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Mouthing Off

By the Editors of Food & Wine Magazine

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Beer

5 Biggest Home-Brew Blunders

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Steve Wagner.

© Courtesy of StudioSchulz.com
Steve Wagner.

One of this fall’s most interesting beer books, The Craft of Stone Brewing Co., tells the story of how Stone’s founders, Steve Wagner and Greg Koch, created the aggressively hopped, intensely flavored beers that turned their San Diego company into one of America’s iconic craft breweries. But before Stone launched in 1996, Wagner was just an ambitious home brewer. Here, he reveals the five biggest home-brewing flubs, and why sometimes it’s good to make mistakes.  
 
1. Forget to take notes. When you like the results of a home brew, you’ll want to re-create it—and that means having kept track of not only ingredients but also boiling times and fermentation temperatures. “To me, keeping detailed records is one of the signs of a really good home brewer,” says Wagner.
 
2. Try all your ideas at once. “When you use too many ingredients,” Wagner says, “they cancel each other out and make for a muddy, indistinct beer.” Instead, stick with simple recipes until you really feel like you’ve gotten it right. Wagner points out that though Stone’s beers are aggressively flavored, they have short lists of ingredients. The company’s flagship beer, Arrogant Bastard Ale, for example, calls for just one type of hop.
 
3. Underestimate the importance of yeast. “A lot of times, home brewers will be thinking about the water and the hops and the malt,” says Wagner. “When it comes to yeast they say ‘Well, I've got this old package in my pantry.’” Getting a healthy fermentation started—as quickly as possible—will help you avoid all kinds of problems. Use a fresh yeast starter.
 
4. Pull the plug on mistakes. One of Wagner’s greatest successes started as a mistake. As the book details, Stone's flagship Arrogant Bastard Ale was the result of a massive ingredient miscalculation. “We debated dumping it down the drain,” says Wagner. “But we let it finish, and when we tasted it, we were like ‘Nobody's going to like it, but it's really cool.’” (The brew was so intense that the founders weren't sure it could find a market.) Wagner advocates finishing any brew you start. If you do wind up with a flawed beer, keep in mind that bottle aging will often temper rough edges.
 
5. Add too much sugar and blow up your beer. Of all the ways a home brew can go wrong, this is the most dramatic. If you’re carbonating the beer without any special equipment you’ll do so via “bottle conditioning,” inducing a secondary fermentation in the bottle by adding some form of sugar to react with the still-active yeast. “It’s better to start out with too little priming sugar,” says Wagner. “If the carbonation isn't good enough, build it up a little next time.” Alternatively, if you overdo it with sugar, you'll get what’s known to home brewers as a bottle bomb—a bottle that explodes from excessive pressure.

Related: Great American Ales
Ultimate Beer Guide
Craft Beer Trends

Wine

Early Look: Bellus Wines at Parm

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© Cynthia Grabau
Jordan Salcito and Lucy Liu celebrate Salcito's new wine Bellus.

Two things I’m really looking forward to this fall: The release of my friend Jordan Salcito’s new wine Bellus and the opening of Torrisi Italian Specialties’ outpost, Parm. Well, earlier this week I got to have my Bellus and eat my meatball subs, too, at the wine’s launch party at the soon-to-open Parm.

Salcito’s inaugural wine, Girasole, is a 2007 Tuscan red; a mix of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It’s got flavors of cherry, pomegranate, herbs and cinnamon. And it happened to be insanely good with Parm’s fresh-from-the-deep-fryer mozzarella sticks and the accompanying marinara sauce.

I’m not the only person who was excited to celebrate the Bellus/Parm pairing. Superstar actress and author Lucy Liu was there; she’s lovely. Hip-hop executive Lyor Cohen smartly positioned himself by the open kitchen, near the sausage-and-pepper heros and pizza knots. Also there: Beyoncé, who’s got to be the world’s most beautiful pregnant woman. And I’m not just saying that because she and Jay-Z shared their meatball parm subs and zeppole with us. Beyoncé was drinking ginger-ale, not Bellus. But she smelled her husband’s wine. “It smells delicious,” she said. “I can’t wait to be able to drink it.”

Tasting Room

Age-Your-Own Whiskey: Week 1

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Woodinville Whiskey Co.'s Age-Your-Own Whiskey Kit

© Tomi Omololu-Lange
Woodinville Whiskey Co.'s Age-Your-Own Whiskey Kit

Whenever I tell people that I’m from Kentucky, the response is always, “Whiskey or horses?”—not altogether an unfair question. (It’s horses, by the way.) Generally, American whiskey doesn’t stray too far from the Kentucky-Tennessee border. That’s why, when I opened a package from Woodinville Whiskey Company, I was doubly mystified. Not only had they sent a Washington State whiskey, but a Washington State age-your-own whiskey kit, complete with two bottles of unaged whiskey, an adorable miniature barrel and a funnel. Curious, I decided to give it a go and I’ll be reporting on any changes over the next few weeks.

Whiskey can be made from various grains—corn, wheat, rye and barley. Blenders come up with their own personal recipes and whip up a grain cocktail, called the mash bill, that’s distilled, resulting in a clear, high-proof spirit. This is then aged in charred wood barrels for a varying amount of time—typically eight years or more. The mini-barrel in Woodinville’s kit, however, is said to speed-age whiskey—10 times faster than the great big barrels used in distilleries.

So after soaking the little barrel in water (per the instructions), last week I funneled the bottles of white whiskey into it. Over time, it should deepen in color and pick up lovely hints of vanilla, smoke and nuts. Allegedly, in just a few weeks, I should see significant changes in both the color and the flavor of the whiskey. I’ve set aside some of the original white whiskey as a control, so I can see just how quickly the barrel influences our little batch.

The clear, unaged whiskey in the kit is a mash of corn, wheat and malted barley—the traditional bourbon whiskey mash bill used in Kentucky. For now, all I have is this raw white whiskey (a.k.a. moonshine, white dog, white lightning, albino, whatever), which, in recent years, has become quite popular on its own. And I don’t mean the old bathtub version. Three to try:

Woodinville Whiskey Company Unaged Whiskey (the one we’re aging): Sweet butterscotch on the nose and powerful at 110 proof.

Death's Door White Whiskey: Wisconsin’s Death’s Door debuted one of the first white whiskeys on the market in 2008. Since then, their version has become extremely popular with mixologists. It has a grape-lollipop note that makes it perfectly fun for cocktails.

Bully Boy White Whiskey: Spearminty and twiggy, with notes of basil, this is a great palate-cleanser.

I should add that in the process of feeding our baby barrel the unaltered whiskey, I had a little accident that resulted in shattered glass, spilled whiskey and a crack down the center of Food & Wine’s tasting table. Looks like I’ve got the devil’s luck just in time for Halloween. Then again, I’m not convinced that the devil’s luck is such a bad thing to have when you’re in the business of aging whiskey.

Recipes

A Breakfast Worth Waking Up For: Chicken and Potato Hash

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Chicken Dance spotlights a fantastic Food & Wine chicken recipe every day.

Chicken and Potato Hash

© Melanie Acevedo
Chicken and Potato Hash

If you skipped breakfast this morning, you're not alone. A recent survey conducted by market research company NPD Group found that 31 million people in the United States forgo "the most important meal of the day." Lack of hunger and being busy are the most common excuses, but here's a strong case for getting up earlier to eat: Potato, Mushroom and Chicken Hash topped with a fried egg makes a fast and fantastic use of last night's leftover chicken.

Wine

AOC Wants Winemaker in Jail

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Olivier Cousin.

© Courtesy of Jenny & François Selections.
Olivier Cousin.

Popular Loire Valley winemaker Olivier Cousin faces prison time after boxes of his wines turned up labeled with the initials AOC, which happens to be the acronym for France's superstrict wine classification system Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée. Cousin opted out of AOC Anjou status several years ago, giving him the freedom to make wine however he wants, but under the less prestigious vin de table designation. For years, one of Cousin's labels has included the name of the region Anjou, the use of which is also restricted, but authorities seem to have turned a blind eye to the infraction until this more flagrant offense.

Cousin's American importer, Jenny & François Selections, says that a European distributor is to blame for taking a jab at France's governing wine authorities by labeling boxes with initials that stand for Appellation Olivier Cousin. The official AOC was not amused. Cousin's charges could result in a fine of more than $50,000 and a two-year imprisonment.

The AOC system is, to say the least, controversial. (When we interviewed writer Alice Feiring last week she told us it should be abolished.) Cousin, who works his vineyards with horses, is part of the natural winemaking coterie that has a history of run-ins with the organization. For example, the Beaujolais producer Jean-Paul Brun failed an AOC tasting panel in 2008 after being told his wine wasn't representative of the region. The wine is critically acclaimed, something that is not characteristic of Beaujolais.

Jenny & Francois is circulating an online petition in support of Olivier Cousin here.

Related: Loire Valley wines
Natural Wine: Weird or Wonderful?

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