Thursday, 30 September 2010

Deconstructed Beer Ice Cream

Beer ice cream is cool. The idea behind this deconstructed recipe comes from a fairytale mash-up of raspberry ripple ice cream and beer: it’s a malty wort-like ice cream with a fresh hop syrup ripple.

I’ve made a few beer ice creams and some have been good but some have been terrible. The thing to know is that sweetness is dulled by freezing but bitterness doesn’t seem to go with it, instead it remains and leaves a horrid clash of sensations with cold and creamy meeting bitter and dry, and nothing about that goes.

The first idea for this was to use the first runnings of wort from a brew of beer but the trouble with adding what is essentially just water into cream is that it doesn’t give the best texture (and ice cream needs to be thick and luscious not spiky with shards of ice). The next plan was to ‘brew’ some malted barley in cream and milk as part of the custard-making process but this was later abandoned through the unknowns of what would actually happen if I did this. The final choice, and the one I decided to go with, was using malt extract (a thick syrup of pure malt flavour used by homebrewers). For the ripple I wanted a streak of fruity sweetness with an underlying hop flavour but very little bitterness. I chose the hops with the lowest alpha acid content I could find (Hallertauer at 2.3% - the lower the alpha acid, the less bitter the hops are) because that was the best chance I had of avoiding a tangy oil slick ruining everything. Getting the ripple right required a few tests. Stewing the hops in hot water for just a few minutes made for a face-puckering bitter overload but leaving the hop flowers in cold water for an hour was much better, leaving the flavour with little of that ruinous bitterness.

A classic custard is the base of the ice cream, it’s just sooped up with the addition of 150ml of malt extract (I used amber extract but I think pale would be better – amber was all the homebrew shop had. Also, taste it as you add it; 100ml might be enough for you). Knowing it had been given a dose of extra sweetness from the extract I took away 25% of the usual volume of sugar which is mixed with the eggs. Once made into a malt custard leave until completely cool. The ripple starts as a sugar syrup: 600ml of water and 100g of sugar reduced to around 200ml (though you likely won’t need all of this – you just need enough liquid to infuse the hops). Allow it to cool and then add 10-15g of dried hops for around an hour, or until you’ve got the flavour you want. Strain the liquid and set aside (here I also added the tiniest drop of green food colouring which was purely aesthetic but didn’t have the dramatic stand-out effect I hoped for!). Once the custard is cool pour it into an ice cream machine until ready. To get the ripple effect I poured part of the now-frozen ice cream into a container then drizzled over a layer or hop syrup, added more ice cream, then more hop syrup, then a final layer of ice cream and then whirled it all through with a spoon handle.

And how is it? Well it doesn’t taste exactly like beer... but it is good! And it’s the hop ripple through the middle which makes it, adding a little fruity cheekiness to the caramel-like malt ice cream. I didn’t know how it’d turn out but I’m impressed – next time I’d add a little less malt extract (or use a pale one) and maybe try and get little extra hop flavour in by either adding more hops or cold-stewing them for longer. Otherwise, a good first attempt, I think! It would also be great with toasted malt sprinkle.

Experimenting with the basic ingredients of beer is fun. I’ve tried smoking hops but what other recipes are there which use malt or hops? Perhaps a malt-crusted piece of fish with hop shoots and a hop sauce? Malt crème brulee with a hop/sugar topping? Roasted malt truffles with candied hop sprinkles? Any ideas?

I've just looked back over the ice cream recipes I've got on the blog and I found this one for Crunchy Nut Cornflake ice cream! That was great. I remember eating it at 3am in the morning while I stayed up late to watch baseball.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Bad Beer Guide

I’ve just read an article in today’s Independent about beer. It’s called ‘A young person’s guide to real ale’ but it should, perhaps, have been titled: ‘More young people seem to be drinking real ale but I don’t know why.’ It’s actually made me quite angry.

The tone is all girly and lightfooted and it’s rife with unanswered clichés and questions; it’s a soundbyte of what we don’t want people to think about real ale: Harvey’s is described as ‘warm’; JHB ‘tastes a bit like drinking a flat lager’; Thornbridge Halcyon ‘tastes nothing like what I would expect an ale to be like’ but we don’t discover why this is or what she expects; to dig the knife in: ‘I had no idea there were so many types of ale and some are really delicious. I might consider ordering one on a wintry afternoon some time but as far as drinking it on a night out, I'm pretty sure people would find me a bit, well, strange’; and to finish the job: ‘who knows, with a little bit of work on its image and the right marketing, perhaps a refreshing glass of real ale could be the drink of choice for the stylish and hip.’

The Cask Report might have shown a good growth area for 18-24 year olds but something like this certainly isn’t going to help. You might as well hand them a picture book of different pints and write next to it: This one is called porter. It’s black. It tastes like burnt toast. It’s served warm. You probably wouldn’t like it so order a red wine.

Protz’s beginners guide is also completely unhelpful (I’m guessing, however, that it’s come from the Good Beer Guide and not quoted by him specifically for this piece, but I don’t know). This is what it says about bitter: ‘Copper or bronze-coloured, it's heavily hopped – hence the name – but the bitterness is balanced by biscuity malt and citrus fruitiness from hops and yeast. Best bitter is a stronger version.’ Is that going to make anyone order a pint of bitter?!

There is serious potential for growth in the younger market and that’s where the long-term future of ale drinking is, but this patronising piece isn’t the way forward and it’s not going to convince anyone to swap their lager for a bitter. The fact it purports to be a guide for young people is just embarrassing as it’s actually a guide from someone who doesn’t drink real ale and probably never will. You can’t blame the Indy for trying but the resulting piece is just a few steps backwards and none forward – the person who wrote it isn’t even convinced to turn to drinking beer, so why would any of the readers?

Anyway, I’m ranting... That article is not a guide for young people, it’s for people who don’t drink real ale and don’t plan to and that's a shame. Has this angered anyone else? Or do you think it’s a generally positive thing that the nationals are covering real ale, even if the message is blurred?

Monday, 27 September 2010

Remembrance of Beers Past

I’m in my flat. It’s September and almost sunny. I pop the swing top of a chunky bottle and pour it out while I’m concentrating on making dinner and doing other jobs. I’m juggling and making a mess and I’m not thinking about the beer but as soon as I raise the glass to my lips and take one mouthful I’m whooshed away and I’m sitting in the Pivovar Modra Hvezda and microbrewery in Dobrany. I’m sitting at a table, the brewer at one end, me at the other, surrounded by others, with lots of glasses in front of me. My hand goes to the glass in the middle and lifts it up, takes a gulp and says, inaudibly, how much I like this beer. Back in my kitchen I feel a warmth moving outwards from my heart in a quickening of its beat; the memory comes alive in me. I remember that it had a striking flavour which hadn’t been present in anything we’d had all weekend, an egg custard tart quality, but in a subtle-not-weird kind of way. I remember how I drank more and more of this beer until it was gone. I remember its silky body, the sweetness and creaminess of it; I remember how much fun that hour at the brewpub/hotel was and how everyone was buzzing when we left. Standing in the kitchen at home, raising the glass to take a mouthful, I’m thrown to that memory.

The brewpub/hotel from the outside.
“I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate, a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory--this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence.”

Of course, it’s no ordinary cake which Marcel Proust is writing about in Remembrance of Things Past; it’s a madeleine. For Proust, “the past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us).” This material object could be anything. For Proust it was a piece of cake soaked in tea. For me, it’s beer.

The Modra Hvezda lager (it's the 10 degree unfiltered) isn’t the only beer to have this effect on me. A few weeks ago I shared a bottle of Racer 5 with Mark from BeerBirraBier and it simultaneously took me on a wild memory ride to four different places (such is the power of this beer for me) – just a mouthful of it is powerful enough to do that, which is probably why I call it my favourite beer. The strange thing is that I don’t remember the taste of the beer in the memories, instead it’s the rosy and hazy experience it conjures back in my mind.

Racer 5 in the Bear Republic brewpub.
“Our senses of smell and taste are uniquely sentimental,” writes Jonah Lehrer in Proust was a Neuroscientist. “This is because smell and taste are the only senses that connect directly to the hippocampus, the centre of the brain’s long-term memory. Their mark is indelible.” Lehrer explains that the other senses are processed by the thalamus, which is the source of language and the “front door to consciousness,” meaning that sight, sound and touch “are much less efficient at summoning up our past.” By taking a mouthful of beer (or cake or anything else), the brain can pin it to a distant memory and recall it from the library of our mind.

But the memories I’ve recreated are not fully complete. They are powerful flashes of the moment which brings back a feeling more than anything else. I can see the image of it but it’s almost static, like someone has taken two or three stills and is playing them back to back, creating a jarring video effect. I remember being there, I remember little details, but mostly I remember the feeling.

These memories “do not directly represent reality,” says Lehrer. “Instead, they are imperfect copies of what actually happened, a Xerox of a Xerox of a mimeograph of the original photograph.” Memories require a “transformative process... we have to misremember something in order to remember it.” By drinking these beers I’m flung to a great memory and in my mind this has a cumulative effect and makes it better; a halcyon glow fills the senses. I don’t remember how tired, drunk or hungover I am in any of the memories, that headache isn’t there nor am I was worried that I don’t have enough money for breakfast or that I don’t know where my hotel is, instead I bring back a snapshot of something which means a lot and I raise it up in my mind to something bigger and better and each time it happens the beers and the moments continue to get better and more important to me.

These are the sorts of beers we don’t forget. They are also the beers which we raise to be more than perhaps they should be. Is the Modra Hvezda lager a great beer or is it just the lasting memory of a great moment? Is Racer 5 my favourite beer or have I just been lucky and had some unforgettable experiences with it in my hand. Strangely, I’ve had it more times than just the four which flash into my mind, but they don’t come back instantly, instead they take a little more searching until I remember them.

Beer is a visceral time machine capable of lifting us from reality and dropping us back in a distant memory, visiting places we hadn’t forgotten, just merely stored in the annuls of what’s already happened. By having these transformative remembrances we raise the original moment in our minds and it gets better and better until it ostensibly becomes something of fictional quality. But this isn’t a bad thing. It’s good to have these special beers and special moments and they are rare drinking experiences; it makes beer an important part of our past and present.

Have you ever experienced this kind of Proustian remembrance? If so, what beer? Or what food? Or whatever else?

I’ve written something similar before. That time it was how Deus takes me to my last Summer Ball at university (the Taste of Memories). I have a similar thing with Mythos which, despite having countless pints in the last few years, I still recall a particular few. Desperados is there too and it’s my 21st birthday and we’re standing in my garden, it’s freezing cold and dark and we’re drinking a mini keg. Then there’s the time we’re drinking a mini keg in a swimming pool. 

Friday, 24 September 2010

Westerham Brewery: The 1,000th Gyle

I leave my flat, drive up the High Street and follow it ahead, turn left then I drive in a straight line until I need to turn right down a suspension-testing lane when I arrive at Westerham Brewery. It may take 30 minutes down country lanes, but my journey is straightforward.

Set up on a farm, my drinking soundtrack is yawning cows as dusk darkens, lit by a moon so big and bright it looks like a giant headlight in the sky. I’m here to celebrate the 1,000th gyle at the brewery, enticed by the carrot-on-a-stick of IPA and sausages. I find the beer I want and help myself. A deep gold and tasting like it’s tank-fresh, the 1,000th beer is 4.8%, hopped with Target and Progress and properly English in its flavour and bitterness which is fruity, dry, peppery, sinus-prodding and treats your uvula like a punching bag. Outside I drink the beer while watching the sapphire sky with great, billowing clouds and that floodlight moon. I get a sausage made with Westerham’s British Bulldog and cover it in ketchup and mustard before realising that the giant squeezy pot they have isn’t hotdog mustard but Colman’s yellow rocketfuel. Robert Wicks, the main guy at Westerham, says it’s the best sausage you’ll ever taste, but then he seems like he’s got the salesman’s gab and I can’t tell because the inside of my nose has been seared away, possibly irreparably. I finish the beer and head back for more before finding myself on a tour of the charming little brewery, led by Robert, who talks about the ingredients and process. It’s a lovely little brewery in a great location and it’s got a good feeling about it, something hard to put words to. Tour over I pour myself a Grasshopper which, for a 3.8% brown bitter, really walloped of Target and Kent Goldings and had a lasting, lingering bitterness and unbeatable freshness (the freshness thing is why drinking beer in breweries is the best place to try something).

Westerham is one of the closest breweries to me and their beers are almost always on in my local Wetherspoons. They get many of their hops from the area, including Scotney Castle, and they certainly aren’t afraid to pack a few of them into their beers. The 1,000th gyle is a faceful of Target and Progress which seems like a fitting combination to me.

Why Budvar Matters

I might have mentioned that I went to the Czech Republic twice within nine days... The second trip was because I won Pete Brown’s Why Beer Matters competition and it sent me to Budweiser Budvar in Ceske Budejovice. I’ve written something for The Publican about the brewery tour and you can read it here. There’s also a snippet of the winning entry.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Long Live London Beer!

The London Brewers Alliance showcase was a brilliant success. The venue was a bright, square hall with all the brewers set up around the outside which made the ideal environment to explore London beer (and reminded me of the San Francisco equivalent). What made the event such a success was having all the brewers there, giving drinkers a chance to talk to the beer makers and giving the brewers a chance to talk to their customers, building a very important, personal bond. The sense of sharing was strong and community was clear to see and having Fuller’s next to the London Amateur Brewers showed the diversity of London beer and making it all-inclusive and adding an extra, important depth to the group.

Stand-out beers for the night were the kegged Kernel Brewery Citra, a West Coast-style IPA with a smooth body and a punch of the distinctive in-thing hop; the unblended Fuller’s Brewers Reserve was wonderful and rich, boozy and complex, slightly wild at the edges and dangerously gluggable; Redemption’s Pale Ale was great, fruity and floral with a quenching bitterness; Brodies Citra was 3.1% and absolutely rocked with so much flavour, it’s the sort of beer you could drink all day in a hot summer beer garden, while their Romanov Empress Imperial Stout kicked some serious arse; Saints & Sinners Citra’d Reaktion was excellent, another smack around the face with citrus but a great balancing sweetness; it's good to see Camden Town Brewery getting their beers out and I can't wait to try more - the helles made for a nice, cold half pint following all that Citra; the Windsor & Eton guys are making some decent beers too, their Guardsman was a quality best bitter; and then there’s the collaboration special, the London Porter, a butch, roasty beer with winter berries at the edges and a lasting, delicious bitterness – it’s a great beer and you might be able to find it around and about London if you are lucky. (I didn't manage have a beer from every brewery there so I'll need there to be another event next year in which I can do that!)

The joy for me was seeing the variety of beers available and tasting the quality of them. The beer scene in London is vibrant and exciting and it keeps on getting better with more good pubs opening where great and interesting beer is a priority. London is firmly on the beer map and long may it stay there.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Manchester and Huddersfield Twissup: The Details

We now have a plan for the Manchester and Huddersfield Twissup (the joint visit was the winner) thanks to Dominic from Marble Brewery and Rich from myBrewerytap.

We meet at Manchester Piccadilly train station at 11.30am. From here we’ll go to Marble Brewery for a tour with Dominic and Colin and then to the Marble Arch for some beers. After this Dominic will lead the procession to Bar Fringe and then The Angel (or maybe the other way around).

From here we head back to Manchester Piccadilly and jump on a train to Huddersfield. It’s about £12 return so not too much for everyone. There are two possible stops - Stalybridge or Marsden - but we’ll only do one. Marsden has the Riverhead pub and brewery which sounds pretty good and could be a food stop. After this it’s back on the train to Huddersfield.

In Huddersfield we stop at The Grove (dribble at the beer list), either first or last. The other options are The Kings Head, The Star Inn and the Rat and Ratchet taking us up until around 10-11pm and then most will need to head off. If anyone needs hotels then you’ll need to sort that out yourselves, either in Manchester or Huddersfield. Nothing is yet planned for the Sunday but I might be in Leeds for a few beers and a roast dinner.

How does that sound? It’s a busy day but these things aren’t leisurely ambles around a couple of pubs, this is a bloody Twissup for goodness sake and we do things a bit differently!! Now get those train tickets booked!

If anyone hasn’t signed up yet then do so here or you might miss out as we’ll do everything else via email from now on. 

Me in the Badger Sett

Here's my answers to the questionnaire asked to all guest bloggers for the Badger Sett Ale Club. My blog should be up there next week.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Is the Good Beer Guide still Good?

The 2011 Good Beer Guide was released today. It’s the 38th edition and this one chronicles 4,500 pubs around Britain. Inside it covers the nation in terms of pubs, breweries and beers. Each pub has a few words about it, the address, opening hours and a useful key detailing some extra information in picture form. Its annual release brings a whirl of PR, but is it still the resource it used to be?

The book is a hefty wad of paper, far from pocket-sized, which likely requires a bag, should you wish to carry it around with you. The RRP is £15.99 but you can get it on Amazon for £10.39 or £10 for CAMRA members on their website. That’s not much to spend for inside knowledge on decent places to drink and you’ll probably waste that much on bad beer in crap pubs over a year, so it’s a worthwhile investment. You can also buy a version for certain mobile phones and SatNavs and these are only £5 each. On this you can search for pubs in multiple ways, one way is via GPRS, presumably pushing a button and getting a list of the nearest GBG pubs back, which is pretty cool.

I like the GBG but I don't think I’ll buy myself a copy this year. I haven’t had the last two and I haven’t missed them. I use the internet to look for places to go, whether it’s reading blogs, Beer in the Evening or asking twitter. But... I do like to have it there as the book which promises places worth drinking in (in most cases anyway, we know there’s the odd dud and that some close over the year, but it’s 4,500 pubs put together by CAMRA members and you can’t get them all right) and the first copy I see in the shops will undoubtedly be flicked through to see what local pubs are in it and if some of my favourites are there. Actually, you know what, I might have already convinced myself that I do want it after all...

Is the Good Beer Guide still good? Do you buy them each year? Will you buy it this year? If so, will you buy the book or the mobile version? Is it your beer bible or do you look for guidance elsewhere? Is it a definitive guide to beer and pubs in Britain? Is there something better or could there be something better? What do you think...

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

London Brewers and a Fyne Showcase

Two big events this weekend. The first on Friday night (17th) with the London Brewers Alliance bash at Brew Wharf. All the London breweries will be there showcasing their beers plus there will be a few extra-special ones: there’s the London collaborative brew, for starts, a porter put together by the London brewers (see Steve at Beer Justice for the photos of the day), then there’s a few from Saints and Sinners including a Citra’d Reaktion, which I’m dribbling at the prospect of, and John Keeling has promised a cask of Brewers Reserve No.1, unblended and at cask strength – a very rare treat! It kicks off proper from 6.30pm but there’s a trade session from 4.30pm (tickets available on the LBA website - £15 and that gets you plenty of beer).

And while we’re on the topic of beer and London, Steve has announced that a Euston Tap is forthcoming... if it’s anything like the Sheffield Tap then I can’t wait!

The other event is a brewery showcase at The Bull, Horton Kirby (my favourite pub!), from 17-19 September (I’m going on the Saturday). It’s the first showcase in ages and Garrett is getting Fyne Ales in, a great brewery from Scotland. The list includes Piper's Gold (3.8%), Maverick (4.2%), Vital Spark (4.4%), Hurricane Jack (4.4%), Avalanche (4.5%), Highlander (4.8%) and Deadlock (4.8%). He has also tweeted that there will be some Thornbridge beers on – Wild Swan (3.5%), Larkspur (5.2%) and Halcyon (7.7%) – and some BrewDogs, if you need any other reason to tempt you along – The Edge (3.4%), 5am Saint (5%), Punk IPA (6%) and Paradox Arran (10%). Not a bad line-up!

Fyne Ales’ Jarl was the best British beer I had at GBBF this year, and every bottled Avalanche I’ve had has been very good, so I’m eager to try more of their beers. And I can’t wait to try the Larkspur as there have been a few blogger beergasms over it recently, plus I haven’t seen Halcyon on cask this year and that’s always one to look for.

Who’s heading along to either of these this weekend?

Monday, 13 September 2010

Showering in Famous Brewing Water

Burton-on-Trent and Pilsen are epicentres of brewing past and present. Burton is Beer Town. Its world renown comes from the eponymous ales, the pale ales and India pale ales it produced 150 years ago. Pilsen is the home of pilsners and pale lager and it’s the style which has become the most aped and consumed beer style in the world. Pale ales, IPAs and pilsners are all very important styles to the beer world, but one thing, above all others, made these towns ideal for brewing these particular styles: the water.

Pale ales benefited from the mineral-rich hard waters of Burton, giving them a snappy, dry quality, and the pilsners of Pilsen had a soft and smooth body thanks to the mineral-free soft waters. The difference between hard and soft water is the volume of minerals in each, primarily calcium and magnesium (in Burton’s case there are also significant levels of gypsum and sulphates which give the famous eggy aroma of Burton Snatch); soft water has very lower levels of these minerals, whereas hard water has much higher levels. Both are good for brewing in their own ways but hard water has minerals which can actively help out the brewing process (calcium helps balance acidity, magnesium is used by yeast in the production of enzymes to help with fermentation, sulphates give a dry, sharp flavour which can compliment hops).

This is naturally very interesting, of course, and the beers are delicious and all that, but there’s a more pressing question: what are these famous waters like to shower in?

Picture this: it’s the morning after a night out and I roll from my bed, head spinning, mouth dry, stomach rolling. I smell and I need a wash. I’m currently in Burton. The bathroom is lovely and big with a wide shower head. I climb in, turn it on, adjust the temperature and stand under it for a few minutes, trying to wash away the stinking hangover. I grab the shower gel – my usual variety – and I pour the typical amount and lather up. Only the lather isn’t coming, instead it’s just leaving little scummy bubbles on my skin which don’t wash away easily. I pour some more shower gel and it still happens. I turn to my shampoo – my usual variety – and again it doesn’t do much, leaving my hair feeling strangely dry, despite having water pour onto it constantly for 10 minutes. I persevere and eventually clean myself to a near-acceptable level. Leaving the shower my skin feels a little dirty still, a little dry. I’m unsatisfied and my hangover feels worse.

Now picture this: it’s the morning after a night out and I roll from my bed, head spinning, mouth dry, stomach rolling. I smell and I need a wash. I’m currently in Pilsen. The bathroom is small with a handheld shower head. I climb in to the shower box, turn on the water, adjust the temperature and hold it over me for a few minutes, trying to wash away the stinking hangover. I grab the shower gel – my usual variety – and I pour the typical amount and lather up. Within moments the lather is overflowing magnificently, with bubbles everywhere, lavishly covering me. I wash them off and then try again and there are even more bubbles this time, like a white foam eruption. I turn to my shampoo – my usual variety – and seconds later I have a white perm of thick creamy lather on my head which feels wonderful. Leaving the shower my skin feels ultra clean and soft. I’m very satisfied and my hangover has washed away.

For shower lovers, I can’t recommend Pilsen highly enough. The sheer, generous volumes of bubbles are simply wonderful. The problem with hard water is that the minerals and ions in it don’t react kindly with the chemicals in the soap and rather than bubbling up they just create a sticky scum which isn’t easy to wash away. Soft water showering is a treat; hard water isn't. Thankfully both are good in their own ways for brewing and for that we should all be very grateful.

There we have it: front line beer reporting on the topics which really matter.

I’ve now done bathing in beer and showering in brewing water. Next I need to swim in it and then enjoy a beer Jacuzzi… can anyone help me out?

In writing this post I used this and this as well as the link above, to help me out. This post is also interesting as it gives a list of water profiles from notable brewing areas. Photos from here and here (I spent about 20 minutes looking for an appropriate image to use for this post and these are the best I could find... you get a lot of filthy results when searching for innocent showering images).

Sunday, 12 September 2010

FABPOW! Chocolate Cupcakes and Chocolate Marble

I happened to have a half-finished glass of Chocolate Marble beside me as the little chewy, gooey chocolate mouthfuls of cupcake - baked by Dominic from Marble Brewery as a thank you and a gift to everyone who came to try their beer at Cask Pub and Kitchen last week - were passed around... and never wanting to let a potential FABPOW pass, I gulped them both down together.

Chocolate Marble is rich and roasty, 5.5%, packed with cocoa and coffee and a bang of hop and charry bitterness at the end and it was a marvel with the mini cake’s stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth sweetness, making the chocolate in both taste richer but retaining a deft lightness. Plus, pairing two things, both with chocolate in the title, is almost guaranteed to be a winner.

Sometimes food and beer matches are planned, some are complete chance – beer in one hand, food in the other, let’s see what happens – others work a little differently, like this one, where there’s a symbiotic link between the two and they work at a specific time and place. In this case it was beer and cupcake made from the same person, served in a pub with 10 Marble beers on cask where everyone is there to drink them and having a great time. This type of pairing is rare. It’s also powerful. It makes almost anything taste good with anything else because the senses are wrapped up with experience (likely a good experience, too). It’s not about finding perfect flavours to go together, perfect texture counterparts; it’s about the moment.

So, would I try this at home? Probably not (although it was a very good pairing) - unless I’m invited to Dom’s for tea and he decides to get baking again - but right there and then, in Cask, it was a Marbleous match!

The Marble event was excellent. All the beers were in good form and it was great to see 10 casks lined up in one place – as I was waiting to order my first pint/Pint my mouth was literally watering at the prospect. I think the Summer was the beer of the evening, although Pint came close, as did W90... and Dobber, and Beer 57 was also excellent... 

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The most incredible drinking experience (so far)

We’re underground. Possibly as deep as 12m. It’s less than 7°C. We are just a short way into the 19km of cellars, somewhere amid the 32,000m² of tunnels. It’s dark and cold. There’s a mineral cleanliness to the air, the air which hangs still. The cobbled floors are wet, the white walls are damp, the ceiling arches high above us. Every crossroad of tunnels leads off in new directions, visible only for a few metres before it fades to black. A map shows us the full network, an unbelievable snaking myriad of channels carved out of the rock. We try and work out how far they stretch under the city; what landmarks they lay dormant beneath. How many men have worked down here? What was the beer they made like? What stories can they tell? Our guide is leading the way but we’re only following in a strange not-quite-concentrating kind of way, our legs moving but our minds filled with wonder and awe, open-mouthed like school boys who have just seen the T-Rex at the Natural History Museum. It’s when we pass by the giant oak casks that we all stop and stare. Magnificent and grand, blackened by time, they run along the sides of the cellars, stacked two high, filled with beer, just waiting. I silently say ‘wow’ and a cloud of breath disperses in front of me. Around another corner and the cellar is stacked with casks on both sides, maybe 40 casks in total around us. Two dark figures wait in the middle, slightly hunched. They start pouring beer as we arrive by them, serving them charmlessly without even a hint of a smile. Beer in hand, we pass through the narrow corridor between the barrels and into another cellar where we stop briefly, looking back to where we were served, like the ultimate beer theatre. It’s here, in the cellars underneath Pilsner Urquell brewery, that I have the most incredible drinking experience of my life so far. The beer is unfiltered and unpasteurised and it’s come straight from the oak barrel. We’re deep underground, it’s cold and mesmerising; the stories that this place could tell are haunting. The beer is a cloudy gold with a chunky white foam. It’s unbelievably smooth and rich, there’s a slight sweetness to begin and a herbal, dry bitterness to finish. It’s perfect. It’s unlike anything else I’ve had before. It’s undoubtedly one of the best drinking experiences in the world.

Does anywhere compare with this? Is there a better drinking experience? What’s the most amazing beer experience you’ve had?

The map of the cellars. The tour only walks around a tiny block in the middle, which you can just make out as the white lines are thicker with wear from fingers tracing our route. 

Monday, 6 September 2010

Pilsen: The Movie

While we were in Pilsen it seemed like a camera crew were following our every move. At one point I got a bit freaked out (I was tired and drunk at the time, no doubt) and thought that we were actually trapped in some kind of Chuck Palahnuik story and were the unwitting stars of some horrible live action drama… thankfully it all ended well and they turned out to be very nice chaps who were making a film about beer in Pilsen for Czech Tourism. They were filming with the wonderful Evan Rail showing the sights of Pilsen and PilsnerFest, plus a few bars and some of the underground tunnels (where you can see us in hair nets and hard hats). This film does a pretty good job of showing the two days we had there, which were great fun (UPDATE: I've changed the video below so that it now includes my introduction - we were all asked to do a short intro and they've sent us our own videos. The rest of the video is exactly the same).

Pilsen is a cool place. I recommend it to anyone who goes to the Czech Republic, even if they only go there for one day (it's a one hour, £3 trip from Prague). Pilsner Urquell is a great place to look around while there are a few really good bars nearby for good beers, particularly Pivovar Groll and Small Breweries Klub.

Here’s the video (it's widescreen so cuts off in the blog; to see the whole lot follow the link to YouTube). See if you can spot me, Tim, Adrian and Pete throughout...

Sunday, 5 September 2010

FABPOW! Tipopils and Pizza

I have a theory: any beer works with any pizza...

Pizza is an inherently simple, eat-with-your-hands food. It’s the stuff of our childhood but we still eat it as a grownup, which has a cheeky appeal, like eating milky bars or fish fingers. Pizza can be one from a box (shop bought or take away-ordered) or it can be made from scratch, satisfyingly gooey in the middle and crispy at the edges, topped to your heart’s desire. On the grand scheme of food-things, making your own pizza is joyous and fun and bursting with childish appeal, like having free-reign to decorate a banana split with sauces, sweets and sprinkles.

Tipopils is a lager from Birrificio Italiano and it’s one of the best lagers I’ve tasted. It’s made with four hop varieties (Hallertauer Magnum, Hallertauer Perle, Hallertauer Hersbrücker and Hallertauer Saaz), it’s a little sherberty to begin, a little herby and floral and a hint of fresh bread in the aroma, which mellows out to an inviting orange and pineapple fruitiness. It’s incredibly smooth drinking which creates a cuddle-effect before the bold hops stamp through and leave their lingering trail of dry bitterness. It’s got so much character to keep it interesting throughout the glass, making you want to drink more and more after each quenching mouthful. Remarkably good, enough to make me look for flights to Milan leaving in the next 24 hours.

The pizza was homemade, both the dough and the sauce (the most flour-dusted and sauce-splattered pages of any cookery book I have are the ones in Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home for pizza dough and tomato sauce). There were four of them; Lauren and I both topped two each – mine were dramatically better, of course (she used mostly sweetcorn and onion which, in isolation, suck as pizza toppings). One of mine was smoked pancetta, chilli and lots of mozzarella, the other was piled high with flat mushrooms, red onion, basil and mozzarella (although, as Reluctant Scooper says, the toppings aren’t relevant, it's pizza and beer and that's what matters). Both of the pizzas are umami-bombs calling for the fruity sweetness and fizz which Tipopils deals up, while the dry finish at the end cuts the richness of the cheese and tomato. The match is helped along even further by the Italian heritage of the headliners.

This was one of those dinners where every mouthful is a pleasure and you eat and drink until you are a food-comatose lump on the floor, covered in crust crumbs and spatters of tomato sauce, but still somehow sipping at the beer because it’s so good, eyeing the slices which remain.

Pizza and beer belong together, a glass in one hand and a slice in the other. Like meat and potatoes they work, whatever the infinite varieties of recipes permit. It’s the simplest of pairings and always works, whether it’s a can of cooking lager or a bottle of something special. Pizza and beer: what do you think? Is there any beer which wouldn’t work with pizza (I won’t believe it if there are!)? Are there any which work particularly well with certain pizzas?

I’m now going to eat the cold leftovers and I’m dribbling at the prospect.