Chop chop chop. Sizzle, thresh, rip, roar and panic as the mixture of flour, butter and beer becomes a dough to be laid like a fallen comrade in a tin that will take it to the next level through the medium of heat. We shall remember you forevermore. Chop chop chop, sprinkle, spread, add, stir, splay; chillies, onions, garlic, herbs and currants if you so wish find themselves being tipped over the edge into the series of open coffin-like tins on the shining stainless steel plain of a table. We’re making beer bread.
And so, evidence as if a crime had taken place, bottles of beer stand around like hoodies on the corner, uncertain of what role in life, what path in life, they should take. Empty vessels, others half full or half empty as the mood takes one. Names: Olde Timer, 6X, Swordfish.
Yes, this is Wadworth, a brewery visit no less, with a difference though, the cookery school to be exact, which has the feel of an engine room on a ship as the heat from the ovens clings to the skin with the patience of a sunbeam and the throbbing sound of the air-con adds a deep bass note to the ambience. Yes, a brewery visit, but instead of gathering around the mash tun and asking questions on strike temperature we undergo a physical, 3-D, real-life essay in the making of lunch, under the tutelage of Scott Ferguson, the brewery’s catering development manager.
Stainless steel, chef’s whites, the clan gather of sweat on the brow, what shall we eat today? As well as the bread, there’s rhubarb and raspberry crumble (to which I add Olde Timer, old school strong bitter, a beer that I always enjoy); the macho mash of sausage meat, herbs and garlic along with debris from a downed black pudding, the prism through which we shall see a hefty, spicy, rumbustious, rollicking medieval knight of a sausage roll (I added 6x to the mix); finally, some delicacy, beer batter (Old Henry IPA), in which strips of sole were ducked before their immersion in hot oil.
And then it was lunch. The sausage roll was like a great big spicy mother of a machine gun hammering away, while the sole goujons in their slightly sweet batter were light-footed fauns dancing through a green forest, a contrast of crunchiness and the giving texture of the new potato accompaniment. Oh and the brewery’s recent addition to the keg stout front — Corvus — was a dreamy creamy, bitter, mocha dusted, slightly roasted glass of dark goodness,
Then there is a book. Ferguson and Wadworth published A Taste of Wadworthshire last year, and, I must admit, having tried out several recipes on this heated, Hussar-light morning of fun, it is rather good and can be bought from the visitor centre — next on the list fruity coronation chicken on beer bread (how apt given the weekend ahead of us) or maybe beer and rum ice cream with chocolate chips? It’s not a big book, but it’s got good photos, robust dishes and a nice feel to it. I’ve got plenty of cookbooks, beer or otherwise, but this is one I will be using. I don’t want to always eat tagine, Szechuan cuisine or whatever some geeky geezer with a blowtorch, tube of Smarties and pheasant feathers has dreamt up.
I got the feeling that this was a real attempt to introduce food and beer in an honest way (like their Beer Kitchen range), a way that I don’t always recognise elsewhere when TV chefs or wandering minstrels with silly names go all beer cooking on us cause there’s either a sponsor or some advertising sandal wearer has said beer is the cook thing that month. You might not like 6x and think the Wadworthshire ad tag a bit Ambridge, but beer needs the old school guys as much as it needs the tyros and tyrants of taste.
The next challenge? This will be for Ferguson and Wadworth to get this idea of beer cuisine out to their pubs, a idea that becomes as natural as the use of salt and pepper. Licensees of all schools have for too long adhered to the Führerprinzip nature of thinking that wine is the only gain in town. It isn’t.