Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Meet The Brewer: Matt Brophy & Flying Dog

I was lucky enough to be invited down to The Cross Keys last night for a rare chance to meet Matt Brophy of Flying Dog, their Senior VP and Head Brewer. Events like this can often go the way of Beer Festivals; when done right, they can be great chances to meet people you admire and sample beer in a great setting; when done wrong they can be horrid, soulless, corporate junkets. Luckily, this event was done right. Good Beer, Good Food, and Good People.

Firstly, Matt turned out to be a genial and knowledgeable host - positively dripping with enthusiasm, he guided us non-stop through pretty much most of FD's beers (details of which you can find on thier site rather than me list them all here), feeding us comments on origins, ingredients and other minutiae that beer nerds like us love, whilst we drank and nodded sagely. Matt discovered brewing through the writing of US homebrew legend Charlie Papazian, and decided that a life in barley and hops was for him. After some formal brewing education he made the trip from New Jersey to Colorado and, after a stint at Great Divide Brewing, ended up at Flying Dog.

After a small introduction to the brewery and the legend of George Stranahan, we moved onto the beers; in order, the Woody Creek Wit started us off, but in my opinion was shaded slightly by the arrival of In-Heat Wheat - tons of banana and phenols on the nose, and a wonderfully smooth, almost Almondy aftertaste makes this one of my favourite FD beers. Thier flagship Doggy Style Pale Ale gave us that benchmark US Craft brew taste right off the bat - boiled candy in the body and floral yet bitter Cascade hops dominating everything else. Old Scratch Amber Lager proved to be a sweeter variation on the same theme. Tire Biter Golden Ale was an interesting one; very pale for US standards and with a slightly belgian horseblanket aroma offset with peppery hops, it paired up very nicely indeed with the Seared Scallop that accompanied it.

I found the Garde Dog a little uninspiring, and Road Dog Porter, albeit very tasty and with smoke and chocolate in all the right places, seemed very pale indeed to what should constitute Porter in my mind. However, Kerberos Tripel soon revitalised my taste buds - what a great beer. Sweet, with a nice belgian malt complexity and earthy aroma, this was one beer that I didn't want to stop drinking. But I had to, as the Horn Dog Barley Wine and Double Dog IPA's arrived. Horn Dog, although very sweet indeed, proved to be a lot smoother and more restrained than I thought it would be, and the Double Dog IPA did what it said on the tin - this was one huge IPA. Dogtoberfest provided more of that smooth, easy drinking craft beer that FD do very well when not running off to the limits.

The beers just kept getting bigger. Gonzo Imperial Porter took me back to my first taste of FD all those years ago, and matched perfectly with the little slice of coffee ice-cream that accompanied it. As the night wore on, and the volume in the room increased, a couple of really special beers rounded off the night. Dog-Schwarz, a smoked double lager, was a revelation - I'm not a big fan of smoked beers at all but this was balanced so well, it's kind of made me think that I need to reappraise smoked beers. Wonderful stuff.

I asked Matt whether he was planning to commemorate the fifth Anniversary of Hunter S Thompson's death in February - he told us that although that wasn't decided yet, they did have their own milestone - a 20th Anniversary, marked by Raging Bitch (gotta love those names) - which, as if by magic, appeared at our hands. The lady sitting next to me exclaimed it to be a true 'Breakfast Beer' - and upon sipping, I could see why. Pure, pure grapefruit - on top of a massively sweet, almost cloudy body. I guess it's an IPA with a belgian twist - almost like loading Orval with a shot of IPA and masses of hops, if that makes sense - but if FD continue to produce this, then the world could be facing an Amarillo hop shortage pretty soon. The aroma was something else, and I've never come across anything so fruity in a beer without it being a fruit beer!

A great night, all in all. Tasting the majority of FD's beers in one go like this has given me more of a sense of who they are, and their identity - which is what these events should do, but so often fail to do. My drinking partner, relatively new to the world of beer, came away a firm fan, and that's one more guy buying good beer. Our thanks go to FD, North, The Cross Keys (particularly the waiting and kitchen staff who were, quite honestly, amazing) and James Clay for landing such a coup. Let's do it again sometime.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dent Brewery

It's been ages since I'd tried a beer from Dent - so when one caught my eye recently I grabbed an armful and settled in for a reappraisal.

I'm glad I did; all three beers I tasted where not only much better then I remembered them, but consistently good too. This consistency is the sign of a good brewer and can be surprisingly hard to find. First up was Kamikaze (5% abv). A golden ale with more than a hint of Summer Lightning about it, Kamikaze is very quaffable despite the abv. On the nose there's a little grassiness and only a slight green hop aroma. Dry, with a slight biscuity taste in the body, the emphasis here is on refreshment - there's a lively, lemony tang to the aftertaste.

Going up in complexity is Aviator (4% abv). Vibrant amber in colour, this has got much more about it - marmalade and boiled sweets coming through in the body, with a decent floral nose with that slight citrus aroma that the Kamikaze had. This is a juicy, full-flavoured beer that I could happily drink a lot of; an English Amber Ale. Fans of Fuller's Special London Ale should check this out.

Last up - and my favourite of the bunch - was the wonderful T'owd Tup (6% abv). Wonderfully smooth for its strength, T'owd Tup is a warming, dark chestnut ale with masses of body - my notes read 'Christmas Cake, Plums, Jam, Dark Chocolate with Coffee at the end' which about sums it up. With so much flavour and complexity it'd be easy to mess this up, but T'owd Tup is a resounding success. My initial impressions were of that other famous Sheep-related Strong Dark Ale, Black Sheep's Riggwelter, but where Riggwelter wears its strength on its sleeve, T'owd Tup manages to be supremely drinkable as well. This is going to be one beer my cellar is going to be stocking as those nights draw in.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

York Beer Festival 2009 / Pivo

We dropped in on York's 2009 Beer Festival yesterday, to start what turned out to be lovely afternoon's drinking. This was the first time the festival had been held at Kanvesmire, near the race course, and it was a suitably pleasant setting, with large, airy marquees set up, and a plenty of outdoor setaing. The Hog Roast guys (I'm not sure If i could do a beer festival without these guys now!) were doing a roaring trade, and we settled in with handfuls of fresh pork scratchings to some serious sampling. Brass Monkey's Brass Monkey Bitter proved to be as solid as you'd expect, with a pleasant roastiness to it, and Summer Wine's Helios more than held up on the pale and hoppy front. Leeds' Monsoon IPA was good too - lots of trademark Leeds Grapefruitiness up front, slowly fading to reveal a biscuity body; Stewart's Copper Cascade proved to be a decent, malty Scottish red but was a little lacking in hop character for me. However, the beer of the festival turned out to be American - Stone's Levitation Ale, which - quite honestly -blew the majority of the English brews we tried out of the water - with it's sheer depth of flavour. A sweet, dark beer, with masses of coffee/toffee notes in the body and a tight, creamy head, Levitation really is a wonderful beer - and a sensible abv, too. I know I should be singing the praises of English beers, but in this case, I just can't. Taste rules.
With that epiphany ringing in our ears, we headed off into York to check out Pivo, a bar that I've had on the list since ...A swift one recommended it a while back. It's hidden away in the smallest building in York (or so it seems), but what it may lack in sitting space it makes up for in choice - again, Stone's Levitation was on offer (must be a York thing) as well as York's Wicked Wheat (heavy on the spices), SNPA and Meantime's Elderflower Maibock. Pivo stocks a decent range of beer and looks like a decent addition to York's more traditional Pubs and Alehouses. Check it out.
Pivo, 6 Patrick Pool,
01904 635464

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Morrisey Fox Brunette

Or rather 'I shouldn't like it, but I do'. Why not? Why are most people who are 'serious about beer' so seemingly averse to Morrissey Fox? I suffer from it, too, but I can't pinpoint why. It would seem that in some circles, admitting you like a MF beer is akin to admitting you watch Market Kitchen (which I don't).

Anyway, despite being completely underwhelmed by their Blonde, I picked up a bottle of Brunette to accompany a night of Champion's League football, and also to raise a little toast to Keith Floyd, whose passing genuinely saddened me. He was a trailblazer in the culinary world and I do hope he gets the credit he deserves in the upcoming weeks. He'd have preferred Red Wine, I know, but he'll appreciate the sentiment, I'm sure.

I cracked open the bottle, snickering at the label and the sheer laddishness of everything (...tee-hee, it's called Brunette, how FHM...), only to find, upon my first sip, that this was a really good beer. Really. Its got a lovely deep, bonfire toffee aroma, which carries through to the body before being joined by raisins and a little more caramel sweetness. There's a little earthy, hoppy tang at the end, which finishes surprisingly dry for a sweet beer.

I personally couldn't fault it, and would happily drink it again. I had an inkling I would, however, seeing as though their 'Proud Of Pubs' bitter is also one that I've enjoyed recently; the two seem very similar. Anyway, onwards and upwards. Next week, I'll be tasting Carling whilst reviewing Market Kitchen.

Ps. It's Orval Day at North Bar today, If you fancy it.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Slow Rosted BBQ Pork Belly & St Peter's Honey Porter

Since the weather's been getting a little warmer (at least here in Yorkshire), I thought I would have a little taste of summer? I got this recipe years ago from one of the best food blogs out there, An Endless Banquet. Over the years it’s become slightly modified, depending on taste at the time. Although easy to prepare, you do need to slow cook the belly pork to get the texture you need.
As with most barbecue, the recipe is a two stage process. Firstly, rub the pork with: 1 tbsp Salt, 1 tbsp sugar, 2 tbsp brown (or muscovado) sugar, a good grind of black pepper, 1 tbsp chilli powder, 4 tsp Paprika (smoked would be good) and 2 tbsp ground Cumin. Cover the meat and leave to marinate for an hour.

Preheat the oven to about 50c – very low. Pop the meat in there and leave well alone for at least three hours. After three hours, turn up the heat to around 175c and baste the meat with the following baste: 2 tbsp honey, a good dollop of Heinz Ketchup, a dash of tomato puree, a grind of black pepper, two squirts of Tabasco (or more, if you like) and three crushed, chopped and mashed garlic cloves. Baste the meat three or four times under the increased heat, and give them at least another 30-40 minutes like this. If actually barbecueing, this is where you would move the meat to the hotter part and really get some charred edges on it.

As you can see, it's a simple process that only follows the basics of Barbecue - controlling heat, sweet and spicy flavours, and underused cuts of meat like the majestic Pork Belly. Wha I like about this particular Barbecue marinade is the combination of sweetness with the black pepper and cumin, just under the baste. It makes for a slightly more interesting taste.

I plumped for St Peter's Honey Porter to wash this down with; it's a thick, smooth porter, and in my opinion is a little cloying on its own due to it having such a huge Honey aroma. But that just makes it perfect for pairing with sweet, faintly smoky meats like this. Lovers of sweet honey beers should give this a try.

Barbecue's a great food to drink beer with full stop, and almost any beer finds some partner in it. However, I can also reccommend Anchor Steam Beer and Holt's Maple Moon for recipes like this.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Greatest Beer in The World?

Ladies & Germs, I give you Magnum, P.A. I'm not quite sure what a 'Hawaiian Pale Ale' is but I'm sure its awesome. It would seem that Selleck has a bit of a beer following; Chuck's been struggling with his ordering of Tom Selleck's Mustache this week, too.

This was spotted in Foley's in Leeds, and I will make sure not to miss it again. One would have to assume it's a single-varietal pale using Magnum hops.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Dark Horse Hetton Pale Ale

I read with interest Chris's recent post about The Bull, not just because of how wonderful the food sounded (Rabbit Faggots, anyone?) but mainly because of Dark Horse's Hetton Pale Ale, a beer I've had on 'the list' for some time.

So when a bank holiday 'quick bite for lunch' turned us out onto The Bull (My mum lives nearby), I made a beeline for it. And I'm glad I did - well kept, and a pleasure to drink. Crisp, amber in colour and with a firm, biscuity-almond body, it was a really decent pint. I'm not surprised its won a few awards and seems sought after. One to recommend, definitely.

We did eat whilst visiting, and although Chris' post goes into more detail, I can say the food was very nice indeed. The Bull makes no apologies for being a 'gastropub' - which in some ways is shame because it really does have a decent, regional ale range (Taylor's, Thwaites, Copper Dragon), but you'd be hard pressed to find 'drinking only' room.

The food, however, is worth the trip, and The Bull certainly does its bit for sourcing local produce - the cheese on my burger came from Shepherd's Purse (a wickedly tangy Wensleydale- a cheese with balls, for a change), and the rich, tasty Dexter beef from Easingwold. The menu is littered with guides to provenance, and although this makes the food pricey, I feel that you really do get value for money.. There's nothing on the menu that wasn't sourced locally, and it simply tastes great without being fussy. One last word - try the home-made ice cream. Fudge and Oats - awesome.