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Monday, October 31, 2011

A call for clones

Without access to the same quality of fruit as their professional counterparts, home winermakers have trouble replicating the greatest examples of a given style (think First Growth Bordeaux). The same is not true for homebrewers, who can and often do produce excellent clones of their favorite beers. If that sounds like you, we want your recipe.

By Steve Siciliano

A Beringer’s Nights Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was the first wine I fell in love with. I remember how I was intrigued by its deep red color, by the aromas of oak, vanilla and cedar and the flavors of black cherry, licorice and tobacco. Because I was captivated by that wine I wanted to know everything about the grape that produced it. I learned that cabernet sauvignon is the main component of the great wines of Bordeaux and that some vintages of the incomparable First Growths from that famous region can age gracefully for over a hundred years. I read how wines made from cabernet sauvignon put California on the winemaking map. I read about the early efforts of California vintners such as Robert Mondavi and Warren Winiarski, and how Winiarski’s cabernet from his Stag’s Leap Winery beat Bordeaux’s First Growths in a 1976 blind tasting. Over the years I have drunk some great cabs including a beautiful Mondavi Reserve and a bottle of Cask 23 from Stag’s Leap.

Since I’m a home winemaker who loves cabs it’s only natural that I have a desire to produce them in my home winery. While I have made some very good wines from cabernet grapes grown in California’s Lodi region, there’s no way I could ever make a wine that exactly replicates the quality of a Beringer’s Knights Valley, a First Growth Bordeaux, a Mondavi Reserve or a Stag’s Leap Cask 23. The reason is simple—incredible wines come from incredible fruit, and the fruit that is available to the home winemaker never comes from the top-notch vineyards. Despite the skills set of a home winemaker, he or she will never be able to clone a specific wine produced by a professional vintner.

That certainly is not the case for the homebrewer who wants to clone beers made by professional brewers. Long gone are the days when the only ingredients available to a beer making hobbyist were cans of stale hopped extract, a few varieties of grains and hops and a couple strains of generic dry yeast. Today’s homebrewers have such a wide range of ingredients available to them that they can, with the appropriate skills and a good clone recipe, replicate almost any beer made by the professionals.

It’s no mystery why homebrewers love to clone professionally brewed beers, even ones that are easily obtainable. For one thing it is a good test of skill. If you are able to approximate the flavors, aromas and colors of an Oberon or Centennial IPA it is tangible proof that you are doing things right. And then there are the beers that are not easily obtained—the ones with limited distribution, the rare one-offs, and the push-the-envelope offerings produced in miniscule quantities by innovative brewers. If you can’t buy these beers you might as well make them.

I’m constantly amazed at how sophisticated the hobby of homebrewing is becoming. Select customers have acquired the know-how to make stellar sours and some are brewing with wooden barrels. I have tasted many excellent examples of hard-to-brew styles such as lambics, Bavarian Weises and Czech pilsners, which is concrete evidence that all homebrewers have the potential to replicate just about any beer produced by the professionals. The only problem that remains is getting ahold of a good clone recipe.

Of course there are books that focus on clone recipes (like this one or this one), and an internet search will usually provide you with dozens more. Helpful though the books may be, they can be dated and seldom include recipes from small, regional breweries. What if you want to replicate a Founders Canadian Breakfast, a Dark Horse Scotty Karate or a Michigan Brewing Screaming Pumpkin? You might be able to find recipes for these beers on the internet but it has been our experience that some online recipes are just plain awful.

In response to this I would like to begin a file of clone recipes formulated by Siciliano’s customers. If you have a tried-and-true recipe, one that you formulated after picking the brain of a professional brewer or one that you perfected after trial and error, bring it in or send it via email and we’ll include it in the file. We’ll give you full credit for the recipe and in return you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that the fruits of your labor are contributing to the growing pool of knowledge of the local homebrew community.

Friday, October 28, 2011

New Beer Friday - October 28 Edition

Last week we dedicated NBF to the Michigan Hop Alliance in appreciation of their hard work over harvest time. This week they respond by filling our coolers with ounce after ounce of Michigan's finest hops. Eleven total varieties arrived on Wednesday, everything from Cascade to Magnum to Willamette hops, some organic, some available only in pellets, and some available in both pellet form and leaf.

Scroll down to see the full list of Michigan hop varieties currently in stock. You'll pass on your way the names and descriptions of the seven newcomers to Siciliano's beer department, a group that happens to include one of most "celebrated" winter seasonals in the craft beer world.

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Sierra Nevada Celebration Fresh Hop Ale, $1.59/12oz - This beer is "wonderfully robust and rich...dry-hopped for a lively, intense aroma...brewed especially for the holidays...perfect for a festive gathering or for a quiet evening at home" (source).
  • Left Hand Fade to Black Volume 3, $1.99/12oz - This beer showcases "dried fruit flavors entwined with smoky pepper and licorice." The heat from the chilis "creeps up on your tongue and throat, finishing in an herbal smoke ring flourish" (source).
  • Arbor Brewing Jackhammer English Style Old Ale, $2.29/12oz - "This strong ale has a clear alcohol presence, a complex fruity palate, and a dry, spicy, rather assertive hop counterbalance in the finish. The Michigan Microbrewery and Brewpub Guide calls it, 'an excellent, true-to-style beer with a subtle yet distinct chocolate covered cherry quality'" (source).
  • Arbor Brewing Phat Abbot Dubbel, $2.29/12oz - "A dark, rich Belgian abbey style ale made with Trappist yeast and dark Belgian candy sugar for a more traditional, malty trappist character." The taste is "deep mahogany with a rich, complex palate. Toffee, toasted malts, dried dark fruits, and sweet candy sugar balanced by a subtle earthy, woodsy quality and spicy hops" (source).
  • New Holland Cabin Fever Brown Ale, $1.79/12oz - "Robust in character yet smooth in delivery, Cabin Fever is a roasty brown ale and a hearty, comforting companion for long, mind-bending winters. Its rye, roast and raisin notes play off a subtle caramel sweetness and culminate in a dry finish. Excellent with roasts, stews, caramelized onions and snowfall" (source).
  • Big Sky Powder Hound Winter Ale, $1.69/12oz - "At 7.2% ABV, Powder Hound Winter Ale gives just the right amount of warmth, balanced by its rich taste and generous dose of Hallertau, Palisade, and Amarillo hops" (source).
  • Brau Brothers Hundred Yard Dash Fresh Hop Ale, $2.59/12oz - Bunches and bunches of wet hops are added at first wort, through the brewing process, and finally at conditioning through dry-hopping. Brau Brothers boasts Minnesota's largest hopyard, with eleven varieties spread out over the eastern acreage. Harvested only minutes before use, multiple hop varieties contribute a complex blend of hop bitterness, flavor, and aroma. Our unique soil and terrain produce unequaled hops and contribute to a one-of-a-kind ale. Notes of grass, herbs, and green tea are evident and are indicative of a truly authentic wet-hopped beer" (source).
MI Hops Now In Stock

    • Organic Brewers Gold Leaf, $2.69/1oz
    • Organic Cascade Leaf, $2.69/1oz
    • Organic Nugget Leaf, $4.89/1oz
    • Organic Brewers Gold Pellets, $3.59/2oz
    • Organic Cascade Pellets, $3.59/2oz
    • Organic Centennial Pellets, $5.69/2oz
    • Organic Chinook Pellets, $4.89/2oz
    • Organic Galena Pellets, $5.69/2oz
    • Chinook Leaf, $1.79/1oz
    • Magnum Leaf, $2.69/1oz
    • Willamette Leaf, $1.79/1oz
    • Brewers Gold Pellets, $3.99/2oz
    • Cascade Pellets, $3.59/2oz
    • Chinook Pellets, $3.99/2oz
    • Crystal Pellets, $4.89/2oz
    • Fuggle Pellets, $4.89/2oz
    • Magnum Pellets, $4.89/2oz
    • Willamette Pellets, $3.99/2oz
Picture of the Week

Behind the scenes at Siciliano's

Salud y amor y tiempo para disfrutarlo

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Recipe: No-knead olive bread

File this in the category of special-occasion breads along with Red Cheddar Flake and Roasted Garlic No-Knead.

By Chris Siciliano

Few things in life go together so well as bread and olives. While some familiar combinations might be their equal--wine & cheese, beer & brats, Hall & Oates--there is little that outshines a crust of good bread and a few ripe kalamatas. Fact is, one of the best meals of my life consisted of little more than these two ingredients, a bit of cheese, and good company.

It makes perfect sense then that the addition of olives to the standard no-knead bread recipe would result in a whole far greater than the sum of its parts. Of course, that's just my opinion. I suggest you test the hypothesis yourself. For the recipe, see below.

  • 454g (1 lb) white flour
  • 340g (12oz) water
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 9-12g (1.5-2 tsp) salt
  • 5.75oz jar manzanilla olives, drained, sliced or chopped
Tips & Tricks

  • To learn the no-knead method, click here. Or, watch these two short videos, here and here.
  • I use manzanilla olives with pimentos because we usually have an unopened jar in the pantry for pizza and bloody marys. Any other olive will taste just as good, and maybe better. Double-check though that the olives are without pits. Nothing ruins a good meal faster than a mouthful of broken teeth.
  • Remember, olives are salty. Depending on your tastes and diet, you might want to back off on the total amount of salt you add. Sometimes I back off by about half a teaspoon for a total of 1.5 tsps, that's 9 grams if you're measuring by weight. Then again, sometimes I just use the full amount of salt (2 tsp), blood pressure be damned. It's up to you the route you want to go. You can get away with 1 tsp or even a little less.
  • Usually I start slicing the olives in meticulous and uniform fashion. Halfway through I grow impatient and begin chopping indiscriminately. I find this strategy suits me. Add the sliced/chopped olives directly to the dry ingredients before you add the water.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The lunacy of rare beer releases - A retailer's perspective

The high demand for limited-release beer means good sales, unique challenges for retailers.

By Steve Siciliano

Perhaps lunacy is too strong a word, but the recent release of Founders Canadian Breakfast Stout certainly had an unprecedented degree of madness associated with it.

The phone started ringing a half hour before we opened (we open at 8am) and the calls continued throughout the day. When would we be getting CBS? How much would we be getting? Would it be possible to reserve a bottle? Do we have any left? Any idea where to find more? When one early caller asked if our three cases had arrived yet I asked him how he could possibly know that we were getting three cases.

“I called the distributor,” he answered matter-of-factly.

Our store’s allocation, hand delivered by our harried Kent Beverage salesman, showed up about mid-morning. Three hours later it was gone.

I have varied emotions about these rare beer releases. On the one hand they’re a retailer’s dream—sell merchandise and reap profits almost before the ink dries on the check that was written to pay for it. And these rare beer releases certainly contribute to the over-all excitement surrounding craft beer. We are, after all, in the business to sell and promote craft beer, and whatever generates interest and keeps people talking can only be a good thing.

At the same time there’s an unsavory element simmering just beneath the surface of these releases. I have a feeling that there are people out there who took the day off from work or school to get their hands on as many bottles as they could—and not to have a cellar full of beer either, but for the express purpose of turning an extraordinary profit on the black market. On the same day CBS was released it began showing up on Ebay for $100.00 a bottle, more than five times what we sold it for at Siciliano's.

There’s not a good way for retailers to handle rare beer releases. We would love to see these beers end up in the hands of our regular customers and purchased by people who simply want to drink it. But how do you do that? For better or worse, our policy has been and will continue to be announcing the arrival of the shipments on our Facebook page and selling the bottles on a first-come, first-serve basis, with a certain bottle limit per customer. Unfortunately there are no easy answers.

It is my hope that as breweries like Founders expand their production the unsavory elements of these rare beer releases will be mitigated. Time will tell. I have a feeling, though, that we are just beginning to scratch the surface of the lunacy.

Friday, October 21, 2011

New Beer Friday - October 21 Edition

This week we dedicate New Beer Friday to Michigan's emerging hop industry and to the Michigan Hop Alliance in particular. Because of all their hard work this fall, enthusiasts across the Mighty Mitten can enjoy their state in its purest, most aromatic form: wet-hopped harvest ales.

Doubtless many of you have have already sipped and supped on one or two of these fine brews, Founders Harvest Ale for example (which came and went in bottle form far too quickly). Today we're pleased to bring you two more in the category, Short's Kind Ale and New Holland Hopivore, write-ups for which you'll find below, alongside descriptions of the several other beers returning this week to Siciliano's shelves.

PS. For a wood time call Vivant. Better yet, just stop by the brewery this Saturday, Oct 22, for their first-ever wood-aged beer celebration.

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Dark Horse One Oatmeal Stout, $1.99/12oz - "Number one in a series of five stouts produced to help ease you through the cold and grey midwestern winters. This beer is full bodied with hints of chocolate, roasted barley, coffee flavors and a nice creamy head" (source).
  • Dark Horse Perkulator Coffee Doppelbock, $1.99/12oz - "This is a true dopplebock and Dark Horse Brewing's only publicly distributed lager;" brewed with "fare trade organic coffee from...The Ugly Mug Cafe in Ypsilanti, MI" (source).
  • New Holland Hopivore Michigan Wet-Hopped Harvest Ale, $2.39/12oz - "Michigan-grown hops are the story in this seasonal harvest ale. Hopivore is wet-hopped, with hops added to the brew just hours after harvest, creating rare, fresh flavors" (source).
  • Short's Kind Ale, $1.99/12oz - "A seasonal beer made each fall to celebrate a successful growing season. True to tradition, [Short's] commemorates the earth’s agricultural environment by using freshly picked hops to 'wet hop' this brew. Straight from the fields on Old Mission Peninsula to the kettle, local hops impart a mellow earthiness to this ale that lead to moderate bitter tones and a subtle sweetness in the finish" (source).
  • Victory Headwaters Pale Ale, $1.79/12oz - The Citra harvest is in and that means Victory is brewing Headwaters again, a beer the brewers call "crisp and aromatically arousing" (source).
  • Unity Vibration Raspberry or Ginger Kombucha Beer, $3.59/12oz - Ya'll know what Kombucha is, right? Well, Unity Vibration takes it to the next level: "Our Kombucha Beer is something we never imagined we would be making--a wonderful evolution of our traditional Kombucha. 'Triple Goddess' is a marriage of our 30-day brewed Kombucha, organic dried hops and either organic raw ginger root or organic fresh Raspberries aged and open-air-fermented in oak barrels and then bottle conditioned. The combination creates exquisite flavors that have depth and complexity. Like our organic Kombucha, it is raw, all organic, gluten free, vegan and bottle conditioned and lends itself to healthy and beneficial bacteria" (source).
Picture of the Week

Nine gallons of Petite Syrah

Na zdravi!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

History of my world, part wine

At the ripe old age of nine, Siciliano's perennial employee Sarah "The Cheetah" Derylo had her first-ever encounter with the art of winemaking. Here, in her first-ever blog post, she recounts the details of that fateful meeting. 

By Sarah Derylo

It’s hard to forget the first time I crept down the stairs of my great grandmother’s house and saw those musty old wine barrels. I had faked sick from school that day. Sacred Heart’s history lessons, although fascinating, could not fulfill my need for the personal timeline I was longing to discover. I knew my Grandma Boom-Boom could. Her stories and recounted memories allowed me to hear the “history” of me. Who I was, where and who I came from, why I was here. Every stomach ache was the promise of a new lesson in the subject of the past I didn't know.

I looked forward to the time I spent at the house on Butterworth Street where my great grandmother raised four children, more grandchildren and even more great-grandchildren. Later in life she proved to be a master gardener, chef, philosopher, soap-opera watcher, and most importantly to me, an expert storyteller. Little did I know that when my ma unloaded me that day onto the worn-out steps of her front porch I was going to receive an education in something I would carry with me into my adult life, something that would eventually become a passion of my own.

The morning was typical. I asked Grandma Boom-Boom to tell me the story of how she came to America, the boat she was on, her first sight of the Statue of Liberty, and if she was scared coming all the way from Italy as a little girl with no one but her younger brother. She patiently retold the stories as if it wasn't the hundredth time I had asked to hear them. I listened to her mini-dramas until lunch time, when we went to the kitchen to prep for my favorite dish: spaghetti. Most Italian Americans will tell you their grandparents made the best sauce on the planet and I am no exception. I began lining the uncooked pasta neatly on the table. Grandma Boom-Boom gathered her ingredients--garlic, onions, basil and so on--and then she asked me, "Sarah Beth, can you go in the basement and bring me up some tomatoes?"

I had never been in the basement but she assured me she would wait right at the top of the stairs. She opened the door and instructed me to the back wall where the jars of the previous summer's harvest were stored. I crept down the creaky steps just knowing that at any moment a monster would reach out and grab my ankle. Any seven- or eight-year-old that has been in a Michigan basement will tell you that some monsters are real and can absolutely smell the fear of a child. I looked back at Grandma Boom-Boom as if for the last time. She assured me she would not let anything come to get me. "I will go boom boom on that monster's head!" This was a promise given previously to my older brother through broken English, thus coining the name "Grandma Boom-Boom", and comforting me even now as I stood in the darkness of her basement. I continued on.

Soon enough, under the watchful eye of a single lightbulb, I saw the barrels. I stood for a moment mesmerized, overwhelmed by curiosity at what seemed like something from the middle ages. The wooden vats seemed giant to a nine-year-old; they towered over me, each with its own face lined with history and a different kind of wisdom. I ran to grab the jar of tomatoes and raced back up the steps.

“What were those?”

"Oh. Those are your great grandpa’s wine barrels”

“Grandpa made wine?”

“Oh yes, everyone did back then. How else could you get it?”

The lesson ensued. My great grandfather Enrico Fulvi became a winemaker during prohibition. In many cultures wine is an essential part of the meal and to Italians in particular it is an essential part of life. The law that took effect in 1919 almost seemed cruel to a population of immigrants who worked hard to better the lives of their families. In the final years of prohibition, Enrico's daughter Anita and her sisters as small children would peek out the front windows and watch for the cops during "production". They didn't view it as breaking the law, not exactly. It was a cultural right and simply a part of life. And since wild grapes were so abundant in Grand Rapids, Enrico perfected his craft and continued thousands of years of artistry. I realize now the wonderful responsibility I have, to pass down not only the stories of that time but also the craft and art of winemaking, borne of necessity, linking my generation to the countless generations that came before.

My Grandma Anita grew up and married another winemaker, Sam. Pressing grapes and sharing wine with him are some of my most precious memories. Our family doesn't have your typical family tree. Proudly, ours is a grapevine.

Bottling day with Grandpa Sam

Monday, October 17, 2011

Michigan's new keg tag law

If you have a keg at home, return it to your local retailer by November 1st, 2011 or else forfeit your $30.00 deposit.

By Steve Siciliano

Kafkaesque: of, relating to, or suggestive of Franz Kafka or his writings; especially: having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality (source).

I’m not sure about “nightmarishly complex” or “bizarre” but what I’m about to address certainly has a somewhat illogical quality to it. Last year the Michigan Legislature passed a law (Public Act 344) which requires that retailers attach an identification tag bearing a buyer’s signature to a keg and not refund the deposit if the keg is returned without the identification tag attached. The intended purpose of this law, which goes into effect November 1, 2011, is to give officials another tool to deal with underage consumption of alcohol—if police crash a keg party where minors are drinking, they will be able to, in theory anyway, identify the person who purchased the beer.

I don’t have a problem with the intent of the law nor do I have a problem with the additional paperwork that will go along with it. What I have a problem with--and this is the Kafkaesque part--is the fact that in two weeks retailers will be required to implement something that they may know nothing about.

I didn’t hear about Public Act 344 until I got a call from Chris Knape from the Grand Rapids Press last Friday.

“What are your thoughts about the new keg tag law?” Chris asked.

“What new keg tag law,” I answered.

My first thought was that I had somehow missed whatever communication it was that the Michigan Liquor Control Commission had sent out to retailers. However, Chris informed me that there was no such communication and that the MLCC is, according to their website, “working with industry groups, social media and news outlets to get the word out on these new requirements” (source).

Okay. As it turns out I was, in effect, informed of the keg tag law through the media. But what if I wasn’t? I’m sure I would have eventually found out through some other source. But wouldn’t it have been logical for the MLCC to send out some sort of mass communication directly to the retailers?

Obviously what we are dealing with here is our state’s poor economic health. Apparently there are no funds for a state agency, in this case the MLCC, to send out a mass mailing and there is no time for an overworked and depleted staff to send out emails. I guess I’ll just have to make a habit in the future of periodically going to the MLCC’s website. Better yet, I should probably make that website my home page.

So how is all this going to impact consumers? Well if you have an untagged keg in your possession you MUST return it before November 1st or else forfeit your $30.00 deposit. Again, according to the MLCC website: “This new requirement was passed and signed into law by Governor Jennifer Granholm, and the requirement says that kegs sold to customers on November 1 and after must have tags on them. In order to return a keg deposit to a customer that returns a keg without a tag, the keg must be returned before November 1, 2011. If you know you have customers who wait to return kegs until they need one, you may wish to notify them of this practice so as to avoid the unpleasant situation of not getting a deposit back” (source).

On second thought, this whole thing might end up having some nightmarishly complex qualities to it after all.

To read Chris Knape's article on Michigan's new keg tag law, please click here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

New Beer Friday - October 14 Edition

After a slow week last week, NBF returns to peak form with nine new (and returning) beers, most the sort to keep your belly warm as we bid fond farewell to the steamy temps of very, very late summer. That was some kind of nice weather we had these last ten days, and too good to last unfortunately. Now we're moving into the heart of fall, which means (a) you probably should be raking leaves this weekend, and (b) if you're like us, you'd rather be drinking beer and watching football.

For all you non-football fans there's still plenty to keep you occupied. This week's top vote getter in the Grand Rapids beer-event category is Hoptoberfest, a brews and blues festival featuring craft beer from all the local breweries. Also, be sure to mark you calendars for Brewery Vivant's first ever wood-aged beer celebration, happening next weekend (Oct 22) over at their place on Cherry Street. For more details, please click here.

New (and Returning) Beers

  • Life & Limb, $11.49/750ml - Editor's note: This beer is a late addition, arriving in-store unexpectedly after NBF had already gone to press. "Life & Limb is a collaborative effort, the brainchild of Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. Life & Limb is a 10% ABV strong, dark beer that defies style characteristics--brewed with pure maple syrup from the Calagione family farm in Massachusetts and estate barley grown on the Grossman 'farm' at the brewery in Chico, CA. The beer is alive with yeast--a blend of both breweries' house strains--bottle conditioned for added complexity and shelf life, and naturally carbonated with birch syrup fresh from Alaska" (source). Limit 1 bottle per customer.
  • Sierra Nevada Northern Hemisphere Harvest Ale 2011, $5.69/24oz - First brewed "in 1996, Harvest Ale features Cascade and Centennial hops from the Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington. These hops are harvested and shipped as “wet” un-dried hops—the same day they are picked—to our brewery in Chico where our brewers eagerly wait to get them into the brew kettle while their oils and resins are still at their peak" (source).
  • Sierra Nevada Ovila Saison, $11.49/750ml -  The first shipment we received of this beer was only half a case and sold out quickly. This week three more cases arrived, which means that many more enthusiasts will have the chance to experience the "earthy and spicy aromas" of this somewhat rare saison. Note that the "body is layered with fruity and spice accents with a dry, peppery, and refreshing finish" (source). Sounds delicious, no?
  • Leinenkugel Big Eddy Russian Imperial Stout, $2.99/12oz - Known more for their lighter, easy drinking beers, Leinenkugel's RIS clocks in at a very respectable 9.5% ABV. A good, solid beer all around. 
  • Atwater Bourbon Barrel Aged Shaman's Porter, $2.59/12oz - For this beer, Atwater uses "the finest ingredients including Munich, Chocolate and Black Malts along with German Hops to create the smoothest Porter & will thwart any tricksters or evil spirits" (source).
  • Abita 25th Anniversary Vanilla Double Dog, $5.79/22oz - To mark their 25th year in operation, "Abita Brewing Company has created a special commemorative brew. [This] robust dark ale has flavors of chocolate, toffee and vanilla. It is brewed with generous amounts of pale, caramel and chocolate malts and Willamette hops. Whole natural vanilla beans are added during the aging process. The Doubledog brew is a tribute to Abita’s Turbodog, which was originally created as an anniversary beer in 1989" (source).
  • Abita Christmas Ale, $1.79/12oz - "The spicy character is excellent with traditional holiday foods such as gingerbread or spiced nuts" (source). Speaking of nuts, how crazy is it that we're already seeing Christmas beers. What's next, Oberon?
  • Bell's Java Stout, $2.69/12oz - This beer "uses a custom blend of coffee beans, roasted locally by Water Street Coffee Joint, to generate its intense flavor. Possessing an unmistakable aromatic punch, Java Stout has long been one of [Bell's] most popular stouts" (source).
  • Bell's Cherry Stout, $2.69/12oz - "Tinted ruby-black, Cherry Stout gains its signature tartness from 100% Montmorency cherries grown in Michigan's Traverse City region. Rather than doubling up on sweetness, this tart cherry varietal serves as a counterpoint to the warm, dark chocolate notes from the malt bill. Lightly hopped for balance, this stout is one of the cornerstones of the Bell's stout portfolio" (source).
  • Bell's Special Double Cream Stout, $2.09/12oz -  A beer that "derives its name from its smooth, creamy texture, not the ingredients. Completely dairy-free, this stout blends eight different specialty malts to yield a remarkable depth of flavor. With only a touch of burnt notes, Special Double Cream Stout focuses on the softer, cocoa & espresso-like aspects of roasted malt" (source).
Mini Photo Essay of the Week

Every year about this time Siciliano's serves as a drop-off point for a truckload of grapes that rolls in from Lodi, California. This year the truck arrived on Wednesday, October 11. Here, in pictures, is a brief synopsis of that day.


Mobile Zin

Petite Syrah


Various cases, ready for the crusher

Quote of the Week

I saw this wino, he was eating grapes. I was like, "Dude, you have to wait."

~Mitch Hedberg


Thursday, October 13, 2011

Anatomy of a homebrewer, pt 1 - resolve & resourcefulness

The first in a spontaneous series exploring the character & make-up of the successful homebrewer/winemaker.

By Chris Siciliano

We all know the feeling of a perfect homebrew or winemaking session. The stars align, the heavens smile, and from sanitation phase to clean up every step in the process comes off without a hitch. You hit your mash temp. Your volume is perfect. Your starting gravity is dead-on. You won't admit it, but these are times you consider quitting your job and/or dropping out of school, certain that a career in the fermented arts is not just a good idea, but the most prudent, wisest decision you could make. A flawless brew day is proof positive you were born for this endeavor. You have a real gift for it, a knack.

But more common than perfection are the days you're challenged by some obstacle you did not see coming. An empty propane tank, a missing wort chiller (you forgot you loaned it to a friend), an empty bottle of sanitizer--just about anything can and will put the brakes on an otherwise perfect brew day. The successful homebrewer, however, will think through and overcome even the stiffest challenge. That's part of the fun of it. That's what keeps it interesting.

We enjoy homebrewing, in part, because it demands creativity and innovation, not just in terms of recipes, but with regard to the process itself. When a problem arises it gives us the opportunity to pit our skills, our resolve and resourcefulness, against whatever obstacle dares rear its ugly head. The way a book or movie needs a villain, a few good challenges on brew day make a successful outcome all the more satisfying for the brewer.

When Steve & Barb had too few grapes and too large a press,
they got right on top of the problem

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Crushing/pressing on the back forty - Week 3 recap

For many, the act of making wine is tied to memories of grandparents, great grandparents.  

Wild grapes from behind the store,
too sour to use
By Steve Siciliano

The piles of discarded grape stems, squeezed apples and pressed skins on the edge of the back parking lot grew a little larger this past Saturday as another round of wine and cider makers took advantage of the free use of our crushing and pressing equipment. Weather-wise it was an extraordinary day with a cloudless sky and afternoon temperatures that touched the eighties, quite atypical of crush-time in Michigan. Just a reminder—you have two more Saturdays, the 15th and 22nd, to use our cider and wine making equipment free of charge.

After a busy morning there was an extended lull and then a burst of activity in the afternoon. During the lull, it felt good to be able to sit leisurely in the shade of the warehouse and visit with the steady stream of customers who stopped by to chat.

The last person to use the equipment was a young lady who drove down from Sand Lake with a load of grapes. While I helped her with the crushing and pressing she told me that the grapes were from vines her great grandfather had planted and she remembered him using a burlap bag to press the grape skins. It made me think about my own grandfather, about the old press that he had used and the unlabeled bottles of red and white he would retrieve from his cellar during our family get-togethers.

It was a good way to end another day of winemaking.

Friday, October 7, 2011

New Beer Friday - October 7 Edition

Loyal NBF readers might be disappointed to learn that only one three lonely little beer(s) arrived for the first time on Siciliano's shelves. Yet even though new beer this week is scarce, enthusiasts can rest assured knowing that Siciliano's beer department is fully stocked and ready for the coming weekend. There's still a ton of beer to try!

Also, being the start of a new month, our staffers have each selected a "personal pick", a beer they feel personifies the spirit of the season...or doesn't. In typical Siciliano's fashion, there are no hard and fast rules governing the selection process. We choose what we like, we pick what we drink, we drink what we recommend. By the way, we also drink what you recommend. If you all have any suggestions feel free to post them in the comments section below. In fact, please do! Tell us, what's your personal pick of the month? And don't forget to tell us why.

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Goose Island Harvest Ale, $1.59/12oz - "Brewed in honor of the Harvest season this copper colored ESB is made with Cascade hops and the richest Midwestern malts. A fruity American hop aroma and a toasty malt character make Goose Island Harvest Ale an extra special beer worthy of your devotion" (source).
  • Shiner Holiday Cheer, $1.49/12oz - This "ale brewed with peaches and pecans"is the first winter seasonal. Christmas comes early in Texas apparently.
  • Jolly Pumpkin  La Parcela No. 1 Pumpkin Ale, $13.79/750ml - This week's lone new beer is "packed with real pumpkins, hints of spice and a gentle kiss of cacao to lighten the soul. An everyday easy way to fill your squashy quotient. Only available for a few short months. Not to be missed" (source).
  • Michigan Brewing Company Screamin' Pumpkin, $1.59/12oz - Not a new beer per se, but one that sells out every week. Twenty more cases came in on Thursday. Now let's see how long they last.
Siciliano's Staff Picks - October

  • Steve's Pick: Ovila Dubbel, $11.49/750ml - "Clear and deep copper in color, this Abbey Dubbel has a complex and rich malty sweetness with hints of caramelized sugar. The aroma is a heady and layered mix of fruit and spice with hints of clove, raisin, and black pepper from the use of an abbey-style yeast" (source). 
  • John's Pick: Bardic Wells Clurichaun Bru Clu, $10.39/22oz - Folks will recognize this coffee-flavored, hopped & carbonated mead from last week's NBF. Must have made an impact. To learn more about the Clurichaun series, see the August 12 edition of NBF. Note: our man John actually designed the label on this mead. Nice work, John!
  • Greg's Pick: Schell's Firebrick, $1.49/12oz - "A refreshing all-malt lager with an amber-red hue that reflects the feeling of the brewery itself" (source).
  • Sarah's Pick: Southern Tier Pumking Imperial Pumpkin Ale, $7.89/22oz - One of the season's most sought-after pumpkin ales. You can read more about it here.  
  • Doug's Pick: Great Lakes Nosferatu, $3.29/12oz - Another beer from just last week, and a good one at that. A "highly hopped imperial red ale rich with flavor, yet remarkably balanced" (source).
  • Kati's Pick: Founders Breakfast Stout, $2.59/12oz - To those who didn't manage to get your hands on an elusive bottle of CBS, a beer like this will go a long way to console you.
Picture of the Week

Just in the nick of time!
Customer Brad Shaner snags the last bottle of Founders CBS.
Siciliano's received 36 bottles and they sold out almost immediately, 
not warranting inclusion on this week's New Beer Friday.

Go Tigers!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Perfect October evening

A glass of homemade wine (or beer) on the back deck is sometimes all we could ever ask for or need.

By Steve Siciliano

If I was an artist I would try to capture the colors on canvas—the golden light from the lowering October sun filtering through the browning leaves on the walnut tree, the greenness of the freshly mowed lawn, the splashes of red, yellow and orange on the tall backyard maples, the fading purple of a few stubbornly clinging clematis and the black speck of a hawk floating high overhead against a cloudless blue sky. But there’s no way a painting could capture the sound of the occasional ground thumps of the heavy, green-jacketed walnuts. Nor could it catch the intermittent squadrons of sparrows bursting from the thick crown of one maple and lighting in another, nor the wide, lazy circles being made by that high floating hawk.

Barb and I sat on our backyard deck sharing a bottle of homemade Noiret that paired wonderfully with the sights and sounds of that perfect October evening. Ellie May, our idiosyncratic but lovable lab/terrier, incessantly snuffled around the deck following the movement of whatever animal it was that had made its home underneath. Every so often I would yell “squirrel” and we laughed while Ellie interrupted her snuffling to bolt out to the walnut tree. Miss Lizzie, the four-year-old golden retriever we recently adopted from the Human Society, lay heavily at our feet. Lizzie has the typical sweet face of a golden retriever but the body of a potbellied pig. It’s obvious that whoever had Miss Lizzie before us fed her a steady diet of people food.

Later there would be a bottle of homemade Foch with pasta and grilled chicken and a Tigers’ playoff game for dessert, all of it a nice way to end a perfect evening in October.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stout it out loud - Winter is on its way

Siciliano's house Cicerone looks ahead to one of her favorite times of year.

By Kati Spayde

Its Michigan and fall is in the air. Let’s face it, that means winter is just around the corner. Now, before I get booed right off of this blog, let me present one piece of serious pro-winter propaganda: Stout Season. Yup, stouts are one of my main reasons to look forward to winter, not only for the annual uptick in special releases, but also for the appropriate chill in the air that makes drinking them all the more enjoyable. Luckily for us our good friends at the many Michigan breweries also know the secret of stout season and are determined to keep us stocked all winter long. So, lets take a sneak peak at the goodies to come and one classic stout that is already available.

No discussion on stouts can take place without mentioning Bell's Brewing in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Every winter, on a quiet Wednesday morning, we receive stacks of Bell’s stouts: Expedition, a thick and intense imperial stout; Special Double Crème, as smooth a cream stout as it sounds; and one mystery stout. For years Java Stout filled this position, and as a coffee junky I can’t complain. But is seems that Bell’s is slowly moving Rye Stout (an earthy, slightly spicy stout) into the mix. Which will it be this year, rye or java? I don’t know and I’m not worried; they’re both excellent.

Dark Horse Brewing in Marshal, Michigan also has their Stout Series starting soon: One, Too, Tres, Fore and Plead the 5th (oatmeal, crème, blueberry, smoke and imperial stouts respectively). Each beer is its own unique offering, yet all of them are wildly delicious. Dark Horse tries to extend the season by releasing their stouts throughout the winter months, finishing the series with Plead the 5th, which comes out well into the new year.

For those with a more adventurous palate Short’s Brewing in Bellaire, Michigan has its own winter offerings. These rare and elusive stouts hit the shelves of Siciliano’s Market for roughly one week a year. Uber Goober (peanut butter), PB&J (a blend of Uber Goober and Soft Parade), Cup of Joe (coffee crème stout) and Mystery (oatmeal, cocoa and molasses) defy normal conceptions of what ingredients make up beer. Barley, hops, water, and yeast are all present but Joe Short’s imagination knows no bounds.

Finally, my favorite: Founder’s Breakfast Stout. It is simply a classic and it is already available. Oatmeal, coffee and chocolate blend together to create this rich dark brew that keeps me fueled even as the days grow shorter. With all the hype about KBS and CBS we sometimes forget that Breakfast Stout is not some simple platform for these specialties but a well-developed masterpiece of its own.

Hopefully this brief rundown of winter offerings keeps you optimistic about the upcoming months. As of publication of this blog only Founders Breakfast Stout is available. But don’t despair, that only means you have plenty to look forward to.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Crushing/pressing on the back forty - Week 2 recap

A chilly morning gives way to a perfect afternoon for making wine.

Raw cider
By Steve Siciliano

Light from the early morning sun splashed upon the autumn-colored leaves on the tops of the tall trees surrounding the store’s back parking lot. It was cold, so cold that I zipped an old windbreaker up over a hooded sweatshirt and considered grabbing a pair of gloves from the back of my Blazer. After we hauled the equipment out of the warehouse I sat down with a steaming cup of coffee, lit my pipe, and waited for the next round of wine and cider makers.

Former Siciliano’s staffer Wes Eaton was the first to show up. Wes, who is currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at Michigan State, was accompanied by one of his professors who wanted to learn how to make cider. Four big plastic bags of apples were unloaded, and while I listened to Wes instructing his instructor on the use the fruit crusher and the ratchet press, I thought how this was an interesting twist on the traditional practice of a student placing an apple on a teacher’s desk.

Before long the parking lot was full of cars and pick-ups loaded with more grapes that had to be run through the crusher/de-stemmer. More instructions were given to novice winemakers and there were more gravity tests and ph readings. Those folks who had crushed grapes on the previous Saturday returned with their plastic fermenters filled with fermented must and we helped them squeeze the grape skins, collect the runnings, and fill up their carboys.

Pressed apples

As the sun continued to climb in a cloudless sky, the temperature warmed and the bees showed up. There are always a lot of bees around when you’re working with sweet juice. It can be disconcerting at first, but if you want to be a winemaker you have to learn to ignore them. Eventually you realize that they’re simply after that sweet juice, that they're just doing what their instincts are telling them to do, and unless you flail at them wildly, they will simply leave you alone. It’s a good lesson in learning to live and let live.

During a brief lull in the activity Barb and I crushed, de-stemmed and took gravity and ph readings on the grapes that we had picked up at Taylor Ridge. There was a little less sugar in the juice than I would have liked and the acidity was a tad too high. We adjusted the sugar, but after I tasted the juice I decided that I would ignore the ph reading, rely on what my taste buds were telling me, and leave the acidity alone. Wine making, after all, is just as much an art as it is a science.

Remember, all interested wine & cider makers are invited to use our crushers, de-stemmers, and basket presses free of charge for the next three Saturdays (Oct. 8, 15, 22). Please contact us with any questions regarding this offer specifically or wine/cider making in general.

Pre-pressed apples

Monday, October 3, 2011

Good showing from the cider crowd

This past Sunday Vander Mill Cider Mill & Winery distributed nearly 200 gallons of raw cider to eager cider makers in Siciliano's back parking lot. A big thank you to all who participated in the pre-order/pick-up process. The excellent turnout will help ensure that this tradition continues for years to come. Oh, and in case anybody forgot to write them down, here are the specs for this year's batch of juice.

  • Apples - Jonathan, Golden Delicious, Gala
  • Brix - 12 (about 1.048 SG)
  • Ph - 3.4
Remember to mark your calendars for Vander Fest! Tickets are on sale now at Siciliano's. Cash only please. (Rumor has it there's going to be a laser show.)