Tuesday 17 July 2007

Food for Thought

I've been doing a few bits and pieces on beer and food for trade magazine the Publican and the lovely food editor and mate of mine John Porter kindly agreed that I could reproduce them here - I hope they provide some inspiration or at least get the old juices flowing!

Golden Ales
Light and hoppy, best served quite chilled and unfeasibly refreshing - golden ales are my summer drink, they are like liquid sunshine. And because of this they complement summer food beautifully - particularly when it comes to kitsch classics; lemon, honey & mustard drumsticks straight from the BBQ, Coronation chicken and prawn cocktail all go fantastically with these golden glories - but there is also so much more scope for them food-wise than this rather unimmaginative stuff.

I think golden ales are the ideal aperitif - I often like to serve them super-chilled in a champagne glass as their intensely hoppy nature gets the palette going beautifully - especially such hop monsters as the legendary HopBack Summer Lightning or the lesser-known, but equally fabulous, Beowulf Mercian Shine.

Or, if you want to pair them with some exciting food, how about a sumptuous John Dory stuffed with aromatic rosemary, garlic and lime and roasted until the skin is crispy and flesh is flaky and to round off a meal how about knocking up a classic key lime pie? Golden ales with their blaring hops and tingly carbonation will be more than equipped to cope with this lusty finish to a fine meal.

Wheat Beers
My first experience of a wheat beer was when it was served to a sceptical me about 10 years ago with sushi, at the time another first, and I haven't looked back since; so with the summer approaching and, at the time of writing, the England cricket team doing well your attention could turn to al fresco dining and light refreshment in the form of the filtered wheat beers like Sierra Nevada's Crystal Wheat.

The clearer wheat beers can be deliciously refreshing and citrus and to match them I still don't think you can't beat pan-Asian cuisine such as with sushi, sashimi or a vibrant Thai salmon salad with a tongue-tingling sweet/sour/salty/spicy dressing, with crunchy slivers of carrot, beansprouts, sugar snap peas and pea shoots.

But if we're looking at the colder days - such as the recent test at Headingley where I could be found freezing various extremities off - I would opt for the deeper, sweeter, heartier hefe with something like a slow-cooked shoulder of pork in milk.

This Italian favourite - which is flavoured with cinnamon, sage, rosemary, garlic and lemon peel - should be served with the crispiest of saute potatoes and a big helping of curly kale.

The aromatics in the pork will really complement the clove and orange characteristics of most hefes whilst the honest, earthy flavours of the potatoes and kale will dampen the often overwhelmingly sweet bubblegum notes in hefes and stop it from becoming too cloying.

Russian Imperial, English Milk or Irish Dry - stout is truly a marvel of brewing alchemy, its deep ruby depths yielding the most amazing array of flavours and aromas from gentle caramel to gooey molasses.

There is an array of stout-friendly dishes which spring instantly to mind – beef & stout suet pie, deep rich mutton stews and, of course, sausages & colcannon – but I think its unsung partner is Cajun food. Forget your overly creamy draught or canned Guinness and pop a bottle of Original in the fridge and, while you’re getting your marinade ready for those ribs, sacrifice some of your drinking pleasure for the ultimate caramelised crust on your meat when you whack it on the barbecue or griddle pan.

For the chocoholics why not serve Sam Smith’s Imperial Stout with a cardamom-infused 70 per cent cocoa pot and see how it makes the spice in both the beer and the dessert sing. And when it comes to English milk stout, such as Mackeson’s, don’t think of using anything else in your Christmas puds – they will never be as dark or rich.

Best Bitter
My desert island match for best bitter is a simple beef sarnie - I know it's neither exotic, nor glamorous, but it's just so satisfying. Sinking your teeth into a mixture of cold rare beef and fresh granary bread - topped with salty butter and the thinnest layer of strong horseradish - is just one of life's great pleasures.

It's the sumptuous meaty flavour of the beef, the nuttiness of the bread and the spiciness of the horseradish all combining so perfectly with the biscuity aroma of the malt and the aromatic bitterness of the hops. and, the best bit is, the gentle carbonation of the beer cleanses your palate so you can enjoy it all over again - what's not to love?

Monday 16 July 2007

Extremely Interesting

I like Samuel Adams.

I like that the company totally debunks the myth that all American beers are more akin to gnat's piss than anything else.

And I am definitely very enamoured of their 'extreme beers'.

I was judging at an international beer competition the other week and the very last beer of the day was immediately identifiable as a Sam Adams offering - and if you're wondering why I say that it's because, in my experience of beer, no one else is mental enough to brew something that strong!

Called Utopias (I later identified due to its distinctness and by talking about it to fellow anoraks!) it turns out the version I tried was a mere 24% ABV, although they have achieved 25%ABV in 2005.

More akin to an olorosso sherry than anything else it is filled with vanilla, sherry and oak notes and is brewed with five different malts and six different hops.

It is then aged in a blend of scotch, bourbon, port and cognac casks for up to ten months using a pair of proprietary yeast strains developed by the brewery.

Rather entertainingly you will find on the Sam Adams website that it can't be sold in 14 different states in the US - and if it's anything like the Triple Bock they've brewed before (think molasses and Marmite meets Imperial porter) it can't be exported to the UK either because they can't always guarantee the ABV - so do keep a careful eye out for it when you are Stateside and treat this baby with respect!


Wednesday 11 July 2007

Honesty in Politics?!

There's been a lot of noise recently about the Tory Party's new 'beer tax' proposals, which I find interesting in light of the fact that the Government has also already announced a review into pricing in both the on and the off trade.

But what scares me the most is that they are taking advice, as is the European Union, from an organisation that was set up by, and still has tremendously strong links, to the Temperance Movement.

The Institute of Alcohol Studies, which you will hear and see quoted widely, is mainly funded by the Alliance House Foundation - the new name for the UK Temperance Alliance.

Now, before I go any further I'd like to say I've got no problem with the Temperance Movement, their views are perfectly valid and their values are impeccable, they were set up at a time when the UK was descending into chaos due to the consumption of gin and, to a lesser extent, beer.

What I do have a problem with, however, is the Institute of Alcohol Studies being represented as an impartial scientific body - that's just totally disingenuous.

And it's amazing that this is continually the case, not trying to blow my trumpet but I successfully challenged a BBC producer on NewsWatch about presenting the IAS as an impartial body without informing the viewers that they were Temperance Movement funded and yet people still aren't challenging this!

I have no problem with the Government, or prospective Governments, attempting to tackle the drinking issues this country has but let's get real - by taking the advice of a self-interested body we aren't tackling the problem, we are becoming part of someone else's agenda.

Tuesday 3 July 2007

Sad Loss to Beer Writing

Shocked doesn't even begin to describe how I feel after receiving a phone call this morning to say that John White, a fellow committee member of the British Guild of Beer Writers, has passed away.

John was undoubtedly one of my favourite people in the Guild; an unassuming guy with a prodigious knowledge of German and Belgian beers - as well as British brews - he always had a huge smile and a self-deprecating & funny story for me every time we met.

Whether it was telling me how he fell in a river after trying to gamely jump across stepping stones or shouting out in the middle of a full pub 'I saw you in bed the other morning' (which I should caveat with an explanation - what he meant to say is he saw me on TV early one Saturday morning whilst having a lie-in!).

And whilst we all may have gently taken the rip out of him on a regular basis about his worrying attachment to his GPS, we all rang him when we wanted to know where a decent pub might be - no matter how far flung the location.

He was clearly a very happy man and his devotion to wife, Joyce, was absolutely unquestionable with never a conversation going by without John mentioning her name at least five times with enormous amounts of affection.

But for me, the most admirable part of John's character was how open he was with his amassed knowledge. To John the things he had learnt on his journeys were not to be hoarded like a miser but to be shared with everyone - whether it was via a phone call or by visiting his website http://www.whitebeertravels.co.uk/

I'll miss you John and so will the beer and brewing community.