Monday 29 November 2010

Gose Immer Leipzig

Burnished copper vessels (stainless steel inside), bags of Weyermann malt jostling to be hoisted, the low susurration of voices, the sharp chink and high scrape of knife on plate, the satisfaction of a beer well drained. Another day, another brewpub. This time it’s Bayerischer Bahnhof in Leipzig, home of that most elusive of German beers: Leipziger Gose. Top-fermented, salt and coriander added plus lactic acid, making for a tart and appetising sourness, this is yet another German beer the Purity Law forgot, a native beer of Leipzig, which nearly died out in the 1960s. ‘Do you want a drink?’ Yes please. Brewmaster Matthias Richter hands me a tall 500ml glass filled with a pale yellow cloudy beer. ‘This is our Gose,’ he says. I’ve waited a long time for this, ever since reading about it in one of Michael Jackson’s books. Here goes — and I remember the hotel manager’s question when I said I was looking for Gose, ‘you will drink it on its own?’ Said with an evident bemusement. Of course I will and I’m glad I am. On the nose: a flurry of salty, delicately spicy, fresh ozone-like notes; the palate is spicy and delicately salty, with the latter condiment seemingly adding to the body of the mouthfeel (there’s a tingle of salt but it’s out there on the edge of the known universe of taste); a lemon flavoured boiled sweet character also takes a bow. The end contains more boiled lemon sweetness, alongside a saltiness and spice of coriander. It is damned refreshing and is one of those glasses of beer at which you cannot but help make eyes and ask: ‘where have you been all my life?’ Richter also makes a robust and bittersweet Pils, plus a doppel porter and a Dunkel, while a further project of his involved a glass of Berliner Weiss into which Brett has been added. This had an earthy barnyard nose while bananas hovered in the background — it was a great Mexican standoff between sweetness and sourness. The doppel porter was a revelation though — think Schwarzbier, porter and Dunkel all rolled into one big creamy, chocolaty, orangey, spirituous glass of goodness. ‘Am I still in Germany?’ I asked. A massive plate of ham hock, cabbage and dumplings assured me that yes I was. And I was glad.

The next night saw me at Gosenschenke ohne Bedenken, which until the arrival of Bayerischer Bahnhof was the only place where you could drink Gose. It was here that the words of the hotel manager managed to come back and haunt me, but that, as they say, is a story for another time. 

Saturday 27 November 2010

Beerwriters’ din-dins and awards

The annual British Guild of Beer Writers awards and associated slap-up feast was held on Thursday night, featuring a wonderful pairing of beer and south Indian food, prepared by Sriram Aylur, the Michelin-starred chef at Quilon in London. Simon Jenkins was crowned Beer Writer of the Year, an excellent choice whose work can be read here, while other beneficaries included Brewers’ Guardian editor Larry Nelson, Mark Dredge and the ever chirpy Zak Avery. Oh and I won a silver in the Best Journalism in National Publications category (an award which I have won three times now); if you’re interested here are several links to the work I submitted — my DT piece on beer, an All About Beer piece on Brit craft lager (plus recommended beers here) and a review of the Sheffield Tap. The rest of the awards can be seen on Pete Brown’s blog. And if the food and pairings below whet your appetite (they were matched by Messers Brown and Avery) then don’t forget to put your name down for next year’s do when it’s announced, it sold out rather quickly this year.

British Guild of Beer Writers Menu 2010
Popadums with coriander chutney
to drink...
Jever Pilsener
Hailing from Friesland in Northern Germany, Jever is a wonderfully dry and bitter pilsner-style beer. These characteristics make it a perfect aperitif, and its herbal hop character matches well with the condiments accompanying the popadoms

Crab cakes with soya bean chop
Crab claw meat tossed with curry leaves, ginger, and green chillies and cooked on a skillet - served with minced spiced soya bean stuffed with fresh mango yoghurt
to drink...
Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale
Brewed in Chicago, 312 is a lightly-hopped wheat beer. Delicacy is often a euphemism for blandness but here the lightness of touch in the beer helps lift and expand the spicing in the food, which in turn brings the beer to life

Black cod with Quilon salad
A subtly spiced baked cod served with Quilon Salad – the chef’s creation of mixed greens with pink grapefruit, patty pan dressed in lavender and kokum infusion
to drink…
Chimay Red
This Trappist ale may seem an unlikely pairing for baked fish, but there is something about the soft, berryish sweetness in the beer that marries well with the subtle spicing of the fish. A Belgian classic, repositioned by contemporary pairing

Lamb biryani with spinach porial
Lamb cooked with traditional malabar spices in a sealed pot, with basmati rice served with pachadi and a lamb sauce. Accompanied by a spinach porial of shredded fresh spinach cooked with mustard seeds, whole red chillies and freshly grated coconut
to drink...
Badger Blandford Fly 
Dorset may seem like an unlikely source for a beer to pair with lamb biryani, but the forthright ginger character of the beer, coupled with its slight sweetness, is a great foil for the richness and gentle heat of the biryani

A Goan speciality served warm with vanilla ice cream
to finish...
Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout  
People are always taken aback by the intense, espresso-like appearance of this imperial stout, but for all its bluster, it’s a perfect dessert beer. A soft sweetness is balanced by a long bitter chocolate, mocha and vanilla finish

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Euston Tap

Where’s the Tap keened we three? Lost at the front of Euston and looking for a way across the bus line, as keenly defended as the goal in front of Petr Cech (until last Sunday — heh heh), then we found it. A blockhouse in front of which stretched a banner for Bernard provided the answer — and on our way we were. Spatially the Euston Tap is the Rake twice two, expanded into the air. Two floors of keenly fought over London space where craft beer (yes craft beer) can be consumed and enjoyed, whatever the consequences of the medievally inspired how-many-angels-can-you-get-on-pinheads debate over dispensation that has roused such passions recently. A specially made metal (copper?) underback, bristling with taps the like of which I last saw in the US, looms over the bar; resorting to cliché I believe it’s great theatre. Several businessmen and an indie fan and his girl walk in and scrutinise the taps — and then order: a Wild Swan for her and a Saranac Black Forest for him. The ceiling is high, while a massive spiral staircase takes the drinker away from the compact bar to the second floor; it’s a magnificent concept, in an unlikely but welcome position offering great beers — I had a Bernard unfiltered, which was then followed by a Mahrs’ Pilsner (bitter lemon without the sweetness of the soft drink), while the Matuska IPA called out its siren song, but I had to leave for a train. It was a rush to get there after a Budvar event at the Draft House at London Bridge (great place, great beer, need to get there again soon), but I was glad I made the effort. London has just gained another stellar place in which you can drink great beer.  

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Badger beer but no badger hams on the menu at River Cottage

Chop. Chop. Tear. Pull. Chop.
Glass of beer, quick swig, wipe of brow. 
Chop. Tear of skin, peep of flesh, smell of gut. Swig of beer. 
I do like pheasant. Especially when I’ve got a set of kitchen implements that cost more than the car outside our house. 
Chop, wipe, swig — we’re in a kitchen at River Cottage, stations piled with gleaming kit, various (carnivore-eating) journalists seeing their first ever dead animal, and the freedom to cook with beer. Badger idea. Good one at that.
But first, back to the night before, a cosy meal at the River Cottage, the cottage industry set up within spitting distance of Lyme Regis by Hugh Whatisname. Swig of beer, Stinger it is, minty grassy aroma, earthy in that it makes you think of the land, good impressions, hard to pin down, bit like the stink of the farmyard that manifests itself in a good red Burgundy, elemental, herbal and fresh. 
Food. Try this with the Stinger we’re asked. Ham rarebit or maybe hot smoked pheasant breast. Carrot and cumin hummus with which the Stinger seems to act as if it were champagne, scrubbing the palate clean of the creaminess of the hummus, before letting the flavours of carrot and cumin come through.
 Sit down, ladies and gentlemen. Another glass. Golden Champion. Sweet elderflower notes grabbing a slice of smoked pollock and taking it for a twirl around the electric ballroom of the mouth. Sound of heavy boots on the polished floor as the smokiness of the fish thumped and trumped its way through the delicate sweetness of the beer. A pass but only just. 
Then there’s deer on the plate: roast loin of venison, slow roast shoulder made into faggots, fallow I’m told — knock knock who’s there, why it’s the Poacher’s Choice, Badger’s strongest beer. A riot of health shop liquorice and a groan of roasted grains and sweetish stone fruit: it lifts the slow roast shoulder and exhibits a JS Bach-like moment of counterpoint, sweetness of the beer against the meaty saltiness, well-toasted toastiness just shy of being burnt in league with the deep, dark urgency of the liquorice. 
Meanwhile we’ve a glass of Pickled Partridge alongside, shoulder to shoulder, a band of two bottled brothers, this beer, not so sweet, currant cake fruitiness, acts as a chaperone for the venison as it disappears down the throat. 
Then pudding. Not for me, but all around, sticky toffee pudding alongside Blandford Fly; as they might have said in Friends if it had been about a gang of bottled beers hanging about instead of irritating thirtysomethings: the ginger one. I’m told it took a peek beneath the skirts of the toffee coating. 
Next morning it’s back to River Cottage. Kitchen. Pheasants. Stations. Chef’s briefing. A haunch hanging up. Provenance. Prepping. Chop. Evisceration. Spill a handful of herbs and vegetables into the stock of pheasant, mallard legs, venison and salted belly pork. Guys, we are told, you will chose a beer and then prepare and cook your lunch. 
Away we go, Exmoor Jane and I, a bottle of Poacher’s Choice. Reason. The making of rowanberry jelly each summer gives us the making of a sense of being close to the land. Sweetness, hence Poacher’s Choice. And by golly it works. 
Elsewhere BWOTY Pete Brown is adding spices to his stew, and the beardless Melissa Cole is deep frying parsley. No matter, oh and we all make a fruit cake, ours with Badger’s cider. Rather nice, all those currants, sultanas and cinnamon. 
And then it’s food. Eat, drink, eat, drink. Merry.
Badger move into a new brewery soon and there are signs that they might be looking at having a bit of fun with some limited edition beers. Dark and strong, more hops, I said, oh yes, but and then I said Brett? Hey this is England, yon fool I told myself.
Oh and I once interviewed a man who ate badger before it was placed on the proscribed list in the 1960s. What was it like I asked? A bit like pig, though stronger in flavour he replied. And being from Bridgwater, no doubt he had a glass of Starkey Knight & Ford to wash it down his gullet.

Monday 15 November 2010

Lager of the week — Charlie, Fred & Ken’s 30th anniversary Imperial Helles Bock

Those who dislike the American penchant for ramping up beers to imperial strength can look away now. In the post courtesy of Vertical Drinks comes this Imperial Helles Bock, which has been produced by Sierra Nevada in conjunction with Fred Eckhardt and Charlie Papazian. It’s a sort of tribute to their work in advocating and writing about beer in the past three decades (there are a couple of other beers produced including a barley wine in which US craft brewing pioneer Jack McAuliffe has had a hand). It’s presented in a big 750ml bottle and is therefore ideal for sharing with your invisible friend who doesn’t like beer, so there’s more for you. Let’s take a drop. It’s the colour of Golden Syrup and has a rich, fat, bitter and alcoholic nose, all perfectly in balance as if they were figures doing their Tai-Chi in a Saturday afternoon park; I’m also put in mind of lychees if steeped in alcohol, while the petrol like nose reminds me of a Riesling. And just when I think I have got the nose to a tee along comes the scent of honeyed dates. These notes return on the palate, making me initially think of a Sauternes-like beer, a dessert beer — yet that’s too easy. It has a lazy Sunday afternoon, sitting in a hammock ease about it one moment and then a complex dissertation on the human condition with Joyce in mind next. My mind keeps working on it —a golden bock with a fistful of hops here, big blast of grapefruit there, oh and there’s a real gorgeous pungent hop character as well. It’s a luxury Helles, but it’s also pungent and dirty, robust and rollicking in its ride across the tongue; clean it is not. I like the idea of imperial Pilsners/Helles in the same way that I liked the way Joy Division ramped up the Doors. Why not fuss about with a beer, what works works, what doesn’t doesn’t (Doug Odell told me in an email the other day about the Wild Pils he tried to make — it didn’t work). So is it a style? Of course not, it’s a variation on a theme, a riff on a note, a symphonic dance and if you want to be basic, a pretty fine beer. 

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Ooh look, a competition to win a book

Don’t do competitions, am not the sort of person who wins anything (though I did win £50 worth of books in a Time Out Short Story Writing comp back in 1987 and I think my daffodils got a commendation one St David’s Day in school), but on the other hand I quite like the idea of hosting a competition. Which is where Doug Rouxel and Sara Paston-Williams’ gorgeous looking book Home Brew (Pavilion) comes in — a copy of it landed on my desk (well was delivered to the front door) last week and I was pretty much impressed with it. It’s a very handsome and stylish looking book that has loads of recipes for beer, cider, wines and even cordials — great photos, clear design, hardback cover and recipes for your own saison, chocolate stout, modern mild and so on. I’ve got a copy going spare if you would like it — all you have to do is email me with the correct answer to the following question and the first correct one I get then the book is yours. Who was the British Home Secretary when restrictions on home brewing were lifted in the UK in 1963? Oh and you’ll find my email address on Good luck.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

Lager of the week — Schloss Eggenberg Hopfen König

Austrian brewery Schloss Eggenberg is better known for Samischlaus, that Bad Santa of a beer that the brewery started producing after Hürlimann gave up the ghost on it. It’s a lovely fiery drop, which at 14% is not something on health and safety grounds I would leave out on Christmas Eve (after all you don’t want to be responsible for Santacide as Tim Allen was in The Santa Clause do you?). I picked up a bottle of the brewery’s Hopfen König recently, and this is much more manageable at 5.1%. Pale gold in colour, it’s got a mineral iron sweetness on the nose (rather a delectable combo) with some stern bitter-lemon (minus the sweetness) in the background. Soft and bitter and dry in stages, I found it an attractively bitter Pils, very German in its tightness of flavour as opposed to what I often think is the expansive character of a Světlý Ležák. It’s rather delicious as an aperitif or handsome with a piece of grilled haddock that hasn’t been lying around on the supermarket counter for too long (the haddock in its pre-grilled state of course). And all this reminds me that I should get in some Samischlaus for Christmas (now that James is 12 there’s none of that note by the fireplace nonsense anymore).

Monday 8 November 2010

Thornbridge — at the beginning

In the spirit of the farewell-to-Kelly mass blog postings I thought I would reprint this — it’s my impressions of Thornbridge when I first went there in 2005; this was used in The Big Book of Beer (CAMRA), as part of a spread of breweries in scenic locations — the brewery was already starting to think beyond a pint of the normal. As for Kelly, he’s one of the good guys, great brewer and — and from my point of view — always ready with an articulate quote (I got a few on Friday for a Pilsner piece I’m currently researching); I remember him doing an excellent talk on continuous fermentation at the Guild’s Lager seminar at Thornbridge a couple of years ago (I suspect his past as a teacher came in handy). Never seen him do the haka though…
Thornbridge Brewery, Ashford in the Water, Derbyshire A trip to Thornbridge Brewery, based at Thornbridge Hall in the village of Ashford in the Water, is as much a visit to the land of Homes & Gardens, as it is to see and taste the fruits of John Barleycorn. The Hall boasts sweeping staircases, high-ceilinged rooms, gorgeous views over ornate gardens and windows by William Morris and Edward Byrne-Jones. It also houses a new 10-barrel brewery which has been set up by local businessman Jim Harrison (who owns the house with wife and entrepreneur Emma), along with Dave Wickett, the owner of the Fat Cat pub and its adjoining Kelham Island Brewery in Sheffield. Initially used to brew Kelham Island ales to cope with increased orders after Pale Rider’s championship title at Olympia 2005, the brewery is now producing Thornbridge’s own brews including Craven Silk, an aromatic, rich and fruity session bitter whose palate is enlivened by the addition of elderflower into the mix. The elderflower is part of Jim’s brewing plans as he hopes to use other herbs, flowers and fruits from the estate to create Thornbridge’s special beers.

Friday 5 November 2010

Bar staff rubbish, parts 1 & 2

In a Fuller’s bar I see that the guest beer is Red Fox and order a pint while making general chitchat about London Porter and asking when it’s the turn of said beer to be the seasonal choice. I’m told it’s in bottle, to which I reply that I know, but when it’s on hand pump (or even better in my view on keg). I don’t know comes the reply from the nice enough guy, I don’t know my ale; I like beer the right way, cold. Said with a smile and I bat back some niceties with a smile, rictus like, while thinking that it doesn’t matter what you like matey, but when you’re working a bit of information might be in hand. Then I’m in a Welsh food festival and I’m in the beer tent — try this beer I’m told, it’s all Cascade. Nice. And then there’s another that’s also got the same hop grist, but it’s totally different I’m told. I do as bidden and the second beer has a green apple note, acetaldehyde — crisp green apples lying in the supermarket, lying in wait at the front of my palate. A youngness of beer. I take it back, look about because I don’t like to declare to all and sundry my problem with a beer — I think this might have a fault I say, quietly and carefully, green apple, don’t you know. It’s meant to be like that comes the reply, have you been eating something, said with a calmness and friendliness. A couple more words said, but I don’t want to make a scene, maybe I’m wrong, and so I walk away and try the beer again. No good, I leave it on the table and order another brewer’s beer, which is magnificent. Interesting point —I don’t make a fuss because I respect the brewery but I wonder if I’m being a wuss, but it definitely had a green apple hint upfront of the palate, which I didn’t find enjoyable. You win some you lose some. 

Thursday 4 November 2010

I finally get Butcombe Bitter

I never used to get Butcombe Bitter. From my early days living in Somerset from 1994 onwards I never got it. It was ok was the best I could say. So what was the problem? I don’t really know. It was brown, bitter in an old fashioned sense and malty in an equally arcane way, everything in balance; it was said to be ferociously hoppy (in the same way Holt’s Bitter was), but all I did was sit there waiting for a leonine-like hoppy bite that never came.

You know how you get dead set against a beer, find it bland and that’s the end of it? That was me, for whom the 1990s was all about Adnams Extra, Taylor’s Landlord, ESB plus West Country beers such as Archers Gold, Norman’s Conquest and at one stage anything from the short-lived Bridgwater Brewery. I changed my stance a bit on a visit to the brewery in 1999 or 2000 and enjoyed it at the source, but was far more excited when they produced Butcombe Gold and Blonde (the brewery’s founder Simon Whitmore was famous for sticking to one brand from the brewery’s start in 1978 to the late 1990s, though there was the brief appearance of a beer called Wilmott’s — stop sniggering at the back there! — in 1997).

Well (as you can guess from the title of the post) I have finally got Butcombe Bitter. A glass or two of it in the Ring O’Bells, a Butcombe owned pub (they have 17) in the Mendips village of Compton Martin saw my palate ring and sing with its crisp, cracker-like character exchanging joyous high fives with an over-arching, invigorating punch of bitterness and dryness; with a stupefied smile I kept returning to the glass to take another sip. The finish was Sahara dry with a crisp biscuity, cracker-like character clucked over by delicate citrus notes.

This is old school bitter at its best, but what I find equally fascinating is the loyalty the beer (always beer for me, never brand) commands in its home territory around Bristol, Bath and the Mendips (and further afield) — yes this is beer country but it’s also ciderland with Thatchers at the top of the pile. According to Butcombe’s owner Guy Newell, with whom I was enjoying this beer at the Ring O’Bells, ‘Butcombe founder Simon Whitmore learnt a lot from his time at Guinness about customer brand loyalty, which is why he stuck with one brand for years. It’s got a loyal customer base and is the best-selling beer in all our houses.’ The brewery has also brought out a 4.5% bottled version of its Bitter, bottled for them by Fuller’s (the launch of the beer was the reason several of us were sitting in the pub).

Obviously it’s not the same and I prefer it in cask, but the fact that they have taken 32 years to bottle it is intriguing and a tribute to both Whitmore and his successors’ patience. It’s even more striking when you consider that in the past 15 years one of the first things a new cask beer brewery does is get their beer bottled (all too often bottle-conditioned much to the beer’s detriment). Another intriguing thing is about Butcome is this beer loyalty thing. Over the years I have spent in service at the easy side of the bar, I have noticed loads of men (yes it’s usually men) who stick night after night to their pint of Ordinary, Best, Ale through thick and thin. Brewers ignore the I-know-what-I-like crowd at their peril, for at the end of the day brewing is a business (and I’m sure that there are people out there who will only drink Jaipur or Punk IPA).

And one last thing about Butcombe — for the past few years they have produced a kegged and cooler version of their blonde (only for summer sadly), a beer that is actually rather delicious. It’s a ‘bridge’ beer (rather than Trojan Horse) I’m told, for younger drinkers, a recognition that for a cask beer brewery to progress there are times when they might have to try other modes of dispensation, especially if, like Butcombe they have an estate. Which brings me to one last point about Butcombe: unlikely as it might seem this unassuming brewery quietly producing beer in the foothills of the Mendips has been at the vanguard of the coming keg revolution. Get it?