Sunday, June 28, 2009

Rogue Brutal Bitter & Amber Ale

Ok. The sun’s shining, there’s a smell of barbecue in the air, I’ve looked at about as many wedding venue brochures as I can take and i’m going to see Fleet Foxes in a couple of hours. Time, I think, for a beer. So it's out into the garden I go with a brace from Rogue.

I do like Rogue's beers, even if they do have a habit of tasting similar. Saying that, I don't drink enough of their stuff to really get a hold on 'their signature', so maybe that last comment was unqualified.

Anyway, it's a taste I like and the intriguingly named Brutal Bitter (6.5abv). You wouldn't get an English brewery deeming their bitter 'brutal', would you? It'd be something like 'Morally Questionable Bitter', or 'Bitter That's A Lot Nicer Once You Get To Know It'. It's not that brutal either (Those playful Americans!) - it's a nice beer, albeit a standard US Pale amped up to 11. Bitter, in the traditional English sense it ain't, but it does have a nice creaminess to the body that is sometimes missing from the more hop-leaning US brews. Copper in colour, and with a massive, high bitterness, it's a refreshing, decent beer despite being a little thick - it's surprisingly balanced, too.

Next up, American Amber Ale (5.6abv). One of my favourite styles; and it doesn't disappoint. Lighter in colour than the Brutal Bitter, but much sweeter, and with a less pronounced malt backbone. The hops come through on the nose and at the end of the sip, leaving a slight pepperiness. Ultimately, for me, it'd be too sweet to drink a lot of, but for lovers of US Crafts (ie Me), it's a pleasure to drink.

I like Rogue. I like their beers (a lot of them; over 150, I reckon), their image, their ethos. I liked them even more after finding an enlightening profile of Rogue Leader Jon 'More Hops' Maier on Youtube. Still hands-on despite his age, Jon embodies the spirit of American Brewing - especially for Rogue. Check it out.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Unexpected - Or Was It?

Don't you love it when you buy a mixed case of beer, and one totally surprises you? Maybe one that you would have normally passed up, in other circumstances? This happened to me last night, with Young's Special London Ale.
As I drunk this nectar, it occured to me that maybe I shouldn't be surprised. After all, the last three bottled offerings I had tasted from Young's had also been brilliant - Double Chocolate Stout (A classic), Kew Gold & Waggledance - so why not this?
Special London Ale reminded me of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale - don't scoff; hear me out. A gorgeous copper colour, and a fruity, peppery hop presence in the nose. The malts were nicely balanced, all candied sweets and caramel. I also thought that for all its sweetness, Special London Ale had a surprisingly long bitterness - closer to an IPA in those terms. For a beer sitting at over 6% abv, it was surprisingly easy to drink; so I drunk it. And I will go buy more.

Anyone know where I can get this gem on draught?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Tomato and Feta Prawns

...A variation on an old Mediterranean classic; sort of a tapas dish. Just something we knocked up with what we had, and eaten in the garden on a surprisingly warm afternoon. Nothing fancy:

Heat your grill. Slice two large tomatoes and lay in a pan with a good glug of Olive oil and some black pepper. Slowly simmer so that the tomatoes soften but do not lose thier shape. Add a splash (not too much) of balsamic vinegar over the top.

Whilst they are softening, crush two large Garlic cloves and sling in a warm pan with another teaspoon of Olive Oil and about 250g of Prawns; the bigger the better. Flash fry, and when done whip off heat to prevent overcooking.

In two bowls, pour your tomatoes and then your prawns. Crumble some Feta cheese over the top, and place under the grill to soften the cheese a little. Finally, shred some fresh Oregano and Basil over the top. Serve with Crusty Bread for mopping up the tomato juices.

Easy, fresh and moreish. We enjoyed a couple of chilled Konig Ludwig Weissbier with this. Seafood and wheat beers are my favourite food and beer match by a country mile, and although Konig Ludwig can be a little unsophisticated on it's own, it's smooth sweetness meant that we got through the beer as quickly as the food itself.

Things don't have to be complicated.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Bristol Beer Factory

I managed to try a couple of beers from the Bristol Beer Factory this week, on draught at The Midnight Bell in Leeds. I always enjoy seeing a couple of beers from a brewery I had not heard of - and I liked what I got.

Red actually turned out not to be that red at all in colour - well, not compared to Irish Reds - but was the pick of the two nonetheless. A firm, biscuity backbone gave way to a really pleasant smokiness on the way down, with not a great deal of hop presence overclouding it. Lovers of dark milds should take a detour down this road if you get the chance. Red certainly hit the spot after a day at work, and was finished very quickly indeed.

And so we moved onto Sunrise - and with the name, you kind of know what you're going to get. A lot more effervescent than the Red, and a strong golden yellow in colour, Sunrise was a lot more in-your-face, refreshing and fruity with a massive citrus kick at the end. Sunrise has a big flavour, but despite this it certainly cleared the dust from the throat, so to speak.

Bristol Beer Factory seem to be heading in the right direction, and it was a nice change to see their wares in Leeds. In some ways it makes sense for them to be on sale at The Midnight Bell, a Leeds Brewery pub, because BBF seem to be a similar company - a young, fledgeling brewer quickly establishing themselves as serious players in the beer stakes. They also have a floating barge-bar that is pulled in to action from time to time - which is very cool indeed. According to their website, their Milk Stout seems to be a bit of an award-winner - so I'll be keeping an eye out for that.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Beer & Art, Art & Beer

Whilst reading Ralph Steadman’s memoir The Joke’s Over recently, it occurred to me how much his schizoid imagery is ingrained into the ethos of Flying Dog, the brewer whose beers are advertised by these little works of art. Before you’ve drunk it, you kind of know what you’re going to get.
Steadman leads a tirade against the corporate brewing houses in one chapter, and then gleefully recounts being the guest of honour at a beer festival, along with some prototype artwork for the GABF 2004.
It’s all pretty heady stuff for not only a beer-nerd but an avid collector of all things Gonzo. It didn’t start here - he designed a wine label for Oddbins (which, if I remember correctly had a pirate or a parrot on it?) a few years back, and as you read he turns out to be quite the beer, wine and whisky aficionado; only too happy to lend his images to those he feels a kinship with. And why not? To a design whore like me, the label of a beer can often be the hook that lodges in my cheek, pulling my hand toward that particular beer. And it could just be serendipity that one of my favourite artists happened to hook up with a craft brewer (If only Coop or Jay Ryan would do some labels - I’d be in beer-art heaven).
We lament so many hoary, old-fashioned and formulaic beer label and pump-clips flooding our senses, that when something new and shiny pops into view it invigorates us and renews our fervour. Listen up, folks – This is good. This is progress. Sure, we love ‘Breweriana’ but need something more -and there’s not a lot of it in the UK, I’m sad to say. This is probably due to our proud brewing history –and I’m not for one second berating that. But I can’t help thinking - Did I only buy that Flying Dog beer due to the instantly-recognisable Steadman artwork? Maybe -That first bottle, an outstanding Gonzo Imperial Porter, sits empty in my kitchen, like a proud work of art. So it did its job. I passed up one other beer...for that. A sale for Flying Dog. Hurrah, everyone’s happy.

They (‘They’ being the sinister marketing men - booo) say that you take the first sip of a drink with eyes. If faced with a pump clip of a cartoon hound rutting a leg and had a comedic name like ‘Quickie’ or ‘Knee - Trembler’, you wouldn’t drink it, would you? It may as well be called ‘Trad crap-beer with a vaguely humorous label (if your humour was based on entirely 1943 standards)’.
I’m ranting, obviously, but all I want is good design – not for me; I’m lucky enough to like beer enough to try most things. I’m calling for good design to hook in those who don’t know what they are getting, but simply ‘liked the label.’ The industry needs those new drinkers.

So what appeals to me? I love the Orval label, an exercise in cleanliness and simplicity. Wonderful. Anchor Steam’s cartoony, hand-drawn lines and playful ‘skittle’ bottle-shape always brings a smile to my face. I love the brash colours of Speight’s – but not so much the beer. Ommegang’s Hennepin – now that’s a sexy label. Give me a poster of that for above my fireplace. I love the intricacy and faith to type that Sam Smith's keep going; and Bath Ale's modern way with country themes are great. I could go on, but this is a long enough post already.
What’s your fave? (and please, don’t suggest Brewdog’s Zeitgeist. That’s been done.) Have a think about it.

If you've not been on the Flying Dog site, do. It's very good, and yet again another example of what can be done if you really think about what your customers want.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Foley's Online

I am happy to announce that Mr Foleys Cask Ale House, one of Leeds' best watering holes, now have a blog up and running - and is linked over on the right. Do drop by; there's some details of the new additions to the bar - Sleemans IPA (Very nice indeed, fans of SNPA should give it a whirl) and Taddington Moravka (which I really don't need to say any more that in the last month or so I've converted at least four 'lagerheads' to this wonderful stuff. That's an impressive strike rate!)
...And Congrats from us for winning the CAMRA Pub of The Season. Well deserved.

Thanks, Dean.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

'Village' Spaghetti

We've been to Greece enough times now to have a pretty good idea of what food the country has to offer. Imagine my surprise, then, when a dish I hadn't actually heard of turned out not only to be delicious but quite new to us. Immediately after eating, I whipped out my phone and started writing what I thought could be a recipe for it, to try when I got home. And here's the result. Yes, I could have asked the chef how he made it, but that would be cheating, wouldn't it? My version has more Rosemary and Spinach in it for no other reason that I like them both...lots. Anyway, it's named after the restaurant we ate it in, just like they do.

'Village' Spaghetti (serves two hungry people)

About 10-15 sliced green olives

Four pork sausages, taken from skins and pulled into peices

Three rasher of smoky, streaky bacon - chopped

150ml Double Cream

1 tblspn Tomato Puree

1 tspn Red Pesto

1/2 tspn Dijon (Or good English) Mustard

Pinch of dried Rosemary - or fresh is better

Spinach - a good couple of washed handfuls

Black Pepper

Olive Oil

1. Get your Spaghetti cooking in a deep pan of salted water.
2. With a glug of olive oil, brown your sausage pieces. When browned, add your bacon and turn down the heat to cook through.
3. When the bacon and sausage is cooked through, season liberally with black pepper & rosemary and add the sliced olives.
4. After a further couple of minutes, add the cream, pesto, mustard and puree to the meat and stir through to create your sauce.
5. By now your pasta will be well cooked, so drain it.
6. Stir the spinach into the sauce and let wilt; once wilted, you can pour over your pasta and mix.
7. Enjoy.

This is one of those dishes that looks familar due to the ingredients involved, but turns out to be quite unique. As always, do make sure you use good sausages and bacon - and you must use smoked bacon. So do give it a try, you'll like it, I tell ya.

I paired this (somewhat out of season) with Flying Dog's Dogtoberfest Ale. This Marzen-a-like has sweetness, but enough slightly smoky body to compliment the creamy sauce rather than overpower it.

The Old Village Taverna is on the main street in Skala, Kephalonia. Do try. It's one of the best tavernas in the village, and has great wine and whole fish dishes.