Tuesday, 25 August 2015

My new book: The Best Beer in the World

Five years ago I drank the best beer in the world.

I was sitting on a hot Greek beach with a cold glass of lager and it was incredible. Nothing had ever refreshed me quite so completely, no moment had been more glorious than this one, no beer had ever tasted so good.

Yet I knew that this lager, served in a frosted glass, wasn’t the best beer that was available in the world. I knew there were beers that tasted better because I’d drunk them. It was only in that moment, when I wanted nothing more than this cold beer, that it struck me as perfection, as being the best.

And that made me think.

What could actually be the best beer in the world? Did such a thing even exist? What beers would be contenders? I got out a notebook and I started scribbling down ideas. By the time I’d drunk that cold lager I’d noted down what I thought were some of the best stories in the beer world. I also thought it’d make a brilliant book.

But I didn’t write the book. I was working full time in a college, I was writing blogs most days, I wasn’t ready to write something like that and I couldn’t afford to do the travel – I was just a 25-year-old guy who loved beer and wanted to drink lots of it. But the idea stuck with me and I’d regularly go back to it and add notes and more ideas, plus my drinking did essentially become a never-ending search for the best beers and the best drinking experiences. It was also a question people began to ask me when they found out that I wrote about beer: What’s the best beer? What’s your favourite beer?

Then I wrote Craft Beer World. I learnt a lot. And I thought that maybe now I could write this book, so I put the idea to my publishers. I ended up writing Beer and Food instead. Then once that was finished I went back to Best Beer, I developed it, I wrote a few chapters, and I knew that it was the book I wanted to write next.

The idea behind The Best Beer in the World is to tell the stories of some of the world’s most interesting and important beers. Each chapter is a long-form first-person travel piece which looks at the history and the present and also considers the actual taste.

I travelled as much as my wallet would allow (20 countries, over five continents, and to about 150 breweries...). I went to every brewery that I thought was relevant for a book like this. I lived like a monk at Orval, I threw Altbier and Kolsch into a fight, I tell the story of the original golden lager, I brewed my own perfect beer and went on my perfect pub crawl in London, I went IPA hunting in California, I stopped at Sierra Nevada to drink perhaps the most important beer brewed in the 20th century, I brewery-crawled around Beervana, I looked at what it’s like for a young couple to start a brewery in Australia and how they’re shaping the future of beer, I drank and danced at the world’s second-largest Oktoberfest, I went to China to drink the world’s best-selling beer, I spent 10p on the cheapest beer in the world, I drank the best-known beer in the world (and was blown away by how beautiful the brewhouse is), I tried to answer beer’s biggest truism (Is Guinness better in Dublin?), I drank sour beer at Cantillon, found myself at a remote farmhouse in Vermont, I drank the best Italian craft beers and then I went back to the beach and drank cold lager on a hot day, all in the search for the best beer in the world.

Alongside the longer chapters are some pages on topics like cask ales and the history of IPA, plus travel guides to around 25 of the top drinking cities in the world, so it’s also a practical guide to beer drinking. And did I find the best beer? Well, that’s almost not the point of the book. With The Best Beer in the World I wanted to take a broader look at world beer, to tell some stories that haven’t been told before, and to appreciate the search itself, the travel, the people I met, the things I saw and learnt, and to consider all beers as being relevant. 

The book is at print and due out in October. It’s available on pre-order (and from my publishers) and it’s very different in content to the previous two books. I’m excited for this one to be released.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

My Beers of 2014

In 2014 I’ve drunk beer in 17 different countries across five continents, visiting 136 breweries along the way. If I hadn’t drunk so much over the last 12 months then it would’ve been an unforgettable year… Bypassing the usual Golden Pints (because I tried and it was too hard), here are my beers of the year, in no particular order.

Kout na Šumavě 12° at the brewery in Czech Republic
We arrived at midday and were given litre steins of Kout’s 12° pale lager. It was astonishingly good. During a tour the brewery, which is basically a derelict farm, we drank the 14° and 18° dark beers from the tank, out of large jugs. All the Kout beers are incomparably good. For more on the brewery, you should read Evan Rail’s excellent kindle single.

Jing-A Flying Fist IPA at the brewpub in Beijing
This is the best beer I drank in China and one of the best IPAs I’ve tasted – super clean, super juicy, superbly balanced. Their Airpocalypse DIPA is equally awesome and the price goes up and down depending on the air quality that day – if it’s particularly smoggy outside then head to the pub as the air is cleaner and the beer is cheaper.

Camden Town Brewery IHL all over London
From my first glass of Indian Summer – from which IHL evolved – I’ve adored this beer. It’s the perfect mix of IPA’s hops and lager’s clean balance. IHL is ruinously bangable and just always good. Hells Lager also needs a mention because I’ve drunk more of this than anything else this year and it just keeps on getting better – it’s my go-to beer.

Avery White Rascal at the brewery in Boulder
This has long been a favourite beer and drinking a few glasses of it at the brewery in Boulder confirmed that – it has the best body and balance of any Witbier I’ve had and it’s so full of flavour. I also had a few glasses of Maharajah DIPA while at the brewery. I don’t remember the rest of that night.

Mountain Goat Summer Ale in many bars in Australia
This is the beer I drank most of while in Australia. It’s just about the juiciest banger (to use the beer term of the year) with the most delicious tropical fruit aroma and flavour. The brewery in Melbourne is a very cool place with a whole range of excellent beers.

Eschenbräu Dunkel at the brewery in Berlin
I always go to Eschenbräu when I’m in Berlin. There’s something special about the beers – a house quality that’s a little fruity with a hint of sulphur – that I adore. The Pils is always great but this year it was the Dunkel which grabbed me, a beer with just a hint of toastiness and caramel which perfectly worked with the dry, bitter hops.

Night Shift IPAs at the brewery in Boston
I spent far too much of 2014 walking around industrial estates looking for breweries. For Night Shift that walk was totally worth it to find some incredible beers – I ended up drinking a 4oz pour of everything on tap (which left me a little over-refreshed). All of the IPAs were next-level-good, as were the sours.

Dieu du Ciel Moralité IPA at the brewpub in Montreal
The Dieu du Ciel brewpub in Montreal is one of the best places I drank this year. Péché Mortel, their coffee-infused stout, is beyond superlatives when poured on a nitro tap, while Moralité IPA, originally brewed as a collab with John Kimmich at The Alchemist, was no-question the best IPA I tasted in 2014.

Blackman’s Brewery Festbier at the brewery in Torquay, Australia
The most impressive new brewery I went to this year was Blackman’s in Torquay, about an hour out of Melbourne. Renn Blackmann brewed at Camden Town for a while before moving back to Oz and opening his own place with his girlfriend Jess. All the beers are bang-on-brilliant but especially this Citra-hopped lager. Perfect with the Asian-inspired food in the brewpub.

Partizan Simcoe Pale Ale at home
This one passed the ultimate test of how much I like a beer: I bought a case of it. Those 24 bottles didn’t last long and I haven’t had it since but I still remember its subtle brilliance and sweetly juicy aroma. Pressure Drop’s Pale Fire became my replacement for this, a beer brewed 10-minutes from my flat and often in my glass.

Urban Chestnut Zwickl at the brewery in St Louis
I expected Urban Chestnut to be good but they were way beyond my already-high expectations. The Zwickl had some biscuity malt, a smooth body yet still refreshingly light, then a long, dry, hoppy finish. So good.

Eisenbahn Flying Bison IPA at the brewery in Blumenau, Brazil
The original Brazilian microbrewery makes this American-style IPA which you can only buy in the bottle from the brewery. I begged and pleaded for them to let me buy some bottles to take home but they wouldn’t do it. If I say it’s ‘Pliny good’ then you know what level it’s at.

Salm Märzen at the brewery in Vienna
I fell in love with all the beers in Salm in Vienna but the Märzen stood out for being lush with toasty malt, full-bodied and creamy with a deep bitterness. It’s glasses of beer like this that makes me repeatedly fall deeper in love with lager.

Bia hoi in Hanoi
Drinking this pale lager from plastic mugs, by the roadside in Hanoi, squatting on tiny plastic stools, as hundreds of bikes buzzed past, is one of my favourite experiences from this year. We spent three days drinking it and I loved every cool glass I had.

The Alchemist Heady Topper from the brewery in Vermont
Yeah, so I got to drink this from the tank at the brewery in October. “It smells like juice!” I said, unable to control my spontaneous excitement. “I know!” replied John Kimmich, looking as excited about it as I felt. A beer worthy of all its hype.

Augustiner Helles in Berlin
Midnight in Berlin, 11 hours after running the city’s Marathon, and we’re drunk and full from drinking and eating too much. On the slow, painful walk home we pass a shop selling Augustiner Helles and drink it on the way. Great beer.

O’Hara’s Irish Stout in Dublin
So smooth, so rich, so full and just so bloody good. O’Hara’s Leann Folláin is also seriously delicious. I went to Dublin twice this year and I think it’s one of the most exciting craft beer markets in the world right now – the beer quality is exceptionally high and there’s a great variety of beers. Go to Dublin!

1516 Weisse at the brewpub in Vienna
A Cascade-hopped German-style wheat beer that’s fruity in all kinds of different ways. It was an unexpected surprise which made me go back for a few more glasses.

Budweiser from the tank in St Louis
The Budweiser brewhouse in St Louis is one of the most beautiful breweries I’ve ever seen. Drinking the beer from townhouse-sized tanks wasn’t as revelatory as other underground lager experiences but it was still a brilliant thing to have done and gave me a newfound appreciation of a beer which I already had a lot of respect for.

Beavertown Smog Rocket
I’ve been all over smoky flavours this year and Smog Rocket is a constantly good dark, smoked beer. The combination of that with the ribs in Duke’s is one of the best beer and food experiences this year. I’ve drunk a lot of Beavertown in 2014 and will drink a lot more in 2015.

Keserű Méz in Szimpla Kert, Budapest
Szimpla Kert is one of the coolest bars I’ve ever drunk in. I spent hours just walking around and enjoying it late at night before going back the next lunchtime to explore its many rooms and spaces during daylight. Keserű Méz is a hoppy and unfiltered strong lager from Fóti brewery – a good beer made even better by the surroundings.

Everything in Lowdown, Denver
We were in a cab back into the city after visiting a few brewpubs when we passed this place without knowing about it. We shouted “stop the cab!” in a wonderfully dramatic way and went in, ordered a taster of all the beers and loved them all.

De Prael Mary in De Prael Proeflokaal, Amsterdam
Think a barley wine meets a Belgian strong ale with lots of hops served in a cool brewpub near Amsterdam’s red light district. I like this place a lot.

And because I’ve done a lot of eating this year, here are the…
10 Best Things I Ate in 2014.

Ribs at Bogart’s in St Louis
Ribs have been ruined for me now because I don’t think I’ll ever eat better than those at Bogart’s. I’m not even going to attempt to describe how delicious they were. Likewise for their housemade pickles. Best thing I ate this year.

Peated malt biscuits at Clove Club
I love the smoky, saline flavour of peat and using that malt made into little biscuits was a real food highlight of the year – savoury yet sweet and very light.

Mortadella sandwich in Mercado Municipal in Sao Paolo
A world-beating sandwich in the massive Mercado Municipal. I’ve never seen so much meat stuffed between two pieces of bread and it was spectacular.

Cha ca la vong in Hanoi
It’s fish fried in turmeric plus loads of dill, which sounds like it’d be weird but it’s an unbelievably good dish. All of that strong dill flavour is muted when it cooks, turning into a spinach-like soft mix of savoury greens.

Pork bao from Bao in Netil Market
If there’s a better street food dish in London then I haven’t eaten it. Whenever I’ve been in London on a Saturday I’ve walked the few minutes from my flat to Netil Market to eat this. Their fried chicken is also awesome.

Stir-fried morning glory in Hanoi
The simplicity of this is what made it so good: it was just greens fried with garlic but it was so tasty.

Schnitzel in Schneeweisse
I have no idea how they made the meat so tender and the crumb so crisp and light but this schnitzel blew my mind. The potato salad on the side would also probably have made this list on its own.

Sweetcorn pudding in Mercado Municipal in Sao Paolo
Somehow the combination of sweetcorn and condensed milk blended together, set and served with cinnamon was a perfect little pot of dessert. I need to remake this myself.

Egg coffee in Hanoi
It’s not food but it was definitely one of the best things I tasted in 2014. In fact, all the coffee I drank in Vietnam was unreal. The egg part came like a meringue on top with this rich, thick coffee beneath. It was so good we went back the next day for another.

Hazelnut gelato and custard tartsNot together, obviously, but these are two food-things which I'm obsessed with and I’ve eaten them around the world as a weird ever-present in my eating (do you know that in Vietnam you can get custard tarts in KFC?! They’re weird and cheesy). The custard tart at The Barn in Berlin was my favourite and 3BIS in Borough Market was the best for the gelato.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Beer and Food

My second book, Beer and Food, is out now! The title hints at what it’s about, but let me tell you a bit more…

My goal was to make a book about the topic of putting beer and food together, but I didn’t want it to just be lists of things which taste good. I wanted to go deeper, I wanted to understand how things interact, how the sensations of taste work, the science and composition of different ingredients (like how Simcoe, Citra and many Aussie and Kiwi hops are especially high in the oil myrcene, which is also found in thyme, bay and mango, meaning there’s natural flavour crossovers), as well as giving some great pairings that anyone can try.

I wanted to make it fun and approachable, not just some geek-fest of weird dishes and unobtainable beers – it’s realistic in what people eat and drink. Plus in the book there’s a section about what to eat and drink with a hangover, what beers to have with fast food, what goes best with breakfast or the foods to choose with mainstream brews. The idea is simply that is makes people think differently about how beer and food can be put together.

The book is in four parts. The first introduces the idea of beer and food together, it gives some beer history and goes through the brewing process. The second part starts with the beer style and finds food to go with it, as well as suggesting some general and good matches to go with. Part three begins with the food and then gets a beer to go with it. The final section includes around 50 recipes using beer as an ingredient.

For the recipes, there are some classics like carbonnade and then there’s a load which I’ve developed myself – simple, tasty dishes which benefit from beer being added to them (some of which came from the earlier days of this blog), like beer doughnuts, a beery eton mess, stout mashed potatoes, chicken cooked in Duvel inspired by coq a la biere (which I couldn’t resist calling ‘Coq a la Duvel Doo… still makes me laugh today), or this beauty for ribs cooked in dubbel:

It was a fun book to write. I spent the whole of last summer either eating, drinking, writing, cooking or trying to run as far as possible to have some healthy balance. I lost count of the number of meals I had with at least three glasses of beer and I don’t know how many times I put cling film over the top of a bottle to save it for the next day or to use it in a recipe idea.

I’m really pleased with the book and very proud of it. Hopefully it goes in different directions with beer and food than other books have before.

It’s available on Amazon in the UK and US. It’s also in bookstores all over the place (it’s already been spotted in Australia). There’s a 10-page preview online here. And don’t forget that my first book, Craft Beer World, is also still available (that’s still good and you should also own that one). There’s a Kindle version of that, too (Beer and Food might follow, but not for six months).

If you get a copy then I’d love to know what you think!

The illustrations for this book were done by Nicholas Frith. I love his work!

Sunday, 20 April 2014

10 Beer Chocolate Truffle Recipes

Easter means chocolate. It also means a long weekend of beering (that’s what it means for me, anyway). It’s also a fine time to bring beer and chocolate together and make truffles. The good thing for this recipe is that once you know the basic way of making the truffles you can pimp them with whatever beer and chocolate you want.

The basic Beer Chocolate Truffle recipe
Makes 10-20 truffles

100ml double cream
100ml beer
25g butter
Pinch of salt
200g dark chocolate (or 400g if it’s white or milk)
Something to roll the truffles in

Gently warm the cream, beer, butter and salt in a pan but don’t let it boil. Remove from the heat and mix in the chocolate, stirring until it melts. Put in a bowl and place in the fridge to allow the mixture to cool and set. When ready to go, use a melon-baller or two spoons to create the round truffle shapes and then roll in cocoa powder, ground roasted barley (this works really well if you can get some), crushed toasted nuts or desiccated coconut. Then eat.

If you want to make these with milk or white chocolate then the recipe changes slightly and you need more chocolate to liquid. So a mix of 100ml cream and 100ml beer requires about 400g of chocolate.

Here are 10 of my favourite combinations

Cherry beer and dark chocolate – you can also add dried sour cherries to it

Simply imperial stout and dark chocolate which combines nicely to make the mix extra rich

Get spicy with dark or milk chocolate, dried chilli flakes and cardamom, plus coffee stout

Go Belgian with milk chocolate and quadrupel, perhaps also adding some cinnamon or quad-soaked raisins

Weizenbock with white chocolate and rolled in toasted hazelnuts

Double IPA and white chocolate, plus a teaspoon of honey, then rolled in coconut is really good

An unexpectedly delicious combo is milk chocolate and Rauchbier, giving the equivalent of chocolate covered bacon. A pinch of smoked salt helps boost it all

Black IPA, dark chocolate and orange zest is superb

Recreate PB&J with dark chocolate, a tablespoon of crunchy peanut butter and some raspberry beer. Roll this one in crushed salted pretzels

Bourbon barrel-aged stout with milk or dark chocolate and rolled in coconut is like an adult version of a Bounty bar

This recipe (and the photo at the top) is from my new book, Beer and Food. It’s out on 15 May and you can pre-order it online - below are 10 sample pages. I’m really excited for this book to be released – it’s about the best of beer and food together, there’s some science to how and why beer works well, there’s ideas for pairings, plus a few recipes using beer in them.