Garlic Love

Schlafly’s garlic beds

Garlic lovers of the world, there’s a great event for you in August at Schlafly.

Schlafly gardeners Jack Petrovic and Nolan Kowalski will be hosting their fourth annual garlic event, in which they will teach you how to grow great garlic. Learn about different varieties–and taste them all!–when to plant, how to care for your crop, when to harvest, and how to cure and store. Jack Petrovic tells me 60 to 80 people usually show up (and sample raw garlic for an hour!) so you’ll be in good company. This year the event has been moved from the morning to the evening so people can get food (and some beer) in them before the tasting portion.

The event is Saturday, August 18th at the Schlafly Bottleworks Crown Room. Seating is limited, but it’s FREE!

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Spring Gardening

This spring has been unseasonably warm in southern Illinois. I think we leapt into summer and bypassed the spring, actually. Most gardens here are about a month early. Our hops certainly are much farther along than past seasons. Our tallest plant is easily 10 feet already!

For all who are interested in gardening and want to get advice from some real experts, Schlafly gardeners Jack Petrovic and Nolan Kowalski will be holding their very first Spring Garden Event at Schlafly’s Bottleworks on April 28th. Jack and Nolan have held previous gardening events at the Bottleworks, and this one promises to be just as informative, with discussions on using micro-climates in your garden, incorporating shade and row covers, garden planning, composting, sustainability, and more.

The event is free and guests will have their very own bartender as they enjoy the talk!

Check it out at 7 PM at the Bottleworks Crown Room on April 28th. See the Schlafly website for more details about the event and how to get to the Bottleworks.

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Learn How to Make Russian and Finnish Home Brews

I was asked by the Neighborhood Co-Op to create some beer-related classes for their upcoming cooking class schedule this season. I think we have some exciting offerings for the next couple of months!

Because of the peculiarities of the liquor laws in our area, I was unable to do my first choice, pairing beer with food. However, I think we’ve come up with something just as fun! I’ll be teaching people how to make a couple of incredibly easy brews which need no extra equipment beyond a pot and a mason jar. (If you can can, you can make beer!) We’ll learn all about the histories of these brews (which people have been making in their kitchens for centuries) and make traditional food to accompany them.

Below are descriptions of the classes. You can register for each by clicking on the link at the end of the description.

Skål!

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Russian Home Brewing

Saturday, February 11
5 PM to 8 PM
$20 for Co-Op members/$25 for non-members

Most people think that home brewing is a complicated hobby that requires a lot of expensive equipment. Not true for many traditional home brews of various national origins. Come learn how to make kvass, a Russian home brew made—incredibly—with rye bread! We’ll put together an incomparable loaf of rye, make a fantastic appetizer and entrée to accompany it, and then turn it into the national home brew of Russia. Bring a Mason jar, preferably 1 or 2 L, to bring home your Russian home brew.

(I hope to make okroshka, a cold Russian soup made with kvass, as one of the appetizers. Come try the food of the other side of the world!)

Sign up for Russian Home Brewing here.

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Finnish Home Brewing

Saturday, May 5
5 PM to 8 PM
$20 for Co-Op members/$25 for non-members

It is said about the Finns that they “don’t drink any more than anybody else—they just drink it all at once.” Come learn about Sima, the May Day drink of Finland, a sparkling lemonade with a bit of a kick; and Karpalojuoma, or Cranberry Sparkle. We’ll make Finnish doughnuts to accompany the Sima, per tradition; and a handful of appetizers to whet the palette for the coming warm weather. Bring a Mason jar, preferably 1 or 2 quarts, to bring home your Finnish home brew.

(A home brew from my ancestral home! This fantastically easy drink is a simple crowd pleaser. Get ready for a Suomi extravaganza!)

Sign up for Finnish Home Brewing here.

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Friday Forks: Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ with Bulgar, Kale and Parsley Salad

After sipping on Lagunitas’s Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ this week, I tasked myself with the challenge of coming up with the right pairing for it. Although its aroma is a powerful mix of fruity American hops, the body is light for all that fruitiness and the finish is crisp, bitter, and dry. This makes it a particular challenge for food, as it’s not heavy enough to stand up to a lot of dishes, but has a profound aroma that will overpower just about everything. I started looking for something light in flavor that would essentially stand out of the way of the beer.

I recently received the gift of a wonderful book on vegetarian cooking called Vegetarian Entrees that Won’t Leave You Hungry by Lukas Volger. I’m not in general too concerned about vegetarian dishes leaving me hungry, I eat plenty that leave me full and satisfied, but setting aside the title, this book is a treasure trove of great vegetarian recipes by an inventive vegetarian chef. (I’ve been experimenting with veggie burger recipes out of his equally brilliant first book, Veggie Burgers Every Which Way). Whether or not you are a vegetarian, Volger’s two books are perfect candidates to become staples for your cookbook shelf; particularly, in fact, if you’re simply trying to eat less meat and want diverse, flavorful recipes.

I started searching for a light grain salad dish, and found the lovely Bulgar Salad with Kale and Feta. It has a kind of Mexican flare with the addition of cumin seeds, jalapenos, and cilantro. However, since I don’t like cilantro and didn’t want something so spicy with this moderately bodied (and flavored) beer, I decided to spin the recipe into tabouleh territory by taking out the jalapenos, reducing the kale, and adding parsley and diced tomatoes. The result was an enticingly aromatic (and very filling) meal that smelled of toasted cumin and was bouyed by the fresh bitterness of the parsley and some feta mixed in between the grains of bulgar.

It was also the perfect canvas for the Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’. Though aromatic, the flavor of the dish was muted, which allowed the aroma of the beer to also have its glorious, fruity moment in the sun, while bringing out the flavor that emerges as the beer warms.

Bulgar, Kale and Parsley Salad

  • 1 cup bulgar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced into strips
  • 3 oz kale, cut in strips
  • 2 oz parsley, chopped
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 oz feta
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup lightly colored beer (Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ will work) or white wine
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Cook the bulgar in 2 cups of water the same way you would rice, bringing water to a simmer and then cooking on low until done.

In the meantime, over medium heat, saute the cumin seeds for about 30 seconds, then add onion and cook until browned around the edges. Add the garlic and salt, then pour in the beer (or wine) to deglaze the pan. Add the kale and cook until soft and the liquid is evaporated, about 6 minutes.

Move to mixing bowl, allow to cool, then add bulgar, tomatoes, parsley, feta, and olive oil. Salt to taste.

Great served warm or cold.

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Thursday Tastings: Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’

Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin'My first IPA love was none other than the Lagunitas IPA. It was a hoppy beer with a fairly substantial malt backbone that was well balanced. Perhaps my tastes have changed since then, but, while I still enjoy the beer I’d no longer count it as among my favorite IPAs. The last time I had it, the malt character was more pronounced than the hops, which themselves lacked a really powerful zestiness. I liked it, but not as much as I once did.

The Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’, however, may put a Lagunitas IPA back into my top 10 list. A seasonal release, it is a beer that is absolutely loaded with complex hop aroma and a lovely citrusy flavor with a light fullness from the addition of wheat. It’s the kind of beer you want to keep smelling, as the hops leap from the glass to please the palate.

Pick up a six pack while it’s still in season! My review is below.

Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’

India Pale Ale

Aroma
Apricot, pineapple, lemon, and fruit esters leap out with a heaping dose of fruity and citrusy American hops. Has an almost bubblegummy aroma with a hint of earthiness from the hops. Absolutely brimming with complexity in the aroma. No diacetyl, low malt character, perhaps just a hint of caramel.
12/12 points

Appearance
Opaque old with small head that recedes quickly, although the lacing that is there sticks mightily to the glass.
2/3 points

Flavor
Tart, very bitter, finishes moderately dry. Complexity in aroma diminishes somewhat in the sip. Flavor displays more pronounced citrusy tartness with a shy pineapple sweetness. Lingering sharp bitterness borders on astringent. A hint of bready maltiness on the back of the palate. There is a kind of clean crispness, likely from the addition of wheat. No diacetyl.
16/20 points

Mouthfeel
Medium-light bodied, finishes dry and bitter, although the sense of body and round fruitiness expands as the beer warms. Moderate carbonation. No alcohol warming up front.
4/5 points

Overall
This is a beer you want to smell and smell. The hops and the yeast combine to create a fruity, tropical ballet. Unfortunately, I think that it doesn’t deliver so well on the flavor, given its wonderful aroma. It could use a hint more sweetness, perhaps a tad less bittering, and more hops for flavoring. My perception may be slightly influenced by the temperature I drank this at. As the beer warmed, the body and flavor all became magnified in a positive way. In all,it is an enjoyable beer that delivers a punch of classic American hop character that will just keep satisfying.
8/10 points

Total: 42/50, Excellent

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Friday Forks: Spicy Pasta e Fagioli with Schlafly Rye Bock

Ten years ago I spent a summer in Tuscany, taking an Italian language immersion course, before spending a year studying at the University of Bologna. I made a point to travel every weekend, whether it was hopping on a bus to a small town, walking into the countryside on a new path, or taking the train to a neighboring city. You know, when your neighboring cities are Florence and Rome.

There is much to fall in love with in Italy and I won’t even begin the litany, but one of the foods I began a deep affair with was one of the simplest peasant dishes served among Tuscans: Pasta e fagioli.

Pasta e fagioli is a broth-based hybrid soup-pasta dish. It’s not as soupy as soup, but it sits in broth and so has significantly more liquid than most pasta dishes. I enjoyed it when it was served as an appetizer in a thin layer covering the bottom of a wide bowl, when you could see all of the ingredients glistening in the tomato and vegetable broth with specks of prosciutto and a healthy dose of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano over the top.

Ever since I left Italy I’ve been on a mission to find a pasta e fagioli recipe that recreates my experience in Tuscany. I have yet to find the perfect dish, but this recipe from Chow has been my go-to for some time. Add prosciutto or bacon and fresh rosemary and sage and you’re about 90% of the way to Florence.

When the weather gets cold, I always turn to pasta e fagioli. It’s a deeply satisfying and hearty, warm dish. After picking up a bottle of Schlafly’s Rye Bock the other day, I thought the two might not be a bad pair. The Rye Bock was also hearty without being too sweet and cloying and had a spicy kick I liked from the rye. I decided to spice up my typical pasta e fagioli recipe with a couple of dried chile peppers. The maltiness of the caramel malts in the beer made a nice, sweet, and bready contrast to the pasta. There are a lot of great ways you can pair the Rye Bock, particularly because it’s sweet. Pork would be ideal. Pasta e fagioli wouldn’t necessarily be the first thing to come to mind, but the beer cut surprisingly well through the acidity of the tomato broth and complemented the smoky bacon I used for this version.

Spicy Pasta e Fagioli

Ingredients for 2 (In theory this should feed four, but if you eat it as an entree, you won’t want to stop eating)

  • 1 cup ditalini (or other small pasta)
  • 2 cups cannelini beans (if using canned, save the juice; if making on your own, save 4 cups cooking water)
  • 5 oz bacon or prosciutto (smoked bacon is okay for this spicy recipe), chopped into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 10 sage leaves, finely chopped
  • Rosemary from 3 sprigs, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 dried red chiles
  • 1 vegetable bullion cube
  • Parmesan

Cook pasta in boiling salted water for about 5 minutes. Pasta will not be fully cooked. Drain and rinse with a little bit of water so the pasta doesn’t cling together while you work on the other steps.

While the pasta is cooking, puree 1/2 cup of the beans with 2 tbsp water until smooth.

In a pot, cook the bacon until it browns, then add onion and chile peppers and cook over medium heat. When onion is translucent, add garlic, sage, and rosemary. Cook together for one minute and then caramelize tomato paste in the onion mixture, stirring constantly for about two minutes. Add the liquid from the beans, either the cooking liquid if you cooked the beans yourself or from the can; if the liquid is from the can, measure how much you add and then add water to bring the total liquid addition to 4 cups. Add the bullion cube and the 1 1/2 cups leftover beans. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

After simmering, add the pasta and the bean puree and cook until the pasta is done. Salt and pepper to taste. Grate parmesan over the top to serve.

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Thursday Tastings: Schlafly Rye Bock

Schlafly Rye Bock for Whole FoodsIn the last couple of years, Schlafly has concentrated more on releasing special 750 ml bottles, supplementing their standard year-round 6-packs. The big bottles have been somewhat more inventive and altogether different from their 12-oz. releases, which makes them a fun diversion from the norm.

In celebration of Whole Foods’s 10-year anniversary in Brentwood, St. Louis, Schlafly brewed a limited edition Rye Bock this year, still available in the Brentwood store when I visited last weekend. It’s a unique take on the bock style, brewed entirely with certified organic ingredients except for the flaked rye.

I enjoy Schlafly’s move into untraditional styles, and especially applaud their focus on organic ingredients in this beer. I hope we’ll see more one-offs like these in the future. My review is below.

Schlafly Rye Bock

Specialty Beer

Aroma
Aroma lies somewhere between light and dark stone fruits: apricot, plum jam. No melanoidins or toast scent. Hint of chocolate and just a bit of skunkiness — could be sulfur from lager yeast. No hop aroma. No diacetyl or DMS.
8/12 points

Appearance
Garnet with ruby highlights, just a bit more on the red side than brown for style. Thin, just off-white head that dissipates quickly to a mist of foam. Little lacing on sides of glass. Clear but dark.
1/3 points

Flavor
Dark caramel malts, combined with a pronounced spiciness from the rye that borders on very subtle chili pepper heat. Leans toward malty side with almost no noticeable hop character and becomes especially caramelly as it warms. Big bready aftertaste from seemingly large dose of Munich malts. Finishes sweet, though not cloying. Fruity esters still noticeable, as in aroma. No diacetyl or roasted/burnt character.
16/20 points

Mouthfeel
Nice round, and big, smooth mouthfeel. Moderate to moderately low carbonation. No alcohol warmth.
5/5 points

Overall
There is a richness to this beer that I don’t often associate with Schlafly beers. I quite enjoyed the balance between the spicy rye and the rich malt character. I found this leaned a bit too much toward the fruity, estery side, rather than the toast-vanilla-breadiness that is often characteristic of Munich and Vienna malts in a traditional Bock beer, although the caramel and breadiness did come forward more as it warmed. This may be a result of decoction mashing, though more likely a result of a healthy dose of caramel malt, as is indicated in their description on the website. It’s not entirely clear where the esters are coming from. If it is from decoction, I might try this again without the decoction mashing to concentrate flavors a bit more on the grain itself. It would also help the rye enhance the malts. Great attempt that I’d like to see revised to enhance toast flavors over dried stone fruit character, with a bit more carbonation and a bigger, fluffier head.
6/10 points

Total: 36/50: Very Good.

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Announcing Scratch Brewing Company

Just down the dirth path from where we will be building our brewery in Ava, Illinois

Once upon a time I embarked upon a brewing and blogging mission that was to serve a singular purpose: to catalogue my adventure in starting a brewery in southern Illinois. Shortly therein I discovered that starting a brewery would take some time and that my writing interests tilted toward an examination of the intersection of beer and food. So this space suddenly became dedicated to food and beer pairing and a passionate exploration of farming in this region of southern Illinois, southeastern Missouri, and western Kentucky.

I never gave up the dream of starting the brewery, however, and I continued to research how to make the fantasy a reality. I also quickly realized that in starting a business there is a virtue in exposing less before you know exactly how things will take shape. I applaud those who have shown the bare bones of their plans as they’ve created them. But I realized that I didn’t have it in me to discuss every detail. Deals fall through; people come and go (some even pass from this world); concepts change; money evaporates. There is an unsung beauty in revealing less in order to let the things in this world pass by quietly, as so often they do.

In the course of creating the brewery that I am announcing to the world publicly this week, I had several viable–indeed, seemingly concrete–possibilities fall through before my eyes, and just as many others that were suggested and never materialized. A beautiful old building in a small town, an idiosyncratic Pentacostal church, and now, as we settle into our final locale, a small building we will construct ourselves on two acres of gorgeous wood land in Ava, Illinois.

This was nearly two years of constant work, most of it struggle, weighing options, calculating money, and biting nails about the future with little proven track record in the area about what to expect it would bring. We still keep those anxieties to a certain extent, but we also move forward with a belief in the strength of an idea that has been chiseled to fit us on so many levels.

I am proud to tell you that following the direction of my blog of the last two years, Scratch Brewing Company, my endeavor with Aaron Kleidon and Ryan Tockstein, will focus to the greatest extent possible on creating beers made with local ingredients, grown in our garden, foraged in the southern Illinois hills, or found in local farms. Our food will be produced under the same ethic. We will start with a small but carefully crafted menu that is created with ingredients the majority of which haven’t traveled more than 100 miles.

If you’d like to follow the progress of the brewery, go to scratchbeer.com where we’ll post regular updates. You can also follow us on Facebook. I won’t post too much about the brewery here. I’ll continue to use the blog to write beer reviews, create beer pairings and focus on beer and food in southern Illinois.

Here’s to good beer! I hope you all enjoy what we have in store. I think I speak for Ryan and Aaron when I say that we look forward to sharing it with you.

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Friday Forks: Thai Basil Chicken with Southern Tier’s 2XIPA

It’s nearing the end of basil season for all but the hardiest of plants. Our neighbors have some fierce basil plants that have weathered the frost this year, and they (our neighbors, that is!) have been begging us to help consume it. Never one to pass up garden grown food, we decided to try cooking some Thai dishes with their Thai basil.

One of our neighbors is part Thai, and they gave us their recipe for Thai Basil Chicken. Thai food has always been daunting to me and often turns out underwhelming compared to some of the good Thai food I’ve had in restaurants, but this is an easy dish that turns out great every time. There are less than 10 ingredients, and it takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. With the right ingredients, it’s an easy and satisfying dish.

Thai basil

How to use the rest of this season's Thai basil

By “right ingredients” I just mean to try to get the authentic Thai spices. Make sure you get both oyster and fish sauce (don’t skimp and try to use only one; they both add their own unique flavors), and try to use Thai basil instead of Italian or other varieties. Thai basil has a characteristic mint-like sweetness that you’ll miss from a dish like this if you use another kind of basil (although don’t let this discourage you from experimenting with different kinds of basil). You can get oyster and fish sauce at the International Grocery store in the Murdale Shopping Center in Carbondale. Thai basil… well… see if you can find a gardener with a green thumb and a warm garden, or wait until next summer!

Thai Basil Chicken

Ingredients (for 3 hungry people or 4 moderately hungry people)

  • 1 lb chicken breasts, sliced into very thin strips
  • 3 large handfuls of thai basil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 red chiles
  • 4 and a half tbsp oyster sauce
  • About 1 tsp fish sauce, to taste
  • 2-3 tbsp soybean or peanut oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat and add the garlic and chile peppers. Saute for a minute or two and add the chicken.

When the chicken is cooked all the way through, add the oyster sauce and fish sauce. Cook until the juices are well mixed and then turn the heat to low and add the basil. You can chop the basil if the leaves are big. A rough chop is fine. Or you can just throw the leaves in whole. Cook until the basil is just wilting.

Serve over rice.

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This dish is packed with basil flavor and the sauce is light but sweet and flavorful. I chose the 2XIPA because it had enough malt sweetness to stand up to the sweet sauce, but wasn’t cloying and complemented the basil nicely. I’m always at a bit of a loss pairing Asian foods with beer, but this was as enjoyable a pairing as the beer is to drink. I think I consumed both in about five minutes flat. Guess that means it was good.

 

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Thursday Tastings: Southern Tier 2XIPA

Southern Tier was a brewer whose beer I purchased often when I lived in New York and was sad to bid it adieu when I moved to southern Illinois. It was with great pleasure, therefore, that I welcomed it back into my life about a year ago when it became available in our area.

Southern Tier describes its 2XIPA as not quite an imperial IPA but a little bit bigger than your average IPA. Their description is spot on. It’s not as heavy and bitter as most double IPAs, but it is much sweeter and more hoppy than most IPAs. It’s about an IPA and a half, and that makes for some smooth, hoppy drinking.

The 2XIPA is available ubiquitously now in southern Illinois and it’s a great regular for the fridge. My review is below.

Southern Tier 2XIPA

Imperial IPA

Aroma
Orange citrus dominates nose. Some tropical fruit undertones: passion fruit, guava. Little to no malt character on nose. No diacetyl. No particular yeast character (i.e., esters).
12/12

Appearance
Light golden yellow. Clear. Moderate head recedes to a thin white layer of lace over top of the beer.
2/3

Flavor
Sweet pale malt with very little crystal malt character — just a hint of vanillin-caramel. All sweetness supports the citrusy hops. Similar flavor to aroma: orange, tropical. Moderately bitter. Flavor and aroma hops seem to be more dominant addition (rather than bittering). No esters, no diacetyl.
16/20

Mouthfeel
Medium-light body. Smooth and a little creamy. Moderate carbonation. Very light alcohol warmth in the back of the throat, but very subtle. Doesn’t appear until a few sips in.
5/5

Overall
Very pleasurable, relatively easy drinking double IPA due to crisp citrus hops and a not overly cloying body. Sweetness complements hops seamlessly. Bittering could perhaps be a little higher in order to balance heavy malts, but I like that it’s not as bitter as many double IPAs become with such big hop additions.
8/10

Total: 43/50 Excellent

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