Sunday, 24 May 2015

Marble Old Manchester - Three years on, the final sample.

Three years ago I bought three bottles of Old Manchester, Marble Brewery's collaboration with John Keeling from Fuller's. I tasted it then and wondered how it might age. One year on I tried it again and there wasn't much change apart from a hint of something medicinal (this should have been a clue for what was to come). So I decided to leave the last bottle for a further two years and for an occasion with some other beer lovers who would be interested in sampling the evolution of a beer like this.

The opportunity arrived when our good friend Nate "Mr Drink'n'Eat" Nolan invited me and two other beer writers, Matt "Total" Curtis who writes at Total Ales and Chris Hall who writes on his own blog as well as for the brand new site Beer Insider. We were at Nate's to try some South African beers which impressed me with highlights from Devils Peak's Blockhouse IPA and American Pale Ale. But we also took the opportunity to bring some interesting beers from our own stashes. I dusted off the Old Manchester and took it down to Camberwell.

A beer like this can become explosive over time so towels were prepared for the inevitable fountain. When I pulled the cork nothing came but it was obvious as soon as the bottle was opened that there had been significant development since 2013. The first soured sniff worried me but then a distinct "brettyness" took over and excitement kicked in. We poured it out, all tangerine and murk, and the murmurs of appreciation started.

Boak and Bailey recently wrote a short piece on the difficulty in describing the character of beer brewed with the wild yeast Brettanomyces (known as Brett to his friends). The established comparisons of horse blanket and barnyard don't quite cut it and really the best descriptor is Orval-like. Orval is a Belgian Trappist ale whose unique flavour is influenced by its fermentation with Brett.  And Orval-like is what has happened to Old Manchester. Whether it was intentional or not, there is Brett in this beer and it has turned a good beer into a wonderful one.

The hop bitterness is still big with that distinctive orange peel citrus character that was there from the beginning. It seems richer than before with an almost oily mouthfeel.
That Brettyness comes though with  spicy and woody otherness. That medicinal note that I barely tasted in 2013 was indeed a sign of age and it has developed wonderfully.
It accompanied the cheese spread admirably. The Stilton made a perfect match - this deep and complex beer able to stand up against the powerful blue cheese.

I could wax on about this beer for pages but it seems mean to do so when it's now so difficult to get hold of. I'm thoroughly delighted that the experiment worked, it really was worth the wait. I can highly recommend aging beers for yourselves. Orval is one of the best beers for aging and shows Brett's development in the bottle clearly. Get hold of four bottles, stick them under the stairs and try one every couple of months to really appreciate this intriguing flavour,

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Wahaca Supper Club - Yucatecan Regional Menu (April 2015)

I'm not going to write much about this as it was a while ago, but it was a fabulous meal - details as captioned!

Grapefruit and guanabana margarita, guacamole and chips

Onions in Black Tempura (sweet onions, battered with recado negro, served with a Xcatic chile mayo)

Just to prove it's not all coal....

A great Austrian Riesling, which worked with every dish (Gruber Roschitz Riesling)

Thomasina Miers in the kitchen

Langoustines and sweetbread salbute (with corn masa base, pumpkin seed mousse)

Berkshire pork chop with cured honey onions (with plantain puree and Yucatecan oregano pipian salsa)

Coconut Pie with fried rosemary and rosemary ash (surprisingly delicious!)

Oh, and that would be Sam on the left....the chef Roberto Solis on the right

Monday, 23 March 2015

Wahaca's Pork Pibil

Pork Pibil is one of our fail-safe dishes when we eat at Wahaca. No matter what we choose, you can guarantee this will be on the list! When I saw the recipe in Wahaca Mexican Food at Home I couldn't wait to try it out, but alas the gods were against me - I needed to get hold of one vital ingredient; achiote* paste. MexGrocer came to the rescue via Santa, and in my Christmas stocking there it was (and boy could we smell it!).

Finally the chance came to give it a try. A paste of onions, garlic, achiote paste, oil, cider vinegar, oregano, bay, cloves, allspice, cumin, salt and peppercorns is blended together and then loosened with freshly squeezed orange juice. The recipe uses a pork neck joint, but in the absence of that in our local shop I went with pork shoulder. This is marinaded overnight and looks delicious already...

The cooking process is very simple, tip everything into a pan, add a chopped (hot) chilli and a nob of butter and bring to a simmer. Then cover tightly and slow bake in a very low oven for 3-4 hours. In the meantime you can make your pink pickled onions (which really are worth doing); mix a thinly sliced red onion with the juices of a whole lime and half an orange, add a de-seeded chopped (hot) chilli, and leave for a couple of hours to do its thing.

After a lot of waiting and an amazing smell permeating the house, you end up with this; shred the meat, and serve with rice, tortillas and your pickled onions as a garnish. It was well worth the wait!

*interesting fact, whilst typing this I happened to randomly have Food Unwrapped on in the background, and discovered that the seed (annatto) which gives Red Leicester its colour is also the seed of the achiote tree!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Our brewery of 2014 - Wild Beer Co

In this new world of craft brewing it takes something quite unique to stand out from the crowd. One brewery that has uniqueness in spades is the Wild Beer Company from Somerset. Wild Beer have made a huge impact on the British beer landscape over the past couple of years with their inventive and delicious beers. To make their inspiring beers they have borrowed techniques from Lambic beers, Champagne and even Sherry. They are flavoured with apricots, pink peppercorns and even cucumber. But the unusual techniques and ingredients are never for the sake of novelty, they are always with flavour in mind. Of course it doesn't hurt that each beer has a fascinating story behind it.

Some of Wild Beer's most extravagant beers have been collaborations not only with some exciting breweries but also a local bakery. In order to explain why Wild Beer Co are our brewery of 2014, we decided to run through a few of their range with some tasting notes below.

Sourdough (3.6%)

This is a collaboration between Wild Beer and Hobbs House Bakery. The bakery have given their ancient sourdough culture to the blend (and we do love sourdough). It pours a light golden colour with some healthy carbonation. It might be the knowledge that there is a bread ingredient in the mix but there really is a whiff of toasted bread, a little like champagne lees but with a woody lambic like character.

This is the second time I've had the beer and it's sourer than I remember, with a lightly citrus character. It's an intriguing and refreshing light beer with an almost lager mouth feel. Lovely effervescence. The wild yeasts come through well giving what could be a one-dimensional beer a depth. This is lovely, even better than I remembered, and might be because we've held on to this bottle for a while as it's designed to evolve in the bottle.

Bliss (6%)

It's not the most appetising looking beer being a murky orange colour without any head at all. The smell is all Christmas fruitcake, heavily spiced with concentrated raisiny fruit. The beer doesn't sing of apricots but they do lend a roasted fruity caramel flavour. The spices make this feel very festive and although it's not our favourite wild beer it is still a strong beer from their range. Best not to chill this too much as it seems to kill the real fruity flavours which come through more as it warms in the glass.

Shnoodlepip (6.5%)

This is the beer that, in our eyes, took Wild Beer from great brewery to game-changing one. It's a collaboration with Burning Sky and Good George brewery. It contains passion fruit which gives the beer lashings of tropical fruitiness. It's a riotous adventure through sour fruit and intriguing spiciness from the pink peppercorns. A truly original beer, with a truly awesome name.

Ninkasi (9%)

Ninkasi is a special beer. A pale beer with a voluminous head that dissipates quickly leaving behind lacing on the glass. Delicious apples and hops on the nose. It has a strong carbonation from the champagne style bottle conditioning which delightfully fizzes on your tongue. The apple flavours build the more you taste. As with all of the Wild Beers the yeast gives a large part of the beer's character. Here it complements the spicy hops to give a savoury note to what could have been a bit of a pudding of a beer. The sugar from the apples has all fermented out leaving just the tang. It rounds out the beer beautifully and is dangerously drinkable for such a high ABV beer.

Raconteur (9.5%)

This barley wine has been aged in brandy barrels from Burgundy and this really comes through on the smell. Vinous aromas and flavours abound. There is an intense raisiny flavour too, with a sourness from aging balancing out what has the potential to be an overly sweet and cloying beer. It has a hint of Flemish red about it and there is a moreish nutty character there too which keeps bringing your lips back to the glass. A savoury touch of marmite is there but certainly not unpleasantly. This is a complex, challenging and ultimately sublime beer. It takes time to appreciate but is worth the effort.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Happy New Year! Meopham Valley Sparkling Rose 2009

For New Year's Day we thought a bit of fizz was in order!

We tasted Meopham Valley's Sparkling Rosé at the Canterbury Food and Drink festival back in 2012 where the quality of this English sparkling wine really stood out and we've finally got round to drinking it. Meopham Valley is on Kent's North Downs and the vineyard have been making sparkling and still wines since 1991. This one won a silver award at English Wine of the Year, and a bronze at the Decanter World Wine Awards.

It's a beautiful light salmon with a fragrant aroma of Strawberries and Raspberries with some yeasty, bready notes. This wine has a refreshing acidity, lots of fresh raspberry and lemon and lovely touches of summer flowers. It has a very long finish which really shows off the quality of the wine. A great wine to pop open on New Years Eve or at a summer evening garden party.

Meopham Valley is available from Waitrose Cellar (where it's currently on offer) amongst other selected stockists.

Beer of the week - Hotel Chocolat Beer Truffles

We are just past Christmas and the house is still full of chocolate. It's also full of beer; both situations the effect of over-ambitious ordering and generous gifts.

Hotel Chocolat have done a good job of combining these two household favourites with their beer truffles.

A crisp crack of milk chocolate yields to a creamy, boozy, white chocolate ganache. It's subtly enriched with familiar Belgian beer flavours of malt and banana rounded off by an intriguing hoppy bitterness.

I've tasted a fair bit of beer based confectionery and I think these truffles come the closest to properly capturing the flavours of beer in this format. Maybe not one for a chocolate connoisseur and they certainly won't satisfy your thirst, but for a bit of festive fun they hit the mark.

Maybe a kind gift for a beer fan who is abstaining for January!

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

A Biodynamic Evening with Emmanuel Cazes

I'm more than a little sceptical when it comes to the theory behind biodynamic wine growing. So when the opportunity arose to meet a wine maker using biodynamic techniques in his vineyards, I was intrigued to say the least.  Add to that the fact that our host was to be the ever fabulous West London Wine School, I couldn't wait to go.


Cazes wines are organic and biodynamic, and have been since 1997. The decision to transition was made when their vines were diseased due to the fertilisers and pesticides being used on them killing the soil. They tried at first with just one plot of vines going biodynamic, but were so pleased with the results they converted the whole estate to biodynamic viticulture in 2005.

They use low concentration solutions of copper and sulphur instead of pesticides . This has no environmental impact, and transforms the natural life of the soil. They also use nettles (iron rich), willow leaves (salicylic acid – the silicates fight fungus/humidity), horsetail (to fight weeds) to help treat the soil rather than using chemicals.

The premise of it all is open mindedness, doing things differently and changing the traditional processes, doing things differently for the benefit of the soil and therefore the vines. 

Emmanuel Cazes
And so, onto the wines.

Canon du Maréchal Blanc, IGP Côtes Catalanes (2013) – ‘Canon’ is a French colloquial term for an easy drinking glass of wine, so this is the name they've given to their easy drinking red and white wines. This is a light, floral and fragrant wine, made from a blend of Muscat and Viognier - perfect as an aperitif or with white meat or fish, needing to be drunk within the first two years. It has aromas of peaches and pears which also come through on the taste.

Canon du Maréchal Rouge, IGP Côtes Catalanes (2013) – a 50/50 Syrah Merlot blend, and an ‘everday’ red, very easy drinking. It delivers ripe red fruit flavours, berries and black pepper. It’s not very complex, but hugely drinkable, a great dinner party red for the festive season.

Ego, Côtes du Roussillon Villages (2011) – made with Grenache (40%), Syrah (40%) and Mourvedre (20%), this was our favourite of the night. This wine has a longer maceration time of 3 weeks, leading to more tannins, but as they are using riper grapes (due to the hotter weather), the tannins are soft. On the nose you get lots of ripe red fruit and spicy black pepper, and this comes through on the palate with deeper fruit flavours, spice and leather. Despite the full on flavour, it’s very easy drinking and well balanced with a deep long finish.

Muscat de Rivesaltes (2010) – a golden yellow drop which delivers peach, vanilla, exotic fruits and floral notes on both the nose and the palate, and giving a lovely gentle warming feeling. Sam described it as ‘like eating Muscat berries’, which makes sense given it’s made from 100% Muscat. This would work really well with a fatty livery dish as much as a dessert.

Ambré, Rivesaltes (2000) – a very traditional wine in the Roussillon region, a vin doux naturel (naturally sweet wine), and lightly fortified with neutral grape spirit. They are aged in big wood tanks with space left for air/oxidation. It’s almost brown in colour, and tastes like caramel and leather, rich and creamy, with a slightly oily Riesling-esque notes. A great match for dessert, and again would also be good with rich fatty meats or Foie Gras.

Grenat, Rivesaltes (2010) – a Grenache Noir in a clear glass bottle, it looks different and tastes different too. It delivers concentrated jammy fruit, cassis, and a slight minerality. It seems drier than it's true sugar content. The production method of this wine is similar to that of Banyuls, but the main difference is in the terroir – clay and limestone with lots of pebbles. This is a great match with salted chocolate or red fruit.

Cuvée Aimé Cazes, Rivesaltes (1978) – Named after Emmanuel’s Grandfather, this is a very special wine. The vintage indicated is the year that the aging process started, the wine spending 22 years in open wood cask. There is a 7% loss every year, which results in a highly concentrated and complex wine. It then spends a further 10 years in bottle – this vintage was released 10 years ago. There are slight oily notes on the nose, along with caramel. The taste is unexpected and far more complex in comparison, with the expected deep caramel, but also nuts, bitter marmalade, raisins and leather. It has a slight sherry or port-like aftertaste (depending on who you ask!), but despite its age is surprisingly fresh tasting.

Whilst I may not be completely convinced by some of the reasoning behind the biodynamic techniques employed (for example Preparations 500 and 501 sound almost completely insane), what is abundantly clear is the care Emmanuel takes to look after his vines. The end result being the production of some interesting, complex and downright delicious wines.