Inundation and Appreciation

Life post-brewing has been kind. I’ll be honest, I don’t have any source of income at the moment (which has a few downsides) but there is the hope that one day the house that I’m working on will be up to standard to sell and we get a bit of money for all the hard graft! On the upside, I’m learning a lot about renovating houses, I’m now close to being a master sander/scraper of windowsills and doors and my ability to remove wallpaper and rip up lino is improving every day.

Then there are the other upsides! I’ve managed to procure my brother’s homebrew setup and have promptly entered the world of the home brewer. Sure, I’ve played around on small kits before, mostly when I was with Epic and we cranked up ePicoBrewery to trial new beers, with both Epicurean Coffee and Fig Imperial Oatmeal Stout (codename: ePicobrewery Collision) and Zythos (codename: ePicobrewery Zythogeddon) beginning their lives on this 50 litre scale. 

Being away from brewing for a few months has been both refreshing and a bit disappointing. The last 20 months had been pretty frantic with the new brewery startup at Good George, the birth of our son and the passing of Dad as well as a move into uncharted territory of life PB (post-brewing) and moving ourselves to New Plymouth without any employment.

Laying down a mash in the garage and smelling that beautiful sweet, biscuity malt has been therapeutic. It’s times like this that you completely understand why your lifepath has worked the way it has and had me brewing professionally for close to a third of my existence. It’s been fun to get a little experimental again, something that I’ve always loved to do and I’ve been stoked with the Chamomile and Sage Saison (Sageson) in particular.

There are other things about being freelance that have also been wonderful. Dave Kurth has been extremely generous and sent me a few samples of his delicious canned Hot Water Brewing beers, with the Kauri Falls Pale Ale (my brother, Shannon’s 2013 Beer of the Year) and Walker’s Porter both showing the excellent drinkability that is Dave’s trademark. 

Our family was also very lucky to be supplied by Good George, Epic and mike’s with beer for Dad’s wake, again, it’s so amazing to have support like this from the brewing industry and there were certainly some palates opened up to tasty beer and cider, that’s for sure!

I’ve also just received a box from Mel and Phil of Beertique, a relatively new company based in Auckland who are importing international beers and ciders from around the world for our enjoyment here in NZ. Even though I’ve never met them, they’ve sent me a selection including Thornbridge Jaipur and Kill Your Darlings, Camden Town Gentleman’s Wit, Wild Beer Co (best beer website i’ve seen in a long time, especially the beer descriptions) Madness IPA and the Wild Beer Co/Burning Sky/Good George Shnoodlepip that I collaborated on in the UK last year. Thanks so much Mel and Phil!

Speaking of Shnoodlepip, this was the first actual time I have tasted the beer and I’m super pleased with how it has turned out. The last time I tasted it, it was still wort being pumped into an open fermenter and being dosed with Brettanomyces and Saison yeast strains. We had chucked a (possibly) ridiculous amount of crushed pink peppercorns into the end of the boil. Not a true peppercorn, these fuchsia-pink fruit have a lovely pepper-like note and always impress me with their sweetness and juniper-berry like character. If I recall, Andrew from Wild Beer Co cranked up the barbecue and we had the most amazing pink peppercorn-coated steak sandwiches for lunch on the brewday. A great flavourmemory.

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Myself, Mark Tranter and Brett Ellis hanging out in the open fermenter…

Post ferment, we were constantly in touch to chart the beer’s progress. Not only was this brew to be barrel aged, it was also to include passion fruit and hibiscus flowers. We wanted a little tartness and dryness form the yeast strains, depth of spice from the pink peppercorns (though not too much) that would blend in well with the vanilla and spicey notes from the oak barrels and then a little more tart fruitiness from the Hibiscus flowers. These were to be infused and added for both flavour and the fantastic hue that they give. Finally the passionfruit was there for that heady, rich impact. It’s unique combination of sweet and sharp and an uplifting tropical aspect would hopefully bring this unusual beer to completion.

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Shnoodlepip wort

Do you know what? It worked! A touch of pink in the colour, almost like a pale ale has been blended with a Rosé wine, a fantastic effervescence in the mouth with bubbles that almost seem larger than they are, but in a good way. That underlying tastness from front to back, balanced with body and sweetness from the fruit and vanilla-like oak. The passion-fruit finish, brining it into the realms of NZ Sauvignon Blanc but with in a tasteful one-dimensional way. It is just passionfruit, no gooseberry or lychee or anything else getting in the way.

It was the memory of my Nana and Grandpa’s passionfruit vine on a hot summer day in Oakura as a child. Cracking open the super-ripe crinkly-skinned passionfruit that littered the soil under the vine, usually with your teeth (sometimes to the point where the sides of your mouth hurt from eating so many of those addictive, acidic delights). I shared some with my Mum and Catherine, their eyes opening wide, both of them impressed with this beer from the other side of the world.

I love collaboration and I love doing something slightly different. And I am so appreciative of being inundated with these fantastic brews.

Inspiration begets Inspiration.

I’m off to write a beer recipe…

(By the way, another little side-project I’m involved with involves brewing, a nano-brewery and New Plymouth… Brew Mountain is getting closer!)

 

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 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.

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