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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Homebrew equipment kit, a.k.a. the best gift ever

Give away a beer, make someone happy for an hour. Give away a homebrew kit, make someone happy for a lifetime.

By Doug Dorda

I will never forget the day I walked out of Siciliano's with my first homebrew equipment kit. For a long time the staffers had encouraged me to try my hand at making beer (I wasn't yet employed there). I finally took their challenge, fell in love with the hobby, and began the long crusade that led eventually to a career in the fermented arts.

I tell you, nothing quite compares to the feeling of making your first beer, of being that connected to the sweet intoxicating liquid. The smell of boiling malt wafting through the air. The complex aromas as hops are added to the wort. The sick, sinking feeling when you realize you've forgotten something important for the batch.

The last of those feelings is what inspired us to compile the ultimate beginner's homebrew kit, a complete collection of glassware, literature, and the necessary equipment. For $189, more than $15 off the regular retail price, the following can be yours.

Not included in this deal are ingredients for the first batch of beer. We recommend first time brewers begin with one of our Brewers Best ingredient kits so they can wrap their minds around the process without having to fret too much over recipe construction. We have a wide variety of styles to choose from, and they range in the price from $29 to $48.

So if you're looking to get the perfect gift for that loved one who has always talked about making beer, this is it! You can expect to spend between $225 and $250 to get him or her (or yourself) completely ready to make beer, all depending on which ingredient kit you choose.

Note: We also offer gift cards. If you can't decide what to get for the homebrewer who has everything, get them one of these. Gift cards work for every product for sale at Siciliano's, not just those related to homebrewing. 

From all of us at Siciliano's
We wish you a safe and happy holiday season!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Revisiting Wendell Berry's "The Pleasures of Eating"

A good meal is more than just a well-seasoned dish.

By Weston Eaton

This column is all about the pleasures of eating, but I am probably going to talk about pleasure in a way you may not be familiar with. Pleasure has at least two sides: receiving pleasure, which has a gluttonous ring to it when speaking of food, and giving pleasure to others, which strikes me as altruistic. The pleasure I’m talking about below, as related to food, spurns such categorizations, collapsing this dichotomy into a unified practice. I’ll keep it short so as not to preach, but if you find my logic appealing then maybe you too will come to think of pleasure in a new way.

In his essay The Pleasures of Eating Wendell Berry tells us “eating is an agricultural act.” This is a conceptual reminder that no matter how difficult it is for us to see, the food we eat was once grown someplace, and that the very act of eating itself links us to that place and the people there. As eaters then we have certain responsibilities as our actions are linked with both land and livelihoods. Berry’s point is two-fold. First, industrial food is unhealthy for people, animals, and the land. We are disconnected from this type of food: those who produce it do not want us to know how it was produced; they would rather we remained ignorant. Second, and the point on which I want to elaborate, is that eating food is innately connected with what is pleasurable.

What does it mean to take pleasure from food? Of course it has everything to do with taste, smell, the feel and sense of the experience. But can we extend this? Moving into the realm of aesthetics seems fair. This is to say, the company we keep, the background music we play, even the setting of the table contributes to the overall pleasure of the meal. As has been said, beer, for instance, tastes best when shared with people you love and respect. But there’s more. Preparing food, making food, this is an act of creation. We are the creators. We plan, mull over, select, and then act. Our creation is shared and enjoyed. This kind of pleasure reaches beyond the individual. This is a collective act, and in being so it cannot be experienced alone.

But this all takes place after the growth, harvest, hunt, slaughter, or fermentation, each a primary act (before cooking) that can be pleasurable as well. Berry tells us “a significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one's accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.” This kind of difference, between knowing your food’s origin and being ignorant to it, is not something that can be measured scientifically—there is no instrument for this. Economically too there is difficulty in deciphering importance. In fact there is little common language for expressing a spiritual connection, as we are no longer much of a spiritual society. But Berry asks us to go here anyway, specifically too for the sake of pleasure. The simple act of knowing is important in itself.

Yet each process that takes place before we cook (or have dinner served) is brutal or violent in its own way. Each takes place “out-of-doors” and miles away from the supermarket, co-op or farm market. Moreover, each process involves "resources" that we ourselves did not create, resources that only require our stewardship and care (and even that may be an overestimation). People, for instance, don't make wine. Yeast does. Seeds become plants independent of the people who planted them. Animals simply are their own meat. We may express our influence upon these things, but we did not create them; they are not borne of our own conception. Soufflé, on the other hand, is something we created.

Perhaps that’s why the acts of agriculture and horticulture are seen by many as brutal. Too often we try to master nature, to make it our servant, to force it to bend to our will. But as Katrina, the Gulf oil spill, the Dust Bowl, Japan's nuclear disaster, and countless floods, hurricanes, and snowstorms have shown, we are not really in charge; in fact, we are hardly in control. And perhaps our desire for control is also the root of our disconnect, our ‘original food sin’, our disenchantment. By acknowledging the limitations of our control, however—and by giving up the infinite options for food provided to us by often faceless corporations—we can in fact become empowered. In the words of Berry, “eating with the fullest pleasure—pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance—is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world.”

Is this a zero sum game, practically speaking? Must I denounce much of society to re-enchant my life? Must I pay premiums for “green” food? And what about those who cannot afford it? Change takes place in many forms both small and large. Perhaps the best way to begin answering this question is to meditate on the heart of Berry’s message, which I think benefits from a little explication. Yes, eating is an agricultural act—we eaters are often at the end of a commodity or value chain. But eating is also a social and spiritual act, one enhanced when we learn the origins of food, when we begin to participate, and when we take on the responsibilities of being a good “food citizen”. My point then is that starting to make a change is much better than no change at all.

*Photo credit Mark Siciliano

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

New Beer Wednesday - Thanksgiving Edition (Nov 23)

Pilgrim's Dole, perfect for Turkey Day
This year West Michigan craft beer fans have much to be thankful for. Thanks in no small part to places like Founders, New Holland, Vivant and Hopcat, not to mention events like the Michigan Winter Beer Festival or the double handful of new breweries slated to open in 2012, our area has maintained and reinforced its reputation for being one hell of a great place for beer.

However, at times like these we should be careful not to overlook the one thing that really makes this scene successful: legions of craft beer loyalists who continuously support the local movement with both their hard-earned cash and valuable time. At Siciliano's we recognize the importance of the individual enthusiast. From the most discerning aficionado to the most casual beer geek, we're grateful for all of you, knowing full well that IPAs and bourbon-barrel stouts, now matter how tasty or hard to find, just don't sit around and drink themselves. Thanks so much for helping to make Siciliano's the store it is today.

New (and Returning) Beers

  • Short's Ginger in the Rye, $1.99/12oz - "A Rye Munich Weizen Ale with approximately 2 oz of fresh ginger per gallon and an ABV of approximately 7.0%" (source).
  • New Holland Pilgrim's Dole Wheat Wine, $3.99/12oz - "A barleywine-style ale made with fifty percent wheat malt...[it blends] warming and slightly sweet flavors with a unique caramelized character. It would be an excellent accent to nutty dishes, fruit crisps or creme brulee" (source).
  • A. le Coq Imperial Extra Double Stout, $6.89/9.3oz - This beer is "a towering achievement, on the same level as a great old Barolo or vintage port. It makes a mind-boggling match with venison in sour cherry sauce and is a fine accompaniment to game sausages, particularly wild boar... As for cigars, only the finest, strongest Cubans will do, unless you have an Arturo Fuente Opus X. In that case, I'll be right over." Garrett Oliver, The Bremaster's Table, p.151 (source).
  • Schloss Eggenberg Doppelbock Dunkel, $4.59/12oz - According to the Beer Bibliographer "this Austrian brew is deep brown with red-orange highlights and floats a sparse but consistent tan head. The bouquet is fabulous: malty, roasted carmel, licorice, coffee, raisins…and all well-balanced and very appealing" (source).
  • Gulden Draak Vintage 2010, $14.49/750ml - A Belgian Strong Double Ale, "quite malty, but well balanced. Caramel, sweet estery malt with a hop presence that's understated but provides backbone. Tasty. Another classic from the Gulden Draak family, glad I finally got to try it" (Review from Beer Advocate).
  • Wittekerke Winter White Ale, $9.99/750ml - The double version of Witterkerke's classic winter white, which "famous beer connoisseur Michel Jackson describes as 'creamy, aromatic, with a clean, teasing, perfumy fruits and Faintly herbal defies ness ness'" (source).
  • Dark Horse Too Cream Stout, $1.99/12oz - A beer "made with milk sugar (lactose) which gives this beer a nice creamy mouthfeel...hints of chocolate and roasty flavors" (source).
  • Buffalo Bills Blueberry Oatmeal Stout, $1.59/12oz - "At 7.5% alcohol, this award-winning brew is a true winter warmer...hints of chocolate, oatmeal, and fresh blueberries" (source).
  • Innes & Gunn Original Oak Aged Ale, $2.39/12oz, $5.29/750ml - "Its lengthy 77-day maturation imparts flavours of toffee, vanilla and oak that perfectly complement the beer’s backbone of luscious malt and fruity hop notes. The oak helps to give Innis & Gunn Original its appealing colour and also mellow the alcohol character, so although the beer is 6.6%, it’s very smooth and easy to drink" (source).
  • Innes & Gunn Rum Cask, $2.59/120z, $6.29/750ml - "Soft fruits and malt balanced by a lively spiciness from the rum." This finish is "mellow and oaky with just a lingering hint of spice" (source).
  • Fomosa Lager, $1.79/12oz - "The most famous beer in Guatemala, with a different name exclusively for commercializing in foreign markets. Famosa is a lager beer with a light golden color...possessing smooth bitterness and delicate aroma. Thanks to its wholesome flavor and balance, it has become the favorite of those who demand and enjoy a high quality beer" (source).
  • Dragon Stout, $1.99/12oz - A beer from Jamaica "starting out very roasty and malty, then building up some milk chocolate and vanilla notes, leading into the finish. Hints of dark fruits (raisins, dates) and coffee. For a stout, this is smooth and not bitter" (As reviewed on Beer Advocate).
  • Heineken Mini-Keg Collector's Pack, $25.19 - Includes a 5-liter keg of Heineken, two 8-ounce Heineken glasses, one skimmer, and ten Heineken coasters. The perfect gift for the Heineken fan who already has everything.
  • Cerveza Cucapa Tequila-Barrel Barley Wine, $6.99/22oz - From the label, "Our inspiration comes from the mountains of Jalisco where agave is king. This is the first tequila barrel aged beer in the world. We took a batch of our multi-prized barley wine and put it into tequila barrels and here are the results."
  • Cerveza Cucapa Green Card Barley Wine, $7.69/22oz - From the label, "Brewed to a heavy 10% ABV [with] a viscous malty character and a hint of hops. This beer is complex and life-changing." 

Picture of the Week

At the Waldorff in Hastings, the glass is half full

Siciliano's Market Thanksgiving Holiday Hours

Closed Thanksgiving Day
Friday & Saturday 8am - 10pm
Sunday 10am - 10pm

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

You picked a fine wine to serve me, Lucille

When choosing the right wine for Thanksgiving, balance is key...obscure Kenny Rogers references are also important.

By Steve Siciliano

When folks talk about all the Thanksgiving food they look forward to eating, invariably it's the side dishes they gush over most. I'm not saying the roasted, baked or deep-fried turkey doesn't get its due praise, it just seems that more often than not the bird has to share the spotlight with the stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, candied yams and countless other dishes that make up this annual November feast.

Because there are so many different flavors vying for attention on the typical Thanksgiving dinner plate, I feel that special care should be given when choosing the wines to accompany the meal. A big red would overpower not just the turkey but many of the side dishes as well. Conversely, a delicate white wine would be nothing more than a lackluster footnote when up against the bountiful flavors of the Thanksgiving table.

After many years of trial and error I've discovered that two varietals in particular are perfect accompaniments to the Thanksgiving feast, Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer. A Pinot Noir's soft tannins, balanced acidity and bright fruits pair well with the flavors of the turkey, and the floral aromas and spiciness of a good Gewurtztraminer will help bring out nuance and character on even the most diverse menues.

Our wine buyer, Sarah "The Cheetah" Derylo, has made sure that our wine room is well stocked with both of these feast-enhancing varietals. A few of our favorites are detailed below.

  • Heron Pinot Noir 2010, $12.19  - "An elegant composition of sustainably farmed grapes from several of California's cool, marine influenced micro-climates. Ripe red berry and black cherry fruit balance its delicate spiciness."
  • Primarius Pinot Noir 2009, $16.49 - Silky with layers of fruit that unfold on the palate, this Oregon Pinot Noir lives up to its name: Primarius, Latin for distinguished. Sourced from high quality Oregon vineyards, Primarius speaks of the state's idyllic climate for producing Pinot Noir.
  • Firestone Santa Ynez Valley Gewurztraminer 2008, $13.59 - "Our Gewürztraminer comes from the estate Firestone Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. Th is historic site features a cool-climate, maritime-influenced climate that accentuates the character of the variety" (source).
  • Shady Lane 2009 Estate Grown Gewurztraminer, $14.39 - "This wine is a tribute to fruit and spice with tangerine and melon and a hint of rose petal. Perfect with any spicy dishes or your favorite shellfish."
Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 18, 2011

New Beer Friday - November 18 Edition

With legions of deer hunters currently roaming the Michigan woodlands, it's best the non-hunters among us stay cozied up at home with a bottle or two (or ten) of the newest beers to arrive on Siciliano's shelves.

As for you hunters already out in the field, fear not, with few exceptions (GL Blackout Stout) this week's new beers will be awaiting your return from the cold and blustery hinterlands surrounding GR. When you finally decide to hang up your camouflage for the day, stop in and see us and we'll fix you up with something tasty.

New (and Returning) Beers

  • Bell's Batch 10k, $2.99/12oz - Our distributor found a few cases of "the last of the batch series" in their warehouse. They delivered four of them to us just today. Available only while supplies last.
  • Founders Harvest Ale, $2.59/12oz - Like Bell's 10k, our distributor found a couple cases of this rare beer. Like Bell's 10k, it's available only while supplies  
  • North Peak Black Cherry Porter, $1.99/12oz - "A perfect Michigan Porter, made with a hint of Michigan cherries" (source).
  • Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale, $2.39/12oz - "Every year since 1975 the brewers of Anchor Steam® Beer have brewed a distinctive and unique Christmas Ale, which is available from early November to mid-January. The Ale's recipe is different every year—as is the tree on the label—but the intent with which we offer it remains the same: joy and celebration of the newness of life. Since ancient times, trees have symbolized the winter solstice when the earth, with its seasons, appears born anew. Our tree for 2011 is the bristlecone pine. Found high atop California's White Mountains, bristlecones are among the oldest living things on the planet. Some date back nearly 5,000 years, to the dawn of the ancient art of brewing" (source).
  • Jolly Pumpkin Autumn Fire, $13.79/12oz - "To catch a bit of soft radiance in each bottle, we wait for fall colors to begin their bright and fleeting glow before brewing this wonderful ale under their autumn fire. Gentle amber malts blend smooth caramel notes, gently lapping against a shore of distant forgotten spice. A beer to sip, contemplate and enjoy" (source).
  • Sierra Nevada Ovila Quad, $11.49/12oz - "This full and sultry ale is sure to warm the soul and welcome in the season. This silky ale is rich, mahogany brown in color with a velvety malt aroma, spiked with hints of dried cherry, fig, raisin, and plum notes. A full and creamy body offers layers of flavor including a perfume-like wave of intense dark fruits and caramel-like maltiness. Rich and warming, this complex ale should be shared among friends in the true spirit of the season" (source).
  • Avec les bons Vœux de la brasserie Dupont, 11.29/25oz - "This Bons Vœux is coppery blonde, has a very fine hop aroma and tastes bitter, fruity and mild. [Dupont's] selection of yeasts, in combination with a riping process, on a 'dry-hopping' base, creates a complex aroma and taste. A real refermentation in the bottle, which will continue for a long time in your cellar, results in a harmonious and well-balanced beer, full of unexpected and complex aromas" (source).
  • B. Nektar Zombie Killer Cherry Cyser, $8.59/500ml - "Apple cider with honey and tart cherry juice. Lightly carbonated" (source).
  • Stoudts Revel Hoppy Red Ale, $1.99/12oz - "This full bodied ale has a deep reddish amber color with a thick creamy head. Pungent hop flavors are derived from 3 different varieties of domestically grown hops. This ale finishes on the dry side with a wonderful citrus hop flavor" (source).
  • Avery Old Jubilation, $1.79/12oz - "Our winter strong ale has a gorgeous mahogany hue, a hint of hazelnuts, and a finish reminiscent of mocha and toffee. No spices, just a perfect blend of five specialty malts. Cellarable for 2 years" (source).
  • Crown Valley Brewing Big Bison Ale, $2.49/12oz - "A rich, malty, full-bodied very complex beer. This beer is deep ruby color. The palate has a malty sweetness with notes of caramel and other complex flavors. A dried fruit characteristic is readily apparent with hints of raisin and plum. The high alcohol content gives a warming sensation and balances the malty sweetness. Large amounts of candy sugar add to complexity" (source).
  • Crown Valley Brewing Strawberry Cider, $2.09/12oz - "This cider has a slight golden pink color. This strawberry infused cider is a semi-sweet cider with a wonderful balance of sweetness and acidity" (source).
  • Great Lakes Blackout Stout, $3.29/12oz - A Russian imperial stout with a hearty malt body and bold hop flavor" (source). Sorry. This one's gone already.
  • San Miguel Dark, $1.99/12oz - "A rich dark lager complemented by bold caramel tones, recognized by the distinguished panel of tasters of the world-renowned Monde Selection." This according to San Miguel's six-pack carrier.

Picture of the Week

Taps at the Hideout


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Destination GR: Craft beer capital of Michigan

With several established breweries leading the way, and with more on the horizon, Grand Rapids is poised to become a center for beer-related tourism. That's a good thing for West Michigan residents, and here's why.

Our in-store brewery map needs updating
By Steve Siciliano

Last Saturday Barb and I were at Brewery Vivant enjoying beers and appetizers when a couple of folks sat down next to us at the bar. We began chatting, and during the course of the conversation they told us that they were from the Washington DC area and had flown into town to attend the Breakfast Stout Breakfast that morning at Founders.

This is a concrete example of how beer is helping stoke the economy of West Michigan. People from out of town and out of state are traveling here with the express purpose of drinking locally produced beer and in the process are spending money on ancillary things such as hotel rooms, rental cars and meals in other restaurants. Siciliano's also benefits from these beer related pilgrimages. Whenever Founders has a party at their taproom we get a good number of out-of-towners stopping by the store to load up on beer they can’t get back home. And it’s not just the special brewery events that are drawing beer-loving travelers to West Michigan. The Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival has exploded in recent years and many travelers who pass through the area do so while on statewide beer bar and brewery tours.

The money being spent on these beer pilgrimages benefits the state as well as local communities. More beer sold in brewery taprooms means more excise tax dollars ending up in the state coffers. More beer sold in bottle shops like Siciliano’s means more dollars generated by state sales tax, and when local businesses prosper the effects are felt in other areas of the community. Over the past few years we here at Siciliano’s have reinvested a good deal of our beer-generated profits into our brick-and-mortar building which has meant more work for local contractors. And that's just one example.

There are a lot of good things happening in Grand Rapids. We are being recognized for our medical facilities, for having a rejuvenated downtown and for popular outdoor festivals and events such as Art Prize. The opening of even more breweries in the near future can only further enhance our reputation as being a destination for good beer.

Note: Buzz editors are aware of at least seven area breweries looking to open sometime in the coming months or next year. In no particular order, they are: White Flame Brewing, Grand Rapids Brewing, Harmony Brewing, Elk Brewing, Perrin Brewing, Rockford Brewing, and Pike 51 Brewing Company. Did we miss any? Let us know.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hill Bros. Orchards now pressing their award-winning cider

By Chris Siciliano

Every Thursday* from now until February 1st, the good folks at Hill Brothers Orchards & Cider Mill (6159 Peach Ridge NW) will be pressing their award-winning raw cider and filling carboys, buckets, and even old whiskey barrels dropped off ahead of time by home cidermakers and enthusiasts.

The raw cider is $2.75 per gallon; it's comprised of a secret blend of apples which has earned master cider maker Jim Hill top-prize at the Great Lakes Fruit & Veggie Expo no less than three times. Here's how to get your hands on a few gallons for your own.

The Weekly Process

  • Drop your empty carboys/buckets off at Hill Bros. retail space no later than the close of business Wednesday evening (6pm). Be sure that each and every individual carboy or bucket is clearly labeled with your name, telephone number, and the number of gallons you'd like to take away. Note: your container(s) must be at least five gallons.
  • The Hills will call you on Friday to let you know that your cider is ready to be picked up. If you can't make it back by Friday, you can pick your cider up on Saturday between 9am and 6pm.
  • Why two trips? To cut down on waste, Jim Hill makes only as much raw cider as has been pre-ordered each week. Home cidermakers pre-order by dropping off their empty buckets/carboys ahead of time. After the apples have been pressed on Thursday, the cider settles over night. On Friday morning the Hills begin filling containers. When the containers are filled, the Hills will begin calling each container's owner.
  • Since the bulk cider is unpasteurized, the Hills are adamant that it be used only for fermentation. If you'd like to try their cider raw--and you should, it's great!--they sell UV-treated cider for $4.50 per pre-packaged gallon.
  • Jim or Arlene Hill will be happy to answer any questions you have regarding this process. You can reach them at (616) 784-2767.
  • Stop into Siciliano's to brush up on your cidermaking know-how, or else have a look at the following two articles, both written by former-staffer and all around good guy, Weston Eaton.
Points of Note

  • The Hills also have for sale several dozen empty 55-gallon Heaven Hill whiskey barrels. The barrels are $85 each and would make a great conversation piece in anybody's basement, especially when filled with delicious fermenting cider or beer. Contact Jim or Arlene for more information.
  • In December 2010 Jim Hill was named Master Cider Maker, an honor reserved for three-time first-prize winners in the cider category at the Great Lakes Fruit & Vegetable Exposition (source). Congratulations, Jim!
  • The Hills provide raw cider to many area breweries and wineries, including New Holland and Saugatuck Brewing Co.
  • Hill Brothers Orchards is "family owned and operated since 1843" (source).
*Interested parties should contact the Hills for information on their pressing schedules during the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Images from the Mill

From Hill Bros. to Saugatuck to your glass

Waiting to be filled

For sale, $85 each, empty

Good raw cider = good hard cider

Monday, November 14, 2011

Recipe: Jeff Carlson's no-knead spent grain bread

The following recipe and photos come care of Jeff Carlson, award-winning homebrewer & cidermaker, active member of the Primetime Brewers homebrew club, and longtime Siciliano's customer. Jeff sent us this take on the no-knead method which combines combines two of the greatest things in life, bread and brewing. In his words...

I did a No-Knead using some spent grain from last week's Learn to Homebrew Day. I made a batch of No-Sparge English Bitter, using pale malt, 60L and 150L crystal. I froze a cup or two of the mash. This weekend I unthawed it and dried it in a low oven (200F for about an hour). Took approximately ¾ cups, decreased the flour some, and added an extra ¼ cup of the finished beer in the mixture. Nice crust and crumb. I was going to bring some over to Siciliano's, but my hungry family ate it all. Went well with the seafood Paella I made.

The Buzz editorial staff anticipates experimenting with this recipe ASAP. We'll report back with any tips and tricks we discover. In the meantime, and thanks to the foundation Jeff provided, interested brewers/bakers should have no trouble trying this one on their own. Folks new to the no-knead method can learn all about it by reading No-knead bread: our take on a new classic. Thanks again, Jeff!

Everything in its place

The mix

"The dough also rises"

Excellent shape!

Won't last long, and neither will the
rosemary/thyme butter on the side

Friday, November 11, 2011

New Beer Friday - November 11 Edition

On Thursday of this week the year's first snow landed in West Michigan. And it wasn't just a few random, insignificant flakes either, but those big wet heavy flakes that sometimes hit the ground with an audible thump! Then there were the ice/snow pellets that bounced around Siciliano's parking lot like BBs, and lets not forget the rain/sleet mix that kick-started the whole event (on second thought, lets do), all of which made for a weatherman's dream and an interesting day for commuters on the road. 

Thankfully (or regretfully, depending on your point of view) the first snow didn't stick around long. But you wouldn't know it judging from the styles and types of beer arriving this week to Siciliano's shelves, many being high-octane belly warmers sure to keep the coming winter chill at bay. Fittingly, we welcomed a beer called Snowstorm and another called Expedition (perhaps you've heard of it), both good choices to bring along on treks through the woods on snowy winter evenings, which, like it or not, are only days away.

New (and Returning) Beers 

  • Bardic Wells Canoe Clu, $10.39/22oz - Carbonated honey-birch wine fermented with hops and with honey added. To read more about the Bardic Wells "Clu" series, please click here.
  • Bell's Expedition Stout, $2.99/12oz - "One of the earliest examples of the Russian Imperial Stout in the United States, Expedition Stout offers immensely complex flavors crafted specifically with vintage aging in mind, as its profile will continue to mature and develop over the years. A huge malt body is matched to a heady blend of chocolate, dark fruits, and other aromas. Intensely bitter in its early months, the flavors will slowly meld and grow in depth as the beer ages" (source).
  • Short's Black Cherry Porter, $2.19/12oz - "This Short’s brew is available seasonally, as soon as the local Northern Michigan sweet black cherries are ripe. Eight different malts, in conjunction with three varieties of hops, provide the deep radiant flavor profile and create the dark opaque color. A slight purple lace from the fruit puree enticingly leads into smooth soft hints of roasted chocolate and pleasurable black cherry flavors" (source).
  • Unibroue Diabolic Pleasures 2-pack, $18.99/2x750ml - A two-bottle gift pack featuring Maudite, "a strong amber-red ale...characterized by a robust maltiness and spiciness that is counterbalanced by an assertive crisp hop finish" (source). Also featuring Eau Bénite, a Belgian-style triple limited to this giftpack. "First brewed in 1996, Eau Bénite was developed to offer the characteristics of a bottle referemented triple with a slightly lower alcohol content. This is refreshing pale golden ale with a slightly fruity nose and a very pleasant character". 
  • Schell's Snowstorm, $1.49/12oz - "Much like snowflakes, no two Snowstorm beers are alike. Once a year, [Schell's] brewmasters lock themselves in the testing room with a secret selection of fine malts and hops, only emerging when they've hit upon something truly extraordinary. Some past Snowstorm recipes, like Firebrick, proved so popular, Schell started brewing them year-round. Look for a special new batch of Snowstorm every season, available in November, December, and January or while supplies last. The 2011 Snowstorm beer style is Wee Heavy Traditional Scotch Ale" (source).
  • Schell's Six-Pack Sampler, $1.49/12oz - A variety six-pack featuring the following beers: Stout, Oktoberfest, Hopfenmalz (an amber lager), Pils, Firebrick, and Schell's Dark. All beers are available for individual sale while quantities last. 
  • Scaldis Noel, $4.89/8.46oz - "A product made exclusively from malt, hops, candy sugar and water, Scaldis Noel is a high fermentation, filtered beer and has an alcohol volume of 12%. The substantial use of caramel malt gives it a coppery red colour and an exceptional roundness. Studied hopping gives Scaldis Noel a consistent, fruity flavour with a delicately hopped aroma. A limited edition beverage" (source). Note: In Belgium, this beer is known as Bush de Noël.
  • Taj Majal Premium Lager Beer, $4.59/650ml - "Slow brewed in India from the finest malt and hops" (label).
Picture of the Week

Sarah "The Cheetah" Derylo takes a few practice swings
before tapping the Friday Firkin at Brewery Vivant last week. 


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Siciliano's virtual market - now open for business!

After the recent physical expansion, Siciliano's has now expanded in a virtual way.

By Steve Siciliano

We have a lot of customers who drive long distances to get to our store and more than a few have told me that they wish there was a Siciliano’s II in their neck of the woods. While I am always pleased by these comments I secretly shudder at the thought of opening another location. Undoubtedly some of this uneasiness stems from the rather unpleasant memories of the hard times getting this store off the ground. But there’s more to it than that. I’m just not the type who would be comfortable having another store in the same city let alone one in Muskegon, Big Rapids, Traverse City or Alpena. The anxiety level would be too high. Unless I’m out of town or in the hospital getting a new hip, I need to be physically at my business every day. That’s just the way I’m wired.

At the same time I’d be less than honest if I didn’t acknowledge that I’m always looking for new challenges and new opportunities. Obviously there are some folks who don’t mind driving an hour or two to shop at Siciliano’s but I’m sure there are many others who find it more convenient to buy supplies on the internet. Barb and I have decided that it's time to tap into this market.

We have been working on establishing an online store for over a year now. There are a couple of reasons for this seemingly long gestation period. For one, the sheer number of products we carry took a long time to organize and upload into an online catalog. For another, we wanted to ensure that we were doing things right. For yet another, there was a lot to learn, a lot to figure out and a lot of time spent with our website designer (Fusionary Media) and our e-commerce host (Volusion).

We’re finally ready. Actually our virtual store has been operational for a few weeks now but we hadn’t announced its opening so that we could work out the bugs and iron out the wrinkles. After filling recent orders from as far away as Texas and California we are fairly confident that we have done just that. Note that I said fairly confident. I’m sure there will be a few bumps that we haven’t anticipated and future contingencies that will have to be addressed. Hopefully our online customers will be patient with us.

I would like to acknowledge two people in particular who have been instrumental in getting this project off the ground—my wife Barb and my son Chris. This new venture would not have been possible without their efforts. Special thanks also to Fusionary for continuing to help solve the myriad tech issues which outpace our understanding.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sunday Rush

Even the boss sometimes underestimates the growing demand for DIY-related products.

By Steve Siciliano

On the way to the store Sunday morning I told Barb there was nothing to be concerned about. Chris would be in when we opened at 10am, Sarah was scheduled at noon, and for the intervening two hours I assured her that I would just sit at my desk, catch up on some paperwork, answer phone calls and write some emails. Nothing more strenuous than that. It had been six days since my second hip-replacement surgery.

While Barb did her pre-opening Sunday routine of sweeping and mopping and vacuuming I did mine. I counted Saturday’s receipts and made out the deposit. I recorded the sales figures then pushed my walker around the store and tidied up the shelves. Chris came in and flipped on the lights and the OPEN sign. Everything was going according to plan. I pushed my walker to my desk and eased gingerly into my chair.

At 10:15 the floodgates opened. Two new customers came in who wanted to learn about making cheese, bread and wine. While Chris worked with them I helped a constant stream of beer, wine and cider makers. I rang up customers buying beer and cigars. Once when I tried to negotiate my walker to where we keep the empty boxes I found that I couldn’t and had to ask the customer if he would mind grabbing one for me. When Barb came up to the counter with a case of bottles for another customer I gave her an uneasy smile.

“Looks like I’m back to work,” I said.

She gave me one of her stern, Nurse Ratched type looks but said nothing.

Later when we were back at home Barb helped me into my recliner and propped a pillow under my swollen left foot. While I rested I thought about the morning, how tired I was and how sore the area was around my ten-inch incision. Then I thought about the years when there were hardly any customers. Before I drifted off to sleep I smiled and counted my blessings.

Friday, November 4, 2011

New Beer Friday - November 4 Edition

One mean looking beer
This week's NBF includes over 20 new (and returning) beers, and it's a safe bet that many of the people who produced them began their careers as homebrewers. Who knows, maybe some even got their start at one of the annual events put on by the American Homebrewers Association.

It just so happens that Saturday, November 5, is this year's AHA "Learn to Homebrew Day", a nationwide event where seasoned homebrewers share their know-how with the lesser experienced. Interested Grand Rapidians can learn from the Primetime Brewers, one of the best and most knowledgable clubs around. (Follow this link for details.) Or, check out the AHA website for learn-to-brew gatherings near you.

Strange to think that sometime this Saturday, the next great industry-changing brewer might be pitching his first vial of yeast. Let us know if the beer world feels different when you wake up on Sunday morning. Until then, we bring you...

New (and Returning) Beers

  • Anderson Valley Winter Solstice, $1.89/12oz Can, $2.19/12oz Bottle - "Deep amber in color, with an inviting aroma of spice and nutmeg, it was made for the turkeys, cranberries, hams, and yams of the holidays.Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale evokes a crackling fire, drifting snow, and smells of home. A hint of spice and hop bite to balance out the creamy and smooth mouthfeel, and medium sweetness" (source).
  • Bell's Christmas Ale, $1.89/12oz - "In contrast to many other [holiday] seasonals, Christmas Ale doesn't contain any spices: all of the dry, toasted notes & subtle toffee flavors come from the 100% Michigan-grown barley, custom malted by Briess Malting, while a blend of hops from Michigan & the Pacific Northwest lend earthy, herbal aromas. At 5.5% ABV, it stands as a smooth, highly drinkable beer intended to complement holiday menus, not overshadow them" (source).
  • Bell's Winter White Ale, $1.69/12oz - "Fermented with a Belgian ale yeast, this blend of barley & wheat malts yields a mixture of clove and fruity aromas, all without the use of any spices. Deliberately brewed to retain a cloudy appearance, Bell's Winter White Ale is a beer for embracing winter" (source).
  • Bell's Hell Hath No Fury...Ale, $2.69/12oz - "Blending a pair of Belgian abbey-style yeasts into a recipe more akin to a roasty stout, Hell Hath No Fury... Ale offers up warm, roasted notes of coffee & dark chocolate together with the fruity & clove-like aromas" (source).
  • Goose Island Mild Winter, $1.59/12oz - "Toffee brown, medium-bodied, with a creamy head and an aroma of raisins and freshly baked dark bread. Mild Winter’s rich caramel malt and spicy rye flavors are sure to take the bite out of whatever Old Man Winter brews up for you this year" (source).
  • Goose Island Christmas Ale, 2.99/12oz - "Each year [Goose Island] changes the recipe slightly so that you have something special to look forward to. Traditionally, this Christmas Ale is a complex brown ale that develops well in the bottle for up to five years" (source).
  • Stone Double Bastard, $7.89/22oz - "It is unequivocally certain that your feeble palate is grossly inadequate and thus undeserving of this liquid glory" (source).
  • Tommy Knocker Cocoa Porter Winter Ale, $1.79/12oz - "Cocoa Porter Winter Warmer Ale has been specially brewed in celebration of the old world tradition of Porters and European Winter Warmers. The addition of pure cocoa powder and honey to each barrel of this unique ale enhances a winter season filled with warm friendships and good times" (source).
  • Rogue Santa's Private Reserve, $2.59/12oz - "A double-hopped Red [Ale], reddish in color, with a roasty, malty flavor and a hoppy spruce finish" (source).
  • Great Lakes Christmas Ale, $2.39/12oz - "Brewed with honey and spiced with fresh ginger and cinnamon" (source).
  • Sam Adams Cranberry Lambic, $1.59/12oz - "Tart and sweet, with complex fruit, maple, and vanilla notes" (source).
  • Sam Adams Griffon's Bow Oaked Blond Barley Wine, $7.19/22oz - "This beer is surprisingly smooth with an ABV of 11.5%. The name goes back to medieval England when barleywines were made and the griffin was a symbolic protector of treasures" (source).
  • Sam Adams Tasman Red Red IPA, $5.09/12oz - "Brewed with Topaz and Galaxy hops grown near the Tasmanian Sea" (source).
  • Sam Adams Third Voyage Double IPA, $6.19/12oz - "The beer is brewed with Cascade hops from England, New Zealand and the Pacific Northwest. It is named for the third voyage of Captain James Cook, which visited those locations" (source).
  • Sam Adams The Vixen Chocolate Chili Bock, $6.19/22oz - "A chocolate chili bock [that] mixes the aroma and flavors of dark cocoa, cinnamon, and chilies" (source).
  • Arcadia Nut Brown Ale, $1.79/12oz - "An easy drinking medium-bodied English-style brown ale...with a deep mahogany color and rich flavor" (source).
  • Rodenbach Belgian Ale, $8.99/750ml, $2.69/330ml - According to Beer Hunter Michael Jackson, "the world-classic beers of the Rodenbach brewery, and several similar products from competitors, mainly in West Flanders, are a distinct style without a name. They are more sharply acidic, leaner, more reddish, half-brothers to the Brown Beers of East Flanders, with the additional difference that they are often filtered and pasteurized. Their sharpness makes them perhaps the most quenching beers in the world, and their acidity renders them very food-friendly. The sharp acidity, and some of the colour, derives from aging in large, fixed, wooden tuns... The brewery's Rodenbach Grand Cru is aged for between 18 months and two years or more. The regular Rodenbach Bier is a blend containing some younger beer" (source).
  • Rodenbach Grand Cru, 8.99/750ml - See above.
  • Boon Kriek, $6.99/375ml - "A spontaneously fermented beer, made ​​from old and young lambic of Lembeek, matured in oak barrels. Our quality is guaranteed by the use of cherries 240 grams per liter of beer" (source).
  • Boon Framboise, $6.99/375ml - "A spontaneously fermented beer, made ​​from old and young lambic of Lembeek, matured in oak barrels. Our quality is guaranteed by the use of 250 grams per liter of raspberry beer" (source).
  • Boon Geuze, $6.99/375ml - 100% soft lambic. By spontaneous fermentation and maturation of two years in oak barrels, the beer is a very special champagne taste" (source).
  • Ace Pumpkin Cider, $2.19/12oz - Credit for this description: "Smooth full-bodied cider with an all spice pumpkin aroma, and an orangey hue."
  • Samuel Smith Winter Welcome, $4.59/550ml - "This seasonal beer is a limited edition brewed for the short days and long nights of winter. The full body resulting from fermentation in ‘stone Yorkshire squares’ and the luxurious malt character, which will appeal to a broad range of drinkers, is balanced against whole-dried Fuggle and Golding hops with nuances and complexities that should be contemplated before an open fire" (source).
  • B. Nektar Imperial Funky Monky, $13.89/500ml - A "Belgian-inspired hopped cherry melomel; honey wine with cherry juice and hops added" (source).
Picture of the Week

We're about 6 months away from the Homebrew Competition.
Time to start planning your entry?


Thursday, November 3, 2011

What's the worst that could happen?

Paulaner clone, gusher
Wanted: hilarious tales of homebrew mishap.

By Steve Siciliano

I've been in this business long enough to hear a horror story or two—a slippery carboy is dropped and five gallons of precious liquid oozes across the basement floor; a fermenter stashed away in a bedroom closet erupts like Mt. Vesuvius and the brewer comes home to an irate wife standing menacingly over a pile of krausened-soaked clothes. There are tales of massive boil overs, just-opened bottles gushing like oil wells, and sparges stuck worse than a tax-reform bill in congress.

Anyone who brews beer or makes wine has or probably will someday encounter such difficulties. But we homebrewers and winemakers are a tough, resourceful lot, not so easily dismayed or deterred. We lick our wounds, do whatever it takes to win back the good graces of our significant others, and climb back on our hobby horses. My own horror story involves drain-pouring the contents of two five-gallon carboys. What started as wine metamorphosed into something with the distinctively unpleasant odor of nail polish remover.

Got a horror story to tell? Share it with us. Write it up in the comments section below. There’s a community of brewers and winemakers out there who can relate, and who are explicitly capable of commiserating with your misery.