Craft Beer Co second Birthday - some very special beers on offer this weekend

Friday, June 28, 2013
Tomorrow is the first day of celebrations over at Craft Beer Co in Clerkenwell, a pub that I find myself in quite often thanks to its proximity to the Farringdon overground (direct fast trains through to St Albans) and the fact it has the best beer selection in London.

The beer range is always fantastic and in great condition but they promise to be pulling out all the stops this weekend with a number of rare, limited edition or World famous beers on offer.

The full beer list is yet to be announced but if the selection being sent down by Magic Rock Brewing Co is anything to go by, it's gona be good. A quick chat with Rich from Magic Rock revealed they'll be serving:

Pink Grapefruit Salty Kiss, The Juggler, Black Saison (a To Ol collab), plus a cask of Cannonball which they've dry hopped in cask and a cask of Dark Arts which has fresh Vanilla added in cask.

It's probably a tie between that cask of cannonball and the Grapefruit salty kiss for which I'm most looking forward to trying.

This is just one brewery remember. The full list of beers is surely set to be unmissable.

If you've got any sense you'll go.



Is cider the next 'big thing' in beer?

Thursday, June 27, 2013
There have been a number of trends over the last few years in the beer world, some making more of an impact than others. Some trends could be put down to a preference shift within the mini-cosm of beer-geekery, others had a wider effect on the beer drinking World.

One definite trend in my memory was the arrival and domination of Citra. New hops arrive on the scene every season and of course you’ll see a scramble to experiment with the exciting unknown, but nothing quite got the blanket explosion of single hopped bar space like Citra did. It was everywhere.

Walking a perfect line between accessibly clean citrus fruitiness and strength of aroma and flavour, it was a winner with beer geeks and casual drinkers alike and remains hugely popular to this day. Which other hop still commands so much bar space under its name? Very few.

Black IPA was another one that made a lasting impact because, stylistic and linguistic oxymorons aside, the beers were often fantastic.

A lot of beer drinkers, particularly those new to craft beer or real ale, will avoid darker beers in favour of lighter, hoppier styles, but Black IPAs were a curve ball that lulled many an avid pale ale drinker over to the dark side. With a combination (when done right) of sharp citrusy, fruity hop top notes and a rumble of dark malt flavour hiding underneath, they ticked all the boxes in the same way as salted caramel – with seemingly opposing flavours creating something moreish and satisfying to the palate.

What seemed like a fad, turned into a trend and has now become a fully fledged style in its own right. Forget Cascadian dark ale or any other rubbish, its Black IPA, and it’s here to stay.

Saison. Need I say more? It’s the Riesling of the beer world don’t you know. Obviously not a new thing like Citra or Black IPA, but still, in Britain at least there seemed to be an explosion in the interest in Saision within a very short space of time. Whether it was beer geeks gushing about world class examples like Saison Dupont or UK brewers cooking up their own interpretation, saison came from nowhere to become a hugely popular style in the UK.

Belgian beer styles don’t generally make it over to the mainstream British drinker, but saison has a fighting chance, particularly something like Ilkley's approachable yet flavoursome Siberia Rhubarb Saison.

So what’s next? Well personally I think the next big thing in beer is going to be, somewhat confusingly, cider. It’s been bubbling under the radar for some time now thanks to places like Euston’s The Cider Tap (opposite that other famous tap in Euston) and trendy outlets like Friends of Ham in Leeds, who have given cider equal billing alongside draft beer.

There’s a real breadth of flavour in the cider World that beer lovers (me included) are only just beginning to discover - from the upfront appley sweetness of a hazy, 5% real cider, to the musty, sour, sharp and dank depths of the really big and complex stuff.

It’s high in abv, complex, produced on an impossibly small scale, getting popular on the other side of the pond, hard to track down, yet often extremely well priced. In other words, it’s a beer geek’s wet dream.

I’ve even come up with a marketing slogan to help things get going: “Cider, not just for tramps and teenagers.”


Image credit:

The Old Coffee House, Soho

Saturday, June 22, 2013
I pretty much chanced upon this pub when meeting a friend in Soho, as the pub we had elected to meet at was rammed so we popped round the corner to The Old Coffee House.

It was all very impromptu, so you can imagine my surprise when confronted with what seemed like the entire range of beers from London's excellent Brodie's brewery. I asked the barman if they were having a meet the brewer event or something of that sort, but he didn't have a clue what I was on about.

I'm still not entirely sure what the deal is between Brodie's and The Old Coffee House, is it a Brodie's tied pub? Do they just really like selling Brodie's beers? All I know is every time I've been in they have five Brodie's beers on cask and five different Brodie's beers on keg, more than enough to be going at.

Recently with an hour or so to kill I got chance to have a proper sit down with the range on offer that day - and here's what I thought...

Brodies pineapple sour - Keg 5%

Light aroma. Slightly lactic sour with a tiny citrus sour edge.

The flavour is fully sour with a fruity, buttery flavour like lemon curd (in a good way). Light in the body, as is par for the course when it comes to sours. The flavour is a lot like a Moscow mule, with a clash of lime and ginger but no pineapple that I can detect.

Tart and refreshing, this is a beer that would act as a great sorbet-like palate cleanser between courses. But you couldnt drink a lot of on its own.

Shoreditch Sunshine - Cask 3.9%

This has a really great fresh hop aroma with loads of pine resin and spicy, bitter hops. Really herbal with only a whiff of citrus.

The flavour is a chemical peel of hops for your tongue. That light body and low abv provides no malt sweetness to quell the heat of those hops, but it somehow remains drinkable and not puckeringly dry. Im guessing loads of late and dry hopping, but a light hand for the bittering hops has come into play here, but I'm guessing.

Whatever the method the results are great. It's a pretty perfect summer beer and I'm reluctant to move on.

Brodies and Three Flloyds ESB Keg 5.4%

Well first things first. This doesn't look like any ESB I've ever seen, sitting more in the light pale ale spectrum.

The taste pretty much ties in with how it looks - It tastes like a hoppy American pale ale. Not an ESB.

That said, it's a lovely beer. With a good juicy fruit aroma and a nice mango flavour with just a bit of fruity bitterness in the finish. Very fruity, very um bongo. But not anywhere near what you'd consider an ESB.

I like it a lot. But why not call it a pale ale? I get the impression they set out to make one thing, came up with the name, then didn't have the heart to change the branding post brewing.

But I'm splitting hairs. The taste, is great.

London fields pale ale Cask 4%

The aroma is invitingly citrusy but the flavour has that slightly dusty flavour that hoppy English pale ales can sometimes get (harvest pale often ale has it). It's not a negative thing as such, but it does distract somewhat.

If I'd have started on this I would have probably liked it a lot more. But after the hop hit of the shoreditch sunshine and the juicy mango fruitiness of the 'ESB' this feels a bit of a damp squib.

A workmanlike pale ale that is probably one of their biggest sellers, but doesn't get my engine revving.

Cranberry IPA Keg 7%

Very hazy, I'm assuming from heavy hopping. The aroma is very unusual. It does have a berry fruit aroma but alongside it are herbal hops and a spicy bitterness. A touch of the tropical but that berry fruit is dominant.

The flavour is bizarre, but when I think about it wholy expected. It lives up to the moniker of cranberry IPA.

I think I expected a red IPA but this is golden and clear with a flavour that has a lot in common with a big bold British IPA such as meantimes, or perhaps ilkley lotus IPA, but then that berry fruitiness just creeps in.

It's all very odd and shouldn't work but I like it. I almost wish I didn't know about the cranberry as really, this is just a great IPA with a berry fruit edge. I'd be saying how much I liked the bramling cross in this if I didn't know the back story.

Old street pale ale - Cask 5%

Hmm it's got that dusty flavour, a little ashy-ness too, that I got in the London fields. Help guys, is this a certain hop or brewing method? It sticks out like a sore thumb to me.

A touch of grapefruit, a hint of lemon and orange. Nice and light, drinkable. But a touch burnt. Is it me?

A nice bitterness and very drinkable but with such high standards set this feels below par.

Brodie's and Mikkeller Big mofo Imperial Stout keg 10.5%

Only £2.50 a half. A bargain at this strength and quality (I loved the bottle of this I drank previously).

You get a BIG roasted coffee aroma and sweet fruity dark chocolate.

The aroma is essentially Jamaican coffee (rum and espresso) with a huge, berry fruit, chocolate coated blackcurrant flavour.

This is an amazing beer. I love the fruity, almost funky berry flavours you get in some imperial stouts and this has that in droves. loads of fruity Ethiopian coffee (which has a classically red wine flavour).

It's better than the bottle. I'm not sure how long this has been on tap thanks to that strength but it has obviously got better and better, tasting very much like an imperial export stout (fruity n funky).

Fruity coffee, rich Like an old ale, but smokey and bitter at th same time.

Just stunning. A great end to a mixed but on the whole enjoyable bunch of beers.


Pork cheek ragu with Parmesan and rigatoni

Monday, June 17, 2013
As any regular readers will know, I cook with pork cheeks a lot. They taste fantastic when slow braised, and are very forgiving in terms of cooking times thanks to the abundant connective sinew which melts and moisturises the meat during cooking - plus they’re great value and freeze very well, meaning you can stock up when you see them.

They work fantastically well in a lot of different slow cooked dishes, one of which is this traditional Italian slow cooked ragu. Pork cheeks have a slightly stronger piggy taste than some other cuts which really gives some guts to this dish, with the meat shredding beautifully to create a deeply meaty, intensely flavour packed sauce which makes a feast of freshly boiled pasta.

Different cuts of meat could be used, such as a pork shoulder, shin beef, or even lamb, but don’t be tempted to replace chunky cuts for mince to save time, it won’t be the same. Run-of-the-mill spag bol this aint, and trust me it's worth the wait.

Ingredients (to serve 4-5 people)

  • 8 pork cheeks, trimmed of excess fat and cut into approx 1.5 inch chunks
  • 100g of diced pancetta
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 small carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tin peeled plum tomatoes
  • 280ml of passata (one small carton)
  • 1 tablespoon tomato puree
  • 300ml beef stock
  • Glass of red wine (approx 200ml)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 heaped teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
Making the ragu (Serves 4-5)

Start by browning your pork cheeks in a generous glug of olive oil over a medium-high heat, in an oven proof casserole dish, then remove from the pan and set aside in a bowl. Next throw in the pancetta and fry until crispy but not crunchy, then remove to the bowl with the pork.

Next add the onion, celery and carrot along with a good crack of salt to help the veg sweat out their juices. Once the veg is soft but not browned pour in the wine and allow to bubble for a minute, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Next add the pork and pancetta (along with any resting juices) back to the pan along with all of the other ingredients, including a good twist of salt and black pepper.

Stir, cover and transfer to the oven to cook for 3-4 hours at 160*C. Once the pigs cheeks can be easily squashed with a spoon then they are cooked, so test them after 3 hours but give them longer if they need it – it’ll be worth the wait.

Once the cheeks are cooked place the casserole dish back on the hob and squash the pigs cheeks and tomatoes with a wooden spoon (or lift out and chop), before simmering uncovered to allow the sauce to thicken slightly.

Whilst the sauce thickens cook around 400g of pasta in plenty of salted boiling water - jumbo ribbons of papardelle is traditional but I’ve found rigatone’s fat tubes to work well too. When the pasta is cooked give it a very quick drain before chucking it into the sauce and combining well.

Serve immediately in large pasta bowls with a generous grating of parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romana Italian hard cheese.

Beer / wine match

A medium bodied, fruity red wine such as a good chianti would work well and is a traditional pairing, but I opted for a bottle of St Peter’s Ruby Red Ale which worked extremely well too. You need some malt character in there somewhere when pairing with tomato, but a little bit of spicy/herbal hop flavour and aroma dovetails nicely with the herbs and pork, making this beer a great bedfellow for this ballsy dish.


The dexterity, diversity and range of beer

Wednesday, June 12, 2013
One of the things I love about beer is its diversity. Whether it's in matching to a particular food or just your mood, there is always a beer to suit and a flavour to match.

The range, and I suppose I mean 'range' in the vocal sense, is almost dauntingly vast when it comes to beer. From the squeaking soprano top notes of a piercingly sour lambic to the sweet and sultry bass growl of an imperial stout, beer really can do it all.

Two beers which I drank recently, within a day of each other to be exact, brought sharply into focus for me that even within one country beer is truly unique in diversity of styles and flavours.

The first was a light, almost effeminately graceful wit beer that was one of the most refreshing yet deftly executed beers I've drank all year, the second was a bruisingly powerful hop monster of an imperial IPA which balanced candy malt sweetness and wildly fruity hops in the same way that heavy metal balances drums and guitar, with everything turned up to 11.

Troublette Caracole Wit 5.5%

Pouring pale white gold with a whispy head this elegant looking beer gives off aromas of clean lemon and a hint of sour green apple alongside yeasty, spicy coriander. The flavour is supremly refreshing and light with citrus, a touch of yeasty dryness (but no hop character as such) and a faint sourness with a clean, verging on watery finish.

As it comes up from fridge temperature the fruitiness really comes out and you get that orangey spiciness so classic of Belgian wits. Effervescent and champagne like in the mouth this is superbly refreshing and balanced, adding up to an extremely drinkable beer.

Troubadour Magma Triple IPA 9%

Pouring an aptly glowing deep orange, the Magma is slightly hazy in the glass with a pure white head and perfect carbonation. The aroma is really quite unusual yet completely fantastic, with a huge smack of fresh peach followed by boozy orange liqueur.

The flavour doesn't quite live up to that stunning aroma but its still pretty damn good, with a precarious balance between Belgian boozy heat, orangey hops and candy malt sweetness which tips more and more towards sweet booze as it warms. Don't get me wrong though, the hops are there and alongside intense fruit salad there's a peppery bitterness which sweeps in at the end to clean things up.

So there you have it. Two very different beers, which both deserve your attention, but shout for it in very different ways.


Franco Manca, the best pizza in London and the best I've ever eaten

Monday, June 10, 2013
I've fallen a bit in love with Brixton Village, the indoor market that is home to some of London's most exciting foodie spots, all under one roof. I've been to four different restaurants within the walls and I've been impressed with each and every one, but it's a humble little pizza place that really stands out.

Franco Manca. Frequently cited as the best pizza in London it was somewhere I've been meaning to give a go ever since moving 'darn sarf'. Well, quite simply, it was the best pizza I have ever eaten.

A slowly risen sourdough base, blackened and charred round the crisp yet chewy crust, topped with really high quality ingredients that were fresh and vibrant tasting thanks in no small part to the extremely short and sharp cooking time (an insane 40 seconds at 500*C to be exact).

I went for the daily special which was topped with a beautifully flavoursome finocchio (fennel seed) salami, sweet peppers and a moist, gently smoked mozzarella. The star of the show for me though was Colette's pizza, which was strewn with soft spicy chorizo as well as a second, firmer variety which turned nicely crisp, giving a fantastically well balanced flavour and texture to the pizza.

Both pizzas were sparingly smothered in a rich, fresh tomato sauce and not overloaded with cheese - the down fall of so many pizza restaurants.

On the beer front you've got the choice of two British microbrews. I went for the Green Devil pale ale, which was more like a hoppy lager really, but nice all the same, and a good, unobtrusive match for the pizzas.

Prices are also absurdly good, starting from £5.90 for a fresh basil margarita, to £6.85 for the chorizo and £7.50 for the salami pizzas we had.

What are you waiting for? Go.

P.s. as with (I think) all the restaurants in the Brixton Village market, Franco Manca don't take reservations so expect to queue at peak times (but at least you're queuing indoors). Once seated service is snappy though.