Tuesday, 6 December 2011

3 beers of Christmas Dinner or The Non-Stop Rise of Beer Part 2

This post is for brookstonbeerbulletin.com/the-sessions/ A collection of beer bloggers, who once a month write on a chosen subject. This is my first post for them and further evidence of my growing interest in the world of beer. The subject is loosely based around the 3 ghosts of Christmas, my own thoughts lead as ever to how this relates to food.

Christmas day is about family, presents, soppy films, booze and as much food as you can possibly handle. Therefore I've switched my ghosts from Past, Present and Future to Starter, Main and Dessert. After the day time grazing of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, chocolates, mince pies and for some reason un-shelled nuts (even though the rest of the year they come conveniently shelled, salted and ready to eat.) You come to the main event, the meal of the year, Christmas dinner.

In previous years, this would have been a time to select your favourite wines, sparkling to fortified to white to red to fortified, back to red, back to fortified and so on. However, this year there could be an alternative. Beer. A meal (which effectively continues throughout the rest of the evening) which holds more calories than would normally carry you through a week and a drink with each course. So how would a beer convert plan this event.

To start - With the ensuing pork and poultry based onslaught of Christmas dinner, there really is no need for a starter, simply an aperitif, a palate sharpener that will help your taste buds experience everything put forwards. For me this year it will be Marble and Dark Star's collaboration, Saison. Dryness lifted with the characteristic Marble hit of hops.

The main event - I'm very traditional when it comes to the Christmas dinner, pigs in blankets, stuffing with sausage meat, sprouts, roasted carrots, roasted parsnips, roasted potatoes, cranberry sauce and a huge turkey. This is rich, slightly sweet and packed with different flavours. Therefore I'll match this with Liverpool Organic's Imperial Russian Stout. A slight sweetness, full body, but enough alcohol to cut through the different meats.

To finish - Christmas pudding and cream. A dark, rich, sweet pudding with a load of alcohol added at the end to finish it off. Hardknott have over the last year become one of my favourite breweries, and their new Vitesse Noir (a triple stout made with chocolate, vanilla and espresso coffee beans) has the strength and sweetness that will match this most decadent of desserts.

There is my dinner paired with 3 of my favourite beers, I'm sure I'll experience a number of new beers, new breweries and new styles over the next year, but these will make this a very happy meal. As the Shiel tradition states, I will then disappear into the lounge to drink Port, eat Stilton and fall asleep in front of this years film; but some traditions should never be lost.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Prospect Brew Day

With the beer and food festival this month, we wanted to brew our own beer to bring to the event. I rang Patsy from Prospect brewery in Standish and discussed the idea. This brewery are never shy of trying different styles and agreed to try a new beer for the festival. So the idea was born and on 10th October, the beer was brewed.

Camper Van Beethoven
Not only did we want a signature beer, we wanted to be there along the process of brewing it as well. So early Monday morning I fired up the ever reliable Beethoven and drove to an industrial estate in Standish.

The mash tin

My knowledge of brewing is almost zero, all I know is it creates beer, so I had a lot to learn. The process is started by adding hot water (liquor) to malted barley and wheat in a large metal tanker called a mash tin. This process produces the sugars that will eventually become alcohol. With the maltiness of the barley, it smelt like a cup of Horlicks. With all the sugars extracted, this liquor is filtered into a whirlpool (or keep safe) which removes any other proteins.

The next stage is the boiling. This is done in another metal vessel called a copper. The liquor and malt (called a wort) is brought to the boil at which point the hops are added. The hops give the beer it's bitterness and adds more flavour. The 3 different hops (Amarillo, Centennial and Stella) are added at different intervals, so the flavours travel.

Adding hops
The copper
Then came our next ingredient, not usually used in brewing, basil. The idea was to produce a citrusy, strong IPA with a hint of basil in the after taste. When all the flavours had been extracted from the hops, the wort is then passed to the fermenting tank. This was one of Prospect's original tanks and was featured in Oz Clarke's and James May's programme : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZm1C5hrpGs&noredirect=1
At this point it all got a bit technical. Patsy took a sample from the wort to check the gravity (which defines its alcohol content,)the yeast was added and the tank sealed.

Fermenting tank

Adding the yeast
This is then left to ferment for a week, before it is racked (put into barrels) and dry hopped (more hops added at the barreling stage.) At this stage, you taste the wort, it's not a great job, it is very sweet (because the yeast hasn't broken down the sugars yet) and also very bitter (due to the hops), but gives an indication of the finished brew. You could just pick out a slight basil after taste which was what we wanted to achieve.

The final stage was my least favourite, the cleaning. To stop each brew contaminating the next, you had to thoroughly clean the apparatus. This meant, a shovel, a scourer, caustic soda and elbow grease.

Scrubbing the mash tin

Clearing out the used hops

My finished work (I'm quite proud)
This was a really great way to learn about the processes behind beer making, also it was nice to see the birth of our beer. Patsy is a skilled brewer who is passionate about the quality of the product, this is why I picked her for our beer. Although don't think for a minute she let me get away with not working. A lot of skill and hard work goes into each beer brewed and this gave me a better appreciation of this. Best of all I received my wages at the end of the day.

Monday, 26 September 2011

September '11 Tapas weekend

Appetisers on arrival

Ajo Blanco

Figs & Serrano ham

Grilled goats cheese with celeriac remoulade

Salt fish croquettes

Devilled Cornish Sardines with tomato salsa

Mussels Romesco

Halloumi stuffed peppers


Pork belly with a chorizo, spinach
and chick pea stew

Manchego & Membrillo

This was the menu that was served on our 2 sold out tapas nights in September. Although the tapas style of eating is meant to be a light accompaniment to food, Spanish bar snacks, we changed it here to allow a meal with a wide range of flavours. We also didn't stick strictly to Spanish food, there was also some French, Italian and Greek influences as well.

We started with Ajo Blanco (White Gazpacho) which is a chilled soup made with garlic, almonds and bread. There is an added spikiness to this soup with sherry vinegar, this lends the dish to a sharp palate livener at the beginning of the meal. We served this alongside the figs wrapped in Serrano ham. The rich flavour of the figs was intensified by roasting them and serving them with a dressing made from the cooking liquor and olive oil.

Next there was a French goats cheese, grilled and served on a celeriac remoulade salad and lemon & basil pesto. A nice blend of lactic sourness of the cheese with the earthiness of the celeriac and acidity of the pesto. The salt fish croquettes were served very simply with an aioli (homemade garlic mayonnaise.) The quality of the salt cod was highlighted in this simple serving.

The same simple style was used with the sardines. Cornish sardines are fantastic quality, a simple dusting of spices with a little chilli and parsley left them to be the main focus of the dish. The Romesco sauce served with the mussels had much more oompth to it. The fabulous sweet Welsh mussels were able to withstand the sauce of tomato, red pepper, chilli and almond.

Cypriot Halloumi is a very distinct flavour and the salty sharpness of the cheese worked well with the sweet, smoky taste from the roasted pepper. This was filled with a simple roasted vegetable cous cous which added some body to the dish. Then came Albondigas, Spanish meat balls. Rich and meaty, and served with a piquant sauce, a simple classic.

The pork belly (sourced from a farm in Much Hoole) was served with crisped crackling and sat in a stew of chickpeas, spinach and chorizo. The sweetness of the pork set perfectly alongside the spiciness of Spanish sausage, richness of the spinach and earthiness of the pulses. As this was the 9th course, we kept the portions small, but the flavours built this up.

We finished the evening with the classic pairing of a 2 year aged Manchego cheese with Membrillo (Quince paste.) This combination raised some eye brows, but the full flavoured cheese is perfectly matched with the sweet, spicy fruit paste.

This was an enjoyable weekend and the chance to try out new dishes. It also allowed people the opportunity to try flavour combinations they may not normally have tried.

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Non-Stop Rise of Beer

Roughly five years ago, on a squash court in Ormskirk, I put to my long suffering business partner an idea for a new venture. A deli, with informal dining and a killer wine selection to drink on and off the premises. In four months time, Source Deli will be in it's fourth year.

We have a carefully selected wine list which offers something different from supermarkets. Along side this, we have always had a small selection of interesting beers. Some, local breweries, a smattering of Europe and a couple from around the world. Our customers kept asking for new beers, new breweries and new styles. This fed into our passion for discovering new flavours. Over the last 12 months, our range has continued to grow and we are becoming recognised as much for our beer, as for our food and wine.

To celebrate this, we're holding our first (of many) beer & food festival this October. As anybody who knows us will appreciate, we like to add a spin to all of our events. Friday 28th will be a classic beer, barbecue and pub jukebox night. Saturday 29th will be a 10 course tapas (from around the world) and beer matching meal. Sunday 30th will focus on our chosen charity, Macmillan, and run through the afternoon.

We look forward to seeing a lot of our growing number of beer enthusiasts, as well as some new devotees. As long as everybody understands that I will finish the night with my customary glass of red wine, I'm sorry, habits are hard to break.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Italian Tasting Evening

June's tasting evening was a five course Italian meal.

To start, a Caponata. A slow cooked blend of vegetables, spiked with the spice of chilli, the sweetness of raisins and the acidity of capers. The slow cooking style lets the peppers, tomatoes, aubergine and onions flavours mix together. This is served at room temperature with bread to mop up all the juices.

The next course was Minestrone alla Milanese. This follows the classic tomato, vegetable and mixed bean soup, which is then enhanced with pork belly to give a light stew consistency.

Spaghetti Vongole is a very simple pasta with clams. The strength of the dish is with the quality and freshness of the clams.

The main course is Saltimbocca alla Romana. This is a thin slice of veal with Parma ham and sage. Simply sauteed, this is served with a Peperonata, a mix of peppers slow cooked  to develop their sweetness.

The final course is a lemon & vanilla panacotta. A mousse made with milk enthused with vanilla bean and lemon peel. We served this with a crisp almond biscuit as a contrast to the soft texture of the panacotta.

We kept to quite traditional recipes with this evening, highlighting the diversity of Italian food. This uses the idea of slowly prepared food using the freshness of the ingredients to their strength.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Meet The Brewer with Liverpool Organic Brewery

June 18th saw the second of our meet the brewer nights. This time with the Liverpool Organic Brewery.

Karl Critchly, the head brewer from Liverpool Organic lead us through a range of his beers, including one which was new to all of us (including Karl.)

The beers in order were:
  • 24 Carat Gold
  • Honey Blond
  • Best Bitter
  • Josephine Butler
  • Ship Wreck IPA
  • Imperial Russian Stout
The first three beers were decent quality session style. Gentle murmurs of appreciation for them all, very polite and sedate. It was the next 3 that made it a lot more interesting.

Josephine Butler is the new elderflower ale that had just finished conditioning in the bottle. This is the new experimental beer and, although slightly too sweet and floral for some tastes, was generally received well. Also by this time, the noise was growing gradually and the atmosphere was building nicely.

Next came the Shipwreck IPA. At 6.5%, it's quite a full on beer for some people. However the reaction was very good. The night was in full swing now which made it perfect for the final beer of the tasting, the Imperial Russian Stout. I'm happy to put this forward as one of my favourite beers, a really rich, decadent, chunky beast of a beer. Some people were tentative in their first sips, 8.1% being far stronger than they'd normally drink .But it actually ended as one of the most popular beers of the evening.

The final part of the evening is where the guests get to pick their own bottles. I was impressed to see how many went for a full bottle of the Imperial Russian Stout or Shipwreck IPA. Karl was similarly chuffed that a number went for his new project, Josephine Butler.

Great night and a big thanks to Karl for his help.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

French Bistro Evening

Friday 20th May was our French Bistro evening. A 5 course meal with some classic French dishes. Here is the menu:
  • Asparagus with poached egg and hollandaise sauce
  • Rabbit and pork terrine with celeriac remoulade

  •  Petit salad nicoise
  • Pot au feu
  • Crème brulee
The asparagus was a rich taste of spring. I matched this with De Perriere sparkling chardonnay and Gwynt y Ddraig Perry Vale. The perry has a light, dry style that is reminiscent of a sparkling English wine, this helps balance the richness of the hollandaise.
The terrine, was paired with a Cabernet Rose from the Ardeche. Dry and mouth filling with rich fruits. Also, Southport Brewery's Golden Sands. A SIBA award winning pale ale. This has a light, zingy style with a faint ginger aftertaste. Very refreshing, which will pair with the remoulade, but with enough body to stand up to the terrine. 
The nicoise was a deconstructed version. The tuna and capers in a boiled egg, with a little gem leaf, Jersey Royal, fine bean and marinated anchovy salad. All dressed with a tarragon vinaigrette. I matched this with a superb Macon Villages Blanc. I also recommended Pelforth Blonde. This is the lightest of the Pelforth range, but still has a depth of flavour that will match the various foods on the plate. 
The Pot Au Feu is a rich monster of a peasant stew. Ham hock, oxtail, shin of beef and Toulouse sausages with whole root vegetables. However, the stock is purely that, so this needed a big flavoured, but subtle companion. My 2 choices were Chateau De Dracy Bourgogne Pinot Noir and Stringer's Dry Stout.
Finally there was the Creme Brulee. A decent Haut-Rocquefort dessert wine was perfect. To throw the cat among the pigeons, I also added a Dutch Trappiste Quadrupel. A classic blend of rich sweet beer, with a good hit of alcohol to finish. Would work nicely with the creamy Brulee.
The next tasting is Italian. Hopefully there'll be more interest in the beer this time round, it's something I'll persevere with.