The Great Ginger Fail

I had this idea.

You really have no idea how many times that sentence has ended in relative disaster for me.

My idea was born of an anniversary gift from Alex, a bottle of Snap that I had been too guilty to splurge on yet. I have a little big ginormous thing for ginger in general, so you can imagine my glee. There may have been some petting of the bottle. Anyways, I started off by doing a quick mix-up of one of the ‘suggested cocktails’ in the little attached booklet…and it was absolutely disgusting. It tasted like sipping paint thinner.

Alright, no worries – how about I use this opportunity to take some baby steps away from my recipe dependance? Surely that’s a better idea than picking any of the dozen recipes I collected specifically for that spirit! I’m sure, going with the title, you can imagine how this ends.

It was a fairly conservative idea – start with a basic bourbon sour, make it gingery. Split the mix from straight bourbon into half and half with the Snap. Add lemon, then some honey syrup? Yeaaaah, not so much. It’s what I like to call ‘lopsided’ – a drink with a pronounced limp on the palate.

Maybe if I made it more gingery (Erin’s solution to any number of problems)? Skewed the spirit ratio, used some Morris Ginger Syrup instead. Nope. Nope nope nope, totally flat. Somehow tasted LESS gingery. Maybe if I add a couple drops of Shanghai Rhubarb Bitters (I like ginger and rhubarb elsewhere)? Yeaaahh, no, this thing is just not going to happen this evening.

It was a sad moment, made sadder by the empty space in the bottles. Waste of Snap, waste of a very, very tasty bourbon. I’m determined to try again after a bit, to not let it haunt me as long as my failed egg white experiments. I know you can’t learn what works until you’ve had an intimate acquaintance with what certainly doesn’t, so we’ll see when I can muster my courage once more.

Beer Judging

Something I’ve realized in the last while: it is possible to have many different passions, and they can be expressed in a multitude of ways. For me, cooking has always been a passion. Video games and board games are passions of mine, though they take a back seat nowadays due to how busy I seem to be. Beer is a relatively new passion of mine, and I always try to learn what I can (usually on the internet, and I’m sure the time I log on is slightly annoying to Erin…). I work in one industry, and have had thoughts about getting into the beer industry. But if I like food and cooking, why should I take the plunge into something different so hastily? The beer industry pays around the same as the cooking industry, so it wouldn’t be about money. Really, as I see it, these 2 passions are interchangeable.

I’ve recently set a guideline for myself regarding my passions: incorporate something into my life that pertains to that passion, without necessarily trying to pursue it as a career. Too many people get into one career because they are passionate about it, only to be chewed up and spat out, or leave in disgust because they don’t like certain aspects of it. I didn’t want to just jump into a job involving beer, rather I wanted to do something alongside my career that could keep the passion going. I settled on becoming a homebrewer and a beer judge. Now, I haven’t had the opportunity to document one of my homebrewing experiences yet, and I have only brewed 3 batches (one of which was a failure), but after the initial equipment cost, it is a relatively cheap endeavour, so I plan on brewing many more and chronicling it here on the website. As far as becoming a beer judge, well, where do I start?

The Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) is designed to set guidelines for beer judges, it keeps things official, professional and in check. It all starts with an exam, and luckily their website contains most of what you need to study for it. With their study guide a reasonable amount of reading on its own, it’s the recommended reading that gets a little out of hand…out of print books, back orders of magazines…the list goes on. Luckily, there are a two amazing books that outline a lot of what the BJCP wants you to know:

Tasting Beer, by Randy Mosher

I can’t tell you how invaluable this book is, to just about anybody interested in beer at any level. It’s got some history on beer, a section on various glassware, how to pair beer with food, an outline of how to judge beer, and details on all beer styles (complete with prime examples of the style). Though this book tells you about the brewing process, there is another book that goes about it in more detail…

How to Brew, by John J. Palmer

This book is a bible for any homebrewer, let alone professional one. Divided into sections based on experience, it helps to guide you through the process, troubleshoot problems, and move on to creating your own recipes. Needless to say, it has a ton of the information you’d need to know for the technical brewing questions on the exam.

Now, experience is everything, so the general recommendation seems to be that you should go and volunteer at beer judging events beforehand, and get the opportunity to taste and judge beers on your own or with a study group before you attempt the exam. I’m taking things slowly, I’ll admit, but after I’ve had the opportunity to analyse some beers on my own, I’ll get over my initial hesitation and keep an eye out for some events to volunteer, with the hopes I’ll be able to ask some judges various questions pertaining to the program.

After the “apprenticing”, and taking the exam, you’re put into a tier. “Recognized” is the level in which you basically have no event experience under your belt. You need 5 “experience points” to attain “Certified”, where you’ve judged in a few competitions. Then it moves onto “National”, where you’d need a minimum score on the exam of 80 (you are allowed to re-take the exam) plus 20 experience points, and “Master” which requires an exam score of 90, with 40 experience points. Basically, the higher you score and the more events your able to do, the more you can climb the ladder. I’m in no hurry, but it would be kind of cool to get to the “National” level at some point, and be able to go to events outside of the general area I live in. Only time will tell.

Should I mention the need to just go out and drink beer? No amount of reading will prepare the palate for the real thing, so naturally, I’ll have to continue drinking (responsibly, and for science!) and chronicling…at the very least for the sake of this website!

The Hotel Georgia & The Filibuster

Ah, egg whites. I like you quite a bit. In omelettes, where I can pretend you’re more healthy and thus add five times the amount of cheese (doric feta ftw!). In meringues, where you get all crunchy and chewy and oh-my-god-delicious. And, of course, in cocktails, where you make drinks downright velvety. Now that you and I understand your particularly special needs in said cocktails, can we be friends?

After my comparable success with the Clover Club, I was left with almost half a carton of eggs. Though we circumvented the quick corruption our fridge normally exacts (Alex sealed the carton in a ziploc), fresh is only fresh for so long. So I decided I’d start out with another drink that I have repeatedly failed at. Because that’s always a solid idea, no?

Shortly after our first dinner at Hawksworth, back when they opened, I made Alex promise to beg the recipe for the Hotel Georgia cocktail from the bar manager next time he saw him. He, being a good man, brought it home to me in no time at all. So I tried it, and…it was awful. Things I didn’t know at the time: the importance of dry shaking, the importance of fresh lemon juice, the importance of fresh eggs, the importance of double straining. Did I mention that I spent my very brief time as a bartender pulling pints and mixing highballs and appletinis? I didn’t exactly have the best knowledge base.

Since I had had similar challenges with the Clover Club, I figured I could give it another shot while my luck was good. I put it all together with crossed toes (crossed fingers don’t give the best grip on the shaker), and poured. And tasted. And had Alex taste to make sure it wasn’t just my own wishful thinking. But turns out, it was damn good!

Rawr indicates bad lighting.

I’m sharing this here as it’s already been published by Melody Fury on Serious Eats, so I’m not spilling any secret beans.

The Hotel Georgia

  • 1.75 oz. gin (they use Plymouth)
  • .5 oz. orgeat
  • .75 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 6 drops of orange water (I like that measurement, straight from the aforementioned article – so delicate-sounding!)
  • 1 fresh egg white
  • nutmeg for garnish

Combine everything but the nutmeg in a shaker, and give it a dry shake (no ice) for about 20 seconds, until you feel the mixture change consistency (should feel less sloshy, a little smoother). Add ice, shake again just to chill. Pour everything into a chilled cocktail glass. Grate/sprinkle nutmeg to garnish.

So then, since I figured that that went pretty well, I might as well ride my luck a little longer. I pulled up another recipe that’s been languishing on my list while I’ve been moping about egg whites. May I present, the Filibuster!

If the name alone doesn’t make you want to give it a shot, consider this: you probably have everything you need already sitting in your fridge. And I’ll say this: this pretty thing exceeded my expectations. Alex tried it, and we agreed the balance of it made me seem far more skilled than I really am.

The Filibuster

  • 1.5 oz. bourbon
  • .75 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • .25 oz. maple syrup
  • dash black walnut bitters (my substitution – recipe calls for Angostura)
  • 1 large fresh egg white

Same method as the Hotel Georgia. Everything goes in for a dry shake until the consistency changes (~20-30 seconds). Add ice, shake again to chill. Pour into your cocktail glass, and garnish with a slip of lemon (which looks oh-so-pretty against the foam). I’ll note, I had to dump my first attempt as I made the dumb mistake of separating my egg over the shaker. So don’t do that.

“Westy 12”

Well, well…looks like one of the world’s most difficult-to-obtain beers is on it’s way to Canada in the form of a nice gift pack complete with proper glassware. The beer in question is St. Sixtus’ “Westvleteren 12”, a trappist beer (made by monks, no less) that is normally only sold in Belgium through a lottery system.

The gift box, in all its glory…

You contact them, they call you when your name is chosen, and you pick it up at the brewery (being sure to take down your license plate number so you don’t sneak in for even more cases!). The monks have recently looked at renovating and revitalizing their monastery, and what better way to raise money than to give everyone an equal opportunity to enjoy a coveted beer.  That doesn’t happen quite often. We are lucky in Vancouver (being a major city with very persistent beer importers) in that we get a wide selection of beers from all over the globe.

Every now and again a beer comes in that’s rarer than the last. “Westy 12” is pretty high up there, and we have had the opportunity to buy it once before, most likely because someone was able to buy some in Belgium and sell it to certain private liquor stores over here. Probably not very kosher according to the government (be it Belgian or BC…), but absolute bliss to those who knew what kind of chance they were getting.

First off, a bit of a low-down on what it means to be a “trappist” beer. You may have heard that “champagne” is not “champagne” if it’s made outside of the Champagne region of France. This is because it is an appellation, or a legally defined geographical area. The same thing goes for Tennessee whiskey, or Kentucky bourbon. There are rules laid forth in which these products should be made. With trappist beer, there is no defined geographical area, rather the abbey in which the beer is brewed at must adhere to strict rules. They are, courtesy of Wikipedia, as follows:

-The beer must be brewed within the walls of a Trappist monastery, either by the monks themselves or under their supervision.
-The brewery must be of secondary importance within the monastery and it should witness to the business practices proper to a monastic way of life.
-The brewery is not intended to be a profit-making venture. The income covers the living expenses of the monks and the maintenance of the buildings and grounds. Whatever remains is donated to charity for social work and to help persons in need.
-Trappist breweries are constantly monitored to assure the irreproachable quality of their beers.

St. Sixtus is just one of 7 abbeys that brew trappist beer in the world, with Rochefort, Orval, Chimay, Achel, Westmalle and La Trappe being the other 6. If a brewery were to produce a beer similar to a trappist beer, but did not have the authentication, it would be considered an “Abbey” beer, similar to the way wineries outside of Champagne need to call their champagne a “sparkling wine”. A good example of such a brewery is St. Bernardus.

A phenomenal oil painting of the trappist beers…from beerpaintings.blogspot.com

Westy 12 is what’s called a “quadrupel”, a strong ale with over 10% ABV. There is no real judgement on what makes a quadrupel, it’s mainly used to identify that it is stronger in alcohol than a “tripel”, which is stronger than a “dubbel” (Fun fact: the “X”s you may have seen on the tops of barrels is the convention in which monks would indicate what beer was in it. XX for dubbel, XXX for tripel). The beers are fairly different, with a quadrupel being quite dark, and the tripel pale. Now, Westy 12 is considered a “holy grail”, with a ton of hype behind it. There are naysayers out there, who compare it to other trappist quadrupels or abbey ales, but is it vastly different? After having a fresh bottle (still have one ageing), I can safely say there is one big difference: the chewiness factor. I can’t say I’ve ever had a beer that has chewiness to it, and it’s completely strange when you experience it, but it adds another level to this super-complex beer. Aromas of yeast, figs and caramel…raisins and dark fruit on the palate, and a fantastic lingering smooth alcohol aftertaste make it quite an experience.

In Canada, the gift boxes have recently started being released (around July 20th) in Alberta and Ontario. More provinces will follow suit, though there is no indication as to when I’ll see it here in BC. The US will see them in September, so it looks like they’re trying to release in short bursts so as to not be overwhelming. The average cost of these packs is $75, and though it might seem pricey now, keep in mind that I shelled out $40 for 2 bottles…no glassware, no fancy box…nothing but the beer. It’s a great opportunity to try something historic. Call around to your local private liquor stores to see if they will be carrying it. I would recommend having a trappist/abbey night where you compare the various dubbels, tripels and quadrupels, or perhaps age some of them and do a comparison with a meal to pair it with. As for myself, I currently have a bottle of Rochefort 10 that I’ve aged for about as long as my 2nd bottle of Westvleteren 12, and I’d like to settle the differences between the two once and for all (though trust me on the chewiness factor…I don’t think Rochefort 10 has that magic). Expect to see a post on that fairly soon! Until then, go check out some of these trappist and abbey beers. Here in Vancouver, the only two that are not readily available are Achel and Westvleteren (well, yet…). Chimay, La Trappe and Westmalle even have big 750ml bottles (share if you’d like, they will floor you if you’re not careful!), and they are all totally reasonable on the wallet. Go forth!

Drinking Trees

A while back, Alex made a rosemary panna cotta with salted caramel. My brother, as I mentioned in a previous post, is not as much of a fan of said herb. He likens it to eating trees. Now, me, I like that idea – trees taste yummy. Think gin!

Which brings us to today’s first rosemary cocktail*. I spied this Rosemary Gin Fizz a few months back, but it got shuffled lower in my to-do list due to the accompanying write-up identifying it as a Christmas season cocktail. Silly me.

The recipe itself was a little sweet for me, even though I shorted the soda. I want to play around with it a bit, see if another mix plays better. Still, it’s tasty, and certainly worth a try. Nice, very refreshing and certainly suitable for summertime sipping and Christmas parties alike.

  • 2 oz. gin – I used Victoria Gin to work with the herbal notes, but a London dry variety would be nice, too
  • 1 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 0.5 oz rosemary syrup
  • club soda
  • a rosemary sprig for a garnish

Fill a high-ball glass half-full with ice, pour over the first three ingredients. Stir, then top with the soda and garnish with the rosemary. The fresh sprig gives a lovely herbal scent when you’re drinking, so don’t skip that part. Play around with the ratios to suit your taste – it’s a pretty flexible mix.

Next, a pretty simple variation on a classic: a rosemary gimlet. The gimlet’s my go-to drink. Even when I only drank vodka, it was a standard order. Simple, tasty and well-balanced. So why not play with it?

I started with the ratios from Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Richmond Gimlet, but instead of simple syrup and a mint sprig, I swapped in the aforementioned rosemary syrup. I’d still like to try that original recipe when I’ve got some mint handy, but this one turned out nicely enough. I tweaked a couple of things to adjust for the ingredients on-hand, so here’s the mix I ended up liking:

  • 2 oz. dry gin (I used Plymouth)
  • .75 oz. fresh lime juice
  • .75 oz rosemary syrup

Add all the ingredients to a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously for those lovely ice shards, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

*Yes, I know it’s not technically a cocktail unless it’s spirits, sugar, water and bitters. But let’s not be pedantic, eh?

The Clover Club

A little bit of history to start off, both of the drink and of my experience with it.

Despite it’s decidedly ladylike aesthetic, the Clover Club takes its name from a pre-prohibition Philadelphia gentleman’s club. A time before egg whites were an issue. For that matter, a time when men weren’t afraid of the colour pink. Interesting note here:

“The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” (from a 1918 merchandising publication, referenced in a Smithsonian article on gender and colour)

So there. Pink drinks for all!

My history with the drink is a little messier. Literally. I’m a fan of asking bartenders to make me whatever they want – it’s only bitten me in the ass a few times (usually when I forget to mention my dislike for absinthe*, or my bare tolerance of Campari). I do apologize if you’re a bartender and this annoys you. I’ll specify if you tell me to. But otherwise, a great place to do this is at Pourhouse. Their cocktail list is lovely, but it barely scratches the surface of their repertoire. Give ’em free reign, and they introduce you to beautiful beasties like the Clover Club.

After downing it there, I decided I had to make it. I hadn’t really done much with egg whites before, but hey – how hard could it be? Well, hard. Very. Particularly if you’re chatting and not taking the whole thing seriously. Egg white, everywhere. The top blew off my shaker (which I obviously wasn’t holding on to all that well), and the mixture sprayed all over the kitchen. And me. And the cat. Cats. Kind of put a damper on things.

Fast-forward to the raspberries discussed here. I had to give it another shot. But this time, I did my research. I read about a dozen different methods, all with their own ratios. I read up on the best way to get an egg white emulsion in a cocktail. I held the top of the shaker on really tightly. And I came up with this:

I played around  a bunch, so this doesn’t quite resemble any of the recipes I found, and owes most of it’s modest success to a conversation I had in passing about dry shaking.

The Clover Club

  • 2 oz. gin
  • 1 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • 0.5 – 0.75 oz. raspberry syrup (less if you’re using a dry gin, more if you need to stand up to a citrusy one)
  • 1 large egg white

Combine your gin, lemon juice, egg white and raspberry syrup in a shaker. Put the lid on and shake the hell out of it for about 30 seconds – particularly important, as this is what’ll get the egg emulsified, which gives you that nice foamy head. Add ice and give it another, less vigorous shake to chill it, then strain through a fine mesh strainer into a cocktail glass. Garnish, if you so choose, with raspberries on a cocktail pick (or a chopped off skewer…), which the less elegant of us might use to scoop up the remaining foamy bits at the end.

I started with less syrup the first time ’round, but I found I wanted the raspberry to be a little more assertive against the citrus. If I were to remake it with a dry gin, I think the original ratio would work nicely. In the end, it’s the egg white and tart raspberry syrup that come together to make this drink more interesting than expected. All nice and velvety. Especially good when in the glass, not all over your favourite cardigan.

*My single absinthe exception (to prove the rule) so far is in a really, really well made Corpse Reviver No.2

Whistler Brewing Co.’s “Pineapple Express” Wheat Ale Review

There seems to be a growing trend amongst BC craft breweries that I’ve noticed in the last little while: interesting seasonal releases in 750ml bottles. Russell Brewing, Lighthouse Brewing, Vancouver Island Brewery and Whistler Brewing are all recent examples of companies that have taken some crazy idea for a seasonal and ran with it. Russell began their “Ministry of Beer” series with a really awesome wheat wine (??) that surprised a lot of beer geeks. They also brew commercial batches of national homebrew competition winners, an idea that I love and want to see more of. Lighthouse seriously upped their game with the stellar Belgian Black and Belgian White: two very, very good beers. Even Granville Island Brewing, which has been bought out by macrobrewery Molson, gets the opportunity to make some killer seasonals (such as their Imperial IPA and recent Cascadian Dark Ale). Not every brewery gets to do this, and not nearly as often. For some, the production is too time-consuming, or they are simply catching up their regular line-up with no room for anything else. I’d like to imagine breweries like Driftwood and Phillips, who release seasonals quite often, were the inspiration for everyone else in BC, but the need to create something unique, interesting, or just plain awesome has been around for quite some time, I figure…

Whistler Brewing Co. first dipped their toes in the seasonal pool with their bright, easy-drinking Grapefruit Ale one summer, and it stuck so well that they now produce it as part of their 6-pack lineup during the summertime. In the fall, they released their Chestnut Ale, which was considered a great departure of the typical pumpkin ales normally offered during the season (though I don’t mind pumpkin ales at all…keep them coming!). Springtime brought forth their Chai Maple Ale, which I found to be considerably sweet, and my least favorite from their seasonals thus far. This summer, with the need to fill the gap left by the Grapefruit Ale, Whistler has had to come up with something equally as refreshing. Starting off with a fruit-based beer was probably a good idea. But pineapple? The cook in me knows that the acid from pineapple is quite harsh to other things, including itself. But, seeing as they had much success with the grapefruit, they should manage just fine. Or did they?

It pours a nice yellowish orange, with a fairly decent amount of head, even if it doesn’t stick around too long. The smell takes me back, though, it’s like a sweet candied pineapple…I loved that stuff when I was younger! The flavour is more or less the same…that candied pineapple is right there in your face. Maybe even a tinge of orange as well. Not as sweet as the smell would tell you, but still reasonably so. It feels completely crisp, but doesn’t linger around for too long on your palate (to be expected, it’s not too heavy). If you’re looking for complexity in a beer, this doesn’t have it. At 5%, you can split a couple with others no problem, or finish one yourself without getting completely smashed. As it warms up it kind of loses its magic, so I would definitely try to have it as cold as you can. Just like the grapefruit, I’d be happy drinking this through the evening any day this summer (even though the day I reviewed this it was the one cold and rainy day…).

Overall, I’d recommend this beer to both the beer geek and those newer to beer. Although Erin still thinks it just “tastes like beer”, it has enough fruity qualities to ease people in. In fact, fruity wheat beers are a great way to get people into trying out beer (as well as some lambics). I’ll probably have a Ratebeer review up on it soon based on my findings, for those interested, but for the time being I’d say it rates about a 3.5 out of 5. But for those who don’t care for numbers, I would just recommend trying it out if you come across a bottle!