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To celebrate the centennial of its Stephen A. Schwarzman building, the New York Public Library has asked Shmaltz Brewing Company to brew 15 gallons of small beer according to a recipe in its collection that was penned by George Washington. Shmaltz has taken a few liberties with it, probably to make it taste more like today’s brews. If you’re in New York, you can try it May 18 at Rattle N Hum.

If you’d rather brew it yourself, you’re welcome to decipher George’s handwriting above—that’s the biggest photo I could find—or read this transcription. Just watch out: At least one person reports that his attempt to follow the recipe proved “utterly foul.” (When you get to the page, search for molasses.)

James Brownlow had more success following a similar recipe by John Gaylord II written about 60 years after Washington recorded his. This second recipe also requires molasses… and cream of tartar.

James had a number of friends taste-test the brew against MGD—an understandable choice of style because a small beer was a low-alcohol brew intended for everyday drinking, not unlike a lawnmower beer or a session beer—and their overall opinion was that it was equally as good. Not a ringing endorsement in my view. But James’ report is from 2000, and since then Anchor Brewing’s own small beer has come on the market. Perhaps a new taste comparison is in order?

Oh and by the way, from Shmaltz founder Jeremy Cowan: “George Washington is like my old Jewish grandmother.”


A steel bike and a glass of beer

Don’t miss it, guys. Ferment Change is back again with a month’s worth of events on the east side of the San Francisco Bay, all of them supporting urban agriculture and food justice projects. One of the choice items on the list is the Tour de Ferment, a bike ride around Berkeley and Oakland to visit picklers and homebrewers in their homes. It’s a great chance to see workshops, to taste what people are making, and to pick up tips. I’ll be talking about homebrewing sake, and my pop-up beer dinner crew Eating About Beer will be demonstrating some beer and food pairing tips.

And as a big bonus, none other than fermentation guru Sandor Katz, author of the seminal book Wild Fermentation, will be coming along for the ride. I’m sure he’ll add extra depth to the answers to any questions that come up along the way.

The ride is May 22, so consider this your advance notice. It’s going to be popular. Sign up and find out about the rest of the month’s events at the Ferment Change website.

And speaking of Sandor Katz, I let Thanksgiving go by without mentioning the profile of Katz and the fermentation movement in the New Yorker. It’s a great article that brings together a lot of info about how fermentation helps us digest, why live-fermented and unpasteurized food could be better for us than sterilized food, and the ways that our intestinal cultures may influence our health (the short version of one example: In one study, skinny mice became fat after receiving a transplant of intestinal bacteria from fat mice, and from fat humans,too.) It’s behind the paywall, but it’s worth the $6 to read it if you don’t have a subscription. In the spirit of the Tour de Ferment, I’ll leave you with this excerpt describing Katz’s workshop, which is surely every pickler’s dream kitchen:

We were standing in his test kitchen, in the basement of a farmhouse a few miles down the road from Hickory Knoll. Katz had rented the space two years earlier, when his classes and cooking projects outgrew the commune’s kitchen, and outfitted it with secondhand equipment: a triple sink, a six-burner stove, a freezer, and two refrigerators, one of them retrofitted as a tempeh incubator. Along one wall, a friend had painted a psychedelic mural showing a man conversing with a bacterium. Along another, Katz had pinned a canticle to wild fermentation, written by a Benedictine nun in New York. A haunch of venison hung in the back, curing for prosciutto, surrounded by mismatched jars of sourdough, goat kefir, sweet potato fly, and other ferments, all bubbling and straining at their lids.

And in case you’ve been wondering—Awesome Pickle lives! Some personal stuff has kept it on the shelf for a while, but the ideas have been fermenting away and this site’s mission is fully preserved. Expect more helpings, more often.

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You can’t go wrong with gallons of live fermented cucumber dills and live music. Zoyres Eastern European Wild Ferment will deliver homemade kosher dills, half-sours, and new pickles plus funky, frenetic, horn-heavy Balkan and klezmer music to Viracocha on Valencia St. in San Francisco this Thursday, July 29. This is a band that joins fermented food and music and the price of admission is worth each of them alone. Find them on the youtube and watch at the video of them here. Then check out the show and be inspired to pickle some cucumbers of your own!

All the details in one place:

Thursday July 29
Zoyres Eastern European Wild Ferment with Michael Musika band
The Blank Tapes
at Viracocha
998 Valencia St.@ 21st., San Francisco
8 pm

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