On Brewing, Beer as Cuisine and the Appreciation of Real Beer
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Had a great beer dinner a while back at Brandon's and had a spot of Aquavit as a digestif. Very very nice finish to the evening. Spicy, earthy notes behind a very firm and floral anise flavor with a lingering sweetness. Very nice indeed. So along with that, we've been watching episodes of "New Scandinavian Cooking" over and over. One of the recipes that the Norwegian food writer/chef Andreas Viestad (though I like the Dane, Claus Meyer, better - I get the feeling that his cuisine is a lot closer to the Danish culture, closer to the place it comes from, and I like the simpler, "cooking by hand" feel of it) has shared is for Aquavit, the ubiquitous Norse schnapps-style liquor flavored with caraway, fennel, dill, and anise. Aquavit has always held a certain charm for me, even though I've only come to it very recently. When I was a mere 'Tween I had a stack of cookbooks that were in the same rotation as Tolkein, Herbert, Heinlein, and Stephen King, one of which was the Time-Life book "The Cooking of Scandinavia". Very appealing to me to read about the food and associated culture of part of my heritage, with the one thing making the biggest impression on me being the mention of Aquavit and the traditional "Skål" that accompanies it. Illustrated by a very suave Max von Sydow; hold your aquavit glass in front of you, look your company in the eyes, "Skål" is cheerfully offered as you raise your glass, down the hatch, and you return to look your company in the eyes. Very civilized, very convivial, and bad ass. So fast forward a bit, and lately I've been getting more and more interested in expanding the kinds of food products that we make for ourselves. Getting better informed and pointed toward making more charcuterie, pickling food, cheese making and baking. Anyway, I put some Aquavit together. Took a bit of an experimental approach to it for the first pass, put together a base mixture of caraway, fennel, and dill seed along with star anise and whole clove (all traditional ingredients). Picked out a 2 liter bottle of middling vodka and put that spice mix into 4 separate splits. In three of those splits I added a larger proportion of caraway, fennel, and dill for a more pronounced flavor, and in the fourth split I added crushed black pepper and strips of fresh lemon zest. My thinking was to let these sit, filter them, and go through a convoluted program of blending small portions of each to get a nice result. Pffft, whatever! So after 3 weeks rest I got all the filtering done last night, the result being a beautiful golden hued, intensely aromatic, and inviting infusion. And after a few samples, the well considered attempt at blending was decidedly unnecessary. The black pepper & lemon peel stands on it's own; intense Lemon Pledge aromas upfront, very lively interplay of fennel/anise, black pepper spice, and resinous citrus through the middle palate finishing with a modest heat from the black pepper lingering very late. For the more "traditional" style 'Vit, I'll bottle one part each of the caraway & dill portions with two parts of the fennel portion. After a bit of sampling (ha, ha), I feel the base mixture of spices is probably a bit fennel/anise forward (which I like). On their own, each portion shows the extra ingredient very well (as I expected); the caraway is grassy & spicy, the fennel is very floral & intensely licorice-like, and the dill is very herbal with interesting fresh cut grass/floral notes. The "house" Aquavit should end up with a nice caraway/dill character backing up a pretty firm fennel/anise flavor. Some of the Aquavit recipes I looked at required that it be sweetened, which I'll take a pass on. So far at least, this first attempt doesn't need it. I think that I should have enough of each split after putting a big bottle together that I can put another bottle together and rest it on some sour mash whiskey flavored oak cubes that I have somewhere. Or maybe I should soak some oak cubes in some Sherry. Hmm....