Monday, July 30, 2007

Sweet, schticky brew

A couple weeks ago we grilled out with some friends. The food wasn't anything special, but we had a couple beers I had bought on my Easter weekend beer forage. They were a good choice.

They were both He'Brew beers: we drank a MONUMENTAL JEWBELATION, and a BITTERSWEET LENNY'S R.I.P.A..

In general, we start at the lighter-coloured brews and move to the darker ones. A cursory look at each bottle against the light showed that the Lenny's was significantly paler than the Jewbelation, so we started there.

BITTERSWEET LENNY'S R.I.P.A. is an "IPA" that contains rye. In other words, it's not an IPA. But it is very good. In fact, it was a great beer.

For the non-beer people, a brief description of some styles. Please understand I am greatly over-simplifying here. The main distinct ingredients in beer are barley and hops. Barley is malted in the brewing process, which creates a vaguely sweet flavour. Hops, in contrast, are bitter. Thus, a lot of the flavours in beer are from the varying balance of hop bitterness vs. malt sweetness. There are three main "bitter" families of beer, all British in origin: Bitter, Extra-Special Bitter (ESB), and India Pale Ale (IPA).

Bitter is a coppery-coloured, top-fermenting beer. It tends to favour hop over malt, so that the result is a nicely bitter beer. The difference between "bitter" and "pale ale" is vague: "bitter" is a type of "pale ale".

ESB is a high-alcohol bitter. It is not necessarily higher in hop content, although it might be. The most commonly known is probably Fuller's ESB. My current drinking beer is Bridgeport ESB, from Oregon. The term "high-alcohol" is perhaps misleading. British beers can be as low in alcohol as 3% ABV. Budweiser and similar swill are typically 5% ABV. Bridgeport ESB is 6.1% ABV.

IPA is extremely hoppy, and frequently very high in alcohol. Legend has it that IPA was developed by the British as a way to get beer to India for the troops. The super-hoppy IPA was supposed to be like a "beer concentrate" that would withstand the rigours of the voyage to India without spoiling. If memory serves, the IPA was supposed to be watered when it arrived to produce something more like an ESB, but no one does that anymore.

Americans have added a level to the traditional IPA, in so-called "hop monsters". These are beers more or less designed to prove they can actually be made. Some are undrinkably bitter, and they frequently live in the 10+% ABV range. I don't have a lot of use for these, as a rule; although I've tasted a few.

So Lenny's is perhaps not really an IPA, but it is a very good beer.

The addition of rye to a very hoppy recipe makes an interesting beer. The beer is much maltier than any IPA I've ever tried, and the rye adds a spicy darkness. You can see from the photo that the beer is almost amber in colour. The alcohol content is 10% ABV.

I'll buy more if I stumble across it.

The second of the night was MONUMENTAL JEWBELATION:

Consider the colour of that beer. The alcohol content was 10% ABV, and the flavour was every bit as dark as it looks; although it wasn't as malty as I expected.

This beer is almost attempting to play in the "Belgian Ale" category; which is exactly where I don't see He'Brew as a competitor. I've said it before: the only North American breweries that do "Belgian" right are Unibroue and Ommegang (and possibly Dragon Mead, but I haven't sampled enough of their offerings to swear to it). There are any number of excellent American breweries, but they almost always like to push the envelope, and "Belgian" is best in the traditional form. That's not to say I won't drink the other offerings! But I find I much prefer the conservative approach of Unibroue and Ommegang.

Nevertheless, Jewbelation was a treat. If you see one in the store, pick it up. The label is enough reason in itself to buy one of these.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Satan Bug

This is wonderful news for a nice summer, there's been a botulism outbreak at a cannery in Atlanta. They've put out a recall for canned chili. The best part is, they manufacture chili for various companies and store brands, so if you eat that stuff, you need to look at the recall notice.

Interestingly, they ship chili as far north as Canada and as far west as San Diego.

I found the story at CBC before I saw it on an American site. There were a couple memorable quotes:
In states like North Carolina, more than one in three stores checked by state officials in recent days were still offering recalled products for sale. Officials there pulled 5,500 cans and pledged to keep searching

Health Canada on Sunday issued a warning to avoid consuming Great Value brand Original Chili with Beans and Hot Chili with Beans, made by Castleberry in the U.S. and sold in 425-gram cans exclusively at Wal-Mart stores across Canada. No illnesses have been reported in Canada.

As anyone knows who's lived in the South, Southerners like their burgers with chili, slaw, and mustard. Consequently, we frequently have a can of chili from some store or another lying around. And eating a hot dog without chili is just plain barbaric.

Of course, eating a hot dog is arguably uncivilized, regardless of whether slaw's involved...

So check your cupboards, people!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

It was all worth it

Apparently five calculus, three differential equations, one abstract algebra, one linear algebra, and one tensor analysis courses have all paid off:

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!

I feel very smart, all of a sudden

Jaymz Game

KingJaymz has suggested a contest, involving the blog toys at Miss Fortune's Cookies. I thought I'd play along. The first two were lame, but I must say, the Harry Potter spoiler made me crack (so to speak) a wide smile.

My Fortune Cookie told me:
If you never look out of the window, you will not see the llama until it is too late.
Get a cookie from Miss Fortune

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Grand Duke Clumsy the Blue of Lower Hellswicke
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

My Harry Potter Spoiler of Doom is:
Draco Malfoy gets addicted to crack after converting to Scientology
Get your Harry Potter Spoiler of Doom

Sunday, July 22, 2007

In one sitting...

Well, I bought Deathly Hallows today, then I came home and read it.

It was surprisingly good. In fact, I was astonished how well she managed to tie up the loose ends more observant Potter fans had noticed. I knew she was good, but not that good.

In other news, we've managed to lose our camera. Isn't that crazy? We have a decent DSLR, and we can't find it for anything.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The blog sits empty;
Ideas race in my brain,
But I can't write them

Monday, July 9, 2007


So I was sitting at work today, sans air conditioner, and I suddenly heard my car alarm go off. Thinking it was odd, I stood up to look out the window, and saw a young man with his hand on the door of my Suburban. He paused a moment, then took off running. He ran across the parking lot, and jumped into the passenger side of an older minivan (I think it was a Mazda MPV, but I couldn't tell for sure). The passenger-side door of the minivan was open: he managed to get in and the minivan took off very quickly.

Sadly, I was slow on the draw on my cell-phone camera (which may not have been very relevant: my phone is obnoxious with the camera, making me explicitly save between every picture), so I never got any pictures of the young man. I did manage to write down the license plate number of the minivan: North Carolina # WPF-8886.

Of course, I called the police, but they didn't seem too interested in my story. It went something like this:
"Did anyone get hurt?"
"Is there damage on the car?"
"No, he never got in, the alarm scared him off"
"I have the license plate number of the car he took off in"
"Do you want it?"
"Well, I guess I could circulate it"
"North Carolina WPF-8886"
"Thank you"

I guess just touching someone's door and setting off the alarm isn't a crime. But I would have expected with all the car break-ins that have been happening in the area, they would have liked to at least know the license plate number.

So I don't want to slander or libel anyone, but someone who was touching my car was very upset when the alarm went off, and hot-footed it into a running, waiting minivan with a North Carolina license plate WPF-8886. If you see it, you might want to be careful.

It would have been better to get pictures, of course, but alas! such was not to be this time.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


Disclaimer: I linked to a couple reviews I wrote for Epinions in this article. If you read my Epinions reviews, you'll earn me credit for traffic. Not like I really care, but I thought I should disclose that I have a material interest (however paltry) in directing you to my reviews.

Well, the Fourth of July was a Wednesday this year, so a bunch of us decided there wasn't a lot of point to coming in Monday or Tuesday. Well, Sunday night I was in the grocery store (after meeting), and I saw pork butts on sale for $0.97 a pound.

So Monday was barbecue day.

Now, barbecue is a greatly misunderstood art form. It's not about sweet and sticky ribs, salty beef brisket, or even vinegar-soaked pig shoulders. Barbecue is about tough cuts of meat, slowly and patiently cooked over coals at around 200F. Whether that meat is brisket, ribs, or hog shoulders; the point is to cook it slowly over coals at around 200F.

Personally, my favourite barbecue is the Eastern North Carolina style: where a whole hog is cooked overnight over coals. The folks out there make their barbecue sauce out of vinegar, water, peppers, and some spices; no sugar, no tomatoes. There are other styles, of course: Texans cook beef with tomatoes and sugar, folks in Kansas City cook beef with molasses, and folks in Memphis use molasses and tomatoes on pig shoulders or ribs.

But North Carolina is where barbecue started, and the flavours and styles vary from county to county. Further east, they cook the whole hog in vinegar. Here in the Piedmont, they cook only pieces of the hog (mainly the shoulders), and they add some sugar and tomato to the sauce. West of here in the mountains, the sauce gets more and more tomatoey, until you get over into Tenessee.

I can't cook a whole hog on my grill, so I just cook shoulders. But I do tend to use the simpler "original" eastern-style sauce. I use a mop sauce loosely based on Smoky Hale's "Eastern North Carolina Basting Sauce" on p. 245 of The Great American Barbecue and Grilling Manual (I wrote an Epinions review too). My version of this sauce is a little different than Smoky's, but I think mine gives a more rounded flavour. And mine reminds me a lot of the sauces I've actually eaten in eastern NC. Here's my mop sauce:
2 C. water
1 1/2 C. white vinegar
1/2 C. apple cider vinegar
1 T. crushed red pepper
1 1/2 T. salt
2 t. black pepper
1 T. garlic powder
2 T. paprika
Just mix all that up and you've got a basting sauce

Now I'll be honest and say I love the "Memphis style" sauces I buy from Red Hot and Blue. But I cook pretty exclusively with either my own baste or Carolina Treet, an excellent "eastern North Carolina" sauce.

This time, I cooked the shoulders for 14 hours, but I think I cut it a little short. It could have used another hour or so. There are those who claim to cook barbecue in eight hours or less, but they're really shorting themselves the final burst of flavour and tenderness that only come in the last couple hours: say after the first twelve.

Well, here's my grill with some meat on it:

Notice I moved my Santa Fe up by my other grill. Well, Ames and I lifted it up. I figure my brother-in-law can have it, just as soon as he comes to get it. Until then, I'll keep using it.

My daughter and I prepped the meat and got it cooking before 9:00 AM. I took it off the grill at 11:00 PM. What does prepping involve? For pork butts, it means spreading cheap yellow mustard all over the meat, then sprinkling it with salt, black pepper, and garlic. Then it goes on the grill.

The most important part of barbecue is the temperature. If you look at the photo above, you can see two temperature probes: one in the butt on the left, the other over the butt in the middle. The first measures the temperature of the meat, the other measures the temperature of the grill. Both readings come out on this display:

Its range is in the several-hundred-foot neighbourhood. I wrote a review of this thermometer on Epinions, if you care.

This go 'round, I created a grease fire on my grill. That is, a grease fire started when I was... er... detained. When I got undetained, I checked the temperature and found that is was too hot to register ("HHHH"). Oops! I ran outside in my bare feet, and saw a tremendous grease fire. I managed to stop it, but not before it completely destroyed my pit temperature probe:

That's why there's only one temperature showing on my thermometer above. I guess I need to replace the pit probe: it permanently reads "HHHH" now. I must have permanently shorted out the thermocouple in there.

Thereafter, I had no remote thermometer, so I had to spend most of the rest of my day in an adirondack chair, sipping a beer, and watching the grill. The built-in thermometer on the grill reads low, but it appears to read consistently low. That is, it appears to be very consistently 70F too low. So, I sat there, trying to make sure my grill thermometer was reading between 120F and 150F.

As I've said before, the key ingredient in barbecue is temperature control. Sometimes my grill gets too hot, so I have these little wooden blocks that I use to prop the lid open and lower the temperature a little. They're basically a cut 2X4, with a groove routed in them:

They sit on the lip of the grill and keep the lid cracked (these are old photos):

Well, after 14 hours and a few of these:

I finally took the meat off the grill at 11:00PM. It could've used a couple more hours, but I think it was (all in all) a good day's work:

Now that is a relaxing day.