Monthly Archives: February 2013

Flemish Beef Stew

Winter is getting close to its timely departure, but we aren’t through it yet.  There is still time left for stews, braised meats, and warming winter ales.

Sometimes the simple things in life are the most enjoyable, and stew is just that. Something as simple as meat braised in a flavourful liquid, when served with the right drink, can make the winter months more than bearable – with the right stew, winter is almost a delight. Stick-to-your-ribs hearty fare is winter at its best.  Most of us enjoy the luxuries of modern life, which includes central heating, but we still crave warming slow-cooked foods during these dreary months.  I will endure the cold wet misery that is a west coast winter as long as there is a stew on the table.  If I haven’t made my point clear enough – I love stew.

Stew - Finished

Carbonnade à la Flamande (Flemish Beef Stew), which is beef slowly simmered in a mixture of onions and dark Belgian ale, is a simple dish by modern culinary standards.  But do not confuse simple with bland or boring, this Belgian staple is proof that there is beauty in survival.  How so few ingredients can turn into something so fantastic amazes me.

Stew has a very pragmatic lineage – meat, bones, vegetables and whatever else is available was slowly simmered on the hearth until hungry workers returned home for their evening meal.  This meal did not just nourish the body, it was a source of pleasure and joy – it tastes that good.  We do not feed like animals; we take pleasure in what we eat, we dine, making sure even the simple taste good.

Very little culinary talent is required to make a proper stew and neither are exotic or hard to find ingredients – time is the only requirement.  I enjoy making stew, just about as much as I do eating it.  Food that takes more time than skill to prepare has always been my preference.  I believe every meal should be enjoyed to the fullest and that we can all make great food – life is too short for bad food.

The interweb is full of great Carbonnade à la Flamande recipes and I do not wish to add to the noise.  For a few good recipes please go here, here, or just Google it. People have been simmering and braising cheap cuts of meat for centuries and the basics of this stew are very simple: pour beer over beef and a chopped onion, add heat, wait three hours, eat.  You will need three hours as a minimum if you want to do this right.  If you do not have time in your schedule to make a proper stew, you may be living life wrong.

If you plan on making this Belgian dish, here are a few small tips that will help make your meal that much better.

  1. Buy the right meat.  Stewing beef is cheap and more flavourful than tender quick cook cuts (steak).  Premium cuts are tender and take little time to prepare, but as a result they offer less in the flavour department.  In a world short on time, we value meat that is tender when cooked quickly.  Heavily worked muscles develop collagen, which makes meat tough, but also adds flavour and body.  When beef is slowly cooked, collagen breaks down, meat becomes tender and the cooking liquid is fortified with a rich flavour and an enhanced mouth feel.  Brisket, Chuck, Shank and Short Rib are all good stewing cuts.  Ask your butcher and they will steer you in the right direction.
  1. Sear your meat hard.  Use more heat that you think necessary.  Meat needs colour, so don’t worry about burning it – be brave!  As meat browns the sugars caramelize and the maillard reaction also takes place.  Both of these processes add flavour.  So be bold, don’t worry if it looks too dark, it will be fine.
  1. Use a sour Belgian ale.  The stew is meant to have a sweet and sour flavour.  An Oud Bruin or a Flanders Red Ale would be best.  If this isn’t possible, cheat and add vinegar and sugar, but be sure to add both in small increments as too much of either could ruin your meal.   Some recipes may call for Stout or even light beer, but just don’t do it, it’s not right.
  1. Salt! Salt! Salt!  Food needs salt to taste good.  Taste your stew, if it seems timid, add more salt.  Continue this process, adding salt in small increments until your meal reaches maximum flavour.
  1. Serve with beer.  Again, an Oud Bruin or Flanders Red Ale would be the best and also the most traditional pairing, but anything dark and Belgian will do just fine.

Cheers,

Erik

Alibi Room 400th Tap List Celebration

This week the Alibi Room is celebrating their 400th tap list rotation by stocking said tap list with epic beers.  This Monday to Thursday (you may have already missed two days, but still two to go) they are opening an hour early at 4pm and selling 10oz glasses of said epic beers for $4 each.  It’s quite the beer list and you can view it in full over at Barley Mowat.  As far as I know, this is the first time Cantillon has ever been available on tap in BC.  Special note, I contributed some bacteria to the two year old lambic.

Alibi Room 400th tap list

Lucky for me, one of my beer buddies made a reservation for 4pm on the first day and made a seat available, thanks Gerry.  Sure enough, at 4pm a largish crowd of beer nerds assembled and the Alibi Room quickly filled up.  It was so busy, in fact, that it took forty five minutes to get our first beer(s).  Our whole table ordered one of each Cantillon right off the bat.  I have to say, I love Cantillon, but drinking three glasses of lambic in a row is a bit much.  I preferred the Gilloise to the Gueze to the Kriek, though all were good.

Me and Cantillon and happiness

Me and Cantillon and happiness

Next up was the Tofino Spruce Tip IPA I so fondly remembered, which I didn’t find as delightfully sprucy as last year’s version.  I’ve heard that collecting spruce tips is an arduous task, so maybe they skimped a bit this time around?  What followed was a collaboration by Graham of P49 and Tak of Steamworks called, and I’m not kidding, Besties with Testis, an IPA fermented solely with brettanomyces.  I hazily recall it being great, hopefully the first and last time I enjoy putting testis in my mouth.

Here’s the full list of beers that I did gone and drunk, in order:

  • Cantillon Gilloise
  • Cantillon Gueze
  • Cantillon Kriek
  • Tofino Spruce Tip Aged Hoppin Cretin’ IPA
  • P49 + Steamworks “Besties with Testis” 100% Brett fermented IPA
  • Central City Citra hopped Imperial IPA
  • P49 Lord of the Hops IPA
  • Upright Bourbon Sour blended Stout

Central City imperial IPA is always great, but I set myself up poorly for P49 Lord of the Hops.  I believe P49 is going for the session crowd with this one, meaning I found it severely lacking in hops and almost cloyingly sweet. I need to give it another shot though, since I drank the CC and P49 IPAs in the wrong order.  I finished strong with the Upright Stout, which was just fantastic.

I’m heading back tomorrow to enjoy a few of the other beers I missed out on.  That’s what’s great about this 400th celebration, I didn’t have to over indulge because it’s one night only.  Sure, some of the more popular beers were consumed immediately, but Nigel staggered the list such that some excellent brews will be coming on at the halfway point.  I was worried I was going to have to wait in a giant line, buy a ticket, or fight someone to get in, but instead I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised at the civility of this celebration.

If you have time, read the forward Nigel wrote in the beer menu.  If more businesses appreciated their customers this much, people would give them more of their money.  I would personally like to thank Nigel and the Alibi Room for all their hard work in taking the BC beer scene to the next level. See you guys again tomorrow.

Cheers,

Chris

Stale Beer and the Beer Cellar

Brasserie Cantillon Brouwerij  Celler - Brussels

Brasserie Cantillon Brouwerij Celler – Brussels

A number of years ago I put together a post about ageing beer. This post grew, as did our cellars, and eventually the post turned into a dedicated cellar page. At the time, Chris and I were each starting to develop our own cellars and we didn’t know what to expect as our collections grew older. Not being a patient person makes stocking a beer cellar a challenge, but a number of bottles remained untouched in a cool dark location for a number of years. Having raided most of my cellar, I have come to a realization – ageing beer may not be all it is cracked up to be

The idea of ageing beer was exciting when we first started, and it still is to some extent. It is a gratifying feeling to have the patience to let organic chemistry change and develop a bottle of Old Cellar Dweller, prior to consuming it years later.  Over the past year I watched my cellar peak and decline. And let me tell you, the decline of a beer cellar is the better of the two slopes.  Sure, the way up is filled with excitement and mystery, but the way down is alcohol fuelled.

The most enjoyable aged ale experience was a vertical tasting of Fuller’s Vintage Ale.  I managed to stow away a bottle of Fuller Vintage Ale each year starting with 2007.  Chris was gifted a bottle of Fuller’s 2006 to finish off the collection from 2006 to 2012.  My patience got the best of me, an the impending sale of my current residence rushed the tasting from what should have been during the cold of winter to the heat of summer.  The group of tasters, Gavin, Chris, Me, and the women that come attached to us, got together to work our way through the Fullers collection last August.  The tasting itself was a great experience, but I would be hard pressed to say that the 2007 was better than the 2012.  Not that the bottle of ’07 was off, in fact it was very enjoyable, but it also wasn’t stand-out-excellent.  Age didn’t seem to make the beer any better, it just made it different.

Does old beer taste better?  No one really knows this, but I do not believe beer gets better with time, it just changes.  The effect time has on beer still remains somewhat a mystery as the idea of laying down a bottle of beer (or sitting upright on a shelf) for an extended period of time is new.   The market for old beer is small, but growing, and very little research on the topic is available.  Most research is focused on how to slow the ageing process in an attempt to keep beer fresh longer.  As beer ages it goes stale and it turns out some of these stale flavours are enjoyable.

When beer ages, existing molecules and flavour compounds that give beer its fresh taste degrade and other new compounds are created.  With time, organic compounds within a bottle of beer slowly react with one another, changing the beer’s overall flavour profile and to some extent mouth feel.  Many of these reactions are oxidative, and the general consensus is that too much oxidation will result in the development of cardboard like flavours.  Keeping a bottle cool slows the development of assertive off flavours, such as the previously mentioned wet cardboard taste.  While many stale beer flavours can be nasty, age does have the potential to improve the overall beer experience.

Organic molecules within beer are developed during the brewing and malting process.  Poorly brewed beer will stale prematurely and is not a great cellar candidate.  The off flavours found in poorly made beer will age-out, but during the ageing process many of these unwanted tastes will convert into an even more unpleasant off-flavour.  Well made beer will fair much better as it ages, as will beer with a higher alcohol content and an assertive flavour profile.  Big beers are typically cellared for two reasons: their bold flavour profile will help hide the inevitable development of off-flavours during a lengthy maturation period, and the intense, often imbalanced young flavours will dissipate as the flavour compounds degrade.  The degradation of key flavour compounds is why aged beer is often times described as mellow or smooth.  As beer ages, big flavours will fade away and subtle flavours, both pre-existing and newly created, will shine that much more.

My cellar is now very small and my mindset on ageing beer is far more short-term than before.  I like fresh, hoppy, and assertive beer, all of which are not characteristics of matured beer.  Aside from bottles with Brettanomyces, which is yeast that remains active for years, my cellar is quite small.  A few bottles of big beer will sit for a few months in my cellar, but anything beyond this and I find the flavour degrades more than it improves.

There is a certain romance behind ageing beer that appeals to many dedicated craft beer drinkers. The mystery, uncertainty and the required patience makes many beer drinkers overly positive when it comes time to crack open a bottle.  After a hard day of physical labour, even a poorly made sandwich will taste like heaven – effort makes the reward that much sweeter.  The same may be true of aged beer.  I believe that age kills most good beer.  Very few bottles, even when stored correctly, benefit from an extended maturation period.  However, this is the opinion of just one beer drinker.  Ageing beer is still a mystery, it’s a new thing.  So please, continue to age beer and see if you enjoy the outcome.  Drinking beer should be fun, and if ageing beer is just that, please carry on.

Cheers,

Erik

Updated Love Good Beer, now with less ugly

As you can hopefully see, our blog has been redesigned.  It is now much less ugly. Actually it’s not ugly at all; it’s really quite nice. It was about time to ditch our sparse, unreadable WordPress theme from 2008 in favour of something a little classier. Luckily, we have a good friend who is a highly skilled web designer, Gavin Coulson of Squadcar Labs, who redid this site for us.  Thanks Gavin, we really appreciate it.  Gavin is also going to join us in posting on this blog from time to time.

Shameless plug, you may have seen Gavin’s work elsewhere around the web.  He did the websites for Bridge Brewing, Tofino Brewing, and BC Craft Beer Month.  He also did the labels for Powell Street Brewing and is nearing completion on their new website.  If you need web design or development done, you should probably hire Gavin to do it.

powell street beers

See how pretty?

Cheers,

Chris

Happy Pancake Day

pancakes frying in duck and bacon fat

pancakes frying in duck and bacon fat!

It’s Pancake Day, which is a big deal.  Not many foods have a day, but pancakes do, so let’s celebrate!   Those who do not like pancakes (who are these people?) may refer to today as Shrove Tuesday or, if you are a New Orleans native, Mardis Gras, but not me.  Today I celebrate Pancake Day.  These fluffy round disks drenched in a coma inducing glop of sticky syrup are delicious, and they make life better.  Sure, pancakes are a prime example of sloppy food and they are far from gourmet, but I do not care.  I’m not a gourmand after all; I am a beer drinker in search of good food, and pancakes are just that.

I did a quick Google search for “beer pancakes” and apparently beer pancakes are already a thing.  Add beer to flour, eggs, butter, baking power and apply heat – viola, beer pancakes.  Some articles online argue that the carbonation in beer gives the pancake a greater rise, making for a fluffier and more delicate texture.  Others claim that the malt flavour enhances the pancake by adding an additional layer of malty sweetness.  One recipe even claims that real beer (beer with yeast sediment) will further increase the pancakes rise as the yeast will convert starch (flour in the batter) to alcohol and C02, providing an additional lift.  I’m not sure how real these claims are as many sound like a bit of stretch.  I think people just like putting beer in their food as an excuse to drink more beer, which is fine by me.  But validating these claims is not today’s purpose.  Pancake Day is a day of feasting, so let’s feast.

Pouring beer into pancake batter seems like a waste of beer to me, but I am curious.  There is no need to justify mixing beer with pancake batter and I know that the outcome will most likely be neutral, neither enhancing nor detracting from the pancake-y goodness.  I like beer and I like pancakes, so why not put the two together and see what happens?

Beer Pancakes

Beer Pancakes

Pancakes are what happen – delicious fluffy pancakes.  The beer didn’t do much to improve the pancake – the texture may have been a bit lighter than usual.  Nonetheless a pancake feast was had.  If you are interested in making your own beer pancakes, the instructions are simple.  Replace all or some of the wet ingredients with beer, and make pancakes as usual.

Happy Pancake Day!

Cheers,

Erik

PS> To make your pancake experience that much better, always use two eggs when the recipe calls for one or two eggs, use melted butter, not canola oil, and fry the pancakes in a layer of animal fat to get the edges crispy – bacon or duck fat preferably.