Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Beer To Try Episode #1: Hoegaarden

New to the mattyp blog is 'A Beer To Try'.  It will be a regularly occurring feature where I will sample and recommend certain beers or styles for those who, like many, are intrigued by the variety of  brews available, but are unsure of where to begin.  This inaugural episode will feature a style called "Witbier'.

This is a smooth beer, light golden in colour, and light in taste.  The biggest feature worth noting is the cloudiness - there is a lot of yeast added into the beer, and in this case it is the yeast that adds the characteristic flavour.  Don't let that scare you off, as it balances a sweeter side with a bit of spice flavour.  It's also brewed with wheat grain, and it has low hop bitterness.
Hoegaarden with it's traditional hexagonal glass

If you are going to try a 'wit' for the first time, I HIGHLY recommend Hoegaarden (pronounced 'Who-garden') which is brewed by Inbev at the Labatt brewery in Toronto.   It is a classic belgian wit, with a nice aroma of banana and clove. That may not be what you are expecting from a beer, but the taste is very clean, low on hop bitterness, with the yeast  adding a grainy-cereal flavour, and balancing our the sweetness.  Do yourself a favour though, when pouring, stop 2/3rds of the way through and give the bottle a swirl to stir up the yeast sediment, then pour it on into the glass.  (That brings me to another point, if you truly want to experience a beer, you gotta drink it out of a glass.  I don't drink every beer from a glass, but I ALWAYS pour out the ones I really want to enjoy.  Simply put: it's better out of the bottle.)

After a few sips you may notice the citrus-like taste, or the banana coming through a bit more.  You may also notice you are almost done and will reach for another.  It's a very good beer to drink on it's own, and doesn't have any harsh flavours tp it, which is why I recommend it for 1st time 'real' beer drinkers.

Where to get it? Luckily the LCBO carries it in a 6 pack, and sometimes you can find single bottles as well.  If you are in the Brantford area, the pub around the corner from my house the Oxford Circus has it on tap, which is probably the best way to enjoy it.  Let me know if you are in town and I'll join ya!

There are other brewers who make this style, Alexander Keith's makes a 'White' which is just awful, i would avoid it.  Mill Street makes a Belgian Wit which is very good however.  Also look for a German 'hefewiessen', it's very similar.

It may be a step or two beyond Canadian or Blue, but if you DO try this wonderful beer, do me a favour and leave me a comment, let me know if you enjoyed it, or what your thoughts were.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Beer Addiction: A Confession

I love beer.  There's nothing better that sitting down to a perfectly cooked steak with a glass, or sitting down on a Sunday afternoon with a pint, or out on a hot patio with a cold bottle. Beer can compliment almost and situation as far as I'm concerned.

Now before I book myself into AA, let me clarify.  I love GOOD beer. I love unique, flavourful and masterfully crafted beer.  And I don't enjoy more than 1, maybe 2 at a time.  I'm not a beer guzzler, but a beer drinker.  It really is amazing the different styles and flavours brewmasters can create, some extreme and other subtle.  If you've ever been in my kitchen, you've seen my "Ring of Honour".  The cans and bottles of some of my favourite examples of beer from around the world.

Like all obsessions, this one can get pricey.  One Christmas my wife bought me a 'Beer-a-Day" calendar which featured a recipe every Sunday.  I had never even considered making my own beer before.  I have memories of my Dad's experience at a 'U-Brew" place.  That awful stuff in the green plastic bottles, I'm sure everyone's known someone who had offered to share some.  They must, God knows they couldn't drink it all alone.  I was hesitant but thought I'd give it a go. But it had to be done right.  That meant brewing at home, without pre-made kits. My friend Adam was into the idea too.  We thought a) we could split the cost of the equipment and make it easier to get started, and b) if it turned out really awful, we each only had to drink 1/2 a batch.  After a trial run at a U-brew place, we decided to go for it.

Brewing is not that difficult, in theory.  Get some sugar (from grains like malt) boil it, add some hops for flavour, cool it down, add some yeast and let it sit for a week or 2.  Of course in practice there is a lot more to it.  I'll spare you the details, but like anything I do, I researched my butt off, bought the gear and ingredients,  and were finally ready for brew day, about 18 months after I first had the idea to try this.

#1 question: How does it taste?
Well the first batch I was willing to admit we were going to do something wrong.  We did.  It was nothing major, nothing that really would affect the beer.  Cleanliness is probably the most important aspect of brewing, and we learned a few lessons, even being as cautions as we were.  For our first batch I was willing to lower expectations to "something drinkable".  As long as I could stomach it, I would be happy.  Well it turned out much better.  I can't describe how please I am with that batch.  Now that it's a few months older, it keeps improving.  I'd rank it somewhere above Good, but short of Great.  The downside is, I only have about 8 bottles left.

Now here is where the obsession really takes hold.  There are thousands of styles of beer, and hundreds that I can realistically brew at home right now.  Each with a delicious flavour or uniqueness to it that I am just dying to try.  These styles are sometimes available at the LCBO in the beers section, but some you just can't find unless you fly to Belgium and climb the mountain to a monastery.  This is my addiction to beer, a world of variety not found anywhere else, where skill and art merge to create something special that can truly be appreciated by all.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Audio Lesson #1: Acoustic Guitar

In an attempt to make this bit of the web-i-verse (©mattyp 2010) useful, I'll be posting bits of knowledge from my years as an audio engineer.  Most of this stuff I picked up in school, with a few years of experience to fine tune the techniques.  Today's lesson: Recording an acoustic guitar.

OK so miking an acoustic guitar is pretty straightforward, or at least it can be.  Throw your best mic in front and let 'er rip.  Done.

Want a bit more? Fine.  I like using 2 or 3 mics, usually a large diaphragm condenser near the butt of the guitar, not in front of the sound hole.  usually the sound hole placement, while loudest, sounds too boomy and loses low end definition.  I like the mic placed slightly to the side of the guitar, aimed across the soundboard.  The other mic I like to use is a pencil condenser, or AKG 414 or similar, anything with  good clarity. I put this about 1-2 feet in front of the headstock, aimed at the 12 fret.  This picks up nice sparkle, and surprisingly really deep bass tones as well.  Play with the phase, pan and EQ a bit to separate the channels, and thee you are.

This really works well for almost all guitars however sometimes I do add a mic directly overhead centre, to help add a bit of room tone, especially if recording in a nice sounding large room.

Revolutionary? Naw, but it works.  It also helps if you can cement the guitar player in place to avoid having to reposition mics every time he needs another cup of coffee. As for EQ, i have no rules, other than keeping it fairly unmodified before it's recorded.  I'm not going to list what gear you should run it through, I'm sure you can figure out to run it in your best stuff, whatever that may be.  Acoustic guitar doesn't really need compression while being recorded, but if you have outboard comps, now would be the time to use 'em.

Hopefully you find this useful.  If you use it, let me know what you think, or if you have any different ideas please feel free to share in the comments.