5 great beers that deserved a repeat visit

Tuesday, August 30, 2011
The one problem with writing about beer is that I’m always looking for new beers to try, because it gives me something to write about. So if there’s one beer which I know is good, and another which I’ve not tried but I think might be good, I’m much more likely to go for the latter.

One of the things I love most about beer is the fact there’s always something new to try, but it doesn’t negate the point that there are loads of beers which I know are good, but which I never talk about because they aren’t new.

So today I want to talk about a few beers which aren’t new, but which I’ve drank loads of times, sound exciting? Well it should, because the reason I’ve drank them loads of times is because they are damn good beers. They deserve a repeat visit and every time I’ve had them again I’ve thought “why don’t I drink this beer more often?”

BrewDog Zeitgeist (Black Lager) 4.9%

Zeitgeist hasn’t gained anywhere near as much attention as some of BrewDog’s other beers, possibly because it isn’t as extreme as the likes of Black Tokyo Horizon or as (rightly) popular as the ever approachable new Punk. But it’s still an absolute belter.

Its got a big roasted malt flavour yet a lot of the characteristics of a good lager - nice light to medium body, slightly sweet, refreshing and massively drinkable. Even if the weather’s red hot this dark beer hits the spot.

Drink it straight from the fridge if you want a refreshing yet tasty beer, or let it warm up a little to coax out a more complicatedly roasted chocolate flavour.

Sierra Nevada Celebration (Fresh Hop Ale) 6.8%

They really should change the label of this beer. Calling it ‘Celebration’ and putting a picture of a snow covered cabin on the front screams out ‘Christmas’ more than a holly decorated mince pie - even though the beer inside doesn’t taste in the slightest bit Christmassy.

In fact this is a really well balanced beer with a complex yet satisfying combination of hops and malt; you get grapefruit, green tea, orange pith, and even a touch of herbal mint from the dry hopped American C bombs, alongside fruity, hardcandy sweetness and an underlying crisp toffee from the malt.

It’s just a great beer, any time of year.

Titanic Stout (Stout, duh) 4.5%

Titanic Stout was one of the first British bottled beers that really blew me away. It just doesn’t taste like it came out of a bottle - with a really big, mouth filling cask ale texture and absolutely bags of flavour. I’ve had this on cask and it’s almost identical to the bottle conditioned version, which is no mean feat.

It’s got everything you want from a stout, with a smokiness that’s just softened enough by flavours of chocolate and filter coffee, but remains charred and dry throughout with a really crisp bitter finish. It’s just a stunning stout, and at 4.5% punches well above its weight.

Drink this one at cask ale temperature (not straight from the fridge) and you’ll get a lot more out of it too.

Brooklyn Lager (Vienna/Amber Lager) 5%

I bought a pint of Brooklyn Lager at the weekend to compare it to Thornbridge’s new Kill Your Darlings Vienna Lager, and do you know what? Brooklyn is still the best Vienna Lager I’ve tasted to date. Kill Your Darlings and Flying Dog Old Scratch both came close to knocking it off the top spot, but didn’t quite make it.

It’s just brilliant every time I have it. As an introduction to American Craft Beer I’d say Brooklyn Lager and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale are two of the best places to start - but even if you’ve been drinking good beer for years, their worth returning to. Classics for a reason.

Goose Island IPA (India Pale Ale) 5.9%

Goose Island IPA is the perfect example of a beer which I drink all the time but have never written about, because it’s been around for so long. It’s a stunning American IPA even by modern standards, despite the fact it’s been around for over 20 years and is in fact brewed as an “English Style IPA”.

Having recently been taken over by AB-InBev, and now being stocked in Tesco’s, this is a beer that is becoming extremely easy to get a hold of, which in my opinion can only be a good thing.

It’s got big flavours of bitter grapefruit and that classic American IPA citrus/pine needle flavour, yet the underpinning of sweet malt makes it pretty balanced and drinkable. Another one that can stand up to being drunk straight from the fridge, it’s a great beer to coax your macro-lager drinking mates on to good beer.

Genuinely authentic Spanish Tapas in Leeds: El Bareto

Thursday, August 25, 2011
I love Tapas. There’s just something about Tapas’ sharing plates scattered around the table which creates a convivial atmosphere and lends itself so well to informal dining, something I’m always looking for in a good restaurant. Stuff the pretence, eating out should be fun and stress-free. Tapas also takes the pressure out of ordering as with no danger of choosing a duff main course it allows you to take a few risks - even if there’s a dish you aren’t keen on there’s always plenty more to get stuck in to, and usually a dining partner who likes the ones you don’t.

Of course the way we eat Tapas in this country isn’t really how they do it in Spain, where the food is an accompaniment to a few drinks, as I talked about briefly in my previous article
"Yorkshire Tapas: Where to find the best bar snacks in Leeds". The British public en masse have a slightly distorted view of Tapas that it’s simply a style of restaurant, where you share the dishes but is ultimately still a sit down meal, i.e. not everyone has come around to the idea of bar Tapas in its truest form.

I mention this divide between how many people view Tapas in the UK, and how it's done in Spain, as after visiting
El Bareto in Chapel Allerton last night (a £6 taxi ride from Leeds City Centre) I’ve seen that it is possible to have it both ways.

Set up by two Spanish brothers, one of whom is the chef, El Bareto have got the balance just right with a bar area bustling with locals (both Spanish and British) and a separate dining area for those who want to sit down to a meal. It’s a great way to do things that seemed to keep everyone happy – some there for a few drinks and maybe something to nibble if they fancied it, others sitting with friends around a large table for a communal Tapas meal - The best of both Worlds, and a truly Anglo-Spanish approach.

As you may be able to tell, even before I got to the food I liked the feel of this place. It’s the same feeling I get when I visit the excellent French restaurant La Grillade - that sense of stepping out of Leeds and into another place. The friendly, relaxed reception of the Spanish waiting staff and buzz of the customers at El Bareto transports you to España in the same way as the surly yet efficient manner of the La Grillade staff, and the waft of garlic, transports you to a French Bistro.

I was slightly sad to see that despite the glowing Cruzcampo sign outside there wasn’t any on tap, in its place being some solid Spanish lagers including Estrella, Mahou, and San Miguel, as well as some interesting bottled beers including Alhambre Reserve (6.4%) from Granada, Mezquita (7.2%) from Cordoba, and Guinness FES 7.5% from Ireland.

I ordered a bottle of Alhambre Reserve while we looked over the menu and specials board. It’s a beer that’s a cut above your average Spanish lager - very fresh tasting with a nice underlying grainy malt character and a dry, herbal hop finish, very nice. There was plenty on the menu that tickled my fancy but in the end we went for some marinated olives to nibble on followed by Stuffed Squid (from the specials board), Grilled King Prawns, Oven Baked Spanish Black Pudding, Duck with Caramelised Onions and Goats Cheese, and Canary Island Potatoes with Mojo Picon.

We’d been informed by the really helpful waiter that the dish portions were quite large for Tapas, and that he’d recommend five dishes between two people, but that we could always order more if we were still hungry. I’ve always thought 3-4 dishes per person to be about right in most Tapas restaurants in the UK, but I’m glad we took his advice as when the dishes arrived they were, as promised, very generously proportioned and five dishes was more than enough food for the hungry two of us.

The potatoes, prawns and stuffed squid arrived first with a welcome short break before the black pudding and duck were brought over.

The five huge king prawns were fantastic, with that hot shell flavour you only seem to get from grilled shellfish and moist, succulent, massively flavoursome flesh. All they needed was a little squeeze of the lemon wedge and a dunk in the silky mayonnaise. Perfection.

The canarian potatoes came with two really good, freshly made sauces - one with I think red chilli, tomato and pepper mashed to a pulp and the other with a combination of parsley, garlic, butter and maybe coriander. The potatoes themselves were good but not really ‘canarian’ potatoes as I’ve eaten them on the canary islands, i.e. totally encrusted in salt with a slightly roasted flavour (they boil the potatoes in seawater until dry). Still nice though and I’m perhaps being a bit picky as everything else was so great.

The squid was also really good if a little bulky. It was a massive portion of whole squid stuffed with a really tasty and well seasoned mixture of prawn, salmon, onion, garlic and more squid including my favourite bit, the tentacles. Split between two people it was excellent but I’d probably not order a whole one for myself.

The Duck sounds like a strange dish on paper – Duck breast, caramelised onions and goats cheese – but was actually a fantastic combination. Rich Duck, sweet onions, tangy goats cheese coming together to make something greater than the sum of its parts. It would have made a great main course salad, or even a slightly adventurous Pizza topping.

The black pudding was, as I’d hoped, the traditional Spanish version called ‘Morcilla', where the black pudding contains rice and slightly different spices to the English variety. It had been baked in the oven on a bed of onions and was beautifully flavoursome and rich, with a kind of black pudding risotto flavour to it thanks to the soft rice. Fairly similar to English black pudding in flavour but the rice made it much more substantial. Again, really good, and something I’d been wanting to try after seeing Rick Stein talk about it on his most recent (and excellent) TV Show ‘Rick Stein on Spain’.

On the drinks front the flavoursome yet refreshing Alhambre Lager was a perfect partner to seafood dishes such as the stuffed squid and prawns we had, but the excellent, very lightly oaked Hacienda de Haro Rioja we ordered later was a much happier bed fellow with the stronger, richer flavours of the black pudding and Duck. It was also an absolute bargain at £15 a bottle.

We took the waiters advice and opted to share a whiskey cheesecake for dessert. Of the set rather than baked variety it was thick and rich but not too sweet and with a really nice boozy whiskey flavour running right through it. I'm not a big dessert fan and Colette doesn't like whiskey, but we both loved this, which goes to show how good it was.

El Bareto is the real deal, and as one of the owners told me at the end of our meal “It doesn’t matter that we are in Leeds, this restaurant would be exactly the same if we were in Spain, I wouldn’t change a thing”.

And you can’t ask for much more than that.

Hop Haze: Is Britain ready for cloudy beer? Part 2

Tuesday, August 23, 2011
I wrote recently about some unfined beer from Moor, and how the brewer and myself thought it tasted better than the fined version of the same beer. My main point was that I have no problem with hazy beer, providing it is intended to be served that way, and that for me flavour is the first consideration before appearance. If the brewer thinks the beer tastes better with bit of haze for whatever reason, then that is how it should be drunk - crystal clarity at the cost of flavour is an unnecessary evil in my opinion.

However, it did cause a bit of “healthy discussion” in the comments with some drinkers saying all beer (apart from traditionally cloudy varieties such as wheat beer etc) should be perfectly clear... which only acts to reinforce the title of the post really.

Anyway, I purposefully left out of the original something which was quickly commented on underneath as a reason why cloudy beer isn’t a bad thing – Hop Haze. I left it out to keep things simple, with the intention of returning to the issue at a later date. However the amount of argument, sorry “discussion”, about haziness made me realise I should probably get around to it sooner rather than later – so here we are.

Hop Haze is a bit of a catchall term, and at its most basic “Hop Haze” seems to be used to describe any type of hazing in a beer that has been heavily dry hopped, but the reality is a bit more complicated. There are a few different ways in which extensive use of hops, and particularly dry hopping (where a fresh load of hops are added to the brewed beer as it ferments), can cause a haze in the finished beer, these include:

Protein & Polyphenol Haze

This is where high levels of hop Polyphenols in the finished beer interact with the proteins in the liquid to cause a haze. This is probably the most common cause of “Hop Haze” and will give a slightly hazy appearance to the beer, but shouldn’t create a chunky ‘cloud’ like you’d get with something like a German Wheat beer. In the Wheat Beer the cloudiness is caused by a combination of the wheat proteins and suspended yeast, often exacerbated by the fact the yeast sediment is purposefully disturbed and typed into the glass when serving the beer from a bottle.

Lipid (hop oil) Haze

Inside hop plants are Lupulin glands that contain resins and essential oils which act to flavour beer - adding bitterness when used early in the brewing process (as the resins are broken down into the beer) and aroma/flavour when used later in the brewing process (as the aromatic qualities are preserved and the bitter compounds aren't broken down as much). When lots of hops are used to brew a beer, and particularly when further “dry hopping” as mentioned above is employed, relatively* large quantities of hop oils make their way in to the finished brew causing a slight shimmer or oily looking haze to the finished beer.

It has to be said that this type of hop haze requires pretty extreme levels of hopping but is definitely visible in some big Imperial IPA's such as
BrewDog’s Hardcore.

Chill Haze

The protein & polyphenol haze outlined above is more stable at lower temperatures, meaning that a beer which is clear at room temp may become cloudy when chilled. This type of haze will generally clear as the beer warms in the glass whereas the other types of haze won’t.

Buy pretty much any “Craft Keg” IPA** and you’ll get a little bit of chill haze from the combination of high hopping levels and colder than cask serving temperature - although strictly speaking this isn’t really “Hop Haze” as described above at all.

So back to my original point about hazy beer, do any of the above really sound that bad?

"Oh no, there's so many delicious hops in my beer it's gone a bit hazy!"

I rest my case... for now.

*I say 'relatively' large as in terms of percentage volume, hop oils make up a tiny fraction of the liquid in the glass, but as with any essential oil, a little goes a long way.
**Chill Haze can happen to beers of all types if they are served a touch too cold, but heavily hopped beers seem to be more susceptable.

I’ve also read that some types of Hop Haze will stabilize and become chunkier over time, eventually getting to a point where the haze stabilizes enough to clump together and settle as sediment, much in the same way as yeast and sediment does in cask beer. I didn't want to complicate matters by discussing this in the post but if you have any comments on this then please feel free to discuss below.

- An insatiable thirst for knowledge (and beer)

Wensleydale Brewery Bitters: A masterclass in British balance

Monday, August 22, 2011
Wensleydale Brewery have got a foot firmly in the ‘traditional’ camp when it comes to the styles of beers they produce. Unashamedly British and with a variety of 'uncool' bitters in their lineup, they aren't mimicking the Yanks or messing about with Black IPA's, they're just making tasty, quality beers with clever hopping and the lightness of touch which made British brewing famous in the first place. You won’t find a Triple Dry Hopped Cherry Matured Imperial Stout in their roster of wares, but you will find some truly well made, perfectly balanced British Bitters, which to my mind is a much more impressive achievement.

Of course, Wensleydale don't just make Bitters, but these three were really good and I think the British Bitter needs a bit of standing up for, which is what I'm trying to do here. I tried the following three beers over a number of evenings last week, and here’s what I thought:

Wensleydale Falconer Session Bitter 3.9%

This pours an orange/copper/red. Light carbonation and a small white head. The aroma is sweet and caramelly with just a hint of straw. The taste initially delivers that caramel sweetness, and then you get a sort of toffee wafer maltyness alongside a hint of fruity golden sultana and a little bitter lemon. The light to medium mouthfeel and fresh flavours make this hugely drinkable, as a Session Bitter should of course be.

The finish is dry yet bittersweet with lingering flavours of citrus and light caramel. It's moreish, easy drinking and refreshing, yet that sweetness gives it a really nourishing quality, I could imagine this being a great beer to down after a hard days work. Which is exactly what it was brewed for.

Foresters Bitter 3.7%

Light golden lager like colour with a nice tight White head. The aroma is a little light grapefruit when you first pour then this subsides to be very faint and there's a grain and lemon aroma that comes in. The taste is light and quenching but there’s also a bitter citrus hop flavour that sits on top of grainy, clean malt, dry lemon pith and a light sweetness.

It finishes quite dry but overall this is a really balanced beer which perfectly demonstrates the lightness of touch which Wensleydale display in their beers. It's easy drinking yet flavoursome and probably my favourite of the two sub 4% bitters I tried.

Coverdale Gamekeeper Best Bitter 4.3%

The darkest of the beers so far – it’s a really nice orange and red tinged golden brown with the same white head, but a more solid consistency which helps it stick around.

There’s a very sweet aroma of caramel and sweet digestive biscuit malt. The flavour is stunning, that caramel sweetness is there to begin with but then gets knocked out of the way by dry, wafer like malt, and a slightly spicy bitter hop character.

It’s got that classic Best Bitter roundedness of flavour with a lovely interplay between sweet, malty, fruity, hoppy and dry - It's a balancing act, which they've pulled off perfectly.

The aftertaste is dry and there's a residual bitter sweetness from the combo of malt and hops. A really long lasting aftertaste on this one.

As with all the beers so far the carbonation is spot on and the mouthfeel is medium bodied and very cask ale like. Hard to do, and a job well done. Would love to try the cask version to compare.

Good best bitters (London Pride being a personal favourite) are a class act of subtlety, and this offering from Wensleydale is right up there. A wonderful beer.

A big thank you to Wensleydale for passing me these beers for a review. You can buy Wensleydale beer online at My Brewery Tap or Beer Ritz.

Is Britain ready for cloudy beer?

Monday, August 15, 2011
How many times have you been in a cask ale pub and seen a punter hold a glass up to his eye, see it’s a touchy cloudy, and return in to the barman with a mutter of “that beers off mate”, before even tasting it?

I’ve seen it happen, and even more worryingly I’ve seen barmen accept this as correct and offer the punter an alternative. Now I’m not saying that if a beer genuinely is “off” or doesn’t taste quite right then a punter shouldn’t be given the opportunity to have it replaced, they absolutely should. What I take offence to is accepting a beer being cloudy as evidence that a beer is off, because it isn’t. A beer that is designed to be clear should be served clear, and if it’s cloudy then by all means have a taste, and if it isn’t right then return it. But for gods sake, taste it first, and if you aren’t convinced make your first question to the barman “is this beer meant to be cloudy?”.

If it is meant to be cloudy and tastes good, then who cares what it looks like?

However, the fact remains we aren't used to cloudy beer in this country and a lot of people expect beer to be 100% clear and bright. The problem is that whilst this is easy enough with keg beer, where the liquid can* be filtered before going into the keg, Cask ale is trickier.

The live yeast in a barrel of cask beer (real ale) helps to create a secondary fermentation that gives the beer its light carbonation and also adds to certain aspects of the beers flavour and texture. However that live yeast floating around in the beer also creates a problem for pubs because they have to give the beer time to “drop bright”, meaning all the yeast and sediment drops to the bottom of the barrel leaving clear beer at the top ready to be pulled in to your pint. To speed up this process some brewers use isinglass finings, which to use a technical description are “An acidified aqueous suspension of collagen derived from the swim bladder of certain fish, along with sodium metabisulphite.” But essentially finings are there to make the yeast and other bits floating in the beer clump together quicker and sink to the bottom.

However, some brewers would argue that along with the yeast the finings strip out some of the stuff floating in the beer which actually makes it taste and smell good. One of these brewers is

Moor make some fantastic beers and are massive believers in unfined beer. The problem is that the exchange mentioned at the top of this post is typical of pubs up and down the country – pubs find it hard to sell cloudy pale ales as customers want pin-bright, perfectly clear beer. This is not the case elsewhere though, how many cloudy German Weisse beers have you seen taken back with the explanation “this is off, it’s cloudy”? I bet not many. Cloudy does not mean bad!

Interestingly Moor send out all of their dark beers unfined, so all that tasty unfiltered character is present in the beer – it’s only their pale beers that have to be fined as it’s in these beers the cloudiness is more obvious. So to those people who think they don’t like cloudy beer, why not try one of the dark beers and tell me it tastes bad. Still think you don’t like cloudy beer? Sure it’s not just a visual thing?

Moor have however struck a deal with the large pub chain
Mitchell & Butlers to serve unfined beers in their Nicholsons branded pubs after persuading them it was the way to go when it comes to flavor, and no doubt that punters will come round to the idea of a cloudy pale once they taste how good the beer is. And trust me, it is good beer, in fact, it’s bloody brilliant beer.

I was lucky enough to enjoy a pint of
Unfined Revival in the Scarbrough Tap in Leeds recently (a Nicholsons pub) and can certainly attest for it having a little touch of cloudiness, but the main thing that hit me was the taste – it was absolutely excellent.

Unfined Revival is the unfined version of their excellent
Revival pale ale. It’s a fantastic citrus hopped session beer which has hints of grapefruit, spiced lemon and orange zest alongside bags of bitterness and a really refreshing, dry finish. It’s a perfect session beer, and at just 3.8% ABV punches well above its weight. This unfined version has everything the original offers, but for me had an even better aroma, fuller mouthfeel and a really fresh, vibrant flavour.

Naming it unfined revival is a good move as well, and they even go as far as to explain on the pump clip that the beer is meant to be cloudy because it tastes better that way. Moor want to serve all their beers unfined and I think adding it as a prefix before the name of the beer is a simple yet elegant way to inform regular drinkers of the beer that this a slightly different beast. Sometimes the simple ideas are the best ones, and I think this is a cracker.

I wish more brewers were doing this; serving unfined beer with a note to customers saying it is meant to be that way because it tastes better, it’s a simple but effective explanation that cuts out so much agro - Pubs will get fewer returned pints, and customers get tastier, more natural beer. It’s a win, win.

Good on Moor, and good on Mitchell & Butler for their bravery.

*Not all keg beer is filtered or pasteurised, and this is not a cask vs keg post. Lots of craft beer brewers in the UK and abroad sell keg beer which is neither heavily filtered or pasteurised. The beer served on keg from BrewDog, HardKnott and Summer Wine, to name but a few, is neither heavily filtered or pasteurised and has started to be referred to as "craft keg" in an effort to seperate it from the dull, filtered, pasteurised beer sold on keg throughout the UK. The only real difference between craft keg and cask ale is that it is served with added carbonation, is a touch colder, and doesn't undergo a secondary fermentation in the vessell from which it is served. i.e. it's not "real ale" as defined by CAMRA. Even more importantly, only certain beers suit this "craft keg" dispense method - Big, strong, hoppy IPA's, being a good example, where the keg dispense helps to lift the flavours, and show the beer at it's best.

Black Tokyo* Horizon - BrewDog, Nøgne Ø, and Mikkeller's collaboration Imperial Stout

Friday, August 12, 2011
Black Tokyo* Horizon is the result of a collaboration between three of the most exciting and innovative craft beer brewers in Europe; Brewdog, Nøgne Ø and Mikkeller, all of which have built a reputation for brewing bold and sometimes extreme beers with huge amounts of hops, higher ABV’s, and more weird and wonderful ingredients than any other brewers. They are, without a doubt, the beer geek brewers.

So what happens when you put these lot in a brewery together? Well, as you might have guessed, they’ve taken the saying “go big or go home” to a new extreme and produced a beer which almost buckles under its own weight - another kilo of malt and this might just have been too much, but as it stands, they’ve created something really quite special.

The recipe for the beer is a fusion of each brewery’s flagship Imperial Stout; Nøgne Ø Dark Horizon, BrewDog Tokyo*, and Mikkeller Black, with massive amounts of flavour, strength and a formidable ABV of 17.2%.

Enough foreplay, what’s the beer like?

Black Tokyo* Horizon pours a completely and utterly impenetrable black, zero light coming through, with just the faintest tint of dark brown near the edges. A brown cola bubble head quickly disappears and leaves very little trace apart from a few tiny bubbles near the edges, not unexpected for a beer of this strength.

This beer initially smells quite savoury, with a of sort soy sauce aroma, before the reduced, bitter chocolate syrup and herbal gin-like alcohol comes through alongside a faint redcurrant fruitiness.

A moment of hesitation before the first sip; how big is this going to be?

The taste is initially dominated by sweet, dark brown sugar but then you get a really big surge of warmth from the alcohol and a smack of that syrupy dark chocolate hinted at in the aroma. In the middle flavour you get chocolate coated bitter coffee beans, black cherry, dried cranberry, chocolate toffee and intensely reduced redcurrant jam. The finish is sweet, boozy, and chocolaty with an intense fruitiness and just a hint of aromatic dryness and a herbal smokiness – a bit like burnt rosemary twigs.

The mouth feel is extremely thick, slick and syrupy with low carbonation and a definite chewy quality. Just a touch of alcohol burn greets you in the swallow but mainly there’s just a furry warmth to the whole thing which adds to the intensity of the flavours.

It really delivers on what I was hoping for; intense in every way, with big aroma, massive depth of flavour, and a mouth feel like crude oil.

Be warned though, this is a huge beer. It's almost liqueur like in its intensity, and the thick and syrupy body combined with the big sweetness, alcohol warmth and intense chocolate and fruit flavours make it pretty heavy going. But take your time, give it a chance to warm up in the glass and breathe a bit, and Black Tokyo* Horizon will reward you with a depth and intensity of flavour which is seldom found in a beer.

It’s undoubtedly a bit of an effort, but for me personally, it's an ultimately satisfying and rewarding one.

You can buy Black Tokyo* Horizon online at the BrewDog shop. My recommendation would be to buy two - one to drink now, perhaps shared with a few friends, and one to lay down for drinking in a year or so’s time.

Big, high strength Imperial Stouts like this keep very well and will change and mature for years, so are perfect for ageing. I’ve written before about the importance of drinking pale, hoppy beers fresh, but Black Tokyo* Horizon is completely the other end of the spectrum, and can only get better with time.

Massive thanks to James from BrewDog for sending this through for review.

Rosemary & Redcurrant lamb steaks with Dauphinoise Potatoes - paired with Odell 90 Shilling Ale

Thursday, August 11, 2011
It’s very rare that I buy beer at the same time as I buy ingredients for a meal, and my most recent beer matching endeavour was no different.

I’d picked up some great lamb steak from the butchers on my lunch break with the intention of creating one of Colette’s favourite meals; lamb steaks with a red wine, redcurrant and rosemary sauce, served with Dauphinoise potatoes. It sounds very posh but it’s actually really easy, and once the potatoes are in the oven you’ve got almost an hour before anything else needs doing.

On my way home I started thinking about beers that would go well with the meal, and after throwing the idea of a fruit lambic around on Twitter I was met with a few suggestions from
Zak, Mark and Melissa, who all seemed to be steering me towards a lightly sweet, malty beer with a hint of fruit, rather than a sour lambic with a whack of berries. I took the gentle nudge and opted for a bottle of Odell 90 Shilling Ale, partly because I knew I had a bottle in the cupboard, and partly because it sounded like a clever match. The Odell was suggested as an option by Melissa Cole, writer of the excellent Taking The Beard Out Of Beer blog, so big thanks to her for the idea!

To make the lamb and sauce you’ll need (Serves 2)
  • 2 good sized lamb steaks (or 4 small ones as I used)
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • A few sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 1 tbsp Redcurrant jelly
  • 100ml red wine
  • Olive oil
  • Butter

To make the Dauphinoise potatoes you’ll need
(Serves 4 - If there's only two of you then have the leftovers the next day, reheated or cold)

  • 300ml milk
  • 300ml single cream
  • Roughly 1 kg potatoes, sliced thinly into rounds
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Butter

Note on ingredients:

You do not need cheese to make Dauphinoise (or gratin) potatoes as the garlic and salt act to slightly curdle the milk and cream during cooking which creates a rich, slightly cheesy, buttery flavour. You can add herbs if you like but give the basic version pictured right a try first; I think you’ll be surprised by the results. Also, I don't bother peeling my potatoes when I make this dish, there's really no need from a presentation point of view and the skin helps the potato slices stay whole during cooking. Just give the potatoes a wash and get slicing. If you have leftover potatoes then store in the fridge covered in tin foil, this way you can simply reheat for half an hour in a medium oven for a quick meal the next day.


Preheat the oven to 180*C.

Butter a small-medium sized lasagne dish and season with a little salt and pepper, then add a single layer of potatoes to the dish, overlapping them so that the bottom is completely covered. Season really well with plenty of salt and pepper, sprinkle a little crushed garlic and add 3 or 4 thin slithers of butter. Repeat this process until you have layered the potatoes to the top of the dish.

In a jug combine the milk and cream and then slowly pour over the potatoes making sure all parts are equally covered. The liquid should sit just below the top layer of potatoes – use a little more milk or cream if there isn’t enough liquid.

Cook in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, then using a metal fish slice squash down the potatoes slightly so the liquid runs back over the top layer. This really helps the top to cook evenly and not catch, and helps create an evenly golden, crispy crust.

When the potatoes have been in the oven for about 50 minutes test them with a knife to make sure they are cooked right through. If they look about ready then turn the oven right down to about 120*C and prepare the lamb (which only takes about 5-10 mins).

In a very hot frying pan sear the seasoned lamb steaks in a little olive oil and butter until brown on both sides (about 1 min either side). Remove the lamb from the pan and put on a plate, then turn the heat right down.

Add the clove of crushed garlic and chopped rosemary to the pan. After a few seconds pour in the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping all the sticky bits from the bottom.

When the wine has reduced by at least a half add the redcurrant jelly and season with salt and pepper. When the jelly has dissolved add a knob of cold butter and stir until the sauce looks glossy and has thickened slightly. When the sauce is ready put the lamb steaks, along with any resting juices, back into the pan, and remove from the heat.

To serve

Remove the potatoes from the oven and divide into rectangular portions (it will serve 4 hungry people) - using a metal fish slice carefully lift the slabs of dauphinoise onto plates. Serve the lamb with the sauce spooned over the top and some buttered greens on the side.

Beer match

Odell 90 shilling Ale is a perfect match for the lamb and redcurrant sauce, but it doesn't really work with the creaminess of the dauphinoise potatoes as there’s not enough cleansing hop brightness to cut through it, and the sweetness of the beer just clashes with the cream.

The beer itself has a Scottish malty sweetness you get with wee heavies and yet also displays a red hop ale lightness as well, i.e. there's just enough spicy hop character to lift things up and stop it being a malt fest.

Despite the nod towards this beer's Scottish origins it remains unmistakably American and there's that boiled sweet, fruity hard candy flavour which so many American beers display and which I've mentioned many a time before. In the finish there's a nice hop dryness which cleans the palate and stops the sweetness becoming cloying. A very well rounded beer.

It would have been a perfect match if I'd been having roasted or sautéed potatoes, but with the dauphinoise it just missed the mark. But what beer could have worked perfectly with the rich meat, sweet sauce, and creamy dauphinoise? If you've got an idea, let me know below.

Drink me fresh: Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest (Fresh Hop Ale)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011
The problem with buying hoppy beers from America is that we tend to get them once their fresh, vibrant hop flavour has slightly diminished. With a big hoppy beer such as an American IPA you’ll still get that intense, piney, resinous hop flavour, but the floral green hop flavour of a freshly bottled beer is gone - i.e. the top notes are missing.

However an American beer I drank recently seemed to have 'it' in spades - Very fresh tasting with a real vibrancy of hop flavour which belied the miles it had travelled. The beer in question is Sierra Nevada’s Southern Hemisphere Harvest Fresh Hop Ale.

According to Sierra Nevada, this beer is the first beer by an American brewer to feature solely fresh-picked southern hemisphere hops - Pacific Hallertau, New Zealand Motueka and New Zealand Southern Cross. The brewery even went to the trouble of flying the hops from New Zealand to California in order to capture that super-fresh hop flavour:

“This ale marks our journey to the only place on the planet where fresh hops are harvested in our spring, the Southern Hemisphere. Our task was daunting - we needed to get the hops picked, dried, flown halfway across the world and into our brew kettle in a little over a week's time. The result is a North-by-South fusion of fresh New Zealand hops blended with the finest North American malts. Its robust hop character presents an intriguing floral-citrus aroma leading to layers of fresh-hop spiciness.”

So it’s definitely a beer that’s racked up some air miles, but it’s all been over a pretty short space of time and I made a point of buying this pretty much as soon as it was available, storing it in the fridge to preserve the hops that had been so carefully handled thus far, and drinking it young.

Personally, I think the effort was worthwhile.

Southern Hemisphere pours a bright blood orange with soft carbonation and a bubbly, tight white head. There’s a touch of oily hop haze in the glass but apart from that it’s pin bright and clear – a great looking beer.

The smell is super fresh; like sticking your nose in a bag of whole hops. You get a really fantastic fresh, green, citrusy hop aroma and the flavour is lightly sweet with bready caramel before a massively floral flavour of very dry, fresh pine needle hops takes over alongside and a slight hint of orange sherbet. The finish is dry and spicy with lots of different hop character to pick up on including predominant flavours of citrus, spiced orange and pine resin.

Despite an ABV of 6.7% and a massive amount of hops this is no American IPA - It’s fresher tasting than that and it doesn’t have that AIPA bitterness or chewy malt body. It's closer to a sort of American pale ale really, but that lovely fresh hop character just lifts the whole thing and because there’s dryness but not lots of bitterness it is hugely drinkable and moreish.

I quaffed the bottle in no time at all, a really great beer.

Coffee Imperial IPA? Espresso ESB? Who cares when it tastes this good

Monday, August 08, 2011
For those of you who read Leeds foodie blogs such as Leeds Grub and Northern Food you may well have heard of Leeds newest independent coffee house, Laynes Espresso.

Located on New Station Street near, you guessed it, the train station, Laynes has been getting a lot of praise and having visited quite a few times I can happily heap some more on myself, it’s wonderful. Fantastically tasty, single estate espresso (meaning they get the beans from different places throughout the year, depending on where is in season) served with thorough knowledge and friendly service. It’s even pretty reasonably priced and the cakes are awesome too. It’s my favourite place for coffee in Leeds.

Well, it seems the chaps next door at
The Brewery Tap have also caught a whiff of Laynes’ impressive dark roast and as such invited them to brew a coffee beer at their micro brewery upstairs. The result is the ‘7.7% Laynes Imperial’ now on sale in The Brewery Tap on cask - a beer that when I heard the name I expected to be a coffee imperial stout, but which is actually much harder to classify.

The first thing that gives the game away is the colour; a kind of toffee orange with a hint of red, which pours with a tight off white head. On the nose there's sweet toffee malt and very little hop, a background hint of coffee but nothing too in-your-face at this point.

In the taste you get American IPA sweetness alongside that classic Leeds Brewery malt toffee character - It's so distinct and perhaps comes from a combination of their house yeast and similar malt use across their range. After the initial malt the coffee comes through and you get a fruity, almost citrussy, espresso flavour from the La Pira beans which combine perfectly with the orangey dryness of the Amarillo and Cascade hops, and an aftertaste of dry coffee and bitter/sweet marmalade.

As it warms you get a bit more alcohol in the aroma but the taste remains smooth and balanced. They've judged the coffee flavour perfectly, it's clear but doesn't overpower and the whole thing comes together nicely. If I had one small criticism it would be that it's ever so slightly thin in the body. But mouthfeel comes second to taste and aroma, which the beer isn't lacking either of.

Reading the press release regarding the launch of the beer reveals some interesting info about the brewing process, and how these wonderful flavours were achieved:

“Laynes Imperial was made like any other all-grain, whole-hop beer. Only the coffee was added between the wort boiling stage and wort cooling stage, pre-fermentation. The week we brewed it, Dave Laynes had been experimenting with fine-tuning the espresso temperature that he uses for this particular variety of coffee. He was trying to emphasise that tangy quality that you get down the sides of your tongue when you drink espresso. He decided to settle on a temperature around 92 degrees centigrade. So, after the hops had been boiled into the wort, we allowed it to cool to exactly 92 degrees. At this point, we submerged fresh coffee into the wort. For this, Dave and Carl had made the decision to use a very coarse grind. And at Laynes they use their coffee within minutes of grinding it, or not at all. This principal was of course extended to the beer.

We wrapped the coffee in muslin, making sure there was none stuck to the outside of the bags. This was so we could remove the coffee after exactly 5mins, and none would remain inside to impart a harsh bitterness”

I can attest to the fact there isn’t a coffee bitterness present, it’s really quite fruity and combined with the hops used the fresh espresso flavour really helps to create a fantastic beer. If I had to pigeon hole Laynes Imperial I suppose I’d swing between a coffee IPA and a sort of Espresso ESB, but if I'm honest it's neither, it's not really within any one style but is no the worse for it. It's just a great beer.

To tell the truth Laynes Imperial is possibly the best beer Leeds Brewery have produced and one which is crying out to be bottled - it's one which would be perfect for the beer geeks but which is unlikely to leave Leeds - in fact it'll probably only ever be available in this pub. Which is a bloody crying shame.

For more information about the beer and how it was brewed you can see the press release here:

BrewDog AB:06 Imperial Black IPA

Thursday, August 04, 2011
The Abstrakt range from BrewDog fills a gap in the market for beers which have been pushed to the limits of decency, taken to the extremes of a style and brewed with more hops, more diverse malts, higher ABV’s and more unusual flavours than anything else available in the UK.

That said, I hasten to use the term ‘extreme beers’ as that implies something which has been pushed too far, and I don’t think that’s what the Abstrakt range represents. These beers have been taken to the outer limits of their particular styles but aren’t some sort of super hot chilli that’s just there to be eaten for a dare, they are there to be enjoyed for what they are - very good beers.

AB:06, the sixth and final beer in BrewDog’s most recent Abstrakt range, is an 11.2% Triple Dry Hopped Imperial Black IPA which, as with all of the Abstrakt beers, is bottle conditioned and presented in a swanky corked and caged dark green bottle. BrewDog recommend you drink one bottle fresh and keep one for a year or two so you can see how the beer changes with ageing – which is exactly what I’ll be doing.

BrewDog AB:06 Imperial Black IPA 11.2%

AB:06 Pours a dark hazy brown from the bottle but once in the glass appears a slick almost impenetrable black with a slightly hazy unfiltered look to it and a small beige head which quickly dissolves to a small ring, as you’d expect at this ABV.

The smell is really powerful with sticky, resinous hop oils, bitter grapefruit and rich chocolate pudding, as well as a sweet and very reduced boozy mincemeat undercurrent which reminds me of a big barley wine.

In the taste there’s initially loads of thick, bitter dark chocolate and hints of citrus fruit - like a rich chocolate pot with a blast of orangey boozyness. That chocolate malt dominates but you also get a slight roasted filter coffee flavour before everything is completely bowled over by massive hop bitterness and flavours of orange syrup, dried apricot, grapefruit, pine resin, and a kind of dried mango herbal quality. After the whack of hops and sweet booze you get just a hint of alcohol burn that disappears before you really notice it, and an aftertaste of bitter dark chocolate and resinous hops.

As the beer warmed up (this is after all a beer to be sipped and enjoyed over an hour or so) I got more hardcandy sweetness and a fruity, barleywine like richness.

Imagine a strong, chocolatey imperial stout brewed with an insane dry hopping schedule, and you’re not far off the mark.

Big thanks to James from BrewDog for sending this through for a review. AB:06 is currently out of stock on the BrewDog website but you can join the Abstrakt Addicts Club online at the BrewDog store which ensures you get the beers before anybody else. Alternatively Beer Ritz in Leeds still has some in stock.

Finding a Beer Match for Thai Food is tricky

Wednesday, August 03, 2011
I love Thai food. There’s just something about the combination of salty, sweet, hot and sour which ticks all the boxes for me. There’s a real freshness of flavour to properly made Thai food that most people who stick to Green curries don’t realise. Stray off the regular favourites and you’ll find a world of variety awaiting you, so don’t be afraid to try something new.

But the one problem I have found with Thai food is that it’s ridiculously difficult to pair with beer. I had a bit of success with the Thai Duck dish I did a while ago, which paired really well with Flying Dog’s In-Heat Wheat, but apart from that it’s been a bit of a struggle.

The problem is that whilst something like a big American IPA might go fairly well with the rich, sweet, spiciness of some dishes, it would completely mask others and doesn't really work with anything coconut based. Plus there’s a subtlety to Thai food which has to be respected, the beer shouldn’t overpower the food, they should work together to enhance each other. That’s easier said than done though when the dish contains diverse ingredients like coconut milk, fish sauce, squid, prawns, lime, sugar, chilli, coriander and lemongrass – which is the dilemma I found myself in last night when I made this:

Tom Khaa Soup with Squid, Prawns and Noodles

Ingredients for the soup:
  • 500ml of light fish or chicken stock
  • 400ml can of coconut milk
  • 12 raw king prawns
  • 2 Large tubes (heads) of raw squid, cleaned and ready to use
  • 1 Medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 large cloves Garlic, sliced
  • 1 Thumb size piece of ginger, cut into thin matchsticks
  • 1Hot red chilli, sliced (seeds in)
  • 4 Heaped tsps of Tom Yum paste
  • 8 Medium sized closed cup mushrooms, quartered
  • 3 Tsps Fish Sauce
  • 2 Tsps sugar
  • Fresh coriander stems (from a medium sized bunch), chopped

The accompaniments:

  • 1-4 Hot red chilli, sliced (seeds left in)
  • 6 Spring onions, sliced
  • Fresh Coriander (leafy part)
  • Lime wedges
  • Egg noodles (one square per person)

How to make the soup:

  1. Start by frying the garlic, ginger, onion and single red chilli in a little oil on a low to medium heat until the aromas start to be released. (If you don’t like your food hot then leave out the chilli as people can always add more fresh chilli themselves at the end)
  2. Add the Tom Yum paste and fry on a fairly low heat for a minute or so until the oil starts to come out. Be careful not to burn the paste.
  3. Pour in the coconut milk, light chicken or fish stock (I used one Knorr chicken stock cube and 500ml water), Fish sauce, sugar, and season well with salt. Stir and heat gently until the paste has completely dissolved and the soup base has come to a simmer.
  4. Add the mushrooms and chopped coriander stems. Leave this to simmer on a low heat while you prepare the noodles and garnishes.
  5. Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. I used egg noodles which I boiled for 4 minutes and then drained and rinsed under cold water. Set aside.
  6. Check the soup for taste and add a little more fish sauce if it doesn’t taste salty enough, a squeeze of lime if it isn’t sour enough, or a teaspoon of sugar if it is too sharp. If it tastes good then leave it alone, and remember that the seafood will also add its own sweet, fishy flavour to the broth.
  7. To prepare the squid use kitchen scissors to butterfly the tube open so that the inside is facing up. Lightly score the squid in a criss-cross pattern being careful not to cut right through. Cut into medium sized rectangular pieces. Drop the prepared squid and prawns into the broth and cook for 2-3 minutes until the prawns are pink and cooked through and the squid has curled up but is very still tender.

To serve:

Place a handful of cold noodles into the bottom of deep sided bowls, ladle the hot broth over the top of the noodles making sure you dish out the tender prawns and squid evenly to avoid arguments! Then simply sprinkle a hand full of freshly chopped red chilli, spring onion and coriander into each bowl and serve with a wedge of lime on the side.

Eat with chopsticks and a spoon and don't wear a new white shirt...


This is a bit of a cheat’s recipe as I use ready-made Tom Yum paste, but the paste I use is a genuine Thai variety and does give an authentic flavour which the addition of the fresh ingredients builds upon. ‘Tom Khaa’ is similar to ‘Tom Yum’ hot and sour soup but has the addition of coconut milk to the broth and is very often served with prawns and squid like I do here. The addition of noodles is my own take on the soup as it turns the dish from a soup starter into a ‘soupy noodles’ main course as you’d get in many Thai, Chinese and particularly Japanese restaurants.

Beer Match

As you might have already guessed this is where I ran into a bit of trouble.

I went for a bottle of Wensleydale Semer Water Summer Ale, which stands on its own as a really great beer. It's got a lovely pale straw colour with a hint of gold, and a big caramel aroma with hints of citrus. You get perfect carbonation and a spot on mouthfeel - quite thick and cask ale like. The taste is initially very sweet with loads of caramel and a slight yeasty, dry straw background flavour, but then it finishes lightly hoppy with a nice bit of very light citrus and a touch of dryness. It wouldn't say the finish is 'dry' as such, but just that the hops definitely clean all that caramel away in the finish.

Unfortunately whilst it was a really good beer, it wasn’t a very good match for the dish. I think I was expecting something with more bitterness and a dry citrus hop flavour, whereas there’s definite caramel sweetness to this beer which didn’t pair very well with the creamy-hot-sourness of the soup.

Hey ho, it was fun giving it a try, but in the end I saved the beer until after I’d finished eating, where I enjoyed it immnensely.

Thanks to Wensleydale brewery for passing this beer on to me. I’ll be reviewing a number of their beers in an upcoming post so watch this space if you’re a fan.

Wikio Beer & Wine Rankings for August

Monday, August 01, 2011
I was emailed a few months ago by Wikio and asked to preview the Beer & Wine rankings but I declined as I wasn't in the top 20 myself and it just felt a little odd to be honest, who was I to comment? Well they emailed me again this month with the news I've moved in to the Top 20, which is a nice email to get on a Monday morning I have to say.

So as I'm now a bit more involved I thought I'd accept the offer this month and give everybody the preview. So here we go.

As seems to be the norm there isn't a huge amount of movement near the top - a few places shifted here and there, but no massive surprises. Although a certain Beer-Ritz-Based Padawan Beer Geek looks to have overtaken his Beer Blogging Jedi of a boss, which might make the weekly staff meeting a bit uncomfortable....

Some of the Wine Bloggers are holding their own too.

The Wikio Rankings should of course be taken with a pinch of salt, and as has been said many a time before it's the quality of a blogs content which really matters in the grand scheme of things. Interesting, high quality, and relatively often. That's what makes a great blog, and it's the ones which deliver that which I enjoy reading most.

Ranking made by Wikio