Thursday 25 February 2016

UPDATED: Charity Beer Night - 8 April

This year I’m running the London Marathon and raising money for Evelina Children's Hospital. In March 2013, my week-old nephew Lucas was rushed to Evelina where he spent a week in intensive care. The hospital saved his life and now I’m raising money to say thank you (I raised money for the charity in 2013 when I ran the Paris Marathon – here’s a blog about that).

I know people often ask for charity donations and seldom does the donater get anything back for their cash apart from the warmth of knowing they’re helping out a charity. I wanted to organise something that actually gives people delicious things for their kindness and their cash, so I’m fundraising in the best way that I know – drinking beer.

On Friday 8 April, at The Kernel Brewery, I’m organising a one-off beer night. There’ll be a range of amazing beers on tap and all the money raised from the tickets (apart from the small booking fee) will go to charity – breweries are donating the beer, The Kernel are offering their bar and the staff are working for free (if you’d like to help pour beer on the night then let me know!). I’m working on the full beer list and I’ll announce that nearer the time, but be assured that I want the best beer line-up that I can get.

UPDATE: Here are confirmed breweries sending beer: The Kernel, Vocation, Cloudwater, Gipsy Hill, Chorlton, Firestone Walker, Boulevard, Duvel, UBrew (I'm brewing a one-off beer!) and SeaCider. More updates soon...!

The ticket is £20 and that gets you entry and five glasses of draft beer (they are 2/3-pint glasses). If you want to drink more then all other beers are paid for with cash donations on the night (just respect that this is a charity event and don’t take the piss!) There are only 150 tickets, so get them quickly.

There will be a limited amount of cider but no wine or spirits. Grill My Cheese are cooking outside - these cost extra. Doors open at 5pm and will close promptly at 10pm.

Get your Charity Beer Festival Tickets here!

That’s not all… As well as this beer festival, I’m also doing a London Beer Run. On 2 April, a group of beer-loving runners will be doing a 20-ish mile run around London, passing as many breweries as possible on the way (should be around 20 breweries).

If you would like to donate but can't attend the event, then the fundraising page is here, which is also the link for the London Beer Run fundraising.

Today Lucas is a wonderful, crazy, hilarious little (almost) three-year-old and we have Evelina to thank for that. I’m hoping to raise as much money as I can for a charity that means so much to me and my family.

These are my marathon trainers. When my legs hurt, when I can't face another lap around Victoria Park, when I don't want to get up at 6am to go to the gym, I look down at my battered feet and I see the reason why I'm running.

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Blumenau Oktoberfest: Bavarian Cheer In South Brazil

It was at the exact moment that thousands of people dressed in lederhosen and dirndl started singing a German drinking song in thick Portuguese accents that I had to step back and really think about what was going on.

There I was, in the sultry south of Brazil, somewhere in the middle of a series of trips which took me to five continents in two months all in the search for delicious beer, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

It wasn’t just the German outfits, it wasn’t the oom-pah music with the samba beat, it wasn’t even that everyone was drinking German-style lagers from large tankards while surrounded by dense, dark subtropical forest. What really struck me was how this town was built to look like a postcard illustration of a Bavarian fairytale.

The town is called Blumenau and is named after Dr Hermann Blumenau, a well-connected German chemist who founded it in 1850, bringing with him a small group of immigrants from his homeland. The town gradually grew over the decades as more Germans arrived, joined by increasing numbers of Brazilians.

A century later, in an attempt to draw in tourists, the town decided to market its Germanness and play up to its past, eventually leading to 1984 and an ostensible Oktoberfest, which has since become an annual thing. Alongside the party they built a replica German village, complete with a small castle which is modelled on Michelstadt town hall, and lined their streets with shops selling typical German clothes, food and beer glasses, all while encouraging the citizens to embrace their German heritage.

Today the people of Blumenau call their Oktoberfest ‘The Party.’ The whole town builds up to it, the whole town gets excited about it, they dress up for it and they drink steins of German-style beer when there. If they didn’t do it annually, and they didn’t take it so seriously, you’d almost think it was the most elaborate parody you’d ever seen ­– a trick for the tourists. But it isn’t. And it’s a big deal: it’s literally put the town on the map and draws in hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

What I find fascinating as I stand in the sweaty heat is that this event isn’t about the beer yet the beer is so integral to it (and it’s good, too, with a bunch of local microbreweries pouring their take on classic German styles, plus a few pale ales). Those swaying steins are shared in the same way as the jokes and the laughs and that’s what makes this event – and beer in general – so good. It brings people together, it brings smiles to faces, and it can make a small Brazilian town famous for its Bavarian buildings and fun beer festival.

I was there searching for the best beer in the world and while the ones I drank there might not have been the best-tasting, the experience was unbeatable. And that’s what really matters – it’s the main lesson I learnt on my global beer drinking adventure – because sharing drinks and good times with people is the reason beer is the greatest drink in the world.

This is adapted from a blogpost I wrote for Foyles last year and I thought I’d share it here. In TheBest Beer in the World I tell the full story of Blumenau – how the town was founded, how it grew, how Dr Blumenau struggled but ultimately succeeded, how he built a brewery in his garden, and then how the Oktoberfest grew and what it’s like today. It was one of the most remarkable trips I’ve been on and one of my favourite stories in the book. Most of the images are from the official Oktoberfest Facebook page.

Sunday 7 February 2016

Cooking with Beer: Beer Pizza

I spent last summer in the kitchen cooking with beer for my next book, the unambiguously titled Cooking with Beer. The first copies came back from the printers last week and that inspired me to cook a favourite recipe from it.

This beer pizza puts black lager in the dough and in the tomato sauce, where it gives a slightly sweet caramelised depth in the dough and some added richness in the sauce – other good beer choices include hefeweizen or dunkelweizen plus a smooth not-too-bitter porter or stout (I used Asahi Black Dry and that’s one delicious dark lager!). I topped this one with loads of mozzarella, roasted aubergine, mushroom, sun-dried tomato and basil, but the toppings are yours to pile on.

This makes four pizzas

Beer Pizza Dough
500g Tipo ‘00’ flour or strong white bread flour (plus extra for dusting)
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 x 7g dried yeast sachets
1 teaspoon caster sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
150ml lukewarm water, plus extra if needed
150ml Black Lager, at room temperature

1.     In a jug, combine the water, sugar, yeast and olive oil, stirring it together to get it activated. Leave for a few minutes and then add the beer – ideally you’ll have poured this out in advance to let it lose some of its fizz
2.     Pile the flour and salt onto a clean work surface and make a large well in the middle. Gradually pour the yeasty beer mix into the well, using a fork to bring it together until you’re able to hold it in your hands (add a little more water or beer if required). Knead it for a few minutes then place in a large flour-dusted bowl. Put cling film over the bowl and leave for 60-90 minutes in a warm place – it should roughly double in size.
3.     Dust a clean surface with flour. Place the dough on the surface and knead it for a few minutes. Divide into four, cover and leave for another 30 minutes in a warm place.
4.     When ready to cook, turn your oven as hot as it’ll go – around 250C – and ideally use a pizza stone or pizza tray. Then on a floured surface, roll out a dough ball until it’s about 10-12” across. Place a layer of beer tomato sauce (see below) on top and then the rest of your toppings
5.     Place in the oven for around 8 minutes or until golden and crisp.

Beer Tomato Sauce
Pretty easy, this: take two tins of good chopped tomatoes and put them in a wide frying pan. Add 4-5 whole cloves of garlic, a teaspoon each of salt, sugar and black pepper, a couple of splashes of beer, a tablespoon of olive oil and a small bunch of basil with the leaves torn. Simmer is all together, stirring regularly, until it’s reduced and thick – this’ll take around 15 minutes. Remove the garlic and set to one side and allow to cool (this can be done in advance).

Cooking with Beer is due to be released late March or early April. It has over 65 different recipes all using beer in at least one way. It’s definitely the best-looking book I’ve written – see these images below, which you can also see on Amazon – and I’m excited for it to be on bookshelves soon.