Category Archives: beer and food

Public Service Announcement: Barley Wine for Stir-Up Sunday

Every year, a week or so before Stir-Up Sunday, we start getting visits to the website from people searching for barley wine to put in their Christmas pudding.

It is a main part of Delia Smith’s recipe which, let’s face it, is therefore the official national recipe. I’d guess from this line…

If you can’t get barley wine (pubs usually have it), use extra stout instead.

…that the recipe was written in the 1970s when Gold Label was a national brand. You probably won’t find barley wine in most ‘normal’ pubs these days, though most supermarkets do carry Gold Label.

There are also plenty of other options.

Barley wine is a term used to describe strong British ales — sometime they’re dark, other times not, but they’re usually at least (these days, for tax reasons) 7.4% ABV.

Fuller’s Vintage Ale is one and this year’s version has just hit supermarkets. Most larger regional breweries (Adnams, Lees, Robinson’s, etc.) make a strong old ale which will do the job. Not many have ‘barley wine’ actually written on the label so just look for anything called ‘Old This’ or ‘Vintage That’.

Most trendy new breweries also make strong ales of one sort or another, although often very hoppy and bitter rather than sweet. If you have a specialist shop near you, and want to use a special beer for some particular reason, ask them for advice.

However, back to the puddings. With several years’ experience in making a family recipe, which just calls for ‘half a pint of strong beer’, I would make the following points:

  • You’re going to be adding spices, sherry and steaming the hell out of it for many hours so you’re not going to taste any beer at all in the final product.
  • The cheapest beer I’ve ever used was a bottle of leftover home brew, and the most expensive was some of the aforementioned Vintage ale — there was no difference in the end taste.
  • If you’re going to follow Delia’s recipe precisely you will end up with two half bottles of different beers. This might be a good opportunity to drink something nice on the side so pick beers that are good in their own right, e.g. Fuller’s Vintage and something like Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout.
  • However, if you don’t particularly like beer, just chuck in the required volume of whatever beer you have to hand — it doesn’t really matter all that much.

HubBox, Truro: Better Beef than Beer

The small Cornish beer’n’burger chain Hub took over trendy bar The One Eyed Cat in Truro last year, having previously traded as a ‘pop up’ on Lemon Quay.

We’ve been to the St Ives branch a couple of times but never quite cottoned to it but, as we were in Truro running some errands, and had recently heard good things about the beer on offer, we dropped in for a look on Saturday.

They’ve certainly gone all in on the makeover, covering the walls in colourful murals and friezes by David Shillinglaw, and paying homage to the previous temporary premises by using chunks of shipping container to form the back wall. Those bits of warehouse chic, along with stripped wood, exposed girders and the ubiquitous Edison bulbs, makes it feel rather like a misplaced BrewDog bar.

Continue reading HubBox, Truro: Better Beef than Beer

What’s the History of Bar Snacks?

In our email newsletter (subscribe!) we asked if anyone had any questions they’d like us to look into with a view to a series of ‘notes and queries’ type posts of which this is the first.

Q: I wanted to ask about bar snacks and how they’ve developed over time — what have bars served along with beers over the decades? –Kyle, Bolivia

That’s a big question, Kyle, and the answer might fill a book, so we’ll limit ourselves to considering the kinds of nibbles that might have been eaten without cutlery, while standing at the bar. For obvious reasons, we’ve also focused mostly on the UK.

Hogarth's Pieman, adapted by George Cruikshank from a detail in the 1750 painting 'The March to Finchley'.

Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor records various examples of people who made their living selling snacks on the street and in public houses, so we know that, in the 1850s, pub-goers were eating pickled whelks (‘not to fill themselves, but for a relish’), boiled green peas, fried fish, pies and sheep trotters. In short, anything that could be sold in the street and didn’t require cutlery was probably being eaten in pubs.

Continue reading What’s the History of Bar Snacks?

When Did ‘Pairing’ Beer With Food Begin?

In a new piece for All About Beer magazine, Tom Acitelli, author of a well-regarded history of the US craft beer movement, makes a carefully worded and very specific claim on behalf of the late Michael Jackson:

On Nov. 16, 1983… readers of The Washington Post awoke to an essay, meandering over four pages, on which beers to pair with which parts of the Thanksgiving feast the following week… [This was] the first time such extensive beer-food advice had appeared in an American newspaper… It was the father of every beer-food-pairing piece to come in the next generation…

He’s not saying that Jackson was the first to consider pairing specific beers with particular types of food, or that this had never happened before 1983 — only that this was the first time many Americans would have come across the idea explored at such length.

And he is right to be cautious.

Continue reading When Did ‘Pairing’ Beer With Food Begin?

Carter’s Lunch, Manchester, c.1904

“Our local carters working the [Manchester] warehouses seldom took food with them. Public houses, avid for trade, put on some kind of a free snack with their 1½d ‘carters’ pints’. Certain pubs went further and supplied potato pie, cheese and pickles, a pint of beer and a piece of thick twist tobacco — all for 4½d. A carter had to prove his bona fides, though, by bearing a whip in hand or around his neck.”

Robert Roberts, The Classic Slum: Salford life in the first quarter of the century, Penguin, 1971, repr. 1974.