Tag Archives: Beer

Sampling Sambrook’s & Cheese

30 Nov

Sambrook's 1
One thing I love about food is finding out what different flavour combinations people enjoy. It is for this reason that I am particularly interested in food and alcohol pairings.

Recently, the boy and I headed off south of the river to the Sambrook’s brewery to do just this – sample food and beer matches.
As background, Sambrook’s was started in 2008 by Duncan Sambrook, a former accountant for Deloitte who decided to quit the financial world. It became one of the first breweries in (fairly) central London and recently won the coveted award of World’s Best Pale Bitter for its Wandle brand at the World Beer Awards.

The night the boy and I visited was all about celebrating the win for Wandle and recognising some other great beers that took top honors in this year’s awards. It all took place in the brewery’s Boadicea Bar, a newly opened in-brewery bar where patrons can sample some of the great beers being made on the premises. To make things even more appealing, each beer was matched with a different cheese, provided by specialist cheese monger, Hamish Johnston.

Sambrook's 3And this was where things got really interesting as everyone on my table had a different viewpoint of what worked and what didn’t.

On the night, we sampled the Wandle, paired with a Gorwydd Caerphilly; a Weihenstephaner Kristall Weissbier with a Wigmore (from Ann Wigmore); a Thornbridge Raven Black IPA paired with a Stichelton from Joe Schneider; a Keersmaeker Kriek with an Ossau-Iraty; and, a Keersmaeker Gueze with a Lanark Blue from Selina and Andrew Cairns.

Each was distinctly different. I loved the Weissbier – a sparky orange, clove and nut beer – paired with the Wigmore, which was an ewe’s milk cheese that was more delicate than a goat’s cheese but with enough backbone to stand up to the beer. My other powerhouse winner of the night was the Thornbridge Raven Black IPA, which was a soothing dark beer with notes of umami, wood and wet grass. When paired with the fantastic Stichelton, a real sweetness emerged on my palate that heightened the beer even more for me.

But, the other five people at my table all had a different opinion. Some preferred the sharper, acidic-sweet note of the Kriek, and others ate up the Wandle and Caerphilly. The boy loved the Keersmaeker Gueze – a Lambic based beer with soft fleshy fruit and citrus notes – paired with the super-sharp, ammonia laden Lanark Blue. I thought the two together was really off putting (although, I liked each separately).

And so, it just goes to show – the only way to find out if you like something is to try it. So, as always, I encourage you to sit down with a group of friends, grab a few varied pints and some cheeses and see what you like. You never know what pleasures you’ll discover!

Thanks to Sambrook’s Brewery for inviting the boy and I down to try some fantastic drinks. For more information on the brewery and its beers, visit: http://www.sambrooksbrewery.co.uk

Innis & Gunn get fruity

10 Sep

Fruit beer is one of those things that I’m just never sure about.

The first time I tried one of the better known brands – Früli – a few years ago, it was after continuous recommendations from some work colleagues that it was the best thing since our office had decided to let us drink at our desks after 3:30pm on a Friday (this is Europe after all!). But when I tried it at Dutch pub De Hems, I found its sweetness to be too overwhelming. I promptly purchased my favourite, heavier-duty Trappistes Rochefort 8 and continued on my merry drinking way.

So when I recently learned that craft brewery and bastions of cask-aged beer Innis & Gunn had decided to release its own fruit beer under the brand name Melville’s Craft Lager, I was intrigued though slightly skeptical.

Melville’s Raspberry Craft Lager

The lager is made from a standard base (British malt, hops, yeast and water) that is infused with cold pressed berry juice from juice producer Ella Drinks. The company has released a strawberry and raspberry flavour, both of which I have sampled, and both of which will now be permanently available in Tesco and in Scottish Sainsbury’s branches for around the £1.70 mark.

My preferred choice was the raspberry version. It’s a heady, thickly sweet drink but with elements of an almost treacle-like flavour and an instant rush of sharp raspberry to counter the sugary side. It’s quite a punchy drink for a fruit beer – it’s not watered down or too sickly, though it is definitely going to be too much for those that like their lagers drier. The flavour of Swedish Berries (a North American candy) was also present. I wanted to be sat on a lawn chair in the sun drinking this one.

Stawberry delight anyone?

The strawberry version took the sugar level further and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who would choose a starter over a sweet at dinner – those with a greater love of their savoury taste buds might revolt. It saves itself, however, from falling into the sugar syrup, tweenie drinks (WKD anyone?) by having a lovely, bitter twang right at the end which balances things out a bit better. Strawberry foams from pick n mix, or Haribo strawberry sours dominate.

Both are quality craft lagers, which one can tell have been flavoured with real fruit and not any sugar additives. While they’re sweet, they’re enjoyable.

It’s an interesting move for Innis & Gunn – with its following by lager aficionados (especially in Canada where it seems to be immensely popular) it seems somewhat strange to move into this other market. Equally, it will give the company a wider remit by targeting a very different demographic. And, as the bottle does not say ‘Innis & Gunn’ anywhere on the label many may not even realise the tie-in.

And although I won’t reach for them as a staple beer, I enjoyed the raspberry enough to keep a bottle or two around for when I’m looking for something a bit sweeter than my normal bitters and ales. Which, given my normal dislike of fruit beer, says a lot.

A Fem “ale” Society

16 Apr

I’m going to let you in on a secret.



There’s a secret society. Of women. Who love beer!

Its name: Dea Latis.

How cool is that?

Now, I suppose I shouldn’t say it’s a secret society. It’s, well, not. But ever since I saw that Simpson’s episode about a gazillion years ago during which Homer finds out about the Stonecutters, I’ve always wanted to be a part of one.

So, when I found out about Dea Latis, I did a little squeal of excitement.

The group was formed in 2010 and is named after the Celtic goddess of beer and water. Its mission: to bring beer back to women and change their perceptions about the drink.

For someone who spends much of her time trying to goad her girlfriends into trying whisky, this appeals to me ten-fold!

Co-founder Ros Shiel says she got into beer when she took on a PR role at the British Beer & Pub Association and went on a beer appreciation course.

“ It really opened my eyes to the wonderful world of beer – until then I had, like many women, been of the opinion that beer was either brown/flat or yellow/gassy and both were wildly fattening! I remember the IPA was a revelation, and so was the cherry beer with dark chocolate,” she told me.

Dea Latis: a women's only beer drinking society. How cool!

The group now has 60 members, made up of female brewers, pub operators, marketing and PR people, and beer writers and bloggers, amongst others. It aims to put on at least two themed events per year (such as a beer and chocolate matching, which is where I discovered the group) and a talk with a woman in the beer industry. Everything is done on a volunteer basis, on limited funds, so the more people that discover it, the more events will happen.

Ros says she hopes more women will give it a go, but adds it’s hard in a country where much of the beer marketing is targeted at men.“It’s true that beer, in the UK certainly – does have a pretty blokey image: advertising’s all about men watching sport or other male bonding stuff, beer brands all sponsor men’s sports like football/rugby.

“[Also] the pint glass is a big turnoff for a lot of women, so we’re keen to see smaller, more elegant glasses become more widely used and indeed that is starting to happen.”

Co-founder Ros Shiel speaks during the beer & chocolate tasting.

There is also the “beer belly” issue, which means most women shy away from beer because of worries over weight. Ros counters: “Beer has fewer calories than wine, measure for like measure. Drunk in moderation, beer isn’t fattening.”

And while she doesn’t expect the whole industry to change overnight, she’s happy at least putting it out there that women love (or can come to love) all the amazing qualities that beer has to offer.

“I think if we can just get more women to consider drinking beer more often, and get more brewers to consider women in the way they market their beers, we’ll have done what we set out to achieve,” she concludes.

Want to get involved ladies? Memberships cost £40 a year and information can be found here.

Hop Rubbing Extravaganza

2 Mar

As soon as I walked into the room, I could smell them. Sour, pungent, aromatic…the hops’ scent was filling the air to the rafters!

I had been invited to attend a “hop rubbing” event at Shakespeare’s Head just off of Carnaby Street in honour of Marston’s new single hop ale releases but I really had no idea what to expect. It’s not every day someone asks you to come and rub hops with a roomful of people!

The new releases are the latest ale experiment from Marston’s – the brand which owns pubs and breweries countrywide, making drinks such as Pedigree and Burton Bitter.

Photo Credit: Jules Beresford

The Single Hop Ales have been created as a way to see how the various flavours of hops can change an individual beer when every other factor (from the type of yeast used, to the water, brewery and barley) stays the same. Each month in 2012, a new variety is being released. January used a New Zealand hop called Wai-iti, while February’s release was made with Galaxy from Australia. March will showcase the more traditional English East Kent Golding hop.

The idea came because the team at Marston’s was curious to see what would happen if they focused on just one hop at a time. According to one of the speakers, Paul Corbett, the UK has a fairly limited style of hop because people here have always drifted towards the best bitter flavours entwined in the Golding and Fuggle varietals. But, by trying out different hops and highlighting their individual flavours, the team hopes to increase interest in how varying ales can be made from each.

I had little idea about hops before I came to the event. I drink a lot of beer, so know about their production, and my English family come from a big hop growing region in the UK (Herefordshire) but I’d never been quite so up close and personal with them.

But before I continue, I should probably explain a bit more about the humble hop.

Reference has been made to using the plant as far back as the year 622, although the routine use of hops in drinks here in the UK didn’t come about until the 15th century when the British learned brewing techniques from Flanders. By the late 19th century, a massive 72,000 acres of hops were being cultivated to satiate the public’s taste for beer. That has dropped to around 2,500 acres here in England while Germany remains the top grower in the world.

Hops are related to the cannabis plant and grow up to nine feet. There are male and female plants but the cone needed for harvesting is only produced by the female. The cones have lupulin glands, which are sticky and look like pollen, and contain the oils needed for beer production. After they are picked, they are dried and packed into bales for dispatch to breweries to process.

Once at the brewery, a proportion of the hops are added into the kettle, along with the wort (made from the milled barley which has been mashed up with water and strained) and boiled. Depending on the required flavour output, more hops may be added towards the end of boiling (called late hopping) and to the final cask (called dry hopping).

That night, I tried the three latest releases and rubbed a total of six hops.

So what did I find?

The amazing thing was how diversified hops smell. The East Kent Golding, for instance, reminded me of haystacks, grass and hemp, and had a bitter aroma, while the Galaxy had undertones of licorice, pepper and cedar. Marynka (a variety from Poland) had a strange combination of onion, mint and medicine smells, and the German Hallertau Mittelfruh conjured up aromas found in a bubbling pasta sauce: herbs like thyme and oregano.

Photo Credit: Jules Beresford

After all those intense and pungent fragrances, I suppose I was a little disappointed with the flavours that were then to be found in the ales themselves. March’s East Kent Golding was just a regular, classic bitter, and so felt a bit flat in comparison with the fresh hop. But, I did enjoy the January Wai-iti, which mirrored the zingy, bursting citrus notes in both the taste of the beer and smell of the hops.

It’s an interesting experiment all around. Simon Yates, a master brewer with Park Brewery in Wolverhampton, told us they would be keen to play around with only those hops made in England to replicate this experiment with only English varieties. However, that will still be a while off because it takes three to four years for a new hop varietal to be created and tested before finally being used in production.

Nevertheless, if you do get a chance to head to a brewery and rub down some hops, I highly recommend it. Just make sure to take a wet-wipe as they get rather sticky, which is equally unpleasant. And, be prepared to smell hops for many hours afterwards as their crafty essential oils love getting absorbed into the skin.

Marston’s Single Hop Ales are available at Chef & Brewer and Taylor Walker pubs throughout 2012.

Bewitched by beer in Bruges

24 Feb

I stare at the menu longingly but with confusion. I want them all…every single bottle of beer on the menu at De Kuppe bar on Kupperstraat in Bruges looks appealing. But, given most sit around the 8% or 10% ABV mark, I have to concede: I will only get through a few.

The boy and I had arrived with our friends in Bruges earlier that afternoon. It was colder than cold and we had to trudge through slippery snow if we wanted to see the town.

So instead of freezing ourselves in the cultural endeavour of sight-seeing, we opted to hole up in one of the many bars the petite Belgian town has to offer, which worked perfectly for me.

You see, I am a massive fan of Belgian beer – it is almost always my go-to beer as standard. It’s generally richer (without being gut-filling like a stout), has more subtle flavours and is crisp, despite being very strong.

Straffe Hendrick beer

The history of beer from this region is equally enticing. The famous Trappist beers, for instance, began being brewed in the late 19th century by monks in monasteries. In order to be called a Trappist, the beer must still be made in the same fashion. There are six beer-producing monasteries that meet such distinction in Belgium, making brands such as Chimay, Westmalle and (my all time favourite) Rochefort.

As such, when faced with a veritable book of beers, it was hard to know where to start. I opted away from ones I knew and started with a Straffe Hendrik, which is brewed in Bruges. This dark brown tripel beer comes in at 9% and is made from six kinds of malt. It has notes of toffee and brown sugar, and lots of hop. A delicious way to begin.

I followed this with a Bush Ambrée, a hefty corker of a beer that has a wine-strength 12% ABV. The boy and a couple others joined in, swayed by the idea of drinking such a strong brew. Made in 1933, this beer is the strongest Belgian variety. But you wouldn’t know it – until you stand up of course. It is balanced between sweet and bitter, but doesn’t have the same “oomph” as the other Belgian beers I tried, despite being stronger.

Next came Judas and La Trappe Quadrupel, which I only realised later is actually from the Netherlands.

By the time I had sipped my way through those beers, it was time for bed. But with three more days in the winter wonderland of Bruges, I knew there was still time to work my way through a few more.

The pink Delerium elephant watches over the coconut beer.

As luck would have it, the Bruges beer fest was going on at the same time we arrived – a fantastic and welcome surprise. Featuring more than 250 beers, it only added to the beer odyssey.

There we managed to get through nearly 30 beers – only a drop in the ocean, but a good attempt I think. We tried the Troubadour Blond and Troubadour Obscura, two I had never heard of, along with the beautiful Val-Dieu Blonde and the super hoppy Martin’s IPA. There were hoards of intriguing fruit beers, such as the Floris Fraise and Peach, or the Banana, Coconut or Mango varieties from Mongozo. Interestingly, there was also a beer aged in whisky casks – the Bravoure, which was slightly sweet and stunk of smoked cheese. Despite this, it was intriguingly pleasant.

And so the list goes on. After the beer festival, we continued on to the quaint De Garre bar, where beers such as Kwak and their 11% house beer. Maybe not the best choice after a few hours of beer drinking, but delicious and highly recommended.

Kwak served up in a quacky wooden holder.

By the time we departed from Bruges, I was satisfied. I may have only tried 25 or 30 beers out of hundreds, but it was a great first stab at the books of beers in Bruges. I left with taste buds satiated, utterly bewitched by the Bruges beer scene.

European Beers

21 Jan

As mentioned in my previous post, I was lucky enough recently to be sent some very interesting beers from R&R Teamwork to try out. In the last edition, I tried out the beers from the U.S. and now I shall wax lyrical on those from this side of the ocean (namely, Belgium and Scotland).

If you’ve tried any of these, then drop me a line and let me know – I’d be curious to hear your thoughts!

Fruity beer? Well, why not...

Liefmans Fruitesse: 4.2% – Liefmans Brewery, Belgium:

Sometimes fruit beer can be too sickly sweet for my liking. I’m almost always after a bitter, punchy, yeasty beer or stout to sit by my side while I cook dinner or watch a film. So, I was a bit hesitant with this one. Liefmans Fruitesse is a fruit beer (duh!), combining flavours of cherry, bilberry, elderberry, strawberry and raspberry. What makes it slightly more interesting than a run-of-the-mill fruit beer is that it has been matured for 18-months on cherries. And you can definitely taste that. This beer manages to hold its own by focusing on more tart, bitter flavours – cherry, bilberry – rather than overdoing the candy shop strawberry taste that I find too sweet. It’s a bit biting and – although I’d only have one – I found it to be a refreshing, rather than a sugary, beer; great for summer picnics. It retails for £1.60 at Waitrose & Selfridges.

A smoking gunn?

Innis & Gunn Highland Cask 18: 7.1% – Innis & Gunn Brewery, Scotland:

Opening up the box to find this beer was a real treat – a 7.1% beer that I hoped could really set my taste buds alight. Innis & Gunn is very popular back in Canada, but until my latest trip there, I hadn’t heard of it – odd, I thought, given I live in England and this is from Scotland. But, Innis & Gunn do a lot of promoting in North America – it’s a bigger market and people’s beer drinking tastes are evolving rapidly there. This bottling was a limited edition, matured in casks previously containing 18-year-old scotch whisky. And, I could really pick it up – there were hints, not unlike a whisky, of toffee and oak, and it was rich and warming. It didn’t get me quite as excited as I thought it would but I have a feeling that – given I love whisky so much – I was expecting more of a whisky hit. It was well balanced, though, and an interesting one to try. Though, at 7.1%, maybe just stick to one or two. It’s available for £2.50 at Sainsbury’s.

Duvel, how you set my heart on fire!

Duvel: 8.5% – Duvel Brewery, Belgium:

To top things off, I finished with a Duvel – I held off on this one because it has been a long-time favourite. I discovered it for the first time at the fabulous De Hems pub on Macclesfield Street in London a few years back and I’ve been drinking it ever since. This Belgian beer is really one for beer lovers, in my opinion. It comes in at a hefty 8.5% but still manages to be refreshing – always dangerous! The blond beer is fermented a second time in the bottle (fermentable sugars and yeast are added at the bottling stage). It is then matured for another 60 days in warm and cool temperatures to achieve its characteristic biting, yeasty flavour. It’s slightly sweet but has a drying bitterness on the finish which keeps the sugars down. I could drink it all night long. Definitely a favourite. It retails at most supermarkets for £1.67 upwards.

Stateside Beer

13 Jan

I always find it funny how some memories in life stick out to you so much more prominently than others. Ask me about my childhood and I can wax lyrical about some elements (cows in the field, bears in the forest, country life, the big yellow school bus) while others remain completely hazy. But one that I couldn’t help remembering recently was the first time I tried a wee sip of beer. I was about four or five years old and was sat around a table in our living room. I had my playset mugs and toys around me and my dad was chatting with one of his friends, drinking a beer on a summer’s eve. I remember grabbing at his glass to smell the beer and him smiling, laughing at my intrigue. So, he gave me a tiny, less than thimble-full sip in my doll’s cup to satiate my interest (and probably to stop me asking questions – I was a very chatty child). I declared I liked it. And, I’ve not stopped liking it since (well, there was a brief period of, oh, 12 years where I didn’t drink any, but you get my point).

As I’ve grown older, I’ve tended to veer towards what I consider “good” beer – I don’t mind an occasional cheap lager if it’s given to me, but if I had my choice it would be a Belgian brew or rich stout any day over that. So, when I received a package in the post a few weeks ago only to discover I had been sent a few bottles of specialty beer to try, I was rather overjoyed.

It contained no less than seven varieties of beer – three from the US and four from Europe. I have finally tried them all and have decided to divide my review into two parts. This first one will focus on the bottles from the US and the next (coming soon!) will shout out my thoughts on the others.

So, to begin…

Anchor Steam from Anchor Brewing Co, San Francisco

Anchor Steam: 4.8% – Anchor Brewing Co, San Francisco:

As soon as I took a sip from this, I was transported back to the past summer, when I had been sat on an outdoor patio in the sunshine in San Francisco. This beer is distinctly west coast (Canada or US): its flavours are infiltrated with the warmth of a summer’s day and all that entails: BBQs, ocean, fresh breezes. Sure we have that here in the UK but, for me, this beer contained everything I know and love about the west coast. It’s also very rich and creamy, with a yeasty, almost Marmite like hint, and leaves a slightly charcoal and bitter note on the tongue. The company has named it Anchor Steam after the old term for beer – steam being the word used to describe beer made on the west coast under very basic conditions in the 1800s. So, with even a name that symbolises all things western, this is one for those laid-back weekend days in summer when all you want to do is relax with friends under the sun. It can be found at Selfridges for £1.99 a bottle.

Goose Island India Pale Ale

Goose Island India Pale Ale: 5.9% – Goose Island, Chicago:

I don’t normally drink India Pale Ale. In the past, I’ve found the bitterness of these to be too intense. So, I was very surprised when I tried this beer and it really hit the spot. It was most certainly one of the best beers of the lot – crisp, slightly fruity with a good load of hops working through from start to finish, without being so bitter as to make my mouth pucker. I had never heard of Goose Island but it seems a lot of Midwesterners have been enjoying it since the late ’80s when founder John Hall decided to try to create a brewpub in Chicago akin to those found in Europe. It was a very pleasant discovery and, even more so, when I noticed it’s available in Sainsbury’s for £1.99. It’s definitely one I’ll be indulging in more often.

Anchor Porter: the first porter beer in the US

Anchor Porter: 5.6% – Anchor Brewing Co, San Francisco:

This porter beer – also from Anchor Brewing Co – was the first of its kind when it was released 40 years ago in the States. Before that, no one was really brewing the dark, rich porter beers that we here in the UK had been familiar with for hundreds of years. This version is lighter than a Guinness, but still dark as tar. It is rich, without being overbearing, and carries a load of chocolate and toffee notes. It avoids being bitter and instead makes itself very drinkable. I didn’t get that heavy feel after finishing this bottle, like I sometimes do when drinking this type of beer. All in all, very enjoyable but probably not for people who like lighter brews, as it is still rich. This, too, is available at Selfridges for £1.99.

Coming soon: I review Innis & Gunn Limited Edition Highland Cask; Duvel and Liefmans Fruitesse. These beers were provided to me, with thanks, by R&R Teamwork, a specialist London Communications Agency.

Brilliant B.C. Beer Bottles

30 May

I have recently left my “new-found” home (ie: England) to come back to my “home” (ie: Canada, birthplace etc) for a bit of a visit. I have been in London for  nearly four years and in that time, I nearly forgot how fun the labels on artisan beers are here in B.C. The same can really be said for most of the west coast of North America (think: Portland, Seattle, Vancouver etc). What is so fantastically brilliant is the cheekiness of the artwork and downright delicious flavours that one can find hiding away in a bottle of beery goodness.

Take these three beers, for instance, which I recently grabbed off the shelf at random in the liquor store (sadly, booze isn’t available in supermarkets here! Quel shame!).

Three handcrafted beers wait to be drunk down: Brother Thelonius, Deckhand Belgian Saison, and Elysian

Now, I chose them not only for their funky designs but because of their descriptions and strength (all around 8% ABV – I like my beer strong). In England, I’d probably pick up a Belgium beer or two from Sainsbury’s, say, but they wouldn’t come with this saucy styling, such as Lighthouse’s Deckhand, whose busty babe on the front has already riled some feathers for being a wee bit to forward with her décolletage. 

Despite being chosen at random, none disappointed. The Deckhand was light, fruity and yeasty, with a very bitter aftertaste; our too-cool-for-school Brother Thelonius was flavoursome with a metallic scent, ruby colour and dark, rich taste; and, the Elysian was a bit, well, hard to pin down – mostly because I was too wobbly for words by this point, but the bottle’s cloaked sorceress certainly pleased my taste buds.

At the end of the day, what really rocks my world is the fact each of these beers are only around for a short time, a whimsical whipping up by the artisan breweries that craft them and their designs. And, because people out here support their local, small brewery, I’ve no doubt beauteous bottles and beer will continue hitting liquour store shelves. Now, if only I can convince them to export to England…

%d bloggers like this: