Gluten free, not flavour free

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Beer is an amazing thing when you consider the simple ingredients that go into it - just water, malt, hops, and yeast. The variety of flavour that can be created, and how different this end result is to the flavour profile of the ingredients which go in, is really quite amazing.

But it is very much a balancing act, and the problem with this balancing act is that when you try to change one of the ingredients the whole thing starts to become unsteady, and what you’re left with is something that doesn’t really taste like beer at all.

For people who have an intolerance to Gluten, or have Coeliac disease, one of those key ingredients can cause big problems. I’m talking of course about the malt, which in most beers will be malted barley (or a combination of malted barley and wheat).

Malt is extremely important in all beers, and even in really hoppy beers is vital as a backbone to the flavour of the hops. But in a lager, where it is central to the flavour profile of the beer, removing it could spell disaster.

There are of course other grains apart from malted barley which can be used to make beer which are perfectly safe for people with a gluten intolerance to drink, but the problem is that the beer won’t taste anything like what people are expecting from a lager. Let’s look at sorghum for example, as it’s probably the most obvious choice: It gives beer a sweet, very slightly sour, and almost funky character which in Nigerian FES actually works really well, but in a clean, crisp lager? I don’t think so.

Rather than change the ingredients what Estrella decided to do when producing their gluten free beer was to brew the beer pretty much as normal, and then remove the gluten afterwards. The result is something which tastes almost as good as a normal, decent, European lager.

That may not sound like high praise, but it is.

They achieve the decent taste by brewing to a much higher ABV than they need (I think the reps from the company said around 6.8%) and then removing the gluten, and with it some of the alcohol, after brewing until the beer is 5.4% and ‘Gluten Free’ at around 6 parts per million (ppm).

It tasted good, and after speaking to some of the guys from the Coeliac disease society, who find it almost impossible to find decent tasting gluten free beer, I can definitely see where this beers place is in the market. Sure, if you did a taste test of this beer next to the Spanish equivalent Estrella (which is also brewed to 5.4%) then I can bet which one would taste better. But that’s missing the point.

It’s a good thing that breweries are producing products for people who might not otherwise be able to enjoy beer, and it’s something that I definitely want to support.

La Tasca have struck up a deal with Estrella to sell Daura exclusively in their restaurants across the UK, and have also launched an 18 dish gluten free menu to support the beer (or maybe the beer is to support the new menu?).

Obviously people who suffer from the condition will already know which foods they can and can’t have, but it’s reassuring to know that a dish definitively won’t have any gluten containing ingredients - and that things such as sausages, sauces or dressings (which may contain flour, breadcrumbs or other malt derivatives such as malt vinegar) have been made in a gluten free way.

I'm going to be doing a side by side taste test of a big bunch of gluten free beers with Rob from very soon, so keep an eye out for that.

I’m lucky enough to not suffer from Coeliac disease or gluten intolerance, but was invited by La Tasca to come and sample their menu and meet the team from Estrella to discuss their gluten free beer. More importantly though, after speaking to the guys from the Coeliac disease society talk about the difficulty of being gluten intolerant I knew this was something that needed writing about.

MEAT Liquor at Neon Cactus, Leeds

Monday, March 19, 2012
I've heard a lot of good things about MEAT Liquor in London. What started as a popup burger 'van turned into to one of London's most achingly cool places to fill your face with meat, and liquor. But most importantly, the burgers seemed to live up to the hype.

So when I heard the guys were coming up to Leeds for one day only, and serving their acclaimed burgers in one of Leeds better cocktail bars (Neon Cactus on Call Lane) I knew I had to be there.

The burgers didn't dissapoint. Super juicy meat, pink in the middle and crispy but not burnt on the outside, wrapped in a soft bun with chunky gherkins and either ketchup and mustard or secret sauce, depending on your preference. They were really good, my favourite being the classic ketchup and mustard 'double bubble' over the other secret sauce variety.

It wasn't all plain sailing though. The guys behind the bar were doing a fine job of keeping everyone well oiled with cocktails but the serving staff seemed flustered and a touch confused as to what the hell was going on. The 'fast food' took a long time to arrive and a request for a second burger (no fries or sides available!) was met with another 30 minute wait.

I can see how the system would be great if you were just there for a few drinks and a burger if you fancied it, but when you're starving and want to eat a meal, the whole process seemed unnecessarily complicated and drawn out. I'd like to see what these guys can do in their own joint because the bit which they had most control over here, the burgers, were the only part that didn't dissapoint.

Friends of Ham, Leeds newest craft beer bar

Saturday, March 17, 2012
I first heard about Friends of Ham when I met owner Claire Kitchen and her husband (and business partner) Anthony for a drink to chat about the new craft beer bar they were opening in Leeds.

At that time the bar didn’t even officially have a name, and they just wanted to have a chat with me about the Leeds beer scene and get my thoughts on what they were doing, which from my point of view was great as I got the inside scoop on a new craft beer bar.

Well things have moved on a long way now; the bar has a name, face, and most importantly, a home (though I've been sworn to secrecy as the license isn't 100% confirmed yet). You can get an idea of the style of the place from the mockup below, but this is just a concept design at present - it will invariable look slightly different in real life. Still, looks pretty good to me.

Friends of Ham is something of a novel concept, taking inspiration more from the Soho Deli-Wine Bars than it does from a traditional Yorkshire pub. But unlike the aforementioned wine bars, Friends of Ham makes its focus beer - with quality craft keg, bottled, and cask beer served alongside international and local cured meats, air dried hams, charcuterie and cheese. A range of good wines (but no spirits) will actually be available too I’m told, but the owners are beer lovers who want to share their personal passion with the public – what better reason could you have to open a bar but that?

The pairing of beer with food is a big part of the Friends of Ham ethos, and I’m told the deli style menu will give suggestions as to what beer and food matches will work, as well as the staff encouraging and suggesting pairings too. This idea of true tapas style nibbling while you sip is something which is very slowly starting to take hold in the UK drinking scene, with places such as Veritas being the only place in Leeds which currently takes the idea to heart.

There really is nothing better than sitting around a table with friends enjoying interesting beers alongside a few small plates of delicious morsels, and Friends of Ham is shaping up to be the perfect place to do that when it opens (fingers crossed) early this summer.

You can follow Friends of ham on Twitter here:

When the bar opens I'll most likely be heading down to sample their wares, and I'll post here how it looks and what I think of it.

Give Rum a chance! Lost Dog Imperial Rum Aged Porter

Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Until I really delve into tasting more good single malts it's safe to say I know more about Rum than I do whiskey. Unfortunately most brewers (and particularly those from North of the border) seem to prefer whiskey barrel ageing to it's more tropical cousin. It's a shame as there is a lot a more depth of character to good quality rum than most people give it credit for, it ain't just for swigging with coke.

My rum tips? Try Green Island Spiced Gold from Mauritius, neat with ice, for a semi sweet, vanilla and lightly spice tinged tinged sipper; or Mount Gay Sugar Cane, that's good stuff too.

Anyway, back on point! It says on the BrewDog blog that this Imperial Porter is the first rum aged beer they or Lost Abbey have made, but I'm going to assume they meant the first they've bottled, because BrewDog have certainly brewed and then rum aged a beer before, because I drank it. Almost a year ago exactly I reviewed the rum aged Bitch Please and loved it - unfortunately they didn't choose to bottle this version and went with the Whiskey aged version for general sale.

But enough of all that. On to the beer itself.

The aroma is boozy and intense with molasses and brown sugar (hello rum!) sitting behind a very slight phenol character and a hint of fruity dark chocolate and vanilla. Were the rum barrels previously home to whiskey I wonder?

The flavour is more of that molasses hinted at in the aroma, alongside sweet fruitcake, loads of dark and dingy rum character yet it's surprisingly light (for the abv), fruity and porter like. There's no big thick roastedness as you'd get with imperial stout but there is a chocolatey richness to it. Quite sweet, boozy and satisfying with a faint touch of vanilla latte in the finish.

If you like dark rum then you'll love this, just like I did. If you don't like rum then I'm not sure, but if my advice means anything. Give rum a chance!

Big thanks to James from BrewDog for sending this beer over for review.

Hangover Breakfasts: Mexican scrambled eggs with crispy tortillas

Saturday, March 10, 2012
For some strange reason, when I'm feeling a bit fragile after a night of overindulgence it's a plate of food which provides a jolt to the system, rather than a soothing cuddle that I really crave. Strong flavours, plenty of salt, protein and in this case, a kick of chilli heat.

The way I cook my Mexican style eggs takes a little time, but its really very simple to do, and if you use a non stick pan pretty much fool proof.

This recipe is for one but you could easily double up the quantities with no ill side effects.

To make this you'll need:
  • 3-4 Eggs
  • 1/2 White onion finely chopped
  • 1 Medium tomato chopped
  • 1 Small clove garlic finely chopped
  • 1 Red chilli finely chopped (seeds removed if you don't like too much heat, I left them in)
  • Handful of fresh coriander
  • 1 Large white tortilla
  • In a non stick pan fry the onion until just soft in a little olive oil.
  • Once the onion is soft add the tomato, chilli and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes on a low heat until darkened, adding a little more oil if it looks too dry.
  • While the tomatoes are cooking heat a little oil in a frying pan and fry your quarters of Tortilla on both sides until golden brown, then pat dry with kitchen roll and keep warm in a very low oven.
  • Next add your beaten eggs to the pan with the tomatoes, season well with salt and pepepr, and using a wooden spoon cook on a low heat until scrambled to your liking. I like mine soft but not runny.
To serve, spoon the eggs on to a plate and garnish with chopped fresh coriander and the crispy tortilla quarters on the side.

The combination of soft eggs, chilli heat, rich tomato, fresh herbs, and those crispy jumbo tortilla chips is an absolute winner, and exactly the kind of the thing I need the morning after a night on the naughty water.

For another hangover breakfast option why not try my Soft Cure Chorizo and Grana Padano Omelette.

Town Hall Tavern - A strong contender for the 'Leeds Best Bar Snacks' Crown

Thursday, March 08, 2012
I wrote a while ago about my pick of Leeds Best Bar Snacks, but after visiting Town Hall Tavern I think they might have been blown out of the water completely.

I've been trying to visit Town Hall Tavern for a while but things seemed to conspire against it. A Christmas party booked in, a coach trip had just turned up, not being open on a Sunday. It became a bit of a running joke between me and the missus that we could never get a table at this run of the mill Gastropub, until last night.

The menu features all the usual high end pub grub staples, but it's the pick and mix section which I want to talk about as it's such a great idea. £2ish tasty morsel that can be ordered on their own, as a starter, or as Tapas or bar snacks. We had a crispy hens egg, a pork cheek scotch egg and some crispy pigs ears.

The crispy hens egg is a simple yet satisfying beast. A soft boiled hens egg coated in breadcrumbs, deep fried until hot and crispy with a warm but runny yolk. It even came with a few super crunchy slithers of bacon, which is a nice touch. Pretty damn good but not a patch on the pigs cheek scotch egg which was a bundle of slow cooked, moist pork cheek wrapped around a soft boiled Quail's egg. Hot and crispy on the outside too - Probably the best scotch egg I've ever eaten.

The crispy pig's ears weren't quite what I expected as they were coated in breadcrumbs rather than being a normal pork scratching type affair. Good, but a bit odd.

I washed these down with a few pints of Timothy Taylor Ram Tam, which tastes like a slightly darker, sweeter, more caramel laced Landlord, which is essentially what it is. Town Hall Tavern is a Timmy Taylor's pub so they had Landlord, Best, and Ram Tam on when I popped in as well as a small choice of bottles (Flying Dog Pale Ale was the most interesting I spotted but personally, I'd stick to the cask).

We also had mains: Colette's scampi was awesome but my flat Iron steak was a bit bland. The Ram Tam chocolate brownie though, with Salted caramel ice cream and malt milk sorbet no less, was really very good, and a no effort match with my pint of Ram Tam. Much to Colette's annoyance as it was her dessert...

Good food, excellent bar snacks, and a handful of well kept, tasty beer.

I'll be back.

Modus Hopperandi by Ska Brewing (Super Fresh) American IPA

Wednesday, March 07, 2012
I got a tip off from Dean from Mr Foleys about how good this beer was and I knew I had to try it. It was just a few days before I went on holiday, and I had a million other things to do, but it was worth the trip.

What a beer.

Here's how Modus Hopperandi from Ska Brewing tasted...

Piney, earthy, citrus hops on the nose. Very dry smelling with a touch of white pepper.

In the taste it's got a massive upfront hop bitterness, as big as any US IPA I've tried. There's a bit of orange pith, intense grapefruit, and underlying malt sweetness, resinous pine and wet, almost skunky grassy notes. Alongside a massive bitter finish with a smidge of American hard candy sweetness before the hops just completely knock you for six.

Punishing, intense, awesome.

This batch was Kegged 4th Jan, and served feb 24th. It's the freshest tasting American IPA I've tried in this country, and easily one of the best.

This beer is awesome, but the freshness made it even better. It's the antithesis to the somewhat lacking Racer 5 I tried recently. In other words, freshness matters.

North Bar and The Euston Tap (and probably a few other places too) have some of this beer I think. Go get some!

p.s I've been a bit lax blogwise of late due to the fact I went on holiday. Normal service shall be resumed presently....