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.

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