Holidays and tradition go together, and at Christmas more than any other time. We are drawn into the homes of loved ones and friends, where we find warmth and comfort, and many reasons to celebrate. Final Christmas Preparations are under way, and I thought I’d share a little bit of detail on what our holiday visitors can expect this year.
A few weeks back, I blogged here and here about an experiment, making “dry-hopped cider”. After completing the primary and secondary fermentation, I recently kegged the cider and dry-hopped it with about 2 ounces of “Calypso” hops. The Calypso is one of the newer hop varieties with an extremely high Alpha (i.e., potential bitterness) — 17%. Since dry-hopping doesn’t involve boiling the hops, very little of the potential bitterness goes into the (in this case) cider, instead imparting the “volatile esters” of the hops which are associated with subtler flavors and aromas. Characteristic flavors and aromas of the Calypso include tropical fruit, citrus, apple and pear.
I’m very happy with the results from this experiment. The cider has a light, perfectly clear, light golden straw color, and the carbonation is crisp and reminiscent of sparkling wine. Aromas include apple (obviously) which give way to a wider bouquet of citrus and melon. The first thing that came to mind when I tried it was an off-dry white Italian wine (sometimes frizzante) from the Moscato grape. Because the cider itself is so light, there is a slight bitterness from the hops, but it is not at the expense of the underlying fruit. Especially on the back of the palate, the cider mimics some characteristics of a light lager. Success!
Second, I also kegged five gallons from the latest batch of Religious Liberty Ale, a “flagship” beer in the Quartermaster portfolio. The ingredients of the beer are rather simple: 2-row, 40L (and a little toasted), and a single hop: the Cascade. In this case, the Cascades are fresh from the 2013 harvest. As a pale ale, it provides the best of both worlds: sufficient flavors of malt and biscuit to balance the 40 IBUs from the Cascades, and then a nose full of oranges and citrus from dry-hopping with an ounce-plus of additional Cascades. If I were forced to choose just one beer to drink forever, this would be it.
Apples and oranges! Beyond compare, and yet complementary to the other.
Did you know that in the history of the Church, December 23 and 24 were often considered days for fasting? On Christmas Eve, we try to make something special and festive without it being “over the top” (which we save for the feasting on Christmas), and so we invite everyone to come and have a bowl of New England Clam Chowder later in the evening before heading off to midnight mass. Because we all love chowder, it doesn’t feel much like fasting at all.
For Christmas Dinner, an entire bone-in USDA Choice standing rib roast is currently air-drying in the beer refrigerator in the Brewhouse, on its way from an initial weight of just over 22 pounds down to about 17 or 18. Beef contains an awful lot of excess water, and you can concentrate that delicious, roasty, beefy flavor by allowing it to age in a cold, dry environment for a period of days, or even weeks. I generally try to age a roast this size at least a week, but even two or three weeks is good. While the meat loses excess moisture and concentrates flavor, the microbes actually begin breaking down the tough protein fibers. As it does this, it develops a rind and the exterior color of the roast darkens which imparts a funky smell. Beef (but not ground beef) and funk is a good thing.
With a standing rib roast, and Yorkshire pudding, and brussels sprouts and confit potatoes, our family Christmas Dinner has a definite British quality to it, and so we traditionally have a steamed pudding. This year I got around to making the pudding a little later than usual, but it has had a couple weeks to “ripen” and should be great as usual. I always use suet to make the pudding — because any other way it’s not truly a Christmas pudding — as well as enormous red, purple and yellow raisins, dried cranberries (I know, not traditional), chopped green apples, citron, spices and brandy. On Christmas Day it will get steamed again for about two hours, we’ll light it on fire using flaming brandy, and serve it with hard sauce also made from brandy. Every year, a 19th-century silver shilling goes into the pudding. The slice containing the shilling wins a prize. We always cut a slice “for Jesus” so that the prize has a chance of going to the church.