Friday, 27 February 2009

BrewDog Zeitgeist

I learnt the word zeitgeist in my first year at uni (maybe last year of A-levels, I don’t remember precisely) and since then it has peppered my essays as I try to sound intelligent, using an irresistibly vague concept which stands for the essence of a community or place or time. It’s a cool word.

Last night BrewDog launched their latest offering: Zeitgeist, a 4.9% black lager, billed as the first mass-market black lager in the UK (read the press release here). It’s a side project, with neither BrewDog’s logo nor name featuring on the bottle, and it was developed in conjunction with Dundee University art students who were asked to design the label. The winner was Heather Brennan with her beguiling military sheep (the more you look at them the more you enjoy them and find their differences fascinating - really cool!).

Zeitgeist comes with a ‘spirit of the times’ kind of idea - in a world of blogs and user-generated stuff - which is pretty neat: when you buy the beer you get a code and this entitles you to one blog entry on the Zeitgeist website here. The entry has no restrictions and the only stipulation (of sorts) is that it’s related to Zeitgeist (irresistibly vague). It’s a wikipedia art project created by the drinkers; the evolution of it undetermined, the content unplanned; a collage of people and ideas and words and images. And they aren’t going to be editing or censoring the stuff (“I’m pretty sure we’re gonna get sued” James told us, “but the site comes with a heavy disclaimer”).

The launch itself was fun, taking place in a small bar-come-gallery opposite Brick Lane in London. People were huddled around chatting sucking the beer out of the bottles. You know what was odd? I hadn’t drunk beer out of the bottle for ages and I loved it! Stuff the choice glassware, I want a bottle. We got chatting to a load of beer people: James from BrewDog, who it was awesome to finally meet, what a great guy!; Phil from Beermerchants and this blog; the effervescent Stonch; Aussie blogger Tim, who I discovered is not a Simpsons character despite his profile pic; and Steve from this blog. And the highlight: Roger Protz walked past me as I was walking in, like a cloaked ninja he fled into the night, with beer in his pockets and a hat on his head.

And the beer? We chatted to James about the development of Zeitgeist from prototype to finished beer. There’s a considerable difference. The prototype was a simple dark lager; some roasted notes and gentle hops and fizz to top it off. The real thing is a different beast: rich, smooth, stout-like, chocolatey and it’s got a hefty hop hit at the end giving citrus, spice and all things nice. It’s lager, but not as we know it. I got a bit carried away asking people whether they preferred the beer cold or ‘warm’: the decision was split. Cold it was a glugger, refreshing, easy to knock back; when it was warmer the depth of the roasted notes and hops pushed through and it was a lot more complex. I think they’ve pitched it just right for the full spectrum of drinkers.

And where can you buy the stuff? BrewDog’s website: here in its own case or here it comes in a box with Chaos Theory which is a wicked IPA. And while you are there check out the food and beer pairings that I wrote for their blog (there’s one more to come, look out for it, it’s a goodun').

I like the beer and I love the concept. I want to see how the website evolves. A negative to end: drink too many and your head thumps in the morning, especially if you get up early to do silly things like write beer blogs. Time for work.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Buying Beer

This follows on from last week’s post about The Best Supermarket Beer and asks: Where do you buy your beer from?

I like to drink new beers; ones I’ve not had before. There’ll also be a few staples in the house, picked up from wherever, but it’s the new beers that I’m talking about here.

I think I’ve pretty much exhausted the supermarket selections now and I tend to only buy from there if I want it for a specific occasion, food pairing or if I see something new. There are some brilliant beers available in the supermarkets, I’ve just worked my way through them so want more choice.

I go to Utobeer in Borough Market a lot and there’s a decent selection in my favourite farm shop, Macknade Fine Foods, including plenty of local beers and the range of Sam Smith’s.

I’ve bought my last few hauls online. Beermerchants (run by Phil who has a cool blog here) have a load of European beers and also an ever expanding selection of American beers (that’s what I’m after!), some which can’t be bought anywhere else yet, from Port Brewing, Lost Abbey and AleSmith. I put in a big order a few weeks ago and most of the beers I bought I’d never even seen anywhere else before (I actually only live 15 minutes drive from the depot so maybe I’ll pop over sometime!).

I’ve ordered from Beers of Europe recently too. They’ve got an excellent selection of beers from all over the world, including lots of British and American bottles. My order arrived within 48 hours (in spite of the snow). They also have Europe’s largest beer shop.

What about the others? Zak Avery runs a beer shop in Leeds. Beer Ritz are an online beer shop and they have a large selection of bottled beers from around the world. There’s, which is based in Twickenham (while I was at Royal Holloway University a few miles away we used to venture over to pick up our beers); they have expanded their selection recently to take in more American and world beers, and they sell online. There’s also Beer Ventures and Only Fine Beer (I don't know much about these two). Some breweries sell direct too, which I like, but there aren’t enough doing this.

Who else? Who do you recommend? Where do you buy your beer from? I need to know where to go to next!

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Pancake Day

I love pancakes so much that I deprive myself of them for the whole year to be able to enjoy them even more on Pancake Day, which is one of the best days of the year. This year I’m out on Tuesday so it’s a Pancake Sunday.

My pancakes are the thin, lacy ones. Like crepes but better. They fry briefly on one side, picking up a golden tan, then they’re flipped over and tanned on the other, going crispy on the outside and soft and flimsy in the middle. So simple yet so flipping good!

Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday, is to do with Lent. It was originally a day to use up luxury foods (milk, butter, eggs) before the 40 days of fasting which begins on Ash Wednesday. Now I don’t follow Lent and I don’t give stuff up but I do strictly follow the golden glories of Pancake Day!

I wanted a new spin on things this year and tried to match a beer to go with them. I considered making American-style blueberry pancakes with maple syrup, I thought about banana and chocolate pancakes and I even toyed with the savoury idea, all of which would be fairly easy pairings. But you know what? I have my pancakes with sugar and lemon. I always have and I always will. So I had to find a beer to go with that.

You need a beer that can balance both the sweet and sour while still letting the buttery pancake through and you need the beer to keep its true flavours and not become flabby and lifeless. Pancakes aren’t designed to be a balance treat, it’s a feast of fun, so I didn’t really know what was going to work best, so I opened a coffee imperial stout and an imperial IPA (figuring that it’d need some beer mega-flavours to work), to see what I got. I also thought about popping the cork on a lambic or gueuze, but wasn’t certain how the acidity in the glass and on the plate would work together. Maybe next year I can try my pancakes with sugar and lambic!

The coffee stout was rich and strong, with roasted bitterness, a woody sweetness and a nice smack of hops to finish it. The beer worked well with the pancakes; not perfect but pretty damn good. It’d be better with blueberry pancakes and maple syrup, to be honest.

The IPA was 9%, it’s got a syrupy sweet malt base and then a dry, scratching finish of earthy, pithy bitterness. It’s got hops but they don’t go all the way to 11, they’re about a 7. This worked great when the pancakes were loaded with sugar and lemon and there was a great balance over the palate of sweet, bitter, sour and savoury. Beware: when there wasn’t so much sweet and sour then the beer blew the doors off the pancakes.

I did discover that the pancakes would work with a softer beer, lower in alcohol and less punchy, so there’s plenty of choice for Tuesday. English IPA or porter would be cool; the Meantime beers, White Shield IPA, Gadd’s Dogbolter porter. A strong ale like Fuller’s Golden Pride, or something like Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale. Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stout would blend the coffee stout and the IPA and that’d make for an interesting combo. And some barrel aged beers with their buttery, oaky sweetness; Innis & Gunn Original or even a leftfield choice of BrewDog’s Storm (see the Lemon Cheesecake for why it’d work a treat).

Pancakes – makes 8-10

  • 120g plain flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 300ml milk
  • Butter and some plain flavoured oil
  • 2 lemons
  • A bag of sugar

Mix the flour, salt, eggs and milk into a batter, add a pinch of sugar and a splash of oil, stir and leave it to chill out in the fridge. If you want, you could replace half the milk in the recipe with beer, but go for a mild or something with little hop bitterness.

To cook, heat a large pan so that it’s hot hot hot and melt a small knob of butter with a trickle of oil and put just enough batter in to cover in a thin layer. Fry until golden and crisp on one side, flip over and cook for another minute or so. Slide onto a plate and lavish in as much or little lemon and sugar as you like. I roll mine up here, but you can have them flat. Lovely stuff.

Now I’ve got two half-drunk bottles of imperial beer to see me through the night. Oh the hardships of searching for cool beer and food matches (I just tried a cheeky black and tan too and that was blinding!).

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Meantime IPA and London Porter: The best beers in the supermarket?

I’d walked past the two 750ml Meantime beers with the black bottles, their smart/classy labels and their crowned top for ages without ever buying them. That was until a few weeks ago, which was when I discovered what I’d been missing out on.

They are both proper British beers; famous styles which are seeing a worldwide surge that has seen them morphed into completely new (imperial) beasts. These Meantimers, I imagine, are much more proper, as it were.

The IPA is a punchy 7.5% and hopped with Fuggles and Goldings. It’s a copper/amber colour with a large fluffy head and big bubbles. The nose is candy sugar to begin, moving into apples, marmalade, sharp fruits and spice. It’s big in the mouth with loads of caramel and biscuit malt, then the earthy, spicy hops come through with a tangy and long biting finish. The hops develop throughout the bottle, wrapping around your palate and getting stronger and more citrusy. It’s a flipping good IPA. I served it with fish and it went great, it’s also a brilliant cheese beer, particularly a good strong cheddar.

The London Porter is 6.5% and pours on the ruby shade of dark brown. The nose is sweetly smoky and nutty with some sugar, coffee and dark chocolate. In the mouth it’s all roast grain: chocolate, coffee, toasted nuts, smoke – all of it subtle and smooth. Sweetness comes through at the end after the hops have finished nibbling and there’s some maple syrup, dark fruits and nutty milk chocolate. It’s really drinkable too; I polished off the 750ml bottle in no time at all. I served it with meatballs and spaghetti, which is a fairly challenging match, but it was a stunning pairing: the smoke blended with the sharp-sweet sauce, an earthy-nuttiness came through in the beer which was delicious and the roast sweetness in the beer was perfect with the meat. I was surprised by how well it worked. I’ve been looking for a beer to pair with tomato-based pasta dishes for ages and now it looks like I’ve found it.

I think these are two of the very best beers available in the supermarkets. And £4 for a 750ml bottle is a pretty good deal, if you ask me.

What do you think is the best beer available in the supermarket?

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Beer and Cheese 1: Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout

Today comes the first of a series of beer and cheese pairings to try different beers with a range of different cheeses to see what works with what. The possibilities are endless.

Today’s, the first, takes CAMRA’s choice for the 2008 Bottled Beer of the Year: Dorothy Goodbody’s Wholesome Stout from Wye Valley Brewery. It’s a 4.6% stout and very good indeed. It’s smooth, gluggable, full of fantastic roasted grain flavours, chocolate and coffee with a lingering dry hoppy finish.

It’s got a really cool logo with the voluptuous pin-up of Dorothy draped across it. The beer itself is pretty sexy too; dark, enticing, complex and full of flavour. The bottle says it’s good with cheeses, but doesn’t mention specifics, so this little impromptu tasting was to see how it worked with a few cheeses that I had in the fridge. I hadn’t tried the beer out of the bottle and I hadn’t tried it with any of the cheeses before I recorded it, so it was all off the cuff.

The Brie was creamy and mild but the beer did nothing to enhance the flavours, and what you most want is for the match of cheese and beer to lift off into a new direction, not lie flaccid and flat and skirt around each other awkwardly.

The sharp, creamy goats’ cheese was much better: the cheese is full of goaty punch and the beer sweeps in and lifts the palate with plenty of sweetness while the cheese still lingers throughout. This was a surprisingly good match.

The mature cheddar was Black Bomber from Snowdonia Cheese Company, and it’s fantastically strong, tangy and rich. The match was okay but not great; the cheese is probably too much for the beer to handle and the beer doesn’t get its chance to shine.

The Colston Basset stilton is one of my favourite cheeses there is. It’s creamy, smooth, strong and delicious. It worked really well with the stout, softening the coffee roast flavour and bringing out the sweetness within. And eating this after, with some crackers, it was an even better combo.

The final cheese was thrown in as a Valentine’s special - a white stilton with strawberries and white chocolate. It’s almost unpalatably sweet, kind of crazy, mainly full of strawberry flavour with the mildly sharp stilton underneath. It’s interesting. But it did work fairly well with the stout. The strawberry and chocolate paired up and the cheese and the roast flavours danced around a bit.

I say in the video that the goats’ cheese works best, but when I tried them all again after it was the stilton which I enjoyed the most. The best thing about this was the actual beer itself. It’s a really great bottled stout. And while none of the matches were amazing, there were some good ones.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Thornbridge Brewery at The Bull

I officially love Thornbridge Brewery and their beers (read about it here), so when I heard that a pub not too far away was putting on a showcase event of their beers I was delighted. I read about it here on the Ale Affinity blog and arranged to meet Dubbel and Jimbo at the pub. They are great guys; it’s cool to meet other young beer lovers.

The pub was The Bull in Horton Kirby, Kent (check out their website here, or their Facebook group here). It’s a fantastic little corner pub with a bar lined with a selection of cask beers impeccably kept by Garrett the landlord (a proper beer lover!). There’s always Dark Star stuff on as well as ales from all over the country and a fridge with some beauties in too. It’s pretty much your ideal local.

For the Thornbridge showcase they had seven beers served off gravity. What a sight. Available was: White Swan, Lord Marples, Ashford, Kipling, Jaipur, Handel and St. Petersburg. That’s a party right there.

I started on the Ashford and worked my way upwards. Ashford is a glorious brown ale with a great malty base and a big hoppy finish – it’s surprisingly complex for a 4.2%-er. Kipling was next. I had opened a bottle of this the night before and loved it for its gorgeous fruitiness and all the tropical flavours from the Nelson Sauvin hop. From the cask it was one fine beer, judged by almost everyone as the second-best of the night. Jaipur followed and this is a near-magical IPA with a buttery-caramel-honey base and loads of tropical hops banging at the end (I also really love – maybe even prefer – the bottled version).

Handel came next, their Belgian-style ale, and I adore this beer. I wanted more and more of it (I still do! And check out Reluctant Scooper’s blog as he just cooked a great dish with the beer). Handel is so light and gluggable but so full of earthy, sweet, spicy flavours. Amazing. And it was exactly at this point that the complimentary buffet opened. Are there any finer words than ‘complimentary buffet’ at a beer festival (other than ‘free beer’)? A few blocks of cheese came out and being on a massive cheese-and-beer kick I helped myself. A strong-blue-and-Handel combo blew me away: that was pairing heaven.

Onwards, finishing at the crowning glory that is St. Petersburg. An immensely brilliant imperial stout that superlatives cannot do justice. At 7.7% it’s rich, thick, creamy and full of roasted grain and dark chocolate but it’s still a beer you can drink a pint of.

And then I had to leave for the train. I said earlier that Kipling came number two for most, well number one was of course St. Petersburg. Personally, I thought Handel was right up there alongside the St. Pete. Thornbridge rock. I’m going up to visit next month and I can’t wait. Oh, and Kelly, the Brewery Manager, has just started a blog here.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

A Storming Lemon Cheesecake

I've decided to try out some video blogging. I have a youtube channel which you can view at While you are there, check out Zak Avery's brilliant channel or click here.

If you’ve seen the video above then you won’t need much of an intro to this dish (this is my first attempt at a video, so be kind! EDIT: I've uploaded a new and improved version with better sound). Whether you want it with the beer or not, that’s up to you, but it’s an amazing match – actually amazing! - and I can’t think of a single other beer which would work with a lemon cheesecake. Even sitting here now this combo still baffles and excites me.

Like I say in the video, it’s difficult to do the beer justice with words. If you are a beer person then it’s one of those beers you need to try. It’s in-your-face awesome, it’s challenging and it’ll make you think about what beer is capable of being. I love it for its complexity. There’s more on the BrewDog website, including their own video and some more food pairing (written by me!), and you can find that here.

This cheesecake is so easy to make and tastes great. It’s perfect for a light finish to a meal, a great summer dessert or even a fancy dinner party – it can do it all with ease. The whisky-spiked sauce is intended for the beer and acts as a stepping stone between the food and drink, linking the flavours in each, but it works perfectly if you don’t serve this beer.

This makes a big cheesecake, easily enough for 8

The base:

  • 125g melted butter
  • 225g digestive biscuits (I used the Hovis ones shaped like bread)

The topping:

  • 300ml double cream
  • 300ml soft cream cheese
  • 250g mascarpone
  • 4 tablespoons icing sugar
  • 2 lemons – juice and zest

The raspberry sauce:

  • 200g raspberries
  • 50ml whisky
  • 1 tablespoon icing sugar or honey (you may want more than this)

Butter a loose-bottomed cake/flan tin. Crush the biscuits into a fine dust - I do this by putting them in a sandwich bad and smashing them with a rolling pin (make sure the bag is on top of a kitchen towel or something soft and ensure there is no air in the bag). Then add this to the melted butter and stir through. Push the biscuit mix tightly into the base of the tin and chill.

Mix together the double cream until it is as thick as you can make it before it turns to butter. In a separate bowl mix the cheeses and icing sugar, then add the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Stir it through and add the double cream, folding it in. Give it a taste and add as much of the leftover lemon juice and zest as you like. If you are making this for the Storm then go easy on the lemon or it’ll overpower the beer – it may be a beer full of massive flavours, but it is still only an 8%-er so you need some delicacy.

Once everything is mixed together, layer it on top of the base and chill until you want it.

To make the raspberry sauce just blitz up 200g of fresh raspberries, a tablespoon of icing sugar or honey and 50ml of whisky. Give it a taste, if you want more sweetness then just add some more sugar or honey. Pour it through a sieve to remove the pips and set aside.

Serve this with the Storm which should be just cool. I’d like to suggest another beer to serve with the cheesecake but I really can’t think of another which would work.

BrewDog are Biting Back

I wrote about The Portman Group banning BrewDog's Speedball here. So many other bloggers took up the story too. Well, now BrewDog are taking action.

They are suing the Portman Group for Defamation. Read their article here.

And while you're there, check out BrewDog's Dinner 1 & 2... The guest writer may be familiar to you!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

The Next Big Thing Will Be...

In recent years the US craft beer movement has super-sized beer all round. Beer is brewed to extremes of strength and bitterness. There has been a lot of barrel aging, mainly oak barrels which previously held whisky or bourbon. ‘Old’ styles have been brought into the 21st century – imperial stouts, new-skool IPAs, porters. Bottled beer choice has got wider, while limited edition cask beer in brewpubs achieves major notoriety. Beer release dates are talked about as if they are the opening day of the summer’s most anticipated blockbuster movie. Certain beers are creating legends of themselves. But what I’m wondering is what is next. Here’s a few possibilities…

Is sour the next big thing? Beer forums seem to be predicting that sour is the new bitter. I don’t know about this one, and I’m not convinced by wild beers and lambics yet (I haven’t had one which has made me fall in love with it). I haven’t quite acquired the taste for tart, dry, acetic, sour beers. They could be the next (logical?) step but I don’t see them becoming mainstream, at least not in the UK.

There’s bound to be more barrel aging. Maybe with the use of different barrels like brandy, cherry brandy, calvados, wine and madeira explored further. Aging styles other than imperial stout could soon take off too. Or perhaps there will be blends from different casks - the same beer but half of it aged in bourbon and the other half aged in cherry brandy - then mixed together.

On the topic of blending, maybe the next craze will be the pimping of the black and tan. IPAs with stouts; double IPAs with imperial stout. Maybe kriek and porter; lager and dark lager; two different vintages of the same beer; lager and bitter (?!). I made a snakebite at a beer festival once with an 8% cider and an 8% ale – I can’t honestly remember what it was like (it was the last beer of the night and seemed like a good idea!). Maybe this kind of thing is best left to personal experimentation.

And what about new styles of beer? Black IPAs, imperial lagers (is such a thing even possible?!), 10% ABV bitters, malty-sweet wild beer, vegetable beers, savoury beers.

Belgian-style beer is cool in the US, so maybe we will see more British brewers copying Belgian styles? Or US brewers Americanizing Belgian beers, creating bigger versions of the styles (turning the triple up to a quintuple or sextuple?!).

I think the market for ‘special’ beers will increase as will the production of ‘vintage’ beers. This’ll probably mean more one-off brews, better bottle conditioning for super longevity and more expensive single bottles. Beer as commodity.

On the reverse of the vintages, what about ultra-fresh beers designed to be drunk within a few days or weeks out of the fermentation tank. Especially designed to grip hold of that fresh hop aroma and flavour.

One trend I’d like to see is more single hop beers showcasing the unique qualities of just one hop variety, perhaps using the same base beer with each brew having a different hop added to it.

Super-sessionable beers, like milds and golden ales, to be drunk in the pub.

Will cans be the new bottles?

What about the use of ‘active’ ingredients? Look at BrewDog’s Speedball. Or the use of things such as ginseng, taurine, omega-3, vitamins and minerals. Just the thing for those searching for something more nutritious or more ‘out-there’.

And beer will hopefully become more global with more access to beers from all over the world. This will be helped by collaborations between brewers from different countries.

Is this what the next year-or-so has in store? What do you think?

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Beer: In a Glass of its Own

There is a lot of bantering going around currently about beer and wine and how it fits at the dinner table. I like to think that I have a polygamous palate and that I’ll drink whatever is best with whatever I am eating, whether it is juice, beer, wine or a spirit. However, I do honestly believe that beer matches - or betters - wine against any and every dish you can think up. Yet there is a blind willingness to open a bottle of red or white at the meal table, as if it belongs there by right.

There are many disparities between the reception of wine and beer, and I think a lot of this comes down to one thing, which unfortunately defines beer to those who do not drink it: the pint glass. Beer has an almost inseparable link with the pint, which carries with it connotations of pub drinking, drunkenness, loutish behaviour and just general drinking-to-get-drunk, rather than drinking to appreciate. Wine on the other hand, served in the delicately rounded glass, looks altogether more elegant and refined. A pint glass allows a certain amount of roughness - it can handle a tight grip and almost asks for it; a wine glass needs a little more tenderness.

So the issue, I think, falls onto the large shoulders of the pint glass. A pint is the perfect shape for the hand. It feels right when we hold it. It’s also the perfect amount to drink in the pub. It takes 20 minutes-or-so to finish; it’s designed for quaffing not swirling and sniffing. The kind of behaviour which is synonymous with the pint is not allowed at the dinner table. It’s bad form. Taking a pint to the table says we’re not having a serious meal; it says we’re having a curry, we’re in the pub, we’re having a casual meal at home. A wine glass says that this is a nice dinner; it’s civilised, grown-up.

Some breweries have started filling 750ml bottles with their beer, presumably to make them look at home on the dinner table. A 750ml bottle suggests sharing. A 330ml or 500ml bottle is a single portion – it’s made for one. If you share a 330ml bottle of beer then you don’t get a large amount right? Well, technically no, but it’s the perfect amount for a main course. You get 165ml and that’s the same as a small-ish glass of wine. If you pour this into a pint glass then it looks like a tiny amount. The solution: use a wine glass or a smaller beer glass. Each beer is best suited to its own specific shape of glass, just like wine is, so this is the perfect answer. And I don’t know many women who like to drink from pint glasses, break that wall down and serve it in a wine glass and all of a sudden it’s a different drink altogether.

Sharing food and beer is fun, especially if you make a nice meal and then serve a couple of glasses of beer to compliment it. That’s what eating and drinking is all about. In the pub I want a pint but at the table, or at home, I want smaller glasses, something more refined. The pint glass is a large barrier that needs to be overcome before beer can achieve the same standing as wine at the dinner table. But is it possible to overcome the negative connotations? And will the beer glass find its place on dining tables in the home and in restaurants?