Now that’s beer and food!

For the past couple of years, Rowley’s Restaurant and Bar in Baslow, Derbyshire has hosted a Thornbridge Brewery evening. Rowley’s is run by Max and Susan Fischer (who run the one Michelin star, Fischer’s, at Baslow Hall) with head chef Rupert Rowley the star of the show. The event is brilliantly run by manager Alistair and is definitely one of those things that I look forward to every year.

The event kicked off with a welcoming reception Jaipur matched with some delicious hot and spicy nuts, a veritable assortment including two of my favourites, pecans and cashews, with the lovely honey sweetness and subtle heat from the snack combining simply with the sweetness and bitterness from the IPA.

From there it was upstairs to the intimate dining room and we were welcomed with a lovely Hopton. I’m always pleased every time I taste this beer. It was brewed as an ode to the Bramling Cross hop. There were a couple of seasons where we couldn’t really get much of this and as brewers we really missed it. When we nosed last seasons hop cones at Charles Faram Hops in Herefordshire, we were blown away by the delicate citrus and wildberry characters… something that Bramling Cross isn’t known for. I’m sure there was a crop many moons ago that was characterised by blackcurrant or ribes characters and from that moment on every brewer that ever used it was convinced that no matter what season or what crop or what batch they came across, it would always have this blackcurrant character.

Not any more! The new crop has even more pronounced citrus characters as I mentioned here and there was quite a lot of variation depending on what farm and in what county it was grown. That’s one (of the many) things I love about brewing, so many variables that are all combined to make a (hopefully) great pint time after time! But, as per usual, I digress.

The Hopton was paired with Scottish Salmon cured in Hops alongside a smear of Apple Puree, some finely julienned apple and some tiny cubes of Hopton Jelly. The cold-smoked salmon, as it does, had that lovely subtley smokey,fishy character and I was impressed how the hop and the biscuity malt (provided by a good amount of Amber malt in the beer) actually stood up to this. It highlighted how important it is to have quite a flavourful beer to muscle it’s way through when pairing with smoked fish. The jelly and apple accompaniment provided a nice textural contrast to the soft salmon and the puree, when used sparingly, also added a layer of sweetness to the dish. Too much puree though and the apple overpowered the flavour of the salmon. It was an interesting start to the meal.

Next up was a ridiculously tender Ox Cheek that had been braised in our Raven IPA and Black Treacle and was accompanied by Colcannon Potatoes and Crispy Bacon. This dish was amazing. The glutinous cheek crumbled away into moist strips when touched by the fork and the creamy, light mash was so smooth in the mouth. This was matched with McConnel’s, our Vanilla Stout and I was really pleased that it was our latest batch. We have just sourced some amazing vanilla pods that are so intense, I can still smell them every time I walk into the Hall Brewery coolstore. The vanilla and berry character of the beer worked well with the sweet beef and the crispy bacon, with it’s slight charred character also brought out lots of roasty characters from the stout. Another good match.

After that came one of the best versions of cheese on toast I’ve ever had. Our Black IPA (or Cascadian Dark Ale, or whatever the hell you want to call this style of beer… it’s dark in colour and smells and tastes like an IPA, so it’s Black IPA for us!), Raven was used to make a moist, slightly dense bread that was toasted and topped with Swaledale Old Peculier cheese. I have since found out that this cheese is soaked in Theakston’s Old Peculier, hence the name I guess (I is smaart). This was served with liberal dosings of Hendersons Relish and we were even treated to a sample of Rowley’s Hendersons Relish puree, a lovely addition. Paired with the Raven, this was another great combo. Pretty much beer and cheese on toast is awesome no matter what! With a big fruity nose, all unripe mango skin and unripe gooseberries and the almost stinging top palate bitterness, this allowed the soft, smooth cheese to reign supreme, it’s fat coating and dissipating the BIGness of the Raven. Then you’d have another sip of the beer and the former cheesy king would be relegated into the underworld and the fantastic combination of American and New Zealand hops would weave their magic on the olfactory bulb and the bitterness receptors. Good stuff.

On an aside, we love Raven, it’s a great juxtaposition of a beer. It might not meet the style guidelines that it’s meant to, it might not be the ideal pint of the nation, but some people love it and that’s what matters to us! Interestingly, Maggie, the lovely lady I was sitting next to at the dinner confessed she’d never really drunk beer and didn’t like it at all. She really enjoyed the Hopton (win!), couldn’t get her head around the McConnel’s (due to the colour) instantly thinking it would be too heavy (loss), but then the Raven came around and I asked her to take part in my little test, got her to close her eyes and have a sip and she loved it (win!). She loved the fruitiness and the big, bold, almost grapefruity bitterness and that definitely put a smile on my face. If only we could get more people to just taste beer!

It was now last course o’clock and we were on to a decadent Frozen Malt Parfait, Bitter Chocolate Sorbet, Hop Crispy Crunch and crazily, Lord Marples “Butter Beer”! The Butter Beer showed off the bitterness of the Marples but was deftly blended into an almost eggnog like drink with hints of nutmeg and  a creamy texture. Served warm this was an interesting contrast to the deliciously sweet parfait. The Hop Crispy Crunch was a sugar and crumbled hop flower affair, essentially a sweet for beer lovers and made the dessert look fantastic with it’s added dash of green.

Check out that Lord Marples Butter Beer!

Finally, it was local chocolatiers, CocoaDance of Castleton with their lovely Jaipur chocolate truffle and a lovely, mild coffee to finish the evening. Alistair came out to tell us the recommended way to eat the chocolate – place it in your mouth, crack open the milk chocolate shell, then let the truffle mixture coat your tongue to allow the Jaipur character to make itself present before phagocytosing (that’s my word, I made it up) the other chocolate with reckless abandonment. I love chocolate 🙂

Another incredibly brilliant night was over and it shows me, yet again, how brilliantly beer and food can work together. I know it has it’s naysayers, but I bet you that none of them were at Rowley’s enjoying what I was enjoying! Already can’t wait until next year!!!

The Totally Awesome New Zealand Craft Brewing Scene Part 2

So I left off in one of the better bars I’ve been to for ages, The Malthouse in Wellington, talking about the joys of the hop-bomb IPAs, Epic Armageddon and 8 Wired HopWired. Brewers Luke Nicholas and Soren Eriksen had proven that they were Hop Magicians but I was ready for something else to tantalise my already tingling tastebuds.

A couple of Moa beers appeared on the table (don’t you love how that happens!) and we cracked them open. Earlier in my trip I’d tried one of Moa’s brews called Weka Lager.

Kind of like the NZ bird of the same name, but wetter and maltier

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t massively impressed by this beer, even though it was well-made. It poured a hazy yellow-brown and had the tiniest hint of vanilla on the nose with a bit of toffee and caramel in the mouth. The bitterness was light, but persistent and there was quite a bit of top-palate dryness, something I recall from the Moa Original that I tried on my last trip home. The Weka was a decent malt-led lager but I just wanted a little more hop, there was the smallest hint of orange there, but it wasn’t the greatest lager I tasted on my trip home.

Saying that though, Moa seem like a pretty cool brewery and are doing some fascinating stuff. The Moa range uses quite a unique process for their bottle refermentation. Usually bottle conditioning results from residual yeast in the bottle fermenting out residual (or added) sugars in the beer, providing natural carbonation. Josh Scott, Moa’s Head Brewer (and a winemaker to boot) does a standard refermentation, but then utilises the technology that is used in Champagne production, freezes the yeast plug (that accumulates in the neck of the bottle when upside down), pops it out, re-caps it then it’s good to go. This means you get all the sensory pleasure that the subtle, smooth natural carbonation gives without the yeast in the bottom of the bottle. How cool is that!

I’d heard that Moa beers were getting better and better, so was super excited that the two beers that had appeared on my table at the Malthouse were Harvest Moa and 5 Hop Barrel Reserve Moa. The Harvest is described as a wheat beer based lager and a natural cherry extract is added to give it a hint of fruit. The brew gave off a lovely perfumed, almost shampoo like aroma followed by a massive intensely floral hit. This was followed by a little mixed berry character and the tiniest hint of sulphur, which was nice. It was extremely clean in the mouth with a touch of mineral and little discernible malt (not necessarily a bad thing, as this was a great drinking beer). It finished really clean with the slightest hint of astringency. I was happy!

I was even happier after trying the 5 Hop Barrel Reserve! This poured a light copper colour and had a lovely tight, white foam head. The nose showed some similar mineral character that I had picked up in the Harvest but this was overpowered by some lovely dry fruit and rich coconut when in the mouth. It finished with some well integrated light vanilla subtleties and a touch of white chocolate. At 6% it showed little alcohol in the finish and just the smallest amount of acidity. It was a well balanced acidity nonetheless and something I sometimes notice in barrel aged brews.

My vision was beginning to blur slightly by now, so my camera sympathised...

Yeastie Boys’ Stu McKinlay then appeared with a glass of Invercargill Brewery‘s Smokin’ Bishop. Holy guacamole, was this a good beer! Gentle smokiness wafted from the glass and I was amazed at the sheer smoothness of the beer. Bourbon notes, all rich and caramel were followed by a slightly biscuity finish and just like that, I was in love. A 7% Bamberg style smoked bock from NZ’s southern-most brewery had won me over… I always have been a sucker for a dark malty brew though.  The Malthouse’s Colin Mallon then appeared with a couple of bottles of Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black, a beer I’d heard loads about and was eager to try. It was brilliant! A slight yet smooth citrus hop character, decadent caramel undertones and more smoothness, all mellow and gentle and luscious in the swallow. Stu brews this porter at then Invercargill Brewery and it did make me wonder if there’s something in the water down south, as both beers I’d tasted from the brewery were wicked!

My night of beer over, it was off for a late night kebab (something I’d never done in NZ before!!) with my mates and home for a kip in preparation for my flight south to Nelson in the morning.

To me Nelson means one thing and that is hops. So following that reasoning, I hoped that with hops would be beer and I wasn’t to be disappointed! Upon arriving and being picked up by Catherine’s brother we cruised to one of the Sprig and Fern taverns. Brewed just out of Nelson in Richmond, the Sprig and Fern do a great range of beers, from Pilseners to strong lagers to pale ales to bitters to stouts and porters, even Doppelbocks and ciders! The Milton Street pub was fantastic, it’s interior akin to a light, sun-filled, airy house, a super-relaxed yet buzzing Friday afternoon atmosphere and a great line-up of draught Sprig and Fern beer on the bar. I cracked into a 6.5% Tasman Lager and was instantly impressed. Hints of fruity, almost Nelson Sauvin-like hop, impressively clean and crisp with just the tiniest touch of that fresh sweat/gooseberry goodness that you can also find on the regions Sauvignon Blancs. The mild finish tantalised with a lick of bitterness and suddenly all was good in the world. I had a sip of Cat’s Ginger Lager, all buckets of earthy ginger root with ginger everywhere… in the swallow, in the burp, the works! It helped by not being too sweet and the flavour kept developing long after the swallow which was cool. Their Pilsener was nice and clean, not too much hop on the nose though with some nice biscuity and dry malty notes and a hint of caramel that worked well. A hint more bitterness wouldn’t have gone astray but another well built brew. Next I had a quick sip of Cat’s brother, Craig’s Three Berries Cider. It was delicious with buckets of boysenberry character on the sniff and a lovely apple cider mouth. They’re talking about 2010 being the Year of Cider in NZ and with brews like this one, I think they might be right!

With a surname like Mueller of course they're gonna love those European style beers!

Last up Craig and I went for an 8% Doppelbock and it was divine. Deep brown with a light tan head. Rich malt, chocolate and caramel perfume, smooth, and nutty in the mouth, lashings of molasses and the tiniest touch of liquorice. This was delectable and velvety and finished slightly sweet with a little hazelnut and a touch of grassy hop. Definitely one of the best I’ve tried. It sure put a grin on my face!

Doppelbockalicious

We decided to bust a move over the hills from Nelson to Takaka to head to the beach, check out a couple of brewpubs and somewhere inbetween catch a salmon at a little salmon-catchy place where the kind folk then fillet and smoke it for you while you wait . Yeah, I know… it’s not the challenge of river fishing, but it was bloody tasty!

Before twisting our way up the Takaka hill, we passed fields and fields of my favourite plant in the world… hops!

Hundreds of flowers waiting to martyr themselves in the name of their god.. the Pint

We headed to the famous Mussel Inn as I was keen to try their well-known Captain Cooker, a beer brewed using the leaves of a small native New Zealand tree called Manuka as part of the process. It was a beautiful day and this hazy copper brew went down a treat with it’s herbal Manuka and lavender character dominating the nose and refreshing the mouth, followed closely by a distinct all-mouth bitternes. The Manuka slightly number my tongue and their was a bit of lemon and propolis lozenge character in the finish. It was a unique and interesting beer. Their Golden Goose was a nice lager with a touch of kiwifruit and gooseberry with little flecks of caramel and honey. It was a tad on the dry side and it’s lack of bitterness made for great drinkability. More gooseberry came through in the finish and then a touch of residual sweetness appeared out of nowhere which was nice.

We also checked out the sacred Te Waikoropupu springs where some of the clearest water in the world erupts from underground springs. It was a fantastic place with tourists everywhere and some big happy brown trout lazing around in the pools. The water itself is tapu (sacred) and reputed to have healing properties. I reckon it would make a fantastic beer!!!

I reckon that watercress would go well with some pork bones in a good ol' Kiwi boil-up!!

Things had almost begun to get a little un-beery until Craig surprised me on the way home with a little side trip to Mapua in Golden Bay (just out of Nelson) where we visited the Golden Bear Brewery and had a lovely American-inspired pint of a 5.85% Patriots Pale. Run by Californian expat Jim Matranga, I was expecting big things with this beer and it didn’t disappoint. He used Sticklebract and Nelson Sauvin as well as hop extract in the brew. It poured a deep red-brown colour with a thick, creamy white head. Hints of passionfruit came through with a little lemon, some sherbert and a finishing nuttiness. The bitterness was long and lasting. I’ve written in my tasting notes that it was lush… and it was! I love brewpubs!

How's that for a cool looking brew kit!!!

Our trip South almost over, we prepared ourselves for our flight back to the North Island and our drive up to the Hawkes Bay. But that, and my trip to Auckland, an Epic brew day and some great fishing up North can wait for another day!

The Totally Awesome New Zealand Craft Brewing Scene Part 1

Sleep deprivation + cool beer + hot weather = Happiness

For the last three weeks I’ve been back home in New Zealand doing the Best Man thing for my little brother’s wedding, having a bit of a holiday, drinking loads of awesome craft beer, meeting heaps of cool brewers and beer folk, checking out some great breweries and even brewing New Zealand’s first ever international collaboration beer with Luke Nicholas of Epic Brewing.

The trip began at the end of January in the Coach and Horses in Dronfield. From there it went something like Chesterfield train station, London St. Pancras, Heathrow Terminal 4, Kuala Lumpur, Auckland and finally New Plymouth on the west coast of NZ’s North Island. As we got off the plane at the international terminal in Auckland I joked to Catherine that we hadn’t seen anyone we knew yet. A 10 minute walk to the domestic terminal and I saw my best friend’s brother, a guy I used to play rugby with and the mother of a guy who went to my primary school. Big place is New Zealand…

After 2 days of solid travelling, the first thing to do was have a beer. I’d put in a bit of a pre-order with my Dad and he had a cold Epic Lager waiting for me (see the ghoul-like dude in the picture above). This was my first taste of Epic Lager and it was lush! A crisp, perfumed hop nose with an almost Saaz-like Noble hop character. A touch grassy, citrus, lemon and the tiniest hint of fruity bubblegum. It finished clean and had a well attenuated dryness. If this was what the beer was going to be like the whole trip, I was going to be a happy lad! After a delicious meal of New Zealand fish and chips with not a mushy pea or a piece of Atlantic Cod or Haddock in sight it was lights out though.

The next few days, or beers as I liked to refer to them (as that is how I have recorded this holiday on my iPhone… through beer tasting notes and photos of bottles… geek!) were great. Temperatures in the 20s, some awesome homec00ked food, fresh eggs from the chickens outside, fresh mutton from the sheep in the fields around our house and a beer or three in the name of research.

White Cliffs Organic Brewery just out of New Plymouth have always been well known due to their flagship Mike’s Mild Ale. This dark mild was toasty and nutty with a good roast malt bitterness and some nice roast barley astringency in the finish. It oozed cleanness and still managed to have a nice body, even straight out of the fridge. Mike’s Lager was a little more reserved and had the tiniest hint of dimethyl sulphide (a little cooked vegetable) with a few ale-like ester notes, but other than that was a decent organic lager. The breweries new packaging and logo also looked pretty cool.

Mike hiding in the garden...

Just to prove it wasn’t all beer, I indulged in some awesome NZ delicacies when home. Fresh tender abalone steaks (or Paua as we call them), rich, decadent, sweet whitebait fritters (different to British whitebait which are young herring, in that NZ whitebait are the fry of small native trout and caught in rivers and river mouths at specified times of the year, selling for around ÂŁ50-60 per kilogram), Greenlip Mussel fritters, my Dad’s speciality, Rock Lobster (or what we call crayfish) and lots of raw (and cooked) freshly caught fish.

Whitebait before...

Whitebait after... egg whites, salt, fry pan, butter, lemon juice, yum!

Crayfish are one of my favourite things to eat (after raw New Zealand Bluff Oysters). The best way to eat them is to steam the whole crayfish, wait for it to cool, then crack open the tail, carapace and legs, get all of the meat out and have it on freshly buttered bread. The key ingredient however, is what is referred to as mustard by crayfish lovers. This is a yellow-brown mustard coloured “sauce” that you find in the carapace. Spread on the bread it is as close to the taste of heaven as a Kiwi seafood lover can get.

Crayfish before...

Crayfish after... well after a couple of bites anyway 🙂

Having already had an Epic Lager or three, it was definitely time to crack into the Epic Pale Ale, Luke’s flagship beer. I had first tried this when Luke was here in 2009 collaborating with us on our 7.7% hopped to hell Epic Halcyon Imperial IPA. The Pale Ale was ridiculously drinkable and screamed hops, balance and a nice subtle bitterness. This time around it was as great as I’d remembered. It poured a hazy copper with a nice white head. Pineapple, gooseberry and hints of hoppy resin floated around the glass and it was nice and dry with just a hint of grape skin dryness and hop astringency. The bitterness continues into the aftertaste and the 4 pack soon disappeared (drunk responsibly of course) . Epic was already living up to it’s name!

It's just good beer!

From Epic it was on to another NZ craft brewery, Green Man. I brought both their IPA and Celt from the local bottle store and was impressed by their packaging and the blurb on the labels. One thing about craft beer in New Zealand is that it’s not cheap, neither should it be. There is no Progressive Beer Duty in NZ as there is for craft brewers in the UK, which means they still have to pay loads of taxes and there is still seemingly an idiotic neo-prohibitionist bent against beer, even when you’re paying between $4 and $12 NZD per bottle. I do wonder if the wine industry in New Zealand comes up against similar hurdles.

The IPA wasn’t as hoppy as I was hoping it to be. It weighed in at 5.5%, had lots of initial caramel character and an interesting top palate bitterness. The hop aroma wasn’t at the forefront (maybe it was an old bottle) and after about half of the bottle, I did wonder if I got some butterscotch as well as the caramel maltiness. The body however, was great for a sub 6% brew but again the hop finished quite grassy and unbalanced. More late hop addition or dry-hopping and this could be a good beer though.

Love the label!

Green Man’s 6.5% Celt proved a more interesting beer and was just one of the many examples of NZ craft beer experimentation that seems to be cranking down under. Having been aged in barrels, this showed initially with a good punch of oak on the mose, followed by some woody acidity in the mouth and the smallest hint of yeasty cloves. Chocolate malt undertones came through with the slightest hint of a thinnish whiskey character and even the smallest hint of salty brine. More body would have been great, but such is the challenge of wood aging… you never quite know what is going to happen!

Before I knew it, my time at home with the Whanau (that’s family to you none-Kiwi readers) was at an end, but not before we went fishing in my Uncle’s awesome 6 metre SeaLegs amphibious boat. This thing was crazy, it has three large quad-bike style wheels and you simply drive it from your garage onto the beach and into the water. The wheels then come up on a hydraulic system, the 140 hp motor kicks in and you’re good to go! A bit different than having to time the waves like we used to with our little 14 foot dinghy, push like crazy between sets of waves, usually get hammered on the way out and have to bail like crazy and then do the same on the way back home! Was a good day out, my feet remained completely dry and our haul of 7 Gurnard, a Kahawai and 3 Snapper wasn’t too bad.

The best Sashimi you can get!!!

There was still (of course) time to visit the White Cliffs (or Mikes) Organic Brewery and I was eagerly shown around by their new brewer, a Massey University Food Technology graduate, Thomas Sowerby. Having visited there 2 years earlier it was amazing to see the progress they had made, evident by the number of times I saw their beers in various bars, cafes and liqour outlets around the province. The brewery had grown, as had their range and Tom gave me a taste of his fantastic Mike’s Pilsener, definitely the pick of the Mike’s stable with it’s delicate floral and grassy hop characters, brilliantly clean finish and simple, yet defiant bitterness. Fermenting at a lower temperature definitely paid off with this beer. Their brewery shop setup was also fantastic, especially their benchtop keg dispense units that both refrigerated and poured the beer in perfect condition.

Forget benchtop Espresso, benchtop keg dispense is for your kitchen of the future!!!

The little brewhouse that Tom had modified to improve runoff

My brief sojourn in the mighty Taranaki over, I flew down to Wellington to do a bit of a Thornbridge tasting at the fantastic Malthouse, THE bar to head to if you want to be blown away by the variety of wicked beer that NZ has to offer. Fridge after fridge jam-packed with bottled beers (both local and from abroad), an absolute myriad of local brews on keg and even a couple of handpulls, which were brilliant to see. Eagerly met by Scotsman and Malthouse head honcho Colin Mallon and a bunch of keen NZ beer lovers including beer writer Neil Miller, Yeastie Boys Brewmaster Stu McKinlay and beer afficionado and super-keen homebrewer Kieran Haslett-Moore the tasting kicked off well with a great selection of Thornbridge bottled beers, some of them the last of their kind! These included Bracia, Halcyon Green Hop Vintage 2008, Alliance PX Reserve, Alliance Madeira Reserve, Saint Petersburg in all three of it’s Whiskey Barrel Matured guises – Speyside, Highland and Islay, Jaipur, Kipling and a hand-bottled Raven (our Black IPA) courtesy of our brewer, JK. The beers went down a treat and it was great to have a chat to some super-enthusiastic Kiwi beer lovers. In fact, Kieran has done a bit of a write up on it here. Another of NZ’s foremost beer writers, Geoff Griggs, was definitely gutted he couldn’t make it… you can read about that here.

In full swing at the Malthouse tasting

Tasting aftermath with empty bottles and Yeastie Boy Stu

Some seriously fantastic beers were supped at the Malthouse with two hop-monsters in particular standing out and making my tastebuds pirouette with ecstasy and joy that NZ is finally up there with that king of hoppy brews, the USA. It was my first beer upon arrival at the Malthouse that blew me away and that was Epic Armageddon IPA. 6.66%, jam packed with resiny, citrus-filled US hops and proof in a bottle that Luke Nicholas knows his hops. Masses of tropical fruit, lots of citrus and pine and mango and sappy goodness. A good uvula-punch of bitterness and fantastic drinkability, this brew was only rivalled by the exquisite HopWired IPA from 8 Wired. Brewed using all NZ hops and malt, this screamed passionfruit, gooseberry, that Sauvignon Blanc cat pee character, limes, sweet oranges and brilliant drinkability with slightly less bitterness than the Armageddon.

A bunch of other beers were also sampled but I think I’ll save those, my trip to the South Island and adventures back up in the North Island for part two!

Catch you then!

J.W. Lees Harvest Ale 2007 and Cheese

I like cheese. I like beer. Beer and cheese go together incredibly well, however it all depends (obviously) on what type of beer you’re drinking and what type of cheese you’re eating. I really enjoy stating the obvious.

As one of those strange, foreign, New Zealand blokes, I absolutely love it that this country offers such a diversity. Not only in beer, but in the amount of both British and European cheeses that you can easily pick up. Even from a supermarket!

DSC04109

As part of my preparation for the British Guild of Beer Writers Barley Wine Seminar this year, I’ve been given the task of matching our Thornbridge Alliance Barley Wine with a cheese. So I thought a bit of practice might help me to make this most interesting of choices. Take one beer, add four cheeses. Masticate, enjoy, type.

The Harvest Ale pours a nice orange-brown and shows really poor head retention, the head disappears  in about 20 seconds and I made sure my glass was extra-clean! The first sip floods the mouth with toffee, a little marmite, some deep, rich orange notes, more juice than peel, and a hint of dried fig. It’s smooth on the swallow and the alcohol warms, it doesn’t burn.

Maximum shutter speed just to catch the head!!

Maximum shutter speed just to catch the head!!

First up is a Somerset Brie. Nice and ripe, unctuous and creamy with a little firmness in the rind that lets you feel like you can chew it instead of slurp it. Then there’s that tiny hint of ammonia. I love this in Brie. The riper the better and as I have just realised, this ripeness allows it to hold up well to the complexity of the Harvest Ale. The creaminess fills the mouth and is cleansed out by the alcoholic nature of the beer. I taste the cheese afterwards and get a little lingering fresh fig coming through from the beer this time.

Next up I go foreign with a Chevre Blanc. It’s bright, white rind slightly mushroomy with a more dense thick section of cheese leading into the delicious crumbly, creamy intense white interior. It gives me wonderful notes of fungus and damp forest floor on an Autumn day crossed with a wonderful, light lemon balm twist, bordering on fragrant lemon dishwashing liquid. Upon smelling deeply, there is almost a suggestion of tap water heavily dosed with chlorine. The first sip of beer yields something completely different. For the first time tonight I get a bit of bitterness coming through from the beer. It also highlights a slightly green note in the beer. Something sappy and unripe. I try again. The bitterness is there instantly and then the lemon and earth of the cheese follows. Nowhere near as good as the brie…

A Cropwell Bishop Stilton follows. Off white with the beautiful green-blue lacing we know all too well. I taste a piece and it takes me instantly to my Aunty and Uncle’s farm in Okato in New Zealand. It has a bit of barnyard funk to it. A little silage, a bit of cow-shit, but all fresh and green and digested grass. Not the intense smell I get from some farms in the UK with their barns and animals kept indoors at certain times of the year. I also get a bitterness. Although creamy, this bitterness coats the roof of my mouth and makes me feel like I need to drink something. I do. The beer floods my mouth. Sweetness, malty, salty marmite with some higher alcohol fruitiness coming through. It alleviates the weird bitterness that came from the cheese, but this returns soon after I swallow.

Finally I taste an Applewood Smoked Cheddar. Will the smoke work with the beer? The cheese smells and tastes wonderful. Soft, sweet smoke with some acidity and a great rich creaminess that makes Cheddar such a brilliant cheese. Sometimes I find a lot of yellow fruit characters, particularly pineapple in mature cheddar. Not this one. The smoke is dominant but not overpowering. The sip of beer causes the smoke to disappear. The smoothness hits the acidity and the contrast results in flavour fusion. It even allows a punch of acetaldehyde, that nice green apple flavour to pop out in the beer. Maybe it’s just the name of the cheese though. The Derren Brown effect or something…

Obviously a brewer took this photo. Definitely neither a chef with brilliant plating skills or a photographer of any ability...

Obviously a brewer took this photo. Definitely neither a chef with brilliant plating skills or a photographer of any ability...

My conclusion. I came into this expecting the Stilton to shine through as the winner. It’s often referred to as the ultimate companion to a Barley Wine. I was pleasantly surprised and think either the Brie or the Chevre Blanc walks away the winner. Must do this more often!

Alecost

Do dark beers sell as well in the summer months? I’ve noticed at the Coach and Horses that it’s definitely pale beer season, with even my favourite Thornbridge session ale, Ashford, pushing three days for a firkin to empty as beers such as the delightful Hopton, our English Pale Ale showcasing the new season Bramling Cross hop (with a touch of Pioneer for bittering), Seaforth, our new 5.9% English IPA and the elusive Black Thorn selling with a lot more gusto. Speaking of the Coach, not only did it win the Sheffield CAMRA District Pub of the Year, but it also went on to be placed third in the Derbyshire Pub of the Year awards, so well done to Cat, Mark and the team!

Alecost

I digress… some of you may have heard of, or even tried Alecost before, as we brewed it last year with Mike Pidgeon of the University Arms and Ben Tysoe of the Devonshire Cat, both fantastic pubs in Sheffield.

Probably the most interesting thing about Alecost is linked to its name. Alecost was a term used for the herb Costmary (Tanacetum balsamita) that has been used in the brewing of ales and beers since at least the 15th century. The famous herbalist and physician, Nicholas Culpepper refers to it as the “Balsam Herb” due to its balsamic odour, though I think the most noticeable character of this herb is the spearmint aroma that it gives off when rubbed or picked.

Growing happily in our Thornbridge herb garden

Growing happily in our Thornbridge herb garden

So why on earth would we want to put something that smells like spearmint chewing gum in a beer you may ask? The malt bill includes a good whack of Maris Otter Pale Ale malt and is complemented by flaked barley, Munich malt, roasted barley, amber, black and crystal rye malts. This gives a wonderful, deep complexity with the toasty graininess of the rye combining well with the charred, bitter chocolate characters of the deep roasted grains and the intense, almost coffee-like amber malt. The alecost works to slightly lift this stout, making it, in my opinion, the perfect good weather beer. Instead of the dull thud that the swallow of a heavy stout can sometimes give you, this lifts at the end with an underlying fruitiness and almost cooling effect. It’s not noticeable as being herbal, it just lightens the load a bit!

Hop wise, we originally went for the Japanese/American hybrid, Sorachi Ace with it’s fantastic over-ripe orange and coconut characters and the New Zealand Saaz offshoot, Riwaka with its grapefruit, lime and tropical fruit undertones. This time however, we were out of Riwaka, so chose the delightful Spalter Select instead. On the rub this hinted at strawberries and cream and a boiled sweet character that we thought would help to bring out some fruity sweetness in the aroma.

It doesn’t just end there though. To accentuate both the roasted malt characters and the gentle alecost aromas, we added a bunch of ground caraway seeds. The brew we did last year used only dried caraway seeds from Julian Graves, however this year, our wizard gardeners here at Thornbridge grew some Caraway(Carum carvi) for us to use.

This is the bottom...

This is the bottom...

And this is the top!

And this is the top!

The fresh caraway seeds smelt a lot different from the dried seeds. Being fresh, they had a lot more of a grassy aroma, were not as pungent and minty as the dry counterparts and the green, unripe seeds had a light, almost coriander leaf character to them. In the end, we went for a blend of the fresh and dried seeds. The great thing about caraway is that along with the mint character, it also has a lovely almost aniseed like quality to it. This blends in perfectly with the dark malt characters of the beer and brings all of the ingredients together!

Caraway is also a well known digestive aid… does this make Alecost the ideal food accompaniment? I’d quite happily drink this beer with a load of different dishes, whether enjoying it with some fresh herb-filled sausages on the barbecue or enjoying it alongside a spicy cumin-filled curry. There’s lots of options for this beer.

Good old wikipedia informed me that caraway seeds contain limonene that actually has yeast killing properties! Apparently this is why rye bread (which usually contains caraway as well) is more dense than normal bread. My understanding is that most hops contain the wonderfully fragrant limonene (you can probably guess from its name what it smells of) and most beers containing hops ferment relatively well. Maybe brewers yeast is just a lot tougher than bakers yeast. Is this true of brewers and bakers as well? Could this be the next genre of Ultimate Fighting Championships?

Another interesting thing I found in my research is that costmary contains compounds called parthenolides which have been shown to help in migraine prevention… I wonder if that means no headaches the next day…

The Cold Stuff in Austria

Well, it applies to a couple of things really… firstly the snow and secondly the beer. I’ll be honest… I didn’t have high hopes of finding such a diverse and interesting range of well-built lagers up in the Alps, but I guess I was at altitude, so any hopes were high by default!

We had landed in Kitzbuhel in the North Tyrol region, about an hour and a half from Salzburg for a solid week of snowboarding with a bit of beer and food thrown in for good measure. Great place and my first experience of boarding in Europe, so the scenery and incredible beauty of the town and its buildings were something to behold… especially when it began snowing! Even more amazing was the fact that although the roads became more and more covered and white, powdery goodness, the cars kept driving around. This was in stark contrast to the week before in the UK, where a few inches in some places caused local economies to plummet, people to call work describing how their cars were snowed in and entrepreneurial folk to sell cheap, closing down sale Woolworths knives attached to the bottom of stolen shoes as high-tech ice skates. Yet, here in Austria it was business as usual… so confusing for a Kiwi lad like myself!

So we hit the slopes, I smashed my body to pieces all in the name of fun and come lunchtime it was time to head to an Apres-Ski restaurant for a snack to eat and maybe some liquid refreshment. There are times when I try my damnedest to remove the “brewer’s hat” which has been firmly sewn to the skin of my head so that I can just enjoy a beer for beer’s sake and I’ll admit that with a bit of coercion, the hat found its way to the chair next to me and the first drop of golden liquid that touched my lips was probably the finest I’d had in many a while. The beer in question was Steigl Pils. Stiegl is brewed in Salzburg and uses that ultimate Pilsener hop, the mighty Saaz. On draught it was incredibly refreshing and had a delicate, grassy hop kick that was very clean and definitely needed!

This was to become something of a habit! We’d drop our friends children off at ski school in the morning, hit the slopes for an hour or three, then off we’d go to the closest restaurant on the mountains for a beer and a snack! The food was fantastic! Sausages with sauerkraut, Nuremberg style, was a favourite of mine, as was the local Tyrolean bacon dumpling soup (Speckknodelsuppe). Hearty meat-filled goulash was ideal after a day wallowing through powder as well!

The local Billa supermarket touted an impressive selection of both bottled and canned beer as well as a vast selection of alcohols, with Schnapps a plenty! Each night I’d grab a few different beers and take them back to the hotel to taste. Although we had no fridge in our room, the double windows just so happened to fit beer bottles between them, so we had our own natural refrigerator!

First up was a 5.3% Kapsreiter Landbier Hell… supposedly this is a Landbier, which is a Franconian style lager, often unfiltered, with a good dose of malt and a whack of hop. This beer was okay, they’d used Tettnang, which I was hoping would be more apparent. If I was after a nice crisp, clean, very light coloured lager, then this was the beer for me!

Next up was a Wieselburger Stammbrau Pilsener. Weiselburger also brew Kaiser and Schloss beers, so am guessing they’re a pretty big operation! Not to knock them for being a big brewery but this was pretty standard as a 5.4% lager. It was relatively clean, with some sweetness and a bit of body, yet was lacking any hop-punch or the bitterness that I expect from a pilsener.

I had high hopes for the next beer, which was a 4.9% pilsener called Samson Budweiser. This was confusing…it had the same address as the famous Czech Republic brewery, it even had part of the name, yet the Samson moniker?? I took a sip and prepared myself for an Asterix-like transformation. No difference. I walked over to the bed and tried lifting it. Still weak. I looked in the mirror…yep, hair was long, so there was potential for some Samson-like strength there. I took another sip. Impressive bitterness in the swallow, nice noble hop note with a little malt-spice. I like this beer… even if it doesn’t make me strong. Maybe if I was to drink another five?

My favourite beer of this session had to be the delicious Zipfer Stefani Bock. This was heading more down the pale strong lager route than the rich, caramel bock path, but was a stunning beer. In no way, shape or form did this force it’s 7.1% AbV down my throat. The alcohol was well-masked and the hop and ester combined to give a bit of citrus and grass with a pinch of spicy, white pepper. Best of all was the crisp, dry finish. So smooth as well. My beer of the trip!

Six beer bottles hanging on a wall...

Six beer bottles hanging on a wall...

The next day dawned, a lot of snow had fallen, yet the sun tried it’s hardest to give us a winter-tan. It failed, yet gave us just enough time to sneak into a beer-tent on the slopes where I tried a Schneider Weisse. The waitress rinsed the tall glass with a spurt of fresh water, then gently poured most of the beer into the glass. I sat there stunned! This wasn’t the Schneider Weisse I knew was it? The beer poured a rich orange colour and was as clear as the most filtered of cheap, crap lagers! Where was my yeast! Where was my dosing of turbid, hazy wheat proteins! Would I have to have a good steak tonight just to make up for this lack of amino acids in my diet?

My panic was short lived. With a flick of her shapely wrists, she swirled the remaining portion of beer in the bottle and topped up the glass – a swirling dervish of yeast and protein made its way to the bottom of my glass, allowed the thick, white head to claw its way to the rim and looked me straight in the eyes. It said “Drink me, I am a perfect glass of beer.” I did. Divine as usual, caramel with a touch of spice in the middle and some very subdued wheat beer yeast characters. The yeast provided a little mouth-dryness though the softness of the wheat came through in the swallow, all full and fruity and magical. I looked out of the beer-tent at a vista of Alps. I like Europe…

Three Boarders, Two Scheiders, Two Bitburgers and a Radler. Oh yeah, and a skier...

Three Boarders, Two Schneiders, Two Bitburgers and a Radler. Oh yeah, and a skier...

The next night saw a few more beers sampled. Body sore, yet spirit fighting against being broken by the snow that seems so soft when it’s falling; I soldiered on and forced the liquids down my gullet all in the name of research. It can be a tough job this brewing thing… A Schloss Eggenberg Premium Bier at 4.0% was first. Some caramel and a bit of egg yolk on the nose. A nice rich, golden colour, some clean hop though not much bitterness and some metallic hop in the aftertaste. This was pretty average really, not a lot of character though this was drunk quite cool, so this may have subdued some of the flavours. I needed something a bit more exciting!

Would Zillertal Schwarzes, a 5.2% Schwarzbier live up to its label and be Premium Classe as indicated? Very sweet in the mouth with a touch of treacle and a little metallic, golden syrup tin character. This had very little perceived bitterness but some dry astringency from the roasted malts that helped balance the sweetness. Some cardboard in the finish didn’t bode to well and turned this from okay to average.

I’d been holding this beer back for no other reason than the fact that it had the word “Bio” written on it. Weitra Brau Hadmar Bio Bier from Bierwerkstatt Weitra Brau (it took me about a minute to write this sentence) poured like a standard lager with a lovely dark, burnished gold colour. It had some initial sweetness and a malty, almost toffee-like flavour. Apple and fruity hop danced across the nose with a distinctive green sultana character coming through as the beer warmed slightly. It also finished with a maltiness that reminded me of both Sam Adams Boston Lager and of Brooklyn’s lager. This was a surprisingly good beer!

I can't read the label!

I can't read the label!

Due to my earlier love of the Zipfer beer, this time I went for a Zipfer Marzen to finish the night. 5% and full of esters in the mouth (some slightly gluey) and a spicy, almost ginger character in nose. This showed a little bit of dryness and an almost residual bitterness that doesn’t quite do any favours to in balancing the sweetness. Not bad, but definitely nothing on their Stefani Bock! I will admit though, that the sugary, lemon juice and beer blends known as Radler did help to slake the thirst as well!

The week saw a few more beers tasted and a few more tumbles on the board, but I really loved Austria and would go back again in a heartbeat! The more I read about its breweries and beers, the more I want to travel there and find some hidden craft-brewed gems. I think next winter is as good a time as any!

The Good, the Bad and the Bitter

The Ugly... holding a glass of yum!

The Ugly... holding a glass of yum!

Beer and food go well together. There is nothing anyone can say to me that will ever convince me otherwise. Because beer is such a diverse and fascinating vehicle for so many flavours and taste sensations, it just works.

I’ve just spent the afternoon cooking. We had a glut of onions in the cupboard and instead of watching them go soft or trying to plant them on the football pitch out of my back door, I decided to transform them. That, and the fact that we really needed to go shopping, had no food and were both hungry as hell!

First up was an onion gratin with loads of quartered red and white onions, leeks, fresh thyme from our windowsill, a delicious French white and instead of Parmesan and Gruyere, I went for double cream mixed in with Wensleydale and a mature cheddar. Needs must… We also had a large head of broccoli, so I slowly melted leeks down in olive oil, added sliced, peeled broccoli stem, a potato cut into cubes, a few cloves of sliced garlic and cook for a few minutes. I then added a litre of chicken stock, boiled till everything was soft and added loads of broccoli florets. I took half, blended it with my smoothie maker and added a good dollop of cream. The other half, I left as it was. Slightly caramelised leeks, broccoli stem and flowers, chunks of potato all bobbing around in a rich chicken and vege stock.

Short straw drawn and the victim chosen, today it was Jaipur, coupled oddly enough with those legends of Industrial Music, Skinny Puppy… great music for an experiment!!! Actually, Jaipur was the obvious beer because my plan was to test the theory that fats can have an effect on perceived bitterness. The Jaipur tasted after some of the un-blended soup should be more bitter than the blended creamy version.

First mouthful of chunky broth… nice caramelised leek, maybe a bit over-caramelised, loads of broccoli and nice salty stock. Yum! Then a sip of the Jaipur. All sweet and perfumed in my nose, full and fruity in my mouth with sneaky whisps of gooseberry and grapefruit that lead into that citrus twist of bitterness, both mellow and feisty at once. The bitterness was there alright and trying it’s hardest to make me have another sip to benefit from that Maris Otter malt sweetness. I succumbed.

Now for the Broccoli and Leek Soups creamy half-brother, a good tablespoon or so of double cream hiding in a jungle of leek grass and great broccoli trees. Well, a forest that had been chopped down and blended into mulch… Intense broccoli and unctuous cream with a background of salt and onion and something that reminds me of mushy peas… maybe the broccoli is displaying some of its sulphury characters just like legumes do. And the Jaipur.

Has the BFG sneezed into a ramekin??
Has the BFG sneezed into a ramekin?

 

 Instant sweetness and a slightly thinner mouthfeel. Then a little fruit and some lemon peel and a slide of bitterness down the sides of my tongue as all of those little iso-alpha-acids perform a flanking manoeuvre on the lazy, fat cream taste-bud guardians. The bitterness is there but it’s completely subdued and it’s a good half minute until the bitterness wins and presents itself right at the back of my throat in some type of post-victory warrior dance. Maybe this is their Haka.

My hypothesis is all good, even in something as simple as this, I’ve proven theories, won battles and saved worlds. Most interesting was the fact that Jaipur worked perfectly with a creamy Broccoli and Leek Soup! Maybe that’s just the beer talking…

The onion gratin has drowned in a sea of oil. Too much cheese. I can’t win every battle.

It’s alive…

Who the hell am I?

My name is Kelly and I’m the Brewery Manager at Thornbridge Brewery. It doesn’t mean I get a company car with low mileage. It doesn’t mean I wear a suit to work. It doesn’t mean I get a company expense card.

It means I’m a brewer, a cask-washer, a leaf-sweeper, a spent-grains digger and a copper cleaner. I’m a scientist, a counter of yeast cells, a piece of living, breathing sensory evaluation equipment. Sound cheesy? Probably, but this is something that I’m pretty passionate about. I will get annoyed if you start talking about beer like you know a lot and then have nothing to back it up. Most importantly, I want to brew and I want to help people understand how beer is crafted. To realise that the creation of a pint or a bottle of beer is as intricate and well thought out as the finest wine, the oldest, smoothest whiskey or the most decadent, fruity Port.

I’ll let you know what’s happening at the brewery, what our thoughts as brewers are, what beers we’re drinking, what crazy, twisted concepts we want to bring alive as beers for you to enjoy and probably a bit of stuff on the wonder that is beer and food!

So, here it all begins… a foray into the world of blogging, whether it be methodical, random or just the plain old ramblings of a brewer.

The best place to start is right now!

I look out the window at a good 7 or 8 inches of snow and wonder why I didn’t try to make it to the brewery today… Hope like hell that we don’t get any more snow tonight! The flipside is that it’s given me time to write an article for the brewery website (www.thornbridgebrewery.co.uk) and start up a Thornbridge Brewers Facebook group so we can let the facebookers get into the know as well. I’ve just put a bit of Tool on in the background, my favourite band and am tasting a small snifter of Halcyon, our Imperial Pale Ale.

This is good stuff! One of the joys of living above the brewery tap (The Coach and Horses in Dronfield) is that I get to write basic tasting notes for each beer that is on handpull…just something for the customers to read and get a bit of an understanding about the flavours and aromas they’re likely to find in their pint. This version of Halcyon is bloody brilliant. We’ve had a bit of a play with this brew over the last couple of years. Every time we brew it we almost throw the recipe out the window!

This time we’ve decided to slightly up the amount of bitterness… we went for around 80 IBUs in the past, but we thought a little more bitterness would help to round out the malt sweetness that is so prevalent in this brew… We upped the recipe to give almost 90 IBU… this was the equivalent of around 16 kg of hops used in 8 bbl (a British barrel is  163.66 litres), in other words, a bloody lot of hops! We weren’t quite happy with just a small amount, so added another 4 kg in to the conditioning tank for dry-hopping and the results are quite astounding!

Rich, golden and oozing with malty goodness… this is Jaipur on steroids. Fruit dominates the nose, but it’s not a citrus onslaught. For me, it’s berries and even a little bit of grape juice. And you can’t forget the undeniable whiff of rich alcohol… the type you know will be awesome on a snowy day such as this. There’s also a little bit of mineral in there… maybe a hint of saltiness? All I know is that it was enough to make me salivate like crazy in anticipation of the first mouthful.

I think we’ve got this one on the right track… it’s heading towards the perfection we’re on the eternal quest for. The malty, cereal, caramel characters that the massive amount of Maris Otter malt provides, acts as an awesome vehicle for this mixture of hops. Again, I get berries and grapes with a light sweetness. All of a sudden a little sneaky Hunter S. Thompson on acid gremlin of bitterness appears. Out of nowhere, the citrus appears, rips a few epithelial cells from the roof of your mouth and base of your tongue, lingers for a bit, then slowly fades into that happy place. You know the one… that place where you know you need to have another sip just to get all of that fruit and sweetness and balanced bitterness and warmth. In fact, I was so absorbed by the flavours that I didn’t even realise the hefty 7.7% alcohol by volume. It’s there alright, yet it’s not a punch-in-the-face alcohol… more of a great aunty-pinch-on-the-cheek if you get my drift. I took a picture because it was so pretty.

Crap photo, great beer!

Crap photo, great beer!

Am all out of blue cheese, though the Cropwell Bishop Stilton I tasted with the Goose Island IPA I had last night would have been about bang-on for this beer as well. It wasn’t too intense or creamy, yet still had all of those great, funky blue characteristics that were matched by the Goose Island’s wonderful hop characters. Instead, I have some Old Squire Special Reserve Vintage Cheddar from Wales. This actually works. The fats coat your mouth and mask the bitterness somewhat but allow a whole lot of fruity hop to pop out, along with an interesting, almost fresh-sawn cedar character. It also allows the alcohol to come through a bit… I guess the bitterness was hiding it all along! The cheese itself has some acidity and sweaty characters, but  light, vibrant citric flavours as well… these work perfect with the Halcyon.

Thus ends the inaugural entry, I’m off for another little taster!

Halycon    

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