At Beer Camp, the best ideas have a head on them

Don Russell, executive director of Philly Beer Week, speaks fondly of his time at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Beer Camp.
Don Russell, executive director of Philly Beer Week, speaks fondly of his time at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Beer Camp.
Posted: June 03, 2010

As executive director of Philly Beer Week, Don Russell probably gets perks aplenty, but going to Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp had to be top of the hops.

Russell, who quite literally made a name for himself as Joe Six-Pack, beer columnist in the Philadelphia Daily News, helped start Philly Beer Week, now in its third year.

The start, a.k.a. Opening Tap, is Friday at the Independence Visitor Center, followed by a week of tastings, competitions, and crawls designed to showcase the region's 31 breweries and brewpubs, introduce some international contenders, and spotlight some specialty beers made specifically for this week.

They're called collaboration brews, these brews designed by committees of aficionados and made in batches as small as two kegs.

Flying Fish made one, for example. So did the Feury brothers. Patrick (Nectar in Berwyn) and Terence (Fork in Old City) Feury collaborated with Bob Covaleski of Victory Brewing. The result, a golden pale ale dubbed Fists of Feury, will be on tap at beer dinners at Fork on Tuesday and at Nectar on June 13. The brothers are contributing recipes to each other's menus those nights, too.

Sly Fox Brewery worked with Stoudt's, Tröegs, and Yards to make Beer Week's Official Collaboration Beer, the keg Mayor Nutter will tap Friday.

And at Sierra Nevada's Beer Camp, Russell collaborated with close to a dozen of his bbb (best beer buddies) to develop a brew they're calling Xporter.

Tom Peters of Monk's Cafe, Matt Gier of the Beer Yard distributorship in Wayne, Greg Martinez of Exton Beverage, and Terry McNally of London restaurant in Fairmount were among Russell's collaborators.

"First you have to imagine the setting," Russell says. "Here we are in this tranquil valley of the Sierra Nevada mountains, about an hour or so outside of Sacramento. Barley and hops grow in a meadow there, and nearby are two brew houses and a third pilot brewery."

That's where Russell's group met with Sierra Nevada's staff, "really wonky guys who understand the science of beer-making - how the yeast interacts with the sugars produced by the grains you choose. It's all very high-tech," Russell says.

He and his crew decided on the alcohol content, the yeast, the grains, how it would be brewed, and what other ingredients would be added (Terry McNally was big on adding almonds, which grow so plentifully in California).

It was two full days of work (and nights of play) Russell says, to arrive at their product, a Baltic porter with an alcohol content of about 6 percent.

"We haven't seen the labels yet, but it was all brewed while we were out there and left to ferment and condition."

Xporter will be kegged and brought to Philadelphia, where it will be available on tap at Monk's, Fergie's, the Grey Lodge in Mayfair, Teresa's Next Door in Wayne, and other spots.

Sierra Nevada's Beer Camps are by invitation only, says spokesman Bill Manley.

"Typically, we invite beer distributors, wholesalers, retailers, and other brewers. We ask them for their own transportation to the brewery, but lodging and meals are on us," Manley said.

But - the brewery is holding a contest now. Winners get the same two-day experience with transportation, lodging and meals paid by Sierra Nevada. (Details and lots of rules established by the company's legal department are at www.sierrabeercamp.com.)

Russell says he's heard Beer Camp referred to as "beer boot camp," but no actual exercise took place, he says.

"Just a lot of elbow-bending."


Jim's Irish Brown Bread

Makes one loaf or 12 servings

2 1/4 cups bread flour

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon table salt

1 tablespoon wheat bran

1/4 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast

3/4 cup Guinness stout at  room temperature (about 72 degrees)

3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk

Additional flour for dusting

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, salt, wheat bran, and yeast. Add the beer and buttermilk and, using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix until you have a wet sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl, let sit at room temperature until the dough is more than doubled, 12 to 18 hours.

2. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.

3. Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran or flour. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

4. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees, with a rack in the lower third, and place a covered 4 1/2- to 5 1/2-quart heavy pot in the center of the rack.

5. Using pot holders, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel and quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. (Use caution - the pot will be very hot.) Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.

6. Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 20 to 30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to lift the bread out of the pot. Place it on a rack to cool thoroughly.

- From My Bread by Jim Lahey with Rick Flaste (Norton, 2009) 

Per serving: 124 calories, 4 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, 0.8 gram sugar, 0.5 gram fat, 0.5 milligrams cholesterol, 211 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber.


Mussels Diablo

Makes 4 servings

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chopped bacon

4 tablespoons chopped garlic 2 sprigs of fresh oregano

2 tablespoons of red chili flakes

72 mussels, cleaned

8 cups of Belgian white beer(Witbier)

4 cups of tomato sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

4 tablespoons butter

1. In a medium shallow pot, sweat the bacon, garlic, oregano, and chili flakes in the olive oil over medium heat. 2. After about 2 minutes, when bacon has rendered its fat, add the mussels, beer and tomato sauce.

3. Season with salt and pepper, then cover and let mussels steam until they are all open. At the last minute, add the butter to enrich the sauce. Discard mussels that do not open.

- Courtesy Alex Ureña

Per serving: 834 calories, 43 grams protein, 47 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams sugar, 39 grams fat, 101 milligrams cholesterol, 2,629 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber.


Smoked Salmon 'Bacon' BLT for Philly Beer Week Menu

Makes 4 servings

For the salmon:

4 5-ounce salmon filets with the skin on

2 ounces kosher salt

2 ounces brown sugar

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon fresh groundblack pepper

1 tablespoon fresh groundcoriander seeds

For the garnish:

1 pint local cherry or grape tomatoes

4 thin slices white bread

Melted butter

1 sprig of thyme

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

For the sauce:

1 head Boston Bibb lettuce

1 shallot, sliced

1 sprig each: mint, parsley,basil leaves picked

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup chicken stock

1. The day before, place the salmon on a tray lined with wax paper, skin side down. Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl and sprinkle generously over the salmon filets. Place the salmon in the refrigerator, uncovered, until the next day. The cure should melt away and the spices should be left on top.

2. Cut the tomatoes in half, season with salt and pepper, and mix in a bowl with extra virgin olive oil. Add the tomatoes to a hot sauté pan and cook until the skins blister a little. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and keep warm.

3. In a saucepan, sweat the shallots in butter with salt and pepper, add the lettuce leaves, and cook until dark green and tender. Add the chicken stock and transfer to a blender. Puree until smooth, adding the herbs at the last minute.

4. Brush the bread with the butter and cook in a pan until golden brown on both sides.

5. Cook the salmon filets on a grill, skin-side only, or in a nonstick pan in the oven until the salmon is medium- medium-rare, depending on how you like it.

6. Place the toast on the plates and spoon tomatoes on top; place salmon on the plates and spoon the lettuce sauce around.

Per serving: 279 calories, 30 grams protein, 6 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 15 grams fat, 89 milligrams cholesterol, 720 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber.


Detailed event and ticket information is online at www.phillybeerweek.org.

Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211 or dmarder@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/diannamarder. 

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