The August Session – Blackberries & beer

session-logo-r-sm.jpgThis month’s session was set by Beer, Beats & Bites, and the challenge is to write about fruit beer.

As this coincides neatly with the start of the blackberry season in the UK – or at least in our part of East London – we thought we’d focus on blackberries and beer for this post. (By the way – is it me or is the blackberry season getting earlier and earlier?)

We’ve often wondered why blackberries don’t feature more in beer. They’re fairly similar in structure / texture to raspberries, and are easier to grow. It seemed natural to us to try and use last year’s haul in one of our brews. But how? We looked around for inspiration.bramble_stout.jpg

One idea was to add the juice to some stout. We found out the Burton Bridge Brewery had beaten us to it. Their “Bramble Stout” is an excellent stout – but if you didn’t know that there were blackberries in it, you probably wouldn’t guess. It has a sourness that could be attributable to the blackberries, and the chocolatey aroma is perhaps also a bit fruity. We’ve just had another bottle in honour of The Session, and enjoyed it just as much as last year, and we would definitely recommend it, even to”serious” beer drinkers who don’t like fruit beers.

When it came to our own brew, we wanted something where the blackberry flavour came out more, and so we decided to try and brew it with a wheatbeer. The inspiration for this came partly from the Meantime Raspberry beer, which we think manages to achieve a full fruity flavour without being an alcopop.

blackberry_wheat.jpgOur recipe was easy enough — pretty much a standard German wheat beer recipe, except that, when we transferred into secondary fermentation, we threw in a slightly over-the-top 7lbs of blackberries. (We had pasteurised them by cooking them for 20 minutes and then we strained them through a sterilised sieve when they were cool) This kicked off a fairly vigorous secondary fermentation — there’s a lot of sugar in 7lbs of blackberries.

The finished product is very popular with our friends. We’re quite hard on ourselves, though, and will probably work on the recipe some more. For one thing, our fancy-pants German wheat beer yeast didn’t really get going, so we ended up using dried lager yeast, which didn’t exactly impart a lot of character. We might also try to keep a bit more malt sweetness — it’s quite sour. But the colour is great… like Calpol. Altogether, it’s very refreshing, and looks spectacular, but needs to be more complex if it’s going to knock anyone’s socks off.

tayberry.jpgAnd, as a “bonus track”, in honour of this Session’s topic, we also tried a bottle of the Williams Bros Brewing Company’s “Roisin” tayberry beer. Tayberries are a cross between a blackberry and a raspberry, but this beer is probably accented more towards the raspberry flavours. Like other British fruit beers — notably Cain’s excellent raisin beer — it’s an ale first, and a fruit beer second. You can taste the malt, and particularly the hops, and is only slightly redder than a standard bitter (unlike our blackberry effort). The hop bitterness is perhaps rather overpowering, although it seemed to mellow as we got down the glass. It has a very pleasing fruity aftertaste. It’s worth a look – again, even for those who aren’t particularly into fruit beers. It’s available in Oddbins in the UK, and is plastered all over with US import information, so must be available there, too.

Note: more fancy beer photos, although a bit rough and ready this time. The “Roisin” pic has a grey background because trying to white out around the base of a stem glass was beyond me… for now.

#UPDATE# Session round up posted here.

Nice places to drink in Westminster, London

There are no nice places to drink in Westminster.

Joking aside, Westminster is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Britain, so most of the visible pubs are tourist traps selling “traditional fish and chips”. But there are a few gems, mostly full of gossiping civil servants and political types.

1. The Sanctuary, 33 Tothill Street — that old reliable, a Fuller’s pub. It gets heavingly busy between 5-7 most nights, but the beer’s always good.

2. The Buckingham Arms, Petty France and The Royal Oak, Regency Street — two cosy (small) Young’s pubs. As with all Young’s pubs, the range isn’t quite what it used to be in either pub, but there’s still enough variety to have something different on every round.

3. The White Horse and Bower, Horseferry Road — a Shepherd Neame pub which has always been good, but horribly smoke-filled. That shouldn’t now be a problem. A range of SN beers on tap, including the seasonal special, and a few more in bottles. The last few times we’ve been, the bar manager has been a very cheerful chap who will wax enthusiastic on the beer, if given the chance.

4. St Stephen’s Tavern, Bridge Road (Westminster Bridge approach on the Parliament side) — the beer’s usually a bit rough, to be honest, but it’s one of the two Hall & Woodhouse (Badger) pubs in London, and very “historical”. It’s the one with the bell that rings when it’s time for MPs to get over the House of Commons to vote. Great Victorian interior, too.

5. Westminster Arms, Storey’s Gate — a pub which has cleverly sub-divided into a hole for civil servants to drink real ale in, and an upstairs to fleece tourists. There are usually two or three guest ales on, all well kept, and not the usual suspects. Don’t expect a seat; do expect to see lots of famous politicians walking past the window.

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6. The Speaker, Great Peter Street – probably the best place for real ale if you like variety. It’s the traditional haunt of old-school civil servants with a fondness for liquid lunches, and the windows are full of passive-aggressive signs (”This is a real pub! We don’t have music…” and so on). But for all that, it’s rather charming, with surprisingly friendly staff, and a deep commitment to serving a variety of interesting real ales from around the country.

7. The Old Monk Exchange, 61-71Victoria Street. It’s a bit of a hole in the ground, and can be very busy, but it’s got a large range of foreign lagers and other bottled beers — fruit beers, wheat beers, that kind of thing. They also seem to be improving on the real ale front. We didn’t used to like it much at all, but it’s growing on us.

Here’s a another post about it.

See also our guide to places to drink in Victoria — it’s only a short walk from Westminster to, say, the Cardinal (Sam Smith’s pub near Westminster Cathedral)

Link to Google map showing all of the above, including the Cardinal.

Great scientific discoveries attributable to beer (part 1 of ?)

Did you know that James Prescott Joule, who gave his name to the SI unit for energy, was a brewer?

James Joule, image in public domain courtesy of WikipediaWe didn’t until watching an excellent BBC4 documentary, “Absolute Zero” (in turn based on a book called “Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold” by Tom Schachtman). Apparently this documentary is scheduled for broadcast in the US on PBS, whatever that is…

Anyway, the story goes that he (like other nineteenth-century industrialists) was interested in the relationship between heat and “work done”, which had very practical applications – how could you get the most “work” out of the least heat? He set about measuring the effects of this. Apparently, because brewers were unique in having highly sensitive thermometers, he was able to get very precise results from his experiments and was a key player in the development of modern day thermodynamics, influencing William Thomson, a.k.a Lord Kelvin.

There’s possibly some dramatic licence here (the Wikipedia article on Mr Joule downplays the brewery angle) but we liked it anyway.

Snacks to Beer — kepta duona

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Kepta duona frying in a pan.In Lithuania, most bars serve a selection of what they call “užkandžiai prie alaus” — literally, “snacks to beer”.

After a very nice tour of the country a few years ago, we got into the habit of referring to a whole range of peculiar foods you only ever eat with beer as “snacks to beer”.

This post is the first in occasional series on what we think are the very best nibbles to accompany booze. Expect to see pretzels, pork scratchings and a Spanish delicacy we call “chicken tikka fish” covered in the future.

But for now, it’s only fitting that we start with the original snack to beer — Lithuanian “kepta duona”.

It’s not remotely fancy, it’s not good for you, but it’s a great snack to beer for several reasons. Firstly, it’s salty and oily. Now, I know greasy is good is bad for your beer. It makes it go flat. But, frankly, who cares — it just works. Secondly, you can eat it with your fingers. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it soaks up booze…

If you fancy making what is, in effect, slightly burned garlic fried bread, our best attempt at a recipe is after the jump…

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