Lucky man that I am, my wife recently bought me Mark Dredge’s new book on Beer and Food matching. It’s a nice interesting book which gives various examples of food styles and beer styles and which to match with which. It also gives specific examples based on specific meals and specific beers which is really insightful. Inspired by this, and while chatting with friends we decided to organise a beer and food matching evening. The basic premise was three couples, each couple prepares a course of food and selects a beer to go with it.
We struck gold and were given pudding to prepare and choose a beer for. I say struck gold because I had earlier that week heard of various people making chocolate brownies with stout in and just how delicious they were. So I was keen to make some anyway. I did feel though that just serving a brownie didn’t make it a pudding, it needed an accompaniment. So between my wife and I we came up with making some raspberry ripple ice cream with raspberry beer in it. This was driven by the fact that we got an Ice cream maker for my eldest son as part of his Christmas box.
I then became fanatic about the beers chosen to go into each element. Raspberry beers aren’t that readily available I found. You get the occasional lambic style, but not really a great variety but Fenwick’s in Newcastle had a supply of Sam Smiths organic fruit beers and the raspberry version is tart and punchy but very much raspberry driven flavour. I knew it would perfectly enhance the fresh rasps going into the recipe. For the brownie I ummed and arrred for ages trying to come up with the beer to go for. I originally wanted something rich and packing flavour, Harviestoun’s old engine oil was one beer mentioned, but with none in stock in Coppers I plumbed for Thornbridge Cocoa Wonderland instead. This is a chocolate porter and is packed with cocoa flavours.
So the Friday before the beer and food matching, I set about making ice cream and brownies. The ice cream was easy enough, heat some raspberries with alittle sugar to get a syrup, chuck in some raspberry beer and you have your flavouring. Then 2 eggs, 4 egg yolks and a load of sugar whipped over little heat and then fold in some whipped double cream and finally add in the raspberry and let the ice cream maker do its thang! 40 mins in churning away and it was ready to go into a tub and into the freezer. The thing with this is clearly you don’t need a full bottle of raspberry beer in there, so you get a decent glass to sup while your preparing it!
Next up the brownies, which again, aren’t difficult. Chocolate and butter melted, chuck in some sugar and some vanilla extract and the porter, and add in flour, cocoa and baking powder sieved together and get the whole lot in the oven for 20 minutes. My brownie tin was probably abit too small so the mixture poured quite thick which meant they took abit longer to cook and ultimately ballooned up and then went flat again which was a shame. Next time I’ll split the mix between two tins I think.
With everyone coming round I quite fancied introducing them to some different beers so I did a little tasting session with them. The format for the evening was thrown abit when one couple couldn’t make it. They were due to make the starter so we made the inspired decision to just grab a load of freshly baked bread and various meats and olives. The bread went down a storm accompanying the beer tasting.
To give abit of context the audience was made up of my wife, who knows about beer, not a huge fan of hoppy beers or heavily malt driven beers but has recently discovered sour beers in a big way. The other two were a lad who drinks beer and is teetering on the edge of craft beer. He has a good knowledge of the beers but is just now starting to explore beers and is rapidly getting sucked into it. His wife was probably the biggest cynic ahead of the tasting. She’s a wine drinker and not really into beers at all, so I was keen to see how she would take to the beer styles that my wife is getting into.
First up we sampled Siren Calypso, a berlinner weisse beer laden with simcoe hops. This sour beer style is a brilliant beer for non-craft beerists to start with. This one is dry hopped with simcoe hops and the aroma is delicious, really inviting citrusy notes. I think the style genuinely surprised people with its drinkability. The carbonation is spritzy and lifts the hop flavours into the recesses of your mouth with a refreshing zeal. The finish is clean and crisp and it leaves only the freshness of the hops as any sort of aftertaste. Scores all round were high for this one. It was very well received.
Next we sampled Saison Dupont. Here’s a classic beer of its style. Its almost style defining its such an iconic saison. The aroma is less punchy than the Calypso and I think because of that people expected less strength to the flavour, but instead the flavour is there in abundance. The beer is classic farmhouse, wheat hints and spicy yeast flavours. I love this beer, could drink it all night.
This was a night for showing classic beers and I let them try Rodenbach Grand Cru. This is a delicious beer. I really like the concept of blended beers. It gives you all the complexity of aged beer together with the flavours that may deteriorate over time. It’s a brilliant combination. Again the berry notes went down well with those present and the beer is so smooth and easily drinkable. It’s a sour beer but far from being too sharp on the tongue it’s much more subtle than that. Everyone loved it.
We were now ready for our main course. The other couple had prepared lamb with a redcurrant and port sauce, served with leeks, butterbeans and dauphinoise potatoes. Delicious! The wine buff had decided to serve us a bottle of pinot noir to compliment it and that was delicious too!
Now after this course was out the way, we moved on to some of the higher abv beers. Some of these were particularly boozy yet instead of having a lighter ale to sup alongside them, we ended up having the second bottle of pinot noir that our guests had brought along! Some serous boozin’ going on, but at a very sedate pace so we got steadily merry rather than blind drunk!
The first beer that people started to struggle with was Buxton Battle Horse. This is a Black IPA which is a beautiful blend of big roasty malt flavours and, for me at least, a nice well balanced fresh citrus note from the hops. People struggled with this mainly because of the roasted malts. I think dark beers tend to be more difficult for newbies, even just the appearance can be more intimidating but when you chuck in the fact that its 10% that big boozy quality is a big step for those new to beer styles.
I wanted to get a barley wine in the mix, just so I was showcasing a range of drinks. The only one I could find again in Coppers was Brewdog Russian Doll Barley Wine. But what a lovely beer to have. I genuinely didn’t expect much from this beer, particularly in this line up but it was really top quality beer. It’s a real caramel golden colour and pours with a slight head to it which soon fades to just a thin whisp. The Malt backbone is wonderfully smooth and warming.
It was finally pudding time! I was really excited to try this. Everyone got a bowl with cocoa wonderland brownies served with organic raspberry beer ice cream in and some fresh raspberries for good measure and then two separate glasses, one with Thornbridge cocoa wonderland, the other with Sam Smiths organic raspberry beer. This was an absolute revelation.
The beers each individually complimented the pudding, but after a couple of sips I recommend everyone go for a craft blend and pour one into the other. The less brave requested a third glass to test this theory, whilst the bolder of us just went for it and poured them together. There was never any fear that it wouldn’t work, especially given the fact that we were effectively already eating the same flavours blended together already.
To follow pudding I just didn’t feel able to go straight into an imperial stout, it just felt that little bit too early. So instead I turned to Buxton Two Ton IPA. The first time I had this I was hugely taken aback by the malt hit. This is a beast of a beer, but actually this second bottle felt a lot more balanced. The malts are a very dominant flavour and give the beer a real strong quality. But there are sufficient hops to give it bitterness and prevent it being sweet. This is a really good quality beer, it’s a real symbol of the skill and ability of the brewer to produce such a well balanced beer.
So next it was Russian Imperial Stout time, I cracked open Buxton Tsar which is a stonking big stout. The aroma is all coffee roasts with hints of cocoa and vanilla but a big sweep of alcohol to make it feel really rich and special. The flavours similarly have that same impact. The beer is thick and creamy, the carbonation is bang on, the head is dark brown in colour and the whole beer has the feel of something classy. This was a beer too boozy for the two ladies at the table who found it too much in terms of flavour. As with black IPA’s, imperial stouts are quite challenging but personally this is one of my favourite styles of beer. You don’t drink many of them and you need to sit and sip them but that can be such a lovely relaxing pastime!
Since we were there, my mate and I decided to crack open one of my bottles of Magic Rock Unhuman Cannonball. Do I need to say much about this beer? Well yes, I think its such a good beer it deserves the credit. What interested me here was how the two ladies took to it. My wife has recently discovered sour beers as her way into beer but she’s always been put off by the bitterness of many hoppy beers that I drink. However, she was impressed with the aroma of the UHC. The aroma is pure umbongo, you get all the exotic fruits but that hoppy bitterness kicks in when you taste it.
As the fella’s tucked into the UHC, my wife decided to crack open and share the beer she’d recently purchased from Coppers. This is a new thing in our house, my wife makes cakes as a sideline and in recent years Ive been sent to get supplies from the cake shop which just happens to be next door to Coppers, so inevitably I would call in there while I was passing. Well it would be rude not to really! But more recently my wife has been going herself and getting herself some beers to sample! So my opportunities to go along there are seriously diminishing!
So anyway, my wife had picked up a Northern Alchemy dark chocolate mint stout. Having had this beer on keg in town one night, for some reason I expected it to have lost some of that after eight flavoured loveliness. However, I found it to be as chocolaty as ever and with a big chunk of mint running through it. This is a very light stout, loads of flavour but not overly heavy or thick like the Buxton Tsar. Northern Alchemy are producing some very distinct beers. They don’t have steady and safe core beers, their range is full of flavours which interest and draw you in. Its breweries that do that which get my attention. Siren are another brilliant example of that. And at the heart of the continual cycle of innovative beers is quality. Gone are the days when a brewery can start up and brew something bonkers and have everyone sit up and take note. That snot sufficient these days. The consumer is far too well educated to great beer and can spot a duff beer a mile off. Quality counts. As a Tynesider, Northern Alchemy are a great addition to the local beer scene and long may their rise continue!
This was a really fun thing to do with friends. I didn’t want to come across as a snob, I wanted to give them a flavour of what different beers there are out there. They all loved it and went home happy. Writing this up has made me realise just how many units were consumed but no harm was done and we all ended the night in good spirits. This is what good beer is all about, getting social and enjoying it with friends is a brilliant thing to do.