In general, it totally fucks a beer up beyond recognition - and boy do I love it.
There’s just something about brett that adds a complexity to beer, even an extra level of dry refreshment – thanks perhaps to some of the remaining sugars in the beer being gobbled up by the hungry invader – that makes it equally recognisable and addictive.
It’s a little bit wild, rough even, but used right it can be beautifully balanced too. It takes beer in a new direction, makes Orval one of the greatest beers in the world, and elevates the Straffe Hendrik Tripel ‘Wild’ to the next level. Dusty in a good way, horseblanket if you’re feeling fancy, dry in a salted cracker sense, bitter like dried herbs.
Delicious in more ways than you can put your finger on.
A surprisingly interesting piece on the modern wine menu (bear with me) on imbibemagazine.com has spurred me into action after a long, blog-less summer hibernation.
The piece, entitled ‘Writing the Modern Wine Menu’, talks about the difficulty in selecting a rounded list of wines for a restaurant, given the breadth of choice available from around the world. The writer ponders over restaurateurs’ struggling with whether they can, or should choose wines from lesser known regions or grape varieties and also whether the wine list should challenge, excite, or please - assuming the three are mutually exclusive.
One paragraph which leapt out at me in particular, for fairly obvious reasons, was
“Food at the most fascinating restaurants has gotten bolder, with ambitious chefs more fearless in adopting flavors and techniques from around the world. That sometimes results in dishes that are less-obviously wine-friendly, but beverage directors are pushing for creative solutions, reaching deep into an arsenal of picks that go far beyond Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to wine’s outer orbits of sherry and fortified wines, as well as beer and spirits.” (My emphasis).
The idea that there is no one-size-fits-all drink to pair with food is something I’ve been pushing for a long time. Beer is still earning its place at the high-end dinner table, but as chefs become ever more inventive in their flavour combinations they will be forced to look beyond the realms of wine, to beer, cider or even spirits - try a peaty Lagavulin with Roquefort or unpasteurised stilton (edit: Thanks to the @DasKegster for pointing out that for legal reasons unpasteurised 'stilton' is called stichelton).
But it should flow both ways, and whilst beer is my go-to for pairing with food thanks to its variety, other drinks have their place at the table too. Pairing should be fluid not restrictive.
As restaurants play with flavours we should do the same with our drink pairings and look across the full drinks spectrum . The dry, zesty French muscadet I drank last night with a seafood risotto finished with butter, lemon zest and parsley was a perfect combination which relies on two simple methods – cutting the richness of the buttery risotto with acidity and highlighting the zesty flavour of the muscadet with a flourish of lemon zest.
But beer allows us to bring in flavours not found in the wine world, such as the resinous piney bitterness of a hoppy American IPA, the malty, savoury sweetness of a rich imperial stout or the salty tartness of a Belgian Gose (though a nice Fino sherry comes pretty close). Oh, and it has to be beer with cheese – wine doesn’t even come close I’m afraid.
My point is it’s all about flavour, not format. Thinking about what a drink is really about, it’s flavour, aroma and textural profile, and how that works with or plays with the food.
One way a restaurant mentioned in the article does this is to have a description-only wine list - so those who normally order the Pinot Grigio might be tempted into unknowingly ordering a steely dry Riesling they otherwise wouldn’t have taken a second glance at.
I wonder what would happen if a beer was slipped under the radar using the same method. Would a wine buff turn their nose up at being served a foaming glass of saison having read dry, crisp and complex on the menu and assumed a snappy white wine was on its way?
I think we’re a little way off being able to answer that with a resolute ‘no’, but it’s a nice thing to be striding towards.
Note: The photo at the top is, coincidentally, from Imbibe Live which had an excellent beer and food matching seminar lead by the Brewers Association's Head Chef.
We all know that aroma plays a huge part in flavour, but actually it is the combination of all of our senses; sight, smell, taste, touch (mouthfeel) and even sound that make up the ‘flavour’ we perceive - try eating a crunchy tortilla chip with earplugs in and it won’t be the same experience.
Years ago we used to think that different parts of our tongue were responsible for detecting the different elements of taste – sweet at the front of the tongue, bitter at the back, sour and salt down the sides – but it has since been proven this phenomenon is more to do with how our brain processes the flood of information than it is the anatomy of the tongue.
Whilst different parts of the tongue might have tastebuds that are very slightly better at detecting sweet, salt, sour, bitter or umami, every one of them is perfectly up to the task of tasting anything, so forget that colour-coded tongue flavour map you drew in school.
But as I mentioned, flavour is about so much more than the tongue. As any lover of craft beer knows, aroma plays a huge part in our enjoyment of beer, and the aroma you detect through your nostrils (known as orthonasal olfaction) affects the way you taste the beer.
Except it’s not that simple. As well as the aroma we get through our nostrils there’s something else going on too - retronasal olfaction. This is the chemical reaction which occurs where your nose and mouth meet. Essentially this is the aroma that is created and detected inside your mouth as you drink a beer, and it plays a huge role in how you perceive flavour. In fact the combination of these two ways in which we smell contributes up to 80% of the information we perceive as flavour. Our tongue can only detect those basic five tastes, but your nose can identify thousands of different aromas.
So if our sense of smell plays such a huge role in how we perceive the flavour of a beer, what can we do to maximise the drinking experience? Well first of all, you need to use the right glass.
If the beer is the music, then the glass is the speaker – it plays a huge role in your enjoyment of the beer by changing the way in which the volatile compounds (the particles our nose detects as aroma) are directed and presented.
Try it for yourself. Grab an aromatic, hoppy beer and pour it in equal measures into a straight sided tumbler and a large red wine glass. They will smell completely different, particularly as you drink, when the aroma compounds are disturbed and projected out. You’ll get a much more pronounced aroma from the wine glass than you will the straight sided tumbler, which is why certain styles of beer glass are better for different types of beer.
That doesn’t mean every beer will taste better in a balloon or tulip shaped glass though, as not all beers are at their best with the aroma turned up to eleven. Some beers, such as a well-hopped pilsner can actually taste better in a longer, thinner glass, not only because it shows off the wonderful colour of the beer, but also because it seems to slightly mute the aroma whilst accentuating the bitterness. Leading to the perception of a crisper, drier, more refreshing beer.
The way you pour a beer can affect the flavour too. Pulling a pint through a sparkler creates extra body and a larger, creamier head, pushing more of the volatile aroma compounds into the head of the beer, but it also knocks some of the condition out of the beer itself and ultimately changes the mouthfeel and flavour. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on personal preference, but what we can all agree on is it changes the way the beer tastes.
Flavour is your brain’s attempt at decoding a flood of information from your senses into something which we can understand and react to.
So next time you try a beer and don’t like it, just remember, it’s all in your head, and you’ve only yourself to blame.
This article first appeared in Ferment Magazine
Which is a fancy way of saying you either choose a beer which shares some similar flavours with the dish, so perhaps a rich, dark Imperial Stout with a gooey chocolate brownie, or you go in the opposite direction and pick something which contrasts the flavours in order to highlight them. So perhaps a sharp cherry kriek beer - which would work amazingly well with that same chocolate brownie, but for entirely different reasons.
So that’s the starting point, the basics. But where’s the fun in sticking to the rules all the time? Some flavour combinations sound a little bit left-field but actually work very well. Here’s my attempt to challenge your taste buds into trying something new, with a food and beer combination that you might not have given a go before.
Blue cheese, mango chutney, Double IPA
A strong, full-flavoured blue cheese such as a well aged stilton with all of its salty, tangy, umami laden flavours, might not sound like the perfect partner to mango chutney, typically the lubricant for a poppadom, but the combination really works. The sweetness of the chutney brings out the rich fruitiness of the cheese in a way that has to be tried to be believed.
Add a third dimension to that combination, with the inclusion of a fruity, hoppy American style double IPA on the side, and you’ve got flavour fireworks. American style Double IPAs share a fruity, mango-laden sweetness with the chutney, but they also bring out the best in funky cheese, and are one of the few beer styles that can handle the level of flavour going on in this combo (which is great on a burger).
Beer suggestions: Magic Rock Brewing Co - Cannonball, Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA, Brewdog Hardcore IPA, Great Divide Brewing Co – Hercules Double IPA, Stone – Ruination IPA
Strawberries, Basil, Saison
Fresh, seasonal British strawberries are something extremely special. With a much more intense, perfumed flavour than those grown in other warmer parts of the world year-round, our home-grown strawberries are well worth the wait.
One unusual but astounding combination is strawberries with fresh torn basil. The strawberry juice seems to coax the sweetness out of the fresh basil, which in turn highlights the aromatics in British strawberries beautifully. Only the tiniest touch of sugar is needed – if at all – yet this still works perfectly as a refreshing summer dessert and isn’t in the least bit ‘savoury’.
Add a crisp, fragrant saison to the mix and you’ve got something which is the perfect end to a meal. The herbaceous quality of a good saison just works amazingly well with the strawberry and basil combination. Every ingredient seems to bring out something different, surprising and delicious in the others – which is the basis of any truly amazing food and beer combination.
Beer suggestions: Brasserie Dupont – Saison Dupont, Ilkley Brewery – Siberia, Brew By Numbers – Classic Saison, The Kernel – Saison, Brasserie Fantôme - Fantôme Saison.
Lamb Rogan Josh, Porter
Indian curries that have a tomato based sauce such as Rogan Josh are rich, heavy, spicy and fragrant all at once, making them a difficult dish to pair. After trying various different pale ales, bitters, amber ales, IPAs and everything in between, it was porter that I found the surprising match for this dish.
There’s just something about a slightly smokey porter which works amazingly well with the tomatoes and spicing in the dish, but the savoury style of the beer also dovetails nicely with the slow cooked lamb too.
Whilst a lager or pale beer gets completely bowled over by a curry, leaving the beer tasting of little but carbonation and sweetness, a good porter has enough guts to stand up to the bold flavours whilst remaining refreshing and drinkable.
Beer suggestions: Anchor – Porter, Fuller’s – London Porter, The Kernel – Export India Porter, Beavertown – Smogrocket, Samuel Smith’s – Taddy Porter.
Brown Sugar, Brisket, Black Lager
Beef and brown sugar don’t on the face of it sound like happy bedfellows, but when giving that brisket a long slow barbecuing with lots of seasonings and sugar, then things start to sound a whole lot more appetising.
Start by rubbing a good sized brisket (unrolled is better) with lots of dark brown sugar, salt and black pepper. Leave this to marinade for a few hours, or overnight, before giving it a long slow roast in the oven. For an even better flavour use a smoker or a really low temp barbecue with a lid – an easy way to do this is to push the white coals to one side and add some oak chips to create smoke.
A black lager is a match made in heaven with BBQ brisket. Having the perfect balance of smoke, sweet dark malt and hop bitterness which manages to compliment and contrast with the sweet and savoury beef all at once. Astoundingly good.
Beer suggestions: Budweiser Budvar – Dark Lager, Krombacher – Dark, Primator – Premium Dark, Bernard – Dark, Full Sail Brewing Co – Session Black.
One of the reasons I started this blog was a frustration at the lack of respect for beer in restaurants that are otherwise doing everything right - Great food, great wine list, then one mass produced lager... It’s a frustration that is becoming more and more rare but it is still massively refreshing and promising to hear of a new restaurateur thinking about beer from day one.
After some suggestions the guys at Tabure chose to launch with four well chosen, good beers. Brewdog Punk IPA, Brooklyn Lager (one of my go-to food beers), Estrella Inedit (the wheat beer brewed with Ferran Adrià of elBulli) and Spanish (5.4% rather than 4.6%) Estrella Damm which they chose thanks to its association with tapas – something which Tabure nods towards.
They are also looking into sourcing some beers from local micro breweries and potentially adding some draught beer too. But for now I’m glad to see some quality, reliable choices have been made to launch with – good on ‘em.
The wine and cocktail menu is equally well thought out and there is a genuine attention to detail and a leaning towards quality over quantity.
I can see this place being very popular – and it wholeheartedly deserves it.
They haven't got a website yet so checkout their Facebook for more info: https://www.facebook.com/taburekitchen
I actually ate Nduja twice last week in two separate places, some 200 miles apart, first at Pizza Pilgrims in London – then in one of my old haunts, Friends of Ham in Leeds.
It was served very simply at Friends of Ham as Nduja Toast – which consisted of two hot toasted slices of sourdough generously spread with thick, fiery Nduja sausage, before being sprinkled with a few chopped cornichons. Simplicity itself and insanely moreish.
Give it a try with their house ‘Ham Pale Ale’, a hoppy but not overly bitter American Pale Ale, brewed by local brewery Summer Wine.
I’m hoping to make ‘Current obsession:’ into a bit of a recurring post, featuring short, sharp snapshots of what I’m really enjoying eating or drinking right now. But who knows, maybe I’ll forget all about it.
But just because something is simple doesn't mean it is easy. With a pizza there's nowhere to hide, and if you want to get high praise selling tomato-topped bread, it had better be awesome.
Thankfully Pizza Pilgrims is. I'd have to visit again to see whether it can push Franco Manca from my top spot, but it's pretty damn close. Chewy, charred, hugely flavoursome base topped with sparingly used, high quality ingredients including fresh, not overly reduced tomato sauce - the sign a traditional, searingly hot wood-fired oven is in use.
Simple, glorious, and perfect with a beer. Which by the way was a rather good one.
Pizza Pilgrims have got a few spots around London and are well worth seeking out.
But did I miss some beers from the list? Certainly this post over on Fuggled had me thinking Pilsner Urquell (at least the unpasteurised, unfiltered version) deserves a place. The pints of Tankovna PU I’ve drank in the Sloaney Pony, aka The White Horse on Parson’s Green, have done nothing but reaffirm my thought that this really is a special beer (I can only imagine how good the tank beer round the corner from the brewery tastes). Rounded with malt and caramel from the direct flame coppers, yet with a punchy, herby, bracing bitterness from all that saaz. A pint disappears before your eyes at an alarming rate.
When writing the article – reproduced below for those that are interested – I was certainly mindful of the fact I hadn’t included any British beers. The only beer which I think has achieved such legendary, unbeatabler status – in my beer cupboard at least – is Fuller’s Vintage Ale. In the end I decided it wasn’t specific enough for the article, but maybe I was wrong. I’m yet to taste a British beer that ages better than Vintage Ale, though Harvey’s Imperial Extra Double Stout comes a close second – though for very different reasons, with all it’s brett-like funk.
So my question is simple. What did I miss out of the below? What classic beers are yet to be bettered within their style?
World-beaters: The classic beers that are yet to be bettered
I was genuinely excited to try Mikkeller’s “It’s Alive” - a sour and funky Belgian style pale ale fermented with brett and aged in white wine barrels – but my enjoyment of it was hampered by one single niggle in the back of my mind. In hearing about the beer I read somewhere that It’s Alive was essentially the brewer’s homage to Orval, one of my favourite beers of any style and still one of the greatest brett beers in the world (though Evil Twin’s Femme Fatale all brett IPA is pretty special).
So when I tried it the question in the back of my mind was constantly, but is it better than Orval?
The simple answer, is no. Despite the fact it is brewed by a newer, very well respected brewery, undergoes some long and complex ageing, it isn’t as good as Orval - the sole beer brewed by a gaggle of trappist monks.
The experience got me thinking. Which other beers are yet to be beaten? Which breweries have really nailed a certain beer to such an extent that despite their relative ubiquity, they are still seen as the pinnacle of the style? Here’s a few of my suggestions.
Aecht Schlenkerla - Rauchbier Märzen
When it comes to smoked beers there is only one brewery that comes to mind: Aecht Schlenkerla in Bamberg. What is so fantastic about the Marzen in particular is not only the full, savoury, smokey-sweetness of the beer, but also its perfect body and balance. Underneath all that smoke there is a beautifully brewed marzen lager that is drinkable, smooth and surprisingly balanced. After half a glass your palate adjusts to the smoke and the beer really starts to shine through and the whole thing just integrates perfectly – genuinely world class and still the best smoked beer out there.
Schneider Weisse - Tap 5 Meine Hopfen-Weisse
Originally brewed with Garrett Oliver from Brooklyn brewery, this beer was one of the first collaborations I ever drank, and is still the standard to which all other hoppy wheat beers are compared. The clove, banana, orange, spice and funk of the wheat beer base is all there to be enjoyed, but it’s given a boost by orangey, fruity, citrusy hops which combine to create a fruit salad affect that is as enjoyable as it is effortless. A true class act that is pretty much flawless.
Orval Brewery – Orval
I’ll never forget the look of shock on Matt - the manager of the excellent North Bar in Leeds’ - face when I told him many years ago I’d never tried Orval. It was, and still is, his favourite beer. We spent the next few hours drinking bottles of various ages and I was instantly hooked on the combination of bright palma violet hop flavours in the fresh beer and barnyard funk in the aged beer (blending an old and young bottle is also well worth a try). Still shockingly strange and eccentric, it’s one of the few genuinely unique beers in the world.
Brasserie Dupont - Saison Dupont
At their best, saison’s combine huge complexity with infinite drinkability, and none nail that better than Saison Dupont. Dry, herby and prickly, yet somehow smooth, yeasty and bready at the same time, there’s just something so refined about the way the Dupont saison tastes - with no one element dominating. It is a beer that can be quaffed in the sun or dissected with a note pad, depending on your mood.
Cantillon Brewery – Gueuze 100% Lambic Bio
You wouldn’t think it now - with sour beers being brewed all over the place - but at one point this most unusual of styles was very nearly wiped out altogether, with just Cantillon keeping the traditional methods alive in the face of mounting pressure and changing tastes. You can taste that commitment in the fiercely tart, lemon-pith-like gueuze brewed by Cantillon, which is still one of the finest sour beers in the world.
Read more from Ferment magazine here: http://issuu.com/fermentmag
Well, no actually I'm about 4 months too late... But it's a great beer and I've no idea why I haven't written this up sooner, so it seemed a shame to leave it in the notes folder.
Plus Honest Burger really deserve the credit for offering seasonal beers, something I wish more restaurants did.
Anyway here's what I thought of this beer, brewed in the classic Oktoberfest Marzen style (if you're unfamiliar, it's a slightly stronger, more full flavoured lager traditionally served at the huge Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich).
The beer pours a perfect light caramel-brown colour with a foamy white head which sticks around. The aroma is an inviting combination of spicy, slightly vegetive (celery to be precise) noble hops and bready, lightly sweet malt.
The flavour is a balancing act of sweet bready malts, a touch of crisp grain husk and a nice bittersweet finish. Refreshing and smooth, yet with plenty going on. I could easily drink a stein of this, which is the benchmark for a marzen.
A bottle of Mikkeller Black (aka 黑) Imperial Stout has been doing just that since I bought it at a beer warehouse in Ghent, Belgium, around three years ago. Not only is it an intimidating 17.5%, but it's a beer that has a reputation as weighty as its abv, and a 'best before' that stretches into the decades.
As you would expect, this pours an inky, syrupy black. Not overly thick but certainly sticky and oily with very low carbonation and little in the way of a head. So far, so intimidating.
The aroma is pencil lead, sake, boiling sugar, ash, and hot alcohol (sherried whisky if I was pushed).
The flavour is initially a rush of sweet sherry and red current jelly, before a rich, strong espresso flavour jumps in, spiked with two teaspoons of brown sugar. In the finish there's chocolate syrup and just a hint of bitterness (the hops have long since left the party).
Lush, decadent, HUGE, yet surprisingly soft edged.
It seems that despite first impressions, the years have mellowed this monster