We did our very first official beer launch last night at the White Horse in Parsons Green. The legendary Yorkshire chef, Brian Turner was really keen to work with us and develop a range of beers that work well with food, especially that brilliant British classic, the pie. Brian actually only had his first taste of alcohol at 26 and has been a wonderful supporter of wine and food over his career as a chef. He told us all a story about how his father was a great lover of cask ale. He would go into the pub with the Turner clan, get a pint poured and wait until it was ready, order all of the drinks for the family (whilst drinking his pint) then right at the end order himself another pint… bloody good system I reckon! Brian is on a bit of a journey of discovery with cask ale, hence his keenness to get into the world of beer and food matching.
The pies themselves were awesome! We had two on offer, a succulent Steak and Mushroom and a ridiculously tender Steak and Thornbridge Ale number, perfectly crafted by Dunkleys and a hit with the chefs that turned up. Antonio Carluccio of the legendary Neal Street restaurant and Master of the Fungus was really impressed by the pies and didn’t mind the beer either! I’m also pretty sure Ainsley Harriot walked away with a couple for the trek home as well!
As per usual, it all comes down to ingredients. Although usually frowned upon in these days of nutritive awareness, the pastry for the pies was made with good old lard. Both my and Cat’s grandparents grew up on lard (or dripping) on bread and if you’ve ever tasted it, you’ll know how good it is. In fact, I’ve even read here and there that lard has less cholesterol and saturated fat than butter. Shock, horror! I’m sure the nutritionists of the world will tell you it is all bad, but then again, I’ve been reading a book called Bad Science by Ben Goldacre (which you should all read) and my pessimism with the world of science reporting in the media has grown exponentially!
The beer in question is Brian Turner Amber Ale at 4.2%. This beer has been in a constant state of flux since we first started developing it and has gone through a series of hop and malt combinations until I think we have it just about right. As a brewer, I suppose it’s a good idea to mention how most beers that come out are a work in progress. A beer begins with a concept inspired by a number of things: a beer that we have tasted, a strange beery dream, an ingredient we have found and love, an intuitive flavour experiment or some random combination of the above!
We have released this beer under different guises over the last 6 months and kept tweaking as we’ve gone with the beer being based on good ol’ Maris Otter pale ale malt, a ridiculously generous helping of Vienna malt and the wonderfully nutty and slightly coffee-esque Amber malt. We didn’t want to do a standard pale ale dominated by hop characters. It was more about developing a beer that would work well with a few different types of food, generally nice hearty winter dishes.
I think that can be a bit of a problem with Thornbridge. Some people tend to expect all of our beers to be jam-packed with loads of hop notes, yet sometimes it’s great fun for us to play around with drinkable, balanced beers that highlight both malt and hop characters. That’s what Amber Ale is about. Earlier in the year we visited Charles Faram, our fantastic hop supplier and we nosed a brilliant English hop called Bramling Cross. The best sample of this came from an esteemed hop grower by the name of Tony Redsall (you can listen to him on the BBC here) and we earmarked this as a hop we wanted to use. We made use of it in a beer named Hopton, then a beer for the Wetherspoons Real Ale festival called Pioneer and finally it became part of Brian’s first beer.
The hop itself is wonderfully fragrant. It has hints of citrus, more English than American (even though Bramling Cross is a relatively new English variety, established in the 1920s as a cross with a Manitoban wild hop) as well as berries and generally gives the beer a nice, soft fruity character. Most people speak about Bramling Cross giving a blackcurrant or ribes aroma to beer, though in the last three years, I have yet to pick this up in the samples I have nosed.
So we had a hop to showcase, yet we were also thinking about a food match. Vienna malt helps to give a bit of sweetness and a hint of biscuit to the beer. Couple that with Amber malt (we originally played around with different Crystal malts in the Hopton and Pioneer) and it gives hints of toasted rye and digestive biscuit as well as a wonderful dry character. It is this dryness that I really like. It helps to pick up the bitter finish and cleanse the mouth and it is this that makes it match so well with the pie. The subtle malty characters blend perfectly with the hint of glaze on the pie lid, push through and swirl together with the velvety gravy and then on the swallow, you get a wonderful and simple cleansing of the palate. The beer itself is good as a pint. Every swallow left my mouth tingling with a pleasant bitterness, warming ever so slightly and the dryness made the next sip inviting.
I was happy and so were these guys!