Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What's In A Glass? How Glassware Can Affect Your Beer Experience

Good Evening,

A grand Idea!
I’ve been out to a few pubs lately, and I’ve noticed that sometimes a fantastic brew is served in a less-than-perfect glass. Some people may think I’m crazy if my beer tastes better or worse based on the vessel in which it is served. Others will think I’m a beer-snob, and yet more will not care. Hopefully some will agree that glassware affects beer experience. I’m going to dedicate my next three posts to glassware, so let me state my case, and decide for yourself whether or not the glass makes the beer!

Case 1: Weizenbierglas (Wheat Beer Glass)
Have you ever been to a pub that serves Erdinger Weissbrau? If not, you should give it a try. It’s delicious, and it is a prime example of mission-critical glassware. Generally Erdinger is served in a tall, slender glass with a bulbous head. This is called a “Weizenbierglas” or, when translated from German to English, a wheat beer glass. It’s made for wheat beers. Obviously, you can pour any kind of beer you’d like into this glass, but for best results, use a wheat beer. Weissbier (which means white beer, the Bavarian term for wheat beers, or Weizenbier outside of Bavaria) is very foamy, due to Weissbier yeast strains and proteins from the wheat itself. When you pour a Weissbier properly, you will get a fairly high collar of foam. The Weizenbierglas’s narrow waist helps concentrate the foam, and the large flare at the top cradles the foam, permitting a substantial “peak” of foam to rest above the rim of the glass. Doesn't that sound great?

Case 2: Shaker Tumbler Glasses
On the other end of the spectrum, you have the “shaker” pint glass. It is best used for serving Cesars. Pouring a beer into a shaker is a near-crime. If you have ever had a very aromatic beer (let’s say a Belgian Dubbel) served to you in a shaker, you probably think that the glass is not hindering the beer’s aromas. Well, there is no tapering, so the aroma doesn’t really stick with the beer as much. This is just a wide open glass that is great for cocktails, but lends nothing to a beer drinking experience. If you were to pour the same beer into a stemmed tulip glass, you would notice a huge difference. There is an inward taper to hold in the aroma, and the flare at the top helps the glass fit the mouth well and also supports the beer’s head. A great example of great glassware would be Ottawa’s own Big Rig, and their Old Man Winter seasonal brew. This ale was a Belgian-style Strong Ale (sometimes known as a Quadruppel), and it was served in a stemmed tulip glass. The aromas presented by this glass were fantastic. The trick was to warm the glass in your hand before drinking it, which brings me to my next point.
The Shaker:
Great for Cocktails...

Case 3: Temperature
Drinking a commercial lager out of a frosted beer glass may be all well and good, but when you are drinking a craft brew, it mutes the aroma and flavor of the beer. For example, I went to a pub in Niagara Falls that had some pretty nice craft brew, and it was served in appropriate glassware. The problem was that the glass was so cold that the beer actually slushed up. I had a porter and a wheat beer that night, and the aromas were nearly nil on both pints until I was half-finished. The pint I had at Big Rig wasn’t so extremely cold. I could just hold the glass in my hand for a minute or so and the aromas were unleashed. And man, that beer was good.

Aroma comes from all of the good stuff in the beer, so it stands to reason that if the beer is too cold, none of it can evaporate and create wonderful aromas for beer enthusiasts to enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, if the beer is too warm… well, we all know how warm beer tastes. Serving temperature for beer should be roughly 3º to 13º Celsius (38º to 55º Farenheit). Darker beer or stronger beer should be served warmer, while lighter and weaker (let’s say “less strong”) beer should be served at colder temperatures. Rules to live by.

I hope that my first entry about beer glassware was educational and entertaining. Stay tuned for my next two posts about glassware, where I will go over some glasses best fitted to strong beer, and we'll also take a look at the Samuel Adams Boston Lager glass. That’s right, Boston Brewery’s Jim Koch has actually created a glass for his flagship lager. Not that it's new or anything, but it is pretty awesome!

Until next time…


Monday, January 7, 2013

Niagara Falls and The Art of Cheese Making

Well, this is my first post of 2013, and here's the kicker: It's not really about beer!

If there's one thing I love to eat while imbibing the nectar of the gods, it's cheese. There are so many different cheeses out there that pairing cheese with beer is rarely boring (and sometimes catastrophic!)  I have spent countless hours pairing different cheeses with beer or wine at home, so I thought I would take my interest one step further and learn how to make some of my own cheese to pair with my favourite brews.

Doreen and Peter Sullivan: Owners of Making Cheese At Home,
Artisan Cheese Makers Extraordinaire
On June 2, 2012, I visited the Great Canadian Cheese Festival in Picton, Ontario and met up with a couple who has taken their love for artisan cheese making to another level. Introducing Peter and Doreen Sullivan.

Peter and Doreen run artisan cheese making workshops through their company: Making Cheese At Home. For just over 12 years Peter and Doreen have been making cheese in their kitchen, and doing a mighty fine job of it! Their knowledge of and love for cheese making is second to none. It was this dynamic duo that lured us six hours away from home to Niagara Falls to learn to make Camembert- and Roquefort-style cheese on the fifth of January, 2013.

Upon arriving I was invited to sit while everybody showed up. Coffee, tea, water, and juice were provided to all guests, and there was a significant library of cheese-related books for our browsing pleasure.
This workshop was very informal, taking place around Doreen and Peter's kitchen table. It seemed more like a gathering of friends than an instructional session, which was great. I really enjoyed the camaraderie that was brought forth by the setup. The Sullivans both have teaching backgrounds, so their presentation and teaching skills are very well honed, which just makes them that much more effective at their craft.

Doreen and Peter taught cheese making from A-to-Z: everything from sanitation (very important! Much like brewing beer - think of cheese bacteria cultures as brewer's yeast: You definitely do not want any sort of contamination!) to how to correctly package our finished product. We went through an inventory of tools that are required to make cheese at home, and Peter, the resourceful fellow that he is, showcased a few of the tools that he made or modified on his own. We learned that rennet is light-sensitive, so it is generally sold in a brown bottle (sound familiar?) We learned about different molds (and moulds) and their uses. We also learned some of the history of the cheese that we made, and we were provided with precise instructions on how to care for our cheese once we get it home.

Many workshops explain the "how" in each of the tasks that you perform, but very few provide a "why" behind your actions. This workshop did not fall into that list. We learned how to perform each of the steps through practical use, but we were also given the reasoning for each step. When I make our next batch of Roquefort, I will know exactly why I'm stirring our curd for 15 minutes, instead of just arbitrarily sloshing the ingredients around, grumbling all the while.

As an added bonus, an information package was provided to each participant of the workshop. The package is comprised of the Workshop Agenda, the lunch menu (more on that later!), recipes for several different types of cheese, sanitation instructions, a list of suppliers, a cheese diversity information sheet, several cheese making journals, information pamphlets, and a custom-made cheese poking needle for making blue cheeses. It was really quite impressive.

Lunch at the workshop: Be jealous.
About half-way through our day we had lunch. Boy, did we have lunch. Chicken breast stuffed with roasted red peppers, cheese and pesto, marinated shrimp kabobs with mozzarella cheese and a grape tomato, two types of salmon, home made sauces galore (lemon and garlic mayonnaise, kalamata olive tapenade, wasabi guacamole, just to name a few), and a wonderful salad topped with dressing made by Peter himself. This was a serious feast. After lunch we had a dessert consisting of roughly 10 cheeses and some fresh grapes. Doreen's triple cream cheese is the best I have ever tasted. They had two variations on the original as well: one wheel was rolled in herbes de provence, and the other was rolled in a spice mixture containing ground green pepper corns and paprika. Doreen's triple cream cheese recipe was included in the information package, so I'm really looking forward to making some of that in the near future!

The price of this workshop is only $150, and to get a full starter kit to bring to life any of the cheese recipes in the information package is only $143 for the required equipment and ingredients.  Check out www.makingcheeseathome.ca for details. I picked up the full package, and I am really looking forward to putting it to good use! As for the drive... I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Overall, January 5, 2013 was an amazing day. I learned something new, I met 7 amazing people, we feasted on some seriously delicious food, and I have started a tasty new hobby that I can actually pull off in our apartment (the "tasty" part is pending for 5-8 weeks, when our first cheese is ready)! Many thanks go out to Peter and Doreen Sullivan at Making Cheese At Home for providing us with such a great experience. Hopefully I'll be seeing you in the summer, I'll bring the beer.

Until next time...

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