Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Best New Breweries 2013, Bevog Brewery

In January of this year, one of the go-to online beer reference sites, Rate Beer, released its list of top ten new breweries as part of their annual awards. The results are based purely on the ratings given by the citizen reviewers on the site, so it's all very democratic if not a little biased towards the US. More on that later.

Despite this it is very encouraging to see three British brewers in the top ten. There is always a chance that US breweries will dominate these "Craft Forward" review sites but this result represents not only the number of breweries now in the UK but also the increasing quality of beers that they are producing.

The three breweries representing the UK are Pressure Drop, Weird Beard and Siren coming it at 10, 5 and 2 respectively. I was thrilled to see Weird Beard get the recognition they deserve. I've been following Gregg and Bryan's progress with keen interest over the past couple of years, and talked about their beers here, here and on the Beertalkers podcast  where their excellent Mariana Trench faced off against Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA and came out triumphant.

I've heard that Pressure Drop, Weird Beard and Siren might be doing some collaboration brews in the future so keep an eye out for those.

I was also pleased to see the San Diego Brewery, Modern Times at number 9. It was started up in early 2013 by Jacob McKean, communications guy at Stone. Here he explains why he opened the brewery. With the experimental homebrew writer, Michael Tonsmeire, on board as a consultant it could only mean that there were going to be some out of the ordinary brewing going on. If you are a homebrewer and you haven't already, do check out Michael's site The Mad Fermentationist. His American Sour Beers book is out in the UK soon. His methodical approach to recipe testing and experimentation really appeals to the scientist in me.

Number 3 in the list is the intriguing Bevog Brewery from Austria. We bought some of their range from the Independent Spirit of Bath while down in the Westcountry recently. They stand out on the shelf with Grimm-like monsters illustrated beautifully on their labels.

As far as I can tell Tak is a dog like creature who likes to play with wheels.

Tak Pale ale is the Bevog's flagship beer and the first that was commercially brewed in 2013. Smells of fresh lemony hops with a well-rounded tangy flavour. Slightly dusty and medicinal, but refreshing. The impact of the hops doesn't last though. As we go down the glass the malty dust takes over in a satisfying cakeyness.

The frankly scary Kramah
Kramah is a big bold scary IPA or that's the idea anyway. As expected there is a big hop presence in this beer but it does lack the vibrancy and clarity of flavour I expected. The bitterness is a little too subdued and muffled for my liking.

Baja is a smooth oatmeal stout and it's bloody lovely. Rich dark coffee malts lead the way here backed up by sweet chocolate and dark fruits. Very moreish and smoothly satisfying

The Bevog beers are available at Independent Spirits of Bath and Ales By Mail. The whole top ten new breweries list is here.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Real Wine Fair

The third Real Wine Fair happened last weekend in Tobacco Dock in Wapping. The Real Wine Fair celebrates the world of Natural Wine, a loose term covering wines that are produced with minimal interference from the winemaker. They are typically organic or biodynamic with no pesticides, minimal sulphates, all natural yeasts, some very interesting techniques including concrete eggs and some rarely seen indigenous grape varieties. All of which lead to a very interesting range of wine that you would never see at a standard wine show. Whether or not these wines are flawed (as some would have you believe) one thing to be sure of is that there are some very unusual flavours going on in these bottles.

A slightly calmer crowd than later in the day.

We tasted a bright yellow Prosecco with a layer of yeast wisping around at the bottom of the bottle (fresh, bready and great, somehow), a fourteen year old verdicchio (a savoury delight) and some very young Portuguese wines (fruity could never go far enough). We also saw our old friend Bunan from Bandol who we wrote about last year. And there were many other long established vineyards present who have been making natural wine for a long time and probably just call it wine. Natural wine isn't a new thing or a fad, in fact not too long ago, it was the only type of wine.

Bandol white and Rosé from Bunan

But we were there to taste new wine, not go over old ground so here are a few of our favourites:

Ramones fan, Brendan Tracey is the winemaker behind Domaine le Clocher
Brendan Tracey of Domaine le Clocher is making some excellent wines and has only been at it since 2010. His Rue De la Soif Rosé was one of the standout wines. It's a hazy orangey pink wine with some pronounced ripe plum and peach flavours. His red, Une Poignee de Bouteilles, is a blend of Pinot Noir and Cos. Full on fruit here again with some powerful blackcurrant flavour. 

The Valpolicella lineup, a tempting proposition.
I'm a sucker for Amarone Della Valpolicella and Recioto, its dessert wine version from the Veneto region. These powerful wines are produced by drying the grapes on straw mats before crushing them. These natural versions from Antolini were spectacular and the 2010 Moropio Amarone was our favourite. Deep and velvety but with a lot of fruit, these are serious wines. The sweeter Recioto was a fine example of the style too, a perfect drink to end an evening. 

La Stoppa is a winery from Emilia-Romagna, with some big surprises. Not least of which was the frizzante Trebbiolo. A sparkling red wine that didn't make me reach for the spittoon which is a rare thing. However the still version did impress more and although a little younger was sophisticated and great value at £10.75. Also from La Stoppa was the lovely Malvasia Passito named "Vigna Del Volta". A dessert wine with a complex aroma and flavours of dried fruit and Earl Grey tea. The Malvasia and Muscat grapes are dried in the sun before crushing and this gives the wine extraordinary intensity of flavour.
Still or sparkling, the choice is yours.
We brought a couple of bottles from the show one of which was this strikingly labelled Chenas, Ultimatum Climat 2010 from Domaine des Vignes du Maynes. 

The tendency towards striking label design was noticeable in the natural wine world. In fact I tended to gravitate more towards bold colours and interesting text over the traditionally styled bottles. It seems to fit into the rebellious ethos of the winemakers to stick some neon pinks and slogan style graphics. 

As I've mentioned before, I love the wines of Beaujolais and Chenas is one of the crus which delivers with more power. And this example of Chenas, which we opened a few days after the wine fair is no exception. It's a deep ruby colour and there is big mature fruit on the nose. It is well-rounded, smooth but with enough tannin to give some meaty grit. It has an impressively long finish to it which was surprising for a Gamay but it seems that the natural processes and some time in oak have really given this wine bountiful character.    

Ultimatum Climat 2010

Most of the wines we tasted are available through Les Cave de Pyrene and some are on the Real Wine Website shop. If you fancy tasting some natural wine and don't want to wait for next year's Real Wine Fair then Raw Wine festival is coming up soon in May where they will be showcasing more excellent artisan wines. There is also a list of events and participating bars and restaurants for Real Wine Month here. Do try to taste some natural wine in April. It's a truly rewarding experience.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Cuvée Prestige 2009, Domaine Des Brureaux, from Beaujolais and Beyond

Over the past couple of years I've enjoyed teaching myself about the wines of Beaujolais. Apart from the delightful wines themselves, there are a couple of other reasons for this. 

To fully understand and be educated in the world of wine is a massive undertaking but geography, politics, history and climate have given aspiring wine buffs a neat way of dividing it up into digestible chunks (or wine regions). Here in the UK our wine output is minuscule compared to that of our European neighbours and the New World. This has meant that, in contrast to more prodigious wine producers, the UK has a very wide range of wine on our shops' shelves. In recent years this has meant that lovers of Beaujolais have been well catered for especially by specialist wine sellers like Beaujolais and Beyond

Some of the French regions are large, complicated and divided further into many mini regions, communes, appellations, villages and crus. They can have a myriad of grape varieties in their wines and most won’t say which on the bottle. All these details can be learnt but it isn't straightforward.

In contrast, the wines of Beaujolais are easy to explore and I love this fact. It is a small region divided quite neatly into easily understood areas and pretty much the only grape grown here is the intriguing Gamay. Gamay can make thin and acidic wine outside (and sometimes inside) of Beaujolais but it’s in the crus where the quality and variety of wines made with this grape show. Crus are designated areas where the best grapes in the region are grown. The ten crus in Beaujolais are situated towards the North of the area and they each have distinctive characters. From lightest to beefiest they are Chiroubles, St Amour, Régnié, Fleurie, Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Juliénas, Chénas, Morgon and Moulin-à-Vent. The lighter examples are full of summer berries and flowers but the deeper end of this spectrum gives wines which are deep, rich and velvety.

There really are Beaujolais wines for all seasons, the best of which will age well and develop serious complexity. My favourites are the wines of Morgon, Chénas and Moulin-a-vent mostly because they show more of the deep character that I like in the colder months.

This brings me on to another reason that I love exploring this region - the price is so reasonable. The wines range from the cheapest Beaujolais AOC at £5, through Beaujolais Villages at £10, up to the Crus which usually come in at less than £15. You can taste examples from the whole region in one mixed case of wine easily for less than £150.

This is exactly what this mixed case from Beaujolais and Beyond gives you. We first ran into this family business of importers, we now know as B&B, at a Three Wine Men event at Lords cricket ground. That day we walked away with a 2009 Chénas Cuvée Prestige from Domaine Des Brureaux and it wasn't long before we placed an order for the aforementioned mixed case. We've slowly worked our way through the region's offerings and are sadly reaching the end.

The other reason I enjoy Beaujolais so much is because of my Dad. He loves Beaujolais wines and started me off on this road with a bottle of Fleurie and so every time I open a bottle I think of him.  

It took us until now to open that 2009 Chénas and it was superb. It has a beautiful aroma of fruit and spice and the flavour is rich and deeper than we expected, with a lot of cherry and a surprising amount of blackcurrant. It’s aged in old oak and this seems to give it hints of toast and vanilla but it’s the power and fruit that rule in this wine. A wonderful wine that we could have kept for longer but as with all of the Beaujolais we have drunk every bottle furthers our understanding of this most pleasurable of wine regions.

I think it's time to replenish our Beaujolais stocks!

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Oeufs à la bière - Poached eggs in carbonnade sauce

Oeufs en Meurette is a classic French bistro dish of poached eggs in a Burgundian (Meurette) sauce. It's a rich, eggy start to a meal which for me is usually followed up with a bloody steak and rustling fries. Around New Year in the Hungerlust family we always treat ourselves to a fancy steak and so, to recreate my favourite bistro meal I'm cooking my take on oeufs en meurette, Oeufs à la bière or poached eggs in carbonnade sauce. I've followed the classic meurette recipe but switched out the wine for a bottle of Leffe blonde. When this beer replaces wine in the sauce it begins to look a whole lot like a carbonnade, hence the name. After reducing the beer for the sauce it was extremely bitter and frankly weird, so I reached for the nearest source of sweetness, a bottle of golden syrup. A tablespoon of this was all that was needed to balance it out and the slight sweetness worked well with the bacon. A bottle of something a bit sweeter would have balanced the sauce a little better than the Leffe and sticking with a Belgian theme I would go with a dark abbey ale, a quadruple or a scotch style ale. 

Here's the recipe. It serves 4


200g chunky bacon lardons
3 shallots sliced
500ml Leffe Blonde or other (dark abbey ale, a quadruple or a scotch style ale)
A sprig of thyme
250ml chicken stock
25g butter
1 tablespoon flour
4 very fresh, free range eggs.
1 tablespoon of golden syrup (Or sugar, or honey)
Thick slices of crusty white bread
Salt and pepper
Dry fry the bacon in a non-stick pan so the fat renders out and the bacon gets nice and crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and leave it on some kitchen towel to drain off the excess fat. Reserve the bacon
Over a low heat fry the shallots in the remaining bacon fat in the pan. 
Boil the beer over a high heat in a large pan with a sprig of thyme until reduced by half. Add the chicken stock and reduce by a further half.
Melt the butter and cook out the flour to make a roux. Blend the roux with a couple of tablespoons of the reduced beer and then mix it back in the to the pan of beer.
Add the onions to the beer and simmer for five minutes until the sauce thickens slightly. Season with plenty of freshly ground black pepper and salt if required
Carefully poach the eggs in a large pan of water. Meanwhile rub the slices of bread with a little olive oil and toast in a griddle pan or under a hot grill.
To serve, place a piece of toast on the plate. Sprinkle the bacon pieces on and around the toast. Top with an egg and spoon a generous amount of the sauce on and around the toast. 

Monday, 16 December 2013

Beer of the week and Recipe of the week! Nøgne Ø Special Holiday Ale

It's Summer 2013 and a beautiful Sunday of cricket at Lords is cut short by a rampant Stuart Broad demolishing New Zealand's second innings. It's difficult to complain about a shortened days play when your team win so convincingly. It's also difficult to complain when you fill the rest of your day in a beer garden, on a table in the sun, by the Grand Union canal.

The Union Tavern is a fancy but fun pub in Westbourne Grove with an excellent selection of beers and a menu full of smoked barbecued meats and traditional pub favourites.

Along with the ever changing cask and keg range they also have fridges full of bottles from the UK and abroad. And so today, on a warm day in May, I was tempted to try the most wintery beer on the menu. Partly because I like to be contrary and partly because the Nøgne Ø Special Holiday Ale was reduced to clear at a bargain price. Having tasted it I'm not surprised that they were having trouble selling it in May.

It's a collaboration between the famed Norwegian brewery and two American breweries, Stone and Jolly Pumpkin. It's brewed with chestnuts, sage and juniper and having read that I should have guessed that this wouldn't be suitable for the occasion.

It smells of how I imagine a Norwegian Christmas feels, all sweet spices, pine needles and alcohol.
It almost gloops into the glass like syrupy medicine and the flavour matches the smell and look.
Sweet pumpkin molasses, if there is such a thing, is complemented with spices and thick heavy chestnut malt. The juniper comes through in the smell but doesn't quite battle its way through the sweetness.    

It's a very different beer. A bit too sweet for me and almost cloying but there is some bitterness. I think this would age well. So of course I bought two more bottles to take away. Let's see what it tastes like in a couple of years. But in the mean time...

It's about time we had another beery recipe and because now it's bloody cold it's got to be a stew. This beer, with sage, juniper and chestnuts would suit game, perhaps pheasant or venison. But for today I've picked up some beef and to go with that some chestnuts and squash. Normally for a slow cooked beef and beer recipe I would add something sweet, prunes perhaps or even a dollop of marmalade. This beer will have enough sweetness especially if a splash is added to the gravy at the end. When cooking with beer keeping back a little this last addition makes all the difference.

Enough for 4

2 medium onions, sliced
1kg stewing steak cut into large chunks
1 small squash, peeled and cut into large chunks
15 or so cooked chestnuts
Squeeze of tomato puree
2 Bay leaves
2 or 3 sage leaves
4 dried Juniper berries
A bottle of Nøgne Ø Special Holiday Ale (or other strong Christmassy beer)
1 pint of beef stock
2 Tablespoons of vinegar (sherry, balsamic or home made porter vinegar)
a tablespoon of flour
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 160C
Heat some oil over a medium heat in a suitably sized casserole. Fry the onions very slowly with a pinch of salt until they have turned dark brown and mushy. If you do this properly it should take about thirty minutes.   Add the tomato puree and cook it out, stirring for a minute. Meanwhile, in a hot frying pan, sear the chunks of steak in batches. Add the browned steak, chopped squash and chestnuts to the cooked onions with the herbs and juniper berries. Sprinkle over the flour. Deglaze the frying pan with 3/4 of the beer and pour it over the beef. Just cover with beef stock, add the vinegar, season and bring to a very gentle simmer. Cover the casserole and pop it into the oven for an hour. Check that the beef is cooked and tender then scoop out the beef and squash with a slotted spoon. The chestnuts will have disintegrated a little by now thickening the sauce slightly. Reduce the sauce by a third on the hob and add in the leftover beer. Put the beef back in and bring back to a simmer. Now it's ready to eat!

Serve with new potatoes or mash.

A final note: when I drank some of this bottle whilst cooking the stew the sweetness had mellowed slightly. I think another year in bottle will turn this into something very special.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Beer of the week : Shepherd Neame Christmas Ale

It's that time of year when breweries bring out their Christmassy wintery offerings. These can be stronger, darker, spiced, and often more malt led in their flavour profiles. But here's something a little different from Sheps and in their typical Kentish ways it draws on hops to celebrate the season.

Their spicy hops come through on the nose but with a little background caramel. And the hops dominate the flavour too with a powerful bitterness. Unlike some other Christmas beers this is not too sweet but this is not a typical Christmas beer. It's almost refreshing but at 7% the alcohol is definitely there.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Beer of the week: Tilquin Quetsche

The Moeder Lambic bars are a must for any beer lover visiting Brussels. The draught list alone is a who's who of Belgian brewing but it's the bottle list filled with rare Gueuze and other bottles that pulls us back every time. They specialise in serving these sour, spontaneously fermented beers of Belgium whose popularity has boomed of late. Each of the Gueuze producers of Belgium reminds me of a member of an eccentric family, each with their distinct character, strengths and foibles. If Cantillon is solid father figure and Drie Fontainen the cool uncle, the young Tilquin is the precocious teenager. Founded in 2009, by Pierre Tilquin, the newest member of the family is currently a blender rather than a brewer of Lambics. But after stints at the aforementioned Cantillon and Drie Fontainen he certainly deserves his place on the family tree.

Cherries and raspberries are the fruits traditionally fermented with lambics to create kriek and framboise. But any fruit can be added at the secondary fermentation stage, Cantillon creating the most celebrated of these with apricot Fou' Foune and rhubarb Zwanze.

Moeder Lambic had sold out of these rarities when we visited after the Brussels Beer festival this year but they did have another treat available. Tilquin's Quetsche is fermented with plums and, in my opinion, it's a triumph.

It's an attractive hazy rusty plum colour with small foamy head. Poured from 75ml bottle from the traditional basket, it has a sherbety, red fruit aroma with a touch of plum and it pours with a languid viscous quality.

It's a gorgeously smooth and balanced lambic, the plums giving an illusion of sweetness which tricks you into balancing the sourness but without any sugar. There isn't a lot of bitterness which compared to other lambic but you can almost taste the skin and flesh of the plum. This is a very different type of fruit lambic, clever, silky and infinitely drinkable.

You can buy Tilquin Quetsche from beer merchants when it's available for £9.99 for a 37.5cl bottle.