Friday, September 18, 2015

From Cooking to Brewing - Dark Chocolate Milk Stout

Dark Chocolate Milk Stout Craft Brew
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
Having a passion for cooking and an even greater passion for food almost always leads me to remember the healthy, hearty liquids that one might accompany with our meals and celebrations such as wine, champagne, spirits and beer, especially if they’re during memorable experiences.  There are others such as milk, tea, coffee, chocolate, fruit juices, etc.  But what lead me to another culinary adventure in the kitchen comes from old memories of an uncle that used to brew beer in México.  

My uncle had a big, bellowing belly that he proudly displayed unashamedly and wiggled like gelatin when he laughed or even coughed loudly, both were practiced religiously almost every other few minutes.  His snowy white hair and mustache were not always well kept, but he was an amusing raconteur.  He narrated the stories of his days working at a big brewery as well as other stories living on a big ranch.  

As a child, all I could imagine was him stirring a huge vat of mash (roasted grains) wearing a big dusty hat.  The vat is a huge container where crushed grain is mixed in with hot water and turned many times until it reaches a certain temperature.  Once the proper temperature is reached, it turns into wort that can be boiled, so that it can later ferment and become beer.  Then I would imagine him swimming in fermented beer and pouring beer into hundreds of little dark bottles that were perfumed with droplets of salty sweat mixing in with the beer as he capped the bottles.  He claims he put all the labels on the bottles by dipping the label in beer so that they would stick good to the bottle.  I guess beer is what beer does and I couldn’t help myself from shaping my imagination any better, as his way of telling the stories was always on the tall, tale side.

On one occasion we were invited to the annual beer festival which was held at the brewery.  We were warned by my mother that there might be some "unusual" odors due to the fermented beer.  Upon arrival, I was delighted by the smell of beer but I was shocked to find that there wasn’t a big swimming pool full of beer, nor was there a big slide to slide on that that made cottony foam in the pool.  All day prior to arriving, I was looking forward to sliding with my head first down.  There were hug vats containing mash and others that contained large amounts of beer ready for bottling.  My uncle tried to amend my disappointment of the absence of the pool full of beer, by letting me jump on the mountain of grain that was sitting there ready for roasting to start the next batch. 

Everyone present for the celebration sampled the beer and as the eating, and the dancing, and the accordeon music went on, so did the drinking.  In those days it was always a live ensemble band and especially in the northern part of the country, the accordion was a big feature.  The drinking did not exclude the little ones.  So, I guess I must have drank at least one full bottle of a dark, black beer that smelled like coffee and dirt.  I must have drank at least three drops of my uncles sweat in that bottle.  I don’t remember my age, but I remember I spilled beer on my white dress and socks.

Boiling the final extract for a Dark Chocolate Milk Stout
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015
In my own kitchen I began the process of brewing beer.  I guess it all began with those delightful memories of my childhood.  My father always believed that a good beer was like good bread.  It will never allow you to thirst or starve.  My mother being a good cook, believed in the process of fermentation and in good, hardy marination with beer which she called “ranch style”.  The grill was constantly loaded with all sorts of good cuts of meat having previously been marinated with herbs, spices and beer.  Corn that was grown right there was also grilled.  Life was good at the ranch, and the beer is still flowing.  

Now, in my own kitchen I ventured from cooking to brewing.  For this batch I made an artisanal recipe that I acquired from the Northern Brewer.  It’s a traditional chocolate milk stout that has been brewed with lactose sugar.  The lactose will not ferment by the yeast but it adds an incredible creamy, milky, rich velvety sweetness.  On it’s secondary fermentation, I added bold, dark, pure exotic cacao.  I did not use the cacao seeds from the pods directly, but it was in ground form.  The cacao smells wonderful when it is being mixed in with the beer.  Once bottled, the final conditioning takes quite a long time.  It will be many weeks but the outcome is delicate, chocolatey, dark, with a hint of earthy coffee.

When finally at it’s perfect ripeness, the beer is poured, it explodes an earthy aroma.  It laces the glass with a rich espresso color and soft creamy foam with a hint of caramel forms thick at the top.  I think I did just fine, and I have my uncle to thank for instilling in me the love of craft beer.  Sadly, he passed away on his ranch in Hacienda San Jose, in August of 2013.  His name was Eustolio Alanis, and we lovingly called him “Tio Toto”.       

Bottling the brew after several weeks of fermentation.
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2015

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