Monday, 29 October 2012

Beer Of the Week - Gadds No. 3

Eddie Gadd has been brewing as the Ramsgate Brewery, Gadds since 2002. His numbered series of beers and the notorious Dogbolter are held up as excellent examples of British styles with perfect balance of  hops and malts.

No 3 is a premium pale ale designed to highlight the British Goldings and Fuggles hops. The hops really sing from the glass with sherberty lemongrass flavour and a very robust bitterness. The malts balance out this bitterness with gentle toffee. This is a well rounded and incredibley moreish beer. I got half way through my pint and already regretted not buying more. Luckily I've got a Dogbolter on the stairs ready to go!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Wine of the week: The Doctors Sauvignon Blanc

As a partner series to our Beer of the Week we will be reviewing our wine of the week. We will review and discuss a wine that we have drunk that week. This won't always be a wine we love but we will be honest and objective in our reviews.

This year we have noticed a growing trend for lower alcohol wine. It seems like every wine company is bringing out a sauvignon blanc or riesling that is supposed to appeal to a market that watching the calories and alcohol. This is a great idea as long as the lower alcohol doesn't impact the flavour.

The first wine we are reviewing for this series is a low alcohol sauvignon blanc from Malborough, New Zealand. The Doctors' sauvignon blanc is 9.5% is from the Forrest Estate and is the result of experimentation with careful fruit selection. 

The sweetness of the wine is unavoidable and may not to be to your taste if you are expecting a dry NZ style sauvignon. There is a bags of fruit, though and a refreshing acidity that cuts through that sugar. I was more impressed with Invivo's low alcohol Sauvignon, Bella, which caught more of the essence of the sauvignon fruit but with less sugar than The Doctors'. I think this wine has its place and would be perfect for a summer lunch or picnic. I am interested to try the Doctors' low alcohol Riesling which is a more traditional grape for making low alcohol wines. 

The Doctors' is available from Adnams Cellar and Kitchen and most supermarkets priced at £9.99.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Beer of the week: Adnams Ghost Ship (in a can!)

This is the first blog post in our beer of the week series. In this series we will review and discuss a beer that we have drunk this week. This won't always be a beer we love or even like but we will be honest and objective in our reviews.

The first beer we are reviewing is Adnams Ghost ship from the can. We tasted a bottle of this back in May at the Beer Bloggers Conference so it was interesting to see if the vibrant citrussy hops would transfer to the canned version.

I have always felt that canned ales have something odd about them, an extra caramel character that is not
entirely welcome. Perhaps it is something about the pasteurisation or maybe just my preconceptions but it was certainly something I tasted with Ghost Ship. The malt character seemed to overtake the hops, gone were the light lemony characters I tasted first time round and instead there was summer fruits, like a field of strawberries. It is of course a very drinkable beer and far more enjoyable than Adnams' lacklustre lower alcohol effort, Sole Star.

It it good to see Adnams putting their beer in cans. For too long there has been a bit of snobbery about beer in a can and putting good beer in cans is the only way to persuade the doubters. Ultimately though, I would buy Ghost Ship in a bottle where I think it's real character comes through and the American hops shine.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Beersel, Brussels: 3 Fonteinen & Oud Beersel

The Brussels Beer Festival was a lot of fun but exhausting. What we needed was a day of relaxation and so we headed to Beersel to visit two celebrated lambic breweries.

It turns out that the trains to Beersel don't run on weekends so we were reliant on the buses to get us there - never ideal when you haven't a clue where you're supposed to be going. Luckily we drove right past the entrance to 3 Fonteinen on the way to our first stop at Oud Beersel, so knew when we had arrived in the right place.


Oud Beersel only run brewery tours for two hours on the first Saturday of every month - as luck would have it the dates coincided with the holiday we'd booked. It's a lovely old brewery with lots of historic equipment as you can see from the photos. The tour was run by one of the head brewers who very patiently conducted the tour in both Flemish and English. 



Similar to stilton or champagne, Oud (old) Kriek/Geuze is a protected term, and it has to be made using the traditional method. This requires that the beer is blended from spontaneously fermented, barrel aged, lambic beer. At Oud Beersel they use chestnut wood rather than oak for their barrels, and for their kriek they use 400g cherries per barrel - most other breweries will use around 250-300g.

The wort for their beer is not brewed at Oud Beersel, it’s brewed at Boon. The brewery equipment is now used only for the barrel ageing process and as a museum. Although the wort is brewed at Boon, the differences in the recipe and then the blending make the resulting geuze distinctive from Boon’s. Their lambic has a distinctive and strong grapefruit bitterness.



A ten minute walk down the road is 3 Fonteinen where, as part of their annual open weekend, we were treated to a brief talk/tour led by owner, brewer and lambic legend Armand Debelder. He discussed how the new brewery had been set up following a thermostat incident in 2009 which led to the majority of their product to explode and resulted in him having to sell equipment and many rare beers just to keep the business alive. The ruined lambic was distilled into an Eau De Vie called 'Armand's Spirit', which he sells at a premium price to help fund the re-opening of the brewery. We got to see a lot of the recently installed brewery equipment and barrels of new lambic which he had had brewed at various other breweries.
It was heart-warming to see that the lambic breweries look out for each other and collaborate in order to continue making this important historical beer.

Armand acknowledges that making lambic and geuze is not an exact science, and there is no assurance the beer will be any good. The most difficult part of making geuze is anticipating the flavour in x years time and the skill is in the blending of the different year's lambics.

Here you buy beer made by a brewer not a banker!
Good ventilation as the wort cools stops the fruit flies but also encourages the totally wild fermentation. They use aged Belgian Challenger hops, unmalted wheat, but malted barley. The casks for 3 Fonteinen are from Bordeaux wineries, which can be used for up to 20-30 years.

Geuze is always blended with the oldest lambic first as it has the most dominant flavour profile. The oldest makes up about 15% and then the 1 and 2 year-old lambis are blended in to balance the flavours. No filtration is carried out, and the geuze ages and goes through secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Beers we tried:
Kriek - a lovely sour cherry flavours with a sweet sherberty aftertaste
Dark - a porter style beer with lambic yeast character
Lambic - flat, on tap, sour, fruity and tangy


Beersel, the land of Lambic, was a welcome respite from the crazy beer fest.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Belgian Beer Weekend 2012, Brussels

The 14th Belgian Beer Weekend was the main reason we had decided on a late summer weekend's visit to Brussels. With the promise of over 350 beers from 51 breweries available to taste we couldn't wait, and spent the Eurostar journey reading through the 14 page beer list and marking the ones we definitely wanted to try.

The Beer Weekend is set against the backdrop of the beautiful Grand Place in the heart of Brussels, and this year had extended into the Stock Exchange too. There were religious (and otherwise) processions, ompah bands and bagpipes too, and there was a very festive and rowdy atmosphere.

'Beer Street' outside the Stock Exchange

Inside the Stock Exchange were beer and food matching selections in conjunction with local bars and restaurants
It runs on a rather complicated token system, whereby you deposit your token with the bar on buying your drink, and then get the token back when you return your glass. The nice thing about this is that you do get a fresh glass with every drink you buy, but it is a bit of a pain if you're quite far away from the appropriate stand. In addition you pay for your drinks with crown caps, which you have to queue for in a separate area. Beers are priced from 2-5 Euros a glass, with most priced at 3 or 4 Euros, so it can be an expensive business if you stay for any length of time (or have a long list of tastings to work your way through).

One of the many processions of brewer confraternities
This wasn't when it was at its busiest!

To say it was busy would be a huge understatement. It was heaving pretty much from start to finish and we both found it quite stressful being there (I think we're getting old...). It got to a point on both Friday and Saturday evenings where we'd had a couple of drinks and then just couldn't stand it any longer so left. Luckily on the final day (Sunday) we arrived early, and although it was busy it wasn't quite as bad as the two days previous. We managed to make up for lost time/beers. Here are some of our favourites of the weekend;

Petrus Aged Pale (Bavik) - an oak aged sour beer. Very sour with woody notes. This was our beer of the festival.

Morte Subite Oud Kriek (Alken Maes) - I tried this on a whim just to see how it compared to some of the Oud Kriek we'd tried in Beersel. It was surprisingly good, with a deep flavour and heavy sourness. I'd been expecting something sweet and artifical tasting, so was a very pleasant surprise.

Saxo (Caracole) - a nice soft tripel style beer, slight caramel aftertaste but still very dry. Dangerously drinkable.

Saison Dupont Dry Hopping 2012 (Dupont) - A great saison, the hops lifting it to another level, with more bitterness than the usual Dupont Saison.

Duvel Triple Hop (Duvel) - This seasonal special tastes even better than it sounds, the standard Duvel quality but lifted with lemony Citra hops to another level.

St Feullien Saison (St Feullien) - Full on with flavour and alcohol, with a nice saison character to it. The Grisette Blanche was also good, with tangy, grassy and herbal notes to it.

A festively dressed Mannekin Pis - sadly we missed the point earlier in the day when the beer kegs were attached to the fountain
Special mention goes to Wittekerke Rose (Bavik), which I tried as we enjoyed the Petrus Aged Pale so much, and I do like a good fruit beer. This is possibly the worst beer I've ever tried. So sweet it was almost undrinkable. The wheat and raspberry characters were nice, but the sweetness made it taste like fizzy pop. A big disappointment.

We also had the pleasure of enjoying a few drinks at Moeder Lambic. This year's Cantillon wasn't to our taste (we tried the Mamouche on tap), with a grassy funk to it neither of us were that keen on. We treated ourselves instead to a bottle of Fou' Foune from an earlier vintage. Sam also tried Nogne O's 100, a heavyweight barley wine.

Moeder Lambic's cheese and charcuterie platter - everything on it was delicious
All in all it was a great weekend away (but then Brussels always is). We're still debating whether we would go back to the Beer Weekend or not given how busy it was. It was pretty hellish to navigate the poorly laid out festival until the first few beers take effect, but then you just don't care any more!

The Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs

Newly opened Bubbledogs has proven to be a raving success, with queues out the door and bookings (large parties only) well into December. It was opened by husband and wife team, James Knappet and Sandia Chang, to celebrate the humble hotdog with the fizz it deserves. 

But unbeknownst to the throngs of people getting their meat and fizz fix, Bubbledogs hides a secret. Behind a heavy curtain, at the back of the dark and buzzy room, lies the second part to the Bubbledogs vision. The Kitchen Table is a chef's table style restaurant, serving a fixed multi-course tasting menu. Each of the nineteen seats is on the front row of the theatre with a perfect view of the kitchen and chefs at work. As a food fanatic I found this idea completely irresistible and so last Saturday we found ourselves pushing past the hotdog queue and into the calm of the kitchen.    

Our seats were perfect to view the stove action
The menu, a list of twelve ingredients, is printed on handmade paper and illustrated by James himself. It changes daily and depends on what is in season and what James finds on his foraging trips. I should also mention the wine list which is short but varied and has a good number of them by the glass - essential for matching the wide variety of dishes that come your way. It goes without saying that the fizz section is top notch and so we started with a glass of  Balfour 2008 Brut Rose from Hush Heath in Kent.

Cod: Crispy Pig skin and smoked cod roe with seaweed
A few snacky starters come our way in the first moments of the performance. Puffed pig skin is used to scoop up the creamy smoked cod roe. I hope this stays on the menu as the opening line because it's excellent.

Chicken: Chicken skin with mascarpone and bacon jam
Pig skin is followed by chicken skin which is used as a kind of cracker for marscapone and bacon jam. The kind of dish you don't want to like but you do. This seems to be a theme of the menu, quality ingredients, well crafted flavour combinations finished with a rich layer of luxury. It  reminded us very much of Thomas Keller's philosophy for his restaurants which makes sense as both James and Sandie worked at Per Se, his place in New York.

Watching the kitchen at work

Scallop: Scallop with cauliflower, black pepper yoghurt and almondine sauce
They have some great crockery at the Kitchen Table, the purple bowl used to plate this scallop dish is as pretty as the purple cauliflower that came in shaved slices over the plump sweet scallop.

Turbot: Turbot with cucumber  and dill salad
I love turbot. No I really, really love turbot. Which is why it pains me to say that James and his team screwed me here. The picture above is of Claire's plate. She got the spacious semi detached end of fillet, whereas I got the compact middle of terrace. Joking aside, this was where the kitchen side seats are a real joy. Watching James cook and plate this turbot was fascinating and eating it was even better.

Mussels: Smoked mussels with grilled leek, pickled samphire and toasted oats
The reason the kitchen table concept works for me is that I could pester James and his crew about the food as we ate it and they were happy to indulge. Here he explained he had pickled the rock samphire in a sugary brine to bring sharp relief to the smoky mussels.

Truffle: Truffle pasta with chickweed
Hand made pasta, truffles, butter. Perfectly executed with a healthy acidity (from lemon or wine?).

Partridge: Partridge with wild mushrooms, parsnip crisps and shaved chestnut
Autumnal almost to the point of cliché. There is a reason that these ingredients all come in season at the same time and it's probably so that dishes like this can be made. The recommendation from our waiter to switch to a glass of  Domaine Schistes Cotes de Roussillon was spot on.

Beef: Beef short rib, with onion, smoked marrow and nasturtium
If you have any doubt about the power of sous vide then you have to taste a slow cooked beef short rib. It's incredibly tender and has the flavour of a well aged steak. The meat is seasoned with smoked marrow and peppery nasturtium. This was dish of the evening for me.

Castelrosso: Castelrosso cheese with damson jam and wild oregano
Another Kellerism with the composed cheese course? It certainly works here. Foraged damson jam would enhance most cheeses and the creamy, salty Castelrosso is no exception.

Fig: Fig with fig carpaccio, fig leaf ice cream, creme fraiche mousse and caremelised white chocolate
A winner of a dessert and the first time Claire has eaten figs and enjoyed them. We loved the refreshing mousse and ice cream with the soft ripe fig.

We missed taking a photo of the Pear cake with liquorice ice cream but Kang has taken one here if you are interested. It was at this point that we ordered a bottle of Pyramid Valley Rose Late Harvest Riesling to go with our desserts.

Blackberry: Blackberry Teacake
Tunnocks teacakes have finally got the respect and revamp they deserve. Crisp biscuity base, jammy blackberry marshmallow and a crisp chocolate shell? I'm in.

I was very impressed with the concept of the Kitchen Table. From the moment I walked through the curtain I couldn't wipe the stupid grin off my face. It's a fascinating look into a modern restaurant kitchen interspersed with commentary from the chefs and waiting staff. The only drawback to this is that it's quite easy to become distracted from conversations with your dining companions, so if you like your meals out to be discreet and personal then this might not be for you. But if you want to see skilled chefs preparing exciting British food then book now because I can see this being the next hot reservation in town.