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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Photo essay, road trip to SW Michigan

By Chris Siciliano

For weeks now this editor has done little else but carry on about Siciliano's forthcoming grain & flour department. Until recently I haven't had much in the way of tangible news to report. That all changed last Friday when the new flour mill arrived. Today I'm happy to relay even more good news -- we currently have sitting in the warehouse (though not yet for sale) several hundred pounds of whole grains, seeds, salt, sugar and flours.

The product arrived in-store Tuesday evening, not by UPS or FedEx delivery, but thanks instead to an intrepid crew of Siciliano associates who sacrificed their afternoon to secure the goods in person from a distributor in Southwest Michigan. And when I write "sacrificed the afternoon", I mean of course "barhopped all the way home". What can we say? At Siciliano's, even a bag of flour is just cause for celebration.

For photo highlights from the trip, please keep reading.

First stop: The Pullman Tavern (Pullman, MI). Here the fearless crew sampled this year's Oberon under the watchful gaze of (1) an actual Tyrannosaurus Rex; and (2) a misty temptress from times long-past.

Next time you're in Pullman, it's worth stopping in

An actual T-Rex eating an actual human hand

Oberon - the first sign of Spring...still waiting on Spring

Authentically Kraeusened - says so right on the label

The patriarch

The legendary temptress of Pullman

Second stop: Clementines (South Haven, MI). Wherein the crew enjoyed a mystery porter, admired a intricately-carved wooden eagle, sampled a previously unknown (to them) Michigan cider.

The intrepid crew

A pleasant discovery

Every bar should have one

Cheetah in the mirror

Mystery porter

So awesome it deserves a second look

Third Stop: The Thirsty Perch (South Haven, MI). Wherein the crew dined on many delectable fishes, and chicken wings.

Not to be confused with the Parched Perch, which is
a completely different restaurant

Circle of life, little perch, circle of life

Fourth stop: Saugatuck Brewing Co. (Saugatuck, MI). The crew was impressed by the quality of beer -- it's a brewery definitely worth the visit.

Great place for a pint

On-premise brewing

Brew kettles and such

Fifth & final stop: Siciliano's Market warehouse. Special thanks to the bossman Steve for getting everybody home safely (he's always the responsible one).

Product piled high in Siciliano's warehouse

Look for Siciliano's new flour/baking department to be up and running soon!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ladies & Gentleman, Mr. Harry Winston - Part 3

Who knows how he does it, but for three weeks running Steve has talked the ever-reticent, enigmatic Harry Winston into revealing more about his life. This week's installment finds Harry at Founders Brewing Co., sharing a pint or two with an especially troubled young lad. Enjoy!

No matter where I am, who I’m with, or what time I get to bed, it never takes long for me to fall asleep. While I’m waiting for sleep I use my imagination. Sometimes I place myself in a sleeping bag on a thick cushion of pine needles and I’m looking up at huge flakes of snow slowly drifting down through a high-branching canopy. Or I might be on a towering bluff listening to distant crashing waves while a full moon shines a long ribbon of shimmering light on a wide expanse of water. Other times I’m in an ink-black desert underneath a coal-black sky that is studded with millions of sparkling, blue-white diamonds. I always fall asleep that way and mostly I have pleasant dreams.

But the night Samantha Lowe called I couldn’t get my imagination to work; it took a long time to fall asleep, and when I did, I had the disturbing, reoccurring dream about the house where I lived when I was married. It’s always a cold, stormy night in the dream and I’m always trying to lock the door. I keep shutting the door and turning the latch but the door doesn’t lock. Then, when my ex-wife appears wet and shivering on the porch, the door doesn’t open.

The next morning while driving to the city I drifted back and forth between that dream and Samantha Lowe’s voice. In the bright light of the summer morning the dream, while still disturbing, seemed a little less so and the voice, while still full of complications, sounded a little less dangerous. I had a workout and a shower at the gym, picked up my mail at the post office, stopped by the police department, flirted with the female detectives, had a cup of coffee with O’Doyle, stopped by Siciliano’s for a paper and tobacco, then had breakfast at a diner on Fulton. While I ate I read the sports then went through my mail. There was a check and a nice “Thank You” note from a client, a credit card statement, the latest issues of Food and Wine and Bon Apetit, a catalog from Crouching Tiger Karate and an invitation to join ARP. On the way back to my car I threw the catalog and the ARP invitation into a trash container.

I spent the rest of the morning browsing through a used book store in East Town and that afternoon I buttoned up a case. It was the type of case I always hated working on and had stopped taking when I no longer had to worry about paying the bills. The only reason I did take it was because I felt sorry for the client, a young man, who I had met one day at Founders. I was sitting alone at the far end of the bar when I saw him wandering around the mostly empty tap room. He seemed to be looking for someone and I saw that he was a little drunk. There were unoccupied seats everywhere but he sat down next to me, studied the chalkboard like a desperate man studies a race track tote board, and ordered a Curmudgeon. When the bartender placed the tulip glass on the bar he stared at it a long time before taking a drink.

“That’s good,” he said, turning his head a little towards me.

“It is a good beer,” I said. “Pretty high alcohol.”

He gave a short laugh. “That’s why I ordered it.”

“I see.”

“You see what, friend?” There was an odd mingling of anger and melancholy in his voice.

“Nothing,” I replied. I finished off my pale, placed my mug on the inside edge of the bar and motioned for the bartender. The young man noticed the etched sobriquet.

“Gumshoe. What the hell’s a gumshoe?”

The bartender walked up. “Going to have another, Harry?”

“No, I’ve got to go.”

“What the hell’s a gumshoe?” the young man asked again.

“A private detective,” the bartender said. “Harry’s a private detective.”

“A private detective,” the young man said to himself. “A private detective,” he repeated softly. “A private detective,” he whispered a third time. “Mr. private detective, can I buy you a beer?”

I said no at first but when he said he wanted to hire me we moved to a table. While I nursed another pale he had two more Curmudgeons and I listened to his story.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Introducing Siciliano's new flour mill (video)

By Chris Siciliano

We at the Buzz are excited to announce that Siciliano's new flour mill arrived yesterday from Washington. Have a gander at the video below and tell us you're not as sold on the Country Living Grain Mill as we are.

Being the resident bread geek, this editor took it upon himself to test out the new mill with two pounds of hard red winter wheat berries, a portion of which I later used in my favorite pizza recipe. Results: I couldn't be happier. The wheat-meal was fine and pure, with a delicious, fresh, pungent aroma that I for one have never experienced with any pre-ground flour.

The resulting pizza, too, was better than expected. I used fresh-ground wheat for 40% of the total flour bill and, despite the flecks of bran, the dough came together beautifully. The crust baked up fragrant and nutty -- an excellent compliment to the mushrooms, onions, olives and spinach we piled on top. Or rather, the toppings were an excellent compliment to the crust, which, to be honest, definitely stole the show. Next up, sourdough!

Dough ball, close-up

Dough ball, a view from space

Pizza Siciliano

Final Notes
  • Even though our mill is motorized, it moves slower than you first expect -- in fact, it takes about 12 minutes to chew through one pound of grain. This is by design, in order to keep the flour from over-heating. Too much heat can damage gluten-producing proteins (bad for your bread) and degrade essential nutrients (bad for your health)*. Our mill is slow and steady and, best of all, it will give you plenty of time to pick out the right beer or six to wash down all that delicious bread and pizza.
  • Though the mill has arrived, our grain/flour order has not. We'll keep you updated as to when milling operations are scheduled to begin in earnest. (Sorry for the tease).
  • If our pizza looks funny, it's because I forgot to buy mozzarella. We used instead a liberal amount of good parmesan. It was a rather tasty accident, however, one I will surely make again.
*This according to "Flour Power: A guide to modern home grain milling" by Marleeta F. Basey

    Thursday, March 24, 2011

    Update V5.2 (random expansion pics - 4 of 'em)

    The title says it all...

    Left foot, east wing - right foot, west wing

    Mills grain, and monsters

    A sliding scale, literally!

    Portal to John Malkovich's head...or John Palmer's

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011

    Expansion Update, Volume 5.1

    In lieu of a conventional update, we have for you this week a "To-Do list", which, in the chaos of construction, must have somehow slipped off the boss man's desk and into the hands of the Buzz editorial staff.

    Siciliano's Expansion (West Wing Renovation) -- To Do List
    1. Tear out the old kitchen
    2. Get rid of restaurant equipment  
    3. Install new storefront
    4. Redo ceiling
    5. Learn to juggle
    6. Install new tile floor
    7. Put up and paint new dry wall
    8. Rewire electric for retail needs
    9. Install new lighting
    10. Eat less fiber
    11. Rewire walk-in freezer for hops/yeast
    12. Paint new customer bathroom  
    13. Forbid (male) employees from using new customer bathroom
    14. Order second Monster mill
    15. Order flour mill
    16. Locate whole grain & flour distributor
    17. Place orders for flour & grain 
    18. Order new book shelves
    19. Order new hardware racks (for kegging equipment)
    20. Nap
    21. Commission new counters from Grain-mill Greg
    22. Order honey pots for bulk liquid malt extract
    23. Quell employee revolt ("Let them drink beer!")
    24. Assemble shelves and racks
    25. Knock hole in wall
    26. Make hole in wall look nice 
    27. Shake head in bewilderment at growing size of to-do list
    28. Feel good about progress already made
    29. Refuse to rest on laurels  
    30. Schedule move-in date
    31. Announce grand re-opening
    32. Announce equipment/supply sale in conjunction with grand re-opening
    33. Order German wieners and root beer keg for customers at grand re-opening
    34. Book clown for grand re-opening
    35. Come to senses
    36. Cancel clown
    37. Move homebrew operations to new west wing
    38. Hold grand re-opening
    39. Relax for exactly nine minutes
    40. Shift focus to homebrew party, competition, and awards ceremony
    Bear with us, folks, we're almost there!

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    The Adventures of Harry Winston - Part 2

    At Steve's behest, longtime friend and Siciliano's customer Harry Winston is again today's Buzz contributor. In this week's offering, Harry recounts his first conversation with Samantha Lowe, a women it seems composed completely of contradictions.

    It was two in the morning when I first heard Samantha Lowe’s voice. I had just gotten home, had just gone to bed, and had just fallen asleep when the phone rang. While I listened to the ringing I thought about another woman -- the sad, red-haired woman I had met that night at Beason’s. I thought about the wisp of hair that kept dropping down her forehead. I thought about the woman's eyes -- those emerald-green, shining pools of sadness. I thought about her full, down-turning lips and how her diamond earrings sparkled in the dim light coming from the bar. She had smiled a little when she slipped my card under the cellophane of her cigarette pack: I thought about that too, and I hoped it was her, the redhead, on the other end of the line. When I answered the phone I was disappointed to find it wasn't.

    “This is Winston,” I said.

    “Is this Harry Wilson?”

    You may think I'm nuts but I can tell a lot about a woman from her voice. It’s a survival skill I've learned. Some survival skills have to be learned; others are just common sense. Sitting with your back to the wall is common sense. It’s common sense to be aware of someone walking behind you and watching someone’s hands when he’s walking toward you. But you have to learn how to read a woman’s voice. It’s a skill you develop. When you’re in my business knowing how to do things like that keep you alive. “Is this Harry Wilson?’” Let me tell you what I read in Samantha Lowe’s voice -- I knew that she was an angel, and a demon. That she could be the promise of heaven, or the threat of hell. That she could be kind, or she could be ruthless. Samantha Lowe’s voice told me that she was a woman who could kill.

    “It’s Winston,” I said. “Harry Winston.”

    “Oh. I’m looking for Harry Wilson. You’re not Harry Wilson?”

    I was disappointed that the voice wasn’t the redhead’s. There were no complications in the redhead’s voice. There was sadness but no complications.

    “It’s Harry Winston,” I said again.

    “Harry Wilson? The private investigator?”

    “All right,” I said. “What is it that I can do for you?”

    “I got your name from a friend,” Samantha Lowe said.

    “And you felt the need to call me at two in the morning.”

    The voice was silent for a moment and I could hear the tinkling of ice cubes. “Oh, is it that late? I didn’t realize.”

    “It’s that late.”

    Another ice-tinkling pause and then, “Mr. Wilson, I want to hire you.”

    My guts told me that whatever it was that Samantha Lowe wanted me for would be dangerous. “I’m very expensive,” I said.

    “Money doesn’t matter.”

    “I’m very busy right now.”

    “I hear you’re very good.”

    Usually I follow my instincts. I’m not afraid of danger but I don’t go looking for it. My instincts told me to tell Samantha Lowe that I wasn’t interested. Most of the time I follow those instincts. This was one of the times that I didn’t. I told Samantha Lowe that I would meet her at Beason’s the next evening.

    Tune in next week to see what Samantha Lowe has in store for Harry Winston: official private eye of Siciliano's Market.

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    The great American double IPA showdown

    By Kati Spayde

    On a quiet March afternoon, four self-proclaimed beer geeks sat down to answer three of life’s most persistent questions. (1) How do Michigan double IPA’s stack up against the rest? (2) Is Pliny the Elder really the best American-brewed beer? (3) Do citrus hops rule the day? For answers to these and other mysteries, please keep reading.

    The beers

    • Founders Double Trouble
    • Bell’s Hopslam
    • Breckenridge 471 IPA
    • Lagunitas Hop Stoopid
    • Southern Tier 2X IPA
    • Pliny the Elder

    Of course we could have tasted dozens more, but both time and palates would have been exhausted. All samples were poured into clean glass but appearance was pretty much ignored.* We were here for flavor.

    The tasters

    • Kati - Siciliano’s staffer, certified cicerone
    • Sarah ‘Cheetah’ Derylo - Siciliano’s staffer
    • Greg ‘Swig’ Johnson – Siciliano’s staffer
    • Agent X – industry insider who would prefer to remain anonymous

    The results (ranked in order of preference)

    1. Hop Stoopid – wonderful, lush hops, citrus and beyond balanced by malt.
    2. Hopslam – citrus bomb with crisp dry malts. 
    3. 471 – more of a West coast beer with its piney, earthy hops
    4. Pliny – so-so in the nose, very floral aroma
    5. 2X – delicious and sessionable; almost too soft for an DIPA. 
    6. Double Trouble – big citrus hops, too much malt sweetness for my taste.
    1. Hopslam
    2. Hop Stoopid
    3. Pliny
    4. 471
    5. Double Trouble
    6. 2X IPA
    1. Hopslam
    2. Hop Stoopid 
    3. Double Trouble
    4. 2X IPA
    5. 471
    6. Pliny
    Agent X
    1. Hop Stoopid
    2. Hopslam
    3. 471
    4. Double Trouble
    5. 2X IPA
    6. Pliny

    What do these results show? Not much. All picks were a tough call. And all of us have different tastes and preferences. I love Double Trouble on tap, not because it tastes any different, but because of where I am and what I’m doing. Like all things, beer tasting is subjective.

    That said, (1) Michigan DIPA’s hold their own; (2) citrusy hopped beers are the reigning champion; and (3) Pliny, while not my favorite, is a damn good beer.

    *Not a blind tasting

    Certified Cicerone and Siciliano's staffer Kati Spayde lives in Grand Rapids, MI, where, like yin and yang, hops and malt are always in perfect balance.

    Friday, March 18, 2011

    Enter not, lest ye be judged

    By Chug Dorda

    We are now accepting entries in the 8th annual Siciliano's homebrew competition. As such, I thought it would be wise to de-mystify the process for those thinking of entering. First off, our competition is a BJCP sanctioned event. This means that all beers entered must be submitted under a style category meticulously decided upon by the BJCP board. A list of categories with specifications can be found at the official BJCP website (

    Secondly, your beer will only be judged against its own category for the first round of tasting. Say, for example, you enter a pale ale. Until "Best in Show" consideration, your entry will only compete against the blanket style definition of "pale ale", not against every other pale ale entered into the competition. This is done to assure an accurate, unbiased evaluation for that beer alone -- not a relative comparison to others in the competition, but an objective comparison to a well-established set of style guidelines.

    The reason behind adhering to style categories is simple: it helps remove personal prejudice from the judges and assures an unbiased evaluation of the particular beer in question. When a judge samples a beer, he/she is asked to compare it to approved standards of aroma, taste, and presentation which are considered perfect for the category. (For brewers who intentionally manipulate a beer beyond the accepted parameters of a certain style, there is always category 23, the "specialty" beer category, a catch-all for entries that don't fit into any other category.)

    Most important to remember is that the judges are not there to criticize your beer; rather, their mission is to offer an array of notes, constructive criticism, and suggestions on how to tailor a beer more accurately to its intended style. Often times I have recommended that someone enter a beer they are trying to perfect in order to gain perspective on it. I have also suggested that a beer brewed exactly to style be submitted in order to test its mettle, perhaps to go on to "Best in Show" consideration. 

    You may enter whatever beer you like of course, but I would offer a simple tip before making the final decision. Set aside six to eight bottles of the beer you intend to enter. On the night before the competition starts, conduct a taste panel with a friend while reading the style guidelines. You may be surprised at what you find. For instance, a beer brewed to robust porter guidelines may turn out to be a brown porter, a presumed IPA could be closer to a pale ale, and so on. This simple step could be the difference between a medal winner and the ultimate prize, the award for best in show.

    Beers will most often be judged by a team of two. There will most commonly be a BJCP certified judge (or an otherwise well-qualified palate) teamed with a less experienced, but highly educated “beer geek". The team will compare notes after each judge has completed his/her initial and separate tasting. The dichotomy of information presented is extremely useful more often than it isn't. Judges will decide the beer's final score together, and together they will offer their final impressions of the beer (see score sheet below). I have seen judges write, “If this were in a store, I would buy it tonight!”

    If this is your first time entering a competition, and you are unsure of what will happen, I can only guarantee two things. First, you will receive amazing tasting notes that will undoubtedly be useful on your next brew day. Second, it will further fuel a fire of passion within you, one that will not be calmed until you have made the perfect beer. Although it is a “competition”, we at Siciliano's would like people to view it more as a celebration of their achievements in beer making. You already make good beer, the only thing left to do is make it better, and make more of it.

    Cheers, The Chug.

    Official score sheet - click to enlarge

    The Chug
    Sicilano's staffer Doug "the Chug" Dorda lives on the west side of Grand Rapids, where he is in the final editing stages of "Category 23", an epic, 12-volume work of beer- and space-related science fiction.

    Thursday, March 17, 2011

    Review: Victory Moonglow Weizenbock

    By Kati Spayde

    Don't ask me why, but weizenbocks always make me think of spring. The best examples perfectly blend traditional hefe flavors (commonly associated with warmer weather) with enough alcohol to warm you up should temperatures dip back into the 40s (always a threat in Michigan).

    For me, Victory Brewing Company's Moonglow weizenbock is one of those "best examples". This beautiful amber-color beer has a fluffy tan head that fades fast but leaves a light, consistent lacing. The nose is bright and full of esters with a touch of maltiness. The taste is that of a hefe, only more so -- the traditional banana and clove are present, as they should be, with distinct impressions of both bread and toffee coming through from the malts.

    This is a great beer overall, perfect for when it's too warm for barley wines and still too chilly for summer wheat beers. Victory Moonglow weizenbock (8.7%) is available now at Siciliano's Market. Stop by to pick up a bottle today -- at $2.69 a bottle, it's worth it!

    Certified Cicerone and Siciliano's staffer Kati Spayde lives and works in Grand Rapids, MI, where (cross your fingers) it seems spring is finally on its way. 

    Wednesday, March 16, 2011

    The Adventures of Harry Winston - Part 1 (Introducing Harry)

    It took some doing, but Steve (the boss) finally talked longtime friend Harry Winston into recording for posterity a number of his most compelling tales. Not one to say much on any subject -- himself especially -- Winston here puts reticence aside, allowing loyal Buzz readers a rare, brief glimpse into his extraordinary life.

    Before getting on to more interesting things I want to tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Winston, Harry Winston. I’m fifty-nine years old. There’s a spot toward the back of my head that my barber, DeMario, likes to show me with a hand-held mirror whenever I get a haircut. DeMario does this every time he cuts my hair and every time he does it I call him an asshole. Besides the slight balding there are other signs of age. My hair and beard are about ten years past being salt and pepper. There’s a sagging, puffy fold of skin below my right eye that used to bother the hell out of me but now whenever some asshole makes a comment about it I just say fuck it. I have a strong upper body and muscular legs but I’m carrying a little more weight than I like around the belly. Overall I’m in pretty good shape for my age and, I’m proud to say, I can still handle myself in bar fights. And that, my friend, is good, because I spend a lot of time in bars.

    I like bars. I’ve always liked bars, but there are some bars I like more than others. Let me tell you what I like. I like bars with polished draught towers. I like the ones with tiered bottles of booze lined up in front of dimly lit mirrors, the ones with wooden cooler doors that make that nice hinge snapping sound when they are slammed shut. I like old bars. The ones with lots of wood -- intricately carved pillars and high shelves holding dust covered relics. The ones that have curving edges worn smooth by years of bent elbows and those that have brass foot railings and swiveling stools. And if these bars have good beer it just makes it even better. What I don’t like about bars is that sometimes I come across an asshole who wants to fight me.

    I want you to know that I really don’t like fights and I don’t go around looking for them. In fact, I’ll do almost anything to stay out of one. But I will admit that the things I like doing in bars sometimes makes assholes want to fight me. I like playing pool and darts and I’m good. I’m good and I usually win because I don’t give a shit if I lose. It’s when you care about winning that you lose. I like playing for money and I usually win a lot of money because I don’t give a damn about losing. Some fights start over women. I like looking at women but sometimes the woman is with some asshole who doesn’t like me looking at her. I always try talking my way out a fight. I always tell the asshole that I don’t want to fight but if we do one of us is going to get hurt. I always look them in the eye and talk in a soft, low voice. That’s enough to get them thinking and when they start thinking they’re fucked. They’re fucked because they start thinking. I always hurt them but unless they’re trying to kill me I won’t hurt them too bad. Usually all it takes is a short, quick punch that breaks a nose and the fight’s over. Sometimes I’ll give him a snap kick to the groin. The fights you see in the movies, the ones that last for five minutes, are bullshit. When you know how to punch or hit someone he’s not getting up. I won’t hurt them bad unless they’re trying to kill me or if there is more than one coming at me. Then all bets are off. Then I might take out a knee with side thrust kick or I might break a jaw with a crescent punch or smash a wind pipe with a shuto. I’ve been in bar fights all over the world -- San Francisco, Berlin and Tokyo. In Paris and Key West. I haven’t lost one yet. I’ve been in bar fights all over the world because of my work. I’m a private detective.
    Like what you read here? Expect more from Harry Winston on the Buzz in the weeks and months ahead.

    Tuesday, March 15, 2011

    Chemex: the perfect cup of coffee and how I came to believe in it

    By Chug Dorda

    I'm almost certain that Nietzsche was not referring to coffee when he said, "Growth in wisdom may be exactly measured by decrease in bitterness." However, the quote perfectly sums up my journey to enlightenment as it pertains to the beloved morning beverage. For those who believe the intrinsic bitterness of their daily cup of joe can be muted only with sugar or half and half or both, I offer you a new frontier of possibility: the Chemex coffee making system.

    While thumbing through a back issue of Brew Your Own magazine, I was interested to see that adding Chemex-brewed coffee to beer as a flavoring agent was quickly becoming a trend in the homebrew universe. Further research revealed the curious claim that this system produced a perfect cup of coffee time and time again. Suffice it to say, the hourglass-shaped, hand-blown apparatus intrigued me, and soon enough I had talked the boss into carrying Chemex at Sicliano's.

    Skip ahead now to the moment I became a true believer. The skeptic inside me raged as I prepared to brew my first pot. It all seemed so simple. Who were they trying to fool? Yes, it is a beautiful appliance, and, yes, it heightens anticipation, but would it work any better than, say, a French press? The short answer is…yes, absolutely. Not only was the coffee clear and translucent, but the finished cup was nothing short of aromatic bliss. Bitterness is entirely eliminated thanks to their unique filter design and the use of lower water temperatures. True coffee flavor is showcased each time you brew with this system.

    I realize, and fully admit, that it would not be the most efficient way to make coffee for mass consumption on a daily basis -- if you drink gallons of the stuff, then Chemex might not be right for you. However, you owe it to your inner-connoisseur to try at least one cup of this truly innovative brew; you just might rediscover something that you already know you love.

    Local roasters Mad Cap Coffee and Rowsters New American Coffee both brew their coffee in Chemex or a system that closely mirrors it. Stop in at either place and see if you can taste the difference. For those that enjoy it enough to consider purchasing the system, we offer the Chemex pot ($31.99), filters ($7.59), and accessories at Siciliano’s.

    Here's a quick video to show how the system works…

    1. If you prefer stronger coffee, simply add more grounds. According to the directions on the Chemex website, "there is never any bitterness in coffee brewed using the Chemex method".
    2. Ideal brewing temperature is about 200F (this again according to the Chemex website).

    The Chug
    Sicilano's staffer Doug "the Chug" Dorda lives on the west side of Grand Rapids, where, thanks to Chemex, the only bitter beverage is his homebrewed IPA.

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

    Memorable meals: aboard Amtrak 370, the Pere Marquette

    By Chris Siciliano

    At precisely 5:20pm on a Tuesday afternoon, Amtrack 370, the Pere Marquette, with service from Chicago to Grand Rapids, pulled away from Union Station. An hour later, as we rolled past the rusted-out, starkly beautiful landscape near Gary, Indiana, Gena and I unpacked the various foodstuffs collected that afternoon in downtown Chicago. The meal, arranged haphazardly on the fold-down trays in front of us, included these tasty tidbits:

    • A small container of Tuscan bean salad in pesto dressing and a good chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano, both purchased at the small Italian eatery across from our hotel.
    • A generous wedge of rustic bread, which the counter lady at a Belgian bakery sliced from what had been, earlier in the day, an enormous 4- or 5-lb loaf. By the time I got there, only a quarter of the loaf remained, and I took half of that.
    • An olive medley from a gourmet shop in Old Town. This place had bread for sale as well -- good-looking baguettes with excellent caramel color -- but I resisted the bread here in order to visit as many different food shops as possible.
    (Included on this list should have been two cans of Wisconsin-brewed Simpler Times Pilsner, which, for the money, is a surprisingly fresh and flavorful beer. In my haste to check out on time, however, I left them in our hotel room's mini fridge. Hopefully the maid enjoyed the beer just as much as we would have.)

    If it seems a simple meal, that's because it was, made memorable for precisely that reason: simplicity. Ripping chunks from the crusty bread to use in lieu of silverware; popping olives one by one into our mouths, not knowing exactly where to put the pits; breaking chunks from the hard, crystalline cheese with our fingers -- it doesn't get more basic. Nor does it get much better. I'd be lying to say the train itself did not add tremendously to the experience.

    Why is it this relatively short ride from Chi-town to hometown filled me with such nostalgia? Considering how few times I've traveled by train in my life, and how long ago (ten years or more), you'd think the experience for me would be a novel one. Instead the ride felt oddly familiar and even comforting, as if the trip is one I often make, which, of course, is not the case at all. 

    When my grandmother was a girl, she and her sisters and their father went to Detroit each year to watch the Tigers play. When they went, they went by train. She tells the story sometimes and I think my train-related deja vu exists as a direct result of it (her story) and others like it. Much has changed since my grandmother's day, and though the rate of change only accelerates, there remain certain important touchstones between then and now, the train being one of them. Unhurried yet unrelenting, it plods across the land with the same insistent, steady rhythm that it plods across both time and our imaginations.

    A welcome answer to the frenetic pace of life today, traveling by train not only connects us to the past, it allows us to slow down and enjoy the simplest of things, a meal of good bread, cheese and olives most of all.

    View from the train: pickle vats, Bangor, MI

    Goose Island, Honker's ale, Chi-town's own

    Our first stop

    Don't care who you are, that's impressive

    City at night

    Chris Siciliano is a writer, teacher, and managing editor of the Buzz. He lives in Grand Rapids, MI, the last stop for the Pere Marquette departing from Chicago. All photos courtesy of Gena Max.

    Friday, March 11, 2011

    Wes interviews Sam from Dogfish Head (2008)

    Roughly three years ago -- long before The Buzz existed -- future correspondent and all-around good guy Wes Eaton put a call in to craft beer ambassador Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head. The resulting interview first appeared in the May, 2008 issue of Wide-Eyed, an arts and music magazine published in California. The interview is reprinted here (with permission) for the benefit of our loyal readers, the overwhelming majority of whom do not live in California and, as a result, probably missed it the first time around.

    Editor's Note: Some may question the wisdom in posting a Dogfish interview when so few of their beers are available at Siciliano's (due to complicated distribution issues). To that we say, there is no spoon. Enjoy the interview!

    In 1993 Sam Calagione homebrewed his first batch of beer. The craft beer scene at the time was limited and underground; Calagione was about to help change that. He looked around, checked to see which way the mass beer trends were flowing, and decided to swim upstream. No light lagers for Dogfish. Instead, to distinguish his creations, Calagione opted for candied fruits, old-world spices, continuous hopping regiments and parameter-shattering abv’s. Two years after his first homebrew, Calagione opened Dogfish Head Brewings and Eats in Rehobath Beach, Delaware. Back then he brewed ten gallons batches, an output more in line with homebrewers than commercial breweries, and one positively dwarfed by current operations.

    In the spring of 2008, Dogfish Head invaded California with a line-up of three big beers: 90 Minute IPA, a continuously hopped Imperial IPA; Midas Touch, a honey- and saffron-flavored, Muscat grape- and barley-based elixir inspired by the ancients; and Palo Santo Marron, a strong Brown Ale aged in massive (and expensive) Paraguayan wooden vats. As evident below, Calagione’s Yankee ingenuity and rugged individualism epitomizes America’s artisan food and craft brewing cultures.

    Wes Eaton: Would you give us some back story to your experimentation with non-traditional ingredients with some culinary insight?

    Sam Calagione:
    Sure. When we opened in 1995 we were the smallest commercial brewery in America. At that time there were 800 US breweries. I researched what I wanted to do, I was just kind of a manically obsessed home brewer and back in my apartment in Manhattan I was creating beers while I was writing my business plan. I was always trying to make beers like nothing that was out there. Then, just as now, the domestic beer landscape was dominated by three breweries: Miller, Coors and Bud, and they’re all essentially making very slight variations of the exact same product: a light lager beer. So I knew from the get-go I had no interest in brewing those kinds of beers. That’s when the concept of off-centered ales for off-centered people came about. Basically, we’re never going to appeal to the majority of people out there, so let’s just have fun and brew for ourselves, and hopefully there’ll be a growing community of hard-core beer folk that want to explore the outer-limit of what beer can be. We opened our restaurant with a tiny, inefficient, ten-gallon brewery, and we had to brew two, three times a day, that small scale allowed me to experiment without too much risk. I’d go into the kitchen of the restaurant and take some coffee or raisins or licorice root and incorporate them into that day’s brew. Our reputation for brewing exotic brews came from those humble beginnings.

    Eaton: Talk about the relationship between wine and beer. What do you want people new to this crossroads in alcoholic beverages to understand?

    Calagione: Wine culture is further evolved than beer culture in America. The average consumer understands that an amazing bottle of Merlot can justifiably cost three times as much as a crappy bottle. That same consumer is just now beginning to understand that an amazing four-pack of wood-aged, 12% abv beer, fermented with organic brown sugar, as is the case with Palo Santo Marron, can still be a great value at three times the price of a six-pack of generic lager. The West Coast is recognized as the premier wine region in America and the average consumer in that region is more open to the idea of approaching beer with the same respect.

    Eaton: How do you think your distinct beers will be accepted here in California?

    Calagione: It actually helps us that the wine culture is so evolved on the West Coast because our beers are very wine-like in their flavor profiles, alcohol content and their food compatibility.

    Eaton: You’re known to many as a poet, builder, brewer, filmmaker and writer – was brewing the key to the actualization of your passions? How do you define yourself?

    Calagione: I’m the brewer first; the rest of the stuff is just hobbies. I mean for me they all kind of augment the making and the selling of beer. I write the books as educational programs and components which teach people how to brew and get comfortable with drinking beers that have non-traditional ingredients. I try to teach people just what Dogfish is, that’s sort of what the first book is about (Brewing Up a Business), and then He Said Beer She Said Wine is all about making wine people comfortable appreciating and understanding good beer in the context of food and beer people understand wine in the context of food.

    Eaton: I read Raison D’Etre was designed as a beverage that would be the ultimate complement to a steak dinner. Is food pairing always this important at Dogfish?

    Calagione: Yeah. Right from the beginning we knew that we were going to be brewing beers that were a lot closer to wine in alcohol content, complexity and food compatibility. The best way to highlight that was to pay careful attention to what foods we recommended pairing with each of these beers. Since we opened as a restaurant brewery, we also had the ability to feature on our menu the idea that for every great food item there is a perfect beer match. A lot of times, like in the case of the Raison D’Etre, we were actually designing beers backwards from what would be the ideal partner in the food world.

    Eaton: Beyond beer, Dogfish distills distinct spirits which stress the definition even of “Extreme Beer.” Are these natural evolutions of continued fermentation exploration or intentional directions for Dogfish?

    Calagione: We use our mission statement as a dynamic compass. If you pull out the word “ale” and put in “distilled spirits” it still rings true. We’re not doing what the big distilleries do; we’re following our own path as we do in our brewery. In the case of a distillery product like our Brown Honey Rum, (which is) aged on honey while it sits in oak, which is very unique, it’s perfectly in keeping with our vision. Our distillery is 1/1000th the size of our brewery, but it’s still a fun little project that we think adds vibrancy to what Dogfish Head is all about.

    Eaton: Dogfish is also known for its historical and ancient ales like Midas Touch and Chateau Jiahu, talk about these experiences and recipes.

    Calagione: Certainly the majority of our recipes come from our own inspiration, we think about which unique ingredients will work in a beer that have never been used before. But we sort of stumbled into being this specialty brewery for ancient beverages, and that’s right up our alley. (Ancient recipe beers) are like liquid time capsules. They allow people to come face-to-face with the history of civilization, not just the history of fermented beverages. In the case of our Chateau Jiahu, it’s got a 9,000 year pedigree and is recognized as the oldest known fermented beverage. This also silences the naysayers about the validity of “extreme brewing” because it shows that at the beginning of civilization people were making really exotic, multi-fermentation sugar source beverages to celebrate special occasions. Therefore, Chateau Jiahu has sake yeast, sake rice, and hawthorn fruit. Midas Touch has honey, grapes and saffron. We’re doing another ancient ale with the oldest known chocolate discovered in Central America. Before humans were eating chocolate they were drinking it as a fermented beverage. The beer (called Theo Broma) therefore has Chilean cocoa nibs, cocoa powder and tree seeds and is coming out in August.

    Eaton: There is a culture clash within the brewing and drinking community over the ambiguously termed "Extreme Beers". Talk about your role in formulating these out-of-bounds beers. When you began brewing high gravity, sugar- and spice-infused exotic brews, did you know you were taking part in the next movement of the American Craft Beer Revolution?

    Sam Calagione: I don’t think it was anything that conscious. Our motto of off-centered ales for off-centered people wasn’t really derivative of anything of the mid-nineties. Nobody was focused on strong, exotic beers when we started. We were considered sort of side-show freaks and black sheep, like what we were doing was novelty. But again, as beer culture started to evolve and expand, this niche within the greater craft brewing niche became extreme brewing. While we didn’t come up with that term for it, [extreme brewing] was all that Dogfish did since the day we opened. Our brewery was recognized as a pioneer within that niche.

    I don’t think there’s that much backlash (against extreme beer.) There are a few isolated brewers who don’t like the term, but at the end of the day it’s not really up to us to give it a name, it’s up to the consumer. It’s sort of an elitist position to rebuff extreme brewing because the people have spoken and they want these kinds of beers. Look at the growth of breweries like Dogfish, Russian River, or Allagash, who brew these exciting and unique beers which people really enjoy. Beer is subjective. No brewer should be so elitist as to determine for people what they should be drinking.

    Eaton: Nine years ago the storied “Beer Hunter” Michael Jackson and you spent a day together. Raisin D’Etre, Chicory, Shelter Pale and Immort Ale were already on your menu and a new 30-bbl brew house was being constructed. Talk about the changes you have seen in our beer culture since then and your contribution to this dynamic enclave.

    Calagione: In that era, Immort Ale was among the first wood-aged beers and it was [also] exotic, incorporating maple syrup, peat-smoked barley and vanilla beans. Frankly, we could barely give it away. Nobody was willing to pay $13.00 for a six-pack of beer, so we had a real tough time. We started as the smallest brewery, today we’re one of the fastest growing breweries, and I think the 35th biggest brewery in the country out of 1400. While I’m proud of all that growth, what I’m most proud of is that we never discounted or dumbed-down our beers in order to achieve growth. That shows that while we’ve been very lucky to be able to stick to our original mission and achieve this incredible growth, it’s really indicative of how far the average beer consumer’s I.Q., experimentation and interest level has come.

    Eaton: As you and Dogfish Head redefine the term “beer”, do you find the conventional terminology frustrating or do you see it as a necessary challenge?

    Calagione: Frustrating. Not because of a few people who take shots at extreme beer and want things to be like they were 100 years ago, but because our government is very restrictive in the licensing process. When we go to get a beer label approved or new beer brand that has a non-traditional ingredient they make you go through a million steps. They’ve very subjective on their definitions. For instance, they will not let us call the Theo Broma an ale, even though it’s fermented with ale yeast. Because of all the special ingredients we need to call it a “malt beverage”. That undermines what we’re doing. “Malt beverage” sounds very generic compared to “ale”. The bureaucratic hoops that we have to jump through just to present these unique beers are stifling.

    Eaton: What really makes a craft beer craft beer?

    Calagione: Three things: craft beer comes from an independent brewery with no ownership from a big brewery and is made by a traditional brewery which uses barley or exotic, more expensive and flavorful sugars and not the cheap rice and corn that the big breweries use. Also it has to come from a small brewery, defined by the Brewer’s Association as less than two million barrels (annual production). The consumer wants to know where their beer is made in the same way that they want to support their local coffee roaster, local baking company and to buy locally. The big breweries are seeing the small craft breweries growth and that that’s where the excitement in the beer industry is. They’re trying to co-opt that growth and in essence act as culture vultures and try to confuse the consumer as to what real craft beer is.

    Palo Santo Marron is an example of what Dogfish Head is all about. There’s no precedent for it. All other breweries are aging beers on oak, kind of the go-to wood of the beverage industry for malt whiskey, wine or beer. We do some beers in oak, but we found this really exotic wood from Paraguay. A high-end flooring salesman brought us some samples and we did a test batch and aged some beer on it. It has really high resin content and the alcohol, which acts as a solvent, strips the natural oils from the wood and we found that it imparted this amazing, unparalleled, caramel, vanilla character to the beer. So we went for it, went all out, and built the biggest wooden brewing vessel made in America since before prohibition out of this exotic wood. Each tank that we built cost $110,000. The return on the investment in this tank in measured in decades not even years, but we’re a private company we don’t give a shit. We’re not being held to investors to make more profits every quarter. This is a labor of love. While this is a very expensive project, it’s one that we believe enhances what our company is all about. Will it ever sell as well as 60 Minute I.P.A. or Raison D’Etre? Probably not, but we don’t care; it’s just another beer that we’re excited to drink and we’re glad people are excited to try it as well.

    Eaton: I’m excited; I’ll be drinking that one tonight.

    Former Siciliano's employee Weston Eaton is currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at Michigan State University. He lives with his wife and dog in Grand Rapids, MI, where once upon a time Dogfish was not the rarity it is today.

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

    Expansion Update, Volume 4 (Video)

    In the video below, Steve reveals his plans for the new west wing. Though we're making progress everyday, we've set no definitive date for the grand opening of the expansion.

    In case you missed them, here are a few key points from the video worth repeating:
    • We have on order four stainless steel "honey pots" in which to store bulk quantities of liquid malt extract. Thanks to everybody who suggested alternative means of dispensing malt -- some great ideas came in! But after much thought, these honey pots (complete with 2-inch ball valves) seemed the most practical solution.
    • Also on order is another motorized grist mill. This will put us at three grist mills total, two motorized and one hand-crank.
    • We are also excited to announce (1) the purchase of a new motorized flour mill and (2) the addition to our inventory of several whole, raw cereal grains for milling, including red wheat berries, rye berries, and spelt berries.
    • Questions or suggestions? Let us know!

    Monday, March 7, 2011

    Weaning ourselves off the bottle: craft beer goes can

    By Greg 'Swig' Johnson

    Chances are if you frequent Siciliano's Market or any other quality beer store you've noticed the slow but steady influx of craft beer varieties packaged in aluminum cans. Over the past several years, the use of aluminum has been adopted by around 100 craft breweries in North America, with more breweries steadily signing up. In Michigan, Keweenaw Brewing in Houghton leads the canned beer revolution. It seems appropriate that a brewery from the UP -- the land of hunting, fishing, and other outdoor can-friendly activities -- would race to the forefront of this up-and-coming packaging format. Other breweries aren't far behind, however. Arcadia, Shorts, and Vivant all have plans to can in the near future.

    Not to be outdone by their west-side brethren, a number of east-side breweries have already made the move to aluminum. MillKing It! Productions in Royal Oak, Those Guys Beer in Lake Orion, and Rochester Mills Brewing all offer their beer in cans. Out of state breweries with canned beer for sale in Michigan include Big Sky of Montana, Breckenridge of Colorado, Shiner of Texas, Brooklyn of New York, and Cucapa from Mexico, just to name a few. It is also worth noting that, in addition to what you already find on Siciliano's shelves, more quality imported canned beers are becoming available all the time.

    Some might question the wisdom of packaging beers in aluminum cans. Won't the beer taste like metal, or worse? Well, the answer is simple: no. Modern aluminum cans with a neutral lining are being considered throughout the industry as a better package than the long-preferred glass bottles. The advantage of aluminum is complete protection from light and oxidation. Glass bottles, no matter how dark, will allow some light to get in. Even if it's only small percentage of UV light, a small percentage over a long enough time will still result in beer being "light-struck" (skunked). Since no light penetrates aluminum, you could theoretically leave a beer in the middle of the Sahara Desert for a year and it will not develop any characteristics of being light-stuck (though it might not be much good from the heat).

    The other significant benefit of aluminum cans is that they are 100% enclosed with no seals that can experience degradation. With glass bottles, the cap and the occasional cork present a weakness for ensuring the stability of a beer by protecting it against oxidation. Cap seals can degrade over time allowing oxygen to slowly seep into the beer, creating papery, wet-cardboard, or sherry-like off-flavors in the beer. Degradation of the cap seal can be accelerated through repeated warming and cooling of bottles and intensified by wildly fluctuating temperatures.

    Aside from better protection for your beer, cans also offer some fringe benefits. They are lighter and more compact than bottles which decreases freight costs and lessens oil consumption during transport. With regard to recycling, cans are the superior choice because the process for recycling aluminum is more efficient than it is for recycling glass. Some reports also indicate people are more likely to recycle cans than they are glass. Cans are also more break-resistant; whereas glass will often shatter when dropped, cans will just bounce or dent. Moreover, there are the recreational conveniences rendered by cans -- they cool more quickly than bottles and can be taken places where you can't take glass.

    It might be difficult for some people to overcome their psychosomatic responses to canned beer and alter their affinity for glass containers. For those individuals, I invite them to perform a blind tasting of cans versus bottles with a beer that is available in both formats (such as some Big Sky, Shiner, and Brooklyn). Evaluate the appearance, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, then provide overall impression of and preference between the two beers. The results could be surprising.

    As canned beer becomes more prevalent in the craft beer world, embrace its presence and the beery goodness that lies within. The next time you're tubing down a river, dropping a line in the pond, catching some rays on the beach, or find yourself in a place where glass bottles might not be welcomed, grab up some cans of good craft beer, hold them high above the generic swill surrounding you, and enjoy.

    Additional Reading:
    • Bottles vs Cans - An article about the benefits of canned beer
    • - An independent website dedicated to the news and reviews of canned craft beer.
    • - is a website dedicated to providing the latest beer information. This is specifically a link to all postings related to craft beer in cans.

    Siciliano's staffer Greg Johnson has a real can-do attitude. He lives and brews on the west side of Grand Rapids, MI, where everything is aluminated.

    Sunday, March 6, 2011

    A personal history of bread and baking

    By Chris Siciliano

    Roseburg sourdough
    The first time I baked bread was in early September, 2008. Gena and I had just moved into a house in the Rosewood neighborhood of Columbia, South Carolina. Cola-town, South Cackalacky. The official home of boiled peanuts (awesome) and Palmetto Bugs (not so awesome). This was our first place together and already we were less than enamored of our landlord. Not a bad guy, just more enthusiastic in his landlording than we were used to, stopping by often and without warning. It was our first place together and we knew already that, despite our landlord, we had made the right decision. Gena planted tomatoes and zucchini beside the garage out back. I watched the backyard pecan tree with anticipation, waiting for the nuts to fall, not yet knowing how well they would complement golden raisins in the rustic French farm loaves I later taught myself to bake.

    The first time I baked bread I was just beginning my last year in graduate school (English), working on my thesis, taking two classes, and teaching another. I spent most of my day at the computer, pecking out page upon page of lesson plans, essay analyses, essay responses, emails to students, professors, classmates, family, friends, etc, etc, etc. Only occasionally did the tap, tap, tapping of the keyboard taper off into oblivion, and if that awful keyboard-silence marked the end of something, it was more likely the end of my rope than it was the end of my daily workload. I've heard it said that graduate school is not like real life, that real life exists only outside the boundaries of the University. Real life or not, in graduate school the work is difficult and unending and it often turns your brain the consistency of bread dough. Now that it’s over, I find I sometimes miss it badly.

    Whole wheat pecan golden raisin

    The first time I baked bread I needed distance from the essay I was writing. Pacing the house from room to room, I was looking for a way to divert my attention: a worn-out baseball glove and tennis ball; a guitar played poorly; recurrent visits to the ever-tempting bounty of the refrigerator—almost anything would do, even the glossy pictures in an old cookbook. Two weeks earlier, a friend had gifted Gena a book about bread, an outdated relic from the 1970’s and something I’d totally ignored until then. In it though were wonderful full-color photographs of obscure (to me) breads and pastries, pretzels, bagels, and flatbreads. Captivated by those delicious-looking photos, I decided to try a recipe, the first and supposedly easiest in the book: basic Italian white bread. Who knew that from just one loaf full-blown obsessiveness would emerge.

    The first time I baked bread I used too much flour. I didn’t know how to measure correctly and, when the recipe called for three cups, I packed them so tight it took damn near an act of congress to get the flour loose again. Not surprising then that the dough was far too stiff to knead easily and ultimately made for an overly-dense, too-dry bread, much like an aromatic paving stone. But man alive did that stone taste wonderful! Gena likened it to the rustic, crusty loaves she ate while studying years ago in Malta. I noticed similarities, albeit distant, to the perfect bread of my memory, the bread my grandparents made—and still make, five loaves at a time—for us grandkids on holidays, get-togethers, and weekends up-North. The golden crust. The creamy white crumb. And the smell. The slightly nutty, slightly sweet aroma of, well, fresh-baked bread. There's simply no better way to say it.

    Roseburg sourdough crumb

    Big eared bread

    Humans and cereal grain and even yeast must have co-evolved, adapted over millennia to work together perfectly, a team on which each member does its part to improve upon the whole—grain to provide the sustenance, yeast to make it more palatable and to preserve it, humans to organize and endlessly replicate the dance. A triangle so beautiful even Pythagoras would blush. For my money, beer is evidence enough of this symbiosis. But if you’ve ever smelled a kitchen during bake-day, you’ll notice something elemental seeping phantom-like through your neural pathways, a scent to call up the shadowy specter of early civilization, even times before. If Ben Franklin was right and beer is proof that God loves us, then fresh-baked bread is proof that heaven exists—what else could smell so good?

    And this is why, on some level, my first homemade loaf of bread left me feeling troubled. When I pulled it from the oven, I was absolutely astonished to find that the recipe had worked, that I had made bread—bread!—in my own kitchen, with no special equipment, and with only four, readily available ingredients: flour, water, yeast, salt. No factory necessary. No machinery. No chemicals. Until then I didn’t think it any more possible to make bread at home than I thought it possible to build my own car, or refine my own oil, or compose my own symphony or…well, you get the idea. The problem though is that bread is so easy. Flour, water, yeast, salt. Mix, knead, rise, bake. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. There are nuances, sure, and ways to complicate the process. But there is no mystery. Why is it then I believed that producing bread, the very staff of life, was beyond my ability, that like a new pair of socks, bread could only come from (a) my grandmother or (b) the supermarket. This disconnect bothers me still. And not just a little. It makes me wonder what else I can do. It makes me wonder why the disconnect at all.

    The first time I baked bread was an experience nothing short of revelatory. I was proud of my inaugural loaf to an absurd degree, misshapen and dry though it was. A more recent attempt produced not one but three loaves, and not your basic white bread either, but rich-tasting five-grain sourdough with flax and sunflower seeds. These were much better tasting than that first historic paving stone, and better looking too. Anyway, I’m hooked now, thoroughly addicted to the pursuit (and defense) of good bread. It sounds crazy I’m sure, but to me, when I really think about it, there are few things more important. It’s the staff of life, for crying out loud. What could be more vital?

    Five-grain sourdough

    Unabashed breadhead Chris Siciliano is a writer, teacher, and the managing editor of The Buzz. He lives and bakes in Grand Rapids, MI, where there's always something rising. A version of the above post appeared last year on Chris' now-defunct blog, The Bread Defender. Reprinted with permission.

    Saturday, March 5, 2011


    If you're anything like us, you can't resist the urge to Google yourself from time to time. Here's the results of our latest search, a well-produced piece by video-blogger Josh Leo. Though it was made in 2007, it will still give the uninitiated a good sense of what Siciliano's is and strives to be. Nice too to see a pair of Sicliano alums back when they manned the registers. If we had a Siciliano's Hall-of-Fame, Amadeus Scott and Matt Blodgett would both be in it.

    Where are they now? Amadeus teaches art at Washtenaw Community College over on the east side of the state. As for Matt, last we heard he was battling intergalactic space yeast on the third moon of Bavarium. Needless to say, we're very proud of them both. [Update: turns out Matt is actually brewing down at Founders. Our bad.]

    To watch the video, please click here.

    Friday, March 4, 2011

    New England style cider: the slow road to good drink

    Buzz contributor Wes Eaton explains the process of making “New England” style cider, in his words, "a golden drink with a strong acid backbone yet pleasant apple flavor achieved through a slow, 'stressed' fermentation process".

    By Wes Eaton

    In days gone by, farmers would press their apple bounty into large, barn-stored wine barrels, allowing the raw cider to ferment slowly and naturally, making a strong but sweet beverage for consumption over the winter and cool spring months. Dried fruit was added for sweetness and strength, but this played a dual role as its presence also helped clear the beverage. I like to emulate this process in my home cider brewing, especially the cold fermentation stage, which is key to coaxing raw cider into a balanced and full-bodied elixir rather than an alcoholic, tepid and flabby mouthwash, so often the product of hot, vigorous fermentations. To put it more straight forward, here’s how I go about making my cider.

    Attack of the giant carboy!

    Once home with your cider--five or six gallons makes a worthwhile batch--sanitize your brewing pail and fill it to just beyond your target volume, say five and a gallons, leaving room enough for the yeast to rise. The extra volume is necessary as you'll lose some cider after fermentation when you siphon it from the primary bucket into the air tight glass carboy for its conditioning phase. Take a reading with your hydrometer next and note the specific gravity and potential alcohol in your record book. With no additives, my batch this year came in at 1.050 S.G., with a potential alcohol of 7%, meaning that if all sugars are converted, I’ll have a decently warming beverage. Like wine, cider “finishes dry”, meaning that all of the available sugars in solution will be eaten by the yeast, yielding a final gravity reading of below 1.000, the gravity of water.

    When your fermentor is full and gravity reading recorded, your must is ready for inoculation with yeast. There are other steps that many cider makers take at this stage--testing the pH, testing the acid and making adjustments, or adding sulfites to sanitize your must from wild yeasts. Let’s leave those steps for more advanced, future batches and move straight ahead to adding the yeast. Knowing the quality of the source of your cider is key to this step [see note below], as is a little faith that good-tasting raw cider will yield great-tasting hard cider. There are many yeast options available, but I suggest a dry American or English ale yeast such as those offered by Safale. If you are a beer brewer or wine maker, it's here you would snip and sprinkle in the entire package. Not so with cider, not with New England-style cider anyway, and here's why.

    Look closely: you can almost see the raisins.

    Adding the standard, full-size shot of yeast (typically one package) induces a quick, healthy fermentation where the sugar is converted into alcohol over the period of days and the resulting drink must be moved quickly off the spent yeast cake. This standard fermentation, while perfectly functional, drastically changes the flavor of the raw cider, dissolving the taste of apples and accentuating to taste of alcohol. To slow this down, there are two things the old farmers figured out long ago: add only a little yeast, say a 1/4 tsp per five gallons (if any at all) and ferment your cider in a cool place, preferably between 46-56F. Simply sprinkle your yeast on the surface and attach your lid and airlock. Next, look for a cold spot in your home, like a back stairwell, cellar, three-season porch or closet on an outside wall. If the temperature temporarily drops, that’s okay; your yeast is hardy! [Editors note: both the author and Siciliano's recommend keeping your cider at room temp (68 degrees) for a day or two after pitching the yeast and before moving it to your "cellar" location; this allows the yeast to gain a necessary, if tenuous foothold.]

    By this process you achieve a “stressed” fermentation -- metabolization (yeast multiplication) and alcohol conversion happen slowly, gradually, over an entire season as opposed to a number of days, thereby preserving the flavors of your carefully blended apples and providing the perception of sweetness and body despite a technically dry-finishing beverage. Let this happen in a brew pail or, if you’d rather see the colors move from leather to copper to gold, let your cider ferment in a glass carboy. You’ll know when it's time to transfer by noting this color change. As the cider begins to clear, sometime around late winter or early spring, slowly siphon the must off the now-dormant yeast cake and into a clean carboy, making sure that the carboy is topped-up to prevent oxidation from contact with air. Your cider has now undergone its long, slow primary fermentation and has been moved into a secondary vessel; it's time now to add a final ingredient: raisins.

    Orange: fruit & hue.
    As noted, the tannins found on raisins contribute to the desired translucence and also add both body and sweetness. Since your remaining yeast is now dormant, stressed into submission from their uphill battle against the cold, sweet wort, the concentrated sugars found on the raisins add delicate and complex flavors of plumbs and figs, ultimately enhancing the perception of apples. Specifically, I use organic white raisins. Whatever you use, be careful to choose raisins not coated with vegetable oil, a common additive. Add about a half-pound, then top up the vessel, attach your airlock and let age as long as you can, at least one month.

    Your cider can then be packaged either still (non-carbonated) in bottles or racked into a home kegging set-up. To make your bottled batch sparkling, you’ll need to add fresh yeast along with 1/4 cup of corn sugar boiled and cooled in a cup of water before bottling. The result is a sparkling, golden elixir, the hue of honey, with the aroma of a summer apple orchard and taste of a crisp Fuji on a hot, summer afternoon. While this is only one way to approach making cider, this is my favorite, and I hope you too enjoy this patient and rewarding method.

    Black & white for dramatic effect
    *Regarding ingredients: Hard cider starts with sweet or raw cider, which is called ‘must’ or ‘wort’ by brewers, as is any unfermented fruit- or barley-based liquid. Preferably, your cider will come from an orchard and mill close to your home, one which blends the juice from a variety of acidic (tart) apples, such as Jonagold, Golden Delicious and Ida Red, with those of the sweet, sugary sort, such as Macintosh. My source is Hill Bros. Orchards & Cider Mill northwest of Grand Rapids. Winner of multiple awards for the raw stuff, Hill Bros. accommodates the amateur cider maker like no other, offering to fill buckets or even bourbon barrels with their continually-tested blend of four or five varietals, sold below three bucks a gallon well into the new year. While theirs is highly-prized cider, most any fresh, local cider will do, as long as it has not been pasteurized (UV pasteurization is fine).