A foodie beer blog about the best things in life: Craft Beer, Real Ale, Food and all things tasty.

Written by a foodie-beer geek in London

Mikkeller Black 黑

Some beers eyeball you every time you open the beer cupboard, stare you down, almost dare you to take the risk. Not today you think, another few months and it will be perfect.

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.

Thankfully it didn't dissapoint.

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


 

Chop Chop, Edinburgh

Nearly all of the Chinese food we eat in England is Cantonese in origin and doesn’t fully represent the kind of food that is actually eaten by millions of people on mainland China every day. Cheap, tasty, varied dishes served in small portions and shared between whoever is eating – communal and informal is the name of the game, and it’s one which Chop Chop in Edinburgh have got down to a fine art.

Having read various reports of how good their dumplings were it was these that we gravitated towards on the dizzyingly broad menu, though on the recommendation of our waiter we in the end opted for an Unlimited Banquet for two. Essentially a selection of dishes are brought out for you to try at a fixed price per person (£20.50 per head), with no limit on re-orders. So if you try a dish and really love it, feel free to order another portion for no further charge.

The dishes we found ourselves re-ordering were the deliciously delicate pork and prawn dumplings – chewy, substantial dumpling giving way to light and flavoursome meat – plus the expertly fried squid and aubergine dishes. Crispy squid is always a winner but it was the aubergine that really surprised me. Firm and meaty, it is apparently twice cooked to draw as much moisture out as possible, and the second quick frying with spices and garlic creates a dish of infinite snackability. Addictive to say the least.

A simple cucumber salad with lots of sugar and vinegar was also a nice touch as it really helped to counteract the rich spiciness of other dishes such as the spicy chilli beef. The make-your-own dipping sauce is a nice idea too, allowing you to tailor the amount of chilli, soy or garlic to your tastes.

If you’re looking for great value, wholesome, traditional Chinese family cooking, then Chop Chop is a sure fire hit.

 

Chop Chop, 248 Morrison Street, Edinburgh, EH3 8DT

 

Beer in Brussels: Nuetnigenough

I honestly can’t say why it has taken me so long to write up my visit to Nuetnigenough in Brussels, because honestly it was one of the best places I visited whilst there.

Too good, in fact, to let this post fall by the wayside and my brief notes slip into the limbo of ‘I really must write that up’ pile.

Nuetnigenough is the kind of restaurant you dream of having at the end of your street. A genuinely warm, welcoming neighbourhood restaurant with a brasserie feel, that encourages elbows on the table and the dunking of bread into sauces.

It also has probably the best bottled beer menu of any restaurant I’ve ever visited, alongside a short, sharp (literally if you wisely order Cantillon as I did) draft menu which would leave most fully fledged beer bars quaking in defeat.

Having been warned reservations were not possible we arrived early for dinner, around 6pm, but were faced with a short wait of 30 minutes. Thankfully there were some unused tables outside and the weather was just this side of chilly to make the wait – enjoyed alongside a glass of palate-spankingly good Saison Dupont – a pleasure rather than a chore.

In 20 minutes we were inside and ordering, greeted by a din of conversation, sloshing glasses and a beer menu that took more time to peruse than the food did.

Some sharing starters of excellent Duck pate, olives and Brussels black pudding were passed around the table and spread across hunks of baguette as we started to really get stuck into that beer list.

I started with Cantillon Fou’foune, a sour yet surprisingly fruity Lambic which is possibly the best amuse bouche you could hope for. Each part of the abundant apricots used in the brew seemed to add their own flavour – the furry skins adding extra mouth drying fuzziness and the flesh giving a background sweetness and unexpected fruitiness. One of the best Cantillon’s I’ve ever tasted and one which wasn’t available at the brewery when I visited. An unexpected treat.

For my main I opted for a Belgian classic, the beef braised in Rochefort (the beer not the cheese), with frites. Comforting, well seasoned, meltingly tender meat in a richly flavoured gravy, accompanied by crispy, salty frites – what more could a Yorkshireman ask for than gourmet chips and gravy?

Other dishes ordered around the table were as well executed as they were simple. Veal in a white beer sauce being another highlight that sticks in my mind, and one which went particularly well with the Reinaert Triple I later ordered - with the yeasty, fruity, lemony Tripel having an effervescence and sharpness that perfectly cut through the richly flavoured, creamy sauce.

I ate and drank so well I didn't waste my time making notes, so only the very best of what was consumed has stuck in my memory and can be mulled over here. This is a place to enjoy beers, not tick them off your list.

Nuetnigenough excels in cooking dishes laced with beer and then serves fantastic beer alongside them – all in an environment with a cosy atmosphere and lack of pretense.

In short, if you’re eating and drinking in Brussels, then this place is a must visit.

 

The best beer you’ll ever drink

One of the most memorable beers I’ve ever drank was a fridge-cold Birra Moretti, from the bottle, sat on the floor of my new apartment. Following 9 hours of driving and the moving of a life’s worth of possessions around the UK it was the full-stop that the day needed – a seemingly trivial, yet instantly satisfying reward that made the whole thing seem worth it.


Does it compare to drinking fresh, unfiltered Lambic in the Cantillon brewhouse – where the air is thick with the smell of over-ripe fruit and must? Well of course not. But beer isn’t just about flavour, aroma, technical quality, it’s about your enjoyment – how you feel when you drink it.

From the assault on the senses of a sparklingly fresh Ithaca IPA - drank in a Manhattan roof garden following a transatlantic flight - to the obscenely refreshing ice-cold pilsner drained at midday atop an Austrian Glacier, or the short glass of fruitcakey vintage ale sipped by the fire in Leeds as cold winds whip outside the windows – there have been more than a few contenders for the best beer I’ve ever drank, and nearly all of them have as much to do with how I felt as what I tasted.

The beautiful thing about beer is, to a certain point, its ubiquity, but more precisely its sheer variety, and how that variety changes across the globe and enables beer to adapt to the location, the mood, the atmosphere.

In a beer World where I often become obsessed with flavour, with innovation, with what’s next, sometimes it’s good to step back and think about the beers that really left an imprint.

As quite often, the beer itself is only half of the story.

 

This post was, in no small part, inspired by the excellent piece by Boak and Bailey on “Ten beers to try before you die”.

 

Less scrutiny, more words

Ahhhh, when this used to be a beer blog - those were the days, weren’t they?

Despite working in the beer industry, I actually attend far fewer events that are solely about drinking beer than I used to. I’m talking about meet the brewer sessions, new brewery and beer launches, tap takeovers... you know, the stuff that beer bloggers actually blog about.

And I can’t see that changing anytime soon. Attending three or four London based beer events every week is perfectly possible, but would do little for my liver or my wallet.

But what I can do is write more, no excuses. More interesting beer tastings, more unusual comparisons, more recipes, more features, more reflection.

Because honestly, I still love the freedom of blogging.

So if changing tact and simply writing more, more often, without putting every idea under such scrutiny (as I did this post, which breaks the first rule of beer blogging: Blogging about blogging is boring) means I’ll get more words on the page in 2015, then that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

And that’s about as close to a New Year’s resolution as you’re likely to get out of me.



 

Christmas Spiced Clementine Negroni

The Negroni is my favourite cocktail. Bitter, strong, pungent and aromatic - it is an assault on the senses that is very much an acquired taste.

So when I was asked by Waitrose if I would like to come up with a winter cocktail using Hendrick's Gin, it was the first thing that came to mind.

Of course, 'tis the festive season and this isn't just any old Negroni I'll be making - This is my Christmas Spiced Clementine Negroni, something that I first made last year and which I'm sure will be a staple for years to come. I love it.

Personally I like to make a batch big enough for four people. That's a lie. I like to make a batch big enough for two people to have two, or one person to have four. It's Christmas, let your hair down.

Ingredients (makes four short, strong cocktails)

  • 100ml Campari
  • 100ml Martini Rosso (sweet vermouth)
  • 100ml Good quality gin (I used Hendrick's)
  • 4 cloves (plus more for garnish if wished)
  • Stick of cinnamon
  • Clementine
Method

Start by very gently warming the vermouth and Campari in a pan with the spices and juice of one clementine (don't throw it away as we need the peel) for around 5 minutes - do not let this simmer, it should just warm on a medium-low heat or you will burn off all the alcohol. Remove to one side and allow to cool completely (around half an hour).

Next add a couple of handfuls of ice to a large jug and pour in the cooled mulled mixture, followed by the gin. Stir well for a minute or so, until well combined and the ice has broken down just a little bit.

Set out four old fashioned tumblers and half fill with ice (or use an ice ball as I like to), before pouring in the cocktail mix through a fine strainer, holding back the ice.

NB - The main thing is to stop the spices ending up in the glass, so no problem if you don't have a strainer - just hold the ice back extra carefully with your hand or a slotted spoon.

Finally slice four pieces of peel from the clementine, trying to get as little of the white pith as possible, and rub around each glass' rim before adding a cut and garnishing the side of the glass. Add a couple of cloves to the peel if you're feeling fancy.

 

This is really, really worth making. A fantastically spicy, Christmassy, classy cocktail that is bitter and aromatic yet has a beautiful background sweetness most Negroni's don't, thanks to the clementine juice. It tastes decadent and smooth, but the Campari keeps the sweetness in check.

Wonderful!

 

The Magnum, Edinburgh

The Magnum is one of those cosy, welcoming, unpretentious bar/restaurants (looking at you Veritas Leeds) that is surely a favourite with those living in the area, but which is well worth seeking out if you’re visiting Edinburgh too.

Just a five minute walk from the main shopping strip on princes Street, it has a sophisticated suburban feel to it and was the perfect setting for enjoying a candlelit dinner on a chilly night in Edinburgh.

My pint of Belhaven Best was in great condition, but it isn’t the most exciting of beers and the beer choice in general was below par I thought. That said the Malbec we ordered with dinner was a corker, and great value to boot - though no decent beer being available is a bug bear of mine I must admit.

Our starters of seared duck breast carpaccio and lightly pan fried scallops with chilli and tomato sauce were both excellent, but it was the scallops, served with a bitter micro herb salad that offset the sweetness of the scallops and sauce that was the winner. A perfect palate awakening starter.

For the main I ordered the Scottish ribeye steak with chunky chips and red wine jus, because I just couldn't resist it. A good steak and chips really is hard to best and this was an absolutely perfectly executed version, with the rich, sweet gravy pulling the whole thing together.

Colette ordered the venison haunch, which was gamey, moist, well seasoned and delicious. Alongside black pudding, red cabbage, and a haggis bon bon. The kind of hearty food that you want to eat after a day walking round the castle - which by the way, you must visit, it's an amazing place with beautiful views of the city worth the admission alone.

We loved The Magnum - Great food in an unpretentious yet classy brasserie style restaurant. It's a little diamond of a place and well worth a visit if you're in Edinburgh.

 

Brettanomyces, stock ale and the origins of porter - Ferment Magazine article

My second article in Ferment magazine is probably one of the geekiest pieces I've written about beer, ever.

It's all about the origins of porter in London and the importance of aged stock ale in it's flavour profile - particularly the effect of Brettanomyces. You can read the full piece, along with lots of other great stuff, in the online version of Ferment Magazine here: http://issuu.com/fermentmag/docs/christmas_crackers or alternatively I've reproduced it below if your prefer.

 

 

From London’s market porters to Belgium’s trappist monks – how British wild yeast changed the beer world forever

By Neil Walker of www.eatingisntcheating.co.uk and member of the British Guild of Beer Writers.

After very nearly dying out all together in the 1970s, porter has seen something of a resurgence in popularity in recent years, thanks in no small part to the craft beer revolution that started in America, then quickly spread back across the pond to the birth place of the beer - Britain.

With a history that stretches back to the 1700s, and once the most popular beer style in England, porter was traditionally a mix of ‘stock’ or aged brown ale and fresh, unaged ‘mild’ ale, that was combined in quantities specified by the customer when ordering at the bar. Whilst some preferred more of the younger, fresher beer, and others preferred more of the complex aged beer, what was consistent was that ageing was a key part of the flavour profile of porter.

Wild yeasts from the wood, oxidation, and hundreds of other microbes and bacteria which went to work on the beer while it matured meant that what came out at the end was very different to what went into the barrels at the beginning. Dankly fruity, funky, almost port-like in its intensity, aged beer can be as complex as any fine wine and have all the depth of a well matured whisky.

Yet don’t be tricked into thinking that this multifaceted, partly aged, concoction of a brew was the preserve of the upper-classes – porter was very much the everyman drink of its day. In fact the name porter came from its popularity with London’s street and river porters, the working class men who did everything from unloading coal from river barges to lugging sacks of malt to the buildings brewing the very beer they drank so much of.

Whilst you probably wouldn’t get away with calling it a foodstuff nowadays, this thick, hearty, nourishing beer was heavy with carbohydrates and very much used by the London porters as fuel for their work, accounting for up to 2,000 calories worth of their daily food intake.

But despite its popularity nobody actually knew what was happening to that beer while it matured, or what exactly gave it the distinctive flavour described at the time as ‘racy’ yet ‘mellow’, but which modern drinkers might view as ‘funky’ or ‘complex’, and ‘smooth’ or ‘balanced’.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1904 that the specific wild yeast which was giving British porters their distinctive aged flavour was isolated and named – and it happened not in London, but in Copenhagen, at the original Carlsberg brewery in Denmark, where N. Hjelte Claussen was investigating the causes of spoilage in British ales.

After its discovery the wild yeast in question was named Brettanomyces, which comes from the latin for ‘British Fungus’ - an homage to its origins in the aged porters and stock ales made famous by Britain.

Nowadays the beers which best display the effects of Brettanomyces, or brett as it is often shortened to, are Belgian beers such as Orval, which when drank fresh is spritzy and hoppy but which develops a distinctive farmyard funk after a few years in the bottle with brett as a bedfellow.

Whilst modern British porters tend to leave the brewery as complete beers rather than being mixed to order by barmen, there are still ways in which you can get close to experiencing what traditional porters of the 18th and 19th century could have tasted like.

One beer which has all the funk and just a hint of the sourness of those original porters, but turns it up to eleven, is Harvey’s Imperial Extra Double Stout (which is a style that is in many ways the grandchild of porter, but that is another story entirely).

A well-aged bottle I drank recently was an explosion of sour berry fruit on the nose, with more than a little of that distinctively funky, almost dank smell of Brett. The flavour was a constantly evolving mix of funky sourness, rich fruity espresso, dusty white pepper, tart cranberries, dark chocolate and heaps of sticky berry fruit.

Thanks to heavy hopping - as was typical of porters back-in-the-day - the finish has a spicy bitterness that goes on and on, and a complexity which can only be achieved through careful ageing.

Other wonderful examples of porters brewed to traditional recipes, though sadly without the addition of that now famous British yeast, are Elland’s 1872 Porter, The Kernel’s Export India Porter and Sam Smith’s Taddy Porter – all very much well-worth a try.

Just don’t blame me if your boss refuses to let you enjoy one on your lunch break, despite the historical significance.

 

BURGER, Edinburgh

The problem with living in London is that so many awesome Burger places have raised the bar to such a degree, that most run-of-the-mill pub burgers, or even those on the menus at fancier but not specialised restaurants, simply don’t cut the mustard.

So it was with some trepidation that I entered BURGER in Edinburgh - A restaurant that boldly claims to offer “Incredibly simple things, incredibly well prepared, cooked and presented”.

The exposed, industrial look of the place reminded me a lot of a BrewDog bar, with lots of space and plenty of tables dotted around a modern interior.

Speaking of the aforementioned dogs, I was glad to see that the beer menu – the first thing I ever look at in a restaurant – featured Punk IPA, a local beer and a good beer, alongside a few other more standard offerings. I also spotted guest beer place holder, which I found out from the waitress was the excellent Buxton brewery’s Wild Boar IPA, a beer which I hastily ordered and devoured with the fervour of a man that had recently spent five hours on trains.

From the food menu I ordered the benchmark of any good burger joint, the bacon double cheeseburger, while Colette opted for the current special, a burger topped with slow cooked Chinese pork, spring onions and a sweet hoi sin style sauce.

As usual, Colette chose the winner - the ‘special’ was just that. The meat-on-meat thing is always going to be satisfying but this managed that careful balancing act of still letting the flavourful Aberdeen Angus beef shine through. The pork was meltingly tender and there was just enough chilli kick in the sauce to offset the sweet n stickyness. A great burger.

My bacon double cheeseburger was a bit of a messy beast but had great flavour from that top quality Aberdeen Angus patty - though I must admit I would prefer to see both burgers cooked to a blushing pink medium than an (admittedly still very tender) well done. A minor quibble but something which I think could take these burgers to the next level.

The fries were decent but nothing mind-blowing, and perhaps a touch too salty. Though they did encourage more glugging of that fantastically bitter and fruity Buxton Wild Boar – a stunning beer I really must buy more of.

We also tried some of the house-made frozen custards, with the seasonal Pumpkin pie flavour being a highlight for me, with just the right level of spice and earthy pumpkin to offset the sweet creaminess of the custard.

All in all I was really impressed with BURGER. Tasty, well-made burgers – particularly that porky special – alongside a small but well-chosen selection of beers. What more could you want on a chilly afternoon in Edinburgh?



http://www.burgeruk.co.uk

 

Rodell's 'World Tapas' restaurant, Watford

‘World tapas’ is not a phrase that fills me with joy, so when I read up a little bit about Rodell’s in Watford - a little neighbourhood restaurant that I keep hearing good things about – I was more than a little trepidatious at the frequent appearance of the words.

But after visiting Rodells I can safely say that the phrase is simply a way to try and put into simple terms a restaurant that really isn’t like any other around. With a menu that is selected daily from a catalogue of around 170 small dishes dreamt up by the well-travelled owner and chef Mario Tavares, this isn’t your average restaurant.

The menu jumps between Thai, African, Malaysian, French, American, British and Spanish inspired dishes – with recipes gathered from the chef’s travels, and famous restaurants such as Momofuku in New York given name checks - it’s eclectic to the say the least.

If this all sounds like a bit of a mess, the culinary ramblings of a mad man so-to-speak, then you’re not far wrong as it kind of is – but amazingly, it works. What is it they say about the fine line between madness and genius?

We ordered everything at once but expected dishes to arrive in drips and drabs. In fact everything arrived in very quick succession but was quiet obviously just cooked and hadn’t been kept warm – no mean feat for a small kitchen churning out eight or so different dishes.

The slow cooked pork shoulder with kimchi and rice was simple and well executed, a real comfort food dish that had an honesty to it. A lesser chef would have been tempted to tart this up rather than letting the tender slow cooked pork shine on its own, spiked to the diner’s taste with punchy fermented cabbage and chilli.

The ‘mac and cheese sushi’ is a strange name for a fairly strange dish. Essentially these are little pucks of mac and cheese that have been toasted to give a crisp outer shell that yields to a gooey, flavoursome middle. The dollops of ketchup were frustrating for me as I don’t really like the stuff, though others might disagree.

Fat prawns in chorizo, garlic and olive oil were beautifully cooked, tender and sweet. A classic tapas dish that is best accompanied by plenty of bread to mop up them precious juices.

Octopus balls were tasty and crisp, though I would have liked a little more octopus to sink my teeth in to.

The Bao style pork buns were delicious and a real highlight. Soft, milky, light yet chewy buns filled with tender meet (salt beef and pork), sweet and sticky sauce and fresh aromatic veggies – a perfect couple of mouthfuls and I could have easily eaten them all over again.

The curry we ordered though was a little bit of a let down for me. Falling somewhere between a Malaysian, Thai and Indian style curry it was a bit unfocussed and reminded me a little bit of a boxing day leftovers curry. It was tasty and perfectly decent, but compared to other dishes it wasn’t one I would order again.

One dish that I would order over and over again though was the skirt steak with French fries and peppercorn sauce. Wow. Perfectly charred yet meltingly tender thanks to the rare cooking, this is a steak that oozes it’s juices in a primitive, primordial way when you bite down. You’re not asked how you’d like it cooking because there is only way to eat this cut – rare, bloody, and charred. And if that doesn’t sound like your sort of thing then I’m afraid we can’t be friends anymore.

The chips were equally fantastic. Super, super thin and ridiculously crisp - they were light and salty with an even snap from the first to last bite. True bistro style French fries at last!

We drank Estrella and Prosecco (both on tap), though I would have liked to have seen something a little more interesting and local being served beer-wise. Though speaking to the owner afterwards it sounds like this is something he is keen to do, so watch this space...

 

 

Rodell's, Watford

http://www.itsrodells.com/