Recipe: Beer, Bacon and Parmesan Risotto

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After a cursory query on Twitter, I got a lot of great suggestions about potential beers to use in place of wine in a risotto. In the end I decided get a bottle of Orval with a few months on it, hoping to get the sharper, funkier flavours without too much bitterness. Unfortunately my regular stockist was out of Orval, so instead I went with a slightly more left field option suggested: a smoked dark wheat beer, in this case the brilliant Freimann’s Dunkelweiss by Hackney’s Pressure Drop Brewing. Check out the Twitter thread in the link above to see other suggestions. Popular choices included saisons, sours and amber ales.

Essentially, you’re using beer in place of wine in the risotto-making process, but you also need less stock as your beer is helping to act as that too. Pick a beer that – alcohol and carbonation aside – has flavours you would like in a sticky, comforting risotto. My recipe has bacon in it because bacon is amazing, but you could just use more mushrooms instead if you want. Also, I really wanted to put the smoky flavour of Freimann’s in the mix with some smoked, streaky bacon. Ingredients and method below.

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Ingredients:

The below makes a portion for 1 person, so scale up as you wish:

  • 100g Arborio (risotto) rice
  • 2 rashers smoked streaky bacon, chopped
  • 1/2 an onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 2 mushrooms (optional), thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 15g Parmesan, grated
  • 125ml beer (in this case Freimann’s Dunkelweiss)
  • 125ml chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parsley, finely chopped, to serve

Cooking time: 40-45 minutes

 

Method:

1. Melt the butter in a large, heavy frying pan and gently fry the onion and garlic for a few minutes. Once softened, season with a little salt and pepper. I’ll be honest with you, I’m fairly free with butter in cooking, I daresay, like many people, I used what looked to be ‘enough’ to gently fry the onion.

2. Add your rice, stirring as you do and coating it all with the butter, onion and garlic. Fry this for about 3-5 minutes on a medium heat until the rice starts to go translucent.

3. Now it’s time to add the beer, but do so gradually, as if you were swigging mouthfuls from the bottle (hey stop! Well, ok, maybe a little) Add a bit of beer, stir and let the rice absorb it, and then some more, and so on. If you’re using a smoked beer, this amazing toasty, fruity aroma should be filling your kitchen. Keep the pan on a medium heat. The alcohol will boil off and all the sticky goodness will be left behind. The rice will take on a slightly darker colour now, depending on the beer it has absorbed.

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4. Next, do the same thing again but with your stock (no swigging!) with just a splash at a time, stirring and allowing the rice to absorb it. The grains should gradually fatten up and the liquid thicken. Again, just a medium heat is enough. The beer and stock adding part of the process can take up to half an hour. It pays to be patient and steady. When about half of your stock is left, get a small non-stick pan with your bacon and mushrooms going on a medium-to-high heat. Add a splash of oil if you want, but if it’s streaky bacon you probably won’t need to.

5. Take care to keep an eye on your bacon and mushrooms, stirring them occasionally between adding stock to the risotto. When all your stock is used up and the risotto has absorbed almost all its liquid, take the pan off the heat and stir in your parmesan. After that, add your bacon (crispy, not crunchy) and mushrooms. Give it all a big stir and serve into bowls with parsley sprinkled on top.

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Beer match:

Whilst the full-on smoky fruitiness of Freimann’s was perfect to use in the dish, I wanted something slightly less intense but still smoky and flavoursome to serve alongside it. I’ve recently fallen in love again with Anspach & Hobday’s Smoked Brown, which was a perfect match and would even make a good candidate for a beer to use in the recipe. The beer is fairly sweet with a rounded, oily bitterness and a clever, deep and smooth smokiness that brought the dish to life, and had the body and carbonation to cut through the fattiness and enhance the rich flavours. Lovely comforting nourishment all round.

If you’ve done a risotto with beer as an ingredient, share your successes in the comments below. I’m really keen to try this again with some different beers, and if you’re patient it’s a really easy and tasty dish to make. Cheers!

Rediscovering Anspach and Hobday

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In the past year, the Bermondsey Beer Mile has quickly and perhaps undeservedly became one of the country’s foremost beer ‘things’. From early on, there was a sense that this self-made beer blowout stretched across a handful of breweries in southeast London couldn’t quite sustain itself. The queues, the walking (or artistic usage of multiple Uber discount codes) and occasionally sub-par beer put many people off after a few tries. But then, don’t all ‘legendary’ pub crawls suffer from the same problems?

Some problems were more specific. One major casualty from my own mixed experiences of the Beer Mile was my enjoyment of beer from Anspach & Hobday. Despite enjoying their beer in bottles and whenever I saw it at a Craft Beer Co pub, I had on more than one occasion tasted beer from the brewery that lacked finesse, and on one occasion, patience. Back then, I worried that the brewery was engaging in a demanding weekly event beyond its grasp, and not always being able to provide beer in the best condition it could be.

Last week, Justin Mason and I were invited by Bottle & Bean to take part in its first live beer tasting video for its subscribers, which featured the first monthly resident brewery, none other than Anspach & Hobday. Part of me was looking forward to seeing what Paul and Jack had been making since I’d last visited the brewery, but I retained a little hesitation from my past disappointment. From the first sip of beer I tasted, I was reassured. I ate my words, or rather, drank them.

With each beer I tried, from their oldest and most practiced like the Smoked Brown and Table Porter, to newer recipes like the Stout Porter and Pale Ale, I was deeply and fully impressed. The Pale Ale was, to use an adjective I find myself using more frequently and tellingly, ‘Kernel good’, its light and faintly biscuity malt body a simple and well-built stage for a floral and rounded hop character that delivered juicy lime and kiwi flavours cleanly. It is undoubtedly a Juicy Banger.

The Smoked Brown, always A&H’s most unique and trusted beer, has improved further still, and is easily one of London’s, and the UK’s, most accomplished malt-forward ales. The smoky character is delicate but persistent in every drop, adding depth and dimension to a rounded, mouth-coating caramel body and a simple yet resinous hoppy bitterness. I was surprised to learn from Paul that the Smoked Brown requires more hops in the boil than any other beer they make, but the balance that this achieves is genuinely fantastic.

Both the Table Porter and Stout Porter showed the brewery’s key strengths in different ways – the Table version demonstrating an ability to extract the absolute utmost of flavour, whilst the Stout variety showed a real skill in nailing the balance necessary to make great strong beers truly great.

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These technically accomplished core beers aside, it was the samples of other more limited beers served at the brewery taproom that made me eager to return. A sour ale, in truth the ‘control version’ of a beer due to be completed in a number of different ways, was made with a sour mash instead of inoculating the beer in its fermentation stage (to reduce the risk of infecting other batches) and on its own had the vibrant, sharp and uncompromising sour bite I love. The limited edition White Coffee Milk Stout, a deep burnished golden colour and ripe with vanilla and coconut aromas, was just a tart citrus ingredient away from being a creamy, whipped syllabub cocktail. The oily sweetness and lactose-rich body wasn’t entirely my sort of thing, perhaps best enjoyed by those with a sweet tooth, but damn good nonetheless.

The final beer we tried made me chuckle with delight just from smelling it, a Galaxy Saison conceived by Dylan, a newer member of the brewing team. The glorious peach and papaya aroma had a crackle of black pepper running through it. The flavour developed from sweet, sugary guava and watermelon into a fascinating mid-palate note of strawberries covered in black pepper, ending with a spicy astrigency. The ABV was fairly restrained (for a modern saison) at 5.2%, but provided all the oomph the beer needed. The flavours were blinding.

You might not need any persuading that Anspach & Hobday are making great beers, but if you do need persuading, please do take my word for it. Maybe though, like me, you have a had a different bad experience with a beer that has affected, consciously or unconsciously, your willingness to try beers from that brewer again. As simple and as basic a lesson it might be, it remains one worth re-learning. If people deserve a second chance, then undoubtedly so do beers.

A Murky Mile (Four Nations of Beer Part 2)

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In a series of four features, I will be examining the beer culture in four countries through the lens of a particular event. This second part looks at the all-new craft beer institution that is the Bermondsey Beer Mile and just how varied and mature the London beer scene has become. Read Part 1, featuring the W-Ales Beer Festival, here.

The Bermondsey Beer Mile is so craft it hurts. Five microbreweries, ranging from the fresh-faced Anspach and Hobday to the more established like Brew By Numbers and Partizan to the already legendary like The Kernel, are dotted along a line (easily over a mile if we’re being pedantic, especially if you travel in an irregular fashion) in east London. I joke to people that in the future, archaeologists will incorrectly reason that railways were built to connect all the capital’s breweries. In Bermondsey, you would be forgiven for thinking just that.

No sooner had ‘The Mile’ become A Thing than people were complaining about how busy it was at every brewery. Beer geeks could be seen plotting innovative strategies of ‘tackling’ the Mile on Twitter, trying to outwit the hordes and be front of the line for a fresh 2/3rds at each brewery. The reality is that it is a bit difficult to do it in a straightforward way, but I think that for some people that’s part of the fun.

So what’s the appeal? Well, generally speaking, the Bermondsey Beer Mile offers some of the best beer in London, at relatively low cost (£3 for 2/3rds of a pint, unless otherwise indicated) and the opportunity to drink as fresh as is feasibly possible. When done in a mob group of fellow wankers seasoned beer enthusiasts, it can make for a wonderful day. Also, naturally, it gives one a rather profound insight into how ‘craft’ is doing in London right now, so on 14th June I made the journey to Bermondsey and did the mile with some excellent drinking partners.

In Brew By Numbers, where our Mile began, we have a brewery rapidly graduating into that ‘2011-2012 Kernel’ sort of phase, where almost everything they do is brand new and quite exemplary. I love the branding, but the actual numbering system is a bit annoying to me still (who asks for the number at the bar and not the beer ‘s name?). After an exhilaratingly crisp and juicy Motueka and Lime Saison, I ask for a Session IPA Mosaic and, like my fellow Milers, am simply blown away by it. The aroma is a spectacular bouquet of tropical fruits that comfortably makes the case for ‘fresh is best’. The beer’s palate is like an electric conduit of lime, orange and mango jacked right into your tongue, ripe with pith and bitterness. The vibe at BBNo is very laid-back, with a very simple layout of benches outside that encouraged a sociable drinking atmosphere. Given how great their beers are tasting at the moment, they may need to work out how accommodate far greater numbers of people.

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Meanwhile, at The Kernel, now closing early (at 2pm) due to its arch-busting popularity, we are greeted by nothing less than a fort of iconic brown paper-clad bottles. The last time I was inside The Kernel, it was a cave of pallets, bottles, boxes and just stuff. Now it seems sharper, more organised, not corporate but certainly a professional appearance honed by a growing legion of fans and regular custom. One cavernous arch is given over entirely to customers, seated or otherwise. Some fantastic beers were on draught, including the collaboration with Camden Town Brewery, Gentleman’s Agreement, a barrel-aged blend of Camden Gentleman’s Wit and Kernel London Sour. It’s a truly stunning beer, its apple-skin and sharply sour edges injected with lemon and grapefruit juiciness and rounded by tannic, oaky notes. It’s a technical marvel – enormously flavoursome and complex for a beer at 4.3% abv.

There is a very promising trend in blending and barrel-aging at the moment, something that really shows a maturation (no pun intended) of the British beer scene. Sure, we still love to throw hops at beers like there’s no tomorrow, but we’re also experimenting in esoteric methods and using real skill to – and I mean this as a verb – craft beer. I expect to see more of this in the next year, as the more accomplished new breweries each seek to up their game in this area.

After The Kernel came Partizan, which was tricky to find. It required traversing an active (and very noisy) building site and following an extremely ‘craft’ hand drawn cardboard sign. There were more cardboard signs inside, at the tiny bar in front of Partizan (formerly The Kernel’s) brewkit. The beers on offer included some delectable-looking saisons and IPAs. Another trend I’ve noticed of late is beers infused with different types of tea, and I’ve enjoyed pretty much every one I’ve had. The one on offer at Partizan, an Iced Tea Saison, was too tempting to resist, especially at its sensible strength of 3.9% abv. Unfortunately, it was just a bit too thin, with not enough tea flavour to justify its name. When I think of the best tea-infused beers I’ve had, they tended to be bigger bodied styles – IPAs and porters, so perhaps a different approach to the saison recipe is needed as well as using more tea. Still, it was further evidence that the more established breweries on the Mile are Thinking In New Ways. Partizan are great brewery and I’ve no doubt that, with their track record, they’ll master this style in no time.

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At the next stop, Fourpure, tucked away in an industrial estate at the other end of The Mile, we have a glimpse of the future, or at least an alternate version of the present. This is an example of The American Way: a shiny new brewery with towers of brightly-coloured cans, a brewery tap bar slinging schooners of the freshest draught beer and, naturally, a ping pong table next to the canning line. The friendly bubbling of beery conversation around long tables is occasionally punctuated by a ping pong ball bouncing off a piece of brewing equipment or a tower of hollow aluminium cans. Special mention must also be given to the pulled pork sausage rolls available at the bar, which were nothing short of majestic. It’s a warm and welcoming place, but then it has to be, given that it’s the furthest flung of the Bermondsey Mile breweries.

Here, many of us partook of another Session IPA, though Fourpure’s example was a subtler and smoother beast designed to be enjoyed by the six-pack. Still, it was refreshingly crisp and had some nicely nuanced depths to its hop character, though it’s certainly not the fireworks of the Session IPA Mosaic we had at Brew By Numbers earlier that day. There’s certainly a lot of ‘Session IPA’ going about in London now, which is a very American take on something we already do quite well – fresh, bright hoppy pale ales. I don’t have a problem with the name exactly, and it doesn’t matter what we, and I mean beer geeks, think of the name. Ultimately, if consumers as a whole find it useful, it will stick around, just like so many beer style names in the past.

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My Mile ended somewhat inauspiciously at the opposite end from Fourpure, in the arch shared by Bullfinch and Anspach & Hobday, a brewery of which I am rather fond. I hold A&H’s Smoked Brown, Table Porter and IPA in high regard, particularly for a such a new brewery. Whenever I have had their beers from the bottle or at a Craft Beer Co, they’ve been sublime. Their Smoked Tea Porter, a recent collaboration with Melissa Cole, hit all the right notes and was impressively balanced – one of the best tea-infused beers I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, this particular visit saw some fellow Milers given some below-average beers that seemed not entirely ready to serve, and there was one glass of The Pale which took London Murky to its extreme. The beer was everything that unfined beer critics would just love to be served: an opaque liquid the colour of a manilla envelope that couldn’t have finished fermenting. The beer was exchanged but not taken off sale. Concerns were raised with the brewers and were duly noted, but it was still a low point on which to end the Mile.

There’s a lot of spite and anger about unfined and unfiltered beer at the moment, much of it directed at new brewers, some of whom are even accused of deliberately ‘murky’-ing their beer to be ‘cool’. The fact is that many of these newer brewers simply do not have the technology to stop their beers being as hazy (and I mean hazy, not murky) as they are, and many are often trying to meet exceedingly high demand for their beers. However, there is no excuse for charging money for a beer that should simply not be served, and this was one of those instances. This time A&H fell short, but I have no doubt that on another visit, I’ll have a great beer from them. It’s just a matter of being more patient with their beers, and being absolutely certain they are ready for sale. They can only lose out by trying to serve beer that will harm their reputation, just in an effort to be part of The Mile’s buzz.

You might think that this all adds up to a very mixed review of The Mile, and you’d be right. As a measure of where craft beer in London is right now, the Bermondsey Beer Mile is perhaps more indicative of the ‘bleeding edge’ – barrel-aged blends, tea-infused saisons, session IPAs and gleaming canning lines – but it’s an edge that cuts both ways.  The fact is, The Bermondsey Beer Mile, this dazzling rainbow of London craft beer in its many forms, approaches, intentions and futures, is a murky beast indeed. The Mile needs time and a stronger sense of cohesion to become the finely-honed showcase of the best beer in London. A nice start might be a collaboration brew from the five breweries involved. I hope that over the summer the Mile is shaped into something we can proud of. As it is right now, I’m willing to be patient. Great beer deserves patience and London deserves great beer.

In the next part of Four Nations of Beer, I review the controlled chaos of BrewDog’s shareholder AGM 2014, and see if Scotland’s squeakiest wheel brightest burning light is still at the front of the ‘craft beer revolution’.

The Week in Beer #0

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Sometimes, it’s hard to generate a whole blog post from the various flotsam and jetsam of beer things that happen. It’s not always enough – not so much a writer’s block as a blogger’s clog – a little cluster of thoughts that lack the electric impulse to become Something To Say. Still, I think that beer is always worthy of note, even if, or especially if, it’s mediocre. This is me having a stab at capturing the stray craft particles, the free radicals of my week, wrapping a big net around them putting a flag in the whole hoppy mess. Here are some beers I’ve had this week and what, if anything, they made me think.

Monday: Dry as a bone, but there was much to be said on Twitter about anger and reactions and beer styles and so on. Another Monday.

Tuesday: I was conveyed unto the Brewed Dog on the Shepherd’s Bush to meet and rejoice with the craft wanker brethren (and sistren). A tasty insult to history was enjoyed in the form of Gloucester Black Simcoe. Also of note: a Rye Bread Sour from Levain Franken that had a quaffable creamy note that made it one of those expensive beers you would drink by the pint with a winning lottery ticket. Also, my curiosity got the better of me, and I tried Hobo Pop, which proves we can now make American Stale Ale as good as them Americans and that. Hobo Plop, more like.

I then proceeded to drink an Amount of Beers Inappopriate for a Tuesday, but stuck to halves and two-thirds and so survived largely unscathed.

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Wednesday: Sixpoint’s cans of Wetherjoy arrived late due to inclement posting attempts. Others posted about them quicker than I, so I didn’t bother to add to the noise. My thoughts on the beers:

The Crisp – slightly too boozy, but largely by the book pils. weird pithiness throughout that gives a sense of Premiumness, but at what cost?

Sweet Action – a fresh, foxy delight of peach, mango and melon. Delightful and juicy. Likely to be cloying in larger amounts, but that exact portion felt heavenly.

Bengali Tiger – an orange pith heavy, grapefruit tart assault on my main face. Refreshingly uncrystally, robust yet accessible.

What does it all mean? Don’t know. Too tired of predicting the future. More interested in the choice of range: for example, why a lager, wheat/pale/cream pale and IPA? Imported European-style US lager in perfect condition to prove a point? Maybe. More likely to be the entry point to all this craft bollocks for your mate who’s with you when you order the pair for £5/6 deal. Hook him in, get him on the Sweet Action, job’s a good’un.

Thursday: BeerBods this week was Moncada Notting Hill Red, an accomplished, American-hopped red ale at 6%. Having had a couple of the brewery’s beers before (Ruby Rye on cask and Blonde in bottle), I was expecting good things, and the Red did not disappoint. Full in jammy and piney aroma, rounded in its nutty sweetness and caramel-soaked orangey, limey hop character, there was a lot to enjoy in this beer. I’ll pursue their other beers with interest.

(Given the thirst for something similar, I opened a bottle of Hardknott Infra Red, only to find it had gone a bit ‘craft’, with a lactic character reminiscent of Rodenbach and much of the hop character and toffee sweetness gone. Not wholly unpleasant, but not the beer on the label. So why did I keep drinking it? It had gone off – I should have immediately poured it away. Truth is, I actually liked what had gone wrong. Truly.)

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Friday: The Gun in the docklands near Canary Wharf celebrated National Pie Week (no, not every week apparently) by offering a Pie and Beer Flight, which was about as close as it gets to my ideal use of a 6 x 12 inch piece of slate. Three mini-pies, each paired to a third of beer. Cockel and smoked fish pie matched to a third of Anspach and Hobday’s The Smoked Brown (a sweet, crispy and smokey boost to the pie); a venison and apple pie matched to Partizan Black IPA (total, lavish decadence); and a figgy fruit turnover-pie with Brew By Numbers Saison Wai-Iti and Lemon (a curiously warming and spicy combination). For £14, it’s achievable and enjoyable proof of thoughtful beer and food matching without being inaccessible or too geeky. Hopefully more to come from this increasingly impressive pub.

On a side note, it was here that I first saw Brewmeister in the wild: their Supersonic IPA was on cask. As I can no longer get away with chiding them without actually tasting their beer, I dutifully ordered a half. Would it be passable? Would it be great? Would it have travelled well, and would a clone of Punk IPA on cask actually be a bad thing? I never found out. Some bastards had drank it all. Ominous. I went for Siren Soundwave instead, of which there was plenty.

That’s all for now. Saturday and Sunday will be spent in York and Leeds, hopefully warranting a gushing blogpost in due course.