It’s eight-thirty in the morning at Magnolia Pub and Brewery, the glass windows are clouded and dripping with precipitation while the fog is cool and sits low in the upper Haight-Ashbury neighborhood where our newly favorite pub is located.
Beer drinking is relatively new to me, call me a snob, most of my legal age drinking years had been dedicated to spirits and wine – I would not touch beer if I were stranded on a deserted island with mountains of kegs as my only means to hydrate … let me explain, my first and traumatic relationship with beer was in high school back in Hawaii where I grew up – Primo beer; I liken this fluid to foamy, yellow, sour water. I recall swigging bottles of Primo with the rigor of an old sailor only to be spent for the rest of the evening into the early morning over a toilet bowl as the world around me spun like a carnival ride gone berserk!
Mind you I’m talking a million years ago in my youth – when I knew nothing about anything. Since then, although nary a bottle of Primo has touch these lips – it appears the brand has embraced everything about my place of birth that I find dear to my heart. So begins the healing process, purging me of the “Primo Incident”
Although my first memories of beer is not of IPA or Stout or Lager or anything near the lesson I was soon to learn about artisanal brewing.
Michael and our friend Photographer/Filmmaker Tom Seawell are already in the thick of the process. I’m joining the Recchiuti Confections crew down in the basement of Magnolia where the brewing is done. Michael is filming as Tom multi tasks as film director and shoots still shots for my blogging purpose. Head Brewer Ben Spencer is a blur of movement, like a juggler in the midst of having a dozen balls in the air; he is focused and moving in a rhythm of familiar repetition – almost second nature in the routine of beer making. Sweat dripping off him as the sweet malt scent permeated the air, steam billowing and water running off the walls.
Quick synopses of brewing – as understood by the woman who went for years without drinking beer.
First step of beer making is cooking the malt (grain) this extracts the sugars needed to feed then yeast in the fermentation. Some of the types of malts used are Maris Otter Pale Malt, Crystal Malt and Chocolate Malt each offering its own distinct flavor profile.
Sweet wort (pronounced wert) means “Plant” in German. This is the flavorful sweet liquid that the cooking of the grain has created; creamy and malty in taste and basically like a cereal juice, the spent grains are kind of like over-cooked Irish oatmeal.
ADDING THE HOPS
After the sweet wort is made dried (which looks like little rabbit food pellets) hops are added to give depth of flavor, although always added in the brewing it lends itself to the style of beer, like IPA or Bitter Ale in that the amount and the blended type of grains establishes the profile. Either dried or highly perishable fresh hop can be used – with fresh hops, timing is everything, a small window of twice yearly is available to the brew master. More cooking is done
After cooking the sweet hopped wort, the liquid is drained, cooled and transferred to the barrels in the fermentation room, the final step is the addition of yeast.
Magnolia story continues…
In rolls Dave Mclean the visionary of Alembic further up Haight Street the neighborhood and Brew Master for Magnolia Brewery. He is an encyclopedia of beer information; not only of method in brewing but history and science of it. His passion and love for what he does is clear, any question thrown at him opens up yet another anecdote of the brewing history or a brewing experience which has lead Magnolia to the various flavor profiles developed over the years. Dave is funny and engaging but at the same time he has one eye locked in on Ben as a friendly repartee is being batted back and forth between all of us. Dave doesn’t miss a beat, he checks in periodically to be sure the Recchiuti crew is not distracting Ben too much as this is liquid gold in the works … there are many a fan who will be depending on the perfection of the brewing. Still Dave makes the time to tell us more tales …
Here’s one he shared;
Twice a year in the rare chance of getting fresh hops timed just right with a the brewing of sweet wort, it’d critical that the hops are cut, shipped and added to the wort within hours; the wort waits for no one. A call comes in that freshly harvested hops are on its way via UPS courier to Magnolia, the timing couldn’t be more perfect – that is until the early morning deliver of hops is a “No Show”. In sleuthing for the missing hops, it is discovered that the USDA has suddenly deem this particular shipment of hops interesting enough to delay for inspection, much to their chagrin the hops will not be delivered until possible the next – this is too late by then mold and other impurities will have manifested itself and no longer any good for the wort. YIKES the wort! Ben scrambles to find some dried hops to add to the ready and waiting wort and a brew they affectionate refer to as “the USDA” has been born. Eventually fresh hops gets re-sent to Magnolia, the old (formerly fresh) hops also get delivered with not a single explanation as to why it was delayed, Hmmm? I say “Beer Nuts!” to the powers that be.
Back to tales from the brew …
Dave has just taken a sip of a sample Ben has pulled from the cask room for quality control (sure, yeah, of course!) – “Not bad” says Dave, he’s just tasted the USDA, if nothing else this somewhat traumatic incident has turned in to a fun legend for Magnolia to share.
Michael and I bellied up to the bar to conduct an unlikely pairing of chocolates (Recchiuti Confections chocolates to be precise), we asked for a flight of beers and we were off and running, here’s what we came up with.
FLIGHTS & TASTING NOTES
Blue Bell Bitter Cask Ale
Kona Coffee – pulls out the coffee& cream quality of the beer very confection like.
Candied Orange Peel – hoppy bitterness subsides from the citrus and chocolate, pleasantly lighter.
Proving Ground IPA Cask Ale
Cardamom Nougat – enhances skunky, spiciness in beer, bitters are pulled up in the profile.
Ginger Heart – white chocolate mellows the bitterness adding a creamy, mild spiciness from the ginger.
Star Anise Pink Peppercorn – beer and truffle balances each other, very interesting and pleasant surprise.
Weather Report Wheat Draught
Force Noir – the maltiness of the beer becomes pronounced as the cacao and vanilla is pulled from the brew
Star Anise and Pink Peppercorn – bright spice notes appear allowing the personality beam from this beer
Candied Orange Peel – a complex citrusiness comes forward, almost tasting like a “Shandy”
Prescription Pale Draught
Fleur de Sel – the salty creaminess enhances flavor
Candied Orange Peel – draws out the fruit notes from the beer
Big Cypress Brown Draught
Burnt Caramel – balances flavors runs in tandem with beer
Force Noir – vanilla notes are drawn, driving the chocolate tones out
Burnt Caramel Almonds – nutty, caramel tones come through with the beer
Dark Star Mild Cask Ale
Kona Coffee – expected rich coffee flavors appear
Honey Comb Malt – creamy, vanilla malt undertones are present
Sesame Nougat – smokey, toasted nut and caramel becomes pronounced
TASTE PROJECT MENU
- Chocolate Malt, Crystal Malt, Maris Otter Pale Malts (presented as a pure tasting)
- Malt Dragées; Maris Otter Pale Malt covered with layers of Recchiuti 64% Semisweet Chocolate
- Caramelized Barley Malt Mendiants(also 64% Semisweet)
- Wort Soda garnished with Malt Foam Cube with a “Pipette” of Fresh Wort. A reduction of sweet wort is added to ice, finished with seltzer water. Frozen malt foam as a garnish is pierced with a pipette
- A reduction of Hopped Sweet Wort is folded into White Chocolate Ganache. A casted shell of Recchiuti 64% custom blend by Valrhona holds the ganache filling.
- Blue Bell Bitter with Candied Orange Peel
- Spud’s Boy IPA with Star Anise and Pink Peppercorn
- Big Cypress Brown with Burnt Caramel
- Smokestack Lightening Stout Shooter, Chocolate Stout Tort (see recipe below) and Stout Gelée
- Recchiuti 64% Semisweet Chocolate Ice Cream floating on Magnolia’s Dark Star Mild
Whoever said beer didn’t go with chocolate has been proven absolutely incorrect. The mastering of both chocolate and beer making has proven equally challenging, the complexity of blending, the perfection in timing parallel each other – how long to brew, when to add the hops vs. roasting cacao and tempering curves.
For someone who avoided beer drinking for decades, I have to admit I have come to see the light – thrown in a cabana boy with cold towels to wipe the sweat off my tanning forehead I just might think about cracking into a bottle of Primo on the white sandy beaches of Hawaii … this could be a follow up story to this beer thing. I’ll get right on it!