Mikkeller Black 黑

Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Some beers eyeball you every time you open the beer cupboard, stare you down, almost dare you to take the risk. Not today you think, another few months and it will be perfect.

A bottle of Mikkeller Black (aka 黑) Imperial Stout has been doing just that since I bought it at a beer warehouse in Ghent, Belgium, around three years ago. Not only is it an intimidating 17.5%, but it's a beer that has a reputation as weighty as its abv, and a 'best before' that stretches into the decades.

Thankfully it didn't dissapoint.

As you would expect, this pours an inky, syrupy black. Not overly thick but certainly sticky and oily with very low carbonation and little in the way of a head. So far, so intimidating.

The aroma is pencil lead, sake, boiling sugar, ash, and hot alcohol (sherried whisky if I was pushed).

The flavour is initially a rush of sweet sherry and red current jelly, before a rich, strong espresso flavour jumps in, spiked with two teaspoons of brown sugar. In the finish there's chocolate syrup and just a hint of bitterness (the hops have long since left the party).

Lush, decadent, HUGE, yet surprisingly soft edged.

It seems that despite first impressions, the years have mellowed this monster


Chop Chop, Edinburgh

Wednesday, January 21, 2015
Nearly all of the Chinese food we eat in England is Cantonese in origin and doesn’t fully represent the kind of food that is actually eaten by millions of people on mainland China every day. Cheap, tasty, varied dishes served in small portions and shared between whoever is eating – communal and informal is the name of the game, and it’s one which Chop Chop in Edinburgh have got down to a fine art.

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

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

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

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


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


Beer in Brussels: Nuetnigenough

Monday, January 12, 2015
I honestly can’t say why it has taken me so long to write up my visit to Nuetnigenough in Brussels, because honestly it was one of the best places I visited whilst there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The best beer you’ll ever drink

Wednesday, January 07, 2015
One of the most memorable beers I’ve ever drank was a fridge-cold Birra Moretti, from the bottle, sat on the floor of my new apartment. Following 9 hours of driving and the moving of a life’s worth of possessions around the UK it was the full-stop that the day needed – a seemingly trivial, yet instantly satisfying reward that made the whole thing seem worth it.

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

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

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

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

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


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


Less scrutiny, more words

Tuesday, January 06, 2015
Ahhhh, when this used to be a beer blog - those were the days, weren’t they?

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

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

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

Because honestly, I still love the freedom of blogging.

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

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