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!!!

Chocolate Waltzin’

What goes into the creation of a beer?

I’ll be honest. I’ve read a few random things in my time about producing new beers, my favourite a rating on our Belgian Dubbel style ale that we called Handel. One of the Ratebeer clan (Ratebeer is a website where people give their descriptions and ratings of different beers) described it as such… “Some brown malts were brewed with some Belgian yeast and some hops were thrown in without any genuine conception of how the finished beer would taste”. This actually made me laugh out loud! I won’t make any assumptions about how much this guy knows about brewing (although it seems he’s already decided how we make beer), but it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Using this example, Handel was actually based on a tried and true homebrew recipe from a young American homebrewer, Leah Handel, who had come over to learn about microbrewing with us and with Kelham Island Brewery in Sheffield. Her homebrew beer was tasted by Dave Wickett of Kelham Island when he was with Garrett Oliver, the esteemed Brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery in the US. They thought it was great, thus she came over, learnt a bit about commercial brewing and gave us the chance to brew her beer on a large scale. We used a similar combination of malts as her recipe, as well as hops that we hand selected (well, nose selected actually… Brewers Gold, Hersbrucker, Vanguard and Pioneer) and to stick to its Belgian roots, we even made our own Belgian Candied Sugar in the Thornbridge Kitchen (one of the advantages of one of our brewers, Matt, having been a chef).

 We then used the same strain of Trappist Ale yeast that had been used by Leah, but instead of allowing the intensely complex aromatics that some of the Belgian yeast can give to a beer, we made a decision to use a blend of this yeast with our own Thornbridge strain… something we had done successfully before. The beer fermented down, and then was matured for 4 or so months before being racked into cask.

So yeah, I guess you could say we actually did have some type of thoughts about how the beer would taste! I’m all for people rating beer and letting us know whether they love or hate it, but if you are going to make comments like that, I think facts are pretty important!

This brings me to me next story of beer creation!

We’re really lucky to have great locals at our pub. Around Christmas this year, they brought the staff in all manner of sweets and chocolates and lovely Christmas cards. It was great! Best of all was that I’d steal a chocolate every now and then and I managed to steal a small Terry’s Chocolate Orange segment. I’ve had lots of different orange and chocolate combinations before, but this was really nice. A whack of sweetness, some smooth creaminess, a small hint of bitter from the dark chocolate and a perfumed orange character. Could I recreate this as a beer?

I thought and I thought and realised that the best way to do it would be as a mild. Where to next? I researched into mild production and found out some interesting facts, particularly pertaining to the strengths of milds in the past! Just over a hundred years ago, milds were weighing in at 6 and 7 % and used as many hops (in kilograms per barrel) as we do now in Jaipur!!! And these were the mild beers! (Remember, that mild refers to ale that was hopped in a lesser quantity than other beers such as bitters, pale ales etc.)

I went into our malt store and got a load of different malts and put them into glasses. I crunched through them all, sniffed them and finally decided on a combination of pale ale malt, mild ale malt and a few different roasted, specialty malts. I wanted something that tasted like chocolate… lots of warm cocoa character, a bit of dusty astringency and a load of smoothness. The malts finally decided upon, the next stage was water profile. Milds were big in the Midlands and also down South, where the water was ideal for Porter, Stout and generally dark beer production. London’s water profile is quite high in carbonates, which work wonders with dark, roasted malts and mellows out their astringency. Here at Thornbridge, we’re quite lucky and have very soft water. It means when it comes to developing and brewing different styles of beer we can alter the water chemistry by adding different amounts of brewing salts… gypsum, sodium chloride, sodium bicarbonate. The more balanced London water was the decision… I didn’t want the drier character that the Dublin water profile gives to its dark beers.

Brew day was upon us and again a decision was made based on the type of fermentability and residual mouthfeel we wanted in the finished beer. Because we do single-step infusion mashing in our brewhouse, we went for a slightly higher than usual mash temperature to allow a little more non-fermentable carbohydrate to come through. Molecules from the grains called glucans help with the viscosity and mouthfeel of a beer so I wanted to retain some of these. Coupled with the fullness that some roasted malts can give, it should work perfectly!

Hop o’ clock! Saaz and Sorachi were chosen… for one I didn’t want a load of bitterness, this was a mild and for once wasn’t about the hops… something of a rarity for us at Thornbridge! But I couldn’t resist, so the aromatic Sorachi Ace, with it’s wonderful over-ripe orange and coconut characters still managed to make the cut.

I also happen to like layers of flavour in a beer and think that complexity can come from using ingredients other that water, yeast, malt and hops. This is where one of the local Peak District chocolatiers comes in! CocoaDance, my favourite chocolate-makers, do fairs and farmers markets around Derbyshire and have sold some of their fantastic chocolates to many a prestigious store! I was most impressed when I came to the Thornbridge fair a few months back and found that Dave Golubows, the chocolatier, had made a chocolate truffle using Jaipur IPA for the fondant filling. It was great!

Myself, Stefano, our head brewer, and Rob Wainwright, our chocolate-loving chef from the Coach and Horses went out to visit CocoaDance in the beautiful Castleton, right at the base of the behemoth that is Mam Tor. His quaint little factory is great and he talked us through the chocolate-making process with a passion and excitement that reminded me so much about us talking of beer. I asked him all that I could and queried him on my concept… that I wanted to make a beer that tasted like a chocolate orange, yet something that was drinkable. We had used Seville orange zest in one of our beers before, but I was worried about its bitterness. He suggested one of his favourite dark chocolate matches, mandarin peel. I tried some and was impressed by the punch of citrus oils, the spicy, peppery, almost woody characters and the light but zingy orange bitterness. I was sold!

So in went some mandarin peel and a hint of star anise just to add a little extra warmth and liquorice nose.

The beer fermented down to 3.5% AbV and now it was time to add some chocolate. I’d had the chance to talk to a few brewers that have used chocolate in its various guises before. Some brewers go for a chocolate essence, which I’m not too keen on… I’d rather something a bit more natural. Cocoa powder and chocolate itself has been known to cause all sorts of problems clogging up filters during the wort boiling and I didn’t want any chocolate that was filled with milk fats or vegetable oils that could affect head retention. The only way forward was with true cocoa beans. We ordered a small sample of cacao nibs (the broken up beans that chocolate is made from) and aged one of our stouts, Saint Petersburg on them to see what sort of character they would give the beer. Wow! It was choco-alcoholic heaven! Decision made, we transferred the finished mild on to the organic cacao nibs that I sourced from Supernutrients and now we wait…

I’ve already christened the beer CocoaDance, it already tasted chocolaty and citrusy before the maturation on chocolate, so I can’t wait to taste it over the coming days as it waltzes on to be my dream beer.

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