Weekly bread meditations

It was a long-term goal and dream of mine to bake my own household bread, and now I have arrived at this total pleasure and joy becoming a weekly ritual of mine and a part of my everyday life. Is there much better than being able to handle, control, see, and choose what goes into your culinary sources of energy and ultimately, your body? When it comes to cooking, is there much better than ensuring a wholesome, healthy intake by being tactile and playing an active role in your food? Sourdough baking, since starting four years ago, has become a very important part of my life, and one of my first ventures down the rabbit hole into the world of fermentation sciences and practices. It was first a practice of self-sufficiency, a meditation on living things and the whole… Well, idea, of living at all. It happened in an insanely difficult moment in my life, as I had just lost the most important person in the world to me, and I was in college halfway around the world from the rest of my family, moving around constantly. I could have no house pet, but I could take care of billions of living things with my sourdough starter.

It’s like having billions of pets. But what’s so awesome about sourdough baking?
  • Slow fermentation. By soaking a sourdough sponge and allowing a nice, long rise time, you “unlock” the nutrients within the grain – of which there are many, despite the bad stigma that bread and grain receives. The issue with modern bread is not the ingredients themselves, but rather the process of forming an airy, edible mass – not the synergy between man and microbe leading to a delicious, complex source of nutrition.
  • Long rise times. The rise time on sourdough – at least, the kind I bake – is long, ridiculously long. And I love it; I see this as an advantage. I can leave the house for many hours at a time, or perform a rise overnight, and not have to worry about the exact time at which I should bake it. It is done by feel, and I have become so familiar with the strength and the pace of my starter culture that I can simply understand that the dough is ready to be baked by feeling and looking. Best of all, it is forgiving. I don’t have to worry about the dough collapsing if I know how to handle the dough in the right way and treat it as it needs to be.
  • You know what’s going into it. You can control and know exactly what’s going into your bread, which you may not always know with commercial, packaged bread. Even ingredients lists technically don’t have to include everything – legally, certain things don’t have to be included. Wouldn’t it be great if we did know exactly everything that went in – or at least, however much we know about our individual ingredients. Which leads me to the next point:
  • I try to choose the best flour I can find – the extra few cents for a bag of really good organic, stone milled flour is so worth it. You’re only paying just a few kronor/dollars for an incredibly delicious and nutritious bread; I have no qualms with the extra few kronor/cents for an amazing flour. Plus, stone milled flour is shown to deliver far more nutrition than steel milled, with tiny amounts of minerals rubbing off into the flour, and eventually, into your body. Why consume just starch? Every little bit you consume should have a purpose for your body – it’s worth so much.

So, these are just some of the advantages to baking your own sourdough bread, and just some of the reasons why I spend the time and energy (it’s just a little, really!) to do it. It’s also a beautiful weekly meditation for me, where I get to take care of my starter culture of billions of microbes and grow new ones; I get to have a hand in life happening, life, in the works, and live symbiotically to have my daily breakfast bread.

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Berliner Sour Brew – and contemplations for the next few

The morning of the brew day was an absolute blast. My buddy and I met with the brewers at Stockholm’s newest microbrewery, Sundbybergs Köksbryggeri, to deliver kegs from their delicious Passionfruit Saison that they brewed for our student union’s 100 year anniversary, and to meet about further cooperations and ordering from them to stock the student union’s pub. We asked them how they were doing – they said, chaotically. A company had delivered to them by mistake a full 200L brewing system and three 240L fermenters, without them ever ordering or expecting anything. It was meant to be delivered to a restaurant, but there it was, a full, little brewery in a truck, at their doorstep. We helped load everything onto another truck when the restaurant came to pick it up. Why doesn’t everyone have a full brewery delivered to them randomly? I think it should be a natural human right. For all of those in/visiting Sweden, you should be very excited about their assortment. We were able to taste a few of their brews: a Kölsch, the first commercial brewing of their passionfruit saison, and their in-progress imperial coffee stout.Nothing like a tasting from the fermenter, the most natural of carbonation. By the brew:

  • Their Kölsch: actually, sublime. It was refreshing, perfectly carbonated and full in mouthfeel, both malty and bready to the perfect degree – I don’t like a whole lot of breadiness in beers, but this was in such a great balance that it was a perfect hint in the mouthfeel. The fruity esters came out beautifully, not at all overwhelming, but definitely there and present from a good ways away in the smell. Noble hops, flowers, and actually, Amarillo, but only a small complementary amount make up the hop profile. The only thing I would like, is for it to be slightly better attenuated, and a bit less sweet, but this was the first brewing, and this is expected – maybe the next batch will be slightly less sweet. Look for it at Systemet soon.
  •  Their Passionfruit Saison: the best Swedish beer I’ve yet tasted, honestly. We were lucky to contract with them to get a special brewing for our 100 year anniversary ball, and it was loved. So loved, that people asked if it would be sold in bottles so that people could have some for the summer – it is the perfect summer beer. This rebrewing and adjusted recipe is perfect – it’s light and dry, it has so many tropical aromas full of spice and fruit, a beautiful pinkish pale yellow color, a head that stays forever, and incredibly refreshing mouthfeel. It gets better and better as it warms up, uncovering the perfectly tart pairing of New Zealand hop aromas and passionfruit, and more complex, fresh yeast aromas. And it’s delicious cold, when first pouring, perfect for the summer. Look for it at Systemet soon.
  • Their imperial coffee stout: SO good. I was amazed, as I had yet to taste a really great Swedish stout or porter, having been unenamored after tasting several beers that used altogether too much black malt or roasted barley, producing a rubber-like, burning tire kind of astringency. But this. It’s chocolatey and perfectly roasty with the kind of accompaniment of dark toast that you have to 70% dark chocolate, with incredible butteriness and notes of honey, rum, latte, and warmed malted milk. Creamy, not cloying mouthfeel. To give an idea of the care they put into this batch: 35 kilograms of honey and 40 kilos of muscovado sugar went in this small, ~2000L batch, and coffee just for a few minutes at the end of the boil, in a bag and removed thereafter – the perfect touch, for all of the brewers out there. I’m doing this tactic for the next stout I brew, possibly the rebrew of my chipotle coffee stout. Look for it at Systemet in August, in cellarable, 750mL bottles.

These guys are great brewers. And very, very friendly people. We’ll be taking a tour or possibly a tasting with them later this month, and everyone’s excited for it – I’ll most definitely post with reviews and all. I was very happy that I could take two of my brews with me to share: the chipotle coffee stout, and the Sichuan pepper roggenbier. They gave me great constructive criticism on my chipotle coffee stout, as just four days with chipotle was way too much. Next, I may do a very small amount for a bit longer, to give a hinting, and to allow time for flavors to meld. The tactic of allowing a slow infusion versus a short, heavy one is something I am interested in exploring. Also, I will use a different grain tactic, a long, long boil, and coffee at the end of the boil. Then, they tasted my roggenbier, and they actually really liked it. I can’t say how tickled I am that some professional brewers enjoyed my crazy experiment of a recipe. Color me pink already!

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Österlen and a tiny Swedish brewery where the tag “micro” barely begins to cover it

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As I spend my nice, relaxing week away from physics and with my dad in southern Sweden, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the break from student life with a more laid back and cozy atmosphere. Österlen is known for being serious about its apples (someday I wish to brew Österlensk apfelwein and hopped cider), and I’ve had much of the delicious apples and ciders that this gorgeous part of the country has to offer, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to enjoy the other offerings of the region.

Having found out that the tiny guesthouse and restaurant known for its fishing grounds, where I spent many hours when I was young fishing for trout, has a tiny brewery attached – Gårdsbryggeriet på Stockeboda – and out of shameless nostalgia, I jumped back into my youthful years on the eastern coast along the Baltic, but from a different perspective. My dad and I picked up all of their varieties available off premise and split the lighter colored brews to taste together throughout the week. He doesn’t, however, like darker beers, so I chose to enjoy their porter separately while doing something fitting – which I was very excited for.

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Glad Påsk, why I suck at making oars, and Berliner notes

As we say in Sweden, glad påsk – I wish upon you, no fermented eggs and perhaps only chocolate ones! (Chocolate is a fermented product, so hooray!)

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I’ve finished two mash paddles, one for the brewing club I lead and one for a friend. It’s felt so nice being covered in sawdust for the past week, as I’ve grown up working with wood and really ached for the smells, the sounds, the feel and the grain. My dad joked that as soon as people lay eyes on them, they’ll think I’m simply the worst oarmaker known to man.

“Now that’s an inefficient oar.” – Dad

It’s been a serious treat to return to woodwork with Swedish white oak, too, and the smell has been such a bouquet of sweet vanilla, toast, caramel, barrels, chocolate; all of the things that I want to munch on while working with wood. That would rule. It also brought back to me some lovely memories of building boats with my father, something we did to fulfill a childhood dream of mine. Every summer that I visited him, I immediately set to work drawing, designing, and drafting lines for a little wooden boat and bugged him about constructing it: “this will be the summer we build a boat.” We finally did, taking a course in traditional wooden boatbuilding at Stensunds Folkhögskola (folk college) in Trosa, Sweden. Folkhögskola is one of the most amazing things about Sweden; for very little money, you can go take short courses, summer courses, or even one- or two-year degrees in traditional arts, trades, and folk craft, such as smithing, sculpting, permaculture, and an infinitely large array of other things. In fact, this summer I’ll be traveling north to Bäckedals Folkhögskola in Värmland to take a course out in the woods in “Från Myrmalm till Smedjan: Förhistorisk Järnhantering” (From Iron Ore to Forge: Ancient Iron Production), where one learns how to burn wood to coal, build a smelting furnace, melt bog ore into an iron bloom, and then take it to the anvils. Needless to say, I’m extremely excited as I’ve always wanted to put my hands to work with forging some iron.

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IPArchitecture, finally tasting my first brew ever (ha)

Morning smoothie or, how I imagine a delicious IPA

Morning smoothie or, how I imagine a delicious IPA

As I start my day with a wondrous Skype date (praise the gods for this invention and ability), blended grapefruit, some homemade sourdough bread, and some good, strong Skånsk kaffe, I came to think of my miniature keg and tap system that I wish to put to good use. Having been away from it since I first started brewing, I had forgotten about the virtues of the little 5-liter party kegs in favor of giant Cornelius kegs and bottling. And then it hit me – I dare not brew an IPA with a full 20-liter batch size, as, well, how do I do away with 20 liters of IPA before it all going bad and oxidizing? So, why not use my tiny 5 liter fermenter and keg system to brew a fresh IPA to have around for friends but not for essentially forever? There are many advantages to this that I began to see, and I was soon convinced that this would be the way:

  • Fast turnaround. 5 liters is very fast to boil, compact to mash and handle, and fast to ferment. Kegging means carbonation takes only a day or two.
  • Less ingredients. Less hops! Sure, it’s not very efficient, but you will use so little that it’s just a drop in the bucket.
  • My own little tap! I can’t afford Cornelius kegs and carbon dioxide systems, let alone a fridge to convert, nor do I have the space. But a mini keg – I can also even that, when I have my own place, I could build a small cooler under the counter and lead a hose and tap – the small German contraption to attach to the top of the keg is easily modifiable for just this.
  • Portability and sharing. I can take it easily with me when I’d like to share with groups of friends and folks.
  • Usability later on. If I build a keezer someday, then I can keep a much larger tap variety by having many more smaller kegs, and just a few Corny kegs. When brewing full-sized batches, say, of a nice porter (like the crazy Imperial Steam Porter I’m planning for a week or two from now) that could do well with age, I can put just 5 of the 20 liters in a small keg – or, why not 10 liters in two kegs – and bottle the rest. Lots of possibilities.
  • The best reason of them all… Fast recipe development and more experimentation. With less ingredients, faster turnaround, and easy serving, it becomes very easy to emperically craft a gorgeous recipe – that can then be scaled up and brewed even larger, if it’s delicious enough. Advancing the true brew science at home!

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