The session: Beer with Food

session-logo-r-sm.jpg This month’s Session is hosted by Beer Haiku Daily, and the topic is:

“…pairing beer with food or using beer as an ingredient in food. I hope to see recipes, pictures, tasting notes, stories, menus, reviews or anything else that fits the bill of fare.”

Conveniently, I was craving a big meat pie, and beer is a great addition to most meat pie recipes, not to mention a great accompaniment to eating pie.

So, I cooked a lamb and pale ale pie, and drank a Brakspear Triple with it.

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I didn’t just pull this combination out of mid air — I took some advice from the experts out there.

If I was making beef and ale pie, I’d use something malty and fruity in the pie — Hook Norton Old Hooky is my favourite, but Fuller’s ESB has done the job in the past, despite being a bit too hoppy. But what goes with lamb? I took a punt that the same kind of thing would work and used a Hepworth Prospect in the pie — although it turned out to be lighter and hoppier than I was expecting.

Fortunately, it didn’t do any damage.

And what to drink with it? Every beer/food menu I could fine online paired lamb with either Kriek, or pale ale. But, as a loyal member of CAMRA (alright — an occasionally traitorous, critical member…) I followed their advice, and went for a malty, spicy ale. The best candidate in the beer cellar (as we call the garage) was a Brakspear Triple.

Brakspear Triple isn’t a Belgian-style triple, although it could pass for something Belgian. It’s ludicrously fruity and smells mostly of fruit and alcohol. It worked very well with the pie, although it might have worked even better if the lamb I’d used had been a bit fuller flavoured, and if I’d caramelised it more in the cooking.

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 350 grams of decent lamb (i.e. that won’t take hours to tenderise with slow cooking)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tablespoon of oil (any kind)
  • a knob (hur hur) of butter
  • half a carrot
  • 1 medium potato
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon of flour
  • salt and pepper
  • ready-made flake pastry
  • an egg, to glaze the pie
  • 1 bottle ale

1. Make the filling. Finely dice the carrot, potato and onion. Fry all of that off in a saucepan with the oil and butter.

2. When the veg has softened, chop the lamb into small cubes and throw it in. Let it brown all over, then add the flour and chopped rosemary.

3. Pour in 250 millilitres of beer.

4. Let it thicken and reduce. When it’s about the consistency of, say, double cream, take it off the heat.

5. Grease a pie dish. Put a circle of grease proof paper in the bottom.

6. Flour the work surface. Cut off two thirds of the pastry. Roll it out into a big circle, and then put it in the bottom of the pie dish, pressing it around the edges. It should overhand the rim of the dish by an inch or so.

7. Put an upturned egg cup in the middle.

8. Roll out the pie top with the remaining pastry.

9. Pour in the filling around the egg cup. Put the lid over and press down the edges around the edge of the dish. Trim off excess pastry.

10. Make some small slits in the lid to let out steam, and then brush with beaten egg.

11. Whack it in the oven on about 200 degrees c. for 30-35 minutes, or until it’s brown — not black, as in my picture…

12. Take it out. Let it stand for a few minutes, and then carefully turn it out upside down onto a plate. Remove the greaseproof paper which will be stuck to the base. Carefully turn it back onto another plate or cutting board.

13. Eat it, with a Brakspear Triple.

14. Sit on the sofa belching, hiccuping and patting your stomach. Occasionally say: “Aaaaaah, just the job.”

The Session: Brew Zoo X2

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This month’s session is hosted by Lyke2Drink:

Have you ever noticed how many animals show up on beer labels? We have lions and tigers and bears, plus various birds, reptiles, fish, assorted domesticated and wild animals, plus a few mythical creatures. For whatever reason brewers have a tradition of branding their beers using everything from pets to predators. The Brew Zoo will celebrate these lagers and ales.

A couple of Sessions back, we dropped the ball and ended up reviewing Sri Lankan Lion stout instead of a local beer as we were supposed to. We’re making up for it this time by reviewing the beers of a local brewery which also happen to fill an entire bird sanctuary. And with a whole bonus post about a bird-themed beer from Spain.

Cotleigh is a brewery based in Wiveliscombe, Somerset — a county most famous for being where Bailey was born and grew up, hence the claim to locality.

The beers in their range include Tawny Owl, Barn Owl, Buzzard and Peregrine Porter, amongst many other birds of prey.

We’ve tried them all at one time or another. Peregrine Porter is a lovely bottle conditioned porter/stout, which tastes similar to another fruity Somerset porter, RCH’s Old Slug. Tawny Owl is a bog-standard copper coloured bitter which we drank in a pub in Beer, Dorset, earlier this year whilst the locals discussed their haul from the wreck of the MSC Napoli (“I got two pair of Adidas”).

buzzard.jpgThe only one of their range we’ve got handy right now is a bottle of Buzzard (thanks, Bailey’s mum and dad). It used to be called “Old Buzzard” and is a bottle conditioned “strong ale”, although not really that strong at 4.8%. The ingredients include pale, crystal and chocolate malt, with Goldings, Fuggles and Northdown hops. It’s accented towards burnt coffee flavours, with some Rauchbier smokiness. It matures in the bottle, this one tasting much drier and smokier than the one from the same batch we drank in February. In the glass, it looks almost black, with a great big pillowy tan head which stays forever.

We guess it would go nicely with rich roasted meats… or with the big hunks of rotting flesh we’ll be feeding Cotleigh Buzzard in the Session zoo.

And, just in case we’re struggling to get a full set of animals for the Brew Zoo, Cotleigh’s Christmas beer is the cheesily named Reinbeer. Groan.

We got our bottle of Buzzard from the excellent specialist beer shop Open Bottles, in Bridgwater, Somerset (01278 459666).

++ STOP PRESS — BONUS POST FROM BOAK, OUR CORRESPONDENT IN SPAIN ++

My contribution from Spain is “Aguila” (eagle) from Amstel. I think this is still part of the Heineken group.

Two years ago in Cádiz (south west Spain) we ordered a couple of cañas and were taken aback by the tastiness of the beer — in contrast to the usual refreshing but bland fizz, this stuff had real body and flavour, rather like Meantime’s much lamented “Golden Beer”. We asked what it was, but because my Spanish was pretty crap then, I could only make out “a-GEE-la” or something like that. The next round he brought us something different.

A few days later, we spotted Águila (from Amstel) on tap (that´s AH-geela, a subtle pronunciation difference, possibly?), and obviously went for it. It was the usual bland fizz.

We couldn´t work out what had happened. Was it actually Águila we had in Cádiz? Was the stuff in this cafe just not right?

To this day, it is still a mystery. I´ve had plenty of drinks from an Águila tap but wouldn´t say there was anything special about it. Now, I´m not sure that there is a beer called Águila produced anymore — it´s not mentioned on Amstel´s official site, nor can you find it in bottles. But the pumps are quite cool, with a big eagle on top, so it´s not inconceivable that landlords decided to keep the pumps even if the specific product no longer exists.

I do still wonder what it was we had in Cadíz that day, because it was definitely different. I can´t think of any other beers that sound like “ah-GEE-la”, so I wonder if it was one of the last barrels of the old stuff? To further complicate things, I believe Águila was actually a brand taken over by Amstel, so maybe it was the original, which has now been replaced by the boring Dutch brew?

We might never know. Unless any of you guys can help…?

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.

The July Session – Atmosphere

session-logo-r-sm.jpgThis month’s Session topic has been set by Hop Talk, and is all about atmosphere. We have been challenged to talk about:

…the Atmosphere in which you enjoy beer. Where is your favorite place to have a beer? When? With whom? Most importantly:

Why?

We thought that we’d focus on the why — what is it that make for a good atmosphere?

  1. The time, the place. Obvious really, but we’ve had some great times in terrible pubs just because there’s something magical about the circumstances. For example, when you’ve stepped in out of a sudden shower, or from the freezing cold; or when you’ve taken a week-day off work, and you should be sitting at your desk, but instead you’re in the boozer, with two elderly alcoholics, a dog and a couple of bluebottles for company. Almost any pub feels good on Christmas Eve, or if your country has won in a big sporting event.
  2. The company. Who you’re with is probably the most important contributor to atmosphere — the worst pub in the world can have a great atmosphere if you’re with good friends. Remember, the point of the pub is to socialise! And it’s nice, too, if the other people in the pub are of different ages, classes, races and so on. A pub full of people in suits can be miserable. A pub full of football fans can be miserable. A pub full of students can be miserable. But mix them all up, and suddenly no-one feels on guard or out of place.
  3. Pubs you’ve hiked to on holiday. Any pub you’ve walked a long way to get to, perhaps along a coastal path, in the rain, will have a great atmosphere. A pint you’ve earned tastes twice as good. A pint of bog-standard Flowers at the Anchor Inn, Burton Bradstock tasted like nectar after four hours walking from Abbotsbury and, again, it’s great to know that you’re there when you should be at work.
  4. Decor. Small rooms, subdued lighting, rich dark colours. Pubs like that don’t always have good atmosphere, but they’re more likely to than ones with large, white, echoing rooms with bright lights. The legendary and brilliant Pembury Tavern in Hackney has only one flaw, perhaps best summed up in a graffito from the gents toilets: “This place is like an Anglican church”. (We should add that the atmosphere there gets better every time we go, and that for some people, it’s one of the main attractions.) Good pubs are designed so you can hear what your friends are saying but no-one else can. They’re intimate, cosy and comfortable, like a home from home. They shouldn’t feel too “corporate”, as Fullers pubs have started to do.
  5. Friendly bar staff. It’s not always the case, but generally a pub with a landlord as opposed to a “management team” will be friendlier. Nothing crushes the atmosphere quicker than dead-eyed, tired, grumpy staff wearing identical polo shirts glaring at you over the pumps. It’s not usually their fault — they’re underpaid and treated like drones. But it’s great when bar staff engage you in conversation, know about the beers and say goodbye when you leave.
  6. The lock-in. A uniquely British tradition, the significance of which has declined with the change to licensing laws. Until recently, pub landlords had to call “last orders” at 11:00 and kick you out by 11:20. The “lock-in” was where the pub landlord spontaneously decided that he liked the crowd he had in, so decided to flout the law, shut all the doors, draw the curtains, and stay open later. Guaranteed good night out. I’d name a couple of pubs famous for never shutting, but I wouldn’t want to get them in trouble. Often local Irish boozers (not big Irish chains). Nowadays, it’s supposed to be easier for landlords to get late licences, and we haven’t been in a lock-in since.
  7. Noise or music. It doesn’t have to be music, but some kind of background noise is usually a good thing. Beer snobs seem to have some problem with music in pubs, which I don’t really understand. It’s preferable to complete silence or — worse — an echo. A good jukebox can’t be beat. And the best ever: sitting in a beer garden in Munich listening to the hubbub of conversation, and a distant oompah band.
  8. Busy but not claustrophobic. A pub should be busy enough that it has some life in it, but not so busy you can’t get a seat after, say, 2o minutes. Claustrophobic pubs — anywhere in central London between 5-8 on a Friday, for example — are a nightmare.
  9. Beer gardens and town squares in the sun. This is a cheat, really, because the atmosphere is that of the town or city you’re visiting. Sunlight, shade, bustle and beer are a great combination. Watching the world go by under a parasol.. just perfect.

Note that good beer does not appear in this list. When we started to think about this post, we noted that almost all pubs where we’d had a truly amazing time had indifferent beer, at the very best. And we often choose to go to pubs with mediocre beer but great atmosphere whenever we’re meeting “normal friends” (ie those that aren’t beer obsessives). If it’s just the two of us, that’s different, but most people are not willing to trek to a “weird” pub because they have an interesting beer or two.

We wondered whether, in fact, “good beer” and “good atmosphere” were negatively correlated. How many times have you gone into a new pub with a “good beer” reputation, tried all the beers you’ve never had in as short a space of time as possible so you can move on and try somewhere else. We certainly have on day trips to,e.g., Oxford. Does this help create an atmosphere?

However, with a bit more consideration, we thought of a few places that do manage to pull off both great atmosphere and great beer:

  • The Rake, near London Bridge. A tip from Stonch, which we can’t drag ourselves away from now we’ve found it. Great range of beer, very friendly, enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff. Very busy, but we’ve got a seat within 20 minutes every time we’ve been. It’s tiny, which is, in fact, probably what gives it a “buzz”, even when there are only 10 people in it.
  • The Fitzroy Tavern, near Oxford Street. A nightmare in the evenings, but on a Sunday afternoon, a lovely place for a pint. Victorian style booths break up what is actually a big space, and make it feel more intimate. Sometimes there’s music, sometimes not, but there’s always the sound of the street outside. And we love several of Sam Smith’s beers “real” or not.
  • Quinn’s, Camden. It’s a normal pub — one that looks too scary to go into at first glance — with a mixed and friendly clientele, but which also has fridges full of great German and Belgian beer. Sitting drinking Schlenkerla Rauchbier in a normal pub is how it should be.

This was a great topic!

The June Session – attempt #1

I was so looking forward to our first Session. This month’s challenge was to blog about a local brewery or brew, perhaps to act as a guide to tourists or visitors to your town. Living in London, we have a great choice of beer brewed within 150 miles, and we could (we excitedly thought) even extend our options further by opting for somewhere near Bailey’s original manor (Somerset).
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Alas, it wasn’t to be. A tough day at work rounded off a stressful week, and before we knew it, we were in a middle-of-the-road pub (Greene King!!) drinking for the sake of drinking. OK, so I’m pretty sure it’s within 150 miles, but I wouldn’t particularly recommend it to tourists.

Still, this led naturally onto a friday night curry, which for us means a bottle of fantastic Lion Stout. I cannot get over how delicious this beer is. The most remarkable thing is the incredibly long and rich aftertaste, although I also find the dark beige head very appealing. It’s 8%, treacley without being sickly, roasted without being overly bitter – it’s dessert and coffee in one sweet decadent glass.

Of course, if you’re a Londoner you can’t get much less local than Sri Lanka…

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Find out about the origins of beer-blogging Friday on Appellation Beer


Link to Gastronomic Fight Club, host of this month’s session.