pursued. I researched and discovered among many things the cold fermentation process of the dough. Hmmm... This sounds familiar to the fermentation of a lager beer. Intrigued, I delved into the very long and fastidious recipe of Reinhart's Napoletana pizza crust dough. In a relatively short amount of time, I got it.
In fact, in the next blog, I will show you my home made pizza oven and how it can be made for cheap.

So, for my birthday dinner, I will be sliding the pizzas in the pizza oven and enjoying them with my family. Can you guess what beverage I will be having with that? Right! Beer.

I work until beer o’clock.--Steven King

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Please Grow

Wandered down the beer isle lately? Me too. I am a firm believer that beer is the drink of the common man (and woman). I buy it often as well as brew it myself. However, when the prices shoot up by $2.00 or $3.00 a six pack, I am left feeling that there could be no end to the bleakness of the economy. And, that the drink is no longer for every man. Et tu brewte?

How did the stress on the economy get the to beer? It should be protected from all of this. Well, here's what happened. Whether it was a storm, fire or both--I have heard both stories, there was some serious damage to the barley crop as well as the hop crop. The major brewers are not as effected from soaring grain and hop prices The big guys have long term supply contracts signed with their providers. But woe to the craft brewers who do not have supply contracts with the grain growers.

There is light at the end of the tunnel however. Mother nature seems to have eased up a bit on the crops in 2008. Adding to this, both hops and barley grow rather fast if given the chance. Hops can grow up to a foot a day in fact. Thank you mother nature.

Now all we have to do is wait a bit, and watch the prices of beer go back down so that both the craft brewers and we, the common man, can enjoy a great beer at a common price.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Nailed It!

Our family went out to dinner to celebrate our 6 year old's accomplishment. He finished his phonics level 1. Because I'm the one roughing it out with him, I needed it too. My favorite book out of the 14 other literary wonders was Dog Bug, a short book about a bug in a cup that turns out to be, of all things, a dog bug. So, we went to a local restaurant to have a nice dinner last Friday.

Beer lover that I am, and after pondering on my one of my own recent limns. I wanted an IPA. I asked the server what they had, and I chose the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The server commented a bit about the character of the beer. The discussion then began. DON'T get me started. He then began to divulge, volunteering his knowledge about beer and brewing. "I've been brewing for years now. Got a whole brewing section at home."
"Wow, that's great!" I replied.
He went on gesturing with his hands as if carefully measuring something in the air.
"My friend is a chemist. He's really particular. We made a lager, ales, stouts, but we tried top make a wheat beer one time, you know, a "hefee" but, it turned out blah."
I waited for him to finish, then I commiserated, "Aw, I hate that. All that work."
It was at that time I could not resist a little stab. "I'm curious, did you do a triple decoction* mash on that hefee?"
That's when I got the confused dog look. I then quickly abated. I don't really enjoy joking around like that anyway. But the look was priceless. I then encouraged him and commended him on his past successes. It was all just a bit of good fun.

Instead of cooking all the time, the dinner out was a nice break, and the IPA went well with the wasabi, ahi tuna and spicy shrimp that I had ordered.

I'm really not a difficult person to dine with. Aside from poking my son once in a while to hear him chirp--wife hates that, I am easy going and very polite. And, I nailed it!

*For those of you who do not know the term "decoction mash" it is simply boiling the mash to:
  1. break down the proteins in the mash
  2. break down the starch as well (most important) in a wheat beer.
"I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts, and beer."--Abraham Lincoln

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tiny Bubbles

In April of 2002, my fiance and I were married. Like a lot of weddings, we were on a budget. Finding florists, decorations, DJ's, etc. on a shoe string was taking some imagination. What made it really imaginative was the fact that I would be taking all of the photography. I was a part-time professional photographer at one time, trained in-part by George Delgado. $orry George, we could not afford you. But even more imaginative was the making of our own wedding brews (3 to be exact).

My selection of brews were:
  1. A Golden Lager
  2. A Hefeweizen
  3. A Porter

In November of 2001, I had to start the porter. My porter recipe calls for 6 months cask conditioning only and no forced carbonation. I like small bubbles. I do not like large Coke-like bubbles in beer, so I rarely force carbonate. The Hefeweizen was begun in February of 02 (cask conditioned) and the Lager in March of the same year. Spreading it out over time helped me focus on other things too like the photography, my real estate and oh yea my bride to be.

Our good friend Irma was there to take these images while I was behind the camera.

People loved the wedding, the food, the music, but I must say that the beer made it more fun.

After it was all over, we honeymooned in Queensland AU.

We had the time of our lives there.

"The government will fall that raises the price of beer."--Czech Proverb

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hops (Humulus lupulus L.)

I have an uncle who lives in Germany who, like most Germans, believe that they have a handle on Beer. That's all a matter of taste, I think. Let me know if you agree.

My uncle had come to visit several times from Germany over the years, and I was always anxious to go to Stoddard's, or the LGBC (Los Gatos Brewing Company) with him to show off a few American wares of beer. Well, we did frequent these places, and I have to tell you that Claus was not very impressed with the taste of the Ales. "Too much hops," he said. Now, saying that to a guy who has been to and enjoyed the Hop Fest in Pleasanton CA where 20 IBU's--a high hop content in beer, is a commonplace, I was inclined to disagree.

As an American, I am somewhat biased and believe that we Americans like to think of ourselves as improvers or inventors of ideas. After all, the airplane, phone, Internet, to name a few were invented in the good old USA. I was a bit taken a back at the "too much hops" comment even though we did not invent the IPA as you will see.

But then I realized that he had his perspective too. In Germany, they use a semi-modified grain a lot when they brew most of their beers. What I mean is, the barley is only allowed to germinate just a bit before drying it up and making it ready to brew, and most of the seed is still a seed. They take great care in carefully converting that very starchy grain into a sugar. Being a bit proud of this accomplishment, I believe that they then want to keep it as--pardon the expression "virgin" as possible, and only adding to the finished beer a few hops so as not to deter the flavor of this care-taking conversion of malt. A lot of their beers end up being quite good.

So, where did all the hops come from? The stereotypical hoppy beer is the IPA (India Pale Ale). Well, India around the early 1770's, became a semiofficial agency of the British government. And the British soldiers were allowed to consume a decent amount of ale per day. So, how did Britain bring the ale's over to India? They had to stow it in their ships. The problem was not carrying it into cooler regions of India, but the hot, tropical ones. In short, the heat created a problem with the beer and a concentrated form of beer needed to be created in an attempt to keep it stable; then added together with water again. After several techniques were attempted over the years, it was discovered that high alcohol and high hops were key in preserving the golden ware across the sea. There is a great deal of history involved, but again, the short of it was introducing hops and a boost in the alcohol (concentrated wort) that made it all possible.

The IPA proved itself as a viable market to both the troops and nationals alike. In Germany, it is felt that adding too many hops allows for error compensation--covering up the true nature of the beer, according to Claus. So, although Claus may not like the hops in many of our brews, we do.

"He was a wise man who invented beer"--Plato