May 27, 2011
With the official kick-off of outdoor barbecue season this weekend also comes an alarming increase in beer waste. According to the Bureau of Bogus Statistics I Totally Just Made Up, as much as a third of every beer opened during the summer months goes unconsumed. The primary reason: the beer has gotten warm. When the mercury climbs, canned and bottled beverages don’t stand a chance of remaining palatably cold to the finish. With sodas or mixed drinks, it’s no big deal—just add ice. But beer doesn’t taste good with ice (even, in my opinion, when “ice” is just in the name).
Some people might say, “I don’t have that problem. I drink my beer in one long guzzle so it never has a chance to get warm.” Those people might have problems beyond warm beer.
For the rest of us, some marketing genius out there invented the koozie. The koozie, in case you are unfamiliar with the term, is a little foam insulating sleeve that fits around an aluminum can or, in more recent versions, a bottle. No one seems to know the origin of the name (or of the product itself, which became popular sometime in the 1980s), but my best guess is that it is a corruption of the word “cozy”—as in a tea cozy, meant to keep the teapot warm—with an extra “o” so it sounds like “cool.” Switching the “c” to a “k” must have been a byproduct of the era when bastardized spellings and superfluous umlauts were considered cool (see “Mötley Crüe”).
Whatever the origin, the koozie has several undeniable benefits: It keeps your hand from getting cold and covered in condensation. It’s a good way to identify one’s beer at a party, where it could easily be confused with look-alikes—the second most common cause of beer waste, according to the BBSITJMU. It can be used as camouflage: a friend of mine who was pregnant, but not ready to reveal her status to friends, covered her nonalcoholic beer in a koozie to avoid arousing suspicion. Finally, it’s a personal billboard, allowing you to proclaim your allegiance to a sports team; declare important sentiments, like that you’re “not as think as you drunk I am”; or go formal with a tuxedo koozie. You can even support independent crafters by buying felted, crocheted or cowhide koozies on Etsy.com.
But how well do they actually work at keeping your beverage cold? In the interest of preventing beer waste, I put them to the test. Recently, my husband and I conducted an experiment with three bottles of beer: I held one in a koozie, my husband held one without, and a third one, also koozieless, was set down between sips. We drank them at the same rate, alternating between the two held beers and the third beer, stopping at five-minute intervals to evaluate the temperature. The air temperature was 67 degrees Fahrenheit (not exactly sweltering, but it was early evening).
Within five minutes, there was already a subtle but noticeable difference between the beers we were holding—with koozie and without—and the unhandled one. The latter was still frosty, while the others had already started to lose their chill. The gap widened over the next ten minutes. At 15 minutes, the one without the koozie was warmer than the one with, but the unhandled beer was still coldest. Finally, at the 20-minute mark, all three were less than refreshing, but the one that had been held least remained coolest.
Our conclusion: the koozie helped, but not as much as limiting the beer’s time in hand.
Would the results have been different if we were using cans? If the air temperature had been warmer (especially if it had been warmer than human body temperature)? If we had a beer in a koozie that we set down between sips?
Hard to say. If any science-minded beer drinkers out there care to conduct their own experiments, be sure to let us know the results.
February 9, 2011
Beer is the only consumable I can think of that is so associated with its standard serving measure that you can say, “let’s go for a pint,” and everyone knows what you’re talking about—it’s not a pint of milk.
But is a pint always a pint? It depends on where you are. Some countries legislate the size of a beer, but in the United States alcohol laws tend to be aimed solely at restricting where and when it’s sold. A standard U.S. pint is 16 ounces (473 milliliters), but it’s not governed by law—bars can serve beer in whatever size glasses they want.
Things get more confusing overseas, as I learned on my recent visit to Australia. There, beer sizes vary from state to state. In Sydney, most people order by the schooner—or, because Australians give everything a nickname, the “schooey”—which is about 425 milliliters. In Melbourne, you can order a pot, which is 285 milliliters, according to this handy-dandy chart. Many pubs (frequently called, confusingly, hotels) also offer pints, but in my experience Australians preferred to order the smaller sizes. This is not necessarily a reflection of a culture of moderation (also in my experience), although drunk driving laws are very strict there. My guess is that because it gets so hot there, shorter glasses make it easier to keep a cold one always at hand. On one very muggy afternoon walking around Melbourne, it was great to be able to duck into a pub for a quick pot whenever we needed a respite, without getting soused.
Not so in the mother country. In Britain, the Imperial pint—equal to 568 milliliters—has been the legal beer measure since 1698, and woe to the publican who pulls a short pint. On request, half- or third-pints (for a sampler) are also available. Now the country is considering amending the law to allow a new size akin to the Australian schooner, or about 3/4 of a pint. The concern isn’t less-than-frosty beer—Brits have a not-entirely-accurate reputation for preferring their brews warmish—but public health. As the Associated Press reported, while per capita alcohol consumption had decreased in many European countries since 1970, in Britain consumption had increased by 40 percent. The hope is that, given a choice of a smaller serving, many people will drink less at a sitting.
Germany, a country so serious about its brew that its Reinheitsgebot dictated what ingredients could be used in German beer, keeps it simple with the metric system. There, the Maß—a full liter, or nearly double an Imperial pint—is the standard glass size, though half-liters are also available. I’m guessing this was not one of the countries where beer consumption has declined. Of course, with those heavy beer steins, you could probably consider drinking beer in Germany a weight-bearing exercise. Watch out Zumba—I smell a new fitness craze on the horizon.
February 8, 2011
Anyone who watched American television in the 1980s probably remembers the Australia tourism commercials with Paul Hogan (aka Crocodile Dundee) saying he’d “slip another shrimp on the barbie” for us. Never mind that Australians don’t use the word “shrimp”—they call them prawns—the catchphrase stuck, along with its concession to American nomenclature.
It is true, though, that Aussies love a barbecue. In the two weeks I was there over the holidays, I attended no fewer than four. Most featured sausages and marinated chicken, usually served with ketchup (or tomato sauce, as they call it) as the only condiment. But one barbecue was different.
The friends I stayed with in Melbourne are a bi-continental married couple—the Australian husband, Konrad, met his American wife, Nikki, while she was studying abroad in Queensland—who had returned to his homeland after about seven years in the States. During his time in America, including a year in Jacksonville, Florida, Konrad had developed a deep appreciation for Southern-style barbecue. Since returning home, with nowhere local to sate his cravings, he had bought a smoker and made it his project to learn how to replicate his favorite foods himself. During my visit he planned a backyard bash to introduce his Aussie friends to a barbecue with all the Dixie fixin’s—pulled pork, brisket and beer-can chicken with four kinds of homemade barbecue sauce on the side, plus potato salad, macaroni and cheese, baked beans and cornbread. Sweet tea and mint juleps were on the drink menu.
But first we had to go shopping. It turned out that the main ingredient in cornbread—cornmeal—was not stocked at local supermarkets. We tracked down a Spanish market in the artsy Fitzroy neighborhood (the Melbourne equivalent of New York’s Williamsburg or L.A.’s Los Feliz) where we found a package of P.A.N. brand, which had a drawing of a sassy-looking lady with her hair tied up in a polka-dotted scarf.
Since we were out for the rest of the afternoon and evening, this meant carrying around a sack of cornmeal everywhere we went. “Pan” became a kind of mascot, and we took a series of photos with “her” that became increasingly ridiculous as the night wore on.
Konrad and Nikki spent the better part of the next day preparing for the feast that afternoon. For the most part, the food seemed to be a hit with the Aussies. The biggest surprise was the baked beans—over there, as in England, baked beans are most commonly eaten at breakfast with eggs and toast. Their version comes out of the Heinz can in a relatively bland tomato sauce without the zip of BBQ baked beans, and some of the guests were downright excited about having them in this new context. The macaroni and cheese and the smoked meats and sauces also got raves.
As for the cornbread, I think Pan, which was pre-cooked, was the kind of cornmeal meant for arepas (delicious South American corn fritters) and not quite right for American cornbread. Although I didn’t get to try the resulting corn muffins before they disappeared at the party, they must have tasted alright anyway.
Maybe next time, they’ll introduce the Aussies to one of my favorite Southern dishes, shrimp and grits. But I’m sorry, y’all, “prawns and grits” just sounds wrong.
December 30, 2010
Perhaps it is because I associate it with that stomach-ache-inducing sparkling grape juice I gulped down during so many New Year’s Eves as a kid, but I am not a huge fan of champagne.
So my ears perked up when I heard that the Boston Beer Company (the maker of Samuel Adams) and Germany’s Weihenstephan, the world’s oldest brewery, were teaming up to unveil a bubbly brew called Infinium that blurred the line between sparkling wine and beer, just in time for the holidays. The festive effervescence of champagne with the hoppy flavor of beer sounded like it could be the perfect combination, and I wondered if there were other “toastable” hybrids out there.
Greg Engert seemed to be the guy to ask. He is the beer director at ChurchKey, a swanky beer bar in northwest Washington, D.C., and Birch & Barley, its sister restaurant downstairs, where he curates an impressive collection of craft beer: 500 bottles, 50 taps and five cask-conditioned ales. Both the bar and restaurant, which opened in October 2009, have been huge successes, and Engert’s hand in them hasn’t gone unnoticed. In April, Engert became the first-ever beer professional to be named one of Food & Wine magazine’s “Sommeliers of the Year.”
Engert was preparing for ChurchKey’s big New Year’s bash (tickets still available for an open bar of 55 drafts and samples from Greg’s “secret stash”) when I spoke with him earlier this week. ”I wouldn’t say I dislike champagne per se,” he said, “but I find that flavor options for sparkling wine are only subtly different. Craft beer, on the other hand, always provides the effervescence of a sparkler, but can do so with a wider range of tastes and aroma. You can enjoy roasty or even smoky flavors, caramel, toffee, toasty and nutty notes, herbal and citric hop freshness, or even fruit and spice aromatics that tend toward the darker side—plum, raisin, cherry—or lighter—peach, banana, apple.”
Engert seemed as ebullient as the beers he has on tap, explaining how the methods of making beer and champagne can be quite similar. A popular trend, he says, is for beers to undergo a secondary fermentation at a winery, in much the same way that sparkling wine does. And, as I had hoped, he offered up some recommendations.
So, now, without further ado, I present to you Engert’s top picks for beers to toast this New Year’s Eve!
Bubbly & Brut-esque: DeuS: Brut Des Flandres | Brouwerij Bosteels | East Flanders, Belgium
This beer is fittingly titled the “Brut” of Flanders, as much of its production mirrors that of the finest brut wines of France, albeit crafted of malted barley initially in the Flemish north. The straw pallor signals the intense dryness to come, no doubt engendered in congress with the méthode traditionnelle*. Post primary fermentation it is dosed with sugar and wine yeast, then carried to Rheims, France (the capital of all things Champagne). Only there is it bottled where it can continue to re-ferment for three to four weeks. More than a year’s maturation at cellar temperature then occurs, after which is riddling (3 to 4 weeks), then disgorgement. What remains is an ethereal brew, delicately emboldened. * Note: Though Engert’s other three picks are brewed by similar methods, this is the only one made in the méthode traditionnelle.
Bubbly & Roasty: Black OPS | Brooklyn Brewery | New York
Here is an imperial stout loaded with intensely deep flavors of cocoa, caramel and espresso that is further layered by its four-month maturation in oak barrels once used to age Woodford Reserve Bourbon. Vanilla, spice, toast and coconut tastes abound in a brew that might have ended up heavier on the palate had it not been bottled flat, then re-fermented with wine yeast normally reserved for primary fermentation in sparkling wine. Black OPS ends up neither heavy nor sticky, but rather creamy and tantalizing while losing nothing of its mature character.
Bubbly & Tart & Funky: Hanssens Oude Gueuze | Hanssens Artisanaal | Flemish Brabant, Belgium
The “Champagne of Beers” as a moniker could have originally been applied to Gueuze Lambic, the classic-rustic brew of the Payottenland, a valley surrounding the river Zenne, which flows through—and even under—Brussels. While beer has been brewed in countless regions for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, this region has altered their brewing path very little over the centuries. Airborne wild yeasts and bacteria begin the ale’s ferment, and continue along with a hoard of microscopic brethren in oak casks for a number of years. The Gueuze style is naturally re-fermented, but not by some careful “méthode” or more modern bottle conditioning practice; the Gueuze is a blend of Lambic that has wildly fermented in oak barrels for one, two and three years. The still hungry and now starved micro flora of the three-year-old thread feed upon the as yet unfermented one- and two-year-old beers’ sugars and a natural fermentation results. Sparkling, yes. But wildly tart, earthy and even funky. These are rare craft-made ales that not only astound in their astonishing simplicity, but also stand as a sort of revenant of what beer once was…and is. And will be.
Bubbly & Hoppy: Sierra Nevada 30th Anniversary Grand Cru | Our Brewers Reserve, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company | California
This is the final installment in the series of artisanal beers brewed to celebrate Sierra Nevada’s 30 years of craft brewing. It consists of two hoppy brews (Celebration Ale & Bigfoot), aged in oak barrels, then blended with fresh Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. While malty and firm on the palate, with vanilla notes from the wood, it exudes huge herbal and citric hop notes in the nose. Stunningly generous, as the re-fermentation serves to exude powerful effervescence that both brightens the texture and pushes the aromatic envelope as well.
December 13, 2010
For the next round of Inviting Writing, and to celebrate the impending new year, we’re seeking your stories about “first taste” experiences.
To be considered for publication, please e-mail your submissions to FoodandThink@gmail.com by this Friday (Dec. 17) morning. We’ll read through all of them and pick our favorites to edit and publish on subsequent Mondays through mid-January. Just a reminder, we’re looking for true, original personal narratives of roughly 500 to 1,000 words. The rest of the details are up to you!
I’ll start with an example…
My Goodness, My Guinness
By Amanda Bensen
Ever heard the term “goody two-shoes?” That was me in high school, and that was still me at 19, as I entered my junior year of college. Up until then, I had never had an alcoholic drink. After all, I wasn’t 21—and underage drinking was not only illegal, but at my college it was an offense that could get you expelled (along with having opposite-sex visitors in your room overnight, or with the door closed).
But my junior year was different. I was studying abroad in England, where the drinking age was only 18, which meant that the mysterious world of alcohol was suddenly wide open to me. I was eager to experience British culture, and I quickly discerned that drinking was a necessary part of this—even the church I visited held its “young adults’ Bible study” at a pub.
When Ryan, another American student in my program, heard that I’d never had a drink, he was both incredulous and adamant that we remedy this strange condition immediately. He dragged me into a pub on the outskirts of Oxford. It was early on a weekday evening, and the place was quiet. We sat at the bar, where a handful of middle-aged men were silently watching television and nursing pints of beer.
“She’ll have a Guinness, and so will I,” Ryan announced loudly, as if this were something extraordinary. The bartender smirked as he handed us our drinks. I was about to take a sip when Ryan stopped me.
“Wait,” he said, lowering his voice. “Just so you know, this is a real local pub, not a tourist trap. They know how to drink. That means you have to take at least an inch or two out of the glass in your first swig, or they’ll probably laugh you right out of here.”
I was alarmed. That wouldn’t be a good way to experience the local culture. So, I took a big gulp, choking slightly and getting foam on my nose in the process. It tasted bitter, but not bad…kind of like dark chocolate, or coffee. I liked it!
Trying to ignore the fact that the other customers were now watching us more than the television, we hunched over our pints and tried not to talk. I looked at the vintage beer ads displayed on the pub’s wall, with slogans like “Lovely day for a Guinness” and “My goodness, my Guinness!” and debated whether it would be nerdy or cool to mention that I was reading a biography of the British mystery author Dorothy Sayers, who wrote those slogans in the 1930s. I was hoping it would help prepare me for a tutorial on C.S. Lewis I’d be taking that fall, since Sayers was a friend of his. Probably nerdy, I decided.
By the time my pint was nearly drained, Ryan was already finishing his second. “What did you have for dinner?” he asked. I said I hadn’t had dinner yet.
He put on a look of mocking seriousness (although the mocking part went straight over my head at the time).
“What?!? No food in your stomach? That means you’re going to be sick in…” he looked at his watch. “Twenty minutes.”
I felt fine, but he sounded certain, so I was worried. We tossed a handful of pound coins down on the bar and hurried out to the street in search of a quick bite. With only five minutes left in our ridiculous countdown, we found a food truck. I ordered a tray of fries and a greasy veggie burger, and downed them quickly, as if they were medicine. I don’t know how Ryan managed to keep such a straight face through it all.
By the end of that year, I was the one dragging visiting friends to the local pubs, although I never got into heavy drinking. After buying me eight shots in a row one night without seeing any effect, Ryan declared me the best drinking buddy he’d ever seen: “Such a tolerance! Never seen anything like it in a girl!”
What he didn’t realize is that I was the one doing the leg-pulling this time — it was a dark pub, there was nothing behind my chair but a dead-end stairwell, and I’d been tossing the shots over my shoulder the whole time.
I’ve long since lost touch with Ryan, but I still love Guinness.