Contact High: A Strange Tale of Accidentally Dry-hopped Cheese

Once upon a time, I kept a lot of my brewing ingredients in the same refrigerator as my food.  Which is how, one fine afternoon, I pulled out some cheese I was serving to some guests and found out that you can add hop flavor and aroma to cheese, completely by accident.

The Hop Flavor Invasion

There was no real technique or process here.  I had some plastic-wrapped cheese in the drawer.  Said drawer also contained two ounces of pellet hops in small zip-locked (not heat sealed/nitrogen flushed) bags.  I made literally no attempt to merge their flavors.  

Total exposure time was about two days, during which time nothing else in the fridge tasted like hops, and in fact there wasn't much in the way of aroma coming from the zip-lock sealed hop bags.  And yet, there it was in the cheese: hop flavor.

And you know what?  It was excellent!  The cheddar had picked up a great earthy/floral flavor, and the gouda (already a bit more piquant) showed off some hoppy herbal notes.  

There's potential in this for your next party.

Recreating the Accident - On Purpose

Just for fun, I tried it again, deliberately this time (though I admit to feeling a bit like Fleming discovering penicillin).  It's pretty easy, as you might imagine in a process that I noticed accidentally.  

This time I unwrapped the cheese and put it in a larger zip-lock bag.  I then dumped hops into a smaller (and zipped) zip-lock bag and put that bag into the cheese bag and sealed it all up together.

Back into the fridge.  One day is all it took.  You can go longer, but I wouldn't do that unless we're talking about a medium-to-intense cheese.  I would also note that the flavor/aroma fades after the cheese's exposure to the hops ends, so if doing this for a party I'd combine the hops and cheese overnight and pull it just before serving.  

Your beer geek friends are going to love it, and your foodie friends probably will, too.

Hop Selection

My initial accidental/natural experiment was with noble hops, but this seems to work really well with any variety.  Certainly it's a fun way to add some herbal flavors.  You could even match the hops to the beer you're serving.

The best reactions seem to be from the "big citrus" hops.  Just like people seem to like bright, fruity beers, they seem to like the same in their hopped cheeses.

I'd also recommend sticking with fairly neutral cheeses, at least to start.  Cheddar, Gouda, Havarti, and Mozzarella have all done well for me!  Once you've dialed in your process, timing, and matched this stuff to your own palate, then by all means, go crazy.  

Beer Ingredients and Food

I've read some interesting things about using beer ingredients (malt extract, crushed grain, etc.) in food, but they usually entail some precise steps and a good understanding of cooking.  

This, on the other hand, is idiot-proof.  Right up our alley here at BS.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


Might vs. Right: Blogs, Brewing, and Belief

What's the point of all of this?  Why are you reading it?  What is it saying?

It's the start of a new year, so instead of unseemly navel-gazing I'm just considering this "introspection," but at least it's to some purpose.  

Several times a year I run across commentary from readers of this and other blogs (brulosophy.com comes immediately to mind) which are critical of beer blogs and bloggers.  Their central objection is that we're trying to "reinvent the wheel" or spread idiosyncratic and small-sample pseudo-science.

I thought it was worth a few minutes to speak to what we're doing here, and maybe also speak to readers' expectations or interpretations, because I feel like beer writing readers/critics have constructed quite the Straw Man.  For today, anyway, read this because it might save you some frustration later.

What I'm Not Saying

I'm not pitching a religion here.  No one is saying that you must do things a certain way, brew certain things, not take certain steps.  Your brewing is yours.  Brew what you want, how you want.

I'm not arguing that I'm infallible.  I could certainly be wrong, and badly.  In fact, that's the one thing I AM certain of: somewhere in the pages of this blog is some really bad advice.

I'm not saying it's science.  I might say that it's logically sound, and make a case for a reasonable conclusion, but you'll  never read that it's scientific.  Empirical, yes - but more on that later.

I'm not making a claim of originality.  There's nothing new under the sun, and humans have been brewing almost as long as we've been human - most of what we write about has been written about before, is being written about now, and will be written about again.  

I'm not telling you that what I'm writing is worth your money.  I love the "I wish I had a job where I could just write pointless think pieces about beer" criticism.  Yeah - me too.  Who wouldn't?  But the reality is that this isn't a job (for me, anyway), so when I take 1,500 words one Monday morning and just write about something I've been thinking about, there's no need to point out that it's frivolous and lacking in utility - I already know that, and I'm not asking you to pay for it.  

So in light of these things (and others), why bother reading?  

Why Bother?

First, because frivolity and thinking aren't bad things.  As humans we like the idea that others have the same thoughts as we do.  We like being exposed to new-to-us thoughts that we agree with.  Heck, trolls will tell you that we even seem to like arguing (at a nice remove) with people that we disagree with.  

Second, because although this isn't science, it is a bit scientific. It's often empirical and approached with an eye towards making a defensible argument, at least.  There's not much here that I assert without something to support the assertion (even my well-documented hatred of Terrence Malick films).  

Third, and this is probably the most important part from the brewing perspective, it's because of YOU.  Lots of this stuff is reactive - lots of you out there trade in conventional wisdom and tradition and habit, and tell us what we can or can't do.  And, so, I/we push back.

You're the Problem

Not really, but I wanted a nice, provocative heading for this section.  What I mean by that is that a great deal of what I'd consider the "process" stuff I and others write about is taken up from a perspective that seems to be misunderstood.  

I'm not saying that what I do will work for everyone.  I'm saying you're wrong when you say it can't work (especially when you say it about my brewing), and I'm prepared to make and support an argument that it can.  Let me give you an example:

  • "You can't use OneStep alone to clean/sanitize, because you'll get lots of contamination."  
    • OK, but I have, for a decade and about 250 batches of beer, and my beer shows no evidence of consistent (or even sporadic) contamination.
  • "OK, but just because you like drinking your filth doesn't mean it isn't contaminated."
    • Very true.  But I also enter all of my beers in competition to get objective feedback on them, and my scoring data show no evidence of contamination, either.
  • "OK, but it's still wrong of you to say that everyone can do it..."

And that's how we end up at the straw man.  I didn't say that.  I'm saying that you're wrong when you say something CAN'T work.

I CAN'T make full-sized batches on a 110-volt, 1800-watt induction element.  I CAN'T boil indoors without a vent hood.  I CAN'T free-add pellet hops and drain/chill through a plate chiller without a screen.  I CAN'T ferment lagers at 75F after two days at 50F without getting off-flavors.  I CAN'T make an all-grain batch with a full 60-minute mash and boil and be done in 3:15.  

Except I can.  I do.  I'm not saying it will work for you - just that it might, despite the categorical prohibitions and proscriptions you've been exposed to.  Might - not right.

So before you criticize a piece of beer writing, ask yourself whether you're criticizing it for what it's actually saying, or just what you think it's saying.  When I say it works for me and you should try it, I'm not trying to re-write De Clerck's Textbook of Brewing.  I'm just saying you should give it a try, because it worked for me and I think it might work for you.

I'm sure there are lots out there that DO try to win converts and make near-universal claims of scientific accuracy - and when they do, go ahead and give them hell if they deserve it.

Those aren't the norm, though - at least not in my reading.  Mostly it's well-meaning people, spending time and sharing thoughts about a hobby they love, and trying to add to the collective discussion we're all having.  Is there crappy information on the internet?  Sure.  Always be willing to question the credibility of your source.  But most of the criticism of beer writers that I read is people that are pushing back against something that's different from what they do or from what they've always believed, and their objection is more often than not rooted in the objection that it's different or heterodox.  

Keep an open mind.  It's a new year, after all.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).


10 Beer & Brewing Resolutions for 2017

Happy New Year from Beer Simple, everyone!  Since last year's list was highly constructive (and at least 8/10 items on it were actually completed), I thought I'd start this year by resolving another ten beer-and-brewing-related things to do by the end of 2017.  Join me, if you will - maybe not for all of these, but just a few.  And for anyone who might care, 2016's recapped list and feedback are at the end.

So off we go, into 2017...

1. Drink all unique beers in 2017

This is a big one, and it came to me when I realized that I drink almost exactly 365 pints a year (I was curious, so I kept track of how much overall, and when).  I thought, "what if I didn't repeat any beers at all next year?" and once a thought like that gets into my head it's hard to shake.  The downside is that I get only one can/bottle of a lot of beers that I love, but the upside is that I have a built-in reason to try lots of new things.  With the continued growth in the craft brewing sector (we're over 5,000 breweries now, and at times it feels like 3,000 of them are in the Philadelphia area), the timing couldn't be better.  What's going to be weird is how I deal with my own beer - the current plan is to only brew a) beer for parties that I'll put in kegs, and b) age-able beers.  There's a lot of Old Ale, Barleywine, and Baltic Porter in my future.  Maybe a lot of sours, too!

So - no repeats.  Already off the list following yesterday's New Year's dinner are Lagunitas Stoopid Wit, Sierra Nevada Celebration, Short's Brown, Goose Island Fulton Street Blend, and Heavy Seas Winter Storm.

2. Make a perry

I've never made perry, but I have pear trees, and someday I might even use my own pears for it!  For the first time, though, I'll probably get some reliably good pressings from a local purveyor.  But everyone should brew something new every year, if only to avoid ruts.

3. Revisit my least favorite brewery and drink at least four of their beers

Sometimes we write off a brewery, and it becomes an article of faith that their beers suck.  This year I'm going to revisit my least-favorite brewery - and it's the clear frontrunner - and drink four of their offerings.  If nothing else, it keeps me honest and gives them another shot, and even if they still make beer that should just be called "IPAcac" at least I'll know that I'm correct in continuing to steer people away from them.

4. Replace my Better Bottles - all of them

I'll likely just replace them with new Better Bottles (they've done very well by me), but it's been several years since I've replaced my fermenting vessels, and I get the feeling I'm mostly coasting on luck these days - there might be some bug in there waiting to bite my brewing ass.  I want to get ahead of him.

5. Visit more beer bars, and fewer breweries

For some reason it seems easy to get people pumped to visit a brewery - probably because the presumption is that the beer is better right at the source - but I find it harder to get psyched to visit a new (or new to me) bar, even though they're all over the place.  The power of habit, I guess: you find some comfortable places to drink at, with great beer lists and excellent food, and you start to get lazy.  I want to break that paradigm this year - get out there and try out some new places.

6. Convince a friend to give their child a beer-related name

Preferably without them knowing it.  "Porter" is too easy, but I'll take it.  I'd much rather talk them into Vorlauf or Citra, though.  "Citra's a nice name - she's the Greek goddess of the orange harvest!"  I can sell that. 

7. Use honey as a flavorful adjunct

I'm not talking about making more Braggot or Mead - I just mean using a pound of buckwheat honey in an ESB, or a pound of Raspberry honey to add some light honey sweetness to a wheat beer.  I feel like it's being overlooked as a secondary or tertiary ingredient.

8. Find a pair of brewery-branded pants

I already own lots of brewery t-shirts and sweatshirts.  I've seen and can get brewery underwear and socks.  If I find a pair of brewery pants, I can actually dress head-to-toe in brewing merchandise.  Not sweatpants, either - some kind of jean or trouser.  It seems like an odd ambition, but I've always wanted to, just for a day.

9. Read at least three new beer and brewing books

It's an odd side-effect of doing a lot of beer writing: I don't spend nearly as much time reading other people's writing.  I'll hit articles that touch on old topics in new ways or seem to introduce genuinely novel ideas (I like to keep current), but whereas I used to read new brewing books as much for pleasure as for education, I find I just don't do it much anymore.  I'd like to correct that this year.

10. Support pro-beer legislation at the local, state, and federal levels of government

There are still laws in place that breweries and beer drinkers have to contend with that are either illogical, ineffective, or create inefficiencies.  I've been content to let the AHA lobby on this stuff, but I'd like to set aside time this year to more personally get involved in it.  I'm a political scientist, after all...

And, of course, I'd like to keep writing Beer Simple.  Thank you to everyone for reading this year, whether you just stop in occasionally or read every week.  It means a lot to me that you spend your time here, and every week I try to put something up for you that is worth that sacrifice.  Best wishes in 2017, keep brewing and drinking good beer, and as always...

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

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RECAP OF THE 2016 RESOLUTIONS!

10. BUY A HIGH-QUALITY THERMOMETER – OR AT LEAST CALIBRATE THE ONE YOU ALREADY HAVE - Done and done.  My new Thermapen has been incredible. FAST and accurate.

9. MAKE A POINT OF ATTENDING EITHER THE GREAT AMERICAN BEER FESTIVAL OR NATIONAL HOMEBREWERS CONFERENCE - NHC 2016 ("Homebrewcon" - but I still have trouble with that) in Baltimore was a blast, and the dozen or so members of our club that went all had a remarkable time.  

8. FIND A NEW APPRECIATION FOR A PASSÉ OR OVERLOOKED BEER STYLE – I’M THINKING WITBIER - Oddly enough, it ended up being American Pale Ale.  They're everywhere, but it's amazing how often people (me included) gloss over them en route to looking for something more interesting, using the logic of "I can always go back to it..."  This time I started with them.  Really fun.

7. GIVE UP BEER FOR LENT, EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT CATHOLIC - It was no alcohol for 40 days, and it yielded some interesting conclusions.  I may do something similar this year, but I haven't really thought about it yet.  

6. WRITE A LETTER TO A BREWERY THAT IS MAKING YOUR FAVORITE BEER AND THANK THEM - Burial Brewing in NC got an e-mail, and they were super grateful for it.  Keep up the great work, guys!  And if you readers are in a position to try their Shadowclock Pilsner, it's incredible - but it for the artwork, drink it for the flavor.

5. LEARN ONE SCIENTIFIC LESSON THAT WILL IMPROVE YOUR BREWING - I spent some time on presentation of essential oils in hops, reading through the academic literature.  I can't pretend to have understood it all, but one thing was abundantly clear: we need to know more about this.  They're quite the black box.

4. ATTEND A HOMEBREW CLUB MEETING – OTHER THAN YOUR OWN - Done.  Actually, I attended three!  Always neat to see what everyone else is up to.

3. TEACH A WILLING PERSON TO HOMEBREW, AND BREW WITH THEM AT LEAST THREE TIMES - this is one I didn't get to follow through on.  I'll try better next year.

2. STAND UP FOR ONE NEWBIE THAT IS BEING RAZZED BY AN ALEHOLE - got to do this at NHC actually.  Sad that it was necessary, but glad to have been there to do it.  And the alehole in question had some bizarre beliefs about what an IBU was.

1. CONTRIBUTE IN A MEANINGFUL WAY TO THE BREWING WORLD – HOWEVER YOU CAN - I hope I did this, but if not I'll do better next year.  

Happy New Year, all!