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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Frank About... Eggnog

One of the best flavors of the Christmas season, in my opinion, is eggnog. No, I'm not talking about the cheap, overly sweet, overly processed stuff at the store. And no, I'm not talking about the alcoholic version you buy in the liquor aisle.

What I'm talking about is the eggnog you make at home, with real eggs, and a tastey bourbon, rum, or brandy. Anyone who knows me knows that my bourbon of choice is Maker's Mark. I've used recipes from the distillery, and one from Alton Brown. I prefer the Alton Brown version, with my Maker's Mark addition.

Here's a fantastic article that Alton Brown penned for Mental Floss about the history of eggnog, along with an updated, aged eggnog recipe.

Here's the older recipe by Alton Brown, that I love to use for my own eggnog:

Alton Brown's Eggnog
1/3 C. + 1 Tblsp. sugar
1 pint whole milk
1 C. heavy cream
3 oz. bourbon whisky
1 tsp. nutmeg, freshly grated
4 large shell eggs

1. Separate the eggs, carefully. Store.  the yolks and whites in separate bowls. Place the 
    whites into the refrigerator.

2. Using a mixer, beat the yolks to a lighter color and texture.

3. While still beating, slowly add the 1/3 C. sugar.

4. While still beating, slowly add the both the milk and the cream.

5. Still beating, add the bourbon and nutmeg.

6. Wash your mixing beaters.

7. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks.

8. Still beating, slowly add the remaining 1 Tblsp. of sugar, and continue beating until you
    get stiff peaks.

9. Turn down mixer to low, and slowly pour in your yolk mixture.

10. Once mixed, chill and serve topped with a sprinkle of fresh nutmeg.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Frank About Food Flashback: Soup Season

Originally posted on 1/19/2012...

When the weather turns cold, one comfort food really comes to my mind: SOUP!

Growing up, my mother made a potato soup that I have never been able to replicate, or find a recipe that comes out like hers did. It had a thin, milky base… actual CHUNKS of potatoes (not those mashed up, thick soups)… bits of crunchy white onions… a raft of butter floating across the surface… a nice seasoning of black pepper. I used to practically sop all the broth out of the soup with saltines. (This is probably when my “one sleeve per can of soup” saltine habit developed!) There is just something about that soup memory…

When we got into a cold spell in December, I came across a soup recipe online that sounded very interesting. It came out absolutely fantastic! I will reprint it below for anyone interested. It had some really deep, complex flavors that just meshed so well together, and provided just the thing we needed for a cold December evening. I’ve been ready to delve into some more soups, but it got a bit warmer out, to which we’ve become accustomed in Missouri. However, this week it has gotten frigid, again; and I felt it would be a good time to approach the soup subject with you.

So, tell me... What are some of your favorite soups, in the depths of winter? Do you have a family soup recipe that you just have to make every year? Or even, where do you go for a great bowl of soup?

I’ll be looking forward to your comments and feedback! 

Italian Sausage Soup with Tortellini

Note: This is a recipe that was submitted by a user named Mary P. on and can be found here. This is not my recipe, and I do not take credit for creating it. 

1 lb. sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 C. chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
5 C. beef broth
1/2 C. water
1/2 C. red wine
4 large tomatoes - peeled, seeded and chopped
1 C. thinly sliced carrots
1/2 Tblsp. packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce
1½ C. sliced zucchini
8 oz. fresh tortellini pasta
3 Tblsp. chopped fresh parsley

1.    In a 5 quart Dutch oven, brown the sausage. Remove sausage and drain, reserving 1 tablespoon of the drippings.

2.     Sauté onions and garlic in drippings. Stir in beef broth, water, wine, tomatoes, carrots, basil, oregano, tomato sauce, and sausage. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

3.     Skim fat from the soup. Stir in zucchini and parsley. Simmer covered for 30 minutes. Add tortellini during the last 10 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese on top of each serving. 

Notes from my personalized preparation of the soup

1.  You can use hot Italian sausage in place of the sweet version, if you desire. 

2.   I actually used dried basil, instead of the fresh. I used approximately the same amount, although you would normally use a 1 to 3 ratio when replacing dried herbs for fresh. (That is, for example, if you need 3 Tblsp. of fresh, you would use 1 Tblsp. of dried.)

3.   Instead of whole tomatoes, I used whole canned tomatoes, and scraped out the seeds. If you haven't notice in recent years, the tomatoes you purchase "fresh" at the store are horrible excuses for a true tomato. 

4.  I actually added the carrots while the onions and garlic sautéed, to add a little caramelization to them. I won't get into all the science and intricacies about caramelization (I'll save that lesson for another post, at a later time.), but anytime you put a little caramelization, or browning, on a food, it adds a richer, nutty, more complex flavor. It helps add a "pop" or pizzazz to your dish. 

5.  I topped each bowl of soup with some Parmesan-Reggiano ran over my Microplane grater, and served with a nice crusty piece of French bread. ( I split the loaf and put it under the broiler in the oven, until it had a nice crusty surface.) A nice glass of red wine compliments the layers of flavor from this soup very well. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Frank About Food Flashback: Pumpkin Dip

Headed to a family dinner, tomorrow? A Friends-giving, this weekend? It's not too late to whip up this quick & easy dip! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Originally posted in October 2012...

I had this on my mind, today, as I was thinking about what to take to a Halloween party, tonight. During the fall, you might be invited to several parties around Halloween or Thanksgiving. And often, you're at a loss for time, and ideas on what to take. An old standby that we like to make up that is fairly inexpensive, fast & easy to prepare, and is always popular is a pumpkin dip.

This is a very basic recipe, and is great served alongside gingersnaps and graham crackers. Be sure to have the cream cheese softened, to facilitate a smoother, creamier consistency.

This is a great serving idea, in the pumpkin. This, however, is a borrowed picture and not my own!
Pumpkin Dip
8oz. cream cheese, softened
2 C. powdered sugar
15oz. can solid pack pumpkin
1 Tblsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tblsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. frozen orange juice concentrate

1.  In a medium bowl, cream the cream cheese and powdered sugar together, until smooth. 
2.  Gradually add the pumpkin. 
3.  Stir in the cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, and orange juice concentrate, until smooth and well   
4.  Place into serving vessel and chill before serving, at least one hour. 
5.  Serve with graham crackers, gingersnaps, and/or any other item you would prefer. 

Makes approximately 4 Cups of dip.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Frank Take On... Bamberg Stuffed Onions

A few weeks back, I was fortunate enough to be invited to be a guest on Beer Buzz with Ben Stange. Beer Buzz is the only beer radio show in Southwest Missouri. It's a program produced by TAG Media, based in Springfield, Missouri. It streams live online, Thursday nights at 8:30 pm. It is also part of the TAG Media block of programming that airs from 7:00 - 9:00 pm, Sunday nights, on Springfield's 99.9 FM and 1060 AM. 

I was invited to talk to Ben Stange, producer Brett Johnston, and intern Blake Mixon about beer & food pairings, this blog, and comfort foods for those pairings. I prepared and took along the Maple Bacon Shortbread Cookies, that you can find the recipe here, and my take on Bamberg Stuffed Onions. It was my first attempt at developing my own recipe for the onions, and they seemed to be a success. I paired them with Schlenkerla Marzen, a smoky, rich beer. The cookies were paired along some of the last remaining bottles of my first homebrewed brown ale. I had a fantastic time with the crew, and look very forward to the next opportunity I have to rejoin them. 

Use the embedded player, below to listen to the show's podcast. Alternately, you can go to the website of that episode, here, and download the mp3 to play, at your convenience, on your preferred device. 

Now, before I get into the recipe for these delicious gems, allow me to get a little nerdy on you...

Bamberg is a town in the southern German state of Bavaria. Founded in 973, and remaining unscathed through World War II, it is a town steeped in tradition. Historic buildings, beautiful scenery, and a rich brewing heritage are all cornerstones of Bamberg. Bamberg is home to nine breweries, including two breweries that are known for a specialized beer style: Rauchbier, or smoked beers. Schlenkerla and Spezial produce the most widely known smoke beers in the world, today. One will still find plenty of smoke beers outside of Germany, including Stone Brewing Company's Smoked Porter and O'Fallon Brewery's Smoked Porter; but to find a virtually unchanged method of producing these beers, look no further than Bamberg, and its nearly two centuries of smoke beer tradition. 

Schlenkerla Brewery in Bamberg, Germany

Until the beginning of the 18th Century, the traditional method of drying malted barley was over an open flame. These fires were fed primarily with beechwood, imparting a very smoky character to the malts. Basically, all beers prior to that point could possibly be considered smoked beers. At that turning point at the start of the 18th Century, and into the mid-19th Century, malters began to use a kiln to dry the malted barley. This technique used a separate chamber to keep the direct smoke away from the grains. The smoky character began to disappear from the malts. This new method became increasingly popular, and became the universal norm for malters. 

Bamberg is well known for something else... their onions! These onions are large and robust white onions, but are sweeter than the white onions in America. They are closer to a Vidalia in flavor. The brewpub of Schlenkerla is very well known for their Bamberg Stuffed Onions. Brimming over with a stuffing of various forms of pork, breadcrumbs, and herbs, and slathered with a rich, smoky brown sauce, these tasty morsels are served alongside boiled or mashed potatoes, with a smoked beer, of course! 

I first learned about this dish while having a discussion with my good friend Chef Stephen Block of The Kitchen Project and German Goodies Newsletter. After talking with him, I took to researching the dish. I found no less than four to six different variations. I decided to let my nerd side shine, and created a spreadsheet mapping out the ingredients, and the amount of each, for each variation. I then looked across the board to find all the similarities and differences in the recipes. I began to formulate which ingredients needed to be in my recipe, and which herbs and spices to utilize. And had to make decisions right down to how long, what temperature, and method to cook the onions. There was the roasting style... the braising method... I ultimately wrote down all the components I wanted, and the best cooking style that I thought would work. This time, I did one take on the preparation, and appear to have struck right on. There may be a couple things I may tweak in the future, but I'm very happy with the feedback I've received, thus far. 

Bamberg Stuffed Onions on the set of Beer Buzz
Photo by Benjamin Stange

Bamberg Stuffed Onions

4 large Vidalia, yellow, or white onions
8 oz. ground pork
4 oz. smoked pork, chopped or diced
3 eggs, beaten
1 C. bread crumbs
4 Tblsp. fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp. marjoram
1 tsp. mace
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
4 Tblsp. butter
4 Tblsp. flour
1½ C. beef stock
½ C. smoked beer, such as Schlenkerla 
1 tsp. fresh thyme, finely chopped

1.  Slice off the very top of each onion, and just enough of the root end to allow the onions to    
     stand. Then, using a melon baller, or spoon, hollow out the onions, reserving the innards, 
     until the onion walls are approximately 1/4 inch thick. This can be tricky, but you will get the 
     feel for it. Just WATCH OUT FOR FLYING ONION JUICE! 

2.  Place approximately 1/2 to 2/3 of the onion "guts" into the bowl of a food processor. Add 
     the ground pork, smoked pork, breadcrumbs, eggs, parsley, marjoram, mace, salt, and 
     pepper, and pulse until well combined into nearly a paste. 

3.  At this point, "check for proper seasonings". This statement always bugs me in recipes with 
     raw product in it. How can you just "check" it? Well, here's a Frank tip for you: anytime you 
     have a stuffing like this one, you can take a small amount, patty it out, and pan fry it for a few 
     minutes, and taste! This way, you can tell if you'd like to add a bit more of any of the herbs, 
     or spices. 

4.  Stuff each onion to the top edge of the onion. I stuffed mine up to a rounded top, and the 
     filling "grew" a bit out of each onion, and made a bit silly looking of a final product. However, 
     the filling is delicious, so you may desire this! 

5.  Place all four onions in a baking dish, or pan, and place into a 375° oven for approximately 
     45 minutes. 

6.  Lay a couple of strips of the bacon over the top of the onion, and replace the onion top. You 
     may find it useful to use a toothpick to secure in place, especially if you rounded the filling. 

7.  Place back in the oven for another 15 minutes to cook the tops. 

8.  After pulling the onions from the oven, move them to a serving dish and harvest any 
     drippings from the baking dish. 

9.  Melt the butter in a small or medium saucepan over medium-high heat. 

10.  Whisk in the flour and cook slightly until bubbly, and starting to lightly brown. 

11.  Turn the burner closer to high heat, and whisking continually, add the beer and beef stock, and any drippings you reserved from the baking dish.

12.  Allow the sauce to simmer or slow boil, until thickened, being careful to not let it boil over 
       or scorch. 

13.  Whisk in the chopped thyme, and remove from heat. 

14.  Ladle over the onions and allow to pool around on the plate. 

15.  Serve alongside boiled or mashed potatoes. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Frank Take On... Bacon Shortbread Cookies

When I started "Frank About Food", one of the purposes of the blog was to have a place to record culinary experimentation that I brainstorm. After nearly two years, this is basically the first post that falls under that category. This creation comes from being inspired from cooking book. (Realize, I did not say "cookbook", as this is a book about cooking, and not a list of recipes.) This is a perfect example of how to read something, and work through it in your mind, to come up with something of your own. 

A couple years ago, for Christmas, I received the book "Ratio" by Michael Ruhlman. I've finally begun reading it! In simplest terms, it's all about how you can take many foods and create them without a recipe, if you know a simple ratio. For example, a basic cookie dough recipe is the 1-2-3 ratio: 1 part sugar, 2 parts fat, and 3 parts flour. While reading that cookie dough chapter on lunch break one day, I began wondering if I could substitute out bacon drippings for the fat portion to make a bacon shortbread cookie. I was unsure what portion of the fat I should replace. I also began thinking about a nice topping for the cookie. I thought maybe chocolate. 

Finally, a couple months later, I decided to try my experiment. I started with replacing half the butter with bacon drippings. The bacon flavor was subtle, as I wanted. I didn't want to overpower the cookie with the bacon. I tried melted dark chocolate chips in which to dip the cookies. At the same time, I thought a simple maple glaze might work nicely, as well. So, I mixed some maple syrup with powdered sugar. I despise bacon creations that have enormous chunks of bacon that you have to sit and chew, so I finely chopped the bacon, that I fried to yield the drippings, and topped the still moist chocolate and maple glazes. 

From my own taste testing, and feedback from friends and coworkers, it was unanimous that the maple glaze was much better than the chocolate glaze. It was also agreed that the 50-50 butter & bacon drippings ratio was adjusted well, as the flavor came across subtly, and not overpowering.  

Bacon Shortbread Cookies

2 oz. sugar (about 4.5 Tblsp.)
2 oz. butter (about 1/2 stick), soft but not melted
2 oz. bacon drippings
1 pinch salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 oz. flour (about 1 to 1.5 C.)
1 C. powdered sugar
2-3 Tblsp. real maple syrup
4-5 slices bacon, fried, and very finely chopped

1.  Combine the sugar, butter, and bacon drippings. Mix., beat, or whisk until the sugar is    
     evenly distributed throughout. 
2.  Add the salt and vanilla. Mix into batter. 
3. Gradually fold in the flour and continue to mix until the dough is uniform. 
4.  Now, you have two options: 
     a.  You can roll the batter into 1.5 inch balls, and gently flatten on a cookie sheet. OR
     b.  You can make a log out of the batter and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate this log, and     
          you can slice thinner, more uniform cookies. 
5.  Bake in a 350 degree oven until cooked through, approximately 15-20 minutes. 
6.  While cooling, add the maple syrup to the powdered sugar, and mix well. Add more   
     powdered sugar or syrup, as needed to achieve a nice spreadable, or drizzling, 
7.  You can dip, drizzle, or spread the maple glaze over the top of the cookies. 
8.  Immediately top the glazed cookies with the finely chopped bacon. Allow the glaze to set up 
     before serving. 

This recipe scale will give you approximately 5 to 10 cookies. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Frank About... Hot German Potato Salad

I had the wonderful opportunity this afternoon to appear on the Cooking With Carol segment of KSN 16's Living Well afternoon show. I had a great time chatting with Carol Parker about the blog, cooking, and German traditions, while preparing Janice Peiffer's (my wife's grandmother) handed-down hot German potato salad recipe.

As I explained in the segment, German potato salads primarily differ in the way the potatoes are prepared and served, and the type of dressing. Many German potato salads use a strong, vinegar-forward dressing, diced potatoes, and are often cold. This is the style of German potato salad you would find in the Southeast Kansas chicken restaurants.  This recipe differs in that it uses a sweet & sour, creamier dressing. Also, I prefer to prepare the potatoes by boiling them whole, with skin on. This style is referred to in German cooking, as "boiling with their jackets on." It takes longer to cook the potatoes, but it seems to result in a better consistency of the potato texture. I also like slices of potato in the salad, rather than diced or rough chopped. The slices should hold up well enough to not turn the salad into a mushy mess.

Here is the segment from the Living Well website:

If you have arrived at my blog after seeing the show, today, please check out my Facebook page for Frank About Food, where I post food-related articles, pictures, and similar tidbits, on a more discussion-inspiring forum at

I also have a Twitter account for the same type of postings. The Twitter handle is @FrankAboutFood

And now, the recipe... Pros't!

Hot German Potato Salad

5 lb. Russet potatoes
1 pkg. (1 lb.) bacon
3-4 C. (~ 3 medium) white onion, diced
½ C. sugar
4 Tblsp. flour
1 Tblsp. salt
3 eggs, beaten
1½ C. white vinegar
1 C. COLD water
1 C. HOT water
2 tsp. yellow mustard

  1. Scrub the potatoes and boil them, whole, until fork meets a slight resistance when       inserted. Drain, cool, peel, and slice.
  2. While the potatoes cook, cook the bacon, reserving all the drippings. Chop or crumble the cooked bacon.
  3. Using approximately half the volume of the bacon drippings, sauté the diced onions over medium to medium-high heat until translucent, and very lightly browned. Do not drain the drippings from the onions.
  4. Combine the sugar, flour, and salt in a small bowl.
  5. Combine the beaten eggs, cold water, and vinegar in a saucepan. Slowly whisk in the dry ingredient mixture, and add the 1 C. of hot water. Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently, until it thickens.
  6. Finish the dressing by whisking in the yellow mustard.
  7. Combine the potatoes, bacon, and onions (including the bacon drippings in which they cooked) in a large mixing bowl, or pan. Add ladles or spoonfuls of the dressing and stir to combine. If serving the next day, reserve some dressing to warm and add to the warmed up salad the next day.

Frank’s Notes:
  1. The salad is best made the day prior to your dinner or event, and refrigerated overnight. The next day, warm it in a 350° until heated thoroughly, adding reserved dressing to achieve desired consistency.
  2. The 5 lb. potato batch of salad is perfect for average events and dinner parties. Recipe can easily be scaled for larger events, or scaled down for a very small dinner. But, believe me, you will hardly EVER have leftovers!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Frank About... Oktoberfest Beers!

What is Oktoberfest beer?

Well, with the official Oktoberfest in Munich kicking off in just a couple of days, I thought it would be a great time to discuss Oktoberfest beers!

Oktoberfest, Märzen, Märzenbier, Wiener Märzen, Festbier, and Oktoberfestbier are all terms that refer to an iconic style of beer that makes its appearance around autumn and the harvest time of year.

A typically medium- to full-bodied lager, Märzen is known for its malty flavor, lighter hopping, and dry, clean finish. Although the original Märzens were known to be dark, appearance can vary in color from pale (Helles Märzen) through amber to dark brown (Dunkles Märzen), in Germany. In the Czech Republic, brewers produce pale, amber, and dark beers in the Märzen style. And there are variations in flavor; the North American version normally exhibits a stronger hop aroma and bitterness balance, while the Austrian style closely resembles the Helles in color, body, and flavor balance, and is the most popular beer style in Austria.

Märzen originated in Bavaria, probably before the 16th century. A Bavarian Brauordnung (brewing ordinance) decreed in 1539 that beer may be brewed only between the days of Saint Michael (September 29) and Saint George (April 23). The reason for this requirement was the increased danger of fire during the warm and dry summer months.

Over the summer months, beer had to be stored in a Lager (storage), in caves or stone cellars, sometimes built into the sides of mountains or hills. These locales were frequently selected because there was a pond nearby. During the winter, when the pond had froze, blocks of ice would be cut and put into the cave or cellar. This was usually possible until around the month of March, when the beer was brewed to be stored there for months to come. The entrance to the cellar or cave would also be shielded from sunlight by planting Horse-chestnut or Conker trees in front of it, which have large, shade-providing leaves.

As intended, the beer was often kept in the cellar until late in the summer, and the remaining beer was served at the Oktoberfest. In order to last such a duration of time, either the original gravity and alcohol were increased, or the hopping was strengthened.

The term “Oktoberfest Beer” is an official designation, and is trademarked by the Club of Munich Brewers. In order for a beer to be officially named an Oktoberfest beer, and to be served at Munich’s annual Oktoberfest, it has to meet some standardized brewing criteria. The beer must adhere to the German Purity Law, Reinheitsgebot, mandating that beer can only be brewed with water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. The beer must average a minimum of 6% alcohol by volume (ABV). Also, and maybe more importantly, the beer must be brewed within the city limits of Munich. There are only six breweries that meet these criteria, and can have their beer be designated as official Oktoberfest beer: Augustiner, Hacker-Pschorr, Lowenbrau, Paulaner, Spaten, and Staatliches Hofbrau-Munchen.

It’s that time of year, so head to your local liquor store that carries a vast selection of beer, check the “Seasonals” shelves, and find a few gems to take home and sample. Maybe you could even have a little Oktoberfest of your own, and have some friends over to enjoy a few German dishes, and pair your fermented finds with the food!


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

An Honor!

Photo by Ryan Richardson/Joplin Globe
A few weeks ago, I was invited by Eileen Nichols of the Webb City Farmers Market to be a judge in the annual tomato contest at the Market. I was quite honored to be asked, and even more honored to judge alongside some great, local chefs: Jason Miller of Instant Karma and Eagle Drive In, Sean Flanagan of Wilder's Steakhouse, and Mike Wiggins of Granny Shaffer's Restaurant! It was a lot of fun, and really enjoyed being able to participate in the event.  A huge thank you to Eileen and the Webb City Farmers Market for inviting me!

Here is the link to the Joplin Globe coverage:  "Tomato Growers Face Off..."

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Little Exciting News from Frank About Food!

I'm honored to have been asked by Chef Stephen Block, of the Kitchen Project, to write a little article for inclusion in the most recent edition of the German Goodies newsletter! I'm very excited for the opportunity I had to write a little blurb about summer beers. Huge thanks to Chef Block!

To read the most recent newsletter, please click over to it, German Goodies Newsletter July 20, 2013.

For more information on who Stephen Block is, and what his Kitchen Project is all about, please click over and read a past article I wrote about him, Chef Stephen Block of The Kitchen Project.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Frank About... Appreciation!

When I started Frank About Food about a year and a half ago, I didn't even know if anyone would read a word of it. I found myself nearly obssessing about different recipe ideas and thinking about cooking all day at work. I didn't have a practical purpose for all these thoughts; I really needed a way to share them, in case anyone else had similar experiences. I needed a spigot! One of my friends on Facebook suggested I started my own blog to post food pictures and recipes. I thought there was no way anyone would care about my food pictures.

Well, that was then... Now, I am starting to believe people DO care. Yesterday, I hit a personal milestone: Frank About Food registered its 10,000 page view! I know, for some bloggers, this is like a weekly count, but for me, it's HUGE! And it's all because of you... my Frank About Foodies!! Thank you all so very much for taking the time to read my posts, and to share some of the information I pass along. If anything I write sparks some interest in food or cooking in even one person, I feel great about writing this blog! Again, a whole-hearted thank you to all of you!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Leaky Roof Meadery: Bringing the Railroad to Buffalo, Missouri!

What comes to mind when you think of mead? A syrupy, cloyingly sweet beverage drank from a wooden mug, or drinking horn, at a Renaissance Faire? Often, that is exactly what pops into one's head.
The kind of mead consumption you may find
at your local Renaissance Festival!

Well, Todd Rock and Leaky Roof Meadery are on a mission to break that misrepresentation!

Todd Rock started homebrewing about 10 years ago, after discovering craft beer at Flat Branch Pub & Brewing in Columbia, Missouri. While living in Alaska in 2007 and 2008, Todd got involved in a local homebrew club, The Great Northern Brewers, and actually began participating in homebrew competitions. One such competition victory resulted in Todd being able to commercially produce his winning beer, a Roggenbier (an old German rye beer that predates the German purity law, Reinheitsgebot)  at the local brewpub called The Snow Goose. Todd trained for the Beer Judging Certification Program (BJCP), and took the exam through The Great Northern Brewers. Eventually, he made the decision to pursue brewing as a career, and enrolled in brewing school. Todd's impressive credentials include completion of the Master Brewers Program at University of California - Davis, holds a General Brewing Diploma issued by the London Institute of Brewing and Distilling, and is a BJCP National Judge.

Todd's passion for mead started as a fan of the fermented honey beverage. In Alaska, Todd was fortunate to live down the street from one of the most award-winning meaderies in North America, Celestial Meads. Todd was so in love with the meadmaker's creations that they couldn't get rid of him, so they decided if they couldn't beat him, they'd make him join them! He went to work for Celestial around the meadery for store credit. For two years, Todd was a sponge at Celestial, soaking up all the information he could learn about making quality mead. His passion was further fueled by several members of The Great Northern Brewers, who were incredibly talented meadmakers, to whom he feels greatly indebted. In 2010, as a BJCP judge, Todd answered a call to judge mead at the Mazer Cup International Mead Competition and Tasting Event, the world's largest and premier mead competition held annually in Boulder, Colorado. Ever since answering that call, he judges the Mazer Cup each year, and has remained closely tied to the meadmaking industry.

Todd and Leaky Roof General Manager, Andrew "Skippy" Steiger, were working some projects together in Springfield, Missouri, when Todd was recruited away to become the Head Meadmaker for an upstart meadery in Rogersville, MO. Public Relations and Marketing guru, Jhett Collins, was responsible for bringing Todd on board for the project. Unfortunately, in November of 2012, the meadery project came to a screeching halt. Todd, Andrew, and Jhett found themselves out of a job after working diligently to work up marketable recipes and meadery, complete with canning capabilities. The three had to idea what was going to come next. Mainly as a distraction and keep their minds occupied, they sat down together and loosely started sketching out a business plan, making sure to address any hindrance or issue they encountered on the previous project. They found themselves still out of work, and Todd began working the sketches down to a workable business plan, and starting to show their plan to family, friends, and some potential investors.

Skippy, Todd, and Jhett
In a surprise twist, this began to lead to several breakthroughs that started to funnel the trio to Buffalo, Missouri. Several of the tradesmen from the previous meadery project continually urged them to bring the business to their hometown of Buffalo. One even went as far as to lead their attention to a piece of property that just happened to meet Todd's meticulous list of requirements that he had set up in the business plan. Todd kept his options open, but was unable to find another property that meet his criteria as well. The final piece fell into place when Todd's parents offered to back the project financially. He was as surprised as anyone at this final step to making it all a reality. Todd's parents own Leaky Roof, with Andrew as General Manger, Jhett in Public Relations and Marketing, and Todd as Head Meadmaker. Todd wants to point out that several individuals have been incredibly supportive, and taken very small shares of ownership for key services and equipment, along the way.

Where did they get that name, though?

Let's start with just a little bit of railroad history... 

Leaky Roof Railroad was the nickname for the Kansas City, Clinton and Springfield Railroad (KCC&S). It ran northwest out of Springfield to Ash Grove and then North to Osceola, Clinton, Garden City and on into Kansas before it reached Kansas City. The railroad was built to haul coal and building materials out of Henry County Missouri to the major commercial hubs of Springfield and Kansas City. However, over the years, it became very important in connecting the region, hauling agricultural products. The Leaky Roof Meadery crew feels the Leaky Roof Railroad represents a golden age of Southwest Missouri and an extinct way of life. Todd and the rest of the crew strive to revive a little of that industry and agriculture.

Interestingly, the railroad never ran to Dallas County or Buffalo, MO. In fact Buffalo, MO remains one of the largest land locked communities in the country that never benefited from the presence of a railroad.

Leaky Roof Meadery's website explains...

"The reasons behind this are both interesting and 100% pure Missouri. In the 1870’s Dallas County did partner with the Laclede and Fort Scott Railroad in order to run a line from Fort Scott Kansas through Dallas and Laclede County and into Lebanon, Missouri. Interestingly enough this railroad would have intersected the Leaky Roof outside of Walnut Grove, MO.  The county issued railroad bonds to shareholders and built its share of the rail bed along Route 32 between Bolivar and Buffalo. Unfortunately the Railroad went bankrupt before it reached Buffalo and the track was never laid. The county, having never received a railroad, refused to repay their bonds when they came due. This situation deteriorated over the years as county officials found themselves wanted and on the run from Federal Marshals. The case of the unpaid bonds eventually went before the Supreme Court and the County was forced into a repayment plan. The last of the repayment was made in 1940."

Sooooo... Buffalo never had a railroad, let alone The Leaky Roof Railroad. Um, why the name for a Buffalo-based meadery?

"For our part our connection to the Leaky Roof Railroad begins with our early days of planning. While looking for suitable locations for the meadery we examined several commercial properties for rent. Most of these places were along the railroad tracks running into Springfield from the Northwest. While looking for a name we began to read about the history of the railroad in Springfield and in the area in general. Finally we stumbled on the nickname for an old railroad running out of Springfield and up through Ash Grove. This was the Leaky Roof. What is more, it had a vibrant history linked to the area. At the time the properties we were looking at also looked like they probably had leaky roofs. Many did. While we fell in love with the name and the idea of working with a railroad theme, our dream property became available in Buffalo, a town, which not only wasn’t on the Leaky Roof line, but had never had a railroad at all. Instead of changing the name we decided that this was perfect. Ultimately our company hopes to work with the local community in order to source more and more of our raw materials such as honey, berries and apples from local sources. Much like the Leaky Roof we want to be an outlet for local agriculture to once again thrive in the area. In the days of the Frisco and the Leaky Roof Southwest Missouri small agriculture thrived. The area was once famous for its strawberries, blackberries, apples and grapes, all of which are essential to our products. In pre-prohibition days these crops were brought to the railway depots, loaded into cars full of ice and hauled to the large cities. It is this type of community interlinking we would like to promote as we grow with the community. As such we decided our train image was perfect as we truly wish to bring the railroad to Buffalo, MO and indeed the Missouri Southwest."

As Leaky Roof will love to promote local honey and agriculture in their production, it can be prohibited by supply. The amount of honey it will take for full batches outweighs the local supply. One goal will have Leaky Roof using localized, specialty honeys in small, limited runs of their meads. Their commitment to supporting local farmers and beekeepers is a refreshing trait of a company.

"We were entirely dismayed at the availability of Missouri produce and honey to complete our project," says Todd. "We would love to use Missouri honey and produce for our meads but quantities and prices in the ranges we need don't exist in the area the way they would have around the turn of the century. Our eventual goal is to encourage and contract with local agriculture to encourage a return to the small scale agricultural industry that used to dominate the area. This is maybe a pipe dream, but it would be nice to at least be able to work up enough materials to do more to support local agriculture and produce local products. Either way we felt the railroad and the Leaky Roof perfectly represented this goal."

Weather has been a major player in the construction of the meadery. The estimated time frame for production and grand opening is incredibly difficult to pinpoint.With that said, they would like to be open and producing by Labor Day, give or take a month. In the legal aspect of the alcohol manufacturing world, construction had to be underway in order to file for a federal license. Construction appears to be clicking along, pretty well. Leaky Roof keeps everyone in the loop through their Facebook page.

Also in the realm of construction of the meadery, another issue needs to be brought to your attention. The Leaky Roof crew has been overwhelmed by the response to their meads, and realize demand will be high very quickly after they begin production. They are going to need to upgrade the original canning line they were planning. In order to achieve this goal, the guys have started a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to obtain the upgrade. Here is the video that you will find on their Kickstarter page:

Now, what exactly ARE they making at Leaky Roof Meadery?

Leaky Roof will, at first, concentrate on their draft, session mead. These meads will be carbonated, served on draft and in 16 oz. cans, will be 6.5% ABV and come in several flavors. The flagships will be ginger, honey, super berry, and apple (or cyser) meads. Within the first year, they will begin to produce full strength traditional meads. These will be full 12% ABV honey wines, including a bourbon barrel aged buckwheat honey cyser that they have been developing. Unfortunately, it will probably be Holiday Season 2014 before anyone sees that particular slice of heaven.

I have been fortunate enough to sample some of Todd's incredible creations. Todd, Skippy, and Jhett have come to a couple homebrew club meetings to talk mead, and share some samples of what they have been developing. Here are a few of my tasting notes and information about some of the samples from their visit to the May meeting of the Joplin Homebrew Club:

Skippy, Jhett, and Todd discussing the next mead for tasting, at the May
meeting of the Joplin Homebrew Club, at Blackthorn Pizza & Pub

  • Green Tea & Mint
    • batch was approximately 6-9 months old
    • exhibits the incredible shelf life of mead
    • a kind of anise note, refreshing
  • Mixed Berry
    • delicious, slightly tart
    • will run some more batches with more strawberry to balance some of the tartness
  • Ginger
    • a 2 week old batch
    • floral and ginger on the nose
    • a little spice character
  • Cyser
    • with Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples
    • sharp, acidic, crisp
    • will be looking to add more apple character to future batches
  • Citrus
    • with red grapefruit, lemon, oranges
    • dry, crisp
    • said it was hard to control the acidic effect on the fermentation
    • reminded me of a citrus soda, a la Squirt
  • Sour Cherry and Buckwheat
    • WOW! Fantastic mead!
    • approximately 12 months old
    • 8-9% ABV
    • tart, sour cherries and East Buckwheat Honey
    • the buckwheat added a funky, "horsey" character
  • Strawberry and Wildflower
    • full strength: 12%
    • floral notes, the wonderful strawberry character

A few geeky notes on making mead, the Leaky Roof way...
Mead starts with honey and water mixed, and fermented. The honey-water mixture is heated just enough to dilute the mixture, approximately 120-140°F.  A "killer yeast" is used in a very quick primary fermentation, about 6-8 days, at 55-65°F. The fermentation will actually take the gravity all the way to zero, which means all the sugars are consumed. Then, the mead must be back sweetened to add the sweet character to the final product. Any flavorings added to the mead base (such as the strawberries, apples, berries) will be introduced in secondary fermentation. Leaky Roof mead will be a carbonated mead; most meads are "still" beverages, which are non-carbonated, more wine-like products. This will make their meads more refreshing, especially with the lower alcohol varieties. Due to the complete fermentation characteristic of honey, the finished product has to be stored cold. If left any warmer, it will continue to ferment in the bottle, keg, or can, to the point of possible exploding of the vessel.

Wait! Did I just say "can"? Yes, I did. Leaky Roof Meadery will be canning their product! Very innovative in the mead industry, canning serves several purposes. Firstly, since Leaky Roof Meadery is located in the heart of the Ozarks, a region well known for outdoor recreation such as hiking and floating, cans open up the possibilities to take their refreshing product along on these excursions. Secondly, the cans are going to help make Leaky Roof Meads more recognizable. Since most meads are considered wines, and in 750mL bottles, they get tucked away in the wine section of the liquor store. With these meads going into cans, and the flagships hanging closer to beer ABV percentages, they are almost certainly going to end up in the cooler on the beer side of your local store. This will really boost Leaky Roof's presence in the market. Thirdly, the cans will provide an assurance of freshness.

In closing, I really want to point something out to all my Frank About Foodies: Think for a moment about what I just told you... These three men went from being suddenly out of work in November to developing and having a meadery in production, from scratch, from the ground up... by Labor Day, or thereabout. That's approximately 9 months from jobless and no clue where they were going, to a meadery that is destined for success! The demand and desire for these new styles of meads have just exponentially grown over the past couple of years. Having this product available, in cans, locally from the Ozarks, can do nothing but succeed. This is an inspiring story; I hope you all can take that away from the Leaky Roof tale.

Please head over to Facebook and give Leaky Roof Meadery a "Like" to keep up on their progress!

You can also keep up with them on Twitter, here.

And certainly don't forget to head straight to their homepage, here.

And lastly, Leaky Roof Meadery can really use your help. Donate just $10, or more, or whatever you feel led to give, over on their Kickstarter Campaign Page.