Christmas Spiced Clementine Negroni

Tuesday, December 23, 2014
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

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.



The Magnum, Edinburgh

Monday, December 22, 2014
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

Monday, December 01, 2014
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: 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 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

Thursday, November 27, 2014
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?


Rodell's 'World Tapas' restaurant, Watford

Monday, November 17, 2014
‘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


Drink London: The 100 Best Bars and Pubs

Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Whether it’s a recipe book (of sorts) like Polpo, which perfectly portrays the soul of Venetian cuisine - or Hamburger America, which somehow turns a roadmap of ‘mom ‘n pop’ burger joints into a genuinely touching account of changing America - a really great food or drink book has a feeling to it, a point.

Drink London is one of those books.

What I really like about it is the imagery. Every photograph has a soft, intimate feel to it that is almost surreptitious – as if shot through a documentary film maker’s eye.

The book has the difficult task of weaving its way through the many types of watering holes that a city as diverse as London is bound to have, but it manages to keep a consistent feel to each entry and nothing feels forced or out of place.

From prohibition styled cocktail joints and swanky champagne bars to traditional London ale houses and craft beer mecca’s, all of the places it’s worth drinking in are covered well and shot in that consistent beautiful, soft-focus style.

Some descriptions could be slightly improved for the beer bars, and the drinks recommendations can be a little vague - “a pint of something dark” springs to mind – but overall it really is an excellent guide to the cities best places to drink.

Written with care and shot beautifully, Drink London is a coffee table book that is small enough to fit in your coat pocket, yet has a scope and diversity that is equally ambitious and well executed.

Very much recommended.


If you don't like the heat....

Monday, October 27, 2014
I like spicy food. Hell, I'd probably consider myself something of a chili fiend, but even my limits were pushed by the Rib Man's Christ on a Bike hot sauce chicken and accompanying spicy bloody Mary (complete with yet more super hot wings).

Succulent, beautifully cooked chicken coated in a herby, crusty, well seasoned southern fried coating, before being liberally dunked in some super hot hot sauce is something right up my street. But seriously, even I was taken aback by the power of that sauce.

Moreish and delicious, no doubt, but also sweat inducing and a little bit scary - as much a cathartic experience as a meal. Those last mouthfuls coming as a finish line you scramble towards, gasping, swearing you'll never put yourself through this again.

But as a chili-head I'm a glutton for punishment - I'd do it all again in a heartbeat.


This semi sadomasochistic experience took place at Joe's Southern Kitchen in Covent Garden, and whilst the Rib Man chicken was a short term special, everything else we ate was really good too, so give Joe's a go at your leisure.



Ferment Magazine: Review of The Foragers at Verulam Arms, St Albans

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
I recently started writing for a really great little craft beer magazine called Ferment. The latest issue is out now and available to read for free here: Ferment Autumn Issue

The article I wrote is about The Foragers in St Albans, a pub that, as the name suggests, is committed to foraged food and seasonality and who recently dipped their toe into the world of brewing with some pretty impressive results.

The article is below to read but I'd really recommend you click the link above and checkout the digital version of the magazine as there's lots of other good stuff in there, including a great little item on beer cocktails which I particularly enjoyed.

If you go down to the woods today

The Foragers at The Verulam Arms, St Albans

Foraged food is something which lots of restaurants nod towards - perhaps a wild mushroom risotto on the specials board, or farmer’s market blackberries given pride of place in a dessert – but which very few grab with both hands.

One place which certainly can’t be accused of half-heartedness though when it comes to using wild, foraged ingredients is the aptly named ‘The Foragers’ at The Verulam Arms in St Albans.

This inconspicuous little back street pub concocts a range of dishes which feature foraged ingredients from the plentiful Hertfordshire woodlands and fields, just a few miles from the pub itself.

In a current special of Salt cod brandade with a parmesan and lovage crust it’s the foraged lovage herb that provides much of the seasoning to the dish - with a flavour said to be a cross between parsley and celery it’s a foraged herb that deserves more attention from chefs.

Seasonal, locally shot game dishes such as rabbit and venison are a focus of the menu, often accompanied by foraged berry sauces or wild seeds and herbs, but vegetarians are well catered for too, with the Wild leaf & feta pastry parcel being a particular highlight. Served with butterbean houmous and herb salad with a wild marjoram and hogweed seed dressing, its foraged food credentials are bested only by the quality of execution.

Wild cocktails such as the tongue-in-cheek ‘Silvanian Negroni’ are also worth sampling. In place of the usual Campari, The Foragers use their wild cherry and forest liqueur, Mars Silvanus. To add to the forest floor feeling of the drink the usual garnish of orange is replaced with twist of lemon and a sprig of Douglas Fir foliage, which gives aromatics of pine, spiced orange and grapefruit to this complex yet strangely authentic tasting Negroni.

Beer lovers will also be impressed. As well as a well-chosen and constantly developing range of craft beers in bottles and on draught they also produce their own syrups designed to be added to the German weisse beers on tap. Before beer-purists start lifting up their arms be aware that this is actually very common in Germany, and the authentic tasting woodruff syrup which they produce on site is a traditional addition to Berliner Weisse, where the almost almond-like savoury-sweetness of the woodruff compliments the sourness of the beer.

The next step in The Foragers development into a beer lovers mecca was inevitable really – to start brewing their own. And what better time to launch their beer than at a recent Oktoberfest event.

The simply named ‘Festweisse’ was brewed in the traditionally cloudy and fruity hefeweizen style but seemed a touch darker than I was expecting, just short of a dunkel in fact. The flavour was spot on though, and a fantastic achievement for a first try.

In the aroma you get the classic banana and clove alongside a just a sniff of alcohol (it's a not to be sniffed at 5.4%). The flavour is soft, smooth and full with a nice light spice, more clove and fruit character. The hops – which were, of course grown in The Foragers’ beer garden - very much take a back seat, but there is a pleasingly tannic tea quality in the finish which gives enough dryness to make it very refreshing. Some spritzy carbonation from kegging might add to its effectiveness but the cask serve does let the subtleties come through that might otherwise be lost.

The food and drink quality at The Foragers has rightly earned it a sterling reputation, but with the addition of house-brewed beers, they’ve really taking things up a notch, making this a must-visit pub for any foodie-beer-lovers worth their hogweed salt.

Beer in Brussels: 'T Kelderke - The Little Cellar

Tuesday, September 02, 2014
A sudden and forceful downpour makes our walk to 'T Kelderke more hurried than I would like, but as soon as we enter – cold, dripping, laughing at the image we cast in the reflective glass of the restaurant’s window – we are instantly at home and relaxed.

The steam of mussels cooked in white wine rolls out of the open kitchen like sea fog, dulling the sound of enthusiastic conversation which fills the room. Only the occasional clink of glass or eruption of laughter breaks the comforting din of the cave as we melt down into our chairs and quaff our first glasses – strong, sweet beers and thick red wine - which does plenty to warm us through.

As the hours roll on the table becomes a battlefield of spilt wine and mussel liquor, passed and shared across the table in a flurry of arms and spoons. I look around and worry about our ever-increasing volume, but all I see are groups and couples far too engaged in their own impassioned story-telling to notice or care, each enjoying the food and beer as an aide to conversation.

Suitably brusque waiters move inconspicuously between tables, replacing bottles of red with a thud and suggesting beers with a friendly efficiency – each recommendation given with food in mind.

And what food it is.

Cauldrons of perfectly soft, fragrant mussels steam alongside piles of crisp frites and fresh cut baguette – a vessel for delivering pungent cooking-liquor to greedy mouths. Cricketball sized, well seasoned, pork and beef meatballs are smothered in a richly flavoured, lightly spiced tomato sauce and served alongside ‘stoemp’ – an aptly named local accompaniment of smashed root vegetables. A sort of Belgian bubble-and-squeak, if you will.

After a few too many glasses of local brew I feel an affinity with the rabbit braised in gueuze, a Flemish specialty that 'T Kelderke pull off as well as any. The gamey, distinctive flavour of rabbit is complimented by peppery fresh herbs, whilst a background acidity cuts through the richness of the meat.

Food and drink arrives, and is suitably dispatched, with an easy, nonchalant manner that in retrospect shows a slickness of service but at the time simply allowed us to continue with our banqueting untroubled, as the levels of laughter rose to disguise the by then far-off sound of beating rain.

Hours later we surface from the warmth of our rabbit hole; just as the clouds begin to scatter and the moon emerges triumphant over Brussels' dazzling Grand Place.



Restaurant ‘T Kelderke
Grand Place 15 - 1000 Bruxelles


Beer in Brussels: Drinking unblended lambic in the Cantillon Tasting Room

Saturday, August 30, 2014
As I wrote my previous post - which seemed to suck up words like a storm-drain as I scrambled to capture the true magic of Cantillon brewery - it quickly became apparent that to start mentioning the actual sampling of the beers would have forced an exercise in endurance from any reader.

So here it is as a separate post, my experience of the charming Cantillon sampling room and the taste of that jug-poured, unblended lambic, amongst others.

Part bar, part final stop of the tour (a paltry 7 euros allows you to explore the brewery and then sample two beers afterwards), the Cantillon tasting room is as humble and unfussy as you’d hope.

Oversized beer barrels form the makeshift tables, around which wobbly wooden chairs support the scattered beer travellers amongst vintage Cantillon mirrors and logos that no longer see the light of day. The place was pleasingly quiet on our visit, with plenty of room to grab a seat and take our time over these complex, oft-misunderstood beers.

The first beer we tried was in many ways the most special, thanks to its sheer simplicity - unblended, unbottled lambic taken straight from the barrel, via a stone jug, to our glasses. It had all the bracing sourness, lemon peel and tart green apple that I love about Cantillon but there was also a soft fruitiness, even a distant background sweetness which had been coaxed out by the still serve.

Next up was Iris, a very different beer to the others produced by Cantillon in that it contains solely pale malt and no wheat, giving it a slightly darker colour and fuller body - unlike the rest of Cantillon's beers which are brewed using 35% wheat malt and 65% malted barley. This, combined with the unusual method of fresh hopping the beer two weeks before bottling (most Cantillon beers use aged hops, to impart preservative tannins but not fresh hop character), gives Iris a beautiful roundness of flavour, where lightly spicy, citrus hops dovetail with a lemon pith sourness to create a truly wonderful beer. A new beer to me, this is a Cantillon I’ll seek out again in the future.

Next up was the Kriek. Matured on fresh fruit, it’s a cherry-bomb of cough sweets and tartness that has a drying, fruit-stone character in the finish and a puckering sourness that awakens the senses and purses the lips. An invigorating fruit beer that is a million miles away from the over-sweetened offerings often pushed into this category.

The Rose de Gambrinus is produced in exactly the same way as the Kriek, but using fresh raspberries in the place of sour cherries, lending the finished beer an even tarter flavour yet more floral, fresh aroma, in the place of the Kriek’s deeper fruitiness.

The final beer I drank was an old favourite of mine, Cuvee Saint-Gilloise. In brief, it’s a dry-hopped Gueuze, but it’s a beer which I could write pages of tasting notes on if given the chance. A beautiful, floral, fresh citrus aroma, even a touch of orange blossom amongst the sourness, followed by a flavour that is all at once bitter, sour, tart, and infinitely complex.

If you read my previous post and thought that the Cantillon brewery sounds interesting - a welcome break from the stainless steel and computer dials of a modern brewery - then you should really try the beers.

Out-of-the-ordinary just doesn’t cover it.


Beer in Brussels: Visiting Cantillon Brewery

Thursday, August 28, 2014
Of all the beery pilgrimages on my bucket-list – drinking fresh tankovna Pilsner Urquell in the Czech Republic, making my way through a tasting tray from Mikkeller in Copenhagen, glugging steins of Marzen at Oktoberfest in Munich, or being braced by brewery-fresh Stone IPA in San Diego – visiting Cantillon brewery in Brussels was right at the top.

For a start the place really has no right to exist at all. Years of decline and changing drinking habits meant that Lambic all but died out, with only a handful of breweries in Brussels keeping the tradition alive and producing tart, spontaneously fermented lambic beers for a small, niche local audience. At the same time, a worrying trend for overly sweetened ‘psuedo-lambics’ began in the 1970s and continues to this day - often heavily dosed with fruit syrups, they carry the name but not methods or true flavours of Lambic.

Eventually, Cantillon were the only ones left brewing Lambic in Brussels, but were rewarded for their perseverance through the dark years of Lambic once America got a taste for it in the late 90s and sour beers became popular amongst discerning beer drinkers. Now they are the most famous and revered lambic brewery in the World.

It’s important to understand the distinction between ‘sour beers’, which can include beers dosed with brett or any number of ‘wild yeasts’, and true spontaneously fermented lambics like those produced at Cantillon. The beers brewed in the Cantillon brewery are fermented solely by the wild yeasts in the air, which is let in through wooden slats in the roof of the brewery and allowed to come in to contact with the freshly brewed wort, which is pumped into the large, square, open topped cooling vessel located in the ramshackled loft.

At one time, this was how all beer was produced and it was only with the discoveries made by microbiologist Louie Pasteur into the fermentation process, specifically the isolation of individual yeasts, which led to the more controlled methods now widely used in modern brewing.

Cantillon has changed very little over the last hundred years and still uses the traditional methods and 17th century brewkit which they, and thousands of other international fans, believe produce the most complex sour beers in the world. This includes remaining in the same, tightly packed brewing space as they always have for fear of upsetting the delicate ecosystem of microbes and yeasts which give the beer its unique flavour.

When it is the living things in the air itself which your business relies on, you can understand why they take this so seriously. This is why you’ll never see a cobweb being swept away inside Cantillon. Because, as strange as it might sound, they are essential to the microcosm of the brewhouse and ensure that a space packed with bubbling barrels of spontaneously fermenting beer isn’t over-run with sugar-seeking fruit flies.

If there were flies around, which there aren’t, they’d have plenty to feast upon. Row after row of wooden barrels line the sprawling cellars of Cantillon. The wooden barrel heads are chalked with various letters which I decipher as referring to Gueuze, Lambic and Iris – the latter being a lambic produced with all pale malt and no wheat, leading to a slightly darker beer, which is then dry hopped for a fruitier, softer sourness.

Darkness and dankness fill the walking space between the rows and the aroma is a soft, intoxicating mix of overripe fruit and damp wood. I take in the space like a crime-scene investigator – floor, walls, surfaces and ceilings – whilst listening for the faint bubble and pop of quietly fermenting beer, breaking free of its barrel’s bung.

You feel a genuine sense of reverence as you explore the well-worn rooms of Cantillon Brewery, with every inch of the place having a piece of history attached to it. Whether it’s the thousand-stacked bottles of gueuze quietly maturing, or that magical open topped fermenting vessel tucked away in the loft, everything has a purpose and a story to tell.

And explore is exactly the right word to use. Even the modestly marked wooden doors of the entrance ensure every person who enters has a look of I found it on their face as they walk into the tasting room - before being ushered through into the brewery itself, armed with some information and a smile, then thrust into the thick of it and allowed to explore, enjoy, at their leisure.

There really is something magical in the air at Cantillon.


Brasserie Cantillon
56 rue Gheude,
1070 Brussels




Pork Shoulder Tacos... and learning to love leftovers!

Sunday, July 06, 2014
One of my (loose) new years resolutions was to buy better quality meat, but make it go further. It's something that has been surprisingly easy to stick to, with two simple rules being central to making it work: Buy larger, cheaper cuts, and never waste anything.

Trimming fat from a big cut of meat? Freeze those off-cuts and use em when you need extra flavour in the base of a dish - just fry them gently and then take the fat out of the pan once the oil has leached out, then chuck in some onions. Voila. Porky, beefy or chickeny flavoured onions! Great for the base of a pasta sauce.

Some cuts are just made for this sort of thing. Beef brisket, shoulder of lamb, or basically anything fatty and piggy. In this case it was a big slow-roasted pork shoulder that was providing the leftovers that I used in a smokey, spicy chilli, heady with garlic, ground cumin and smoked paprika.

Dished up inside baby gem lettuce (natures taco), sprinkled with cheddar and then a little salsa - made using chilli, tomato, onion, garlic and fresh coriander - it is a beautiful dish in itself and something which you would never think of as leftovers.

I enjoyed the lettuce tacos with an awesome beer from a brewery that is quickly becoming a go-to for me, Weird Beard, K*ntish Town Beard. It was a good match - with the fruity, lightly sweet wheat beer base matching well with the rich chilli and the citrusy, bitter hop flavours bouncing nicely off the spicy salsa.

It reminds me a little of Meine Hopfenweisse from Schneider Weisse, though with more bitterness and slightly less fruity banana yeast complexity. Still, top stuff from WB once again, and a beer I'll be buying again without hesitation.


A smorgasbord of bitterness: Or why you should all be drinking CamparIPA’s

Friday, June 20, 2014
Bitterness is an interesting subject. For me it is as much a feeling as a flavour, something which can register on the palate in a number of ways, coming via indicators as far apart on the flavour spectrum as heavily roasted malt or lemon rind. It’s the reason that dark, dry, well attenuated beers can sometimes give the impression of high bitterness, despite the absence of high hopping rates from the recipe. Bitterness isn’t always about hops.

It’s also the reason that Campari is such a painter’s palette of flavour for bitterness lovers. The king of aperitifs, where spikes of flavour thrust out at you with jolts of pungent, floral herbs, tart grapefruit peel and the astringent qualities of bitterly burnt sugar.

The reason it works is that bitterness also has a refreshing quality, it awakens the palate and gives the impression of freshness. Where sweetness – at the other end of the flavour spectrum – gives the impression of thickness and stickiness, bitterness has a cleansing quality which makes you want to take another sip. A glutton for punishment going back for one more slug, hoping the next sip will quench the dryness left behind by the last, which it never does, until the glass is all but empty.

Campari is of course a classic aperitif, drank by the Italians after work as a sort of boozy amuse bouche, designed to liven your tastebuds, and spirits, before the main event of dinner leisurely rolls it’s way around in the early evening. It is a key component in my favourite cocktail, the ludicrously simple Negroni, which the Polpo cookbook advises should always be prepared with equal parts Campari, gin and sweet vermouth, stirred together in a short glass tumbler with a slice of orange rind, “Don’t mess with these proportions. They are perfect as they are” it boldly claims – and I’m happy to agree.

But Campari can be used in much more than Negronis, as can be seen quite spectacularly in the Campari and IPA spritzer, or as I agree it should be called, The CamparIPA, where the avalanche of bitterness that is Campari is tempered by the malt sweetness of American IPA, peppered with the added complexity of those dancing C-hops.

The ingredients for the CamparIPA are simplicity itself, just a shot of Campari, poured over ice and gently stirred with roughly half a bottle of bitter American IPA, then garnished with a slice of orange or lemon peel – if you’re feeling fancy. I’m using Stone IPA but Lagunitas, Goose Island, or Racer 5 would all work perfectly well I reckon, albeit in subtly different ways.

The results are spectacular.

Freshly poured the first thing that hits you is the fizz, pine and hop bitterness, thrust out of the glass as it reacts with the ice, but then as you swallow your first sip the Campari wafts through your nostrils and that fierce herb and grapefruit character takes over. The finish is a dovetailing of the two with bitter pine, grapefruit, citrus peel and a kiss of sweetness creating a surprisingly balanced yet hugely complex cocktail.

A beautiful combination, that I promise you is worth risking half a bottle of good IPA over.



I discovered the recipe when reading an online article which linked to this: - the recipe here advises using lemon, which I think would work well too, but I wanted the old-fashioned like sweetness of orange peel to counteract all that bitterness, hence my version above.


Acklam Village Streetfood Market, Portobello Road

Wednesday, June 11, 2014
A Saturday at Portobello Market is an assault on the senses. Jovial shouting crowds, camera snapping tourists, soul music pumping from battered stereos on second hand music stalls, rack after rack of musty barbours, time-smoothed wooden oddities, a waft of ripe fruit mixed with the sweetly caramelised umami of a far-off simmering paella.

It’s a seemingly endless market which appears to sprawl and stretch with the gentle yet unstoppable nature of a dense fog, inhabiting whichever spaces it needs.

Other days of the week shift the focus of the market towards fresh produce or new goods, but it’s the eclectically British mix of vintage clothing, antique furniture, old records and brac-a-brac that always gave Saturday the unpredictable appeal of a jumble sale for me, even though food always played second fiddle – with stalls dotted around the main strip of Portobello road, there more as pit stops than destinations.

But with the addition of a new* streetfood focussed area called Aklam Market - squatting in the section of Portobello which always seemed to play host to the tattiest of the market’s wares – the balance has shifted, and Portobello seems to have embraced the foodie revolution happening elsewhere in the capital.

It’s amazing the difference a couple of pounds makes. The likes of The Rib Man, Big Apple Hot Dogs, Yum Bun, Smokestack and many more have proven that people are willing to pay a little extra for something that is truly delicious - even if we are eating it standing up. Where once we might have been offered frozen burgers, pukka pies and overpriced flabby chips, now we can get our hands on slow roast Cuban pork rolls, opulently moist salt beef and hand pressed dim sum.

And whilst the food offerings at Aklam didn’t quite nail the quality you’d associate with the likes of Street Feast in Dalston, where restaurant level food is dished out from nearly every intentionally decrepit stall, Aklam Market is a step in the right direction.

The burrito I bought was fresh, full of flavour and made with a real attention to detail (very finely chopped red onions and chilli lending bags of flavour rather than simple raw heat) that made every mouthful a balanced combination of flavours – rich and meaty, fresh and spicy, sour and zesty.

With it I drank a really tasty Czech pilsner I forget the name of. Something beginning with L? It had that caramel and spicy hop thing down anyway and worked great with the burrito.

For me Aklam has added another layer of interest to what was already a world class market, making a trip to Portobello something I won’t wait another two years to make.



*Aklam Market actually opened in 2012 but I haven’t visited for a few years. Finger on the pulse as ever.


Clown Shoes Hoppy Feet Black IPA

Thursday, May 22, 2014
I haven't written about a black IPA in a while, is it still 'a thing' in e beer world? It's certainly not en vogue like it once was, but it doesn't look to be going anywhere in a hurry. Anyway, here's another new one on me. From the home of the style, the US.

Hoppy Feet by Clown Shoes pours a total, evil, pitch black. So top marks in that respect.

The aroma has less depth, with simple bitter chocolate and sticky resinous pine but not a lot else. That said it is a very full flavoured, extremely bitter beer but as I suspected from the aroma there is a freshness and fruitiness missing which I love to taste in black ipa.

But let's concentrate on what it does have, not what it doesn't. You get lots of bitter dark chocolate dryness, heavy roasted espresso and a finish which is all black pepper and resinous pine. The aftertaste is spicy, bitter and extremely long.

All-in-all it's a pretty heavy going, strong and straightforward BIPA which fans of hoppy imperial stouts will get on with more than hopheads.


Magic Rock Villainous Vienna IPA

Thursday, May 08, 2014
Magic Rock have long been an extremely safe-bet on the bar for me, with all killer, no filler being the aim when it comes to their beer range. So when I spotted Villainous - an all Vienna malt IPA - on the bar at CRAFT in Clerkenwell it was an easy decision to order a half.

In the end I ended up having three in a row, which in a bar like CRAFT is pretty much unheard of, such are the treats on offer. But when you’re enjoying a beer as much as I enjoyed this, why move on?

The beer pours a bright Iron Bru orange, only ever-so-slightly hazy with an unusual lemon sorbet coloured head.

The aroma is beautifully fruity with sharp orange, pine and underripe mango. The flavour is balanced (for the style) with a very pronounced fresh hop character, an underlying raisin bread malt sweetness and a flourish of floral, peppery bitterness in the finish.

The bitterness builds after a few mouthfuls and a refreshing almost menthol-like character becomes apparent as an extra top note above everything else, like a triangles 'ting' amongst an orchestra.



A Wee Bit of class from Williams Brothers and Brooklyn Brewery

Tuesday, May 06, 2014
I think the thing I like most about Brooklyn Brewery is the balance their beers always display. Even in their hoppiest Pale Ales or richest Imperial Stouts there is always an effort to make a quality, balanced, complete beer.

There is always lots going on in Brooklyn beers, but they have a poise and completeness that makes the beers drinkable, no-matter the strength.

But this beer, A Wee Bit, isn't the work of Brooklyn alone, it's a collaboration between Brooklyn Brewery and Williams Brothers Brew Co in Scotland – and it’s an absolute masterclass in drinkability.

Trust me, it takes a very steady hand to create a gluggable Scotch Ale brewed with peated malt, treacle and honey. It’s a beer that could so easily have ended up a sticky, overly sweet mess, or even worse something which has far too much peat and medicinal character – evoking thoughts of childhood scraped knees and the painful sting of TCP that followed.

But in the hands of the Williams Bros, with a little help from those magicians at Brooklyn, it has turned out as one of the most surprisingly drinkable beers I’ve enjoyed in quite some time. Like a sort of Scottish Schlenkerla Marzen, albeit not as powerfully smoked.

The initial aroma is that of BIG smokey-sweet frankfurter and woodsmoke with just a little touch of honey dipped pine needle.

The flavour is smooth and flavoursome with a nice smoked marzen like quality and only a touch of sweetness. There’s a lovely underlying roasted malt bitterness that combines well with a clear but restrained peated malt earthiness.

The peat is quite subtle but it's certainly there, something which Scotch whiskey drinkers will no-doubt be able to pinpoint much easier.

The honey and treacle don't really come through, but for me that’s not really a negative.

I was surprised how much I liked this beer. Which, as you may have guessed, was a lot.



p.s. I was supposed to be reviewing this beer as part of a live tweet-along the brewery held last week, but as usual I was disorganised and unavailable. So my review of this and two other new beers will be coming in three separate parts.


How much does the setting, atmosphere, or surroundings affect our drinking experience of beer?

Monday, April 28, 2014
I read with interest an excellent piece on the BBC website recently about how our surroundings, specifically colours and sounds, can affect the way we interpret the flavour of a drink. One of the examples cited is single malt whiskey, where bright green surroundings will bring out the grassy notes of the drink, whereas a wooden floor or crackling fire will evoke thoughts, and therefore flavours, of wood and smoke.

"Neurogastronomy is based on the realisation that everything we eat or drink is processed by our senses. We see it, we hear it, we smell it, we taste it, we feel it. All those senses come together."

It’s an interesting idea, which in many ways is actually very common-sense when you think about. How many times have you been drinking a beer and there’s a flavour you can’t put your finger on, then someone says ‘grapefruit’, ‘chestnut’ or even ‘soy sauce’ and suddenly it’s all you can taste? This is the same thing, albeit done in a much more subtle, almost subliminal way.

I think it’s safe to say that the setting of where and when you drink a beer can have a huge affect on how much you enjoy it, or at the very least will sway your decision in terms of what beer to choose.

This bank holiday Sunday I spent a good few hours wandering around St Albans with my father-in-law, ducking in and out of pubs to avoid the frequent showers and enjoy a number of cask ales along the way. The gloomy weather very much put me in the mood for stronger, darker beers, with the Hop Back Brewery Entire Stout being on fantastic form in the ever-reliable White Hart Tap.

As a hophead it was a strange feeling to be leaning towards malt at the pump-clips, but that’s what the setting can do to your preferences in my experience. There’s just something about drinking a pint of smokey, dry, yet malt led stout in a cosy pub when the rain is lashing down outside. It’s as perfect a drinking experience as enjoying a hoppy pale ale in the sunshine for me.

So was the Entire Stout on particularly spanking form or did the setting play a contributing factor in my enjoyment of it? I’d hazard a guess at it being a little bit of both.


How much does packaging affect our drinking experience of beer?

Monday, April 07, 2014
I’m a sucker for attractive packaging and interesting design, even if I sometimes feel like I look at things a little too objectively, rather than simply letting the form wash over me and have its intended effect. I’m very much a constructive criticiser rather than passive appreciator.

I look at a corked and caged bottle of imperial stout and recognise it as something more than a bottle of beer, it’s a representation of how much care has been put into the product by the brewer, a big flashing neon sign that says “we think this beer is special”.

But is that the desired effect? Or does the brewer simply want to change the way the customer drinks the beer, or perhaps I’m being cynical here, simply get a bigger mark up on their beer?

At the other end of the spectrum, another way to increase your profits is to produce a beer which has the appearance of something which you can passively drink without too much thought, a beer which is for everyday drinking - ‘fridge beers’ as I call ‘em. Without changing the flavour of a beer some breweries will try to change our overall perception of it through packaging, with the desired end-goal of encouraging us to drink more of it.

The most obvious way this is done is through the use of cans in craft beer. It just screams “drink me now, drink me cold”. There’s just something about a stubby little 330ml can that encourages you to drink the beer immediately rather than save it, simply sup it and then crack open another – no bottle caps, no mess, no fuss. Hell, drink it straight from the can if you like.

It was the can of Flying Dog’s Snake Dog IPA sat in my fridge that got me thinking about this. Even at a not-exactly-session-strength 7.1% it strikes me as an everyday drinking beer because of the packaging – a lawnmower beer the Americans call ‘em – something which is there to be drank and enjoyed rather than savoured and obsessed over.

But it isn’t just the switch from bottles to cans that has this effect. There’s something about the stout, no-fuss shape of the American Red-Hook bottles that implies they aren’t ‘fancy’ beers (Camden’s 660ml bottles have a similar aesthetic). The shape and branding implies that these are beers brewed to be drank and enjoyed, but there’s no need to make notes.

It’s an impression that carries over to my experience of the beers themselves, but is that a residual feeling left over from my perception of the packaging, or has the bottle design been chosen to suit the no-fuss, drinkable style of the beers?

How much can we really separate the impression given by the packaging, branding, history, from the flavour of the beer itself? Isn’t it all one experience, no matter how objective we try to be?

On the flipside, look at the shape of Meantime’s bottles. Slender necked, elegant, very un-beer-like in many ways, they shout at you to pour the beer into a stemmed glass and take your time. In fact they are even cleverer than that, with that long neck and fat bottom making it awkward to drink the beer direct from the bottle - something which would not suit the brand at all.

And, lone behold, my honest impression of Meantime beers is that of subtle refinement. Not shouty, not always exciting you could argue, but always good quality, with a sense of class that other breweries don’t often achieve.

The interesting question for me is how much do you notice packaging in beer? Not just the obvious gift-boxing of expensive beers, but the subtlety of shape, form and branding of the bottles.

Because if you don’t notice it, then it may be having even more of an effect on you than you’d think.