Brewed in 2009, Coalition Old Ale (7%abv) is the result of a collaboration between the Thornbridge and Mark Tranter from the ever-excellent Dark Star . I first tried this beer a few months back, at one of our fabled bottle-swaps, courtesy of those kind chaps Andy and James of SummerWine Brewery. As I sat and tasted mine, I was very aware of how I'd probably need another chance to try it to really form an opinion of it; I certainly wasn't expecting the kind of beer that it actually is. Not sure why, I just expected something darker, smokier, and stronger in alcohol.
Luckily, Hopzine Rob and Baron Orm rushed to my aid, and I managed to get my hands on another bottle - and I'm glad I did. Coalition Old Ale is an exercise in subtlety; a real class act. Firstly, there's that colour - hazy Amber, bright and...well, vibrant. Not the look of a beer dormant since 2009. The lasting, substantial head is the only giveaway to the age; slightly tobacco-hued, not quite white. The taste is softly sweet, with only the slightest hint of resinous wood (pine?) floating around underneath.
There's a little spice - Cinnamon, perhaps - and then comes along those flavours you'd more typically associate with 'Old Ales'; some raisin, some bitter cherry, a hint of almond. The finish ramps up the bitterness, and the beer ends up with a really satisfying Orange note, drying the palate and making it a surprisingly moreish beer. The alcohol is only gently warming, and Coalition is well worth seeking out if you can. A beer to be sipped and savoured, for sure.
...Despite spending at least one drinking session a week at Mr Foley's Cask Ale House, it occurred to me recently that I don't really drink from the fridges. I couldn't explain why; I do in other joints, but that row of pumpclips usually takes up 110% of my attention. At the same time, Dean had been recommending their new Philly Cheese Steak (strips of steak, cheese, bell pepper on a baguette roll) ; crafted lovingly by new-ish chef Tyler Kiley. Fast-forward a few weeks and you've got me and my erstwhile drinking buddy (and wingman on many excursions you may read about on TGS) Chris, and a clear mission; find a match in those fridges for a Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich.
So, we rocked up and took four bottles, with four clearly different styles; Goose Island's 312 Urban Wheat, Odell's 5 Barrel Pale Ale, Victory's Prima Pils, and Sierra Nevada's Torpedo. The food arrived, and we got stuck in.
Although Goose Island's 312 Urban Wheat (4,2%abv) was pleasant enough, it faded into nothingness when faced with this kind of food. More a 'Wheaty Pale Ale' than a true Wheat beer in my opinion, it quenched our thirst alright - but did nothing to enhance or cut the food. We finished the 312 quickly; it's such an easy-drinking beer and one I drink a lot of in the Summer. Give me this and a bowl of Calamari or Fried Whitebait laced with Lemon, and I'd be in heaven.
Victory's Prima Pils (5.3%abv) was just weird. It claims to be a 'Pils' but for me hits nowhere near the mark - it's refreshing enough when served cool but has so much flowery hoppiness up-front that it just bulldozes your palate as opposed to the classy, herbal hop attack that good Pilsners or Lagers have. It accompanied the amazing chips well enough, (more on those later) but in this set-up it just didn't work at all. I've enjoyed this on Keg before; but the bottles have just left me cold. Chris agreed, and I actually finished his!
Luckily, Odell's 5-Barrel Pale (5.2%abv) saved the day. Basically a standard, well-brewed US Pale, the sweet, boiled candy-led body matched the cheddar and beef perfectly; the caramelised bell pepper finding perfect bedfellow in this sweet, softly hopped beer. Nothing overpowered; nothing fought for your attention. That's one of the great things about matching beer and food; beer previously thought slightly standard just find another dimension. We sank into our chairs, chatted with Tyler and patted our full bellies.
Sierra Nevada's Torpedo (7.2%abv) rounded things off nicely. Very much a classic US IIPA, it's closeness to the Odell (in layman's terms, a 'hoppier version of') made it an excellent partner; almost a sister to the food and beer. It gave a strong, sweet closing note to the evening. I personally think Torpedo is probably the best overall beer SN have made for some time; a welcome addition to their stable.
The food was great, too. Tyler's a talented chef when it comes to tasty, unfussy bar food packed with flavour. He's finding his feet in the beer world, too, broadening his horizons as he goes when it comes to beers from the UK (he's just started his own blog). At the end of the day, any chef that understands that killer home-made chips are key to any pub's food offering knows his stuff. Do drop by and check out the chips at least; triple-cooked sticks of joy. And if you try the Philly Cheese Steak; go for an Odell 5 Barrel and finish off with a Torpedo. Or don't; go on your own beer and food matching journey and let me know how you get on.
I love Risottos. Cheap, easy to make, they can be as complex as you want them to be; a quick storecupboard supper, or a sumptous feast to be labored over on the stove-top. This week, time was at a premium, so quick and easy it was. Pea and Ham, that old classic, doesn't need boiled ham hock to make it perfect.
All you need do is make sure you have some good quality, off-the-bone ham left over that can be shredded. Make your regular Risotto base by coating Arborio Rice in butter and olive oil and stirring over a low heat until translucent. When this happens, simply pour chicken stock over, bit-by-bit, until it gets creamy and begins to look like Risotto.
Here's where you modify; shred the ham in, and add a handful of frozen peas. Let the meat warm and the peas cook; and season with black pepper and mint. The mint is essential, as it lifts everything up and gives this Risotto a lightness. Grate in some Parmagiano Regianno, and a hit of black pepper. Finally, stir in a knob of butter. All done.
We enjoyed this with a bottle of Birra Del Borgo's Genziana (6.2%abv), which is a funny beer to categorise; the word 'herbal' was the first that sprang to mind. Saison-esque and wheaty, with an estery profile, it's refreshing and slightly citrussy, but with a distinctive Herbal note within that matched really well with the Mint in the Risotto. Sweet, it's one of those beers that probably comes to life a little better with food that without.
It's taken me a while to post this up; I just had to wait to do a side-by-side comparison when a brewer makes a light and dark version of the same beer. St Austell, that Cornish bedrock of the eponymous Tribute, have always had a few secret weapons up their sleeve; Admiral's Ale is a fantastically complex drop, and you'll find a secret fan club for Proper Job.
What makes Proper Job (5.5%abv) a little special is the fact that it's almost unashamedly non-commercial; a truly English IPA that manages to be both tasty and assertive enough to satisfy traditionalists and hop-heads alike. There's smooth, wheaty malt, sure, but over the top there's a marmalade-heavy juiciness; and on top of that richness comes zingy grapefruit notes both in the aroma and the taste. The bitterness is, as the label states for a change, powerful, and supremely rising in it's assertiveness. This is not a crowd-pleaser; Proper Job manages to tread that line between mainstream and 'different' very well indeed.
Proper Black (6%abv) arrived to very little fanfare when the world was going crazy for Black IPA; and again, there's a great balance here. Tasting the two side-by-side almost makes me want the same beer but different colours (even the label is a negative version of the original), but Proper Black manages to be even more assertive, if you ask me. Black as night, the body of the beer is massively different to it's lighter sister. Massive roasted notes, milk chocolate, drying coffee (Latte? Espresso?) give the beer a full yet rounded body; and all those bitter-end-of-the-scale flavours give PB a dry, dry finish. To counter this, the hop profile seems almost twice a big as PJ; Grapefruit upon Grapefruit upon Orange pith. Big, Brash and Powerful; Proper Black is one beer not to be messed with.
Whilst we are on the Black IPA channel, Buxton's wonderful Black Rocks is on at North Bar this weekend, alongside Moor Top, Kinder Sunset and the awesome Axe Edge IPA. Put this alongside Proper Job and you've got a very different prospect: BR is much, much fruitier; tropical fruits, Lychee and Strawberry dominate, and the body of the beer is light enough to lift those up but roasty enough to make sure you know it's a dark beer. Fruity, Smooth and with a real depth, Black Rocks is one of the most balanced, drinkable BIPA's I've tried.
...Just a quick note to remind you that this weekend sees the second LS6 Beer Festival in The Left Bank, Burley/Hyde Park (depending how you look at it). It's all in aid of charity - Village To Village - and has a great beer selection of truly local beers from the likes of Burley Street, Ilkley, Rooster's, Abbeydale and Beartown amongst others.
There are bands playing throughout the day, and it's very much a 'Music and Beer Festival', so if you like to see local talent thrashing away with your pint then you know where to be this weekend. The website advises tickets and arriving early. Directions, the Beer list and Band Roster can be found here....
I'd been hearing incredibly positive whispers about Copper Dragon's new beer for a few weeks now, so when it popped up on the bar at Veritas, I had to get my hands on some.
Conqueror (3.6%), on the surface, looks like your bog-standard pale ale; tight white head and soft amber colour, vaguely medieval pump clip*. But when you lift it to your lips, you realise it's a whole lot more. Mango, Lychee and even a hint of Strawberry float up your nose, and on the taste, Conqueror reveals itself to be a wonderfully balanced, supremely quaffable Pale Ale, with a seriously clean finish. There's so much flavour for such a low abv, and the it's simply a top-notch beer.
We all know that Oliver Fozard will soon be (if not already) ensconced in his new role at Rooster's; his parting gift to Copper Dragon turns out to be their finest yet. I'm one person hoping Conqueror hangs around untouched and untweaked; and I'm sure after you drink it, you will too. It's on at Veritas now.
*And yes, I know it's William the Conqueror. But you get my point.