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Thursday, 23 December 2010

Pairing Good Beer with Good Food: Christmas

My latest article for Thanet CAMRA's Ale of Thanet publication covers food and beer pairing with a Christmas theme. You can check it out below or find the original here. December has been a lean month on the blogging front; work, family, holidays and colds have all got in the way a bit. I'm looking forward to really picking things up in the new year.


For many of us, Christmas dinner is the most important meal of the year. It’s the focal point of the holiday season; it’s something we look forward to and plan for weeks. With our friends, family and loved ones around that table, it’s important that the meal is just right; and for some, it’s one of the few occasions where thought is extended beyond the food, to the drink pairing too.

Whilst it might be instinctive to reach for a bottle of white, I see no reason why beer shouldn’t be given a chance on that centre stage. Break open a few good bottles and share them around!

Turkey can be a dry, bland meat if mistreated; what Turkey loves is something a bit showy and assertive to sit aside it, something to perk it up and encourage it along. It’s a meat that carries other flavours well, which is why we often eat it with something like cranberry jelly. Those fruity, sweet, sharp little berries hold the turkey’s hand and help it along.

Batemans XXXB is a premium bitter at 4.8%. It’s a deep amber colour with a distinct berry-fruit sweetness, making it a perfect match for roast chicken and turkey. In the same way as traditional cranberry jelly, it will punctuate each mouthful, lifting the meat to new heights.

Whilst the bird is undoubtedly the main event, it wouldn’t be the same without that vegetable undercard. The roast potatoes and buttered brussels are absolutely essential; from there we can take it in the direction of the parsnip, the carrot and the cabbage. Yorkshire pudding, why not? Bread sauce, go on then. Pigs in blankets, just a couple. Tiring behind the apron and tiring to the palate; but fear not because the XXXB has your back - stiff bitterness, a refreshingly light body and plenty of carbonation. Enough to lift the most tired of palates, leaving you ready for the next mouthful.

Batemans XXXB is available at all good off-licences and bottled beer shops. A 500ml bottle will cost in the region of £2.50.

Plump with that delicious cargo, it’s mission impossible to fight off slumber whilst the Queen makes her speech. Awake and put off those dishes with a mince pie and a bottle of American IIPA!

A mince pie is one of those things that I could happily eat all year round. When they finally make an appearance it’s important to consume as many as possible before they’re scared off by the springtime sun. Supermarket offerings vary massively, some passable, some terrible; the best mince pies are those you make yourself. Sticky round the edges where the bubbling filling has started to leak, still warm from the oven, generously filled and wrapped with the crumbliest sweet pastry. What they lack in elegance they make up for in flavour, and only an equally bold beer is capable of taking on the pairing challenge.

Tesco Finest American Double IPA (IIPA) is a big beer. It’s brewed exclusively for the supermarket chain by Brewdog of Scotland – a brewery that took gold in the IIPA category at this year’s World Beer Cup. It takes the intense bitterness and hop profile of an American IPA and doubles it. A bitterness rating off-the-scale, masses and masses of the freshest hops and 9 % alcohol. If you’re yet to encounter beers like this, you might think them over-the-top and excessive – well, that would be because they are! Treat them with respect, serve them cold, drink them in small quantities and you’ll be repaid with a flavour profile unlike that in any other beer.

The sticky dried-fruit, pith and peel of the mince pie will find a perfect partner in the citrus-laden, resinous, jam-like hops. The buttery, sweet pastry will be amplified by the sweetness of the beer and then the brutally bitter bite will stomp in and wash everything away. Bitterness against sweetness; the two work in stunning harmony, duelling it out to achieve dominance but never quite getting there. A whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

Tesco Finest American Double IPA is available at selected Tesco shops. A 330ml bottle will cost around £2.


Boxing Day brings the worst food hangover of the year; eating will be the last thing on your mind. Until lunchtime! Then suddenly that hotchpotch of Tupperware and foil in the fridge becomes a limitless treasure trove of potential. Lightly toast some thick white bread and get building; hunks of cold turkey, slices of stuffing, finely shredded white cabbage or really crisp iceberg lettuce, a cold sausage if any are left and then spoonfuls of spicy, tart, fruity chutney. Pair with a James Bond film and a glass of good pilsner and you’re set.

The lineage of the lager beer can be traced back to a single parent. Pilsner Urquell is characterised by its bright golden colour, its foamy head and the generous use of noble Saaz hops. Brewed in the Czech town of Pilsen since 1842, it’s responsible for spawning the vast majority of beer consumed worldwide. Whilst the modern day SABMiller incarnation might not compare to the unfiltered, unpasteurised original, it manages to stand head and shoulders above the majority of macro lager. Heavier in body than most, Pilsner Urquell balances caramel sweetness with punchy bitterness. The Saaz hops lend a uniquely recognisable herbal quality and there’s soft carbonation throughout. It’s full but light, snappy, crisp and dry, it arrives and then vanishes; this is what defines Pilsner Urquell and this is what makes it perfect for the Boxing Day sandwich.

You need something robust enough to stand up to those rich flavours, but a heavy beer would just be too much. Urquell will happily hold its own, but it’s light enough to stop you feeling weighed down. Delicious!

Pilsner Urquell is widely available in a number of sizes. At Sainsbury’s, a 500ml bottle costs around £1.81.


Christmas is a time for friends and family, it’s a time to enjoy good food, good drink and good company. Whilst we’re happy to make beer a part of our everyday lives, we seem to turn to wine for the special occasions. Save an extra place at the Christmas table this year, a place for beer.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Iceland - I Found Beer!

The Vinbud was exactly what I was looking for. Walking in there felt like an admission of guilt (another story for another blog), but once inside I found loads of Icelandic beer. Household names brewed under licence, domestic macro brands and a handful of micro beers. Fantastic.

The weather here is cold. Minus 12 degrees cold. We left the hotel last night and returned without sensation in our big toes. The water is heated by geothermal power, it picks up minerals and other nice things on the way to your house, it fills the room with the smell of hard boiled egg whenever you turn the hot tap on. The Sun never makes it above the horizon. It's not until 11am that it gets up at all! That Sun's lazier than I am. When you wake up you feel shattered, regardless of the time, because it's still dark outside and your body tells you to go back to sleep. So very different. The entire population of Iceland is only 300,000 people. Reykjavik has 100,000 of those people. You can fit 90,000 into Wembley Stadium!

They have Taco Bell here but not McDonalds. So very different.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Iceland - Vinbud

I've found it readers! Beer central in Iceland. The government shops that sell beer over 2.25% ABV are called Vinbud [Vínbúð] and this is the local one. It's next to an English pub called "The English Pub" (see what they did there?) and it's about five minutes from the hotel. It turns out that 60% of Icelandic people don't want to buy strong alcohol in the supermarket, so it's all relegated to these little shops. No signs overhead, age restrictions on the door, reduced opening hours ... it's like they don't want you to drink or something!

Alcohol obsessed? No. Beer obsessed? Maybe. I'll be there tomorrow.