Monday 30 April 2007

Feeling Fruity?

It would seem the description of Timmermans Peche in my Rake's Progress post got lots of people's juices flowing and I've been asked for more advice on fruit beers, so here goes.

Fruit beers fall broadly into two categories: those that are lambic-based and those that aren't. This divide also allows me to explain the term lambic, which was another question someone asked me - see, there is a pinch of thought behind this blogging business, I promise you.

The lambic style of brewing is just plain weird - seriously, when you first hear about it you check the calendar to make sure it's not an April Fool - because it's basically done by magic.

All right, maybe not magic but you can understand how, historically, people thought it was. Basically there are areas all over the world where natural wild yeast flourishes (no one is exactly sure why though) and if you leave the basic beer porridge out in the open it will spontaneously ferment and, hey presto, beer appears!

The thing is, it produces pretty sour beer (which I like but then I liked those super sour jaw breakers and cola bottles when I was kid too) but it makes it the ideal base to be sweetened up with fruit.

Great examples of this style are the Lindeman's fruit beers, which I personally prefer over the BelleVue.

Other fruit beers outside the lambic category range from the Yorkshire offering of Sam Smith's Organic Cherry Beer and bizarre Belgians - which include the smoothie-esque Fruli and super-sweet Floris Passion, Apple or Fraise.

Personally I like Liefman's as they aren't too sweet - the Kriek (cherry) version is perfect with venison carpaccio, dark chocolate desserts or even with pork. The Frambozen (raspberry) is definitely more a dessert beast, but also goes quite well with duck in port sauce as it cuts through the unctuous nature of the meat. You can get both these beers in most big supermarkets or your local off licence.

The Sam Smith's Cherry Beer is an honest to goodness cherry pop - you wouldn't have the first clue that it was alcoholic but, don't be fooled, it weighs in at 5.2% and can put you on your bum if you disrespect it!

Fruli, at 4.1%, is a wheat beer with a massive amount of strawberry puree in it, in fact so much that it's unrecognisable as a beer and tastes more like a smoothie - perfect for non-beer drinkers really.

The Floris beers are flavoured with syrups, which comes through in the quite sugary mouthfeel and, to my mind, slightly chemical flavour but they do have a huge following none the less.

So, hopefully, this brief romp through the more commonly available beers will inspire you next time you're feeling fruity!

Friday 27 April 2007

Rake's Progress

I thought my first beery post should be about some dear friends of mine and their amazing bar, - The Rake in Borough Market. But before you think this is all a bit nepotistic I'd like to point out that readers of the Observer agree with me too and have just voted it the second best bar in the country.

If you've never been to Borough Market and you like food then you are seriously missing out - stunningly fresh red mullet from Appleby's, Mrs King's pork & stilton pie, Ginger Pig's prune & brandy sausages, Sillfield Farm's wild boar chorizo, samphire from Turnips and Secrett's Farm asparagus are just some of the fantastic purchases I have made recently, all of which have been wolfed down pretty darn quick!

However, I digress - the point of this blog is beer after all!

Now I won't deny there are lots of good beer pubs around Borough but the Rake stands head and shoulders above all of them, with over 130 different bottled beers in the fridges alone.

The lads who own it, the divine Rich & Mike, also run a beer stall on the market, called Utobeer, as well as a wholesale business, which means they can get some unusual and 'unattainable' offerings like Thomas Hardy's Ale in cask!

For those of you who haven't sampled Thomas Hardy's get ready for the taste experience of your life! More akin to a fortified wine like madeira than anything else, this brew is just phenomenal - weighing in at a pokey 11.7% it is absolute packed to the gills with chocolate, tobacco and liquorice flavours and is only offered in third pint measures!

Normally only available in bottles, which are individually numbered, it's brewed by O'Hanlon's in Devon and has a quote from the great man himself on the front:

"It was of the most beautiful colour, that the eye of an artist in beer could desire; full in body, yet brisk as a volcano; piquant yet without a twang; luminous as an autumn sunset."

And when it comes to describing the appearance of this beer I couldn't put it better myself!

But it's not just overly-strong beers these guys stock here there really is something for everyone. If you're not normally a beer fan then give the Mongozo coconut or banana beer a whirl.

Not only can you drink this fairtrade brew with a clear conscience, they are also organic and brewed with the superfood quoina, which apparently is an Incan custom. The coconut one in particular is a real hit with a mate of mine who swore blind he wouldn't drink any beer ever, no argument (that didn't wash with me however), and now he drinks pretty much nothing else! The other bonus is that both these beers are gentle on the strength front with the coconut coming in at just 3.5% and the banana at 4.5%.

There's also normally at least one or two different English ales on draught, which are always slightly on the chilled side which I'm a fan of, as well as a selection of world beers like good old Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Not pale at all but definitely deliciously fruity and spicy - it's 5.6% though so do be careful, it can catch up with you all at once, I speak from experience!

Chouffe's distinctive branding, dodgy garden gnomes, can often be found on the bar along with other Belgian brews like Timmerman's Peach, which is a 4% lambic beer (for lambic read sour) that is surprisingly sweet with strong peach flavours (no surprise there) but also apricot notes, which stop it being too floral, but personally I find one glass more than enough.

If you are feeling like just having a lager the Veltins on draught is good, and in the fridge you may be able to find that gem Brooklyn lager - which I think is divine. Not particularly hard to get now I first tasted Brooklyn lager about four years ago and was as taken then with its darker than average looks and sumptuous caramel tones.

If you happen to fall in love with this place too then please leave my introductory fee (a pint) under the name of Melissa with the staff - they'll know who it is!

14 Winchester Walk, London, SE1 9AG, United Kingdom
Tel: 020 7407 0557
Nearest tube: London Bridge

The Birth of a Beer Blog

The best ideas always arrive once you've had a drink, or so they say, but in this case it's true. So thank you Stephen for the suggestion, and here it is - A Girl's Guide to Beer.

I'm lucky enough to get paid for my beer journalism - I drink beer, I write about it, I get paid - groovy huh? But not enough girls, or guys for that matter, get to experience beer in the same way, which is why I'm hoping to share some of my adventures in brewing with anyone who's interested, and maybe change the minds of those who think they aren't!

Over the course of this blog I hope to be able to make your leisure time more fun - that's it... that's all I want to do.

I say this because for me beer is about enjoyment. It shouldn't be about hard work and lots of poncey terminology (although I can do that if you realllllly want me to) beer should simply enhance your life - whether you are out with friends, relaxing alone, eating a meal or trying to forget a shit day and having a pint, half or bottle should just make all of that simpler, better or nicer.

Some of what you see here will have been published elsewhere and there will be some links to other sites I think are great pubs, restaurants, off licences or resources.

All that's left to say now is - cheers!