Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Great British Beer Festival 2014 - Picks of the Festival

Yesterday was the first day of the Great British Beer Festival 2014 at Kensington Olympia. This annual event is a huge celebration of British beer brought to London by CAMRA. As well as some of the best cask ale around you can pick up interesting beers from all over the world. We thought it would be useful to highlight some of the best beers we tasted on the first afternoon of the festival. It wouldn't be possible to taste all of the beers and ciders at the festival given that there are over 900 of them, so here are some of the most interesting we tasted. A great way to search through the hundreds of beers is to use the GBBF Beer Selector which you can find here

  • Burning Sky - Plateau, 3.5% (B4); Burning Sky are based in East Sussex, and the brewery was set up by Mark Tranter, formerly head brewer of Dark Star. This pale ale is zesty with tropical fruits and bitter hops, and was Sam's beer of the festival. At such a low ABV it's a great session beer.
  • Brains - Frisco, 4.4% (B11); A Californian Common, this very drinkable beer from Brains Craft Brewery, is bitter and hoppy, with notes of tropical fruits.
  • Blakemere - Cherry Baby, 4.0% (B1); This cheshire brewery obviously enjoy playing with the addition of unusual ingredients, this cherry mild has notes of coffee, a pronounced cherry flavour and a nice level of bitterness - it's very drinkable (although it's a shame about the pump clip).
  • Dominion - Pitfield Raspberry Wheat, 5.0% (B5); This Essex brewery have got this raspberry wheat beer nailed, cloudy, with a floral soapy scent, it's a fruity, cakey wheat beer with hints of banana and raspberry.
  • Havant - The Foggiest 4.5% (B8); Love the name! A classic wheat beer, very drinkable, with notes of banana and spice.

  • Tilquin - Oude Gueuze a L'Ancienne (in bottle), 6.0% (B7); Sadly the draft version wasn't on yesterday, so we opted or the bottle version instead, as ever a stand out gueuze, utterly delicious, and a shock to the tastebuds after some of the more classic British beers.
  • Oliver's; Brandy Perry, 6.3% (B22); We love Tom Oliver's ciders so this Brandy Perry is a real treat to try, and was Claire's pick of the show. Very heavy on the (natural) pear, with bags of flavour. Very drinkable, and you barely notice the alcohol. Their single varietal cider on the same stand is also fantastic, with woody barnyardy notes - proper cider!
  • Brooklyn - Brooklyn Bitter, 5.0% (B20); Billed as an English-style pale ale, and it is exactly that! Honey and butterscotch notes, very lightly hopped for an American beer, and very drinkable.
  • Bateman - Black & White, 3.6% (B10); We haven't been hugely impressed with some of Bateman's recent releases so it's a pleasant surprise to try this mild with its nutty, roasted, coffee flavours and a slight hint of sweetness.
  • Hogs Back - Collaboration, 5.0% (B11); A collaboration beer between Hogsback and beer blogger and home brewer extraordinare Andy Parker, this one off brew is intensely hoppy but with a complex and deeply satisfying malt character.
  • Dogfish Head - Sixty One (in bottle), 6.5% (B19); It's such a shame that the US brewery Dogfish Head have stopped shipping to the UK so this rare opportunity to try some should be grabbed. This is their fabulous 60 minute IPA with added Californian syrah grape must - this was a takeaway bottle, so stayed tuned for a review coming soon.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Cooking with beer - Ola Dubh sabayon

Whilst the idea of cooking with beer is an attractive one, quite often the results can be disappointing. Rather than trapping perfectly pitched hops and malts it's very easy lose the hop's fresh flavours, intensify their bitterness to the point of unpleasantness and cook the malty character to a stewed sweetened soup. But get it right and you can balance out those flavours and create something which really harnesses the joy of the original beer.

This sabayon is a recipe which really catches the essence of the beer flavours boldly. Take care in choosing the beer because there is no hiding here. I chose the 30th Anniversary Ola Dubh to go with some grilled papaya (I probably should have gone with grilled pineapple instead, the papaya lacked real flavour). Ola Dubh is a cask strength Ola Dubh which has been aged in Highland Park 30 year old whisky barrels.

Now I know what some of you are thinking - that to use a special beer like this to cook with is a bit sacrilegious but rest assured there is only a tiny amount of the beer required for this recipe. This light custardy type dish is cooked in the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Because the heat to create the sabayon is so low, the inherent flavours of the beer are retained.

Delicious Ola Dubh.
Made with the Ola Dubh, the sabayon is a rich, creamy, sweet and boozey coating for your fruit. Its slightly smokey with just a hint of marmite (in a good way). The robust flavours really need something sweet and acidic to balance. I can imagine this recipe working with most other styles of beer, just be sure to think about which fruit will to go with it.
Caramelise the fruit by grilling or dry frying it to enhance those smokey flavours.

Enough for 2

2 Egg yolks
15 g caster sugar
30mL Ola Dubh

Whisk the ingredients together in a bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water making sure not to let the bowl touch the water. whisk constantly until it turns into a light frothy custard between which will take about 5-10 mins.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Beer of the Week - Lush Cynthia Stout Shampoo

I'm sat here typing this with beautifully clean hair and it's all thanks to my beer of the week, Cynthia Stout Shampoo by Lush. Lush are known more for their pungently scented and ethically sound toiletries than for beer so what's going on here?

Please excuse my currently under-decorated bathroom

Well, beer has been used as a hair product for decades. Tradition has it that beer give extra body to the hair. I've not managed to find much scientific evidence to back up the claim that beer does anything to strengthen hair but it's a bit of fun isn't it? So let's carry on and see what this stuff from Lush does to my flowing locks.

It pours from the bottle in a syrupy, rich, dark, puddle in the palm of my hand. On the nose it's very much like a highly aromatic shandy with bergamot and well, beer. It's made with stout, lemon juice, lemongrass oil, cognac oil, and balsamic vinegar (note to self: good ingredients for a beer cocktail I reckon).

This shampoo delivers a big foamy head (of hair) and fills the bathroom with the same malty and citrus smell of shandy. The taste? well it tastes of shampoo, so probably best avoided. But it leaves you with a squeaky clean mop and that shandy smell remains with you all day, in a good way.

So I couldn't look at those ingredients without experimenting with a beer cocktail.

Here's the recipe

Cynthia's Stout Cocktail
1 shot of cognac
Squeeze of lemon juice
Topped up with Guinness (or other stout)
Stirred with a stick of lemongrass that's been smashed with the flat of a big knife. 

And guess what? It's bloody lovely.
I left out the balsamic because I thought it a step too far down the savoury route. 

You can get this lovely shampoo from all Lush stores and it seems to be a very big seller for them. There are other beer shampoos on the market, notably this one from Superdrug, however I haven't tried this one, yet.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

National BBQ Week - Beer Brined BBQ Chicken

The weather has improved to an acceptable level and my urge to cook outside is growing to a frenzy. Adding to this that it's also National BBQ Week I thought I would share a chicken dish I made last weekend.

Every Spring I get my Weber barbecue out of the shed and remember that I last used it in a rain shower and so forgot to clean it. It's a very good tip to brush off your grill with a barbecue brush after you finish cooking and while it's still warm. 

I wanted to try to get some beer flavour into the chicken thighs and a good way to do this is with a brine. I used a combination of Sean Paxton's beer brine and Michael Ruhlman's quick chicken brine. With a salt content of the brine at almost 10% salt by weight it's important to make sure it gets not longer than 3 hours or it will become way too salty. If you have longer make a 5% brine and then you can leave the chicken brining for a lot longer. This will give you better infusion of the other flavours in the brine. 

Here's my beer brine recipe. Multiply up or down depending on the quantity of chicken

1 330ml bottle Westmalle Tripel (or similar or even very different but flavorful malt driven beer) 
330mL water
60g table salt
2 tblsp of honey
1 lemon in quarters
2 cloves of garlic
1 bayleaf
2 sprigs of thyme

Put all the ingredients in a pan and bring to a simmer until all the salt and honey is dissolved. Let it cool to room temperature and then put it in a sealable bag with the chicken pieces you want to barbecue. Pop it in the fridge.

After brining for 3 hours drain off the brine and pat dry. At this point I sprinkled over some of my standard barbecue rub. This is a good opportunity to use up some of those dried herbs and spices that may have been lurking in your cupboard. A mix of sugar, oregano, dried thyme, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper make up my blend. 
Don't overdo the rub, we want to taste the beer.

Set up your barbecue for indirect grilling - pile up the coals on one side with a drip tray filled with water (or beer) on the other. You'll cook the chicken over the drip tray with the lid closed and move it over the coals towards the end of cooking to crisp up the skin. Pop some apple wood chips on the coals and you'll be smoking as you roast. 

To accompany we had these pesto marinated veggies. Asparagus on the barbie is the future. 

The beauty of the Weber is that with the lid on and internal thermometer it acts like an oven. You do have to adjust the airflow to get the right temp. If you don't have a Weber then an instant read thermometer through the vents in the lid will give you an indication of the temperature under the lid. 40 minutes at 180 to 190C and the chicken is cooked through.

Move it over the hot coals to get some browning on the skin and you're chicken is done.

When you barbecue make sure you chuck some corn on the cob on the grill. Corn is at its best cooked over charcoal and then smothered in butter and chilli flakes, you won't regret it.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Our weekend in Brussels (in pictures)

It's no secret that Brussels is one of our favourite cities to visit. We take a long weekend away there almost every year and often fantasize about winning the lottery and buying a flat near the Place du Grand Sablon. Last weekend saw our annual pilgrimage to our haven of beer and food, and here are just a few snapshots to serve as a wonderful reminder.

The smurfs' actual gym equipment, as unearthed by the Comic Strip Museum

First beer of the weekend, at the lovely A La Morte Subite

Blanche de Bruxelles, Vielle Orval at Poechenellekelder

Beautiful Art Nouveau at the Falstaff

It's true - Duvel really is the ultimate food beer, and was perfect with chocolately waffle goodness

A spot of wine at Le Wine Bar Sablon des Marolles - we can't recommend this place enough, the food is outstanding, as is the wine list

Bizarre art inflatables at the European fair

Brasserie de la Senne - modern hoppier beers from Brussels' newest brewery

De Dochter beers are great, give them a try if you get the chance!

Moeder Lambic
Cantillon Kriek

Great wall of Cantillon
A rare taste of the Zwanze 2012 at Cantillon Brewery, made with rhubarb

Fine dining at Bocconi - halibut and asparagus...

...and herb crusted lamb with wild mushrooms

Cantillon on tap - in gueuze heaven at Moeder Lambic

Not so fine dining, Fritland serve the best (blurry) chips in Brussels

Don't be put off by the slightly tacky ghostly labels - Fantome are making some fantastic seasonal saisons

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Cooking the Books: Treat Petite

I love stuff in miniature. Specifically food. A good canape is a truly joyous thing, and I have an abnormal number of cookery books dedicated to this subject.

I was thrilled to receive a copy of Treat Petite recently, and have finally gotten around to trying a number of the recipes. It's a lovely little book with some original ideas for both savoury and sweet tiny treats.

Earl Grey Madeleines with Honey-Orange Glaze

My versions of these were not miniature, as I didn't have the inclination to purchase a miniature madeleine mould, however the results were just as good. They had a lovely balanced flavour, the zest gives an orange zing, and surprisingly the Earl Grey wasn't too dominating. All the flavours meld together to make a perfectly delicious bite. The recipe made a batch of 12 as opposed to the 48 indicated, and the cooking time increased to 15 minutes in the oven.

Lemon Domes with Pink Grapefruit Syrup

Of the handful of recipes I tried this one wasn't at all successful, and I have a suspicion that the ingredients/recipe isn't quite right. I used mini muffin cases due to the fact that the first batch of lemon sponges I made were welded to the containers I baked them in - which at first I thought was due my under-buttering the dishes, but in hindsight I think it was due to the batter mix not being quite right. The recipe had far too much raising agent in the mix, which resulted in producing a holey (as opposed to airy and light) cake, with a baking powder aftertaste (not nice!). In addition, the glaze also seemed wrong - I halved the sugar added to the fruit juice, and it was still too sweet in my opinion. I love the idea and flavour combinations of these cupcakes however, so will probably play around with the recipe a bit to try and get the amounts right.

Chai Spiced Palmiers

A lovely little bite-sized sweetly spiced pastry treat - these were lovely and disappeared way too quickly. There's no photo, as I'll admit my palmier rolling skills aren't up to much and they didn't look amazingly appetising! A really simple recipe made by sprinkling a mixture of caster sugar, cinnamon, ground ginger, cloves and cardamom onto puff pastry, rolling, and baking. Very tasty.

White Russian Cupcakes

This recipe is a fabulous idea using the all the ingredients from one of my favourite cocktails. The cupcake is made with coffee and Kahlua, filled with a white chocolate and vodka ganache, and topped with Kahlua meringue buttercream. I adapted the recipe slightly, excluding the buttercream, and topping with the ganache instead. The cupcakes themselves are moist and slightly sticky, with a lovely background flavour of Kahlua and coffee - a very adult cupcake. This was such a nice recipe and I'll definitely make the cupcakes again, possibly as a larger cake next time and then drizzle with a Kahlua syrup rather than the ganache (which was lovely, I'm just not a massive fan of white chocolate).

Caramelised Onion Galettes with Goats Cheese

A lovely idea and very simple but delicious, essentially teeny tiny vol-au-vents. The onions are cooked low and slow with butter, sugar and red wine, to produce something oniony, sticky and sweet. A tiny bit of goats cheese and thyme leaves on top make a delicious bite.

In summary I think this is a lovely little book, perfect as a stocking filler for the baker in your life. With several hits and only one miss, this will definitely be getting lots of use.

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.