Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Non-Seasonal Seasonal Beers

....It's always fun to stock up the cellar prior to Christmas (I start using this excuse from about October onwards), but it's always much more of a pleasure to start cracking them open and simply enjoying yuletide drinking. Personally, I think most 'Christmas' beers are overrated, often rebadged (if you're in a pub) or simply 'house' darker beers with a few spices thrown in as an afterthought. The only British Christmas ale that I genuinely like is Bateman's Rosey Nosey, which brings a wonderful toffeeness to the table everytime. So I stay clear in general and reach for some old friends. And, before we get started, my tip to accompany Christmas pudding is....Schnieder Aventinus - everytime.

Robinson's Old Tom (8.5% abv), for me, is a bit of a Christmas tradition, and seems way more seasonal than 90% of the rubbish out there. Tons of red, jammy fruits, a slight hint of smoke and a warming alcohol touch as it slips down. Wonderful, especially with a few shards of dark chocolate.

Another big beer that feels seasonal is Ringwood's Old Thumper (5.6%abv). I'm a fan of most of Ringwood's output but OT is a big, big beer with a deep red colour, with a lot of biscuit in the body, but a sort of spice on the aftertaste that I can't quite place. I do love the stuff, though.

Finally, JW Lees' Brewer's Dark (3.5%abv)marries those roasted malt flavours that you crave this time of year, along with a nice, bready, yeasty note, but with a much more restrained abv. It is a little thin, but I think it's got enough about it flavour-wise to get away with it.

But you can't drink heavy beers all the time - when at a friends house to get some boxing day footy in, he'd bought some of Marks' 'Belgian Lager', so we got stuck into those. Brewed by Haacht, I was fearing the worst, but it came through OK - a pleasant surprise, actually. Clean, spritzy, and with a very pleasing, ever-so-slight hint of Brett on the nose, this lager was actually way more palatable than the one we put alongside it - an (entirely pointless) new 'blonde' version of a well known lager which shall remain nameless at this point. I'd probably try this again, actually - but not until the summer.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Muffins!!

Righto chaps, just one last chance to get a post in before the Christmas break. Here's one I actually did for Leeds CAMRA's New Full Measure Magazine this month, but thought I'd share it for those of you who don't get it in your part of the world. They don't take long at all to make, and once you've got the hang of it, you can tweak the recipe as you see fit.

Christmas Muffins (makes 9)
You will Need:
200g plain flour
3tspn baking powder
½ tspn Bicarbonate of Soda
75g Demerara Sugar
Pinch of Nutmeg, pinch of cinnamon
An orange
50ml Milk
60g Unsalted Butter (melted)
1 large egg
200g Sultanas & 25g chopped Glace Cherries
A Muffin Tin

1. Preheat your oven to 200c
2. Combine the flour, baking powder, bicarb, and sugar. To this, add Nutmeg and Cinnamon. Melt your butter and leave to cool. Get your orange, and squeeze the juice into a jug, then add milk until you get about 150ml. Add the (cooled) butter, milk and orange to the mix and then add the egg and beat. Don’t be worried about lumps in the mix – this actually makes better muffins!
3. Fold in the fruit and scoop into muffin cases.
4. Sprinkle a little Demerara sugar onto the top of each muffin and bake for about 20 minutes.

These muffins can be a great accompaniment for warming, fruity beers such as Theakston’s Old Peculier. I've also enjoyed these (or variations of) with Brooklyn Chocolate Stout, Chimay Red and Moorhouse's Black Cat. The spices in the muffins perfectly compliment the complexity of deeper, richer beers that are abundant at this time of year. And, when baking, the house smells great.

Have a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year, guys. Cheers.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sierra Nevada Hook Up with Homebrewers To Mark 30th Anniversary

Great news for Sierra Nevada acolytes - to coincide with their 30th anniversary next year, they will spend 2010 collaborating with other major US craft brewers to create some special beers. All proceeds will go to charity.

In line for collaboration will be Craft Beer gods Fritz Maytag (Anchor) and Jack McAuliffe (New Albion), along with homebrewing trailblazers Charlie Papazian and Fred Eckhardt. As a nascent all-grain homebrewer myself, I think that this is a really nice touch; there will be many people (including me) who have spent hours poring over notes from these two guys. Also, it’s great of Ken Grossman to acknowledge how Papazian and Eckhardt have done more than their fair share to contribute to the Craft Beer boom of the last 15 years.

Keep an eye on the website - the beers will be released throughout the year, starting with the first release in March. Sierra Nevada’s 30th Anniversary will come out in November. God only knows how we in the UK are going to get out mitts on them, but I’m sure we’ll try. We can be a resourceful lot when we want to be!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2009 Review

Well, it’s that time of year when I cast my mind back to what we’ve tasted, seen, and cried our way through in 2009.

My Blog of the Year spot goes to Thornbridge's brewer’s blog. I like the simple design; the articles are always interesting and present a nice mix of brewing inside-knowledge, know-how, and personal experience. As a budding microbrewer myself, this aspect really interests me - I've really enjoyed following thier exploits in brewing and running a growing business throughout the year. For me, Kelly and the gang are always happy to share their experiences, which is again sometimes lacking in the brewer/blogger relationship. Blogging should be embraced by brewers – we are, after all, the beer drinkers that take time to shout from the rooftops our love of their product. And I do love Thornbridge’s beers – to me, they represent a vibrant, young, questing set of brewers who represent this country at the highest level. British Brewing dull? Not these guys. So well done, Thornbridge, and I look forward to drinking in 2010 with you - mine's a pint of Kipling.

Other honourable mentions go to the ever-excellent Boak & Bailey, Zak Avery’s YouTube Vlogs (still effortlessly head and shoulders above the rest - and apologies for not making the TNP tasting - I was busy failing my driving test) and The Beer Nut, which is consistently engaging and honest.
My Beer Venue of the Year award goes to Pivo, a great beer bar in the middle of York. I’ve always said that York is a real hotbed of great, solid English pubs and beer – and having a little slice of international craft beer on the scene ices the cake, really. It’s very small, but perfectly formed. I’m going to find it hard to visit York without dropping in from now on.
Kudos to Leeds Brewery for opening The Brewery Tap, which brews its own Leodis Lager on site. I’m not massively enamoured of the beer, but I like the idea. What about a Koelsch for the summer, guys?

Beer of the Year – always a tricky one. This year I’m copping out with a tied #1 spot for Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch – which managed to be the hoppiest beer I think I’ll ever drink and yet retain excellent balance – and Nogne-O’s IPA – another masterclass in balance between hops and body. Thanks for the memories, guys.
Also memorable were Dark Horse’s Hetton Pale, Orkney’s Red Macgregor, Dogfish Head’s Johnny Cask, Taddington’s Moravka, Sleeman’s IPA, Stone's Levitation Ale ,Meantime’s London Pale and Young’s Special London Ale, which I am finding is taking my addiction to one type of beer to a whole new level. Wonderful beers, them all.

Beer Event of the Year goes, without a doubt, to Flying Dog’s tasting, which happened at The Cross Keys in September. The full post is here but it made such a nice change to go a well run event, with great hosting by James Brophy, and meet so many great people who are passionate about beer. Thanks again to all involved. North’s Orval & Cheese day was random-yet-inspired, and The Barge and The Owl in Rodley ran their annual beer & music festival to even greater numbers than last year, proving that the appetite for family-oriented community beer events is still there. Well done, lads.

Next Year? Well, more of the same I hope. I’m getting married in September, and my honeymoon will take in Milan, Florence, Venice and Verona – so I’m hoping to finally fill that black hole I have in my knowledge about Italian Craft beer. If anyone has any pointers for me, drop me an email. Can’t wait.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Hop to open in Leeds

Just time for a quick one. The Hop, Wakefield's music and beer joint, is to get a twin here in Leeds, which will open in the Dark Arches area in March next year. The Hop is the brainchild of Ossett Brewery chairman Bob Lawson, and will boast excellent live music served alongside some great beer. Sounds good to me.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Tetley's To Go, Tetley's To Stay

...An interesting piece here from the Yorkshire Evening Post about Tetley's. Although it's been confirmed that the brewery will now be closed in Summer 2011, it would that Tetley's Bitter and the Tetley's brand will not.

Looks like those rumours that have been bubbling away in recent months about covert Tetley's test-brewing in some of Yorkshire's larger breweries may have been true, after this space.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Lunch at Sandinista

One of the downfalls of being someone who writes about beer and food in their spare time is that sometimes it's hard to switch off. It's hard to simply 'have a pint' sometimes - you may think that you're relaxed and chatting to your mates, but in reality that pint in your hand is being sniffed, examined and the details are being stored in that vault inside your head so that the next time you log onto Blogger you can tell the world what that beer was like, so that other can follow you and create a shared experience via the wonder of the internet.

It creeps up on you in other ways, too. Simply planning somewhere for lunch - especially if it's somewhere you don't know - becomes less of an off-the-cuff thing and more of a military operation. There's news places to go to, your mind implores. Research tells you this place does this beer on tap, or this places' noodle soup or home-baked bread is out of this world. And forget 'The Perfect Hand-cut Chip'. You forget that food and drink blogging is subjective, and all of a sudden you can find yourself in a strange place, ordering strange food for the sake of it and not really having fun. In fact, it all seems a little like work. Switching off, I am recently re-discovering, is fun.

On Friday we decided to do a little Christmas shopping. It was a fine, bright but cold winter's day in Leeds, and we did well to avoid the dreaded 'Christmas Market', fast becoming a temporary Sodom for Loiners. Laden with goodies, and feeling very satisfied with ourselves at a stress-free morning, we popped in to Sandinsta for lunch.

I can't even count the amount of times I've been here - it's a standard - that's why I don't write about it. Sandinista's warm atmosphere, spot-on staff and familiarity was the equivalent of taking of my shoes and putting my feet up in front of a roaring fire. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap. Yes please. A quick peruse of the menu flashed up the words 'Pork Belly Bocadillo' and I read no more. One of those for me, thanks.

A group of guys came in, ordered identikit Amstels and settled in for some Friday afternoon half-day working beers, all laughs and in-jokes. A regular followed, sitting at the bar and drinking coffee, lazily making conversation with the barman whilst leafing through The Times. Bob Dylan and Cream lilting over the chatter.

The food arrived with a smile, and it was heavenly. Succulent Pork Belly, crispy at the edges and topped with a sweet apple chutney, pressed into a crisp, chewy Ciabatta. Dutch Patatas - cubes of crispy potato smothered in melted cheese and spring onion on the side. Sierra's legendary Pale Ale giving just the right bite and bitterness to the jammy meat, and all was well. All was very well - the perfect lunch, right there, without even trying. On a whim. Hell, spontaneous even.

I didn't intend to post about this (hence the hastily taken picture), but Friday's lunch made me remember all that is good about food and drink. Place, people, and relaxation; just what happens when you let your guard down.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Satays and Bath Ale's Gem

Ok, if you've never made a Satay dipping sauce, here's how. What I like about it is that it's really easy to whip up but impressively tasty at the same time. If you've got people coming over for something to eat and don't have a lot of time to prepare, this is perfect. The only thing you definitely need - trust me - is a blender.

This sauce serves 4.

For the sauce, you first make a paste by blending one onion, 1 whole chilli (take the seeds out if you don't want it too hot), 3 Garlic cloves, and a tbsp of soft brown sugar. In a pan, heat a tbsp or two of oil (vegetable will do - don't use olive) and add the paste over a medium heat. Stir well, cooking the paste out a bit, and then add 3/4 tin of coconut milk, a splash of Soy Sauce, and a squeeze of half a lime - or lemon if that's all you have. Then, add about 125g of crunchy peanut butter. Stir it all in well over a medium heat, and that's the sauce done.

To eat this with, I usually skewer some prawns and either pork or chicken bits (if using chicken, batter strips out and thread through the middle - it stays moister this way) and griddle quickly over a high heat. You can pre-marinate the meat if you like, simply using a basic oriental marinade of soy sauce, garlic, chilli and ginger, along with a little brown sugar.

I had a bottle of Gem by Bath Ales in the fridge and seeing as though it was cold, opted for this rather than the Gaffel Koelsch that I had planned. It worked out well, that underlying sweetness that Gem has setting off the meats nicely and also quenching the heat more than adequately. The Gaffel followed suit later on in the evening, whilst watching 30 Rock. Sorted.