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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Brewing With Oak

Avid homebrewer turned professional beersmith Adam Mills has agreed to let us republish the following post which first appeared on his blog, Those Who Can't Teach, Brew. This excites us for two reasons: (1) It's a great resource for the wood-curious; and (2) it introduces us to three oaked beers from soon-to-open Cranker's Brewery, where Adam is head brewer and which is currently under construction in Big Rapids, MI.

A variety of oak for sale at Siciliano's
By Adam Mills

I have finally started using a brewing technique that I have wanted to try for years, brewing with oak. It all started for me by listening to an amazing show on The Brewing Network. One of their shows, The Sunday Session, had Shea Comfort on as a guest to talk about wine yeast and oak in beer.

Shea is amazing. His knowledge of wine and oak is incredible. He lays out basic flavor and aroma expectations for oaked beers, oaking techniques, and information about the various types and toast levels of oak. Now I am finally putting that information to work. Click here to link to the interview with Shea. (Please note, adult language is used in these podcasts, use headphones if the kids are in the room). Also, do yourself a favor and check out this article on oak from the Brewing Network's Jason Petros, who has done a lot of work with oak and cacao nibs in beer. There is a ton of great info in these two sources.

You have a couple ways you can use oak in your beers, during fermentation and post fermentation. First, when you utilize oak in the ferment you lose some of the compounds that will be metabolized by the yeast, and oak aromatics will blow off with the vigor of fermentation. So why oak the ferment you ask? For body and structuring tanins. French and Hungarian oak especially lend slight notes of spice, roast coffee, and mild woodsyness, but these oaks in particular will lend a fullness and complexity to the body of the beer. Secondly, you can use oak after fermentation. This is where you will get the fullness of what oak can contribute to a beer: aromatics, flavors, and structuring tannins. You can mix and match these techniques to crate very unique beers.

Before adding oak to beers, this is how I handle it. I use one ounce of oak at a time. I put that ounce into a small microwaveable jar with 1/4 cup of water and microwave it until it just starts to boil, let it sit for a bit, then repeat. Do this with your container covered to effectively steam your cubes (I use cubes for the greater flavor complexity they offer over chips). Then they can be added to your fermenter or keg for aging. This steaming method also helps to extract flavors and aromas from the wood to jumpstart the oaking process, sort of like an instant infusion. You will see what I mean after you smell the container you steamed the oak in. Oak your beers to taste, usually shoot for one to two weeks. Please be patient with your oaked beers, and give them at least a few weeks to put themselves together after packaging. Your patience will be rewarded.

I did my only me second oaked beer just a few weeks ago, a batch of my Old Siberian Winter Warmer. As brewed for the first time as a pilot batch, it is like a slightly strong malt-forward english brown ale featuring American medium toast oak post fermentation. Early tastings of it have encouraged me to make my next two beers oaked as well.

Later this week I will be brewing my Fifth Voyage Coconut Porter. For this beer I will utilized medium toast Hungarian oak during fermentation. Again, the goal here is to capitalize on the positive structuring tannins that the Hungarian oak is good for, along with very minor flavor and aroma potential. I am using this as a way of fleshing out the complexity of my porter's body, in hopes of an interesting complex beer.

In short order after Fifth Voyage, I will be brewing Irish Breakfast, an oatmeal stout that will get fed oak at both stages, fermentation and post ferment. It is a standard oatmeal stout brewed to 4.7%. I like the idea of brewing low-gravity, high-flavor session ales. The first year of my homebrewing career was spent on these small beers; they can be wonderful. With Irish Breakfast I use a blend of oak, both French and American. I plan on using heavy toast French in the ferment to, again, bolster and add complexity to the body, and American medium toast to drive in some of the vanilla, caramel, and aromatic sweetness notes to the beer.

I will keep you up to date on the progress of these beers, and I hope that you would touch base with me about your own adventures into the world of brewing with oak.

Drink good beer with good people!

Stay tuned to The Buzz for more offerings from Adam. Or, get it straight from the source by checking out Adam's blog. (He is currently in the middle of an interesting series in which he documents a weekend trip to Belgium.) You can also follow @adammmills on Twitter.

This post originally appeared on Adam's blog on January 10, 2012.

Friday, January 27, 2012

New Beer Friday - January 27 Edition

A Belgo Trio
By Chris Siciliano

Last week, only one new beer. This week, that number balloons to fifteen, proving once and for all that the universe tends toward equilibrium. (It's a yin & yang, feast & famine kind of thing.)

A handful of interesting Belgians are among the several new items added in recent days to Siciliano's beer department. These in addition to a fine new selection of brews from that other great beer state, Colorado. Speaking of the Great Beer State (the real one), just yesterday Michigan turned 175. I tell you what, though, it doesn't look a day over 163. And in people years that's only thirty-seven.

Here's wishing many happy returns to our beloved mitten-like landmass. Cheers!

New (and Returning) Beers

  • Dark Horse Fore Smoked Stout, $1.79/12oz - "Brewed with all malted barley and peat malt (smoked malt). This beer is full bodied with chocolate, roasted barley flavors, and a smokey almost BBQ finish" (source).
  • Boulder Beer Co. Never Summer Ale, $1.79/12oz - An "aggressive winter seasonal, deep ruby in color, assertively hopped and brewed with dark caramel malt" (source).
  • Shiner Dortmunder, $1.49/12oz - "Shiner Dortmunder has a smooth, well-rounded flavor – the perfect fit for any Springtime activity. Because of the unique nature of the style, Shiner Dortmunder is sure to satisfy the palate of a diverse crowd" (source).
  • Mississippi Mud Black & Tan, $3.99/32oz - "Dating back to 18th century England, the custom of blending pale and dark beers has kept the 'Black & Tan' a favorite of experienced beer drinkers for centuries. Our famous recipe combines a robust English Porter with a fine Continental Pilsner, preserving the character of each, while creating the classic taste of the legendary "Black & Tan." In true American style, we bring you the best of both beers as they meet in Mississippi Mud" (source).
  • Fort Collins The Incredible Hop Imperial Black IPA, $9.59/12oz - According to the label, this "highly hopped" beer "tricks your mouth as the hops and carafa malts play off each other in strange symmetry."
  • Fort Collins Rocky Mountain IPA, $1.99/12oz - "We made [this] IPA by dry-hopping for an intense floral aroma and adding a generous helping of malt to create a backbone stable enough to support the characteristic bitterness of the beer" (source).
  • Fort Collins Without a Doubt Chocolate Stout, $1.99/12oz - "Big chocolate and roast flavors abound as subtle hop bitterness evens out the sweetness of a rich malt profile" (source).
  • Fort Collins Kidd Black Lager, $1.99/12oz - "Chocolate malt lends Kidd its color while German Tettnang hops create the minimal bitterness of this brew" (source).
  • Fort Collins Red Banshee, $1.99/12oz - A "tempting combination of crystal and wheat malts for an impeccable soft caramel flavor punctuated by piquantly spicy character of Willamette and Tettnang hops" (source).
  • Scaldis Triple, $10.39/550ml - "Most Triples have honeyed, praline and burnt sugar (caramel) qualities. In characteristic Dubuisson style, Scaldis Blonde Triple is much drier with higher white sugar notes, redolent of vanilla icing, meringue and marshmallow. Married to these lighter, more delicate sugar notes is a heady aroma of white peaches and pears, a hint of astringency and a tight, Champagne-like sparkle. Suitable for cellaring. 10.5% ABV" (source).
  • Avril Biere De Table, $9.29/750ml - "Bières de table are not the heavy hitters Belgium is so famous for – but are central to Belgian beer culture because they are how Belgians learn to appreciate beer. They are typically enjoyed with home cooked meals at the family dining table. There is no finer example of the style than Avril. USDA-certified, organic Avril is aromatic like fresh bread, full in the mouth and light on the finish. Exceptionally flavorful given its low 3.5% alcohol by volume" (source).
  • Moinette Foret Blanche, $10.69/750ml - "Foret Blanche is 5.5% ABV. The color is a foggy golden honeycomb color. In the Dupont fashion, it is drier than most wit biers, with a more yeasty, tart profile. A rare and delicious interpretation of the wheat beer style from the champion of organic beers in Belgium" (source).
  • Moinette Biere de Meil, $12.19/750ml - "Bière de Miel is pale golden, with a beautiful aroma of honeycomb delicately accented by orange and citrus notes. The richness coaxes the palate into thinking the beer is sweet—but the finish is close to bone dry with a noticeable hop tang" (source).
  • McChouffe Belgian Brown Ale, $12.19/750ml - "The Mc Chouffe is an unfiltered dark beer, which is re-fermented in the bottle as well as in the keg. Behind its fruity flavour a slight hint of bitterness may be found" (source).
  • Bockor Bellegems Bruin Sour/Wild Ale, $4.49/11.2oz - "Originally called 'Ouden Tripel', this ancient West Flanders Brown beer has found a new élan as a regional specialty under its current name: Bellegems bruin. The main ingredients of our Bellegems Bruin are malted barley, wheat, hops, water, and caramelized malts. These are used to brew a bottom-fermented beer. Blending this beer with lambic beer aged in oak for 18 months results in this specific West Flanders Brown beer. Its typical flavour is characterized by a well-balanced, hardly noticeable sourness. This first flavour impression is soon followed by a second pleasant discovery: a slight bitterness followed by a hint of sweetness" (source).
Picture of the Week

Contained within this space-age looking package are green (raw) coffee beans,
the newest addition to Siciliano's Do-It-Yourself Department.
Stay tuned to The Buzz for more information!


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Happy Birthday, Michigan, and many happy returns

Exactly one year ago today The Buzz went live. We're marking the occasion by republishing the inaugural post. Fitting it should commemorate an anniversary infinitely more important than our own.

Siciliano's MI beer cooler, circa Jan. 2011
By Chris Siciliano

On January 26th, 1837, our still-young nation welcomed the newest and most appendage-like state into the Union. Who would have guessed that 174 175 years later the 26th state in order of admittance would be among the best in terms of beery goodness. In honor of our great state's 174th 175th birthday, the staff at Siciliano's has put together a special mix-pack of mitten-centric brews. Not only do these six beers hail from 'America's High Five', all share names with Michigan (ghost) towns, landmarks, or geological features. What better way to mark the occasion than by imbibing the very essence of our 'pleasant peninsula'.

And just to make it fun, we've created a beer quiz to mark the occasion. Match the beer with it's namesake; win the admiration of all your friends. Good luck!

1. Bell's Two Hearted Ale
2. Bell's Kalamazoo Stout
3. Saugatuck Brewing Co. Singapore IPA
4. Shorts Brewing Co. Bellaire Brown
5. Bell's Third Coast Beer
6. Michigan Brewing Co. Mackinac Pale Ale

A. a term "generally used to refer to the Great lakes region," specifically Michigan.
B. a college town in southwest Michigan; yes it really does exist!
C. a bridge or island; in either case, a popular MI tourist destination.
D. a small, yet beer-rich town near Traverse City, MI.
E. a trout river in the UP made famous by Papa Hemingway and Nick Adams.
F. a ghost town on Lake Michigan, near Saugutuck.

Thanks to all our readers
for making The Buzz' first year a success!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New bins for bulk grain supply - coming soon!

Ever on the look-out for ways to improve Siciliano's, the boss & co. recently tackled the problem of the homebrew deparment's unwieldy grain bins.

So long, suckers!
By Steve Siciliano

While we are proud of the fact that we carry over seventy grains in bulk for our homebrew customers, we are decidedly not proud of the way they have been merchandised. When the grain bins are full they are difficult to move and those customers (and staff) who are shorter than six feet have a hard time muscling them down from the upper tier of shelves. After mulling over this problem for awhile I think we've finally come up with a solution—the Vittles Vault Stackable 60. (Click here to see a picture.)

These airtight, food-grade containers can hold up to sixty pounds of grain. We will use them to merchandise the specialty and flaked malts and will stack them only two high so there will be no more overhead reaching and scooping. We will also be placing our base malt containers on casters so they can be easily moved to the weigh station.

We hope to have these changes in effect by mid-February.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Tuesday Review: Big Bob's Pizza

Margarita & deluxe, both delicious
By Steve Siciliano

When two of our homebrew customers told me they bought a business called Big Bob’s Pizza, what immediately came to mind was the ubiquitous take-out pizza shop—a small storefront, a few Formica-covered tables tucked into a cramped dining area, a stand-up cooler half-stocked with two liter sodas and a scattering of Italian-themed what-not adorning the walls. But after they informed me that the restaurant has a bar and they were focusing on craft beer, I decided that alone was reason enough for a visit. And so on a snowy Thursday evening I went with my wife Barb, my son Chris and his fiance Gena across town to the restaurant’s East Grand Rapids location.

Big Bob’s is located at 661 Croswell Avenue about a half block south of Wealthy. The business first opened on the west side of Grand Rapids in 1983 and twice relocated before moving to its current Gaslight Village location. Ample free parking, awning-covered front windows and a large dining area decorated with craft beer signage are just some of the things that distinguish this neighborhood restaurant from the run-of-the-mill pizza joint.

The night we visited Big Bob’s we were quickly seated and our waiter promptly appeared with menus and took our drink orders. Gena chose a glass of Primal Roots Cabernet while the rest of our party ordered from a selection of draft beers listed on a chalkboard above the bar—a Centennial IPA for Barb, a Brooklyn Brown for Chris and for me the Blue Point Toasted Lager.

While we enjoyed our beverages we perused the restaurant’s extensive menu. Pizza is the featured item here but besides the nine pies offered in regular, thin or thick crusts there are appetizers, salads, calzones, pasta dishes, sandwiches, wraps and subs. We were all in the mood for pizza so we decided on two thin crust pies—the Margarita and Big Bob’s Deluxe.

A note about the owners. Matthew McWebb and Rob Lutz bought Big Bob’s Pizza in March of 2011. McWebb, 49, continues to run his packaging business while Lutz, 29, left a sales job with Monsma Marketing last September to help manage the restaurant with his sister and general manager, Jennifer Brandow. McWebb and Lutz are avid home brewers and are in the process of obtaining a brew pub license. They hope to have six of their own beers on tap within the coming year. Plans are also in the works to expand the restaurant’s outdoor seating by the beginning of this summer.

When our food arrived we ordered another round of drinks then dug into the perfectly cooked, thin-crusted pies. I alternated between slices of the deluxe with its toppings of ham, pepperoni, mushroom, onion, green pepper and crumbled bacon, and the Margarita, which featured olive oil sauce, sliced tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. All four of us self-proclaimed pizza snobs agreed that these pies were well above average.

In addition to the constantly changing line-up of drafts, Big Bob’s offers over twenty beers in bottles, the majority of those being made in Michigan. While that should be incentive enough for a craft beer lover to visit this local establishment, when Matthew and Rob begin producing their own hand-crafted brews, the incentive will be even greater.

Brooklyn Brown & Blue Point Toasted Lager, just two of
the many beers available at Big Bob's Pizza
at the time of our visit.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Hopslam Bedlam

Having too much Hopslam is hardly a problem. Just be sure you don't try to drink it all at once.

By Steve Siciliano

At the store last week a few of us were discussing how quickly Hopslam was flying off the shelves. Sarah "The Cheetah" Derylo recalled an amusing incident that happened back when this now immensely popular double IPA was still new to the scene. A customer asked former staffer Wes Eaton if it was hoppy. In response Wes picked up a bottle, straight-faced, and simply pointed to the label. "Dude, you see this guy? He's being crushed by a giant hop."

That same year I foolishly procured a keg of Hopslam for our annual Siciliano's winter employee party—not one of my wiser decisions. To protect the not so innocent I'll refrain from going into details. But let me tell you, that smooth as silk ten-per-center sneaked up on all of us. The result was nothing short of bedlam.

I look forward to Hopslam's release each year, not only because it's an exceptional brew, but also because it's one of the few highly anticipated releases where there's beer enough to go around. Seasoned retailers will tell you it's best to keep the customer happy—that's easy to do when everybody's had their fill of Hopslam.

Friday, January 20, 2012

New Beer Friday - January 20 Edition

By Chris Siciliano

Well folks there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that Siciliano's took delivery of only one new beer this week. The good news is that it's a doozy, one of the most anticipated releases of the year. Of course we're talking about Bell's Hopslam ($2.99/12oz), that delicious double IPA which finds itself so often at the center of hopular debate—is it the best India Pale Ale, imperial or otherwise, made in the United States, or even in the world?

Legions of Slam fans say yes. The brewery just says this, and it's enough: "Starting with six different hop varietals added to the brew kettle & culminating with a massive dry-hop addition of Simcoe hops, Bell's Hopslam Ale possesses the most complex hopping schedule in the Bell's repetoire. Selected specifically because of their aromatic qualities, these Pacific Northwest varieties contribute a pungent blend of grapefruit, stone fruit, and floral notes. A generous malt bill and a solid dollop of honey provide just enough body to keep the balance in check, resulting in a remarkably drinkable rendition of the Double India Pale Ale style" (source).

If Hopslam alone can't satisfy your weekly New Beer Friday cravings, we have a few more beer-related tidbits to share with you.

NBF Notes

  • On Wednesday our friends at Vander Mill in Spring Lake, MI posted this on our Facebook page, and it's worth repeating: "We just finalized our microbrewing license and will be coming out with a line of beers this spring! We intend to showcase our new beer at the upcoming Winter Beer Fest at Fifth Third Ball Park next month. All of our beers are going to compliment our business. For example, yesterday we brewed a Belgian Golden Strong Ale with 20% of the fermentables being cider and should come in around 10% abv. Look for more fruit based beers like this in the future. That's fruit....NOT FRUITY...big difference!" Sounds great, Vander Mill, be sure to keep us in the loop.
  • Siciliano's staffer Doug "The Chug" Dorda is leading two "Introduction to Homebrewing" seminars at this weekend's Great Fox Brew Ha Ha at the DeltaPlex. Doug's first talk is Friday at 6pm and his second is 3pm on Saturday. If you or someone you know is at all interested in learning the basics of homebrewing, this is a great way to get started, especially with all the other activities going on. Can't make the Brew Ha Ha but still interested in learning to brew? Stop into Siciliano's anytime and a member of our staff will be happy to answer any/all questions. 
  • Last Friday one new beer came in too late to make it to the list. That beer was New Holland Night Tripper Imperial Stout ($8.19/22oz), "an Imperial Stout brewed for a Fat Tuesday release. Dark, mysterious and poetic, Night Tripper’s abundance of roasted malts, combined with flaked barley create a rich, roasty beer with deeply intense and lush flavors. Night Tripper’s layered, nuanced tones invite intrigue and reward a curious palate. Beads and masks aren’t required, but are encouraged" (source).
  • The Buzz' crack team of investigative journalists recently discovered several skids or never-before-seen cans in Vivant's brewhouse. Sources tell us the cans in question will soon be filled with Kludde, Vivant's popular Belgian Strong Dark Ale. Look for it in the coming weeks at Siciliano's.
A Kludde awakening

Quote of the Week

"I had to run into Meijers yesterday and I was so nervous having that case of Hopslam in my backseat that I made sure to hide it under my laptop so nobody would steal it."

~Eric Hoffman, via Facebook

Eric Hoffman with the Hopslam in question


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Gathering to remember—no, celebrate—a life

Last November the Siciliano's lost a beloved member of the family. Our Aunt Cam succumbed to Parkinson’s Disease at an age when she should have been easing into retirement and spending more time with her grandchildren. Dominic Siciliano, guest contributor and the boss' son, weighs in on the roles that family, food, and drink play in the celebration of a life.

By Dominic Siciliano

Aunt Cam was over most every weekend when my brother Chris and I were boys. As a small business owner and retailer, our father worked every Saturday. Aunt Cam kind of hung out and lent a hand on these mornings. To this day, the sound and smell of percolating coffee reminds me of her.

Above all else Aunt Cam cherished spending time with family. Naturally, as we all gathered for her funeral, it was essential for us to remember her and mourn the loss. Just as essential was for all of us to come together to celebrate her life.

It has always been a tradition in our family to gather at somebody's house in the time following a funeral. Folks first stop off at home and get into comfortable clothing. They pick up food. They pick up homemade wine and plenty of beer and who knows, maybe even a pint or fifth of whiskey.

From the time I was a boy, it was my grandmother and grandfather who would hold this event. I remember running and playing with my cousins beneath the tables, in and around the sounds of my uncles and aunts eating, drinking, arguing, laughing and toasting the family member who had passed.

My grandparents are now eighty-one and eight-two, and with Thanksgiving looming, my dad and Barb stepped up to invite everyone to their house. It's fitting that the first born son would take up the tradition. Actually it was perfect.

Barb laid out a platter of salami, capicola, and provolone. “Whoa! Top-shelf stuff,” my grandpa proclaimed when he walked in to see the spread. Barb had gone to Russo’s to get the meat. “I know what you like,” she told my grandpa. Barb complimented the platter with relishes, hot peppers, olives, and more cheese. Others brought desserts and spicy turkey. Grandma made her garlicy potatoes and beans. It’s a simple country Italian dish—potatoes, green beans and tons of garlic, but man it compliments just about any meal well.

Right away I grabbed some meat and cheese and a chunk of my brother's homemade bread, making up a plate for myself and three of my four kids (the youngest is still a baby). As I worked my way around the table, more family members arrived carrying even more desserts, cheeses, main courses.

I made my way out to the garage where the guys were gathering around a foldout table, sitting on folding chairs and lawn chairs. The smell of spicy Italian sausages on the grill served as backdrop for my first beer. Needless to say, we were celebrating Aunt Cam the right way.

My grandpa opened his homemade Italian red wine and poured huge glasses to place them in front of anyone who didn’t refuse him more than once. My Grandpa Sam may be eighty-one, but he isn’t timid. He poured his own serving—not a dainty one, but a pint glass full, the only thing in front of him—and he began to gulp the homemade vino down.

I chose to attack the eight pack of Vivant Farmhouse Ale that my cousin Jacob brought from the brewery. Both the beer and the glass were cool from sitting in the November air. That first sip was satisfying—the subtle yeasty flavors and hoppy backbone stood straight up against the sharp flavors of the provolone, capicola and spicy pepper olive relishes.

Farmhouse Ale was my go-to beer the entire afternoon. That doesn’t mean I didn’t try the homemade wine that Grandpa continued to pour in waves. Nor did I pass on several toasts of the Buillet, a bourbon my Dad picked up special for the day.

My dad and Barb have a nice space heater that puts out good heat but we would have been in the garage regardless. It was a pleasant day for November and we Siciliano’s prefer to do our drinking outside. Also the old man recently put a dartboard up, just like in the old days, and I try never to miss an opportunity to beat him, especially on his home turf.

Later I took on my Uncle Mark, one of the best, and was actually beating him for awhile. During our game my three daughters came streaming out of the house, their pink and purple winter coats hanging half on, half off their little arms, their mom yelling at them from the door—‘Pull those coats on, zip em up!’ They listened to her and pulled at their zippers a little as they scurried off to run with their cousin. Sure it was my job to watch them but I had other matters to attend to. Uncle Mark was staging a comeback, and anyway with their older cousin looking out for them the girls would be just fine.

I’m not sure my girls even knew why we were gathered. I do know that they were having a great time, running back and forth from the cold, smokey garage to the warm room in the house where Grandma and Aunt Laurie were holding court with the other cousins and babies.

Through all this no one lost sight of the reason we were there—to remember and celebrate Aunt Cam’s life. Aunt Cam’s stories. Memories of her and Uncle Pete weaved their way through each game of darts, through all the drink and food and conversation. I brought out some old photo albums from the 1970’s and we laughed at the clothing and the hairdos.

Funny, the people in the photos, although all looked younger, all had changed only a little. And some had passed away. It's the events in the photos that reveal the layers of tradition that make our family what it is, how food and drink is almost always front and center—at weddings and funerals, on trips Up North, during Saturday morning coffee sessions, at Sunday dinners, dart and ball games, reunions and trips to the beach.

And through it all was Aunt Cam, the person for whom we were gathered. We miss her and we wish her peace, and that day we celebrated her life the right way, the way we celebrated the aunts and uncles, the grandmothers and grandfathers who had passed on before her.

We hope she smiled down on us and approved of the gathering. If I know Aunt Cam, she was happy with the party.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Tuesday Review: North Coast Old No. 38

By Chris Siciliano

During the cold, dark months of winter it's often the beer powerhouses that dominate our affection most. Founders Breakfast Stout, New Holland Dragon's Milk, Arcadia Shipwreck Porter—the list goes on, and for good reason. With higher ABVs, deliciously warming overtones, and occasional echoes from the bourbon barrel or coffee pot, no other beers are better suited for cold weather than the aforementioned. (Did I mention the higher ABVs?)

But the fact is that for this beer fan the heavyweights sometimes pack too much punch. I like a beer with dinner, and I like to drink more than one. While I will always appreciate the merits of an well-made RIS or barrel-aged barley wine, when selecting a beer to accompany my meal, these days I'm more likely to pick one that is, well, less a meal in and of itself.

So to what do I turn in the cold of January, at dinnertime, when that voice inside me begins to whisper, stout, stout, stout? Enter North Coast Old No. 38, a medium-bodied, extremely well-balanced beer with enough complexity and flavor to satisfy any cold-weather craving.

The Beer, Reviewed

According to the website of California-based North Coast Brewing Co., Old No. 38 is a "Dublin dry stout...with the toasted character and coffee notes of dark malts and roasted barley." The great beer writer Michael Jackson called it "a wonderful ale" and "possibly the best stout made in America" (source). Moreover, in Randy Mosher's book Tasting Beerthe author lists Old No. 38 among the finest examples in the category of the Irish Dry Stout (163). Not bad for a beer that has its traditional origin overseas.

To my taste Old No. 38 is on the dry side and very clean, replete with flavors typically associated with chewier, sweeter beers—rich chocolate up front and in the nose, cocoa powder and coffee in the finish (which lingers wonderfully by the way). In fact, it's these flavors combined with the near total absence of residual sweetness that appeals to me most. I could drink two or three Old No. 38s and not feel overburdened by the weight.

Conversely, the bitterness of the roasted barley is not overdone. Far from it. The moderate "roastiness" of this beer functions as the backbone, giving structure to the caramel creaminess intimated by the darker malts. Overall it's a supremely balanced stout, chocolatey and rich without being sweet, roasty without too much bitterness, satisfying without feeling like you finished off an entire chocolate cake.

Suggested Pairings

Relatively diminutive in body but otherwise full of flavor, Old No. 38 strikes me as a good match for a big hamburger with all the fixings. In particular, the beer's pleasant chocolatey overtones will really sing when combined with the salt of regular or sweet potato French fries (more and more common in restaurants these days). Malt vinegar for dipping in place of ketchup might even emphasize the effect.

North Coast Old No. 38 is available all year-round at Siciliano's ($1.89/12oz). It checks in at 5.5% ABV and 53 IBUs. The official style is Dublin or Irish Dry Stout,
depending on the source.


Monday, January 16, 2012

2012 Hop Rhizomes, Pre-Order Now!

Editor's Note: The pre-order for hop rhizomes is officially over.

By Greg "Swig" Johnson

Even though we may have just gotten our first real snow here in West Michigan and it seems that winter is finally settling in, here at Siciliano's we are always thinking about what the next season might hold. It is once again that time of year that we do our pre-order for hop rhizomes. The varieties of hop rhizomes that will be available are as follows:

    • Cascade
    • Centennial
    • Chinook
    • Columbus
    • Fuggle
    • Glacier
    • Golding
    • Hallertau
    • Magnum
    • Northern Brewer
    • Nugget
    • Tettnang
    • Willamette 
Rhizomes are $5.00* each and the deadline for pre-orders is Sunday, February 26th. We expect the rhizomes to arrive around the end of March. The exact date cannot be provided at this time because weather dictates appropriate harvesting conditions for the rhizomes. Once we know the rhizome delivery schedule, we will notify you of the exact pick-up dates. 

Please note, due to the perishable nature of rhizomes, individuals will have only ten calendar days to pick up their order(s). Those unable to stop in during that time should contact us to make the necessary alternative arrangements. After ten days all remaining rhizomes will be released for general sale.

To order rhizomes please email (preferred method) or contact Siciliano's by phone or in person, or by fax (616-453-9687). When ordering, please specify full name, contact information (email address if available), variety and quantity of the rhizome(s) you desire.

For more information on growing rhizomes, please refer to the excellent books for sale at Siciliano's and/or to the pdf resources provided by our rhizome suppliers. And, as always, we invite you to contact Siciliano's directly with any questions you might have.

Homebrew club discounts will apply.

Hops on the vine

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Beer Friday - January 13 Edition

By Chris Siciliano

Sierra Nevada Rye IPA
All week long West Michigan's meteorologists predicted that one humdinger of a snowstorm would hit us by the weekend. At Siciliano's the staff and customers were busy developing theories of their own. Some were unabashedly skeptical of the weatherman's professional opinion. Others, whether they took the forecast seriously or not, embraced the threat of bad weather as an excuse to stock up on more beer.

As of Friday morning Grand Rapids had managed to avoid the heaviest accumulation. Most places were hit with 5-7 inches, however, enough to make the world feel right again. After all, it's January, it's Michigan, and until this "event", the eerie absence of winter had people feeling out of sorts.

What also makes the world feel right is a good-sized list of new items in the beer department at Siciliano's. Enthusiasts willing to brave inclement weather and superstition (it's Friday the 13th, you know) will find themselves duly rewarded for the trip.

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Arcadia Imperial Stout 2010, $3.89/12oz - "True to style, [this] Imperial Stout is full-bodied and warming, with a creamy texture. Boasting rich, roasty aromas and flavors of roasted coffee, black currants, plums, and bittersweet cocoa, this beer certainly packs a punch. A generous hop addition adds a level of complexity and balance, along with a pleasant bitterness" (source). 
  • Napa-Smith Bon Fire Imperial Porter, $2.59/12oz - "Each year we produce a limited amount of Bonfire Imperial Porter to complement the winter season. Bonfire has a medium-full body, with complex coffee, chocolate and dark caramel flavors. The spicy character given by additions of Mt. Hood, Cluster and Perle hops balance the generous malt presence, which finishes with a subtle sweetness. Bonfire will please lovers of big, smooth dark beers" (source).
  • Kuhnhenn "9" Belgian Ale, $3.59/12oz - "A brown, Belgian-style abbey ale. Caramel, banana, biscuit and fruity-aromas contribute to the balance of this strong, complex beer. A sweet, bready and caramel flavor follows with a silky, creamy finish" (source).
  • Round Barn Brewery, Baroda, MI - It's been at least three months since Siciliano's had anything from this Baroda, MI brewery. According to the new distributor, supply should no longer be a problem. Varieties include:
      • Cocoa Stout, $2.29/12oz - "boasts a beautiful black body and tan head with notes of roasted barley, coffee, and bittersweet chocolate" (source).
      • Oak-aged IPA, $2.29/12oz - "First taste of this IPA and you immediately pick up light oak and hop bitterness which gives this beer a nice balanced finish. Oak IPA pairs well with spicy foods or a nice seafood dish" (source).
      • Kolsch, $1.99/12oz - "A golden-blonde ale that is our version of Cologne's native style. Soft, subtle maltiness and a clean finish make it a great thirst-quencher" (source).
      • Amber, $1.99/12oz - "A great all-around beer that pairs well with roasted meats or a favorite sandwich" (source).
  • Pyramid Hefeweizen, $1.59/12oz - "A unique take on the traditional Bavarian classic, this refreshingly unfiltered wheat ale delivers a distinctively smooth flavor worth savoring with friends" (source).
  • Crispen Stagger Cider, $2.59/12oz - "Blended three times using apple-wines aged in American rye whiskey barrels" (source).
  • Schell Bock, $1.49/12oz - "Brewed with a harmonious blend of 10 different types of malt and noble hops, Schell's Bock is fermented slowly, and then lagered for an extended period of time to ensure a smooth finish. Perfect for passing even the coldest winter day" (source).
  • Sierra Nevada Ruthless Rye, $1.59/12oz - "Ruthless IPA is brewed with this rustic grain for refined flavors – combining the peppery spice of rye and the bright citrusy flavors of whole-cone hops to create a complex ale for the tumultuous transition to Spring" (source).
  • Shorts Woodmaster, $2.19/12oz - "An Imperial Brown Ale made with toasted pecans and Northern Michigan maple syrup" (source).
Picture(s) of the Week

This week's pictures come courtesy of Buzz contributor and bread-head Jeff Carlson. In Jeff's words, the photos are of "some breads I made for my wife's family's Christmas gathering, along with some homemade pastrami, which went really well with the Jewish rye my brother-in-law made."

From left, braided white, marble rye, spent grain, Swedish limpa, and Jewish deli rye,
along with some kaiser rolls 
And the pastrami, homemade
Remember, folks, the Buzz can always use interesting food- and/or beer-related pictures like Jeff's here. If you've got a good one, send it our way. Who knows, it might just be our next "Picture of the Week".


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Tea 101: An introduction

Bulk tea for sale at Siciliano's
In which the boss writes on the origin, production, and varieties of tea.

By Steve Siciliano

A Chinese legend relates how an emperor named Shennong was in his garden tending a small pot of boiling water when a few leaves from a nearby tree blew into the vessel. Because Shennong was innovative and inquisitive (he is credited with discovering medicinal plants, showing his subjects how to use a plow and teaching them the basics of agriculture), he scooped out a cup of the infused liquid and took a sip. He was, according to this most-likely apocryphal tale, the first person to experience the pleasures of the beverage we now know as tea.

If those leaves had indeed blown into the emperor’s pot they would have come from camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub indigenous to Southeast Asia. If allowed to grow unabated, tea plants can reach heights of more than fifty feet. When cultivated on tea plantations, however, they are pruned to waist-high levels and only the top tier of leaves called flushes are used in tea production.

After the flushes are harvested they are either left to dry in the sun or are placed in cool, breezy rooms where they quickly begin to wilt. After wilting the flushes may be shook in baskets or kneaded, rolled and crushed by machinery. This “bruising” breaks down the leaves’ cell structures allowing enzymes to begin the process of oxidation. As the leaves oxidize they turn progressively darker and different flavor components are produced. Heat is then applied at predetermined stages causing the enzymes to deactivate and oxidation to halt. How the leaves are processed and to what degree they are allowed to oxidize determines which variety of tea is produced.

White Tea is a rare variety made from leaves that are allowed to wither for a short period in sunlight which results in a small degree of natural oxidation. The leaves are, however, soon heated to prevent the oxidative enzymes from working. This process results in a delicately flavored tea that doesn’t have the grassy notes of green tea.

Green Tea is not wilted but is allowed to go through a slight amount of enzymatic oxidation. The flavors are often described as fresh, light, green or grassy.

Oolong Tea leaves are wilted, bruised and then oxidized to a degree somewhere between that of green and black teas. Depending at which point the oxidation is stopped, oolongs can be woody with sweet earthly undertones or flowery and a bit vegetal.

Black Tea leaves are withered, bruised and allowed to undergo the highest degree of oxidation. They are stronger in flavor and contain more caffeine than the less oxidized varieties. Black teas are often described as malty and robust are often flavored with fruits and flowers.

Yellow Tea is another rare variety that undergoes a process similar to green tea. It has a slower drying phase which allows the damp leaves to yellow rather than wilt. The taste of yellow tea is light and mild and the aroma is often describes as fresh and flowery. Because the process of making yellow tea is tedious and time consuming, it is the least produced and least known variety of tea.

While I rely on coffee to jump-start me in the morning, there are times during the day when I prefer a cup of tea. Lately I’m in the habit of sipping a mug of robust black tea and smoking a bowl of good Scottish tobacco while doing the pre-opening paperwork. It’s a good way to start the day. Sometimes after an afternoon nap at home in my recliner I’ll turn to a milder oolong to help disperse the cobwebs.

Throughout the centuries tea has been one of humanity’s most popular and beloved beverages. Whether we should credit its discovery to an ancient Chinese emperor, now that's still open to debate.

With the exception of the rare white and yellow varieties, Siciliano’s stocks a wide assortment of bulk teas. Tea is available in one-ounce increments, ranging in price from $0.59 - $1.89/oz.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Name that mill, final results

"Big Milldred"
By Chris Siciliano

Those following the "Name that Mill" contest will recall that voting ended last Thursday with a tie between Milldred and Millford Brimley. In a perfect world the Buzz staff would have been prepared for this scenario. Since the world is not perfect and, more to the point, since this contest is all for fun, with no real consequences, we're putting the thing to rest by retroactively enacting a tie-breaker clause, which is as follows.

In the event of a tie, the matter will be decided by Siciliano's Chief Executive Officer Steve Siciliano.

On Friday afternoon, this editor received an email with Steve's final, tie-breaking vote. It read simply, resolutely: "Let's call it Big Milldred." So there you go. The boss has spoken. The winner is decided. Big Mildred takes the day.

Lest the results seem unfair, we are officially giving the name Millford Brimley to Siciliano's Country Living flour mill, still a relatively recent acquisition. While we're at it, we're going to nickname our other three barley mills, though nobody, not customers, not staff, will ever be expected to refer to any of them by name—that's because, again, the contest is all for fun, a way to help spread the word about our new grist mill, and really nothing more. See the pictures below to learn the names that have been chosen.

"Millford Brimley"
"Barley Sanders"
"Brews Millis"

Friday, January 6, 2012

New Beer Friday - January 6 Edition

John's beard,
 courtesy of stouts like these
By Chris Siciliano

The polls are closed, the votes are in, the results are not what we expected. In the completely for-fun contest to christen our new mill, the names Milldred and Millford Brimley have tied for first place, turning the world on its head and leaving Buzz editors scrambling for a workable solution.

A tie is not something we planned for, folks, nor did we see it coming, not between these two candidates at least. As late as Tuesday evening early front-runner Milldred was all but cruising to victory; Millford Brimley, on the other hand, hadn't made much noise and, in fact, looked to be settling comfortably into the role of also-ran. How quickly things can change.

Anyway, while Siciliano's brass attends to the problem (what do you think we should do?), we suggest you turn your attention to this week's new beers, at least three of which are the kind of high-octane belly warmers that pair so well with these cold January nights. A trio of Russian Imperial Stouts, now there's a scenario where everybody wins. For complete contest results, see below.

New (and Returning) Beer

  • Founders Imperial Stout, $2.59/12oz - "Brewed with ten varieties of malted barley, this stout is smooth as silk, yet complex and rich in body. Serve this guy at cellar temperature. Put another log on the fire, sit back, and enjoy the friendship of this ultimate winter warmer" (source). Limit 4 bottles/customer
  • North Coast Barrel-aged Old Rasputin XII, $23.29/500ml - "Aging in oak whiskey barrels adds a level of complexity that amplifies the espresso/chocolate notes in the flavor profile and takes this unique beer to new heights" (source). Limit 1 bottle/customer.
  • Courage Russian Imperial Stout, $7.19/275ml - "A famous stout from the 18th and 19th centuries has been revived by Wells & Young's brewery in Bedford. Courage Russian Imperial Stout (10%) was last brewed in London in 1982 when Jim Robertson was working for Courage. Now he has recreated the beer at Bedford and restored a historic stout" (source).
  • Short's Good Samaritan, $1.99/12oz - "Brewed with local cider. Sweet apple aromas and spicy esters of clove, nutmeg, and allspice entice the nose. A pleasant crimson amber tone and slight haze give this beer an appearance similar to the cider it was made with, while malty hints of raisin and molasses balance the complex spiciness found throughout the profile. The finish is surprisingly clean with no particular flavor component resonating on the palette" (source).
  • Mt. Pleasant Crazy Train IPA, $1.99/12oz - "Syrup and honey give this beer an irresistible sweetness that makes it impossible to have just one. No matter what you pair this one with make sure you get plenty to eat or you might find out how this beer got its name" (source).
  • North Peak Wanderer Session IPA, $1.99/12oz - "The combination of full hop flavor and lower alcohol gives Wanderer a a wonderful drinkability! Wanderer has a light, clean and refreshing body, and is hopped with Perle, Willamette, Centennial and Citra hops that gives Wanderer a Citrus and Pine finish" (source).
  • B. Nektar The Naughty Ginger, $7.69/500ml - A carbonated mead "made with Michigan star thistle honey, fermented to about 5.5 percent ABV, with ginger, coriander and hops" (source).
  • B. Nektar Miel de Garde #1, $50.79/375ml - "A traditional mead made with orange blossom honey. Aged for 18 months in oak barrels. For the first release in our Miel de Garde line, we used the highest quality orange blossom honey available, then aged it in a neutral American oak barrel for 18 months. The result is a bright aromatic, decadent mead made for sipping. Serve at cellar temperature" (source).
  • Hamm's & Hamm's Light, $10.99/case, $0.59/12oz - A "session" beer in the truest sense of the word. This vintage commercial says it all, and says it best.

Final Results, "Name that Mill"

1st Place - Millford Brimley, Milldred (tied with 26 votes each)
3rd Place - Brews Millis (21 votes)
4th Place - The Barlinator (17 votes)
5th Place - Tiny (8 votes)
6th Place - Mill Cosby (3 votes)
7th Place - Barley Sanders (1 vote, write-in)
Dead Last - Mill Malton (0 votes)


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Name that mill, Lions playoff edition

This grain doesn't stand a chance
By Chris Siciliano

With three days left to vote in Siciliano's "Name that Mill" contest, two clear front runners are vying for the top spot, Milldred and Brews Millis. While Mill-ford Brimley and The Barlinator are battling it out for third, cellar-dwellers Mill Cosby and Mill Malton have given up all hope of placing.

In fact, so poor has been the showing by Mill Malton (an astounding zero votes thus far), Buzz editors have decided to add another name to the ballot. In honor of the Detroit Lions first playoff berth since 1999, and since the Apollo Econo 2-Row Mill is painted something close to Honolulu Blue (an official Lions' uniform color), we're adding Barley Sanders to the list, a name derived of course from the greatest running back of all time.

Our blogging software won't allow us to edit the ballot after the first vote is cast, so if you're a fan of Barley Sanders please write it (or any other name) in the comments section below. Also, if you've already voted, be sure to tell us the name you're changing from.

Go Lions!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Siciliano's year in review

The boss looks back at 2011, looks ahead to 2012. 

By Steve Siciliano

It would be an understatement to say that 2011 was a busy year for Siciliano’s Market. I’m not talking about sales, although business continues to be strong and I would like to thank all of our loyal customers for that. The busy-ness I’m referring to has to do with busting down walls, hiring contractors, meeting with a seemingly endless string of local and state officials, purchasing new racks and fixtures, finding a manufacturer to custom build stainless steel tanks for dispensing liquid malt, setting up the new west wing, remodeling the front end of the old space (east wing), installing two motorized malt mills, discovering that those mills couldn’t handle the volume of grain we put through them, purchasing a industrial-strength mill capable of handling the grinding needs of a small brewery and then seeing to it that the new mill was installed and operational during the busy, final week of December.

Then there was the addition of new products. During the past year we began carrying an extensive inventory of bulk ingredients for bread making, acquired a mill that allows our customers to grind their own flour and began carrying a line of soy milk makers. In 2011 we also acquired a new website, established an online store, hired a social media director and launched The Buzz. We held our largest homebrew competition to date, sponsored another round of seminars and hosted another successful homebrew party. Pheww!

Now that the busy holiday season is over it’s time to turn our attention to the upcoming year. The employees are already coming to me with ideas for new products and new ideas that would make Siciliano's even better. I have a few ideas of my own—hopefully this will be the year that we begin selling green coffee beans and home roasters. We’re also beginning to plan this year’s homebrew competition. We have been working on getting speakers for the May 4th seminars* and are currently discussing ideas for the 9th annual homebrew party to be held on May 5th at Johnson Park.

Thanks again for your support. I hope everyone has a happy and safe new year.

*Rob Gerrity, the field quality manager for Sierra Nevada, has already been confirmed.