Thursday, 1 March 2012

St David’s Day celebrated in beer

As it’s St David’s Day and I’m Welsh I thought I would eat a metaphorical raw leek and throw a casual American-style salute to five current favourite Welsh beers. First up would be Otley O8, a lush bomber of a beer which offers banana and even banoffee notes on the nose, while the character that chimes on the palate is chardonnay-like, fat and plush, though thankfully lacking the soaked oaked character that drenches and drowns the chardonnay of today’s Poundland wine culture. Breakfast grapefruit adds to the zest with a rich, luscious finish that makes me want to join the Men of Harlech in defending Rourke’s Drift. Of course, there’s also Saison Obscura and I really would love to try Odessa, but one mustn’t be greedy. 

Last week I went to a Brains beer and food dinner in London, with a menu devised by Melissa Cole, who also managed to coral three former rugby players (Tom Shanklin, Rob Jones and some English bloke, Jonathan Webb) onto stage for a bit of an after-dinner do. For me the stand-out food and beer match of the evening was Milkwood with a ham hock terrine — the creamy, aromatic beer (which has rye crystal and Golden Naked rolled oats in the mash) wrapped itself around the saltiness of the terrine and acted as a platform levering the flavours to a higher level. However, delicious as it is, my current favourite amongst the Brains oeuvre is their Dark, which always makes me think that Santa’s just fallen down the chimney leaving a cloud of soot everywhere — along with creamy chocolate and coffee beans coated in dustings of milk chocolate; a truly magnificent beer. I do enjoy a few jars of Brains Black as well. Looking forward to see what their micro plant will come up with. 
When I grew up in North Wales, the local beer was Wrexham Lager, which I would have with a dash of lemonade before moving onto Stones Keg (with a dash of lemonade) or even some cocncotion from Ansells (with a dash of lemonade). Now, there seem to be breweries all over the place with four of them within half an hour’s drive of my mum’s place. Purple Moose are resolutely old school, producing a fabulous selection of bitters: strong, golden, best and light.I do like Dark Side of the Moose, but for that favourite beer moment I recall a glass of Glaslyn at the Albion in Conwy (recently reopened with the aid of Conwy, Purple Moose, Great Orme and Nant breweries) — a blast of tropical fruit and resiny hop on the palate underlined by a base of grainy, biscuity malt, while a great bitter finish rolled around the back of the throat, a voice echoing in a cave, where perhaps Arthur and his knights still sleep. 
Great Orme and Conwy make brilliant beers, with Telford Porter and Welsh Black amongst those I would happily spend an evening getting to know, but it’s Mwnci Nell from one of the newer North Walian breweries Bragdy Nant that currently I would place as my rhif pedwar beer. It’s a strong-armed, hefty big hitter of a dark bitter that drinks far too easy for its 5.5% strength (some would call it a porter but I’m not bothered as it is delicious). 
And as I write all this I realise how unfair and childish the whole list thing is, so for the final beer I will just say a couple that I have enjoyed in the last 12 months have been Rhymney Export and Waen Porter House Blue, the latter being a porter/stout hybrid (to my palate but I am not going to split hairs about it) with a slight sweetness at the end thanks to the addition of fresh blueberries, some of which are added to the mash and others at the end of the boil. I thought it fabulous served alongside a chocolate fondant with bucks fizz ice cream, which was part of a beer and food matching dinner Mark Dredge and I did at Kilverts last year. So plenty to think and drink about (and I’ve not started on my favourite Welsh pubs: Bunch of Grapes, City Arms, Penrhyn Arms, Kilverts, Pen-y-Gwryd for starters) — Dydd Dewi Sant hapus i pawb.

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