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Sunday, 31 January 2010

Green Salad & Whitstable Bay

Another good food and beer pairing tonight. Sometimes, after a big lunch at work, I only want a small meal in the evening. I find a nice crisp salad with a good dressing can really hit the spot (and carries almost no calorific value at all). I've never tried pairing a beer with salad before, but had a bottle of Shepherd Neame Whitstable Bay in the cupboard and it looked like they could work well together. They did.

Something I really like, is raw mushroom. If you've never tried it, then I highly recommend it. The taste and texture is totally different to a cooked mushroom. When cooked, it's easy to over do it and end up with a slimy, watery, tasteless result. When raw, the texture is totally unique and the flavour is magnified ten fold.

Any mushroom will do, just make sure they're very fresh. Give them a rub over with dry kitchen paper, to remove any dirt, then slice them into pound-coin-thick chunks.

The rest of the salad is mixed lettuces, rocket and some baby spinach leaves.

For the dressing, combine 2-3 parts olive olive, 1 part rice wine vinegar (or any light vinegar,) 3 parts of the beer and enough salt to season. Combine well and pour over the salad. You want enough to give each leaf a thin coat but not so much that you swamp everything. It's also important to remember that the dressing should go on right before serving, any sooner and the leaves will wilt under the acid.

The pairing works for a number of reasons. The flavour in the salad is delicate, but so is the beer. If either were any stronger, the balance would be tipped. The maltiness in the beer compliments the earthy flavour of the mushroom, the beer's bitterness sits aside the the metallic iron flavour of the spinach and the citrus notes from the hops work with the acid in the dressing.

If I were to criticise anything, it would be that the citrus notes in the beer are probably a tiny bit lacking. If they were more in your face, I think this would work even better.

Salad can often be a bit dull. There really is no need for it to be though, a little bit of effort can turn it into something great.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Temporary pause

Not a real blog entry this, just a quick note. I'm off on holiday for a week and (probably) won't have Internet access. Normal blogging will resume in a week's time.


Thursday, 21 January 2010

Woodforde's Wherry, a disappointing send off

I started home brewing beer kits before moving to all grain. The thought process being that this would allow me to learn the basics (and make the mistakes), before investing in equipment and expensive ingredients. The great thing about kits is that they strip out a fair bit of the complexity, whilst still allowing you to learn the basic brewing process.

I had mixed success with the kits, basically learning that you get what you pay for. Buy a budget kit, expect a cheap tasting beer. The best tasting (and funnily enough, most expensive) kit I brewed was a 40 pint Woodforde's Wherry kit.

Last night marked the end of an era. A small and pretty meaningless era yes, but an era all the same. I opened the last bottle of Wherry that I have left, meaning that everything I brew and drink from this point on will be made from all grain. I'd been saving the bottle to be honest, putting it to the back of the cupboard to avoid drinking it.

It'd lost most of it's carbonation, the hop flavour had almost totally gone and I only drank about a tenth of it before throwing the rest away, but let's not dwell on that. Let's wave goodbye to the era of beer kits instead.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Black IPA (Homebrew)

At the tasting Brewdog held a few weeks back, I tried Bashah for the first time. Bashah was brewed as a collaborative effort between Brewdog and Stone Brewing and is a black Belgian double IPA.

When I first heard about this beer I couldn't understand how it would work. Big hop flavour should be the protagonist in an IPA and yeast flavours should dominate anything you specifically label as being brewed with Belgian yeast. How can these two distinct, main-event flavours work alongside each other? Despite this however, when I tried it I was pleasantly surprised. I don't think I'd describe it as a true double IPA, Belgian yeast or not, but the overall taste is good. So good infact that I've decided to attempt something similar myself.

So, at this stage, I'm just throwing a few ideas around and trying to put something that resembles a recipe together.

For me, an IPA should have a clean, slightly thin, dry flavour. I don't want too much to come from the malt because it should be the hops that steal the show. But, be that as it may, I don't like the idea of a dark beer without any maltiness at all. So, aiming for somewhere in the middle, I'll use Carafa III to give colour and some roasty caramel flavour, without it becoming too dominant. On the special grain front, I'll also use a minimal amount of crystal and chocolate to help the caramel/toffee flavour along.

Hops. This is meant to be an IPA, so I want hop flavour to be obvious. Target for bittering, giving about 60 IBU's. Personal taste won't let this get any higher. I want this to be bitter but not over the top. Amarillo and a small amount of Fuggles for the aroma and flavour hops, the idea being that these will bring a spicy, orangey, citrus flavour to the beer.

The yeast needs to be Belgian but I'll split the batch and go with a S04 as a control. The Belgian half will use Safbrew T58. I want the ABV to be around 6-7% so that you get an alcohol hit on the nose and a slight warming sensation in the mouth. An ABV this high will be about right for 60 IBU's and will also lend itself to ageing.

So, put this together and you hopefully get a dark beer with yeast, caramel and toffee, orange and spice. Think Terry's Dark Chocolate Orange and you're not far off where I'm aiming at.

Re-reading through this, have I ended up with a black Belgian IPA? Probably not. I do think I've got the basis for something that could be pretty tasty though.

This blog entry is a bit out of date now. I brewed the beer over Christmas with some slight modifications. I'll update the blog with progress and a look at how it turned out soon, so stay tuned for that.

Monday, 18 January 2010


Proper blog entry coming tomorrow, this is just a quick note about Twitter. It occurred to me that I have a Twitter account for this blog, but that I don't reference it here at all. A bit silly, I think you will agree.

Anyone who follows the blog (or doesn't, for that matter), please feel free to follow/tweet me. My page is:


I've also added a link button on the right hand side of the blog.


Sunday, 17 January 2010

Pißwasser and fictional beer

Mark's post for Pencil & Spoon, about animated beer and food, and how delicious it looks, got me thinking. Thinking about the fictional beers that I've come across and those that exist in popular culture.

My favourite of recent times being Pißwasser from the video game Grand Theft Auto 4. A fictional beer that, for anyone else who speaks even less German than me, roughly translates as "Piss Water".

The game is peppered with comical references to the beer, but my favourite is the TV Advert that you can watch in the apartment of the game's main character (contains swearing):

Not only brilliantly funny, but also a disappointingly accurate satire of main stream drinking habits in the USA (and UK, for that matter).

There's also a radio commercial that plays on the car stereos of vehicles in the game, see here.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Homebrew archive 2009

I've decided to 'archive' a few of the homebrew beers I made last year. Some of them were better than others and I'm not sure that they'll all lend themselves to ageing. None the less, it'll be interesting in a few years time to dig them out and see how they've changed.

They're all labelled with a name, style, date of bottling and ABV. I plan to box them up, put them in the loft and just forget they're there.

The box will include:

1. A standard session bitter with Bobek and Goldings hops. 5.5%
2. A special strong bitter flavoured with Fuggles and Goldings hops. 6.5%
3. A low ABV session stout. 3.7%
4. A stout matured on dried fruit. 4%

Straying from the homebrew theme, I've also thrown in a Fuller's Vintage Ale 2009 (made sense to store it in the same place).

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Spent grain loaf

In brewing, fermentable sugar is extracted from malted barley using a process known as mashing. What you end up with is a sweet, malty liquid known as wort and a load of useless (or 'spent') grain.

I've seen other home brewers use this spent grain in a variety of ways. Apparently it makes great compostable material and can be turned into delicious snacks for your dog. A more traditional use however is to recycle it as a baking ingredient and turn it into a spent grain loaf.

Being one that avoids wasting food wherever possible, I thought I'd give it a try.

The spent grain I used was mostly Marris Otter pale with some chocolate and crystal. To prepare it, I spread it thinly on a thick-bottomed baking sheet and allowed it to dry out in a very low oven for 2 hours. Some of the spent hops from the same brew also made it into the oven and were crumbled into the grain when dry.

To make the loaf, I combined 500g of white flour with 500g wholemeal flour, salt to season, a packet of dried yeast and 500g of the spent grain. Add enough liquid to form a dough and knead for 10 minutes (I used a homebrew lager that was getting a bit too old to drink - adding an extra beery twist). Leave this to prove until double in size then knock back and knead for 5 further minutes. Shape to your preference (I went with basic individual rolls) and bake at 200c until cooked through (45 minutes or so for a loaf).

The result is dense, filling and lies somewhere between a pint of beer and a slice of granary toast. Mine was delicious with left over roast (Quorn) turkey, fruit chutney and Pete Brown's Hops & Glory.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Christmas day food pairings

Carrying on with the trend of food pairing blogs (see me last blog: here), I thought I would write a bit about the pairings I made for Christmas. This is a bit out of date now, but the combinations are still great and would work equally well at any time of year (just replace Christmas Turkey with a roast Chicken and the cake with a standard fruit cake).

With the Turkey main event on Christmas day, I went with Batemans XXXB. This beer has a pronounced malty sweetness which works perfectly with the meat. There is also a distinct berry like quality to it that echoed the cranberry jelly we had with the food. XXXB is very light and refreshing, perfect for lifting the palette after all the vegetable accompaniments, leaving you ready for the next mouthful.

Early evening, before a tea of cold meat and left overs, is traditionally Christmas cake time. For this I picked Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter. What a combination. The cake is dense, rich, sweet and fruity. The beer has huge coffee and chocolate flavours which work perfectly with the cake. Citrus hops compliment boozy dried fruit and the bitter, earthy finish cuts through the indulgent, cloying sweetness of the cake.

There you have it. Simple but (hopefully) very effective. Anyone who hasn't tried Gonzo Porter, I highly recommend it. Not only one of my favourite beers but also readily available in Tesco. There's also a barrel aged version, it doesn't come cheap but I really must try it some time soon.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

White Shield & Montgomery Cheddar

I originally saw this suggestion in a blog entry by Melissa Cole, shortly before Christmas. Pete Brown also mentions something similar in his book "Hops and Glory" (see page 50).

With easy access to both the cheese and beer (at Borough Market), and with it being Christmas, I thought ... why not.

First, the beer. The colour is a deep copper-brown with, in the words of Pete Brown "its live yeast creating a mini cumulonimbus of dense foam at the mouth of each freshly opened bottle". The smell is all spicy English hops with some sweet caramel and alcohol notes. The taste starts with caramel, toffee, malty sweetness and moves on to the spicy hops. The beauty of this beer, for me, is in the balance.

The cheese is an authentic Cheddar, nothing like the imitation stuff you get in supermarkets. It starts off creamy, milky, smooth and subtle. It then grows into a tangy, mustardy, peppery and earthy finish. The closer your mouthful to the outside of the truckle, the more intense the flavour.

Together, these two are perfect. The sweet, malty flavour in the cheese compliments the creamy sweetness in the beer. The spicy hop finish in the beer straddles the mustardy, peppery tang of the cheese. Well worth the effort to track down and try these two together. Harmony!

Since trying these, I've also tried a homebrew English IPA with some cheaper authentic mature Cheddar. Whilst it doesn't quite hit 11 in the way that the above did, the combination is still great.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Beer Roundup - 06/01

Another roundup of some of the beers I've had recently. As before, this isn't meant to be a set of tasting notes, more a summary and any note worthy points.

Fuller's 1845. Apparently aged for a minimum of 100 days before sale, the colour is a deep chestnut with hints of red. The aroma is a combination of alcohol and tangy dark, fleshy fruits. The flavour is a combination of caramel malt and fleshy fruits with some subtle alcohol warmth. A slightly drying, bitter finish powers in but doesn't linger. You can also clearly taste some roasted malt coffee flavours in the background. Very nice.

Gadds' Reserved. Picked this one up from Eddie a few weeks back and had been saving it for the festive break. It's a barley wine that's been aged in red wine casks. The colour is a lovely deep red with no head at all. This bottle had a slight haze but that could've been down to it being a little too cold. The smell is some subtle red wine accompanied by horsey, farmy Brett. The taste has some sweetness up front, moving to slight fruitiness then finishing with slight bitterness and big drying Brett. The Brett in the taste is also farmy and horsey but adds an elastic/rubber element that reminds of plasters. I wonder if the brewer was intending this to taste the way it does, I was expecting some more winey notes but this is excellent none the less.

Fuller's Jack Frost. Described by the brewer as a winter beer, blackberries are used in its production. The colour is a deep flame with purple hues, the head is big, fluffy and white. Aroma wise you get spicy hops and jammy fruit. The taste is quite thin and watery with a crisp but not overly bitter finish. Very good, but not characteristics I would expect from a winter beer. There's some sweetness present and some fruitiness too, I couldn't help but be disappointed by the lack of pronounced blackberry flavour though. I can see myself drinking this on hot summer days and really enjoying it.

Hopdaemon Skrimshander. A gorgeous flame colour, looking at the photo of this beer just makes me thirsty. The nose is overtaken by masses of fruity, piney, resinous hops. The taste is light and refreshing with the promise of resinous, piney hops being kept, leading to a crisply refreshing bitter finish. Delicious.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Homebrewing 2010

What with it being the season for resolutions and all, I thought I'd take a few minutes over my (second) bacon sandwich to put down in print the home brewing aims I have for 2010.

I've got a good few brews under my belt now and know my kit pretty well. It's time to push on and improve my brewing processes and the quality of the beer I make. There are areas in which I know I can make improvements and there are things I'm keen to try out.

1. Improve my kit. Namely: re-calibrate my mash tun and boiler/HLT; upgrade the insulation on my mash tun. This will allow for greater consistency between batches and improved control of mash temperature.

2. Brew smaller batches, more frequently. I love beer but I've never been one that enjoys drinking to excess. A lot of home brewers criticise small batches because it takes roughly the same effort to brew 50 litres or 15 litres. Despite this, I brewed 10 litres of black IPA over Christmas and found the brew length to be about right. I rather end up with 60 small bottles of three different beers, than 60 all the same. If something turns out well, I can always brew more of it!

3. Brew a low alcohol, refreshing, hoppy beer for summer. I've talked briefly about this here. I want it to be around 2%, red in colour, hoppy, crisp and refreshing.

4. Attempt something innovative. I want to try something that hasn't been done before or is rarely ever done. It could be the way I age the beer, an unusual adjunct, a twist on the brewing process. Ideas welcome.

By no means a huge list, but part of the fun of home brewing is letting things develop and change as you go. A big "to do" list doesn't fit with that philosophy, so this is more a short list of things I know I want to do. It's my intention to track progress using this blog, so keep reading to find out how things play out.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Brewdog bark @ Borough

So, a few weeks back I went to a beer tasting with Brewdog, at Borough Food Market, organised by Melissa Cole of Love Beer @ Borough.

The whole thing was very well organised and well run. James Watt of Brewdog walked us through eight of his beers with eloquence and enthusiasm. Something that did come across whilst listening to James was a sense of humility and humbleness, which can often be lost in the marketing that Brewdog produce. People have criticised Brewdog for their balls-out, brash, bolshy approach in the past, but in person you realise that this isn't born from cockiness or self importance. It's a tool used, or a basis for calculated decision making, always with the ultimate goal in mind of making the best, most thought provoking, original beer possible.

1. 77 Lager. I haven't enjoyed this in the past but it was a good aperitif to the main beers. Lager but not as we know it. More bitter, more hoppy, more flavour.

2. Trashy Blonde. Exotic fruit hoppyness, some bitterness, not bad.

3. Eurotrash. We were lucky enough to try this against the Trashy Blonde. This is the same beer but brewed with a Belgian yeast in place of the Brewdog house yeast. James said the switch could be made permanent because of such good feedback, and I would agree. The yeast takes over the nose and palate but the malt provides a perfect base for it to do so.

4. 5AM Saint. All the hop flavour, none of the bitterness. A lovely amber, red colour. I need to try some more of this one.

5. Bashah. Chocolaty dark malts meet hoppyness and Belgian yeast. I hadn't had this before and was very impressed. This will definitely inspire a homebrew recipe in the near future.

6. Paradox (Isle of Arran). I've had the Springbank, but this is better. Personally I found the whiskey notes from the cask to be more subtle and balanced. Also had a lovely smokey character through the middle.

7. Shark beer. A privilege to try this one. Only fifty bottles are in existence, six were at the tasting. Incredible depth of flavour with an almost medicinal nose.

8. Zephyr. Interesting, but the sweetness and fruit was a little too much for me personally. I can see why people like this but perhaps my taste buds were a bit spent by the time we got to it. I'd like to try it again but probably will never get the chance.

An excellent afternoon, well worth the fifteen quid. My one small complaint would be that no water was given out between beers. I'm looking forward to more of these tastings in the near future.

We also tried an early, unconditioned sample of Divine Rebel. It would be unfair to pass judgement on it but Melissa was spot on when she described it as tasting like "Whiskey Tea Loaf".