Friday, April 8, 2011

Standard American Lager

It's time for me to ramp up my studying for the BJCP exam in August. As with most things in my life, I have decided to wait until the last possible minute to begin this task. I suspect my encounter with Lite (their spelling!) American Lagers turned me off enough that I haven't studied for months. Today's offering won't help put me back on the road to being interested in a beer exam, but I guess if you want to get out of something, you have to get into it. Here goes. Standard American Lager.

Martin Luther once said that a true theologian calls a thing what it actually is. I will apply his logic to the task of beer judging and call Standard American Lager what it really is. It's basically liquified manure, put in a can and sold to children. Well, maybe I'm overstating my point. I don't think the people who buy Standard American Lagers are all underaged cheerleaders. (BTW, buying alcohol for underaged kids is a crime. Don't do it. And stay in school.) But I'm standing by the rest on my description.

If that language isn't techincal enough for you I'll just comment that if you take a Lite American Lager, add a bit more alcohol and a few more calories, you'll have a Standard American Lager. It's basically the difference between a Republican and a Democrat.

The appearance is predictably pale straw to medium yellow in color (sound familiar?) and you shouldn't be suprised if the head fades quickly. No hop flavor will interrupt you ability to toss these down your throat without thought to taste or substance, and the light drainkability is a result of the large amount of corn and other adjuncts added during the brewing process. They are made with 2 or 6 row barley with tons (up to 40%) of corn.

For you beer nerds, here's the numbers:
IBUs (presence of hop flavors and aroma) 8-15
SRMs (measuring color) 2-4
OG (original gravity) 1.040-1.050
FG (final gravity) 1.004-1.010
ABV 4.2-5.3%

So, next time you open a PBR, Bud, or the Queen of Standard American Lager, Grainbelt Premium, hold your nose and prepare to be punished. And remember, whoever served you this beer is trying to tell you he hates you!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Heresy is beautiful

One common misconception about religious people is that they are shackled by doctrines. That may be true of some. It may even be true about me at times. But I also believe that many folks who are drawn to religion are drawn to the idea of mystery. Religion (at least the religion that has captured my own soul) is about liberation from the shackles of falsehood. It is about freedom and new ways of understanding what it means to be human. It is light in the midst of darkness.

The same is true about art. Art is most profound when we concentrate on the experience of its creation and as a result our notions of reality are changed. I believe BBQ is an art. It makes no difference to me whether someone cooks a brisket on an Ugly Drum Smoker or in the oven. Either way something profoundly unique is happening, a reality is changing, and it doesn't matter to me whether people think the method is pure. What matters is that the experience has revealed something about existence that is worth knowing.

O.K., now I'm pontificating. My wife hates it when I ramble like this, and I suspect you do too. But I had to try and find some words to capture my reaction to a video I recently watched on Youtube. It is a short video of a Japanese man sharpening a knife in a way that is totally new to me. I was awestruck watching him do something I have done, in a way I would never have imagined. He has moved me beyond my fixed understanding of "how it's done" and I am a better person for it. He has taken me beyond the "doctrine" of how one sharpens a knife and revealed the art in the craft. It doesn't matter how he developed this technique. What matters is that, at least to me, something profoundly unique was captured on film and I got a chance to see it. The least I could do is post it for you to see, too.

Granted, perhaps some of you have seen this technique before. Maybe it's not all that revolutionary. Fine. Keep that to yourself. I'm grooving on this guy so give me a chance to be in awe.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Lite Lagers

The best thing about Lite Lagers is there is no law requiring me, or anyone else, to drink them. Lite lagers are the moral equivalent of Wal Mart stores. Sure, they get the job done, but no one ought to brag about the encounter.

Despite the fact that they are disgusting, Lite Lagers are probably among the best selling beers in America. Most every one has tried one. Miller Lite, Bud Light, Coors Light are but some of the offerings foisted on an unsuspecting public. Some of the major craft brewers also offer these beers - most likely to get a toehold on the market. Sam Adams Light being one example. If you want to drink a lite lager but don't want to appear to be too much of a Philistine you can always order a Bitburger Light (at least that's German).

Believe it or not these beers are designed to be flavorless and borderline insulting to your intelligence as a beer drinker. These beers can often contain up to 40% rice or corn as adjuncts. That means that the brewers are intentionally brewing the flavor right out of them. They must be served cold because the coldness deadens your taste buds so that you can pour these things down your throat without puking. If you try to drink one of these warm you will get a mouthful of something that is best left undescribed.

In fact, if you want to know if you are drinking a good beer let it reach room temperature. At that point you will really begin to taste the actual flavors of the beer. If you can identify pleasant malty flavors and/or the aroma of hops, chances are you aren't drinking a Lite Lager.

Lite lagers tend to have an original gravity of 1.028-1.040 and a final gravity of .998-1.008. That means the alcohol by volume is between 2.9 - 4.2%.

The hop bitterness of the beers (measured in IBUs) is 8-12 and the color (measured in SRMs) is 2-3. That basically means there is little to no hop aroma and the color resembles pale straw.

The one redeeming quality of this kind of beer is that it is incredibly refreshing on a hot day and with it's relatively low alcohol content you can have a few and still see straight. It also has fewer calories than many other beers. There, I said something nice. Next style, please!

When I'm not humiliating myself at a BBQ competition or cutting huge gouges in my sharpening stones I teach Reformation history at two institutions of higher learning. I have always loved history and I suspect that's the underlying connective tissue that holds all my hobbies together. In all my avocations I am drawn to the fact that by cooking with fire, sharpening steel, brewing beer, or even fly fishing, I am able to touch a part of the past. Sorry to be a sap, but it's true.

During the coldest parts of winter, when I don't enjoy tending a smoker and I can't control fermentation temperatures, I concentrate on sharpening. But I have decided that this may be a good time for me to begin the process of studying for certification as a Beer Judge. The process of becoming a certified beer judge is nothing like becoming a CBJ in the competition BBQ world. The official study guides are close to 100 pages when combined. In addition, the exam tests a person's knowledge of the brewing process by requiring the test-taker to provide all grain recipies. And if that's not enough the examinee (is that a word?) must be able to provide detailed information on a number of beer styles.

Needless to say I'm loving the opportunity to turn my mind away from Reformation history and dig into a little liquid history, at least until the next term begins.

All blogs are self-indulgent bovine scatology, and this one is no different. So if you don't mind I'm going to use this little part of the internet to review what I'm learning and track my progress. First stop - Light Lagers. I don't mind studying them, so long as I'm not forced to drink them!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Flanken Cut Beef Short Ribs

When I was in graduate school in Chicago I shared a room with a guy from South Korea. He was almost evangelical about Korean food and insisted on sharing his homeland's cuisine with everyone he met. He took me to a Korean restaurant and ordered egg roe soup. I was supposed to think it was delicious. If you replace the word "delicious" with "absolutely disgusting" then, yes, it was delicious.

After that experience I was not inclined to eat anything Sung offered to feed me. But when he spoke of Korean BBQ, I had to relent and give it a try. Sure, there was a possibility that it would include rotten cabbage or something similarly putrid but BBQ is BBQ, so I gave him a chance.

He started off with Flanken cut beef short ribs and marined them in some sort of soy sauce garlic mixture that smelled much better than I thought it would. After marinating the ribs he cooked them quickly over a small grill and served them with lettuce leaves.

I ate so much I thought I needed to purge. To this day those ribs are the highwater mark for me and my understanding of "good grilled meat." Until yesterday I thought I'd never be able to reproduce that wonderful evening with ribs, lettuce, and shattered misconceptions. But like my understanding of Korean food, my belief that I couldn't cook good Korean style ribs has undergone a serious transformation.

Here's what I did:

I found Flanken cut beef ribs at Sam's Club, then I paid for them. Easy enough.

I made a marinade with:

1/2 c. soy sauce

1/4 c. water

1 Tablespoon brown sugar

1 Tablespoon sesame seed oil

several cloves of garlic

I marinated the ribs for a couple hours on the advice of John "Chez" Eddy - who warned me that if I marinated them too long they would probably get overly salty. Then I grilled them for a couple of minutes over medium heat. These things are cut thin so it would be easy to overcook them. I wanted to err on the side of underdone and I'm glad I did.

They turned out something like this (the photo isn't mine, I borrowed it from - I also lifted the picture of the ribs from My apologies to the hardworking photographers who took these pics. Perhaps you can visit those pages and see the photos for yourself!):

Last night I relived that evening in Chicago so many years ago. I ate until I was nearly sick and I kept looking to my wife for affirmation. "Aren't these ribs great?" But I never heard her response. I was only interested in more ribs and I'm pretty sure she was more interested in finding another husband!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I'm a freaking chicken ninja!

There are three of us who cook for Holy and Oly's Competition BBQ. I'm not sure exactly how we decided to split up cooking duties, but for whatever reason I ended up with chicken and brisket. I don't mind cooking brisket. It's relatively straight forward and doesn't require much prep work.

Chicken? Well, that's another story.

It usually takes me an hour or more to prep chicken thighs for competition. Most of that time is spent shaping the thighs and trimming fat. This is tedious work and I have never enjoyed it. Until now.

O.K., that's not totally true. I still hate prepping chicken, but using a scary sharp Japanese shiv has made the experience much more enjoyable. The blade on these knives are so sharp and the cuts so exacting that instead of cutting through hunks of meat I can decide whether the cuts are deep or millimeters thin. Simply slide the blade across the meat and the knife takes care of the rest. Cutting through flesh while leaving the skin intact is as easy as turning on my FEC, the knife gives you that much control.

The blade does not have a typical 50/50 edge. Instead, this particular knife is a single bevel blade that resembles one half of a pair of scissors. Real sharp scissors. Sharpening it will be a bit of a challenge, but I love getting my water stones out anyway so I suppose I can find some enjoyment in maintaining this tool. Now I need one big enough for brisket!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Joe York rules the world!

Sometimes when I forget why I started BBQing with extreme prejudice - when I worry more about how to impress KCBS judges rather than my family and neighbors - I'm thrown a bone from a Good Samaritan and I am able to call to mind what a true blessing BBQ is to me and my culture. That bone often comes in the form of a Joe York documentary.

Joe York is to BBQ what Ken Burns is to everything else American. He is a master documentarian who has a special gift for telling the story of America's cuisine. I have seen his previous short films, Capitol Q and Whole Hog, so many times that I can talk along with the filmed dialog - his films are that good.

I was delighted to come across Karen Walker's (of the Kansas City BBQ Society) Facebook status today because she included a link to Joe's new film, Cut/Chop/Cook. I am shamelessly lifting that link and putting it on my blog. If you want to say thanks to Karen, get or renew your subscription to KCBS and tell 'em she's the reason. You might also want to check out some of her BBQ photos. She's an artist in her own right!