Tag: Beer and food

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IPA Day: the morning after the night that didn’t happen for me

Oh balls.  Was not feeling great yesterday, and by 4pm I really wasn’t feeling very well at all.  This was no hangover – hangovers get better as the day goes on, not worse.  A combination of too much beer, not enough sleep and far too much work combined with some very dodgy chicken wings from GBBF to lay me low. You know when you put something in your mouth and your whole body goes “hang on, this isn’t right”?  If you’re going to GBBF, please avoid the hot wings stall.  I spent most of IPA Day in my bathroom, and drank nothing stronger than water.  
So I missed the Dean Swift dinner, which I’m very upset about.  Here’s the menu – read it, and you’ll see why I was particularly unhappy not to be there:
Toulouse sausage Scotch egg
Keg Kernel Black IPA and Brew Dog AB:06
Calamari with sweet chilli mango sauce and timbale of avocado and crayfish
Brew Dog Punk IPA and Maui Big Swell
Goats cheese stuffed peppers 
Kernel Centennial 100 and Kernel Centennial 2010
Tandoori chicken with a cauliflower veloute
Stone Ruination IPA
Lamb Mechoui
SWB Kahuna, Magic Rock Cannonball, Stone IPA, Sierra Nevada Torpedo, all on draught
Raspberry and Limoncello Jelly Tartlet
Mikkeller Sorachi Ace
I’ve never seen a beer style put through its paces like that, never seen such an ambitious beer and food matching menu.  It would have been amazing.  But this week, it would have killed me.  I still feel dreadful this morning.  Can’t imagine how I’d feel if I’d attempted that.
But it does confirm the Dean Swift as one of London’s most exciting beer pubs.  I hope to eat there as soon as possible.  And I hope they’ll let me host a beer and food matching event with similar ambition in the near future.

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Cheers to International IPA Day

What a great opportunity to take stock.  What a smart use of social media.

Two tweeters decided it might be a nice idea to get the online beer community to have a global celebration of the craft beer world’s favourite beer style, and the day was set for today, 4th August.

As far as I can tell there is no central organisational structure, no big budget or organisation, and yet it’s an idea that has caught the imaginations of beer lovers and gone global.

So what are we supposed to do?  What actually happens?  That’s up to you.  It’s up to breweries, pubs and drinkers to organise tastings, drinking, events, whatever really.  A quick google search shows that many people across the planet have taken up the challenge.

Why IPA?  It’s a perfect meme for every aspect of beer appreciation.  It’s a definable style – even though that definition mutates continually over time.  It has a long, deeply chronicled history – and that history has given birth to more myths, mythbusting, speculation, misinterpretation and debate than anything else in beer.  It’s a perfect showcase for hops – the facet of beer that craft drinkers get most excited about.  And it’s the style that caught the imagination of the US craft beer movement, that symbolises it.  It’s the constant across the many styles craft brewers brew, a shop window for their craft.  The union of a traditional old-style IPA recipe and the tropical orchard of flavours and aromas bestowed by New World hops lit a fire in craft brewing that’s now burning world over.

For me, my first taste of an American IPA was the equivalent of my first taste of a real curry: it was like tasting in colour for the first time, as if everything I’d tasted before was black and white.  From there it became an obsession that would profoundly change my life.  In 2007 I embarked on a mission to recreate IPA’s historic voyage from Burton to India around the Cape of Good Hope for the first time since 1869.  My attempt to recreate the effects of the journey was partially successful, as was my attempt to write the most thorough, detailed history of IPA to date.  Neither of these partial successes has stopped the arguments, the mythbuilding and busting, the speculation, and that’s entirely how it should be.

The resulting book, Hops & Glory, moved me up a big notch in my career, earned me the Beer Writer of the Year gong, and to date represents the best writing I can do.  I can never look at IPA the same way again.

Tonight, my contribution to the celebrations is that I’ll be tweeting from a 6-course IPA day feast at the Dean Swift, London SE1.  It’s a lovely little pub run by passionate, knowledgable people, and they’ve pulled together what looks to be an amazing menu, which I’m not allowed to share.  If you want to know how that goes, follow @PeteBrownBeer on Twitter from 7pm UK time.

And raise a glass to the world’s most talked about beer style, and the people who have harnessed the power of social media to celebrate it in such a great way.

I promise I will go back ranting and/or trying to be funny after this post.

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Beer versus wine. In a nice way.

To the Thatchers Arms, Essex, a pub recently taken over by young Mitchel Adams, an ambitious publican who wants to create a destination food and drink pub. Via a combination of doing his job very well and using social media to promote the place, he’s quickly succeeding in his aim. The Thatchers has already been named CAMRA’s Pub of the Year in the region.

On Friday, Mitch persuaded Adnams to run a beer and wine matching evening with a five course dinner. As well as employing one of the UK’s most talented young brewers in Fergus Fitzgerald, Adnams’ Cellar and Kitchen stores boast a formidable wine selection. One of their main suppliers is New Zealand winemaker Forrest Wines, who sent Sam Lockyer to try to persuade us that the wines he’d chosen to go with the food were better than Fergus’ beers. Both were matching blind: they’d seen the menu written on a piece of paper, but not tasted the dishes.

When it comes to the rivalry between beer and wine, when we’re on the front line like this, I’m with Garrett Oliver, finding as I do on so many occasions that he’s said what I want to say before me, better than me. Garrett says that, while campaigning for beer to be taken as seriously as wine, as a craft beer brewer and beer evangelist he has far more in common with a passionate sommelier who wants to educate and inspire people about flavour than he has differences with them.

As well as being true, it’s a clever stratagem: anyone who goes around saying “beer is great and wine is crap”, or “beer is ALWAYS a better match with food than wine,” sounds just as blinkered as his opposite who dismisses the idea of beer ever being as worthy as wine. It actually undermines beer’s credibility.

That’s why, as we sat down, I was genuinely hoping that I would prefer wine to beer with at least one course. It would make beer’s victories sound much more convincing…

To Start
Beetroot Risotto with a Spinach & Parmesan Pesto
Beer: Adnams ‘The Bitter’ Cask 3.7%
Wine: 2006 Chardonnay, Forrest Estate, Marlborough

The two misunderstood, much-maligned pariahs of their respective worlds. No, not Adnams and Forrest specifically, but brown bitter and chardonnay; the former often persecuted in craft beer circles for being dull, boring and characterless, the latter the tart of wine, going anywhere with anyone, so much so that it had a fictional WAG named after it. Can either cover themselves in glory?

Well, as individual drinks, each is impressive – a lovely subtle, fresh, herby hop balanced perfectly with liquid Twix, versus a sharp fruitiness with just enough, and not too much, buttery backbone.

With the risotto… hmm. The chardonnay’s acidity stomps all over it, annihilating the food’s flavour. The beer looks up hopefully, but fails to make any impression at all. For me it’s a goalless draw, each side shooting wide. But others enjoy the match, and it splits the crowd down the middle with a narrow beer victory.

Aggregate scores out of five:
Wine 3.0 vs Beer 3.2

Fish Course
Mackerel & Horseradish Fishcake
Beer: Adnams ‘American IPA’ Cask 4.8%

Wine: 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, John Forrest Collection, Marlborough 

I always compare the aromas of American hops to those of Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc – and here they are, head to head. I’m not sure the cocktail of Cascade, Amarillo, Chinook and Centennial is done full justice by being served on cask. American hops can become brutish thugs in cask beer. Sometimes their power and violence can be breathtaking, but more often it can just be a bit nasty. Carbonation elevates them, refines them, has them swapping studded leather jackets for Thomas Pink shirts and cravats.

But Fergus argues that there’s a real breadth and depth of flavour here. He tells us there’s a lot of bitterness, so he’s whacked in a lot of malt for balance.

Sam talks about terroir. It’s a wonderfully evocative advert for going to New Zealand. When he describes the smell from the wet stones by the river after rainfall as being the aroma of the wine, I think he has us seduced. Again, both are excellent drinks on their own.

But then…

Once again, the wine charges in and smashes the place up. This is my favourite wine style in the world. I often have it with fish, but here the acidity once again just creates noise. The beer fares a little better – there’s the beginnings of a herby matching of flavours. But I’m not blown away. A narrow beer victory for me, and a total split in the room.
Wine 3.5 vs Beer 3.5

I’m obviously here as a beer fan. I want the beer to win. But on the basis of these two so far, I’m starting to wonder: is wine actually capable of matching with food at all? I’m so accustomed to looking for complementary flavours, I’m shocked by the boorish display of acidity here, too vulgar for an effective contrast. I adore these wines on their own, and resolve to stock up on them as soon as I can. But they need much bigger food than this to go with them. Even then, I’m not sure they would work. Is food and wine matching a myth?

And then, everything changes.

Main Course
Venison & Binham Blue Cheese Suet Pudding
(V) Mushroom & Blue Cheese Vegetarian Suet Pudding
Beer: Adnams ‘Oyster Stout’ Cask 4.3%
Wine: 2005 Cab Sauvignon/Merlot/Malbec, Cornerstone, Newton Forrest Estate, Hawkes Bay

The oyster stout is a good stout. It’s a good beer. As expected, it’s full of coffee and dark chocolate and looks to all the world like a confident contender. Matching it with a venison pie is a no-brainer, a routine operation. It goes in, gets the job done, comes out again.

And then I nose the wine.

I first started getting into wine late in my university career. A year or two after the Iron Curtain came down, Hungarian and Bulgarian Carbernet Sauvignons began appearing in the supermarket for £1.99 a bottle. I mean, who would want to drink East European wine? Well, students for one. Initially buying it because it was even cheaper than Liebfraumilch, after the first bottle we drank little else thanks to its concentration of spiced Ribena blackberries on liquid velvet. These bottles quickly went up to £2.99, then £3.99… by the time we graduated they were £7.99, beyond our reach. And by the time I could afford them again, they just didn’t taste the same. Either my palate had improved massively, or the wines had been dumbed down.

Here, Cornerstone reveals itself my first winey love, back from the dead, all aniseed, pepper and red berry compote. It swaggers in and sits down heavily next to the Venison and Binham Blue Cheese Suet Pudding, invading its personal space. No slouch itself in the flavour department, the pudding looks timid, nervous. “You and me. We’re friends, right?” growls the wine. The food meekly agrees. It’s a match, but only because the food knows it would get knocked about the room and bounced off the walls it if disagreed.

The beer tries a friendlier approach: a winning smile, some supportive overtures, a technically competent and absolutely complete matching of various elements of flavour.

The food likes the beer, but it just wants to be friends. The food looks at the beer sadly, takes the wine’s hand, and checks its bag to make sure it’s got the foundation it’ll need tomorrow to cover up a black eye
I want to support the beer.  But when I’m with the beer, nodding and smiling with it, I’m secretly thinking of the wine. The wine may be a bastard, but I can’t help loving it.

No contest.

And yet, bizarrely, for the first time the room overwhelmingly prefers the beer. The rest of this audience is obviously much nicer than me.

Wine 3.6 vs Beer 4.2

Treacle Tart
Beer: Adnams ‘Tally Ho’ Bottle 7.0%
Wine: 2006 Botrytised Riesling, Forrest Estate, Marlborough

Our Botrytised Riesling is a kind of wine equivalent to lambic beers, both in how Sam describes its production, and in the effect it has on my palate.

It smells of petrol. But not in a bad way – I like the smell of petrol.

It tastes like cough syrup. But not in a bad way – I like the taste of cough syrup.

Well, sometimes.

Tally Ho is strong and dry with a not unpleasant hint of oxidisation that makes it come across as venerable and authoritative. Initially I think it lacks the sweetness I want from a dessert beer, and wish it was a barley wine instead.

It’s OK with the tart, competent, but no more than that. But then I take a spoonful of the tart together with its accompanying vanilla cream, and it’s like that bit in musicals where the back wall falls away to reveal the set for a big show tune. New flavours walk into shot, smiling, like carol singers during the finale of a Val Doonican Christmas Special. Chocolate, vanilla and caramel all sing harmonies, and beer, wine and cream become one.

The wine is way too phenolic, with or without the cream. It walks into the analogy in the above paragraph banging a drum and playing a tuneless harmonica until everyone stares at it coldly, willing it to leave.

Again, opinion is divided elsewhere – but a well-deserved victory for the beer overall.

Wine 3.2 vs Beer 3.4

OK, so on my palate I’m looking at one nil-nil draw, one beer victory by default, one bruising wine triumph and one graceful beer victory. I think the results don’t reflect how close the play has been and things could still go either way. But oh dear – here comes the cheese.

And we all know about beer and cheese.


Mrs Temple’s Alpine, Suffolk Gold
Beer: Adnams ‘Broadside’ Bottle 6.3% & Adnams ‘Innovation’ Bottle 6.7%
Wine: 2009 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, Forrest, Marlborough

Sam stands up to introduce his late harvest sauvignon blanc with a dead look in his eyes. He knows he’s already lost. It’s almost unfair to make him compete in this round, and he knows it. The best I can say is that if he’d deployed this wine back there at the treacle tart’s Christmas party, that result could well have gone the other way. It’s a great wine with an unexpected flavour dimension. It’s got interesting things to talk about.

But when the cheese comes out, it falls apart, makes its excuses, gets its coat and leaves quickly.

Maybe we could accuse Fergus of cheating by bringing a tag team, especially when its these two. But either one wipes the floor on its own. Broadside with the Suffolk Gold is magisterial. Innovation with Mrs Temple’s Alpine is simply perfect.

Wine 2.2 vs Beer 3.9

I’ve learned a lot. And as I put my notebook away and Fergus celebrates his victory by producing some very special Adnams’ beers that are possibly older than he is, Sam, he and I discuss the action. In the room it’s 4-0 to beer with one draw – and this was not a room full of beer geeks, but a balanced audience of foodies who, if anything, might be expected to go with the wine. I’m happy because beer is the winner. But I did emphatically prefer the wine in one course, so my palate’s conscience is clear.

It’s dangerous to attempt to draw conclusions from one New World winemaker going up against one Suffolk brewer, but the general trend tonight has been that wine on the whole has been aggressive, thuggish and brutish. Even its victory on my palate was down to its power and intimidation, and this was emphatically the reason for its defeats. It’s the beer that has demonstrated subtlety, sophistication and style, and this is arguably the reverse of the popular image of the two drinks. Beer is supposed to be a bit thick and dumb, wine intelligent and stylish. Across a menu of diverse flavours, the positions have been reversed, and I wonder if this is true in a broader sense.

But maybe not – maybe a match between New Zealand wines and US beers, or British beers and French wines, would have seen the contenders belonging to the same class, and given a more balanced result.

No matter – It was great fun, I’ve made new friends in both beer and wine, and every drink was excellent in its own right.

Thanks Fergus, thanks Sam, and thanks Mitch and everyone else. From my hazy recollection of aged beers and bar billiards, I think the night got even better after the dishes were cleared away.

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The Best Bit of the Job

(Catch-up post: this has been on my to do list for almost two months!)

It was the Brooklyn Chocolate Stout that did it.
I’d been waxing lyrical to Dominique, proprietor of Hardy’s Brasserie, and she was nodding and clearly starting to enjoy the beers I’d brought for her to taste.  Then, as I opened the Brooklyn Stout, I said something that was potentially very rash.
“This is a perfect dessert beer.  No, seriously, beers can match perfectly with dessert.  In fact – taste that, it’s gorgeous – in fact, you could just pour this beer over a scoop of vanilla ice cream and it would be wonderful.”
“No,” said Dominique, incredulously.  
“Yeah, seriously.”
“Absolutely, I promise.”
“Ok then.”  And Dominique stood up suddenly.
At this point I remembered that she was a restaurateur.  And that we were having our conversation at a table just outside her restaurant.
Two minutes later, Dominique returned with a dish of home made vanilla ice cream.  I tried not to let my nervousness show as I poured the beer over it.
A minute after that, after the oohs and aahs, and mmmms, she simply said, “Right I’m convinced.  So how do we go about organising this beer and food matching dinner then?
Three weeks later, with a slight change of ingredient in a nod to an up-and-coming local brewer, ‘Stout poured over ice cream’ had become ‘Vanilla Ice Cream Affogato with Kernel Export Stout’ (you get to call it that when it’s a chef that pours the beer on the ice cream).  And it was one of six choices for dessert on a three course beer and food matching menu at Hardys Bar and Brasserie, Fitrovia, Central London.
There’s a good reason why portlier blokes should be wary of having their photos taken with slim, attractive women.  I actually look about twice as big here as I do in real life.
It’s always a pleasure talking to fellow fans of craft beer.  But it’s an even greater pleasure to convert new people to the delights of beer.  Once convinced, Dominique leapt into the world of beer appreciation with a dedication and professionalism that was inspiring to watch.  Within three weeks, the brasserie’s beer list had gone from Becks, Budvar, Kronenbourg and Hoegaarden to include Kernel porters, stouts and IPAs, Schiehallion, Westmalle, Brooklyn, Ola Dubh and many more.
And rather than stop there, having made the investment Dominique went to great lengths to make sure the evening was a success.  The restaurant was full to bursting on the night, mainly with curious foodies rather than beer fans.  I did a talk and beer tasting, signed a few books, then we sat down to the menu with beer recommendations worked out between us, ably assisted by Mike at Utobeer.

It was one of the best events I’ve been involved with.  Afterwards, Dominique said, “Hardy’s beer dinner was a great success! Pete’s talk and tutored tasting was the perfect combination of information and entertaining anecdotes. Our wine drinking regulars surprised themselves at how well the beer complemented the food. Particular highlights for us were The Kernel Pale Ale Centennial with the delicious Barbecued Ribs (recipe taken from Pete’s recommended BBQ bible) and the Duchesse de Bourgogne, a slightly sour red Belgian beer with Stilton. We are now trying to finalise a new interesting beer list and it’s a tough choice as my mind and palate have been opened to this vast, exciting new world. We are also thinking of offering a Christmas menu with beer matching.”

Since the dinner, the beer list has evolved and expanded.  I often say you can’t tell people about beer and food, you have to show them.  Hardy’s is certainly showing them now.  If you’re ever in London, check them out.

And thanks once again to Niki ‘The Flavour Thesaurus’ Segnit for making that auspicious first meeting happen.

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Come to my beer dinner, August 9th!

Thanks to my friend Niki, author of the fantastically successful Flavour Thesaurus, I was introduced to Dominique de Bastarrechea, who runs Hardy’s Brasserie and Wine Bar in a quiet corner of Marylebone.
Niki had done a very successful evening talking about her book, after which a meal followed based on some of the pairing suggestions in the book itself.
The event went so well Dominique wanted to do more, and Niki suggested me!  One blurry World Cup semi-final evening later, which was almost but not quite ruined by an exploding bottle of Worthington White Shield, Dominique was a beer convert, vowing to replace the perfectly acceptable but unimaginative selection of bottled lagers in the restaurant with a short but perfectly formed beer list that reflects the diversity and innovation of beer today.
She’s spent the month since then following a few recommendations of mine, visiting brewers and rapidly developing her own tastes and preferences with a work rate and dedication that’s inspiring and quite frankly a bit scary.
The result: this week if you go to Hardy’s you can vote for the new beer list.  We’ve got new lagers, fruit beers, wheat beers, pale ales, bitters, strong ales and porter/stout.  In each category there are two or three beers.  In each, the most popular will be kept on.  If they sell well, the list may then expand even further.  
So next Monday, I’ll be talking about beer and my books, and unveiling the winners in a tutored tasting. After that, there’s a three course dinner for the ridiculously reasonable price of £15.  Here’s the menu:
I’m going to be matching different beers with each dish and talking through the matches.
It promises to be a great evening – Niki’s event was an extraordinary success – so do book now if you think you’ll still have a liver left after this week!  Full details below.

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Back Garden Bliss

OK while the weather holds, this is too good not to share.

A couple of people picked up on the reference to beer brined chicken in my Garrett Oliver post.  Now your barbecue has seen some sausage and burger action, it’s time to raise it to the next level.

The following recipe is adapted from this book, which has changed my life:

It looks like a novelty book.  It looks like it should be rubbish.  But it contains secrets, such joyful secrets.

The problem with bbq food is that it gets burnt and dry.  Now this might be common knowledge in the States, where barbecuing gets taken much more seriously, but we tend not to know it over here because bbq weather is so rare – the secret to moist, flavoursome barbecue meet is brining.  Marinade the meat in a herby, spicy solution with lots of salt and brown sugar, which tenderises and keeps it moist.

If you just did that, it would be pretty good.  But you can go further – once your meat is marinaded, about half an hour before putting it on the grill, just as the coals are flaming and you’re waiting for them burn down into embers, dry off your chicken/lamb/pork/beef and coat it in a salty, sugary rub.  This caramelises very quickly, giving you a tasty burnt layer on the outside but protecting the meat inside and locking in the moisture and flavour.

With these principles you can’t go wrong.  The following recipe is the one form the book that I’ve cooked six times in the last few weeks, but with the principle established, you can mess around with different seasonings.

First you do the brine:

Half cup of firmly packed brown sugar
Half cup sea salt
1 cup hot water
1 tsp chopped/grated lemon zest
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
3 bay leaves
2 tsp ground black pepper
2 bottles beer – I think anything works, but something quite fruity and mid-brown has worked best for me.

Dissolve the sugar and salt in the water, then add everything else. Marinade the chicken for as long as you can – four or five hours is perfect.

Then you’ve got the rub:

2tsp fennel seeds (it says ground but I use them whole)
Pinch of chilli flakes to taste
2 tsp chopped lemon zest
1 tsp brown sugar
3 tsp salt

Drain the marinade off the chicken, coat in the rub, stick it on the barbie!  Simple.

As I mentioned in the previous post, it’s a heavenly beer match waiting to happen.  Because of the variety of spicy flavours in there I’ve found an American IPA/pale ale – not a hop bomb of varnish-like bitterness but something with some nice resinous, spicy notes, such as Sierra nevada Pale Ale or Norrebro’s Bombay Pale Ale – goes amazingly – the latter is one of the most swoonsome matches I’ve ever tasted

And to follow? Well, while we’re outside, me and the Beer Widow went camping last weekend.  We had a campfire every night (No firelighters.  First night – paper and about five matches.  Second night – just kindling from the forest floor and three matches.  Final night – forest kindling and one match!)  I’d got a hunch from tasting whisky barrel-aged beers while judging the International Beer Challenge, which I wanted to check out – and I was right.  When you’re sitting around a campfire, as the moon rises and nearby campers launch lanterns into the darkening sky, you can play with beer and fire matching.  Something like an Ola Dubh 30 or 40 year old is the perfect accompaniment – the smoke from the air mingles in your nostrils and brings out nuances in the beer, and at the finish, as you swallow, you can taste the embers of the fire on your tongue.  One of the most remarkable, multi-sensory tasting experiences I’ve ever had.
Now where are those matches?

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Mr Oliver comes to London

This week I’ve been lucky enough to spend two evenings with Garrett Oliver, Brewmaster of the Brooklyn Brewery and arguably the world’s most compelling voice about beer, especially when he’s talking about beer and food matching.
The first night was – to put it mildly – unexpected.  Last Saturday we had a barbecue at our house for my birthday.  I turned my friends on to my newly discovered masterpiece of beer-brined chicken in fennel rub – a recipe from one of those kitsch, 1950s-style novelty cookbooks that turns out to be the best thing I’ve ever cooked.  Sublime with a Sierra Nevada-style pale ale, perfect with Norrebro’s Bombay India Pale Ale.
The following day we were nursing hangovers, prodding at the tidying up and enjoying the sunshine when Garrett dropped me a line to say he was in London, had no plans and did I fancy a pint?  I explained that I was incapable of leaving the house but that he was welcome to join us for the last of the beer-brined chicken and the World Cup FinalTM if he wanted, and to my surprise and delight he said yes.  After the poor sod roamed Finsbury Park for an hour in search of a cab – bloody football – he finally made it to Stoke Newington.  I managed to find three beers in the cellar he’d not had before, and I think he liked two of them.  After watching the Dutch lose to Spain in the Ultimate Fighting Challenge, we stayed up talking till long after bedtime, drinking Ola Dubh 40.  A memorable and wonderful evening, entirely worth writing off the whole of Monday for.
Two nights later Garrett was at the White Horse giving a beer and cheese pairing.  I do this kind of thing quite a bit myself, but I don’t think I’ve ever uttered one word about how well cheese and beer go together that Garrett hadn’t said to me first.
If you haven’t seen Garrett do his thing before, here’s a brief summary of his spiel, after which I’ll say a note on the beers and the cheeses, and how well they went together.
The first thing he’s at pains to point out is that he loves wine as well as beer.  “Some of my best friends are sommeliers,” he didn’t quite say.  Seriously, he argued that people who are passionate about evangelizing any kind of food or drink are all “flavour people.  It’s natural that it’s intertwined.”
Having established this, he then talks about how beer is a better match with cheese than wine is.  He often participates in tasting duels versus sommeliers. A cheese expert chooses six cheeses, Garrett and the wine guy choose drinks to match with them, and in front of a voting audience Garrett usually wins. 
There’s a technical part to why and, in Garrett’s mind, a more romantic, esoteric explanation which is just as real.  The technical bit is that cheese is mainly fat and salt, which coat the tongue.  Wine simply bounces off this coating, can’t break it down, and therefore you don’t really taste much of what remain two very separate elements in the mouth.  But beer, with its carbonation, breaks through, scraping the fat off your tongue, revitalizing the flavours.  Sometimes beer enhances cheese, sometimes vice versa, and sometimes they combine to create a 3D flavour sensation that’s much bigger than either beer or cheese can achieve separately.
The more romantic part – which is not to say it doesn’t make perfect sense – is that beer and cheese are obvious natural pairings.  They both come from a farm, and historically they were both made by the same person.  “Both are essentially made from grass,” argues Garrett.  “Barley is a type of grass.  Cheese has a cow or a sheep in the middle, but it starts as grass.”
And so on to the tasting.  All the beers were Garrett’s own, some of them rarely if ever seen this side of the pond. 


Sorachi ace is a rare, new hop with a powerful, unique aroma of lemon rind and lemongrass.  The beer of the same name is a Belgian Saison style ale that tastes like a warm summer evening. 
Goat’s cheese seemed like an obvious match, and this particular one was one of the best I’ve ever tasted – a bold initial tartness that melts into a lake of milkiness. 
Together, the lemon character of the beer and the strong citric hit of the cheese somehow cancel each other out and fade away to leave a new flavour, rounder and mellower with no sharp edges, sweet with the tiniest hint of malt.  Wonderful.


Brillat Savarin is to my mind the best ever writer on food, famous for his aphorisms, my favourite of which is “A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.”  I don’t much care for the cheese that was named after him though.  It’s like eating solidified cream.  I hate cream.  It’s too cloying and sickly and I don’t understand why everyone thinks it’s a treat. 
The beer though is something I’d be perfectly happy to receive as a birthday present.  And I mean a ‘proper’ present.  It’s recognizable as a Belgian Saison in style but it’s smoother, more elegant.  You want to say ‘dumbed down’ but that would be completely inaccurate.  Yes, it’s more accessible than some of the funkier farmyard Saisons, but the cheesy, musty, sweet and sour, spicy flavour journey of a Saison is all present and correct. 
This is a match where the beer comes out best.  The cheese helps push its tartness to the fore, a brief spike of flavour emerging slowly and elegantly, like the spine of a humpback whale cresting the ocean surface before, submerging again.  
On the other hand,  the cheese just tastes even creamier, which I could really do without. 


The Brooklyn beer you can get fairly easily in the UK was the first they brewed, and is a faithful recreation of what beer used to be like in New York a hundred years ago, prompting Garrett to exclaim that the current craft beer boom is not a fad or a trend, but a return to normality after a the late twentieth century’s obsession with plastic and standardization. 
I realize that we spend too much time thinking about beer in terms of ‘hoppy’ or ‘malty’.  Brooklyn lager is neither, or rather, both.  It’s toffee in a very expensive designer label suit that makes it shine and sparkle.
The cheese is sticky and cloying and glutinous in a good way, sweet and salty and slightly acidic.  Together I don’t find much alchemy – both are nice separately and nice together, but with nothing much added.


This is an interesting one.  Ossau Iraty is made from sheep’s milk and has an aroma of lanolin or ‘wool fat’, the smell you get off a wet woollen jumper and, once it’s been pointed out, the sweet smell you get from roast lamb.
The beer is all about chocolate and caramel, with a slight grassiness towards the end.
Together, they are in total harmony – beer and cheese blend into each other around an axis of sweet caramel.  Just lovely.


This one wasn’t on the menu and I’m starting to lose track.  Dark Matter is an 8% version of the brown ale that’s been aged for four months in bourbon and wine barrels to give it a strong American oak character.  To me it smells initially of nail varnish, but that’s a smell I’ve always liked.  On the second whiff I can isolate the coconut that Garrett’s talking about, and then you can get the strong vanilla essence behind it, a hint of sherry, and then a faint molasses character on the tongue.
I hardly notice the cheese.  I’m all wrapped up in the beer, and the match doesn’t change much about it.


IPA with strong mature cheddar has always been my favourite match of any beer with any food, and this one doesn’t disappoint. The dry saltiness of the cheese ands the fruitiness of the beer just body barge each other, exploding in a carnival of colour and partying on your tongue.  Weirdly, Garrett compares it to a forceful physical dance, like a tango, just after I’ve written in my notebook that they’re slam-dancing.  I  might be on the same wavelength as him, but I just don’t have his class.


This pairing was born by accident.  Garrett was at an event where he’d asked for either a barley wine to match with Stilton (which is another awesome match) or chocolate stout with truffles.  He turned up to find chocolate stout and Stilton, panicked, tried it, and found it worked wonderfully.
The dark chocolate character in the stout comes from chocolate malt only – no actual chocolate – and develops with a hint of sherry, followed by an inky Shiraz character on the palate with some bitter coffee grounds mixed in.
The Stilton is lovely.  “People who don’t like Stilton… well… they’re just bad people,” says Garrett.  “I’m serious.  If you don’t like Stilton you can’t come to my house.  You can’t pet my dog.”
The match is an elegant marriage which makes me think of high tea with a maiden aunt in a stately home.  Don’t ask me why.
So what did I learn?  The main thing is that in craft brewing there are craftsmen, artisans, entrepreneurs, chefs, mavericks, scientists, technicians, innovators and mad professors.  But Garrett is one of the few true artists.  The beers reflect the man: daring, elegant, refined, cultured, Europhile, principled and courteous. At my house on Sunday he was telling us about a beer he’s designed in honour of a legendary Italian filmmaker, and to hear him talk through his thinking, the influences he wanted to incorporate, and how he chose to weave them together, was enchanting.  All my guests – including the ones who never drink beer – were absolutely rapt.  And the brews we had on Tuesday demonstrated that he can deliver in the glass what he weaves in words.
I also learned that the best way to talk about beer versus wine is not to dismiss wine, or fight against it, but to complement it.  This is too long a post, so I’m just going to finish by quoting Garrett in summary:
“The frustration in the States, and now here, is people trying to force wine into places where it doesn’t want to go.  What we eat now, with Japanese and Indian and Thai food, is not what we were eating twenty years ago.  Let wine go where it wants, or it’s a recipe for misery. 
“Beer has a wider range of flavours than wine.  That’s not opinion, that is incontrovertible, verified fact.  When chefs and restaurants complement a great menu with a great wine list and just two or three industrial beers, it’s like an artist saying ‘I’m only going to use half the colours’, or a composer saying ‘I’m only going to use half the notes.’  It just doesn’t make sense.”
I’ll be in my salon if you need me.

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Happy St Paddy’s Day!

After having the naked audacity yesterday to suggest that a large regional brewer doing something that improves beer quality might actually be a Good Thing for beer drinkers, I’ve decided to completely blow any remaining credibility I might have with the miserable indie kid wing of the beer fraternity and write a post in praise of Guinness.

Beer Nut – I’m not necessarily calling you a miserable indie kid but I know how you feel on this particular issue. It might be best if you just look away now.
I like Guinness. Sorry, but I do. I like it as a brand – it’s stuck to its guns with mould-breaking, innovative creative advertising for eighty years now – and I occasionally like it as a beer. If there was a better porter or stout on the bar, of course I would choose to drink that instead. But the point is, in 99 out of 100 pubs, there isn’t a better porter or stout on the bar. There’s no porter or stout at all. Apart from Guinness. In fact when you think about it, the fact that Guinness – a dark, bitter stout – is as ubiquitous as it is in a world dominated by pale, tasteless imitation pilsners, it is a remarkable achievement. You might be about to comment that Guinness has been dumbed down and isn’t a patch on what it used to be. I’m not in a position to disagree with you. You might also be about to comment that Guinness isn’t a ‘real’ stout, that it’s way too bland or even that it actually tastes of nothing at all. There, I would have to disagree. Guinness is a big brand, one of the few beers that can truly claim to have a global presence. And the main reason it’s not even bigger? Survey after survey shows that the vast majority of beer drinkers find it too bitter, too challenging, too full-bodied. If Guinness were to reformulate to something as robust as the craft-brewed porters we all know and love, it would kill the brand stone dead. It might not be challenging to you, but it is to 99% of drinkers who ever come across it. And still it survives. The success of Guinness should actually give us hop that there are enough people who like challenging beer to make brewing something a bit more challenging worthwhile. If Guinness hadn’t kept the dark flame alive when porter and stout were otherwise extinct globally, would those styles have made the triumphant comeback that’s happened over the last ten years? And there’s one other thing. It’s St Patrick’s Day. If you really, truly believe that Guinness is shit, then go to a pub in Galway tonight and tell the people drinking there that they have crap taste in beer and don’t know anything about drinking. Good luck with that. I’ll be in the Auld Shillelagh in Stokie tonight, having a few pints, otherwise I’d come with you and help try to find your teeth on the floor of the pub. Guinness probably holds the world record (ironic that!) for number of books written about a single beer brand. Today there’s a new one out – Guinness ®: An Official Celebration of 250 Remarkable Year, from Octopus publishing. I don’t know if it’s any good or not, but it does have some recipes in it, and the publishers asked me if I’d put one up ande give the book a plug, so I am, because it’s Paddy’s day and I. Like. Guinness. So here’s one for Iced Chocolate, Guinness and orange cake. Slainte! This sumptuous cake is perfect for a special occasion. The recipe may seem a little involved, but it’s easy to accomplish if tackled stage by stage. Preparation time 45 minutes Cooking time 1 hourServes 8 2 large oranges250 g (8 oz) caster sugar175 g (6 oz) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing150 g (5 oz) self-raising flour25 g (1 oz) cocoa powder2 teaspoons baking powder3 free-range eggs, beaten25 g (1 oz) ground almonds5 tablespoons draught Guinness 150 ml (¼ pint) double cream Icing20 g (¾ oz) unsalted butter50 g (2 oz) caster sugar3 tablespoons draught Guinness 100 g (3½ oz) plain dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped step 1 Peel one orange. Finely grate the zest of the other orange and set aside. Using a sharp knife, pare away the pith from both oranges. Cut the oranges into 5 mm (¼ inch) slices. Put them in a small saucepan and just cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add 50 g (2 oz) of the sugar and continue to simmer until all the liquid has boiled away, watching carefully to ensure that the oranges don’t burn. Leave to cool.step 2 Beat together the butter and the remaining sugar for the cake in a large bowl until very pale and fluffy. Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking powder, then beat into the butter mixture alternately with the eggs. Add the ground almonds, reserved grated orange zest and Guinness and beat for 3–4 minutes until you have a soft dropping consistency.step 3 Grease and line the base and sides of 2 x 20 cm (8 inch) round cake tins, then divide the cake mixture equally between the tins, smoothing the surface. Bake the cakes in a preheated oven, 190°C (375°F), Gas Mark 5, for 25 minutes until risen and firm to the touch. Leave to cool in the tins for 5 minutes before carefully turning out on to a wire rack to cool completely.step 4 Whip the cream in a bowl until soft peaks form, then spread over one of the cakes. Arrange the cooled orange pieces over the cream and carefully place the other cake on top.step 5 To make the icing, put the butter, sugar and Guinness in a small saucepan. Stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved, then bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Leave to soften, then beat gently with a wooden spoon. Leave to cool and thicken. While still warm but not too runny, pour the icing over the cake and use the back of a spoon or a palette knife to spread it evenly.

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Purity and Simpsons – a match made in a very posh kitchen

Back in September I was invited to a beer and food matching dinner at Simpsons restaurant in Birmingham by Purity Brewing. It was an intimate gathering for twenty in a private dining room with chandeliers and silver floral wallpaper.

To the best of their knowledge it was the first serious beer and food matching dinner in the Midlands, after restaurants in London, Leeds and Manchester have started getting quite into it. The fact that it happened the week the brewery announced a like for like annual sales increase of 84% gave the whole evening a triumphal air.

“We’re passionate about beer. Andreas, the restaurant owner is passionate about food. We let the French get away with murder with their wines. Let’s get a scene going!” said Purity’s MD Paul Halsey as we sat down to a daunting-looking menu.
As well as their own beers – Pure Gold, UBU and Mad Goose – Purity have an exclusive import deal in the Midlands for Veltins and Maisel Weisse. These formed the beers. Paul Corbett from hop merchants Charles Farham was on hand to talk about the hops in the beers, and the fresh hops he’d brought with him filled the room with their woozy, resiny perfume.
But I wasn’t sure about the menu. I do get frustrated when people talk about beer and food matching or cooking with beer and all they deliver is a steak and ale pie or beer battered cod. But this was at the other end of the scale.
Five courses – and the first one was – according to the menu – ‘Terrine of ham hock, chicken and foie gras, sweetcorn puree, truffle vinaigrette’. By any standards this was a bit fancy, but as the first of five courses it filled me with foreboding. And it was to be matched with Veltins Pilsner.
But it worked. Veltins is a big, soft Pilsner, like a comforting bready pillow. There were some diverse flavours in the terrine, but the beer dried off the sensuous, slimy jelly and gave a very decadent dish a sheen of respectability, bringing the whole together and reassuring me that this was indeed a starter.
Next up was ‘Escalope of salmon on a bed of sauerkraut, light mustard sauce”. Again, what were they thinking? Salmon is reasonably light. I love fish, and here it was being weighed down with mustard and sauerkraut. It was matched with Purity Pure Gold, the lightest beer in the range, brewed with Northern Brewer, Fuggles, Hereford Golding and Styrian Gold hops. That’s a big mix of hops. Wasn’t the whole thing becoming too tricksy?
Most of my fellow diners were regular customers at the restaurant and this was their first experience of beer with food. A girl opposite me asked if there was honey in the beer. No, just an extraordinarily complex hop character, that also brought a big hit of lemon with it.
And it worked perfectly with the dish. The hoppiness in the beer married with the earthiness of the sauerkraut, and the flavours of the salmon flowed around it. There were hints of smoke and wood, and my brain leapt to images of freshly ploughed fields, damp clear mornings and the first chill of autumn on the air. Not bad for a bit of beer, cabbage and fish.
OK. The next course was there the wheels must surely come off. The menu read like something from the last days of Nero’s Rome: ‘Slow-cooked belly of sucking pig, ravioli of braised trotter, fennel compote, spiced baby pears, honey & cracked pepper sauce’. I expected I was going to have to eat it from the naked belly of a Reubenesque model. What next – lark’s tongues? I started to suspect someone in the kitchen needed a holiday.
And I wasn’t sure about matching all this with Mad Goose. Brewed with Northern Brewer, Cascade and Willamette for a fruitier, more rounded flavour, it may be SIBA’s best bitter of the year but there was an absence of hoppy notes on the nose for me – all I was getting was caramel.
Of course, it worked. I mean, this was just mental. How could something so ridiculous actually make any sense? But it did.
What looked on the menu like a banquet fit for Mr Creosote’s last supper was of course exquisitely presented. There was just a tiny bit of everything mentioned, arranged artfully on the plate with dun swirls and gravy flourishes – though my use of the word gravy in this context is probably as welcome as nails clawing a chalkboard.
The buttery, opulent sweetness of the pork crackling took down the bolshy caramel of the beer as if with a taser, allowing the spicy hops to come out to play and wrap themselves around the pork. Finally, the dish made sense.
There was more to come, of course. Pudding was ‘Caramelised banana, caramel parfait, peanut butter ice cream’. The match with Maisel’s Weisse was an easy win, schoolboy simple. The banoffee yeast character of the beer was going to make love to this dish. Put off only briefly by the fact that the caramelised banana looked exactly like a burnt Wall’s sausage, I dived in. Everything I expected was there, the beer merging with a nicely tart orange and banana finish. But there was more too. The caramel biscuit at the bottom of the parfait, together with the caramel sauce, made me realise what a big caramel character there is to the beer. My stomach expanded, and began to creak.
Mercifully, it was almost over – just one more course to go. And what was that course? A little petit fours, perhaps? A nice, palate cleansing sorbet?
The only surprising thing is that there was still something they could do that did surprise me: ‘Welsh rarebit’. No flowery descriptions or flourishes, just ‘Welsh rarebit’. Cheese on toast, after four courses. Why not? Apparently it used to be traditional.
It was matched with UBU. The whole thing was dark and rich and lovely. No more. My hand had become too fat to write.
This was one of those meals after which you don’t eat for twenty four hours. It was extraordinarily ambitious. I think it’s probably a little too much for most people, and it was telling that, after the plates were finally cleared, most diners opted for a glass of burgundy or port rather than continuing to drink the excellent UBU.
But the restaurant and the brewer had set out to prove a point, and they had proved it. These were very fine beers, but they can’t really be described as ‘speciality’ or ‘extreme’ in any way. And yet they were paired with Masterchef Grand Final levels of Fancy Dan food, and gave as good as they got. They worked perfectly, and in some cases stopped the dish from becoming too much.
I offer this account as proof to anyone who thinks beer and food matching can only work on a basic, clunky pub grub level.
Just don’t hold your breath that pig’s trotter ravioli will be appearing on the menu down your local any time soon.