Brunch Beer

When we first saw it listed on the brunch beverage menu at Point Brugge in Pittsburgh we thought it was a crazy, and almost revolting thought. Hec couldn’t help but order it to accompany his eggs benedict al pesto. I preferred a mimosa with my Belgium waffles (the kind with that awesome crystal sugar inside). But what they brought to the table wasn’t at all expected (mind you this was long before my experiences with flavored beers such as blueberry or apricot). Mixed at the table to your liking, the waiter brought a bottle of hoegaarten weisse and a few ounces of lambic framboise. Slightly sweet, but very beer-like. Not lager-ish at all. It felt unseemly appropriate for 10am. I was jealous I hadn’t ordered it, and will admit that I stole many sips.

We recreated the experience a few times before returning to Guatemala: pre-meal cocktails, a replacement for champagne on New Years Eve. But alas, it was back to the traditional Gallo once in Guate.

The beer varieties, as I may or may not have mentioned before, are depressingly slim. Lager is available in three different labels, but they are all (gasp, shall I dare say it?) the same. I never will realize why Guatemalans are so proud of this mild lager. While it is very decent, perhaps better than Coors or Budweiser, it is extraordinarily ordinary.  I suppose I should mention the beer has won first prize in European beer contensts, beating the best german and belguim beers year after year. But it is all that is available. The monopolistic brewery, Cervecería Gallo, owns all of the national labels, and has influenced import laws so that any foreign brew is twice as expensive and hardly worth the buck. The cervecería was kind enough to offer a darker, sweeter brew, Moza, for a bit of variety. It is even available on tap and, although a bit too sweet on its own, we often order the Guatemalan version of a black and tan to add some variation to the daily grind. But I must be honest. Gallo just doesn’t do it for me.

Back in the day I heard rumors of the Irish Pub in Antigua, Reily’s, that sold Guinness. We made a special trip to check it out, and even saved up the Q60 ($7.50) each it would cost for a pint. But the bar tender told us the import regulations had been tightened and they could no longer offer it. We were deeply disappointed. Later we found that in Zone 10 there is a German-owned bar, El Establo, where they offer Tucher, a hefeweizen, or wheat beer.  It goes for Q40 ($5.00) a pint. While it is a delicious and a refreshing option, the price seems absurd next to the Q20 we pay for a Gallo.  Perhaps that is a typical bar price in any US city, but its not a price for a Guatemalan salary. We splurged there a few times, convincing ourselves it evened out with the all-you-can-eat popcorn, relaxing atmosphere, and good music selection.

Once we knew of a wine shop where you could buy cans of Tucher for Q14, a great deal we thought. But a few months later they informed us they were no longer able to import our favorite elixir. That ended a good 6 months ago, and since then we’ve been getting tired of the same old stuff. I’ve been adding lime and salt to my beer, as the locals often do, just to mix it up the taste a little.

But…the other day my cuñado told us  a secret location where we could buy the stuff at Q11 a pint, in cases of 18. !!! It is clearly a secret kept from the brewery, and perhaps it will be shut down in a few months as well as all the others. But in the meanwhile we are exploiting the amazing deal (per ounce it is cheaper than Gallo!!). It’s quite interesting because the store sells bathroom tiles. You have to give a secret code before they let you into the back room, and even there you need to sign in blood for them to admit they have what you are looking for! I’m not going to talk more,  for fear of the operation being cut short. 😉

All I want to say is that we have been enjoying our reasonably priced alternative to Gallo, and we have been able to, in a way, bring back brunch beer: a pint of tucher between two glasses, 2 oz of orange juice a piece, is a perfect accompaniment to pancakes or waffles on a lazy Saturday morning. It isn’t the Point Brugge recipe for sure, but we aren’t about to get greedy, either! Drink up! And don’t take variety for granted.


Kefir “Beer”

Kefir - Cell-like pic

I learned to love Kombucha tea while at my internship the last year of gradschool. All of my coworkers were crazy about the stuff, and they frequently walked to a natural foods store nearby in Rogers Park to get it on our lunch break. The first time I tried it I admittedly was disgusted. My co-workers had harassed me into tasting it and I gave in. Peer pressure even affects grown adults. I didn’t like it because, first of all, the flavor labeled on the bottle was “algae” or something. It was green and really did look like algae was growing inside. Secondly it said it had bacteria in it right on the label. I thought to myself “why would anyone advertise that?” This was before I knew much about probiotics or anything like that.

I don’t know why I went out and bought my own bottle. I guess I wanted to try it again, just to make sure I really didn’t like it. And it slowly grew on me. Perhpas my third bottle I was addicted, which wasn’t really that awesome because they ran about $4 a pop. It was certainly not in my budget. But when Whole Foods would have a sale (2 for $6!) I was there to purchase a few bottles. I got a gift certificate to Whole Foods for Christmas, and I’m sure about half of it went towards this expensive health drink.

The flavor is subtle. There are actually quite a few varieties in the store, but my favorite is ginger. Its slightly fizzy, but not overwhelming. The ginger has just enough bite to let you know its doing its job. The drinks are technically a fermented tea, so they contain roughly 0.5% alcohol…but don’t worry…thats not enough to do anything to the most affected individual.

So…for quite a few months I’ve been making my own yogurt, and raving to Hécs family about how healthy and delicious it is, and all the benefits of the cultures of bacteria it contains. When she knew I was interested in this type of “health food”, my suegra was telling me about these “tibicos” (kefir) that her sister had, and how you put them in sugar water and soon they will double in size. I just didn’t understand the point of them. Do you mix them into something to eat them? Do you make a cake from them? What was the deal. I didn’t get it. Until finally I googled “tibicos” and started researching it. As soon as I saw the word Kombucha in the wikipedia article I was sold. It just clicked, and immediately I asked her for a few tablespoons of her batch to begin our own.

Kefir - Ginger Slicespicture: what happens to Trader Joe’s uncrystallized candied ginger when you brew it with a batch of kefir. I couldn’t believe how it grew back it’s original size, nor did I know it had been shrunk down so much in the drying process. I always imagined it being pieces of ginger cut up into cubes…but it was actually entire giant chunks shrunken!

And thats the cool thing about kefir: they grow! You start out with two tablespoons, and as long as you keep feeding it sugar water they will continue to double in size. Then you can give some to your friends and family.

We researched a bunch of different recipes, discovered you can use it to make a sort of beer (if you can find hops); we went out and by accident found a container specifically for making fermented foods; and we got to work. But its really no work at all. For the last two weeks we have been brewing batches every other day, and enjoying the fizzy health beverage in the mornings and evenings almost every day. We’re about to invest in another container so we can have it twice a day every day. I’m absolutely crazy about this stuff! Its delicious…aparently healthy…it just makes me feel good. And making it yourself is like 400 times cheaper than going to Whole Foods and blowing you paycheck.

I’m really not sure where you could get Kefir in the states….but I imagine that its much easier than in Guatemala. Ask someone at Whole Foods, or perhaps other natural food stores who don’t want to rip you off. I think you can even get them online. Read more on probiotics and health here on this NYTimes article if you’re interested. Maybe they’re really good for you…maybe they’re not that big of a deal. But I just love making it, watching the little guys float up and down like actual living beings in my glass container; drinking the fizzy beverage; and enjoying the fact that they are most likely pretty good for my health 🙂

I really really think they’re fun to make. Anything that you kinda have to nurture I enjoy making. Like herbs, yogurt, yeast breads. This fits right in there. It feels like such an accomplishment when it grows like it is supposed to, and I love knowing its all natural. Not to mention so much cheaper than store bought. Plus I love watching these little guys swim around like little sea monkeys. Its a good feeling! I really encourage you to try it…just for fun, just to try it. Who knows…maybe you’ll become addicted like me!

Kefir - GrainsKefir - Brewing

Kefir “Beer”:
1/4 cup kefir grains
1 liter water
1 lime
1 date or a few raisins or a piece of other dried fruit — I have used candied uncrystallized ginger before (but optional). When the fruit floats you know its fermented enough to drink.
4 tablespoons natural cane sugar or panela

Special equipment: sealed glass jar without metalic lid, or similar container.

Dissolve sugar in water. Add lime juice and one of the halves of the lime, the dried fruit, and the kefirKefir - Lime fizzing grains. Seal the jar and leave sitting at room temperature, covered to protect from light, for 24-48 hours.

While we always brew it for 48 hours, technically it is ready when the dried fruit floats. I read that the longer you leave fermenting the more alcoholic it will become, although I have read that (without hops) 1.0% is the highest it can reach. Apparently the hops suppresses the bacteria’s actions, alowing the yeast to do more of the work which will produce the alcohol.

When you are ready to drink it, use a plastic-mesh collandar (the metallic can kill the bacteria), and pour the liquid into you drinking containers of choice, reserving the kefir. Throw our the dried fruit if you used it, and the lime. Rinse the Kefir. This will equalize the yeast-bacteria ratio and keep your drink safe in the future.

Repeat! Do not throw the kefir away! They are still live and good. If you are not ready to brew another batch, put them in a bowl with a little bit of sugar (1 tablespoon for 1/4 cup kefir should be enough) cover with a cloth to keep out the flies, and store in a dark corner of your kitchen at room temperature. When you’re ready, just rinse the kefir again and repeat the recipe above.

When you are finished it will be slightly fizzy. I would prefer more, but so far haven’t been too successful in creating it this way. I still need to research more about it. And find hops in this country!!

Happy Brewin’!