Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Star beer lists in London

There has been a big push by breweries and beer lovers in recent years to promote beer and food matching and rightly so. During the meals and the food matching session at the Beer Bloggers Conference it really struck me how well some of the beer and food matches worked and I think it is worth the beer world making a bigger deal about this.

However it is an interesting phenomenon that in many restaurants that have achieved the pinnacle of culinary achievements that their beer lists are terrible. In restaurants where you can experience amazing dishes of the finest ingredients, conjured up by the most talented chefs and accompanied by the most expensive wines in the world that the best you can expect in the way of beer is a bottle of Stella Artois or a pint of Guinness. It is unfathomable that in 2011 that most UK restaurants haven't noticed the explosion of sophisticated beers available from the UK, and the rest of the world. Of course it would be unfair to paint all UK restaurants with the same brush and it is certainly not the case in the US where some of the top restaurants take their beer list very seriously.

I have decided on a new policy when it comes to beer in restaurants. I will always ask what beers are available, commend a good list and lament the bad, and if they have a beer I like I will order it. I urge any beer lovers who read this blog to do the same.

So in this spirit here is my top five list of restaurants around London for beer lists.

Byron Burger- various branches in London
It was in Byron burger that I tasted my first ever Brooklyn Lager. A beer that partially set the course of our honeymoon trip across America. Just this week Byron Burger have announced their craft beer summer and they have carefully put together an impressive list of ten craft beers from the UK, US and Australia which is available in all of their branches. All of this was done with the knowledgeable advice of Mark Dredge from Pencil and Spoon. Some real proof there of the influence of beer bloggers. I am very pleased to see two London breweries on the list with both The Kernel and Camden breweries

Albert's Table - Croydon
I love Albert's Table because of it's excellent bistro style food. I love it even more because they have a nice little beer list. When I was there they stocked some Sam Adams, Sam Smiths, Worthington's White Shield and Veltins. The chef and owner Joby Wells say he tries to keep a good small range of mostly UK beers. This gets Albert's Table on my list.

Roast - London
What a pleasure is was to open Roast's bar menu and see that their whole range of beers that are brewed exclusively for the restaurant by Whitstable brewery in Kent. It's a nice selection with a stout, an IPA, a wheat beer and a pilsner. I think it's very good for beer to see restaurants working with breweries in this way.

Corrigan's - London
The food at Corrigan's is huge. Huge on flavour and often huge in size. They have a well selected wine list and a talent filled cocktail bar. But their beer list isn't great, They make this list because last year they started a beer and burgers menu available at the bar. This food combination wasn't snobbery but a careful matching. Veal Burger with smoked bone marrow was matched with Goose Island IPA, a hand ground beef burger with Brooklyn Lager and a venison burger with Hobgoblin. Last time I visited the beers were still available. Good work Mr Corrigan.

Le Gavroche - London
Michel Roux Jr was voted beer drinker of the year in 2007 by the parliamentary beer group. This was mostly because he has embraced beer and food matching. The Roux's flagship restaurant, Le Gavroche, has an extensive beer list and Roux and his sommelier have said that beer is the perfect match for some of the restaurant's dishes. I haven't eaten at Le Gavroche yet but I am assured that the restaurant truly deserves its reputation. We will visit one day.

Honourable mentions:
St John Hotel and Magdalen are stocking Kernel beers, a sign that quality will win over restaurants to the cause.
I almost forgot Canteen. The four restaurant chain serve a good range of of British beer in bottle, from white shield to Hopback stout,  and draught Meantime. Very good.

The new restaurant from Marcus Wareing, The Gilbert Scott, has some Camden town and Meantime beers, I'll be checking this out next month so expect a full report.

I hear that Pearl also have a good list which I will update you on if they get back to me.

Outside London, Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons has a good list and I hear Aubergine in Marlow is doing its bit. Nathan Outlaw's restaurant has done a lot of beer and food matching recently with Stuart Howe from Sharps brewery.

In and out of London there are are plenty of restaurants pushing forward with exciting beer lists. So please encourage them, buy a beer, ask them for advice and congratulate them if they do a good job.

Where have you had a good beer in a restaurant tell me in the comments and I will add it to the list.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Beer Blogger's Conference: Fuller's Tour and Lunch

Last weekend I attended the inaugural European Beer Bloggers Conference and what a weekend it was. I was left exhausted but inspired and enthused. One of the highlights of this weekend for me was always going to be the visit to Fuller's brewery in Chiswick. I already admire Fuller’s for maintaining quality in their core range of flagship beers while at the same time keeping us beer geeks excited with the Past Masters, Vintage and Brewer’s Reserve ranges. In fact it was in the past year that their new IPA, Bengal Lancer, reconfirmed my long-standing friendship with Fullers. It’s now a staple purchase which often sneaks its way into my grocery basket.

So it was with some excitement that we approached the impressive Griffin Brewery in Chiswick. We were greeted by the Head Brewer, John Keeling, with a welcoming talk. It was an interesting introduction to Fuller's which impressed with the dedication to innovate and and stay relevant.To highlight this point he mentioned Fuller's collaboration with Marble brewery from Manchester, a beer I am itching to taste. He was stopped by Derek Prentice, Fuller's brewing manager, to avoid overlap between their two talks. But it wasn't before John mentioned the cask of Brewers Reserve No.1 which we had all clocked on our way in. It seemed my hopes of a special tasting were with good founding and I knew we were in for a treat that afternoon.

A tour of the brewery followed which is a fascinating mix of old and new. Some beautiful original mash tuns, coppers and fermenters juxtaposed with shiny stainless vessels the size of houses.

I would advise anyone who has the opportunity to visit this historic brewery, the tour is very interesting.

After the tour we made our way back to the Hock Cellar where laid on for us was the meal of the conference. Not only was the food outstanding but the beers that were poured for us were of exceptional quality. Derek Prentice gave a presentation on the ageing effect on beer while we tasted the following beers.

The past masters range are based on old beers from the Fuller's recipe book. The XX strong ale is based on a recipe from 1891 which is matured for three months before bottling. It is a satisfying beer but without the subtlety of others of this strength. I will probably end up repeating myself but there is a lot of dried fruit and deep rich malt. Refreshing hops from
The comparison of the two vintage ales was a very good example of how ageing under the right circumstances can lead to something special. The 2000 was much deeper in flavour with rich sherry and dried fruit notes. the 2010 had a similar flavour profile but without the intensity and, not surprisingly, the aged characters of the 2000

The two brewers reserves were another kettle of fish. The ageing in cask had given them some sourness but also an incredible depth. I wish I could taste these again on their own, I didn't feel like I appreciated them fully after all the other beers we tasted that day.
The meal was prepared by Fuller's executive chef who develops all the food for the Fuller's pubs
We started with excellent fresh asparagus, soft boiled eggs and ham which was matched with my favourite Bengal Lancer
Next up was the full English roast experience. Roast rib of beef with yorkshires, roast spuds and cauliflower cheese. The beef was roasted in a combination oven (I think) to medium rare it was beautifully tender with a rich seam of fat running through it. one of the best Sunday lunches I've ever had. The advice from Derek was to drink it with the Brewers reserve but I think any of the beers from the presentation would have gone well with the beef.
Pudding was strawberries and cream with some rich crumbly shortbread. I'd love the recipe for that shortbread, it was a winner.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Fuller's and the Beer Bloggers conference organisers for this afternoon of beery fun. It was a truly educational day and I think was worth the entry fee for the conference on it's own. We were also given a goody bag of the beers we had drunk to take home with us.

I tweeted the following towards the end of the visit.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Beer Legends: George Washington and Taunton Ale

The brief for entry into the Pilsener Urquell beer bloggers competition is to write about a beer or brewing legend.  This can be interpreted in a number of ways and my approach to this conundrum led me down an interesting path of beer history.

At first I looked at famous pubs and famous drinkers. The George in Southwark and the Blind Beggar have been covered in great detail. So I thought about the death by heart attack of Oliver Reed in a Maltese pub after beating five sailors in an arm wrestling marathon. I thought about George Best and his notorious drinking binges. But ultimately these are sad stories about alcoholics who probably only appreciated beer for it's alcoholic content and not its flavour, range and romance in the same way that I do.

 So I looked for a legend who appreciated beer in the way I do and the way I try to encourage others. Maybe a celebrity home brewer, maybe a famously particular beer enthusiast who also brewed his own.

Maybe George Washington.
Little did I know when I was leaving tips on bars across the US that looking up at me from the dollar bill was a legend in American brewing history. One of his recipes is recorded in the New York Public Library, was recreated recently by a New York brewery and is described as "pretty light, pretty dry, medium-bodied but roasty". 
It was a list of drinks that were drunk at a party he held that really piqued my interest.

"10 bottles of Madeira, one bottle of champagne, 2 bottles of claret, 45 bowls of punch, 10 bottles of American porter, one bottle of Taunton Ale, 2 bottles of crab cider." 

10 bottles of American Porter! - Very nice and rightly placed amongst champagne and claret, certainly the finer things in life. But what is or was Taunton Ale? I grew up very near Taunton in Somerset and had never heard of Taunton Ale. Was there a whole style of beer that I haven't known or drunk? 

A little digging came up with some answers. Taunton Ale was frequently referred to in American advertising of the time as being shipped from Bristol. This makes sense with Bristol being a major port in England at the time and apparently being an important manufacturer of glass bottles. 

I even found a brewing recipe my favourite part of which is the instruction for making sure that the mash liquor is the correct temperature.

It's a great recipe and well worth reading. It was a strong beer with lots of hops (a pound of hops per bushel of malt) which must have been needed for the long journeys of overseas export.
I was also delighted to find out that excellent hops were grown in the area too, there are certainly none there now. 

It looks like ageing was also an important part of the beer's attraction with a note that
Two or more years in a cask must have given it some funky flavours. I wonder if it would impress the craft beer drinkers of today.

So there we have it. A forgotten legend of beer was brewed not far from where I grew up, shipped to America and drunk by a legend of beer appreciation and the President of the USA.

Edit : I have just found a quote from a book where a Mr Joseph Cottle meets Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Here is a description of the meal they had: 

"We Approached the "Jasmine Harbour" when, to our gratifying surprise we found the tripod table laden with delicious bread and cheese, surmounted by a brown mug of Taunton Ale. We instinctively took our seats; and there must have been some downright witchery in the provision, which surpassed all of its kind; nothing like it on the wide terrene, and one glass of the Taunton settled it to an axiom." 

I think if this beer can cause such raptures from the likes of Coleridge then Taunton Ale should be revisited and soon!

I will be following this post up with a more detailed article after some more research into Taunton Ale.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Open it!

It's Open It! time again and to celebrate the fantastic snooker final we decided to open one of the treats we picked up when we visited Cantillon Brewery in January. We decided to drink the granddad of the Cantillon Range, the Lou Pepe Kriek 2008.

It's a beautiful beer to look at with a bright cherry red colour and a pink head that unfortunately I didn't catch in this photo. What a fantastic beer, all of the fascinating sour flavours of Cantillon Gueze but with intense cherry fruit flavours.