Friday, February 28, 2014


PIG+FIG is a beer that was inspired by a series of fortunate events...


I was lucky enough to be in KC on the wrong side of town, at the right time... when I had one of my first and most memorable smoked beers, a Left Hand Smoke Jumper, it tasted like bacon and it was amazing. We were at the most random dive/craft beer bottle place I've ever experienced... Thank you 403 club, for your tasty beers, the weapon control at the entrance, the Kraftwerk playing on the jukebox, the dart boards in the doorway to the bathrooms, and the surly looks from your grumpy employees, you know how to make an impression! One of my favorite things about this place was actually just getting in.. you needed to push a buzzer, and they would view you on camera, before deciding to let you enter... Oh the things you have to do, to get craft beer in KC!

Then, a few months later, I was in Napa with my best friend, Erin, the night before our half marathon, where we ate a feast of flat-breads, cheese, and drank wine at Carpe Diem Wine Bar. You know, a few bottles of wine the night before a 13 mile race always sounds like a good idea, right? Well one of the fire-wood oven flat-breads we tried was a prosciutto, fig, arugula and goat cheese, with a balsamic reduction and it was magnificent! The fig totally complimented the prosciutto. It was sweet and creamy, smokey, salty, meaty... yum! I wanted to put these flavors in a beer and so a smoked Pig and Fig beer concept was born.

The Challenge

How was I going to get "smokey bacon" in a beer. At this point I was still new to brewing and understanding malt profiles. I literally thought maybe I should fry up some bacon and add it in the boil... so glad that I did not attempt this. We all know the nut oil nightmare that occurred during the making of PUMPIN NUTS! and I could only imagine what meat oil would do to my beer. Luckily I had the opportunity of meeting some of the guys from Pipeworks, and Mike allowed me to pop over on a brew/bottling day for a planned site visit, while I had a guest in town. I mentioned how much I loved their Smoked Chipotle Porter and I told him my idea of making a PIG+FIG beer. The first thing out of his mouth was... "Don't use real bacon. Use smoked malts." Um, OK. I took it, from his rapid response, that they had attempted using meats at some point, which they did. He then offered to let us taste some spent cherrywood smoked malt, that they just used in a brew earlier that day. It tasted like smokey bacon in oatmeal form. I was sold. You could really achieve meaty and robust flavors from the grain. Since cherrywood smoked malt is a specialty, and usually ordered online, he offered to give me a pound to use in my brew. I was ecstatic, this was going to be good!

Remarkable Tools and Pleasant Diversions

This was one of my last extract beers and it was also happened to be the first time I used this genius device, the brew bag, sold by Chicago Brew Werks who had a booth at Beer Hoptacular this past fall. It was awesome time saver and really streamlined the straining after the boil to almost non-existent. Straining was always a huge time suck, especially when I make really weird beers with a lot of extra ingredients, which is almost always. I had pureed a combination of raisins, dates, figs, and plums, to get the sweetness I was looking for and added them towards the end of the boil, and this bag was a life saver.

Another unexpected extra that I decided to add after the beer was sitting in the secondary, was maple extract. I was at The Spice House talking to my friend, Loni, who works there and is also a student at the French Pastry School and telling her about PIG+FIG and she said, "Oh wow, have you had our Maple extract that just came in?" A thought suddenly ran through my brain... maple syrup and bacon! Yes! I bought some and decided to add it on bottling day.

Lessons Learned

I ended up loving the smokey maple flavor of this beer, but distinguishing the actual notes of: figs, dates, raisins, and plums became a blur. They were more of a complimentary component/ingredient rather than actually being identifiably present in the taste. Also after getting feedback from BJCP judging notes on competition forms, I saw that I had received deducted points, because I listed those, as special ingredients, and they were looking for them. Since those flavors were not easily found, I had points taken away. Had I not mentioned they were added, then the beer I would have scored a higher rating. So if you have the time, taste your beer prior to entering in in competition and decide if those notes are actually present and if they should be listed as a specialty ingredient, if you can't taste them then they solely exist to compliment the other flavors and should not be listed.     

  • 8 oz Cherrywood smoked malt
  • 8 oz Smoked malt
  • 8oz Roasted Barley
  • 4oz Chocolate Rye
  • 4oz Honey Malt
  • 6lbs 6oz Dark Liquid Extract
  • 12oz Molasses
  • 2oz Cluster
  • 1oz Tettnang
  • 1oz Select Spalt
  • 1 pack Irish Ale Wyeast
  • 16oz (purred combination of: mission figs, dates, raisins, and plums)
  • 2oz Maple Extract (added on bottling day)

Final Brew notes: Subtle sweet and smokey maple Porter, creamy tan head, smooth mouth-feel, with no present heat and is an easy drinker. Try it with some bacon wrapped dates and creamy warm brie that was baked with apricots.

Maple Smoked Porter  | ABV 6.5% 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

top5 Tuesday (Feb. 25) STOUT IT OUT

Stouts. One of my favorite styles of beer, I just love this low hoppy, frothy, roasty, chocolatey, beer. Even-though they are a popular choice for winter, I've been know to drink my stouts all year round... I mean you don't stop drinking coffee in Summer, do you? And contrary to what many beginner beer drinkers may think, just because it's darker, doesn't mean it's stronger or has more alcohol in it then a lighter in color beer. Think of it this way, a black coffee doesn't have more calories then a Sprite, in fact it has almost no calories, (black coffee is about 2 calories a cup, Sprite is 140 calories for 12oz). Just because a beer is lighter in color, doesn't mean it's lighter in alcohol or calories either. Actually, Guinness, is my go to diet beer, it has only 128 calories for a draft pour. I think most people are more timid about drinking dark beers, because they have strong bold roasted flavors, and so then associate them with a strong in alcohol beer.

Dark beers actually come from roasting the malts, the same malts used in lighter beers, except these have been roasted, like roasting coffee beans. Guinness was actually the first dark beer and it happened quite accidentally. The brewery meant to only toast the malts, but left them going a little too long, and they became black and roasted. Instead of throwing the malts out, they decided to brew with them and not make any waste, thus the first dark beer was born in 1759.

So if you're a fan of coffee, or frothy creamy milk shakes, decadent dark chocolates, or the occasional whiskey/bourbon notes, then you'll love a good stout. Now, with that said, I also love a lot of amazing strong high in alcohol stouts. And my top5 for this week happens to be a lot of heavy hitters.


  • Ale Syndicate: Omega Midnight
    Oh my, Omega! You had me at first sip. Love this strong dark sweet abyss, and at 9.5% ABV it goes down way to easy.
  • Revolution: Blue Gene
    Blueberry and barrel aged? Yes, please! This is a killer combination, it is so ridiculous awesome! If you haven't had this already, go get some now, right now, stop reading this and go find this beer, it won't be around forever.
  • Pipeworks: Toasty Nut Abduction
    This was my favorite in the Abduction series, it just inched passed the Raspberry Truffle, which I thought was mind blowing. This toasty coconut silky smooth and almond stout will wow you too. It's a hard to find bomber, but when you get your hands on it, savor it, it is so worth it.
  • Half Acre: Big Hugs
    This big hug, is full bodied, and so tasty it will warm you inside and out. If you missed it this year, don't worry, it will be back as it is an annual winter favorite.  
  • Goose Island: Bourbon County Bourbon Stout, lovingly referred to as BCBS.
    Decadent, delicious and devious at 14.5% ABV... you better know what your doing when you get in front of one of these pours! It goes down easy, but this is not a chugging beer, sip it or you'll be sorry tomorrow.
And if your an American Homebrewer Association member, now is the time to cast your vote for your favorites for the best beers in America survey. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Cider House Rules & Recipes

Hard cider is not just for the fall anymore, you can enjoy it all year round. By adding different flavor profiles to you batches, you can make them seasonally relevant to what fruits, or spices that are available at the time.  

And making hard cider, from pasteurized cider, is a quick and fun way to experiment with flavors. Here are are the flavors I've made and simple steps for you to make them yourself.


Apple Pie: Spicy pie aroma, but it ended up being a bit too dry for my taste, I probably used too many spices. This was the only recipe that I did with a 3 gallon batch, so the ingredients I higher then the others.
Ingredients: 1tsp nutmeg, 3 cinnamon sticks, 1 oz mace, 30 cloves.

Blueberry Basil: A lot of people questioned this combination, but once they tasted it, they were sold. I got the idea from baking fresh berry pies, sometimes I chop up fresh basil and mix it in with the filling, it has a great aroma and really compliments the berries. 
Ingredients: 2oz fresh basil, and 1 cup of blueberries, puree with an immersion blender.

Strawberry Mint: Sweet and tart, with a hint of mint, yes!
Ingredients: 1oz fresh mint and 1 pint of fresh strawberries (remove stems), puree with an immersion blender.

Lavender Mint: Very light on the palette, soft delicate flavors, very refreshing. Surprisingly, it was a crowd favorite.
Ingredients: 1oz fresh mint and 1 oz of dried lavender buds.

Serrano Mango: Cider with subtle heat! The sweet mango really compliments the pepper, I would make this again for sure.
Ingredients: 2 fresh Serranos with seeds and 1 pound of frozen mango cubes (I had a hard time finding it fresh), puree with an immersion blender.

Pear+Fig: Smooth and subtle pear flavors with sweet fig, compliment the cider really nicely.
Ingredients: 2 fresh pears (I used anjou) and 2 oz of figs, puree with an immersion blender.

Cranberry-Orange: A perfect holiday cider! I usually add some orange zest to my fresh cranberries at Thanksgiving, so that's where this winner was dreamed up. 
Ingredients: 1 large orange (zest and juice) and 1 cup of fresh cranberries, puree with an immersion blender. 10 cloves. I also used an organic Honey Crisp cider on this one.
*See step-by-step photos for this cider below.

Ginger-Orange: Inspired by my ginger wit beer that I made earlier in the year, but this one is light on the spice, just enough to make it interesting, but not over powering. 
Ingredients: 1 large orange (zest and juice) and 1 oz of fresh sliced ginger.

Pomegranate-Mandarin: I enjoyed it, but I think I will opt to make Cranberry-Orange again and omit this one. I used store bought pom juice instead of using the fruit fresh, and I think that was the missing link.
Ingredients: 2 mandarins (zest and juice) and 1 cup pomegranate juice.

What you need to make great Hard Cider

- Pasteurized cider (without preservatives DO NOT USE cider with added potassium sorbate or sodium chlorite, it will kill your yeast and not produce hard cider)
- Your choice of spices and/or fruit/pepper
- Champagne yeast creates super tiny bubbles, it's the best.
- Wine Yeast Nutrient Gives your yeast some extra nourishment.
- Pectin Enzyme This will make your cider more clear, less cloudy.


Making Flavored Hard Cider

All ciders listed above are 1 gallon batches (except Apple Pie). Purchase your favorite organic or pasteurized cider from an orchard, farmers market or local grocery store. And have fun experimenting with different flavor combinations. I found that Whole Foods has the best options for this. I was able to get these great glass 1 gallon jugs too, that I have reused in other brewing processes.   


  1. Open your 1 gallon cider and set asside 1 cup of the cider to use for seeping
  2. Add 1/2 tsp of Pectin Enzyme to your gallon of cider. This helps your cider become more clear, it breaks down the haziness of the fruit. 
  3. Add 1tsp of Wine Yeast Nutrient to your cider.
  4. Prep your flavor additives, spices, fruits etc. (examples listed above)
  5. Seep your flavoring with 1 cup of your cider. This will help kill any buggy things that may interrupt the yeast fermenting your cider, it purifies it and also allows the flavors to really mesh together. 
  6. After seeping and liquid is back to room temperature, strain it back into your 1 gallon container of cider.
  7. Pitch your yeast. You only need 1 gram per gallon
  8. Make sure to use an air-lock on your gallon so that bubbles can escape as yeast are working on making it hard for you. 
  9. Wait 1-2 weeks, then rack your cider to a clean/sterilized gallon jug. 
  10. After 1 week in the secondary, its bottling time.
  11. A 1 gallon batch usually produces about 8-9 (12 oz bottles) or about 4-5 (22 oz bombers), have those cleaned are ready to go.
  12. If bottle conditioning, add about 1 oz of sugar to your fermented cider so that the yeast can carbonate the beverage in the bottle after you cap it. I've heard you can also use honey, which would go lovely with a hard cider, but I have yet to try this method.
  13. Wait 2 weeks, and enjoy the "hard" labor. Cheers!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

top5 Tuesday (Feb. 18) GRAB A PINT IN CHI

I'm a huge fan of top five lists, and so when recently asked by a few friends, who wanted to know more about craft beers, I thought what better way then in one of my top5's? I'm starting with my top5 best places in Chicago to grab a pint and I'm hoping to make this a re-occurring Tuesday usual, and offer another top5 recommendation every week.

I also came across this awesomely designed poster: Be a Beer Expert on twitter today by: Michigan State University’s The Big Green, enjoy it's visual and educational splendor.

top5 Chicago places to grab a pint

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hex Mex Mocha

Hex Mex Mocha was my first attempt at a stout. I love stouts, they're one of my favorite styles of beer. When I was working on this recipe, I had constructed it specifically along the requirements for a beer competition that Nielsen-Massey was sponsoring, in partnership with CHAOS Home Brew Club. The challenge was to use any, one or two, of their extracts in a home-brew, any beer style accepted.


When I read the list of possible extracts to use, I stopped in my tracks at Mexican Pure Vanilla Extract, I knew exactly what I wanted to brew... A spicy Mexican mocha latte coffee stout! My sister turned me on to these tasty espresso beverages years ago. They are a popular Batista drink out in the Pacific Northwest, since they have a plethora of coffee shops. In Chicago, there is only one coffee shop, that I know of, who does them right, Corona Cafe, on Irving Park. I love the combination of the spicy chocolatey notes, with the bold roasted flavors of the coffee... yum! It's a special treat and something really wonderful to drink and hold in your hands, when you're in a snowy-wonderland like Chiberia.

The Challenge

Now my challenge was to translate this flavor profile into a beer. I used BeerSmith to formulate the malts, hops, and yeast, and then pulled my resources together for expertise advice on the special additives. I had a friend in the coffee industry, Ellie, who works at Specialty Coffee Association, who I had asked for her recommendation on the best coffee that would pair with a beer profile like this. I was expecting her to just recommend some coffee grounds I could purchase at a local store, but instead she connected me with Sean, who also happened to be a home brewer, and worked at Metropolis Coffee Company, in Chicago. We meet and I discussed with him the beer profile I was trying to go for and the flavors I was trying to convey. He offered to do some test samples of different roasts of a couple of different Mexican beans that Metropolis was roasting at the time, so I could decide what coffee would work best in the palette. After a coffee brewing taste off between the two varieties, I decided on Mexico El Retiro, it was the milder bean of the two, so I figured it would compliment all the other spices and flavors going on, rather than trying to overpower or clash if it was too robust.

Next was collecting the right spices for the brew. First up was getting authentic Mexican Chocolate, which I special ordered online through Mexican Grocer. Then, I headed to The Spice House in Old town, where I purchased: roasted cacao nibs, Ceylon ground, mace, and ground cayenne pepper.

Lessons Learned

Two things:
1) Fresh brew is the best brew. When making a coffee beer, brew the coffee on bottling day and add it fresh to your brew, just before bottling to lock in the flavors and keep it crisp... no one likes day old coffee. 
2) Sometimes your yeast gets lazy. Not all sugars are eaten by yeast, some sugars they just ignore, and on this beer I found out exactly what that meant. I had a perfect FG reading when I racked it to the secondary, right before I added my Mexican chocolate and spices to the bucket. I knew that the chocolate had some small trace of sugar in the cocoa, so I had thought it would ferment and the yeast would enjoy another round of sugar, but instead they just ignored it and it never came back to that perfect FG. I had worried that it maybe was just taking extra time and that eventually it would come down, but after it remained the same after two weeks and discussing with fellow brewers, it was decided that it must be an un-fermentable. The yeast just weren't having any of it. This allowed the beer to have a bit of extra sweetness, which complimented the sweet stout and heat from the cayenne. 




Hex Mex Mocha, won second place, in the vanilla category, at the Nielsen-Massey home-brew challenge, which was a BJCP sanctioned competition, held on Dec. 7, 2013, at Derby, in Chicago. Woot, woot!

Hex Mex Mocha  |  Spicy Chocolate Coffee sweet milk stout  | ABV 6%