Tuesday 28 April 2009

The Asparagus Season and My Favourite Spring Lunch

Okay, so most of the food things I write about here tend to be my ‘favourite’ something or other. What can I say? I write about what I like. This is my ultimate lunch when the sun is shining, everything is coming to life in April and the long-awaited asparagus season has begun. And it is a long-awaited season. I adore asparagus but I keep myself far away from it all year round just to be able to enjoy it even more during that short window between April and June when it is all around, standing tall and green and proud. The little beauties.

Just thinking about this lunch now makes me smile. Simply and far-from revolutionary, it’s fresh, new season asparagus fried in butter and oil (with a whole fat clove of garlic and salt and pepper to flavour everything, plus a squeeze of lemon at the end to make it sparkle), a poached egg or two on top, loads of Lincolnshire Poacher cheese is grated over and this all stretches and oozes over of a slice of bread which sucks up all the salty-lemony-buttery-yolky juices. It really is just a little moment of perfection how everything works together – the charred crunch of earthy-sweet asparagus, the slick rich yolk, the salty bite of the cheese, the soft chewyness of the bread… This is my food heaven.

And would you believe it, it’s also great with beer! Try pairing a wine with this and you’ll get yourself in all kinds of bother. Instead, pop the crown off a bottle of English-style IPA - Meantime’s IPA, Downton’s Chimera, Thornbridge’s Halcyon and Worthington’s White Shield would all be totally awesome. Their grassy, earthy notes along with the sweet malt backbone and the dry, lingering hops just have a wild fling with the richness of the yolk and cheese while the fresh spears of asparagus are enhanced by everything the beer can throw at it.

What could be better? And it’s all just so bloody gloriously English that it makes me proud.

Monday 27 April 2009

As-Live Tasting: Chimay Red vs. Chimay Blue

It’s Monday 23rd February (quite a while ago now, oops) and here’s an as-live comparison between Chimay Red and Blue.

20.16pm: The first beer is poured and it’s the Chimay Red. A 7% trappist ale. A murky burnt copper colour, thin head. A nose of burnt sugar and roasted fruits as well as stone fruits and some apricot.

20.17pm: Man I’m thirsty.

20.18pm: First word to mind: fizzy. It tingles the tongue, grazes on the way down. Beneath that it’s stone and roasted fruits and dark sugar. A complex and slight sourness.

20.20pm: I’m chilling out watching Flight of the Conchords. I love this show, it’s flipping awesome. Band meeting: Chimay Red? Present. Chimay Blue? Present. Mark? Present.

20.22pm: I’m getting a depth of spice from the beer now. It’s going down quickly tonight. I had a huge gym sesh earlier. It was mega busy though, a real sausage fest of pumping testosterone and not a fit young girl in sight. Rubbish.

20.25pm: I’m letting the beer relax a bit to numb the fizz; it prickles and I don’t want that. In this episode of Flight of the Conchords they declare that they don’t like beer! What the hell?! Murray the manager tells them that it’s cool - it’s rock ‘n’ roll - so that’s fine by me. It does look like a lager they’re drinking though.

20.28pm: These are crown tops, by the way. And both bottles are pretty new; there’s no age to them. I think I got them from Waitrose, but it may have been Tesco, or even one from each.

20.32pm: The beer is getting smoother, fuller, richer. More fruits are coming through and a nice bitterness to end it. There’s pepper too, toasted brown bread and nuts.

20.34pm: Did you know the brewery makes cheeses?! I want cheese now… though I pretty much always want cheese.

20.42pm: Red done. I liked it. Fairly complex and drinkable but for me the carbonation was too much. Maybe I just didn’t give it a chance to settle in my thirsty haste. Bring on the Blue. Oh, and I would drink a White (a Triple) too but I don’t have a bottle.

20.46pm: Masterchef is on and the Blue is out. It’s darker; I’ll call it russet. It’s 9% ABV, the nose is sweet, dark sugar; a bag of sticky dates. Now this is a lot bigger than the Red. Boozy and rich, strong and rammed with flavour. Loads of dark fruits, dark sugar, a tangy bitterness.

20.51pm: I am with cheese. I couldn’t resist!

20. 56pm: The phone rang when I had a mouthful of goats’ log! I took the beer with me and I think it worked but I was concentrating on answering the call so can’t be certain. I’m back on it now.

20:57pm: Cambozola, a creamy mild blue, is up: it’s a great little match and the beer sweeps the palate clean and the deep fruitiness in more pronounced. This is a yummy cheese.

20.59pm: Blue Shropshire next. It was reduced at the supermarket and tastes damp. The match is kind of average. If anything the beer masks the musky, dry taste of the cheese. Pretty lame.

21.01pm: Colston basset stilton. A blinding cheese. A constant in the fridge and the match is a goodun’: rich cheesy funk and the complex beer party their asses off.

21.05pm: Masterchef finished and Flight of the Conchords is back and this beer is getting better and better. The date-and-fig-like fruitiness is rich and sweet and fantastic. I’m getting bready yeast up the nose with the dried fruit, like a fancy slice of tea cake.

21.08pm: Cherry brandy! And it’s warming me. Speaking of warm, the temperature has risen (it’s about 10C I think) and the garage is now approaching perfect cellar temperature so I can transfer a few beers out there to keep cool.

21.10pm: This is the start of a Trappist/Belgian week in preparation for a Westvleteren 12 (which I wrote about here). I’ve blitzed my palate with mainly American beers for the last few weeks so I want to jump over to Europe to limber up my tastebuds in a different way. My polygamous palate.

21.14pm: This is an easy drinker which is surprising for the 9% ABV. It’s getting better still and I know that the last mouthful will leave me wanting more - that’s a sign of a good beer. I might have to pick up a few more next time I’m shopping.

21.18pm: I’ve just remembered that this is billed as a comparison. So here it is: the Red is a nice beer, plenty of complexity and depth of flavour, but it pales in comparison to the Blue which is just a superb beer all round. The Blue is a flavour bomb with dried fruits and bread and a mellow smoothness. The cherry sweetness is a delight.

21.21pm: I’m waffling on now. The beer’s almost gone. I’ve passed an hour and I’ve had some fun. I like this whole ‘stream of consciousness’ writing. Chimay Blue is a gorgeous treat of a beer.

21.25pm: The beer is gone and I want more. I’ll console myself with Flight of the Conchords. Over and out.

Thursday 23 April 2009

If you had to...

Here’s a question to see where your beer allegiance lies.

I’ve had a lot of really excellent British beer this year. The most memorable being: Thornbridge’s Jaipur, Bracia and Handel; Dark Star’s Six Hop; Fuller’s London Porter and their Vintage; BrewDog’s Punk IPA, Storm and Tokyo. Most of the recent bottles that I’ve bought are from the US and some of the best beers I’ve had, period, are from the US: AleSmith IPA, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, anything by Stone, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, Pliny the Elder. And then there have been some brilliant European beers, some Mikkellers, an earth-moving Struise Black Albert and classics like Chimay Blue and Rochefort 10.

So I’ve enjoyed excellent beer from three main regions: the UK, the US and Europe. And here’s the question… You can only drink beer from one of these three regions for the rest of your drinking days, where will your beer be coming from? The UK, the US or Europe? (Or, if you must be troublesome, you can select the rest of the world to include everywhere that isn’t the UK, US or Europe. And before any smart-arse says, I know the UK is in Europe, just play along, you know what I mean)

Wednesday 22 April 2009

How To Disappear Completely

That’s the name of BrewDog’s newest beer. I heard about it in an email from BrewDog’s James at the weekend. He twittered (@BrewDogJames) about it today and it’s now reached the ratebeer forums so I thought I’d give it some hype too. Plus I want to see what you guys think of it.

It’s a double IPA hopped with Columbus and Centennial (the same two hops which make up Stone’s Ruination). So far so good. Well, it’s 3.5%ABV and 198IBUs!! Shit. That’s just insane. For some perspective, this beer will have twice the bitterness of Ruination IPA and half the strength. If I thought the Hardcore IPA (9%ABV and 150IBU) was a brute then this one will be a proper monster of a beer.

I think this could be the most unbalanced beer ever brewed. And definitely one of the most bitter (check out this list to see some of the biggest IBU beers around, including Mikkeller’s theoretical 2007IBU beast). I have no idea whether it’ll work but I know that I want to try it. I really want to try it. And at 3.5% I’m sure I could manage a few pints, whether my tongue will be able to handle it is another thing. Bring it on!

Update... I’ve had a quick edit to add the picture and because a little while after I posted this BrewDog posted their own blog about it here. The beer sounds ridiculous, the hops are everywhere but the grain bill makes it sound wicked. And you can also pre-buy it here (I need to set aside a BrewDog fund each month I think!).

Tuesday 21 April 2009

FAB POW! Stone's Ruination IPA with Spicy Belly Pork

Here’s my Food and Beer Pairing of the Week!

I’ve been on a bit on an IPA bender of late. The last few weekends have just been all about the hops and I can’t get enough. Last weekend I was drinking it all day and bought as many bottles from Utobeer as I could carry, so it looks like my IPA-a-thon will continue unabated. Right in the middle of all this fun I had the big dog.

And I finally did it, I finally found something to go with Stone’s Ruination IPA. I think. (I've written about bitterness and this beer here)

I wanted to open this beer on that fateful night whatever happened and drinking it would’ve coincided with dinner so I thought I’d try again to put them together. The thought process was something like this: the food has to be BIG and rich and fatty and meaty and spicy and sweet and earthy. So the choice was obvious. Spicy belly pork with chilli and garlic roasted butternut squash. That’s it.

I roasted the belly pork with chilli, paprika, loads of pepper and cayenne pepper and a touch of five spice. Then the squash was just cut into wedges, oiled and seasoned, smothered in crushed garlic and chilli and smoked paprika and roasted until soft. The result was surprising good: the crunchy crackling starts it all off, then the layer of mouth-coating fat, then the juicy meat and peppery spice (that’s a lot going on, flavour- and texture-wise) and the beer pours in and glides over the fat, it pulls the sweetness from the meat and the spice and tingles the heat of the chilli, blending it all with the huge caramel base of the beer. The fragrant squash is a buffer of earthy sweetness to soak up the hops and give a delicious fruitiness while still retaining all of that palate cleansing/stripping bitterness. It had me eating then drinking then back for more pork then more beer in a sexy and vicious circle of spice, meat and hops. I had a ball.

But I said that I think it works. Even now I’m not certain that it actually did work as a brilliant match. Maybe I got something which just dulled the bitterness stopping a monsterous palate pile-up but not actually giving a great match-up, or maybe my bottle was a bit old and had lost some of its kick. I don’t know. For me it worked a treat and I’d pair it again happily. Plus, belly pork is a favourite food of mine and Ruination is a favourite beer, so…

Anyone had anything great this week? Or has anyone had any luck trying to pair a dish with any extremely bitter beers?

Sunday 19 April 2009

To Garrett Oliver, Cheers!

A small thank you note to Garrett Oliver, the man whose book has made me love the possibilities of beer even more than I thought possible. The Brewmaster’s Table is wonderful and lucid, it has the power to take you all over the world to different breweries and dinner tables, it makes you hungry and thirsty in equal measures and it’ll make you more intelligent. It’s a great book, you can pick it up any time and flick to a page and still learn something or still be able to just fall into a different place because of his informal, lulling style of writing. Plus the man who brought Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout into the world deserves a high five!

I am a big fan of Fuller’s, and think their ESB and Golden Pride are both superb beers. The ESB is 5.9%, full of toasted malt, toffee, bread and a bowlful of fruits – oranges, marmalade and apples. And it has a nice hoppy finish to it which clings inside your mouth calling you to take another giant gulp of beer. The Golden Pride is altogether bigger, but at 8.5% it’s still gluggable, full of condensed roast fruit sweetness, toast, strawberries, honey, marmalade, blackcurrant, toffee and booze. I’ve had it off cask before and that’s incredible too.

Put them together and what do you get? A Peacemaker. Go to page 135 of Oliver’s book and he recounts inventing the beer. Reading this I decided that I had to give it a go and raise my glass to the man. And you know what? It’s really damn good. Thick and rich, loads of toasty grain flavour, lots of fruit, roasted apples and oranges, strawberry and some honeycomb. The Golden Pride sweetness lifts it up and the ESB’s hops balance it all out - the combo just works. And it’s great with cheeses too, especially stronger ones.

But did I just mix a beer?! I think I did. Well, here are my thoughts on mixing beers, as I become more and more curious about it. As I say in the video, I always thought that a beer was a complete thing as it was. The brewer doesn’t slave away to make a beer for us to then mix it up with something else. It’d be like reading a page of one book and then reading a page of another book and trying to make the story work as one. But I am coming around to the idea now, my cheeky and curious side wanting to experiment. I tried Thornbridge’s Jaipur IPA with their St. Petersburg imperial stout and kind of enjoyed it (it was a little like Great Divide’s Yeti) and I have a desire to try a cherry beer with a nice, strong stout. One of the craziest black and tan’s I’ve heard is called Heaven and Hell and comes Dogfish Head. It mixes their 120-Minute IPA with their Worldwide Stout. That’s a 21% IPA with an 18+% stout! Blimey! The whole mixing thing opens up a new sphere of beer drinking, a realm of creativity for the drinker to play brewmaster: a bonus level for the extreme beer fan.

Mixing is something that I’ll probably experiment with a little bit, but not too much. It’s the sort of thing that can be done at beer festivals or when you’ve got a glut of bottles open, but other than that you risk ruining two good beers. But if you do want to try a cool blend then a Peacemaker kicks ass. Although finish two pints of it and it’ll kick your ass!

So here’s to Garrett Oliver. Your book is a great source of inspiration. And your beers are pretty good too. Cheers.

A footnote on more slapdash and uncouth mixing. I've had turbo shandies before which mixes lager with alcopops like Smirnof Ice and at university we drank gin and tonic shandies by mixing half a pint of lager with a G&T. I remember that being really quite good then…

Thursday 16 April 2009

Beer and Baseball and Some IPAs

The baseball season has started! I am a huge baseball fan and spend a ridiculous amount of time fretting over my fantasy baseball team (I play here). For the last few years I watched it on Channel 5 and the coverage was brilliant, well worth staying up until the sun starts to rise just to tune in (stupid time difference!). This year Channel 5 haven’t picked up the baseball, which sucks, so instead I bought the mlb.tv package. This means I have access to every live game, and that’s way over 2,000 throughout the season. Here’s to a summer of broken sleep! But what do you do when you watch baseball? You drink beer of course (some of the first posts I wrote for this blog were about beer and baseball and the stuff I drank during the 2008 World Series, check them out here). For opening day this year I decided to pop the cap on something that’s been in the cupboard for too long, something that I’ve been desperate to try: AleSmith’s IPA. It’s 7.25% and pours a wicked sunset flame colour with a thick yellow foaming head. Straight away it’s tangerines, oranges, grapefruit and a little sappy pine in the nose, hidden beneath that hop-whack I got pineapple and even creamy white chocolate. It’s such a clean and fresh tasting beer, really juicy and gluggable, lots of toasty caramel malt and then a piney and bitter tang to finish, with peaches and a floral note. This beer is stunning and it’d be even better if you drank it super fresh. I want more! I got mine from beermerchants but they don’t have any left – Phil, please get more! And it was perfect for the baseball (plus it was a warm day and I’d just come back from a run so it went down like a dream). While we’re here, I’ve had a couple of other IPAs recently which are worth writing about... Port Brewing Hop 15 is a 10% monster of an IPA. It’s a golden amber colour and has a citrusy, piney, juicy nose – a dreamy IPA aroma. The body is thick and luscious and it carries the 10% well and brings a wave of fruits – tangerine, roast apples and grapefruit – followed by a long, dry and bitter finish. There’s a lot of sweetness in this beer but it needs it to balance the hop attack. I really loved this beer and it’s another which I bought from beermerchants and it's still in stock. Great Divide’s Hercules Double IPA is a 9.1% face-melter. It’s 85 IBUs of pine beneath its electric orange colour. The malt is toasty with just enough sweetness, but it’s the bitterness that owns this thing as it digs into the sides of your mouth, clawing its way down your throat. Beneath the pine (with its mint, white chocolate and herbal qualities) I’m sure I detected some distant orange groves but they were sadly too distant. It was all a bit overpowering for me and the balance just wasn’t quite right. Maybe I had an old bottle because I remember enjoying it a lot more the last time I had it. Another pine attack came from Mikkeller’s Simcoe Single Hop IPA (6.9%). It’s a fiery orange with a densely resinous aroma milling around with citrus zest and leather. The nose is almost eye watering and the bitterness on the palate is much greater than I expected - it’s like licking a pine cone (dry, woody, astringent, piney). There was some toffee sweetness but not enough for me. Kinda nuts, kinda cool. And right now I’ve got a Cascade Single Hop IPA from Mikkeller and it’s got that same flaming colour and a big billowing head as the Simcoe (which makes sense as it’s the same base IPA). The nose is citrus, pithy lemon, a slight sourness and a touch of pine (I taste pine in everything nowadays). The first thing in the mouth is the bitterness and it’s huge. But it gets softer. It gets really drinkable. There isn’t much malt sweetness, just some toasty bread but that doesn’t matter, it’s all about the Cascade greatness. And now I get it. It isn’t a juicy hop and it isn’t that fruity; it’s dry and pithy, imagine the aftertaste of a grapefruit and you’re there. The bitterness is all at the end and it doesn’t go away, it’s gooood, it’s assertive and up-in-your-face. I finished it quickly and I wanted another one right away. I like these single hop jobs, I need to try some more. Expect quite a few beer and baseball posts to come from now until October. I’ll be doing my best to get as much new US stuff as possible as the season goes on, especially as my thirst for IPAs continues to be insatiable. Let’s go Mets!

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Beers I Want

I write posts whenever they come to me. I’ve got about 10 ready to go at the mo, maybe more. This one I wrote way back in February and a few things have changed since then so I thought I'd better post it now before it becomes completely redundant…

I read a lot about beers, often books or cruising blogs and websites, checking out tasting notes and other peoples’ words. I guess you could say I’m a beer voyeur, jealous of what others are drinking. I drink a lot of great beer but you always want what you can’t/don’t have. Here is a list of the beers which I really really really want to try.

Dogfish Head’s Pangaea. A beer made with ingredients from all seven continents. That’s cool. It’s water from Antarctica, moscavado sugar from Africa, rice from Asia, hops and malt from Europe and North America (in what order I don’t know), Belgian yeast (from Belgium?!) crystallised ginger from Australasia and quinoa from South America (I think this is right, the DFH website only lists the water, rice and ginger, finishing it with ‘etc…’ which is kinda stupid because I want to know what’s in it and exactly where it came from!). I love the idea behind this beer.

DogFish Head’s 120-Minute IPA. 21% IPA that is boiled with hops for two hours, fermented with hops (fresh batches added daily) and aged on hops. Flipping insane! I wouldn’t turn away the 60- or 90-Minute brews either. [Edit: see this post – I now have a DFH90 coming my way!]

Another DogFish Head. World Wide Stout. An 18% monster. Enough said.

Alesmith’s Speedway Stout. Another 18% imperial monster, yes please. And they do one in a bourbon barrel so let me at that too!

Some of the stuff from Short’s Brewing Company’s, including crazy-awesome beers such as Imperial Black Cherry Porter, Bloody Beer (Bloody Mary-style beer), Peaches and Crème, Uber Goober Oatmeal Stout (it has peanut puree in it!) and Bananas n Blow (banana and cocoa). Nuts.

Russian River Brewing’s Pliny the Younger: Number 2 on BeerAdvocate’s Best Of and a hop bomb. And I’d obviously need the Elder Pliny too, to compare. [Edit: I got the Elder coming too, see this post again]

Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel made from Civet coffee which has been crapped out of a weasel. [Edit: I nearly crapped myself when I saw this at Planet Thanet beer festival in Margate last weekend! I did a double-take, squealed in excitement and then bought two]

Harviestoun’s Ola Dubh. Old Engine Oil aged in malt whisky barrels. Woo!

Westvleteren 12. Obviously. [Edit: Done it here]

Moor's JJJ IPA. A massive English IPA. Hit me!

The Thornbridge St. Petersburgs aged in three different whisky barrels. Can St. Pete’s get any better?! I have to know. [Edit: I now have one of each which I got when I went up to visit for the day]

Fresh Stone Ruination IPA. I adore the bottle and want to see how much better the cask could be in San Diego!

BrewDog made a beer called Zephyr, a 12% IPA aged in grain whisky barrels for 18 months with a load of strawberries. I want that. A lot. [Edit: This is coming soon!!]

If anyone has any Samuel Adams’ Utopia going then I’d like to a have taste of that too, or some of the other 25%+ beers. Are they really beer?!

And I was born in 1984 so I really want a beer from that year. Any beer, as long as it’s drinkable. To be honest, if it isn’t drinkable I’ll take it anyway. I’m thinking a Thomas Hardy’s 1984 would be the most realistic or maybe some Belgian classics.

And here’s some which have made the list since February… the BrewDog/Stone/Cambridge collaboration which is a 10% Black pilsner. Dark Lord because I’m a sucker for the hype and the fact that they release it on ‘Dark Lord Day’.

As you can see the last few months has seen some good beer come my way, but there's still more that I'm searching for and the list will always be evolving. What’s on your ‘I really want to try’ list? And any ideas on how I could get a bottle of beer from 1984?!

Sunday 12 April 2009

An Awesome Salad for a Beer

I eat healthily. I also exercise a lot. I do this to justify drinking everyday and over-indulging in food and beer at the weekends. If you’ve paid any attention at all you’ll know I like beer with my food. As it starts to get warmer my beer gets colder, paler in colour and crisper and juicily bitter in taste. With this the food I eat changes too, to salads and fish and all things lighter and fresher. A salad is what you make it. If you just chuck some leaves in with some pieces of tomato and maybe some meat and drizzle some oil on top then it’s pretty crappy, but a salad can be a marvel. It’s a collusion of colours and textures and tastes, it’s fresh and (normally) healthy, it’s uplifting and if you serve it with a vibrant and zingy beer you get a summer-tastic match.

This is my current favourite salad. I first made it (that’s the one in the picture) while I was working on the food and beer matching I did for BrewDog and it was designed to go with Chaos Theory, their 7% copper IPA. I made it up, poured over the dressing and I loved it. It had the crunch of fresh carrots, the creaminess of avocado (that crunch and cream is a wicked combo), the nutty pods of chick peas, the heat and tingle of chilli, a fruity, sweet and spicy dressing and the uplifting presence of the fresh herbs. It’s a really delicious salad to pile up in a bowl and eat with just a fork. I like food like that; minimum effort and maximum flavour. And it was good with the beer, just not great; it was missing something.

I made the salad again, put it in a Tupperware container and took it to my girlfriends for dinner. I made it exactly the same and added the dressing. I ate some of it and put the rest in the fridge and when I was looking for breakfast the next morning it was calling out to me. Yeah, I know, it’s a weird breakfast, but that’s how I roll. Anyway, the point is this: as I was eating it I saw a box of grape nuts in the cupboard. For those who don’t know either the flavour of grape nuts or malted barley, they taste very similar. It’s nutty, malty like ovaltine, biscuity and fairly sweet. So grape nuts taste like the fundamental base of all beer (there’s pale malt in every beer) and this salad that I was eating for breakfast was designed with beer in mind. 1+1=2 and the grape nuts went into the salad. And oh my goodness, it added that essential missing element. A crispy crunch, a savoury-sweetness, a bit of bite and texture to mess around with the softness of the avocado. Hazzah!

And a beer with this? A BrewDog Chaos Theory – the original inspiration – would be a good choice as the thick fruitiness and spiciness in the beer is great for the sweet Moroccan spice. The orange juice and spice in the dressing give beer a lot to grip hold of, add the grape nuts and the chick peas and there’s a world of choice. And I think the beer should be cold and drunk from the bottle if it isn’t bottle conditioned. Stone IPA or Goose Island IPA would be my joint number one pairing as they both have incredible fresh flavours and a big hop finish to pick up the spices. What else… Thornbridge Kipling or Jaipur, or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale would be a magical match.

Carrot, Avocado, Chick Pea and Grape Nut Salad with Fruity-Spicy Dressing

Now I don’t really do instructions for salads. They aren’t challenging things to make where you need exact measurements, it should be done to taste and by sight, if you like a lot of one thing and less of another then make it like that. The dressing needs a stricter hand, but only just. Here’s how I like mine and this’ll serve one or two, or more if it’s a side to a piece of grilled (even barbequed) fish or chicken…

The Salad

  • 1 massive carrot, or 2 normal sized carrots
  • 1 ultra-ripe avocado (if it isn’t squishy then don’t bother
  • 1 can of chick peas (it has to be chick peas, you need their nutty bite)
  • A few handfuls of grape nuts
  • A red chilli
  • Some green bits – some rocket would be good, but don’t go crazy, and some herbs are in, I like a little coriander, a few springs of mint and maybe parsley or basil
    Some seasoning and spices – Paprika, chilli powder, salt and pepper

The Dressing

I like a little of all the tastes to play around on your tongue, so there’s got to be sweet and salty, sour and bitter and unami. Plus a little spice, because spice is nice and it goes great with a hoppy beer.

  • Something Sweet: Juice of half an orange or tangerine (or another orangey thing), maybe a squeeze of honey
  • Something Sour: Lemon or lime juice or vinegar; cider, white wine or apple balsamic are good
  • Something Salty: salt
  • Something Unami-y: Soy sauce, a few drops
  • Something Bitter: Erm… a few drops of the beer will do it!
  • Extra virgin olive oil, you'll want double the oil to the sweet and sour elements
  • Spices (a pinch of each): Ground cinnamon, Turmeric, Paprika (sweet or smoked or go nuts and have both), Chilli powder or Tabasco for extra heat, if that’s your thing

Grate the carrots and squeeze some of the excess juice out. Then grate the avocado and mix them together in a large bowl. Drain and rinse the chick peas and chuck these in. Cut the chilli into tiny cubes and put them in. Mix in the grape nuts and the herbs, which I like finely chopped. Season it. Mix up the dressing - I use a jam jar – and then just spoon it over until it shimmers and gives off all the lovely aromas of oranges and earthy spice. Yum o’clock.

Friday 10 April 2009

City Beer Store and San Francisco

A few weeks ago one of my best mates, Lee (he's @Lee_B on Twitter and you should follow him!), went to San Francisco complete with my Good Beer Guide to the West Coast USA (love that book!) and a looooong list of beers to try and hunt out for me, with the promise of generous financial reward if he was successful. Anyway, he did a stellar job picking me up some bottles and has written about his trip, so here it is, City Beer Store and San Francisco by Lee, my beer-loving friend.

When I recently spent just over two weeks in San Francisco I made a good effort of trying as much good beer as this beautiful city had to offer. Whenever I saw a new beer on the menu of a restaurant I would always order it no matter what.

The signature beer of San Fran-
Anchor Steam was a fantastic summer beer with a sweet and hoppy taste but it could only take you so far. So I found myself searching out the hidden gems. Beer like AleSmith’s Speedway Stout was a coffee like behemoth of 12% that really blew me away, whilst Speakeasy's Prohibition was even better with its caramel nose, deep reddish colour and rich, complex taste. On top of this I had tried some good Hefeweizen, Fat Tire and an interesting Sam Adams Black Lager. All in all I felt I had tried a good amount of new beer and would have a lot to talk about when I returned home.

As the holiday was winding down I decided to make a small pilgrimage to
The City Beer Store just off of Market Street to see if I could pick up a few bottles for a certain blog writing friend of mine, but truthfully I wasn’t expecting much more than the beer I had already discovered earlier in the holiday.

Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Walking into The City Beer Store is a strange experience. It’s small, about the size of a garage with a small metal bar with five hand pumps, a few tables and chairs and boxes piled all around. The whole place feels unfinished but inviting. Behind the bar is a smiling young guy rocking an awesome moustache who turns out to be Craig Wathen, the owner (along with his wife Beth) of this fine beer Oasis. He invites me and my lady to take a seat and asks me what I would like to drink. A small chalk board on the wall lists approximately 6 beers that I have never heard of so I ask Craig what is good. He suggests a glass of the
Telegraph Stock Porter so I take him up on and decide to look around whilst he pours.

On two nearby shelves are stacked approximately 300 beers from varying countries, all for sale individually (which is rare in America). A quick glance over these as I wait for my beer throws up some immediate gems such as
Delirium Tremens, Deschutes' The Dissident and Lost Abbey's Inferno. Before I know it my beer is placed at my table and Craig gets back to work.

The first thing I notice about the Stock Porter is the spicy chocolate nose. This is one interesting smelling beer! After the first taste I realise there is an interesting tug of war going on between nose and taste as this porter has a surprisingly floral acidity to it. I gulp it down and tell Craig what I thought. I then decide to try one of the beers that caught my eye as I perused.

Russian River’s Blind Pig wasn’t an IPA I was aware of, but as Mark had seemed excited about their Pliny the Elder I thought I would try one of it’s sister beers. Craig cracked one open and handed it to me. The beer has an extremely citrus nose even for an IPA and it wasn’t particularly to my tastes but after the first sip I was hit by a pleasant bitterness and a good balance of malt and hop smoothness. All in all I would say this is worth seeking out if you head over to America.

Sadly I couldn’t stay at The City Beer Store much longer so I decided to pick up some purchases before I went. Mark had given me a list of beers he wanted (some were wishful thinking though methinks) and I managed to grab him his own bottle of Blind Pig and then a some bottles of Pliny the Elder (no
Younger I’m afraid) and DogFish Head 90 minute IPA

I thanked Craig for his great store and headed back to the hotel with a gentle but enjoyable buzz on.

I really can’t say enough about City Beer Store and if you’re ever in San Francisco you should definitely seek it out, you won’t have got a full taste of the city’s beer scene without it.

Lee B.

Don't you just wish you could find a beer store like that in the UK?! I sure do. Lee, you are a bastard getting Speedway stout and the Deschutes stuff. I’m so jealous of you because the store sounds amazing, the pic of the fridge shows off some beauties and because I wanna meet Craig! Now when can I get my beers?!

And remember, check out
@Lee_B everyone, he rocks!

Wednesday 8 April 2009

FAB POW! Beers with Chocolates

As it’s Easter this weekend it only seemed right to do a beer and chocolate pairing for this edition of the Food and Beer Pairing of the Week (FAB POW!). I thought about the individual pairings and the different chocolates but then I decided something: I will go nuts and throw out a whole load of beautiful pairings for a variety of different chocolates. That’s how I roll people.

Dark Chocolate calls out for something fairly sweet to pick up its natural bitter-sweetness. Dark chocolate brings out the roasted notes in the beer and the beer will bring out the sweetness in the chocolate – it’s a matter of balance and re-balance. You want something quite strong though to hold its own. The BrewDog Paradox’s are all great here as the dark malts in the beer just grip onto the chocolate. Thick and unctuous Barley Wines can do well here too with the dried fruit sweetness and the bitter chocolate getting it on. The other awesome option (and one of the best ways to introduce anyone to beer and food) is a cherry beer, something sweet and sharp to cut the richness of the chocolate. Any cherry beer you like, it just does the job, although my favourites are the cherry lambics.

Milk Chocolate is best with the big, black roasty beers. Strong coffee stout is excellent, enhancing the coffee notes and adding richness to the chocolate, plus the inherent ‘burnt’ and earthy flavours are just wickedly good with the milk chocolate. Mikkeller is a winner or BrewDog’s Coffee Imperial is excellent (while we’re here, coffee stouts are blinding with bananas and I’ve paired them with stellar success to gooey chocolate puddings! That’s the picture, by the way). Alternatively, ‘lighter’ imperial stouts do a fine job, try Sam Smith’s or Thornbridge St Petersburg. Or, Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout or Stone’s Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout make great matches, pairing up the creaminess in the beer and the chocolate. And one of my favourite recent matches is Harviestoun’s Old Engine Oil with milk chocolate covered raisins.

White Chocolate is harder as it’s so creamy and sweet but something like Thornbridge Bracia is stunning, in fact Bracia, because it has an amazing richness which turns near-savoury, works with any chocolate you can throw at it. Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout is another anything-goes, chocolate-loving beer and the thick body works with white chocolate really well (it shares that similar savoury note to the Bracia which makes it sing with the sweetness – that’s why you add salt to most chocolate recipes, it loves the sweet-savoury balance!). Goose Island Bourbon County Stout is another monster pairing, picking out all the glorious nutty-berry-sweetness in the beer.

I’ve been trying out chocolate and IPA pairings but haven’t had any excellent ones yet, I figure there must be some out there, probably a stronger beer with juicy, orangy hops? And ideas?

Do you like beer and chocolate together? Or do you love it? What good matches have you had?

Monday 6 April 2009

BrewDog at The Bull

You’ll probably know that I like BrewDog beers. I have more of their beers in my collection than any other brewery (thinking about that I should probably get to drinking them …) and I’ve even done a little bit of writing and food pairing for their blog. Last week I finally got to try some of their beers out of the cask at The Bull in Horton Kirby.

The Bull, which I have written about many times before, holds a monthly brewery showcase where they have around 6 different casks from a chosen brewery. The last two have championed Thornbridge and Dark Star, the next two will be Pictish and Oakham (plus a Belgian beer fest over the Easter weekend) - this month it was BrewDog. I went up to the pub on the Thursday and the Friday; Thursday was with the chaps from Ale Affinity (Phil from beermerchants popped in too) and Friday I was there with Matt. (As a side note, I’ve had a look around some new apartments nearby with my girlfriend which would mean I was a 10 minute walk to The Bull!! Sweet!)

Throughout the whole of Thursday I was running the words ‘Pint of Punk’ through my head, desperately looking forward to saying them as if they were some kind of secret code word to some glorious prize (which they are!). When I arrived at the pub I strode to the bar, stood tall and proud and I said it: ‘Pint of Punk please!’ I was so excited and I know I had a huge smile on my face but for some reason the barmaid didn’t seem to ‘get’ my excitement and just stared back. I kept my smile up, held its position, but it started to fall and feel stretched, then it started to droop and fall flat. We shared an awkward moment until I pointed to the casks and had to repeat myself, ‘Punk’ please. ‘Oh, £3 thanks.’ She just didn’t get my excitement. When I returned on the Friday, after just regaling the story of the night before to Matt, I strutted straight up to the bar and she was there and I said it again, this time ordering one for me and one for Matt: ‘Two pints of Punk please’ (try saying that a few times quickly!). She didn’t get it then either. It was clearly wasted on her.

Right, onto the beer, that’s what we’re here for after all. Punk IPA was first and from the cask it is just brilliant. It was fresh and lively, with loads of tropical fruit in there, a sweet biscuity base and hops o’clock. Beautiful stuff. I could’ve had it all night (but would I rather have Punk or Jaipur?!).

Trashy Blonde came next and I thought it was floppy and dull, lacking in sweetness and hops and character, maybe it was a duff batch but I only had a half so I didn’t matter, and the two casks the pub had were the first to be polished off so others must have liked it. Then came Zeitgeist. It was the best looking of the beers, retaining its creamy head for ages (this is a lager, right?!). The hops were there being all fruity and Cascadey and the roasted malt was loaded with dark chocolate flavour – really sessionable and it reminded me a little of a muscular Dark Star’s Over the Moon.

Then Chaos Theory, their 7% IPA hopped with just the Nelson Sauvin, giving a glassful of dense tropical fruit and a great, tangy, spicy bitterness. A lot of people I spoke to thought this was the best beer of the lot, and it’s hard to disagree. It was a gorgeous drop, a real hop wallop comes at the end but it’s so easy drinking for its strength.

Onwards to the black stuff. I thought the RipTide was superb. For an 8% stout it has a slick and velvety body and drinks like a luscious and roasty-bitter hot chocolate, warming and gut-filling. Great stuff. What made it even better was that on the Friday we were given a free pint of it because a chap had ordered it for his wife who was driving him home and he hadn’t realised the strength until she’d taken a sip and checked! Result.

Paradox Isle of Arran came last. I think this is brilliant in the bottle so was intrigued to compare it. In the cask it had a lot more bourbon-style flavours and reminded me of a younger sibling to Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout (a comparison I’ve made before). It was a mouthful of chocolate, cherries and coconut. Yum. It was pretty sweet but I don’t mind that, the only trouble was that for a 10%er it’s so drinkable, dangerously so.

Divine Rebel was also there but - as far as I know - it’s still in the cellar waiting for a special occasion - a special occasion that I will be at no doubt! To be honest I wasn’t too sad about it not coming out this time around because that really would’ve left me pickled.

And it wasn’t just great beers… On the Thursday a buffet of chilli and curries with rice and a cheese board and bread appeared just in time to cut off the rapidly approaching silliness, softening the blow of the booze and allowing me an extra half of RipTide before the train home. Good times. I did feel bloody rough on Saturday though (and Friday – the first sips of my Pint of Punk eased me in) and that didn’t go until I opened a bottle of 10% double IPA and then I was happy (hoppy?) again. Until Sunday when the gym was a lot harder than usual!

To The Bull, thank you again, you rock. And BrewDog, you rock too. Please send more casks down south!

Friday 3 April 2009

The Session 26: Rauchbier: A Smokin’ Story

It’s Session time again, this month it’s hosted by Lew Bryson and the topic is Rauchbier. Let me tell you a little story about Bert and Ernie on Smokin’ Sunday...

They enter the bar, Ernie more excited than Bert. A fug of smoke stings their eyes and fills their lungs, causing Bert to cough and Ernie to inhale deeply.
“What you having?” asks Bert.
“Schlenkerla, of course, that’s why we’re here isn’t it?” Ernie replies, rubbing his hands together in excitement. “What they got?” He purses his lips as he stands on his toes to see what the bar has to offer. “Oh yes, they got the Weizen, Marzen and the Bock!” He yelps like an excited child.
“Yippie” says Bert, less than enthusiastically, trying to hide his disinterest, hoping to see a tasty IPA. “Have they got anything else on?”
Ernie turns, incredulous, mouth open wide. “Are you kidding me?! It’s Smokin’ Sunday dude. They got Schlenkerla, Schlenkerla, Schlenkerla and smoked meat and cigars.”
“It’s just… Doesn’t matter. I’ll have what you’re having.”
“Sweet! We’ll do a tasting tray!”
Bert looks around the bar, trying to see through the fog. The air is thick with smoke, roasted meat and a little musky sweat. It’s busy, mainly men. Quite a lot of beards on big men, sturdy you’d say if you were being polite. Some of them dressed in lederhosen and drinking from hefty steins as if the night asked for themed clothing. This made him kind of uncomfortable.
Ernie orders, leering the busty barmaid who chews gum visibly.
“Two smokin’ trays.” His smile wide, full of excitement.
“You want the smokin’ platter too.” Her voice is droll and completely disinterested as she begins to pour.
“What’s on it?” he asks.
She breathes out a long sigh, clearly having repeated this damn list over and over: “Smoked meat, ham, roast pork, ribs, smoky hot sauces, smoked cheese.”
“Holy smokes, yeah gimme two of them!” He skips up and down at the bar while Bert still looks around the room. A table comes free and he darts over, sitting down just before another guy can claim it. He coughs under the heavy air which is making his eyes water. He doesn’t mind cigarette smoke but he bloody hates cigars with a passion.
“Choo choo, coming through big guy!” calls Ernie, a tray of beer in each hand which he slides onto the table. “You are gonna shit when you see what I got us!” Bert looks down at the three beers in front of him, all a similar murky brown shade.
“Plus the meat platter.”
“Great,” says Ernie. He tips his nose down and the overwhelming smokiness fills him, this time it is from the beer, not the bar. Ernie is opposite, dipping his nose into each glass, sighing loudly and pleasurably with each inhalation.
“Good, huh?” sings Ernie.
“Yeah, sure,” replies Bert, picking up the first glass.
What ya got first?” Ernie looks over. “Oh, that’s the Bock. So we’re starting at the top and working back. Watch out, it’s a smoky brute. 6.6%.” Ernie grabs the same glass, swirls it and sucks in all the aromas. “Oh baby, that’s the stuff.” He takes a gulp which swallows half the glass. “Oh boy, that’s goood, so much sweet smoke, so smooth, caramels, and some, like, crackling firewood.” He reclines back on his chair, a content smile on his face as he waits for Bert to go.
He lifts the glass to his nose. He gets bonfires and burnt wood and an overwhelming urge to shout out ‘bacon’. Why would anyone want to drink this, he asks himself, gazing back at Ernie’s wide smile. He takes a gulp, swallowing it straight down, almost coughing the way you do after your first drag on a cigarette.
“Oh man… Why would anyone want to drink a beer that tastes of burnt meat?!” he asks his smoke-loving drinking buddy.
“Dude you ain’t getting it. It ain’t meat, it’s SMOKE!”
“Tastes like meat to me. And it looks like coke.” He replies before lifting the Marzen, hoping for something better, something less, meaty.
“Good call. That’s the Marzen. Like 5% or something. BIG smoke.”
“Oh great.” Ernie says under his breath, sniffing the glass full of firewood and ham. He takes a mouthful as Bert watches on, nodding slightly in encouragement. “Nope. That’s meat too. Smoked sausage with, if I’m not mistaken, actual pieces of charcoal.”
“Ah man, what’s with you? These are classic brewskis! The Marzen is sweet and the smoke just wraps around your mouth, warming you up, and it’s sweet too, treacle and toffee and bread. It kicks ass.” He takes another gulp, a big satisfied ‘ahhh’. “Try the Weizen. That one you’ll love, I just know it.”
Bert lifts up the glass which Ernie points at. It’s an orangy colour, like fire he thinks to himself. He doesn’t even bother sniffing this one, he just takes a sip then replaces his glass, forming his opinion which Ernie waits for with baited breath.
“That’s like licking rusty copper pipes! Why would you drink that?!”
Ernie necks the entire glass in one satisfied gulp. “Woah yeah!” hollers Ernie, his face a wave of contemplation. “Holy. Shit. That’s. Amazing!” Bert stares back, unable to ‘get it’.
“Duuude, what’s wrong with you? It’s lighter, softer, more delicate.”
“It’s like what’s left over from a campfire that’s been smoking a pig, man. That ain’t beer.”
“Oh jeez. Campfire is good! Try the bock again.” Bert lifts the glass, sips. A mouthful of burning hell.
The food arrives just in time, thrust down on their table by the feisty barmaid.
“You guys want drinks?” she asks, hoping they’ll say no.
“I need an IPA, stout, hell I’ll even have a lager, just something without smoke!” says Bert. Ernie looks back disapprovingly, shaking his head before getting into the meat platter.
“We got an IPA tray, you want that?”
“I would love that, thank you.”
“I want another smokin’ tray please, and two cigars” calls Ernie, ripping the meat from a rib slathered in thick hot sauce. “Mmm, good ribs!”
The barmaid turns away and disappears into the smoke which fills the bar.

Thursday 2 April 2009

Juxtaposition: Stone/BrewDog/Cambridge

I mentioned the collaboration between Stone, BrewDog and Cambridge in the last post but here’s some more info which has been posted on the Stone blog. And the news is pretty flipping cool.

What would you expect from this beer? I certainly wasn’t expecting anything less than awesome and extreme and they haven’t disappointed. But, ale fans, the news is this: they’ve made a pilsner (Stone’s first ever lager).

But this ain’t no ordinary pale beer. Hell no. It’s called Juxtaposition and is a 10% Black Pilsner which Stone are calling their hoppiest beer yet! Sweet! And remember Stone brew the hop rocket that is Ruination IPA! There’s are more details on their blog but I won’t copy them here, just add that they are mash-hopping! Mash hopping?! Now that sounds good to me.

Anyway, that got me all excited this morning so I thought I’d share it. I’m sure there’ll be more info about it soon from BrewDog. Just one thing… It was announced yesterday so I just hope that it isn’t an evil April Fool joke (but this link suggests that it was a double bluff, so fingers crossed). Juxtapose me baby!