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. 

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