Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Port, Port Barrels, and Port Barrel Aging

    Last week we released the first of 10  1/6 barrel (5.16 gallon) kegs of our limited Port Barrel-Aged La Bestia Aimable at the Off-Centered Film Fest in Austin, TX. Though a little under-carbonated (a problem we have rectified for subsequent keg releases), the taste was outstanding. We got a lot of good feedback about it, but I felt that people maybe did not understand where all of the flavors stemmed from, and so I decided to write aboot it, and explain its gestation.

    La Bestia Aimable is brewed in as traditional a Belgian-way as possible. We use German Pilsner malt from Bamberg, German Noble hops (Tettnang grown in Germany), Belgian specialty malts (limited to only Special B and Cara-Munich), local Texas raw honey (Fain's from Llano), and candi-syrup made in Belgium. We mash between 146-149 Fahrenheit, and mash thin for attenuation. We use as simple a malt bill as possible, allowing the flavors of each malt to penetrate through the whole, creating a deeper, more complex beer. Pilsner malt provides the base and the mash enzymes we need, Cara-Munich adds a reddish hue and light fruit notes such as strawberry, tart cherry, and plum, while Special B provides a deeper mahogany tone, and richer flavor such as fig and raisin. The honey we use is fully fermentable, lightens the body, increases the alcohol, and provides our yeast blend with sustenance. The Belgian candi-syrup we employ adds a touch more color (we limit the total sugar percentage of the entire grist to 10%, including the honey), more fermentable sugars for the yeast, lightness of body and attenuation (making it what the Belgians call "digestible"), and a deep complex flavor that brings out a subtle tart note and "rumminess" as described by Stan Heironymous in his book "Brew Like A Monk."

    For anyone that's ever had a glass of port, you know the deep level of flavor port has. A very dry, tart, spicy beverage, port is a fortified wine often bottled young and aged in the bottle, or aged for several years in oak. The barrel we used is from Dry Comal Creek in the Hill Country, and aged port in it for 2 years prior to our acquiring it. Port is a strong wine, often around 20% alcohol by volume, giving it a bright warmth, notes of earthy spice, vinous/leathery, and berry and fig characteristics. Aging our Belgian-style Dark Strong Ale in a port barrel is a wonderful marriage of flavor and complexity, giving it more acidity (tartness), dryness, and vinous characteristics. Some oxidation in the barrel occurs as well, complementing the attenuated ale and aged wine.

    To my knowledge, no bacterial contamination occurred in this barrel-aged release, though it is entirely possible. That is part of the adventure in barrel aging beer is the unknown variables. We keep close watch on our barrel aged beers, opening them briefly only once a month to let out excess carbon dioxide, and to monitor its maturation. The tartness in this particular barrel absolutely comes from the deep, complex port wine that was aged in the barrel previously, and has a more rounded edge than would be created by lactic-acid producing bacteria in such a short amount of time. In order for lactic acid producing bacteria (typically L.Delbrueckii and Pediococcus sp.) to develop roundness and complexity, it takes at least a year, a higher pH, and typically lower alcohol than our 9.4% abv Belgian inspired brew. Though I am not ruling it out entirely, I am not calling this a sour beer, and being extremely familiar with lactic-acid (we sour mash our bourbon at Ranger Creek, and lactic-acid has a very distinct tartness more akin to citric acid/lemony flavor), my guess is that it is the port's acidity we are detecting. I do love a good sour ale, and I love the beautiful critters vehemently feared by wine makers, and we have some of those working with us in the brewery now, producing what we hope to be even more complex barrel-aged ales that we will be releasing when they reach maturation.

Until then, you can try our Port Barrel-Aged La Bestia Aimable at the Flying Saucer in Austin, TX this coming Thursday (04/21/11), and other fine beer bars in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio in the next week or so. I hope you enjoy, and as always, I appreciate ALL feedback.

-Rob Landerman
Head Brewer/Certified Cicerone(TM)
Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling
San Antonio, TX

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ranger Creek Sippy Cup Pro-Am Competition

    Hello homebrewers and beer enthusiasts of Texas! It seems that alot of good folk are confused about our first ever homebrew competition, and though I'm not sure why, I am here to shed some light on the subject for you all.

    I started my brewing career as a homebrewer. I fell in love with the creative art, and eventually the science, of brewing by experimenting with grains and hops and many other things 5 gallons at a time in the comfortable confines of my home. Brew days to me were exciting days of no boundaries freedom. I could put whatever I wanted in a pot and cook it all up. The worst thing that would happen is- I would make beer.

    Now that I am brewing professionally, I don't have as much time as I used to, so my homebrew set up has grown quite dusty. And I have been wanting to make the Texas homebrewing community as big a part of my professional brewing career as possible. Homebrewing is where  brewing began, afterall. I love the homebrewing community, and the camaraderie and creativity that it entails.

    So, we came up with the Ranger Creek Sippy Cup. This is a Pro-Am homebrew competition, meaning the winningest beer will be brewed by us and entered into the Great American Beer Festival Pro-Am Competition, and released as the Ranger Creek fall seasonal offering that will be available at finer beer bars in central Texas this coming fall.  Each category will have a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winner, and the 1st place winners will go on to compete in a Best of Show round. The winner of this round will be deemed winningest beer and the victor of the Pro-Am competition. We are allowing entries in four BJCP categories. Our Ranger Creek twist, however, is that we want our fall seasonal to be a big beer- so we set a minimum of 7% abv limit on entries. We state it as "imperial versions," meaning bigger than normal. For the styles listed that are already imperial styles (imperial stout, imperial IPA, and Baltic porter), clearly the imperial part there is already taken care of. It does not mean an imperial imperial stout. Get it? It shouldn't be hard to figure out. We want a good, solid, creative beer. It doesn't have to be outlandish, and I would expect that a beer with panache and balance will win, so don't think the craziest beer will take the Cup. We are accepting beers in the following BCJP categories: (BOLD categories already allow for 7% abv or more, so for those categories, 7% is the lowest you can go, you don't have to make a 15% Russian Imperial. Get it? Good.)

Category 10- American Ale
Includes 10A. American Pale Ale, 10B, American Amber Ale, 10C. American Brown Ale

Category 12- Porter
Includes 12A. Brown Porter, 12B. Robust Porter, 12C. Baltic Porter

Category 13- Stout
Includes 13A. Dry Stout, 13B. Sweet Stout, 13C. Oatmeal Stout, 13D. Foreign Extra Stout, 13E. American Stout, 13F. Russian Imperial Stout

Category 14- India Pale Ale
Includes 14A. English IPA, 14B. American IPA, 14C. Imperial IPA

    I am very exited to be putting this competition on, and very excited to see all of the awesome beers that will be entered. I am looking forward to tasting that winning homebrew that I will be brewing (with the homebrewer who brewed it) and releasing as the Ranger Creek fall seasonal later this year! So get out there and start (home)brewing your best!

Remember: only ONE entry per person. This means ONE entry, not one per category. ONE. I want to taste the best Texas homebrewers have to offer, and we are very much looking forward to taking it with us to GABF later this year!

Cheers to all, and good luck!

- Rob Landerman
  Head Brewer
  Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Mouthgasm 2011

    Jennifer Litz, head of the Texas chapter of the Girls Pint Out ladies craft-beer appreciation secret society, approached me about wanting to do a beer and food pairing class with her group at our brewery. As we talked about it, I found myself continually drooling over the idea of the dishes that my wife and I had dreamed up. My lips quivered, my tongue pulsed, my throat swelled.... I was on the verge of a mouthgasm.
    On January 22, 2011 my wife, Keely, and I are hosting Mouthgasm 2011- a beer and food pairing experience. At Mouthgasm, we will be walking guests through the basics of beer and food pairing principles- balance, contrast, emphasis- and discussing the ins and outs of beer in the culinary realm. We're not professional chefs, food critics, or even foodies. We're food porn fetishists- we get our jollies on jellies, and so forth. Keely and I have been concocting concoctions in our kitchen for several years, and have found personal success, enjoyment, and beervana in our adventures, and in our mouths. We will be showing you how simple beer and food pairing is, and how incredibly fun and enriching it can be.

    After a short introduction and explanation of beer and food pairing, the evening will begin. You will be taken through a 4 course meal where each course is designed to be paired with a specific Ranger Creek beer. Soup, salad, entrée 1, entrée 2, all cooked up with care by 2 Tarts catering. We dreamed up the menu, and they are executing it for us. After we've walked through the dinner pairings, each beer will be return with 4 different desserts, each specifically crafted for that beer, to show the versatility of food and beer pairings, and how a single beer can accompany the sweet and the savory.  In case your interest isn't already piqued, here is the menu:

Course 1- Soup: Merguez Sausage Gumbo paired with South Texas Lager (Dortmunder-style lager)
Course 2- Salad: Bitter greens topped with gorgonzola and balsmaic vinaigrette paired with La Bestia      
                Aimable (Belgian-style dark strong ale) 
Course 3- Entree 1: Bison sliders w/Cotswold cheese and homemade OPA mustard paired with Oatmeal
                Pale Ale (American Pale Ale)
Course 4- Entree 2: Venison and roasted root vegetables paired with Mesquite Smoked Porter (mesquite smoked Robust Porter)

Dessert courses:
Homemade "Stadium" ice cream (vanilla-Dortmunder ice cream with caramel ribbon, salted peanuts) paired with South Texas Lager
Thai-style Coconut Curry Oatmeal Cookies paired with Oatmeal Pale Ale
Figs topped with goat cheese and honey paired with La Bestia Aimable
Decadent Chocolate cupcakes topped with dark chocolate ganache and brined bacon crumbles* paired with Mesquite Smoked Porter
* uncured bacon brined in Mesquite Smoked Porter and mesquite smoked sea salt, then cooked with mesquite smoked sea salt

    This evening of mouthgasmic proportions will take place at the Ranger Creek Brewing and Distilling facility (4834 Whirlwind Dr. Ste 102, San Antonio, TX 78217) on January 22 at 6 pm. The cost is $35 per person and is open to anyone wanting to have a mouthgasm, or learn more about beer and food pairing. To RSVP, contact Jennifer Litz- 30 spots available, so RSVP today!