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  • Archive | August, 2009

    Belgium and Beer

    I would like to think that when it comes to experience with beer, I am, or at least was, fairly typical of most Americans. I knew of Budweiser, Coors, and Millers due to their inundating commercials. I was aware of the Irish contribution to beer, what with their Guinness. I knew Germany had a famous beer festival called Oktoberfest, and I had heard of the pub culture in England.

    There was one country that didn’t enter my beer consciousness – Belgium.

    I’m not sure how many people in the United States have given Belgium much thought. It’s a culture that hasn’t really entered into our collective mindset. It’s one of those European countries that get lost in the shuffle, often playing second banana to the likes of Germany, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

    This is our loss. For Belgium plays a strong leadership role in two very important foods; chocolate and beer. Let’s set aside chocolate for the time being and focus on beer.

    If you want to understand beer, Belgium has to be a stop on your world tour. Belgium is to beer what whisky is to Scotland. They take it that seriously. For example, we Americans will pour a beer into nearly any old glass, as long as it holds twelve or sixteen ounces (or a pint, if you’re at a micropub/microbrewery). In Belgium, not only are there specific glasses for each type of beer they brew, it is considered bad etiquette if they serve a beer with an incorrect brand name on the glass itself. I’ve heard from more than one American who had been astounded at the fact that they had to wait fifteen minutes or more as a host looked for a right glass.

    As I look at the beers of Belgium, I realize that one reason their beers stand out is their willingness to add anything to the brew to see what the end result will be. While Germany has their brewing traditions steeped in the Reinheitsgebot, a regulation that restricts what ingredients can go into a beer, the Belgians have no such law holding them back. Fruits, herbs, and spices can and do make their way into various mash tuns throughout the country. The Beer Judging Certification Program recognizes fifteen different beer styles that can be considered Belgian. That’s quite an accomplishment for a country that’s smaller than the state of Maryland.

    Then there are the Belgian beers that are takes on other regional types. There are breweries in Belgium that make their own stouts, pilsners, and India Pale Ales. So not only are there the traditional Belgian Beers, there are also brands that reflect the other cultures.

    To frustrate other international brewers even more, not only do the Belgians make all of these beers, they tend to make them very well.

    From my experience thus far, what this means is that, while the UK and Germany have a long and illustrious histories with beers and brewing, it is Belgium that shouldn’t be overlooked.

    Potato Equilibrium

    It’s no secret that I am a breakfast/brunch aficionado. If ever asked the question “Would you rather have a plate of corned beef hash, or a meal at a four-star restaurant?”, I would respond “It depends. Who’s making the corned beef?”

    I understand that from a restaurant point of view, breakfast/brunch is likely the easiest meal to prepare for customers. But it still can be done badly. Cooks can take many different paths that can lead them down the road of ruin. There’s one particular trend that makes me want to get up and leave a restaurant immediately.

    Potatoes. I love them. I think that they have a place on the breakfast plate. But for the love of all that is human, please, please, please do not overdo the potatoes. Case in point? There’s a restaurant in Seattle that serves corned beef and hash with a side of hash browns. That is, officially, too many potatoes.

    And let’s talk Corned Beef and Hash for a minute. Take a look at the picture above. Below the poached eggs is an order of corned beef hash. But it would be difficult to discern that without me having to point that out. Why? Because the restaurant where this picture was taken used a ratio of 9 parts potato to 1 part corned beef. In essence, it was an order of potatoes with a whisper of corned beef. It is NOT corned beef hash.

    Depending upon the taste of the cook, as well as the type of potatoes used, the ratio of meat to potato will and should vary. But there is a point of no return, one where the customer will realize that if they wanted a plate full of potatoes, they damn well would have ordered one.

    Seriously – a bad breakfast will ruin my day for a good hour or three. Corned beef hash is NOT difficult to make. A bad corned beef hash makes me want to scream.

    A Day in the Life of a Home Brewer

    Back in January, I had the pleasure to be a guest of Matt’s as he brewed two batches of beer. Today, Matt stopped by and gave me a movie of time lapse photos that showed his most recent brewing day.

    If it looks like a bunch of people hanging out most of the day around a couple of kettles, you’re not far off the mark. However, for every 30 minutes of standing around, there’s about 10 minutes of highly precise, well-choreographed activity.

    (Note: This is, literally, my first YouTube video, so please forgive the quality).

    One Bottled Water Question Answered

    Here’s a bit of proof that there are some people out there who believe that bottled water is a luxury that can be shed when money becomes tight. From the LA Times:

    …sales of bottled water have fallen for the first time in at least five years, assailed by wrathful environmentalists and budget-conscious consumers who have discovered that tap water is practically free. Even Nestle, the country’s largest seller of bottled water, is beginning to feel a bit parched. On Wednesday, it reported that profits for the first half of the year dropped 2.7%, the first decline in six years.

    The biggest loser? Water.

    “It’s an obvious way to cut back,” said Joan Holleran, director of research for market research firm Mintel. “People might still be buying bottled water, but you can bet that they’re refilling those bottles.”

    Call me a bit cynical, but I believe that the environmental message of the ills of bottled water are not as effective as simple budget concerns. Part of me believes that if the economy improved overnight, bottled water would see sales increase.

    But this belief is mostly because I’m a bit cranky this morning.

    Food Statistic of the Day

    Comes from Time Magazine, of all places:

    A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of potato chips or 875 calories of soda but just 250 calories of vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit.

    I know there are some readers out there who think that I’m a bit unnecessarily strident when I talk of Agri-business. But I’d likely be more impressed by them if the food that they were producing was worth a damn. From where I’m sitting, they seem to be most keen on producing the culinary equivalent of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

    You can read the report cited above here (.PDF)

    h/t Slog

    Skunky Beer

    What causes skunked beer? From The Washington Post:

    Chemists at the University of North Carolina and Ghent University in Belgium found that when exposed to light, the alpha acids in hops break down into free radicals that then react with sulfur-containing proteins to make a chemical called 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, which is virtually identical to the principal constituent of skunk juice.

    When they say skunked, they mean skunked.

    A Quick Thought

    Trying to make a low-calorie beer is like trying to make a low calorie ice-cream sundae. Yeah, it can be done, but boy does it miss the point.