A Saturday afternoon in Devizes many years ago and a mate stood outside the closed gates of Wadworth’s brewery and shouted. He was outside and wanted to get inside. Drink had been taken that day and my mate was notorious for his inability to withstand the rigours of a Saturday afternoon session (once when we decided that an afternoon in Wetherspoons was preferable to standing in the rain at Highbury I went to the toilet leaving a perfectly sensible if inebriated man and came out a few minutes later to find him arms and head on the table snoring soundly). There were three of us and we moved on as you do. A flitter of remembrance from that Withnail-like afternoon briefly disturbed the otherwise smooth concourse of my thoughts the other week as I sat in attendance at the Bath Priory Hotel, this time in the company of several journalists and folk from Wadworth’s, plus the hotel’s head chef Sam Moody coming and going with each course. The occasion was the launch of Wadworth’s new range of bottled beers that have been specifically brewed to be drunk at the table, hence the Beer Kitchen name.
When I think of Wadworth it’s always 6X that springs to mind — out there always, riding the highways of free house and pub company, on the bar counter, ubiquitous, like Pedigree or London Pride. I’ve always enjoyed it, but I also enjoyed Henry’s IPA in and around Devizes and Old Timer when I could find it (back in 2005 the then head brewer Trevor Holmes told me that they occasionally put this beer into whisky barrels). I presume that 6X for those elite drinkers who rarely drink the same thing twice is a sort of OXO cube of suburban sterility that is to be avoided at all costs (or drank surreptitiously just in case their mates find out). Beer Kitchen is something different, being a selection of bottled beers (filtered and lightly pasteurized) produced on the brewery’s micro-plant, kit that originally came from a brewpub called the Farmers Arms.
Here are the five beers we were presented with: Wheat Beer, IPA, Orange Peel, Barrel Aged Strong Bitter and Espresso Stout.
The wheat beer was first, served as an aperitif alongside a goat’s cheese canape. The nose had a light ripe banana note that immediately anchored it into the Bavarian tradition. On the palate it was sprightly, go lightly, offering a hint of apple and an element of Riesling like fruitiness. With the canape it was marvellous, wrapping its arms around it — friendly, engaging — and lifting the flavour to a higher plane. We also had it with the first course, a crab mayonnaise with tomato jelly. Again this worked with the beer lifting up the accompanying tomato jelly and emphasising a pesto note in the mayo I’d not felt at first, a terrier rooting around in the undergrowth having caught a sniff of a downed pheasant that everyone else had missed. Scoffed fast, it was.
Then it’s Moody again, young and bounding in, and telling the ensemble that one of his favourite matches is IPA and chilli crisps. And that’s what we had, an IPA that is — is this Wadworth’s first attempt? No crisps, but on the plate tempura chilli squid. Taken on its own, cheerfully and considerate, I found that the beer had an earthy, orangey, mandarin nose, plus a grassiness that took me back to an early memory of primary school when the grass was cut prior to a football match and we all had grass fights and I got in trouble cause I grabbed a lad and put it down his back. Bitterness took a bow on the palate along with a decent mash up of generic spiciness, which helped to scoop up the chill; the sweetness of the seafood along with the spices were lifted by the beer, which didn’t douse the chilli but kept it within a gorgeous parabola of flavour: orange/satsuma/fieriness/bittersweetness and even a hint of macadamia nuts made this a very satisfying match.
So far so good, as it continued with the Orange Peel Beer, which yes has orange peel in it. It easily slipped into character with roast duck and orange puree, and while I thought the idea of orange and orange might turn everyone tango it did seem to work. Maybe it was the beer’s earthy marmalade oranginess providing a contrast with a more delicate orange, a bit like Laurel and Hardy — both humans but different shapes.
It didn’t all work, the Whisky Barrel Aged Bitter I thought was a work that still continued to be in progress — it was served with Montgomery Cheddar and Barkham Blue. The latter has a complexion and texture with an accompanying saltiness that was sensational on its own. Maybe given some time ripening away in a cool store the beer will be able to weave its magic in a more accomplished way (for time solves all problems).
Finally there was the pudding, Dark Chocolate Mousse and cherry compote. Served on a piece of slate — wish I’d known this was going to happen as we’ve got loads of slates down in the garden and I could have bought a few. This was a creamy mocha espresso brood of a beer, embracing and heartily slapping the creamy chocolate notes of the pudding on the back with the sweet cherry contrasting with the bitterness of the coffee beans and the earthiness of hop notes. It was a mouthful of darkness and I wasn’t frightened. There were also blackcurrant notes and a reminder of toffee infused with blackcurrant juice, chewy, luscious, kirsch like mixture at times; toast like even with blackcurrant and toffee and jam. A great match. You might like to try it sometime.
|Chef Sam Moody|