Whiskey 101

Yesterday I went to a Whiskey 101 class from the company I Wish Lessons. I know this Blog is about beer, but what is whiskey but distilled unhopped beer aged in barrels. No wonder it is my favorite hard liquor. There has to be a reason that Michael Jackson wrote and talked (and drank) about both Beer and Whiskey.

I wish lessons has a number of food and drink classes, where they bring in an expert coach in the field. My fiancé actually bought the class from Groupon over a year ago, with the intention of taking the craft beer class. I put off actually signing up for a class until the expiration date on the Groupon was upon me. Over a year later I realized that a basic craft beer class probably isn’t going to be very informative to me, so, loving Whiskey and all, I went with that one, and I was not disappointed.

Sorry about the lack of my usually large amount of pictures, but all the learning left no time for pictures.

The class was held at Maeve (which means “She Who Intoxicates”) and for the life of me I could not remember the name of the expert coach they brought in so I searched the interwebs and found it was Chuck Cowdery. He worked in marketing for the distilled spirits industry for much of his life, but now mostly teaches and writes.

We tasted four different Whiskey’s: Jameson, Johnny Walker Red Label, Jack Daniels, and Templeton Rye while Chuck talked about all sorts of things Whiskey. He definitely knew a lot, and I learned a lot.

I learned that diluting the Whiskey with water actually allows you to taste the Whiskey better, because unlike a beer which rarely has an ABV above 10%, Whiskey is about 40% alcohol and that can really blunt your taste buds and tire them out quickly.  It definitely worked for me.  I tried the Jameson first without dilution and then with some, and tasting the Jameson after dilution really brought out the caramel characters for me. I’ll definitely order Whiskey and Water more often from bars, although the last time I ordered one from a bar, I ended up with a shot of Whiskey and a glass of water. I think I need to frequent better bars.

I never realized how Blended Whiskeys were blended. I kind of just assumed it was Whiskey’s of different ages that were blended, kind of a young Lambic is blended with an aged one to blunt some of the sourness. I was completely wrong. A blended Whiskey from across the pond like Jameson or Johnny Walker will have a certain percentage of single malt whiskey made from 100% malted barley. The rest will be from what I think I remember was called a grain whiskey, made from some cheaper grain. The more expensive Johnny Walker label colors will have a higher percentage of single malt.  On the other hand a blended Whiskey from the US (like Seagrams), is whiskey blended with Vodka.

This must have been the first time I have ever tasted straight Johnny Walker, because I wasn’t prepared for the smokiness. Kind of reminded me of the New Holland Chatrooka Rye Smoked Doppelbock in smokiness (if not in much else).

Speaking of Rye, those who are fans of the blog probably know I love the spicy pepperiness that Rye gives to beer, and the Templeton Rye was my favorite. The grain bill is about 95% Rye and the Whiskey was originally meant to be a flavoring Rye for cheaper blended Whiskey’s.

That’s just the tip of the Whiskey Iceburg that you get into in this class.

If you ever get a chance to take an I Wish Lesson you should go for it. I wholeheartedly recommend the Whiskey 101 class. Learn a bunch about Whiskey and drink some at the same time, how can you beat that? You might want to wait for a Groupon or a Living Social Deal as they can be over $50 for a 1 hour class, but once you get one you are hooked. I purchased a Mixology 101 class at the end of the Whiskey 101 class (at their in-class deal rate of course).

Fullers ESB

Now that I have my laptop back from the shop its time to get back to this blogging business. I’ll start with a classic. Fullers ESB, or Extra Special Bitter. Throughout the years you will find that breweries tended to differentiate their brews by alcohol with the general flavor profile the same. This happened for two reasons. Usually the beer style depended on ingredients available and the mineral content in the water. You couldn’t brew a Burton-On-Trent style pale ale in a place like Pilsen with the decided lack of minerals in water. Another reason was that governments always wanted their cut, and with generally one style of beer in the area, one of the best ways to figure out a good tax system was to tax by the amount of alcohol in the beer. The extra special bitter is at one end of the alcohol (and original gravity) spectrum with ordinary bitter on the other end and special bitter in the middle.


Big malt up front with no appreciable hop aroma. Real sweet, almost citric.


Golden color, slightly darker than straw. Clear white head with good lacing.


Surprisingly bitter. Would not have thought this with the lack of hop aroma. There is a big wallop of malt flavor. It makes me want some Whoppers.


Light to medium mouthfeel with light carbonation. Nice and smooth. A warming alcohol feel follows each sip.

Overall Impression

It is a great beer that would go perfectly with some good vanilla ice cream, maybe topped with some homemade caramel sauce.

Beer Judge for Chicago Craft Beer Week

In celebration of Chicago Craft Beer Week which starts off at 3 different places tonight, I’ve decided to become a BJCP certified judge.  Really, it might be a few craft beer weeks before it happens, but Craft Beer Week has made me want to get serious about it. It will take a lot of hard work. It will take a lot studying. It will take a lot of beer drinking (I know, very hard indeed). Then I will have to wait for a BJCP test to come around to my neck of the woods so I don’t have to make a vacation of this test. This won’t be as simple as the Certified Beer Server Exam from the Cicerone Certification Program that I past last month. That one only required me to read up a bit on draught systems and the effects of alcohol. The rest was pretty straight forward for somebody who knows a decent amount about beer.

I found a 75 page study guide for the exam from 2010. Unfortunately, it looks like they changed the exam considerably in April, so its not very useful anymore. From reading the study guide it looks like before april, everybody had to take an essay and tasting section. The essay questions where all known in advance, with the only variable being the beers and styles the question were about.If you got less than 60% you were Apprentice rank, and if you got over 60% you were Recognized rank. Anything higher required experience and judging points and higher scores on the test.

Now it looks like you first have to take the BJCP Beer Judge Exam, which is a web-based exam which an unpublished pool of questions. It is pass and fail. If you pass you are considered provisional. If you fail you can take the test again in two days (and pay the fee again). To become an actual rank you have to take the Beer Judging Exam which is basically a tasting test within a year. Above 60% will get you a recognized rank. There doesn’t seem to be an apprentice rank anymore. There is a written Proficiency exam for those who want to advance to higher ranks. For those higher ranks you average your scores to see if you can advance. This is different than the old way, when the tasting portion was only 30% of the combined score.

Is there anybody who has already gone through this process already (new or old version) that could give me some pointers or tips? I can research it all I want, but practical advice derived from real experience is much more useful.

Barley Salad and Barley Beer

If you don’t keep Barley in your pantry, I think is the time to start. Never thought of eating barely outside of the occasional Campbell’s Beef and Barely soup? What better to eat with a beer than the main grain in beer. It’s time to expand your horizon. Just let us monkey’s help you to a more diverse gastronomical experience.

The major problem is that most grocery stores I come across only have pearled barely. Pearled Barley is the white rice of Barley. Bland, tasteless, and sad (not to mention far less nutritious). You need to look for hulled barley, which simply has the hulls taken off. One more step than the barley that goes to your local malster to become the malted barley that a brewer uses. To find Hulled Barley I ended up at Whole Foods. Usually Whole Foods is on the expensive side, but if you head to the bulk section you’ll find all sorts of grains, nuts, legumes, seeds, and dried fruit in more variety and at a cheaper prices than at the grocery store.

Since it was such a nice day, I decided on a Barely and Fennel Salad which I got from Good Eats. I haven’t had a lot of fennel but it is tasty. It is incredibly aromatic and sweeter than your run of the mill onion. More like a Vidalia onion than your traditional hot white onion, with a more floral smell. I added Parsley which has I think has a pungent minty taste to it. Obviously not as minty as a mint leaf and not as sharp as something like cilantro. It is more like a memory of mint, with some other herbal notes thrown in. I threw in some toasted pine nuts and some crispy bacon. I have never toasted pine nuts before. I failed two times by burning them before I got it right. Kind of a shame really since pine nuts are so damn expensive. I finished it off with a dressing I made from fresh squeezed orange juice and extra virgin olive oil.

I paired it with one of my last Guinness Stouts I had from St. Patty’s Day. I thought, Barley Stew goes go perfectly with a stout and is often made with it, why not Barley Salad? Of course a salad with fennel and citrus is a bit different from the earthy flavors that go into a stew. Don’t get me wrong. With the hulled barely, toasted pine nuts, and the bacon it had plenty of toast and earthiness to match up with the roasty toasty flavors of the stout.

One thing you might not know about Guinness is that they sour 3% of their beer and then mix it in to the rest of the batch. 3% isn’t enough to make you go, this is a sour beer like an Oud Bruind or an unflavored Lambic. It is just enough to say “Hmm, there are some nice layers to this beer. I can’t put my foot on what makes it like this, but I like it.” It is just like the Barley Salad. There are 3 tablespoons (3 tablespoons and 3%, coincidence?) of orange juice in the dressing which is not enough to make me think of it as a citric dish, but enough to give is a little extra complexity. The beer also does a nice job of cutting right through the aromatic Fennel and any bits of parsley you might get.

Beer is Healthy

Beer is healthy. That’s right, I said it. Are you telling me that it isn’t good for you? That it will make you fat? Oh, sure pounding back 6 beers a night probably will kill you in a matter of decades, and  if you are drunk all the time, every day events become a game of Russian Roulette. And sure, drinking liquid calories is a really easy way to increase weight if not careful, but I did not say being an alcoholic was healthy, I said beer is healthy.

Recently I have decided to eliminate as many processed food as possible. When I say processed food, I mean “complete” meals that come in boxes, or have ingredients that you can’t pronounce. I don’t mean things like cheese, tofu, or especially beer which also could be considered processed, but in an older fashion. It’s not that I’m a Luddite and hate modern things. I believe that one day science will understand nutrition so completely that eating will be a separate activity than giving  your body nutrients, largely in the same way sex is now separate from having babies. The problem is that it seems clear that modern processed food isn’t healthy. Eating  it seems to lead to increased rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

On the basic level, beer has natural ingredients and is made by a natural process. It’s not as easy to make a wine, which can simply make itself if you have enough weight on the grapes to crush the juice out, and let the natural yeast on the skin do its job. Nevertheless, the processes involved could all be reproduced in nature.

Beer is also made from whole ingredients. You have the wonderful benefits of whole barley, and on occasion, whole wheat, rye and oats. It is much healthier for you than bread made from highly refined flours. Now of course its more like a tea made from the grains than the grains themselves so there is some nutrient left, but of course you can use spent grains in all sorts of food. You’d also be surprised how hard it is to find bread that has strange and unpronounceable ingredients. Maybe one of you knows the reason, but I don’t understand the purpose of the monogycerides and triticales, in addition to the ubiquitous corn and soy in the The Brownberry 12 grain bread. A twelve grain bread should  have flour, water, yeast, salt and 12 different whole grains.

In addition to my opinions on the healthiness of natural food, studies do seem to show that alcohol is heart healthy. Up to 5 drinks a day could be good for your heart. Although, if you do drink that much you are risking increased chances of cancer and accidents. So drink no more than 2 glasses of beer if male and 1 glass if female and live forever.

Bottling Scott’s (Imperial) Sparkling Weisbier

I finally bottled the weisbier. Only a week late, but it was on National Homebrew Day. Plus, it might have even needed the extra time with such a high original gravity.

I used about the same process as when I  bottled Kuyken’s Coffee Stout. I did lay a lot more towels on the floor as you’ll see below.

Sometimes getting the hose on things is a real pain in the ass.

The reason I’m now calling this an Imperial Weisbier is that when I read the Final Gravity, it was 1014. It’s a good final gravity, but if I read the refractometer correctly after brewing (and the hydrometer read ever higher than that), the original gravity was 1081. That’s an alcohol by volume of about 9%. The mostly alcoholic beer I’ve ever brewed. It was suppose to be a refreshing summer beer with an ABV of about 5%, but oh well, that’s homebrewing for you. Of course, I could have misread the original gravity. We’ll just have to see how it drinks. If its overpowering, I’ll just have to brew it again. What a shame.

I had a real mess to clean up in here.

I siphoned it into the bucket. I remembered to make the priming sugar solution early this time, so that it had plenty of time to cool off before mixing it into the beer. If you remember my last bottling experience, I forgot to make it until I had started siphoning the beer into the bottling bucket. Kind of a time set back there.

This was a pain to clean. I had to get out the hose.

The yeast left a pretty nice ring around the bucket. It did its job well. The beer itself tasted great. So far, this is my favorite pre-carbonated beer. It really tasted like clove and bananas. More clove to me, and more banana to Amy (because she hates banana).

Strategic use of towels will save you a big cleanup.

With Amy capping (and taking pictures), and me filling, the job went pretty quick. With a double layer of towels down, all the spilled beer was easily cleaned up. In about two weeks the beer will be ready for drinking.

Mr. Beer Bought by Coopers

Mr. Beer. It is the innocuous box you see at the Bed Bath and Beyond, or at your local liquor store that has a picture of a plastic beer barrel on it with promises of making your own beer. My Aunt once tried to get me a Mr. Beer kit for my 18th birthday, until my Mom found out and put a nix on that because I was underage. It took a long time to get into the hobby after that, but I think I probably started off with a better foundation.

Don’t get me wrong, you have to appreciate Mr. Beer since so many people have gotten into the hobby through the Mr. Beer kit. The problem is with the basic ingredients you get with it. You get pre-hopped malt extract and a booster. I believe the booster is a mixture of refined fermentable and unfermentable sugars made from some form of corn syrup solids, which will help to give the beer body and a higher ABV. Reports are that it tends to give the beer a cidery taste despite claims by Mr. Beer to the contrary. Using corn sugar at bottling or kegging to naturally carbonate your beer is very popular, but I think the difference is in amounts, and I’m not really sure what the difference between corn sugar and corn syrup solids.

Coopers is a popular brewery in Australia that also provides its own brewing kits. Now that Coopers has bought Mr. Beer, they plan I replacing the malt extract with superior malt concentrate.using their malt extracts. In addition, they will provide a new yeast specially designed for the kit. This sounds like it could be the end of probably the biggest downside of a Mr. Beer kit, the booster. An end that I do not think anybody will be sorry to see. It also bodes well for those first coming into the homebrew hobby.

Beer and Fried Chicken

Usually this Blog is all about beer, but we can’t forget the food, for without the other half of the meal are we really enjoying the gastronomical experience to its fullest? This weekend I pan-fried my first chicken completely from scratch.

And I mean completely from scratch.

When sitting down to a meal, you might want to take a moment to think about what kind of beer you are going to drink with the food at hand.

This is the first time I ever butchered anything.

Think about the flavors in the food and the flavors in the beer. If you’ve been a loyal reader of this blog, you have some idea of the great complexity of flavors that can be found in different kinds of beers. And if you’re a loyal eater of food, I’m sure you know the great complexity of the flavors that can been found therein.

At least one piece didn’t get totally “butchered.”

In his book Tasting Beer, Randy Mosher suggests that in matching your flavors between the beer and the food, you either want to try to compliment the different flavors or contrast them.

A mixture of kosher salt, paprika, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper.

For instance, he suggests that if you are eating something spicy that you go for a beer that doesn’t have a lot of bitterness, as bitterness will enhance the spiciness. So instead of the IPA, reach for the porter that will balance out the spiciness of the dish.

Starting to look delicious.

On the other hand, Garret Oliver, in his book The Brewmasters Table, suggests pairing a pale ale or IPA with a spicy mexican dish. Not only will the hops play off the spiciness, but the bright citrus character of American hops like Cascade or Chinook, will find no better friend than the lime and cilantro flavors found in the kind of Mexican dishes I get around here. It also goes to show you that people have different tastes, and the best way to figure out what pairs good for you is to experiment. A tough experiment indeed.

Almost done, I can’t wait.

I chose to pair the fried Chicken with O’Fallon’s Hemp Hop Rye. It’s an amber ale, so the mildly roasted malts play nicely with the tasty fried bits of the chicken. The rye adds a certain spiciness to the beer. The fried chicken gets a bit of a kick from the cayenne, garlic, and paprika. A match made in heaven? I think so. And of course, it has a bit of a bitterness from the hops. I tend to favor Oliver’s theory on hops and spice. Give me spiciness all day long and I am a happy fellow.


An unexpected plus came with the last-minute recipe for the artichoke dip. It was a tangy heavy kind of mayonnaise dip. The brighter flavors of the beer cut through the heaviness of the mayonnaise, and the dark flavors from the amber maltiness was able to temper the tangy flavors of the dipping sauce. It was just one of those little surprises you get from fully enjoying the gastronomic experience.