Thursday, April 17, 2014

#VeggieDag Thursday. It's wabbit season. No, it's asparagus season.

VeggieDag Thursday
VeggieDag Thursday is an occasional Thursday post
on an animal-free diet and ecological issues.

The Easter 'Wabbit' hops into action this Sunday, predicted to be carrying baskets of brightly-dyed chicken eggs, a colorful scramble of animal husbandry.

Here, along the mid-Atlantic East Coast, the month of April marks the beginning of asparagus season. The harvest runs through the beginning of June. Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is a perennial vegetable, originally native to the eastern Mediterranean.

Ah, asparagus: at least this vegetarian's delight. Its tips, nutty and sweet; its spears, just ever-so slightly bitter. Buy it fresh. Eat it fresh. If you must store it, wrap with damp paper towels, and keep in the refrigerator for no more than a few days.

Roasted Asparagus

How to cook?

Asparagus is so innately flavorful that you don't have to do much (and shouldn't) to enjoy it.
  • Steaming is a simple method. (You could microwave, but why?) There's no need to peel. Simply cut off the tough, fibrous ends. (Save for vegetable broth.) In a steamer basket, steam from two to six minutes (thin vs. thick stalks). The asparagus is done when you can easily pierce a spear with a knife. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, and s/p, all to taste. Maybe a few sprigs of fresh herb (tarragon?) or a dash or two of prepared Herbes de Provence.

  • A tip from Mom: steam the asparagus in an old-school coffee percolator. (I used to do just this, that is, until the percolator was mistakenly discarded.) Tie the stalks together, add water to just below the tips, and boil, upright, for 2-6 minutes. The thicker ends get cooked thoroughly; the succulent tips, lightly steamed. A double-boiler will do, almost as well.

  • Asparagus with vegan hollandaise

  • Asparagus, roasted, develops a hint of caramelized just-so sweetness— and, again, it's simple to prepare. For example, here's my recipe for Roasted Asparagus with Mock Hollandaise Sauce. Of course, you could just serve it, as is, out of the oven, without the hollandaise, with just a spritz of lemon juice.

  • Grilling is another option. Even more sweetness and now some smokiness. To prepare, toss in olive oil. Grill removed from open flame for 5 or so minutes: just the non-side of char. Trepidatious? Here's the not-difficult procedure from The Food Network.

  • Grilling marinated veggies (01)

  • And finally, from The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation, by Mollie Katzen, here's a recipe for Gingered Asparagus with Soy Caramel Sauce. Katzen was once a member of the renowned Moosewood collective.

What to drink?

Wine? Drunk with asparagus, red wines get all vegetal and metallic. Go white wine, but not oaky chardonnay: woody and vanilla are lousy companions. Try fragrant, spring-like Pinot Blancs and minerally, bracing, Grüner Veltliners.

But, without much doubt, there's beer. Grab a German-inspired Kölsch, märzen, or maibock (in order, light to full-bodied); from the U.K., a bitter (cask-conditioned, if you find it); from Belgium, a singel, Blonde/Golden Ale, or Tripel.

It's Wabbit season. No, it's Duck season.

Here, from Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, and the animators and writers at Warner Brothers (and voice-over artist Mel Blanc): a 1950s episode of Merrie Melodies. Enjoy with asparagus. Hold the wabbit.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

No beer for Passover.

It's Passover. And, during these high holy days, God has told the faithful that there will be no drinking of beer.

Foods which are acceptable —that is, Kosher— during most of the year, such as products from wheat, barley, oats, rye, and spelt —fermented, or simply made with yeast— are not permitted during Passover. Beer, therefore, is tref, that is, non-Kosher, for Passover.

And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened [without yeast] bread unto the Lord; seven days ye shall eat unleavened bread.
—Leviticus 23:6

The good news is, that for the rest of the year, beer can be Kosher.

The ingredients in beer are not unkosher. There is nothing in craft beer (water, hops, barley, yeast) that is not inherently Kosher.

However, that doesn't make beer made with these ingredients Kosher. For instance, they could have been made in the same tanks as some other non-Kosher product and the tanks may not be properly cleaned in between, or perhaps some of the ingredients were in touch with non-Kosher items before getting to the brewery.

Two other esoteric items would make them non-Kosher. One is how the yeast is grown. Redhook, the first major brand to be Kosher certified, had to change the medium in which they grew the yeast. Another is the finings that may be used to clarify the beers. Some of the fish finings come from un-kosher fish which would make the beer unkosher.

Lastly, in a bit of real trivia, for the super-Orthodox, including the chief Askenazi rabbi in Israel, beer has to be made with 'old barley' which is barley that sprouted before the second day of Passover. All Sam Adams beers shipped into Israel are made from old barley.

The bottom line is that it is not Kosher unless it is certified by a Kosher certifying agency. They usually do a pretty thorough check of the purchases, brewery etc... and spot visits one or two times a year. There are a large variety of logos of these agencies and the logo is stamped on the bottle label.

Coors/Molson is/are Kosher, Redhook is Kosher, Sam Adams is Kosher. A host of others too numerous to mention includes a lovely small brewpub in Oregon that doesn't charge Jewish customers for beers on Saturdays because the owner knows they are not supposed to carry money on their Sabbath.

All that aside, Kosher for Passover is a contradiction in terms. Beer is a fermented grain, which is our usual definition. Since fermented grains are not allowed on Passover, beer cannot be Kosher For Passover.

Steve Frank is one-half of the Brews Brothers. With Arnold Meltzer, his work has appeared in the American Brewer, Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, and other periodicals. His explanation, above, of what Kosher beer is (and why no beer is Kosher for Passover) was originally posted on DC-Beer, an on-line group of good beer partisans in the Washington D.C. and Baltimore area.

In 2006, the he and Meltzer published a much lengthier article on the topic in American BrewerDivine Approval for a Divine Brew.

Divine Brew
Depending on the particular beer brand, many beers can be certified Kosher (but just not for Passover). Frank and Meltzer wrote that, generally speaking, malted barley and fresh or pelletized hops are not a concern, but things such as hop and malt extracts —and any enzymes, colorings, flavorings, or filters and filtering agents— by nature of the extracting process, might be.

Thus, to be Kosher, a beer's entire brewing process —and ingredient chain— must be specially approved by one of the more than 50 kosher-certifying organizations that exist in the U.S. One such is the Chicago Rabbinical Council. Its website has a list of Kosher and Kosher-approved beers.

By the way, wine, is Kosher for Passover —if strictures are followed. Mazel tov!


Saturday, April 12, 2014

A beer style riot broke out at the 2014 World Beer Cup!

There was a riot at the 2014 World Beer Cup. That's "riot" as in profligate behavior, not public tumult. A riot of beer styles.

The recently concluded 2014 World Beer Cup awarded medals in 94 officially recognized beer styles. If all the sub-styles were added in, the total would come to 174 styles. One-hundred-and-seventy-four. Indeed?

The drinker doesn't need 133 beer styles. Or 70. Or even 30.

Most people who cook have only seven recipes in their repertoire. Even if they have shelves full of Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, when it comes to planning what the family meal is going to be that night, research shows they revert to a list of no more than seven or eight choices. If they learn a new favourite dish, they forget one of the regulars they used to rely on. <...>

Keep it simple. Keep it relevant. Think about it from the point of view of the time-pressed, information overloaded consumer. This is one of those occasions when I realise the marketing guys have something to contribute. Sometimes, the reason they simplify stuff and reduce it down is because they understand that most people give a fraction of a second to each purchasing decision they make, and things have to be simple in order to register.

Beer styles help inspire some people to better brews. I'm very happy about that. But that's ultimately meaningless if it doesn't help - or in some cases even prevents - turning more people onto great craft beer.

Thus wrote Pete Brown in 2010. I agreed then; today, I concur 174%. It's style formalization run amok.

Be that it as it may, we can still take the time to celebrate the acumen and triumph of brewers across those 94 categories at the World Beer Cup. So, here ya go ...

World Beer Cup 2014


Boulder, CO • April 11, 2014—The Brewers Association (BA)—the not-for-profit trade group dedicated to promoting and protecting America's small and independent craft brewers—announced the results of one of the largest commercial beer competitions to date, the 2014 World Beer Cup Awards. The awards were presented at the conclusion of Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America® in Denver, Colorado.

Drawing the highest number of entries to date, this edition of the World Beer Cup saw 4,754 beers from 1,403 breweries representing 58 countries—a 21 percent increase in the number of entries from the 2012 World Beer Cup, which had 3,921 entries.

Brewers from five continents earned awards from an elite international panel of judges at this tenth biennial competition, with brewers from 22 countries—ranging from Australia and Brazil to Taiwan and the United Kingdom—honored. Judges awarded 281 out of 282 total possible awards, reflecting the chance for one gold, one silver and one bronze award in each of 94 beer style categories.

This year’s event was particularly competitive; the proportion of winning breweries winning one or more awards was 18 percent, compared to 27 percent in 2012. There was a 75.6 percent increase in breweries competing this year versus 2012, which had 799 breweries that entered beers in the competition. A total of 253 breweries took home awards in 2014, a 16.6 percent increase over 2012.

A detailed analysis of the entries and awards can be found in the 2014 World Beer Cup Fact Sheet [a pdf file].

“Brewers from around the globe participate in the World Beer Cup to win recognition for their creativity and brewing skills,” said Charlie Papazian, president of the Brewers Association. “For a brewer, a World Beer Cup gold award allows them to say that their winning beer represents the best of that beer style in the world.”

A panel of 219 judges from 31 countries participated in this year’s competition, working in teams to conduct blind tasting evaluations of the beers and determine the awards. Drawn from the ranks of professional brewers and brewing industry experts, 76 percent of the judges came from outside the United States.

Category Trends
  • The average number of beers entered per category was 50, up from 41 in 2012.
  • The category with the most entries was American-Style India Pale Ale, with 223 entries.
  • The second most-entered category was American-Style Pale Ale, with 121 entries.
  • The third most-entered category was Wood- and Barrel-Aged Strong Beer, with 111 entries.

Award Highlights
  • The 281 awards were won by 253 breweries, with very few breweries earning more than one award.
  • 226 breweries won one award.
  • 26 breweries won two awards.
  • One brewery won three awards.

Competition Manager Chris Swersey commented, “This is the most diverse set of winning breweries in any World Beer Cup.”

The non-U.S. entry rate and winning rate tracked very closely in the 2014 competition, with 28 percent of beers entered coming from outside the U.S., and 27 percent of awards going to beers entered from outside the U.S. <...>


To be clear, the BA hosts a beer festival and competition solely of American breweries —the Great American Beer Festival— every year in Denver, Colorado. Likewise, it organizes an annual convention concerned with the business of U.S. 'craft' beer —the Craft Beer Conference— hosted by a different American city every year. The BA's World Beer Cup, however, is a biennial international competition (first begun in 1996), held in the U.S., whose judging and awards ceremony are held concurrently with that year's Craft Beer Conference.

For this year's World Beer Cup in Denver, there were 4,754 beers entered; of those, 3,402 (or 71%) came from American breweries. So, by pure shock-and-awe preponderance of numbers, the U.S. took 205 medals of the 281 awarded (or 72%). In second, but well behind, was Germany, with 249 entries and 27 medals.

To make the contest fairer and more truly 'worldly,' maybe the BA could consider a percentage-based quota on entries from any one nation. This would, of course, disproportionately affect the U.S., necessitating a weighted lottery system of some sort to determine participation.

As to defeating style inflation, it's probably a battle lost several years ago. So, joining the riot, one could ask: why is there no cask ale category out of all of those ninety-four styles? If there's kellerbier, why not cask? Make it 95.


Since YFGF is 'published' in the mid-Atlantic, we'll give shouts-out to those victorious breweries here in Maryland (which garnered 2 medals) and Virginia (5 medals, including 2 gold). Washington, D.C. would be included, but none of its breweries won a medal. In consolation: there's always next year two years from now. 1
    • Category 24: Aged Beer (14 entries)
      Silver: Vintage Horn Dog
      Flying Dog Brewery: Frederick, MD. (brewer: Matt Brophy)

    • Category 48: German-Style Brown Ale/Düsseldorf-Style Altbier (36)
      Bronze: Balt Altbier
      Union Craft Brewing, Baltimore, MD. (brewer: Kevin Blodger)

    • Category 17: American-Belgo-Style Ale (56)
      Gold: Whiter Shade of Pale Ale
      Starr Hill Brewery: Crozet, VA. (brewer: Mark Thompson)

    • Category 26: Smoke Beer (54)
      Bronze: Brewers Select Rauch Märzen
      Gordon-Biersch Brewery Restaurant:
      Rockville, MD Tysons Corner, VA. (brewer: Grant Carson) 2

    • Category 35: Vienna-Style Lager (39)
      Silver: Vienna Lager
      Devils Backbone Brewing Company (Outpost): Lexington.
      (brewer: Nate Olewine)

    • Category 45: American-Style Dark Lager (18)
      Gold: Old Virginia Dark
      Devils Backbone Brewing Company (Basecamp): Roseland, VA.
      (brewer: Jason Oliver)

    • Category 77: Scotch Ale (47)
      Silver: Heavy Red Horseman Scottish Style Ale
      Apocalypse Ale Works: Forest, VA. (brewer: Lee John)

Congratulations to them, and congratulations to all the winners worldwide. To paraphrase Mr. Shakespeare: A blessing on your hearts, you brew good beers.


Pic(k) of the Week: Cherrydale blossoms

Cherrydale blossoms

The cherry blossoms of Washington, D.C.'s Tidal Basin may be well-renowned, but pastel hues bloom throughout the region, during this time of year. Such as, above, in the appropriately-named Cherrydale neighborhood of Arlington County, Virginia.

11 April 2014.


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Help save a 19th-century archaeological piece of Washington D.C. & Alexandria Virginia brewing history.

Help save a 19th century archaeological piece of the brewing history Washington, D.C. and Alexandria, Virginia. (Alexandria was once part of Washington, D.C.) Donate to the Friends of Alexandria Archaeology toward their efforts to preserve and restore a wooden beer barrel of the long-closed Washington Brewery Company.

On Wednesday, 9 April, the City of Alexandria is holding its annual Spring2Action Campaign, a day-long fundraiser for city-wide charities. As part of that campaign, the Friends of Alexandria Archaeology is looking for supporting funds. To donate to the restoration fund, go to this link, today or tomorrow (Wednesday). The Alexandria Archaeology Museum will match up to $1,000 in donations.

The barrel was recovered during an archaeological investigation at the site of the Shuter’s Hill Brewery in 1993 - 1994 in advance of the construction of the Carlyle complex in the 2000 block of Duke Street. "The barrel was excavated from a subterranean passageway that led from the brewery to the beer cellar,” said Paul Nasca, an archaeologist and collections manager at Alexandria Archaeology, which runs a small but illuminating museum on the third floor of the Torpedo Factory (105 N. Union Street #327). "The passage and cellar contained 7-8 feet of water when first exposed during excavation. It’s because of this wet environment that the barrel was so well preserved.”

The beer barrel is itself a bit of a mystery. A quarter the size of a standard 32-gallon barrel 1, it is stamped W.B.C. WASH.DC, or the Washington Brewery Company, Washington, D.C. <...>

Alexandria Archaeology dates the barrel to the Washington Brewery that operated from 1889 to 1917. (There were six Washington Breweries that operated at seven different locations in DC’s history; this particular location is now the site of Stuart Hobson Middle School on Capitol Hill). The Shuter’s Hill Brewery opened in Alexandria’s West End in 1858, and was the first Alexandria brewery to produce lager.

—Washington, D.C. historian Garrett Peck, at DC Beer.

UPDATE: Ruth Reeder —Education Coordinator for the Office of Historic Alexandria/Alexandria Archaeology— told me that the campaign raised $1,770. "We still can’t believe it." Thank you to all who supported the effort. Now, barrel restoration and preservation begins.