OK, I have to start with a disclaimer or two. 1) I am not in any way Mexican or hispanic, so I don’t claim that there’s anything authentic about these “tacos”; 2) related to the first disclaimer, these may be more properly called “tostadas” because if the torillas are cooked enough they will crisp up.

The thing I really like about these is that they’re super-fast to prepare and using the grill makes them great for summer. I typically make 4 or 6, they’re small and relatively light, and I’d like to think that they’re a relatively healthy meal. It’s also a spectacularly flexible meal, any leftover meat or produce can be added to mix things up. I’ll go with the basics here and list some specific substitutions after the recipe.

4-6 yellow corn tortillas
half a can of refried black beans
2-3oz of mexican-blend shredded cheese
Tapatio hot sauce
2-3 cups of shredded tri-color cabbage (cole slaw mix)
Lime juice

Light gas grill to pre-heat on high. While preheating, gather ingredients and a long-handled spatula. The grill does not have to pre-heat as much as it would for grilling meat, just enough to warm and clean the grates. Grill the tortillas on one side to warm them through and just barely begin to brown them. Remove the tortillas from the grill and spread 1-2 tablespoons of refried black beans on the grilled/browned side of the tortilla. Add a heavy pinch of shredded cheese (~half ounce?) on top of the beans and add a couple splashes of Tapatio. Return the assembled taco to the grill and grill until warmed through and the cheese melts. If the tortillas begin to brown too much, adjust the flame (or turn it off completely) or slide a piece of aluminum foil under the tacos. Remove the tacos from the grill, top with a generous pinch of shredded cabbage and a drizzle of lime juice. Fold and enjoy.

1. The Beans: I like black beans. Refried pintos would work just as well. Don’t like refried? Regular canned black beans work too.
2. The greenery: Tri-color cabbage mix includes carrots. Simple, boring, mono-color cabbage would also work. Why cabbage instead of lettuce? Personally, I like the slight tang of cabbage in this application, and cabbage is crunchier than lettuce so it brings nice texture. If you prefer lettuce, go for it.
3. Sauce/salsa: Any type of salsa or taco sauce will work here. In fact, during that magical few weeks of the year that I have fresh tomatoes, peppers and onions coming out of the garden, I prefer a fresh salsa. At other times, I adore Tapatio hot sauce. It has a very nice flavor as well as some heat.
4. Tortillas: Flour tortillas work, but they’re a bit more fragile and they tend to brown a little too quickly to heat the beans and melt the cheese. White corn tortillas are a little more sturdy, but they also brown and crisp up a little more than yellow corn tortillas. Flour or white corn tortillas might work better if these were being made on a cast-iron pan on the stovetop.
5. Meat: Lots of meats could be added between the beans and cheese. Shredded leftover rotisserie chicken would be nice, or a few strands of some shredded carnitas pork would be dreamy. Even a little browned ground beef with a little “taco seasoning” would be good here.
6. Toppers: Want to add sour cream? Go for it. A dollop of strained yogurt is another option. In any case, don’t skip the lime juice, it adds a tartness that really helps bring the flavors together.

I like a nice cold beer with a notable hop bitterness with these tacos. If you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage, I think a mineral water or iced tea would be a good match. For my taste, a sweet beverage wouldn’t be great here, I think the sweetness would fight with the tart/tangy/hot flavors of the tacos.



The fermentation finally slowed to over a minute per bubble, so it’s time to get this baby in the bottles. 2/3 cup of priming sugar and 2 cups of water brought to a boil and allowed to cool while I prepped bottles. That brings up two points: 1) the bottles; 2) the sanitizer.
The Bottles:
I’m using all first-time bottles. The majority of them are from New Belgium beers (Mothership, Abbey, Belgo). I’m also using some short bottles from a Red Hook 6-pack, I think it was called Winter Hook (?). The rest of the bottles are from Deschutes beers (Red Chair, Inversion, Jubilale). I probably have 300 random bottles collected over the years, it’s quite ridiculous. Maybe I’ll find someone who needs bottles and get rid of half of them.
The Sanitizer:
I’m always a little conflicted over sanitizing. I tend to use household bleach for bulk sanitizing, but I also have some 1-step sanitizer. The bleach is effective, but requires rinsing. The 1-step doesn’t need to be rinsed, and I’m not sure I completely understand how that works. When the sanitizer solution is in the bottles, it’s sanitizing, but when I dump it out, the bottle instantly becomes safe for the yeast that’s required to carbonate. How does that work? Does the 1-step know what I want it to do? Or is it only “toxic” to “bad” yeasts and other things that need to be killed by sanitizer? I had given the bottles a bleach treatment, but just to be safe I mixed up a batch of 1-step and did a final sanitization right before bottling.
The priming solution was poured into a bottling bucket and the beer was racked from the fermenter into the bucket. I bottled 51 bottles on 2012/04/09. This may be about the best smelling beer I’ve ever made, the dry hopping (and 4oz of boiling hops) have given this batch a glorious Centennial aroma. I had a few tastes and the flavor is double-plus-good. To be honest, the hop flavor is so pronounced that I’m not sure I’d be able to catch any off-flavors, but although it’s very hoppy, the hops are not unpleasant. There’s just enough malt backbone to provide balance.

Now for the worst part of any brew: waiting for the beer to carbonate and bottle-condition to drinkability. That should take 2 weeks, minimum. Arg, 2 weeks until liquid awesome.

Hmm, I didn’t get updates posted quite as soon as I should have…

The Rack:
Over the first couple days of primary fermentation, I had a good bit of blow-through.  After almost 2 weeks (on March 23rd), the fermentation had slowed a bit, and there was a significant yeast sludge at the bottom of the fermenter.  I was going to be leaving town for a few days, so I racked to my 5-gal carboy for the secondary ferment.  As per the recipe, I added 1oz of additional Centennial pellet hops to the fermenter.  Here was a benefit to using a 6-gal carboy for the primary, I was able to get the siphon started and allow some leavings/sludge behind while still racking a full 5-gal.  I was careful not to aerate during the transfer and sealed with a S-bubble air lock (with vodka as bubbling medium).  The carboy was returned to the cool, dark spare bedroom and left to finish.

A couple notes:
1. I might try to pre-wet, or even boil additional hops for a minute or two next time.  The additional hops were very buoyant and because there was less headspace in the carboy, the hop-mud that developed caused a little bit of blow-through over the first couple hours in the secondary.

2. I pulled a wee taste during transfer.  It’s still quite sweet but seems smooth, and I didn’t notice any obvious off-flavors.  Hard to judge right now.

3. After a week in the secondary, the wort had cleared pretty nicely and was bubbling about 4 times per minute.  Looking good.

The starter was bubbling away, so I went ahead with the brew. It gave rise to an interesting chemistry/physics problem.
The Grain Tea:
Just over 2gal of cold tap water was added to the brew kettle and placed on a large stove burner. One pound of crushed Briess Caramel 40 specialty grain was put in a muslin bag and placed in the brew kettle to steep while the water was brought to temperature. At 180ºF, the grain bag was removed and the grain tea continued to heat to a boil.
The Malt Extract:
When the grain tea boiled, the kettle was removed from the burner and 9.15 pounds of Gold malt extract was added to the grain tea. Hot grain tea was used to rinse out the malt extract jugs. The mixture was stirred thoroughly to completely dissolve the malt extract before the kettle was returned to the burner to boil.
The Hops:
When the wort reached a boil, 1oz of Centennial pellet hops were added and the wort was boiled for 35 minutes. An additional 1oz of Centennial pellet hops was added and the wort boiled 20 more minutes. A final 2oz of Centennial pellet hops was added and the burner turned off; the residual heat in the cooktop maintained a boil for a few more minutes.
Wort Cooling:
The brew kettle was brought outside and put in a snowbank to cool. This seemed like an excellent way to cool the wort, but it seemed to take more time than I would have expected. As I thought to myself, “Damn it, why doesn’t this cool faster?!?!”, I realized that I am fully capable of answering that exact question. I have about 2.5gal of liquid at right around 100ºC that I want to cool to 25ºC. If we assume that the solution has a density and heat capacity a little higher than pure water, the amount of heat that must be removed from the wort is:

(2.5gal)(3.78L/gal)(1000mL/L)(1.1g/mL) = 10395g of wort
(4.2J/g•ºC)(10395g)(75ºC)(0.001kJ/J) = 3274kJ

That’s quite a bit of heat. If I’m trying to remove that heat by phase-change of snow to liquid water, we can assume that the ΔHfusion of snow is the same as “regular” ice, although all the air pockets in the snow will insulate it and potentially snow things down. “Slow down” is a kinetics problem, right now I’m looking at thermodynamics. So to soak up that much heat, we would need to melt:

(3274000J) / (335J/g) = 9770g of ice must melt

There’s been a serious melt going on in Moorhead the last day or two, so the snow is quite wet and (relatively) dense, let’s say 0.5g/mL, so the amount of snow needed to pull 3274kJ of heat out of the wort is:

(9770g) / {(0.5g/mL)(1000mL/L)} = 19.5L

That’s right around 5 GALLONS of snow. On the kinetic side, the heat transfer is slowed by any gas pockets or spaces between the hot brew kettle and the snow crystals, so what I really should have done is take a large container (garbage can?) and put a bit of snow/water slurry in it, then put the brew kettle in, then packed a bunch of additional snow in around the brew kettle. As it was, it too over 30 minutes for the wort to cool, and that’s a little longer than I would have liked.
Final Wort:
The cooled, concentrated wort was strained into 2gal of cold tap water in a 5-gal ale bucket to remove most of the hops and to aerate the wort. The wort was drained through the ale bucket’s spigot into a 6-gal glass carboy, again, aerating the wort. The yeast starter was added and water was added to about 5.5gal total volume, the carboy was sealed with a 1-hole rubber stopper connected to a tube for initial fermentation, and the end of the tube was submerged in bleached water to serve as an air lock. This was all completed by approximately 2:30pm on March 11th. By ~8pm, a nice small-bubbled foam had developed on the wort with a bubble rate of under 2 seconds per bubble.

I have both a 5-gal and a 6-gal glass carboy. I prefer to use the 6-gal for primary because it: a) lets me start with a little over 5gal of wort so I can rack a full 5gal to the secondary; b) has a little more room for the large foam head and rapid out-gassing of the primary ferment. Extra headspace can be a contamination risk, but because the primary ferment is so rigorous there is a very positive “out” bias in the primary fermenter. When I rack to the 5-gal carboy for the secondary ferment, I like to minimize the headspace, which is another argument for the larger primary wort volume.

Primary ferment should take about a week. I plan to move the carboy into my spare bedroom in the morning, it is immaculately dark in that room, and it’s a few degrees cooler in that room (58-60ºF). The cooler temperature will slow fermentation, but it shouldn’t slow it down too much.

Once again, I forgot to check the initial gravity of the wort. Arg, double arg, and damn. I could pull a sample right now, but it’s probably not the most crucial thing to know. I’ll try to remember to test a sample when I rack to the secondary, although I’m not sure what that will really tell me. Oh well, in about 6 weeks I should be able to report a delicious and hoppy experience. Then maybe I’ll try that British Bitter…

After a few years break, I’m brewing another beer. I decided to go with a kit from Northern Brewer ( http://www.northernbrewer.com/ ), and after looking over a few of their options I picked their Dead Ringer IPA (http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/dead-ringer-ipa-extract-kit.html ). I like a nice hoppy IPA and the Dead Ringer kit has 5 ounces of Centennial hops. Yikes. I chose the Wyeast 1056 American Ale yeast option (http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/brewing/brewing-ingredients/yeast/wyeast-american-ale.html ). It’s a direct pitchable yeast, in a “smack pack”; I had never used a direct pitch yeast before, more on that later.

Because the Dead Ringer is a little on the higher gravity side, a starter is recommended, even with the direct pitchable yeast. Personally, I always make up a starter. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a bad sample of yeast, but if I did get a pack of dead yeast I’d rather find out about it when the starter doesn’t work than with the full 5-gallon batch. I planned to brew on Sunday, so first thing Saturday morning I got up to put my starter together.

The Starter:

900mL of water and a little over ½ cup of light dry malt extract were combined and set to boil. The mixture was whisked to combine and dissolve the DME. I squeezed the yeast pack around, trying to find the inner nutrient activator pack to pop and begin to activate the yeast. Because I had never used a direct pitchable yeast pack before, I didn’t really know what I was feeling for and as I pinched and poked and prodded, I eventually popped a hole in the outer pack and shot a squirt of yeast across my countertop. Damn. Of the “100 billion yeast cells” advertised to be in the pack, I probably just shot 5+ billion of them all over the countertop. As I was wiping up the yeast squirt, I stopped paying attention to the starter wort I was heating up on the stove and all of a sudden with a steaming “woosh!” it boiled over. For those unfamiliar with brewing, malt extract and the wort made from it is a very sugary, sticky, sweet mixture, so I had just slopped boiling sugar water all over my very hot glass stovetop. I suppose it’s good that I have a sealed top range, otherwise it would have been a much uglier, stickier mess. So I cleaned everything up and re-started the starter…

The Starter, Second Attempt:

I dumped the rest of the yeast pack into a measuring cup. The inner nutrient pack was open, so I had hopes that the yeast was still good and ready to ferment. 1L of water was warmed to just short of boiling and 2/3 cup of DME was added and whisked in to dissolve. {I used a little more DME this time because I was almost out of DME so I used all the remaining.} I carefully brought this starter wort to a low boil and boiled/simmered for 10 minutes. During this boil, I noticed a the yeast starting to bubble, so it should be good. The starter wort was cooled (in a snow bank) to a little over room temperature, and it was poured into a cleaned and sterilized 1.75L New Amsterdam gin bottle. The starter wort was agitated fairly vigorously to aerate it well, and the yeast was pitched (~8:15am, 2012/03/10). The bottle was sealed with an air lock. I like to use vodka in my air locks, it’s sterile, doesn’t support biological activity, and if negative pressure builds up and some of the vodka is sucked into the fermenting wort, it won’t really affect anything.

After a few minutes, I was some bubbles forming, so it looks like the yeast was OK and the starter will re-grow some of those billions of cells I spilled. I left the starter to do its magic and went in to work for the day. If it looks good by this afternoon, I’ll go ahead with the brew tomorrow; if not, I’ll pick up some new yeast and wait. I’ve usually used dry yeast packets in the past, they’re cheaper and more stable. My first experience with a pitchable activator pack has left me thoroughly unimpressed and I won’t be using it again. I’ve used White Labs yeast before, it comes in very cool tubes, and I’ve had good luck with it. Both the Wyeast and the White Labs yeasts are $6-7 per pitch, dry yeasts are just a few dollars per pack (Munton’s is only $1.25, http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/brewing/brewing-ingredients/yeast/munton-and-fison-ale-yeast.html ), so I might go back to the dry yeasts for future batches.

This Dead Ringer IPA will take 6+ weeks to be drinkable, I should have picked up a quicker one, I’d kind of like to try Northern Brewer’s British Bitter (http://www.northernbrewer.com/shop/british-bitter-extract-kit.html ).  More later…