Sunday, 15 March 2015

Beer and food: The verdict/the truth

I have blogged a fair bit over the years on various beer and food pairings. Much inspiration has been taken from the signature books written by the great masters of beer and food; Garret Oliver, Mark Dredge and to some extent Melissa Cole. However reading Ed's post it seems not all are convinced. Don't get me wrong, beer and food nirvana does exist. If you read into it, pick out the right dishes, seasoned the right way, with the right side dishes and right sauces to match a specific beer. But that doesn't really sum up the beer and food relationship. Let's put it this way.

Meet Mordue IPA with a roast beef, mustard and tomato sandwich served with cheesy puffs

This is actually a fairly decent pairing. The lovely succulent rare beef and texture of savoury seeded bread matches nicely with grainy malt and finished nicely with the tang of Amarillo hops. The whole thing is nice but honestly there isn't any awesome contrasting elements or harmonic alignment of the planets. Would it change anything if the beef was cooked longer? If I used a different IPA or swapped the mustard for horseradish? Well no. From experience the majority of beer and food pairings go this way. As long as you're in the right ballpark the experience is more or less good.

Let's take, for example, fish and chips. Fish and chips pairs great with a snappy blonde ale. It also goes with classic bitter, best bitter, English IPA, American IPA, German pilsner and (probably) a whole range of sour beers. As long as the beer has some 'snappy' element to it. Then take something like a strong blue cheese like stilton, a cheese that has almost endless beer pairings from imperial stouts, porters, strong bitters, strong amber ales, barley wines and even the more subtle options seem to tame the stuff down . If the beer has some substance. Stilton has been covered by an array of beer writers and all of them have that kind of idea.

The thing is, beer and food can be taken too seriously. It's also quite subjective. A mind-bendingly awesome pairing to one can be just ok to another. Beer and food is great with guidelines, but call them guidelines not rules. Beer and food have an almost endless compatibility to be enjoyed. Trying to analyse it too much doesn't really work, because beer and food more or less works without having to think about it too much.

Friday, 30 January 2015

#tryanuary

Now here's one of those random Twitter-advertised events I actually agree with. An excuse to drink more different types of beer during the month of January in spite of neo-prohibitionist driven 'Dry January'. Obviously a vicious evil ploy to crush the beer industry. But let's not forget the truth; the moderate consumption of beer increases bone density and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. So all in good health, the aim of the game was to try many new 'never tried before' beers.



First up, from Adnams more experimental arm. Jack Brand Dry Hopped Lager. The crispness of a pale lager with tangerine and tropical notes. Overall quite pleasant. Next up, from Roosters new canned range, Fort Smith. A rather good beer it is too, brewed by none other than Oliver Fozard a brewer who was trained by the same master as myself. Although I would argue that Craig taught me some things that Olly didn't. Namely the five-move exploding heart trick. Nonetheless Fort Smith clean and up front with grapefruit, pine and tropical hops leading to a snappy lingering bitterness.    


January also brought some IPAs, my favourites were both the most balanced. Siren Soundwave was resiny, smooth and all tropical and citrus. Lagunitas IPA surprisingly had more body to it than hop attack. Lovely, fruity, balanced and reminded me of my first ever Goose Island IPA. Salopian Sentinel and Tiny Rebel Hadouken were both big abv, heavy malt presence with lots of Cascadian hops struggling against the tide. Not really my sort of thing.



Moving on from IPA Schlosser Alt was a class act. Lovely waves of toast malt leading to caramelly finish. On a similar note Augustiner Edelstoff was a finely tuned 5.6% export lager. Bold and malt forward yet crisp and toasty with virtually no hint of alcohols. Obviously put together by textbook perfection in brewing practice.



Bigging up the malt front also was Black Sheep Imperial Russian Stout. Which is sweetish and roasty with lots of coffee and dark fruits going on. A nice Imperial stout with good drinkability. Although to top things off I had to have a beer and food pairing somewhere down the line.


Tiny Rebel Dirty Stop Out is a smoked outmeal stout with a subtle smokeyness and brooding bitterness. A quality pairing for chip shop smokey sausage, chips and curry. A rather splendid end to the month.

Friday, 2 January 2015

The twelth Geordie beer of Christmas

Durham Brewery 1994



Landmarks are a sentimental aspect of the brewing industry. These days the Anniversary ale is a statement of perseverance, resilience, survival and pedigree. Every successful brewery on earth will one day be seen as dated; Will lose shelf space for the 'new kids on the block' and will be pressured into evolving their product range to suit the new market. This isn't about siding with the old timers, this it seems is the natural way of things.

For me the bold and eccentric bottled beer range of Durham Brewery is what sets them apart from the early days. Long before your Warheads, Imperial Cherry Stouts and double IPAs Durham's strong British and Belgian style ales were the region's high-octane, highly sought-after mega brews. Make no mistake this was in an era where putting out such beers that didn't 'play it safe' took balls.

In obvious honour to this heritage, Durham's anniversary ale is a 10.2% strong ale brewed with pink peppercorns and orange peel. It's certainly an interesting beer. Sweet orange and spice with an almost opal fruit like nuance ride on lively carbonation. The weighty, sweet orange like feel is stripped down by drying carbonation giving a kind of Belgian Tripel/Golden Strong ale like elegance to it. It's more tangy, snappy and racy than it is voluptuous. It's certainly worth trying but for me doesn't rival some of my best experiences with Durham beers.

Then again who am I to judge 20th Anniversary beers, It is after all my turn next...

So that's all from the twelve beer series and, despite restricting this series to local beers only, the overall standard has been great. This year the cheesy cartoon labelled bottles from random micros under dodgy names like Santa's Scrotum have been avoided. The same goes for discount supermarket offerings, all chosen in past series' to fill out the numbers. But sadly, after five successive years of 'twelve beers' this is in fact the last beer of the last series of 'beers of Christmas'.

It's been a long saga of festive beers. Many great memories of festive indulgences over heavy warming brews and sessions livened by festive spice. Every series for me has brought the odd two or three exceptional beers, but there was one especially memorable beer from one of my favourite brewers worldwide. It might have been the right mood and moment but hell there's loads more worth mentioning. Salutes go to Old Dairy, Williams Brothers, Mikkeller, Anchor (year on year), Wold Top, The Bruery, Hook Norton and more. It's been good.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The eleventh Geordie beer of Christmas

Camerons Brewery Festive Frolics



Now then, an important point to make with this entry is that it's not all about virtuoso craft kids in sheds lobbing kilos of hops, orange peel, fruit or whatever else into the mix. As you may have guessed, the Hartlepool-based Camerons brewery is huge (the 11th biggest in the UK) with its own pub estate.

Like many of other Camerons' beers 4.6% Festive Frolics is unapologetically old school, bready characterful and laced with dark fruit and prickly English hops. It's simple, well composed and not so heavy you couldn't easily knock back three or four pints of it in a sitting. All in all, this is a quality pint.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

The tenth Geordie beer of Christmas

The Bridge Tavern Micro Brewery Saint Agnes Black



Aside form all breweries great and small, comes the brewpub. Newcastle's Quayside based brewpub The Bridge Tavern to be more precise. It houses a two hectolitre posh looking kit run by Newcastle's own brewing mercenary Joe Roberts, formerly of of Allendale, Tyne Bank and Anarchy.

Joe has the ultimate freedom as a brewer churning out one-off specials on a weekly basis. Saint Agnes Black is a 4.5% fruit-infused festive black ale. It drinks like a slightly weighty, creamy, smooth stout with some interesting blackberry like dark fruits building in the finish. Certainly worth a try.