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!!!

Busy Busy!!

Been a while between blogs and all been busy here at the brewery! Stefano Cossi, our head brewer, is working day and night getting the new brewery sorted, with delivery and commissioning getting closer and closer. We’re all in the process of finalising, looking through the joys of the process descriptions, sourcing and ordering equipment for our laboratory and generally running around like ants around a popsicle on a hot summers day!

The toughest decision to date though has been the floor colour! May green is the final choice… didn’t even know that months of the year had colours!

What else has been happening? We had a great party here at Thornbridge a few weeks back and because it was for a birthday, I decided it was prime time to open my Thomas Hardy’s Ale, bottled all the way back on the 1st September 1979. So at almost 30 years old, there was never a better time. It would be fair to say that it was lacking slightly in carbonation, but the flavours were fantastic! Often, when I taste a beer, I’ll often smell the cap of the bottle and this one definitely didn’t disappoint. A massive hit of Marmite/Vegemite with a hint of blood… a type of just-rusting iron but nothing overpowering. Do they still make bottle caps that robust?

Thomas Hardy's Ale 1979

The ale itself was more port and sherry than beer. Once the waft of age dissipated (which took a few minutes), the unctuous, black liquid came into a world of its own! Really complex with lots of dried fruits. Mostly sweet prunes, syrupy figs and plump raisins with a bit of chocolate, some liquorice and a black cherry character. I detected a little vanilla in the swallow and a little of the marmite and metal that you could smell on the cap. It’s texture was all thick and gooey and so similar to the Pedro Ximenez I have chilling in my refrigerator. I’m going to have to try this at a warmer temperature to see if it’s as close to the ale as I think it will be. All in all, an interesting tasting experience and amazing to see what age can do to a beer. I wonder if the O’Hanlon’s bottles will be as interesting as the Eldridge Pope bottles in years to come. Just in case, a bought a box of the 2008 last year and will dutifully try these every year or so to make sure!

 

What else has been happening? We were visited recently by Kim Scheider, a brewer from Michigan in the US and her husband Karl Walser. Kim is the head brewer at North Peak Brewing (http://www.northpeak.net/default.html in Traverse City, Michigan and even hand-bottled a couple of her beers (that are usually only served in the brewpub) for us to taste. She also brought a couple of Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPAs for us to taste. A beer that I’m yet to try so looking forward to that.

 

We also had a bit of an epic tasting at the Coach last weekend with Phil Lowry (from Beermerchants). You can check out his blog action here. His good mate and fellow beer guru, Angelo Scarnera, blog ninja, Simon Johnson (www.reluctantscooper.co.uk) and Danish Ratebeerians, Jan and Charlotte also came along to taste a few beverages… Fellow Thornbridgers (Matt, Stefano and Dave Corbey) joined us and we got down to some serious supping. We managed to get through a bunch of Mikeller beers, some fantastic Port Brewing Co beverages (with Santa’s Little Helper being the highlight of the night), a selection of Pannepot beers, an interesting cherry lambic called Keralensis (a blend of beers from brewers Alvinne and Struise), a massive 10% Millenium edition Malheur (that would probably have been better in a trifle than as a drink) a few other assorted beverages and finally a good ol’ Thornbridge Bracia (and maybe an Orval or two) to finish the night. Because there were a load of us, am happy to say there were no sore heads in the morning!

 

We also had a great night out last week at Rowley’s restaurant in Baslow with their annual Thornbridge Beer and Food evening taking place. Chef’s Richard and Rupert along with Alastair put together a great night with some awesome food and some pretty good beer as well!

Upon getting there we enjoyed some wonderfully delicate pork scratching and a pint of Lord Marples, our 4.0% traditional bitter, and then once we sat down we were served the most delicious bread. The bread itself had being rested for 8 hours and used no actual bakers yeast. Instead it relied on the Champagne yeast from our Bracia to work away and the extremely subtle chestnut honey character could just be detected and worked so well with the sweet, lightly caramelised onion that had been rolled through it. The texture was great, all fluffy and moist. A great start!

What followed was a fantastic piece of theatre! Using a “smoke-gun”, Nelson Sauvin hops were smoked and the resultant smoke was collected in wine glasses and held in the glass with a beer coaster. The coasters were then removed and the smoke pillowed out, all burnt, resinous hoppiness. Wild Swan was then poured into the glass allowing a hint of smoke character to remain in the beer. It reminded me a lot of one of our other beers, Ember, which is a pale ale brewed with a portion of smoked malt. This beer was accompanied by a Nelson Sauvin Hop Smoked Halibut with Caramelised Onion and Pearl Barley Risotto. The risotto was cooked to perfection and the barley was soft in the mouth, yet still firm and chewy. The smoked halibut combined well with the light residual smoke character in the beer and the sweetness of the onions helped balanced the bitterness of the Wild Swan. It was grand!

The main course was an Osso Bucco of Derbyshire Pork. The best way for a layman like myself to describe this cut of meat, is that it’s the bit just before the shank. It was braised in our Kipling beer and honey and served with a pickled cabbage and small roast potatoes. The fascinating thing about the cabbage is that they had actually pickled it in one of our beers, Wild Swan. The beer had been left out to go sour (helped by the action of acetic and lactic acid bacteria and anything else that would have been present on the cabbage leaves) and the resultant sauerkraut-esque pickle was great. This dish was served with bottled Kipling. The sweetness of the braise tied in perfectly with the hint of caramel from the beer and the light, fruity bitterness helped wash away the pork fat and refresh the palate. Another great combo.

Finally came our dessert of a deconstructed Lemon Meringue (consisting of a slice of intensely sour-sweet lemon curd tart and some neat, little meringue rolls) topped with a fantastically bitter-sour Jaipur and Lime Sorbet. The Sorbet was a bit too much for some, but I thoroughly enjoyed the intense lime-pith bitterness and the hint of Jaipur hop bitterness. The drink of choice for this was a Jaipur Mojito, invented by the host, Alastair and a fantastic success. Who said you couldn’t do a beer cocktail!

So, as you can see, we have been a bit busy, but it’s definitely a good busy J

Karl, Kim (from North Peak Brewing Company) and Me

Karl, Kim (from North Peak Brewing Company) and Me

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