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!

#EBBC13 – What did we learn?

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Attending the European Beer Bloggers Conference this year filled me with excellent beer and information. Well, mostly beer.

As covered in my past posts and on the unofficial Live Blog, it was a wide-ranging event that covered a lot of topics, each resulting in a lot of discussion. As bloggers and beer drinkers, what did we learn from this raucous, information-packed weekend of beer?

I learned that:

  • Edinburgh has interesting and unusual beer taps. Whether they’re the tall, brass examples with horizontally-twisting tap handles, shining chrome arrays of sleek modern taps, or wooden handpulls carved into the shape of bats, this city has some excellent species of beer dispense.
  • We must learn to laugh at ourselves, or everyone else will. “Was this contract brewed? I think I can smell the contract…”
  • “Beer is people.” Not tanks or pipes or ingredients, but the people who make it.
  • Garrett Oliver once took The Ramones bowling. Wow.
  • The people at Stewart Brewing are Good People… who will let you wander around their brewery, manhandle sacks of hops, and shove your face into open fermenting vessels. They even collaborate with Herriot & Watt brewing graduates.
  • Garrett Oliver’s hat is almost as much of a star as he is.
  • In America, there are some crazy new laws about blogging, meaning compulsory disclosures of anything you have been gifted, or you may end up in court!
  • Nobody could agree on the best beer and food matches, and after lengthy discussion, we decided that nobody necessarily should agree, either. The job of Beer Sommeliers, Cicerones, or whatever we choose to become, should be to guide, not instruct.
  • There’s a shortage of wood to age beer in. Beer could change to reflect that, too. If the amount of aged whisky barrels runs out, we could see new beer styles being used for less used barrels like wine, tequila or cognac.
  • We should think about whether we write what we want to write, or what our audience want to read.
  • You should always have a face that people can click on. At least, if you want your articles to more read if they appear in Google searches.
  • BrewDog have social media nailed down to the ground, and we can all use it to our advantage.
  • We are divided in our motives. Whilst some wish to make a living from their writing, others are perfectly happy to blog for the love of blogging. In Europe at least, we are still mainly what the US would call ‘citizen beer bloggers’.
  • A beer aged in a 40 year old sherry cask that last contained a 30 year old Highland Park whisky tastes as good as you’d think it would, especially when its made by Harviestoun.
  • Fraoch is best enjoyed with haggis. The floral, spicy notes of the heather ale blend so neatly and excitingly with the richly seasoned, savoury flavour of haggis that you will swear they were made for each other.
  • Finally, there is a bright, shiny future full of people writing excellent things about excellent beer.

What things did you learn from EBBC13?

‘Great Yorkshire Beer’ by Leigh Linley

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Great Yorkshire Beer

Leigh Linley

Great Northern Books

pp 192 (hardcover)

As one of the blogosphere’s foremost beer and food champions, Leigh Linley’s debut book has been long overdue. Though he could have easily written one book about beer and another about food, we can be grateful that both passions share space happily in Great Yorkshire Beer. Having said that, after ‘Beer’, the second biggest word on the cover is ‘Yorkshire’, and it’s the county itself that’s the real star of this personal, heartfelt and stomach-rumble-inducing book about fantastic beer and food.

Leigh set out to write a book that didn’t currently exist – a guide to great beer in Yorkshire – and in the end has written something even better. From friendly and fascinating interviews with some of the most exciting and respected brewers in Yorkshire, to tantalising and temptingly accessible recipes for delicious-looking food, to lip-lickingly evocative tasting notes for fantastic beers, this is a treasure trove of information that you will want to return to again and again.

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Thirteen Yorkshire breweries are featured, from the famous Saltaire, Summer Wine, Kirkstall, Ilkley and Rooster’s, to lesser-known ones like Wharfebank and The Brew Co . Whilst there may seem to be a slight bias towards newer brewers, that is simply reflective of the modern Yorkshire beer scene. It’s an exciting brewing landscape that Leigh describes with pride. He’s itching to tell us about this great couple that started brewing a few years ago, dying to show us the wonderful interiors of pubs and brewery buildings, and gasping to describe the amazing beers he’s tried from every brewer in the book. The interviews are insightful and interesting, giving us glimpses into each brewer’s starting point, their dreams for the future and what makes them so passionate about what they do. The interviews also serve to demonstrate the enormous variety of people and businesses that the Yorkshire brewing industry is made up of.

After an interview with the brewers and tasting notes of a selection of their best beers, Leigh will recommend a small, easy-to-make dish to try alongside them. These ‘Tasty tasters’ are one of the book’s highlights, and demonstrate Leigh’s ability to take great, simple food ideas and put them alongside beers that are exciting and interesting. Like any book with good food in it, there are plenty of vibrant photos, each making you want to pop into the shop on the way home to get some ingredients (and some beers).

The real strength of Great Yorkshire Beer is that pride and enthusiasm that takes you from one page to the next, and the sense that this is one man’s heartfelt attempt to nail down everything that excites him about where he lives and what he loves. Great Yorkshire Beer is not a list of every beer or pub in Yorkshire. Such a thing would have only have value as a reference material. This is a book that shines a spotlight on what is truly great in a county full of beer of pubs, and gives you something cracking to eat with every pint, too.

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After the main body of the book, Leigh has included a further eight recipes for meals that are perfect matches for different beers. Again, the meals look absolutely delicious and the recipes are straightforward, requiring a very short shopping list (most need fewer than ten ingredients). As I said at the beginning, there’s a real sense that Leigh could – and should – do an entirely food-focused book , perhaps a sort of Yorkshire Brewmaster’s Table (just a suggestion, Leigh). It’s really refreshing to read a book where the beer and the food share an almost equal billing, instead of the half-hearted food matches being relegated to a dusty corner.

It’s a handy size for a beer book, too. Not a cumbersome ale bible for tickers, this is a travelling companion for some great weekends exploring the best of what Yorkshire has to offer. Great Yorkshire Beer is a genuinely different kind of beer book. It’s for people that love to read about culture, history, plucky Yorkshire ambition, and excellent food and beer, and marks the beginning of what will hopefully be a long list of books by one of the UK’s best beer writers.

Book review: Craft Beer World by Mark Dredge

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Craft Beer World

Mark Dredge

Dog ‘n’ Bone

pp 208 (hardcover)

Craft Beer World may be billed as ‘a guide to over 350 of the finest beers known to man’, but it isn’t just a ‘beers to drink before you die’ book. Well, it is, but there’s a lot more to it than that. It’s also part introduction to beer, part style-guide, part editorial on what ‘craft beer’ is, and part food and beer guide.

The most refreshing aspect of the book is its pragmatic approach to beer styles and definitions. Instead of irritably correcting us on our misinformed opinion of what exactly porters, milds or IPAs are, Mark Dredge acknowledges that entire categories of beer are based on old ideas and misnomers, and that so much of what is being brewed right now is in a league of its own with few established classics because of how new some styles are. He doesn’t make the entire history of brewing easy to absorb in one sitting (no one can), but he does a stand-up job of making it easier to understand.

More impressively, Mark Dredge also makes a gallant effort to nail down his idea of what ‘craft beer’ is to satisfy English speakers across the world and comes out the other side unscathed. Whilst those of us who know Mark from his excellent blog will know that he is English, the book is written in US English to the sake of broad appeal. This is fine, even if some phrases or spellings jar with his clearly British phrasing and tone. This is Craft Beer World, after all, and a lot of countries get their beer mentioned. Sweden, Brazil, Italy, Spain and Chile are mentioned alongside the more traditional brewing countries, but the bulk of beers covered are from the USA, where Mark sees a land of constant innovation and brash, fearless experimentation.

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The real strength of Craft Beer World is in its variety of content. Forgetting the 350 beers for a second, there is still enough material here to form the basis of a solid beer book in its own right. From the guide to what beer is and how it is made, through to the significance of specific ingredients, it’s an extremely useful guide for a beginner. For those of us who are more well-versed in the subject matter, there is more advanced information like identifying off flavours, which is rarely mentioned in most books of this kind.

Of course, the meat of the book is the descriptions of the aforementioned 350 or so beers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are generally accompanied with an image of the bottle or label. Whilst it would have been nice to see more images of the beer itself in the glass, that’s not a task I would wish upon my worst enemy. As Dredge readily admits, he loves great graphic design, and gleefully points out beers that are as important for how good-looking the packaging is as the taste of the liquid inside. There really are some sensational labels, and the book can almost be used a flick-through primer of the current crop of leading beer label artists.

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As ever, Mark knows how to describe beer, not just in conventional tasting vocabulary, but also in a way that draws in laymen and connoisseurs alike. We occasionally get glimpses into fun-filled beer adventures, like him and his friends trying to find the Brooklyn Bridge or simply sampling another incredible round of unusual beers. Some are clearly very treasured, personal memories, and we feel privileged to have them shared with us. There are not as many of these as perhaps I might like, but as infrequent as they are, they do provide a vital context to the enjoyment of the beer being described. It’s an idea that recurs throughout the book: that beer is not just the liquid, but the moment. It’s not so arty-farty as terroir or a sense of time and a place, but something more tangible and personal like a memory (or, better still, a blurry memory) that anyone can understand.

It is also quite apparent that this book could have just as easily been about 350 breweries as 350 beers. When describing any particular beer, Mark can’t help but give us some tips on which other beers from the same brewery we should try, and sometimes this infectious enthusiasm and desire to give you as much information as possible reduces the description of the actual beer to just a line. However, it is this enthusiasm that keeps the book readable, and not just a dry reference tome that you might dip into from time to time. After all, many of us might not read a book like this in the same way we might read a novel. In the case of Craft Beer World, this is exactly what I did. I picked up every day, read about new beers and new breweries and new adventures, and felt like I was travelling along with the author. It’s a testament to Dredge’s skill as a writer, and the book makes it clear that he is a strong and important voice in British beer writing.

Whilst classic beers are acknowledged where necessary, this is a book about the best things in beer right now. The long-term value of this book will be as a time capsule of the best beer being made at the time of writing. This is more than a casual reference or coffee table book. This is a contemporary snapshot of the world’s best craft beer and the excitement that surrounds it, and this is a thing truly worth treasuring.

Bath Ales and Beerd: Craft Beer in the West Country

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I came across two very different outlets of modern British beer in the West Country at the weekend. One was a highly-evolved descendant of that old, artisanal, hand-prepared chestnut: the gastropub. The other was a very on-trend, hipster-magnetic craft beer and pizza joint that still had a unique character all of its own. Both places are owned by Bath Ales, which owns a handful of pubs in the Southwest, mostly around Bath and Bristol.

Graze Bar, Brewery and Chophouse is, as you might guess from the name, more than just a gastropub. It is the third Graze that Bath Ales has opened, following more traditional-looking outlets in Bristol and Cirencester. The Bath incarnation is part of the newly built foodie-centric Vaults development around Bath Spa train station. Graze is actually on a level with the station’s platforms, but is accessed by stairs or lift from below. Graze is very large, about on a par with Bristol’s Zero Degrees, and the similarities do not end there. Unlike any of Bath Ales’ other pubs, the Graze in Bath has a microbrewery plant in the midst of it. It didn’t seem to be active at the time of my visit.

Aesthetically, however, Graze couldn’t be more different to Zero Degrees. Instead of dazzling chrome, Graze is all about pine, Bath stone, copper, brass and soft leather. The whole place is like a purpose-built pub-showhome, and is quite beautiful. I would suggest checking out that link above to see for yourself. I couldn’t capture it easily on a smartphone camera. Basically, Graze is a long rectangle shape with glass walls on its longest sides and balconies outside them. One side overlooks the city, the other provides a view of the picturesque countryside beside the train station. A shiny island bar lounges in the middle, and everyone looks pretty pleased to be there.

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The food is geared towards fancy cuts of beef, pretty little starters and vibrant seafood. The beer has a upmarket mainstream selection, alongside ales and cider from the parent brewery. I had the market special fish of the day, which was a beautiful smoked haddock kedgeree (£13). I had this with a pint of the Special Pale Ale (Bath SPA – geddit?), and may have found my beer and food match of the year so far. SPA is brewed with lager malt, making for an extremely clean and lively beer with a simple and gorgeous peachy, grapefruit character. The fish melted in the bubbles of the SPA, the smoke was enhanced, then sweetened. The spices in the kedgeree were lifted and boosted by the lightness of the beer and its carbonation. The hops didn’t clash with the heat but became a part of it somehow. It was one of those meals that makes you think: I MUST know how to make this at home. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Graze is a really special place, and an absolute must-visit for beer and food lovers in that part of the West.

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So what of the other side of the Bath Ales estate? Well this is a story in two parts. First, the bar itself. Beerd is a ‘craft beer and pizza’ joint in the studenty, trendy Cotham area of Bristol. Its name, with a very Bristolian sense of humour, may poke fun at the both real ale and craft beer hipsters (the free WiFi password is ‘beardyweirdy’) but that is where the jokes end. This is a cutting edge craft beer bar that provides a cool, credible location to choose between quality cask and keg beer. The stainless steel handpulls (featuring Bath, Black Rock, Penryn among others) are topped with mismatching BMX handlebar grips, whilst the keg beer taps (including Anchor, Wild Beer Co, Palm, Moor) stick out of a giant wooden cask. All right, maybe that’s another joke too. There’s also a solid and ever-changing selection of bottles to rival a BrewDog bar.

The rest of the décor is more mismatched craft beer chic: kitsch plastic chairs alongside metal stools, and formica tables next to old driftwood topped tables. The wallpaper is a very cool pastiche of beer brands, and the whole place has a trendy student vibe that still feels welcoming to all ages. It’s a very Bristol kind of place, friendly and alternative. You can imagine something like it existing there whether there was a beer renaissance going on or not. The food range is slightly more than just pizzas (one nice idea is that you can have any pizza’s toppings as a salad instead), but not a lot more. There’s lots of responsibly sourced vegetables and deli-quality Italian meats.

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I went for an Artichoke, Roasted Pepper and Rocket pizza (about £9), and added some Prosciuttio and Salami because I’m worth it (an extra £2). I ate the first half with Wild Beer Co’s Spellbound, a Brettanomyces yeast golden ale, which wasn’t entirely intentional but it worked better than you’d think. The spicier esters from the lively yeast played along well with peppery rocket and the crispy base. The rest of the pizza was finished with Moor’s Nor’Hop, which was simply sensational. The hops danced with peppers and the rocket, the carbonation melted the crispy base in my mouth, and the sharpness cut the oily, salty meat and cheese to bits. An amazing combination, so delicious that I forgot to take a picture of it until I’d almost finished it.

It gets even better. Beerd is no longer just the name of the bar, it’s also now the name of Bath Ales’ new microbrewery operation. Two of Beerd’s new beers were available on the bar: Big Small Beer and Dark Hearths. Big Small Beer is a low ABV (2.8%) pale ale with a ferocious hop bill, balancing a light body with thick portions of soft fruit and sharp tropical juice. Dark Hearths is a ‘peated porter’ with an oily body and Schlenkerla-like stickyness to its smoke character. Both were really, really good. More beers are on the way, and those two alone mark Beerd out as a brewery to watch. As far as I can tell, Beerd is brewing in a separate part of Bath Ales’ main brewery. That little microbrewery plant in Graze seems to be a separate project.

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The idea of a ‘perfect pub’ is not a new idea, but exciting beer destinations – those sorts of places that we will happily take awkward, multiple-connection-strewn journeys to find – are certainly a big part of the current beer renaissance. Bath Ales’ approach is exciting. By creating different beer destinations that different people will enjoy, they are embracing the diversity that good beer encourages.

Duke’s Brew and Que

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I had been eager to visit Duke’s Brew & Que, the original home of Beavertown Brewery, for some time. I regularly hear tales of the place’s meaty wonders and beery delights on Twitter, and the verdict is almost unanimously positive. Beer from Beavertown hasn’t disappointed me yet either, so I finally visited on Friday evening and arrived with an enormous thirst and appetite.

If you don’t know about the menu at Duke’s, it’s basically the menu of a BBQ in paradise. Huge ribs of pork and beef, burgers, pulled pork, sliders, steaks, salads *cough* and so on. It was relatively quiet when we arrived at 5:30pm, but got busy very quickly from 6:00pm onwards, and was heaving by 7:00pm. It’s worth noting though, that the staff provided a brisk and excellent service all evening. Once you start seeing the platters of incredible food being served, it’s little wonder they operate a strict booking policy.

The beef ribs, arguably Duke’s signature dish, are about the size of, well, a massive cow’s ribs. Seriously, they are enormous. This time (for I shall return for those behemoth ribs), I picked the burger, with added bacon and Monterey Jack (see picture above). That came to about £15 (though the basic burger is cheaper). My other half chose the pork ribs and a side of fries, which came to about the same price.

I’d heard good things about the burgers at Duke’s and I was not disappointed. The beef patty was juicy, flavoursome and well-seasoned. The bun was glazed and crispy, almost to the point of being dry, but in balance with the incredible relish, gherkins, tomato and cheese (which coated the beef like a gooey blanket), it was all simply sublime. The bacon alone almost had me in tears. It ranks above Dirty Burger and about on a par with Lucky Chip’s Royale with Cheese. But with what could I wash it all down?

It would have been a crime not to try some Beavertown while I was there, and a new blend, Anakin’s Glow Stick (also above), was on tap. Anakin is a bewildering blend of Beavertown’s Smog Rocket smoked porter and their Gamma Ray pale ale, resulting in a unholy bastard amber/brown ale that was as thick as mud and smelled of both beers at the same time. I maintained my cynicism up until the first taste.

It shouldn’t work. It really shouldn’t work, but it does, and then some. The muddled malt bills of the bright, zesty pale ale and dark, roasted, smoky porter intertwine with almost artificial intelligence, balancing across the palate before detonating in a crispy, sharp, bitter and smoky finish that paired magnificently with the beef in the burger. The hops cut through the cheese, the smoke added to the mustard in the relish, and the carbonation wiped the gherkins clean off my palate all in one sip. It was a beer and beef miracle.

If like me, you have regrettably postponed a visit to Duke’s, then I hope the above goes some way to assure you that you need to stop what you are doing and go there right now.

London’s Brewing 2013

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Saturday was the first time I’ve seen doom-laden ‘Rolling News’ culture collide with beer culture. Twitter on the afternoon of 4th May was a boiling tide of beer lover’s anger. Increasingly frustrated reports were coming from London Fields Brewery, where London’s Brewing, the new beer festival from the London Brewers Alliance (LBA), was being held.

The queues, the people cried, the queues. For a while the event didn’t even open. When it did, and the queuing was over, it was reportedly even worse inside: packed bars where waiting times were said to be 30 minutes or more, and kegs hooked up to wrong taps. Above these alarming and basic errors was a weird sense of hopelessness, as though it wasn’t possible for things to improve and that it was a write-off. People left in droves and demanded refunds. I’ve never heard of anything like this happening at a beer festival.

So imagine me, looking at Twitter on Saturday, with tickets for the session on Sunday. I was a little worried. Assurances were made that a new, extra bar would help ease queuing, and that concerns had been listened to.

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I should make it clear that I had A Good Time at London’s Brewing on Sunday afternoon, and that all the beer I had was well-kept and in good condition. As such, I can only comment in detail on my experience on Sunday afternoon, not what happened in the other sessions. What follows is not a litany of complaints. That would be almost as boring as a 30 minute queue for a beer. What follows should hopefully be fair and constructive. We all want these events to be the best they can be, right?

If we are to accept that London – and the UK at large – is going through a Beer Renaissance, then it is the duty of those who care passionately about beer to call out anything that is simply not good enough. Whilst London’s Brewing had the right ingredients of Good Beer, Good Food, Good People and even, shockingly, Good Weather, it did not have Good Organisation.

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In a recent post about Craft Beer Rising in comparison to CAMRA beer festivals, I said how CAMRA-style festivals will always have their place alongside the more hipster-friendly, foodie events, large and small, that are taking place in increasing numbers. This point was made even more clear to me at London’s Brewing. Say what you will about CAMRA, but their organisational skills for beer festivals are unsurpassed. At London’s Brewing, so many basic things were missing: no prices per third/half/pint on the casks behind the bar, no ABVs on beer menus and price lists, and no indications in the programme of where any beer may or not be found across the three bars. A personal complaint was that nobody knew if I could buy one of the extremely cool green staff t-shirts (I love the Thames river/dimple mug logo), or where to find out. In a venue as small as London Fields Brewery’s event space, crammed under a railway arch, the organisation needs to be as tight as drum to prevent frustration. This was not the case.

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However, as harshly as the event has been judged over the weekend, it was not without merit by any means. As I said above, the beer was great. I had an opportunity to try beers from breweries like Weird Beard, Five Points, Howling Hops and Pressure Drop, which are either so new I haven’t noticed their founding, or in parts of London that I rarely visit. There was great food here. I had a Korean fried chicken burger from Thank Cluck that was simply sublime: that perfect chicken burger combination of crunchy lettuce, juicy thigh meat, crispy coating, hot sauce and cool mayo. A simple, wonderful marvel. Big Apple Hot Dogs, Mexican food vendor Luardos and the Falafel-slingers Hoxton Beach were also present, filling hungry faces and generating greasy chins and sloppy grins. Whilst people complained at the crush of bodies in several areas, just as many were having a good time.

London Fields Brewery has several further beer events coming later this year as part of the British Craft Beer Challenge. These four separate events will pit the best of British beer against foes from USA, Europe and the rest of the world. London Fields will have to look very closely at how to achieve a much more satisfying experience for the capital’s beer lovers, who, after the impression left by London’s Brewing, will be less likely to invite their friends from outside London to what might otherwise be extremely exciting events.

(P.S. and if anyone knows where I can get one of those green t-shirts, let me know!)

(EDIT: Have amended to reflect that the British Craft Beer Challenge is a London Fields Brewery initiative, NOT an LBA event. Thanks to Steve Williams for clarifying this.)

Camden Town Brewery USA Hells Party

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The Beer of The Summer.

A beer as legendary as the Holy Grail. The beer that turns a sunny day into a glorious, shiny summer day.

I tasted such a beer last year: USA Hells Unfiltered Lager from Camden Town Brewery. Its release heralded the opening of the brewery’s on-site bar, and began their tradition of hosting street food vendors and serving cool, brewery-fresh beer in classy surroundings. I thought the beer was sensational, a truly innovative fusion of clean, crisp lager and American hop razzmatazz. Then, one day, the limited run of USA Hells was no more.

I have, from time to time, heralded other beers as contenders to the crown. BrewDog’s Dead Pony Club and Kernel’s recent Saison both have what it takes, but neither compared to the crisp, schizophrenic perfection of Camden’s lager supercharged with Cascade, Centennial, Columbus, Citra and Simcoe. I was therefore understandably frantic with glee at hearing of its return. On Saturday, Camden relaunched USA Hells at the brewery bar with the help of local meatslingers Dogfather, Big Dirty Burger and O.X.. The weather varied between cloudy and mild, and wet and wild, but as ever the atmosphere at the brewery was great. A lively crowd of beer seekers mixed with local families and friends just hanging out at the brewery.

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The beer itself was just as fantastic as I remembered: at once creamy, sharp, zesty, floral, clean, smooth and sweet. But what food to pair it with? I had the Boss Hog from Dogfather Diner, which was quite frankly the best hot dog I have ever eaten. A beef frankfurter with chorizo, jalapeños, cheese, streaky bacon, marinara sauce… There are probably other things too, but I couldn’t look at the thing any longer without eating it. As a pairing, the USA Hells was excellent at stepping in to clean my palate and wipe away any heat or salt, so each delicious mouthful of the Boss Hog was as amazing as the first.

My advice to anyone in London is to get to the brewery sharpish to taste the draught and buy some bottles to save for a sunny day. Better still, you can now buy 2-pint and 4-pint “growlers” (I prefer Gentleman’s Beer Conveyance). The large ‘Senior’ model is £5 and a 4 pint fill costs £10. At that kind of price, you’d be a fool not to go back every week!

USA Hells is back. Long live the king.

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#BrooklynFeast


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Who could have predicted this week’s Winter 2.0? Some know-it-all meteorologist no doubt, but us common folk have been left with our gobs smacked and our flabbers gasted. The worryingly chilly weather was the unfortunate setting for Tuesday evening’s #BrooklynFeast, an event heralding the return of Street Feast London, whose events were hugely popular last summer.

#BrooklynFeast was organised by Brooklyn Brewery and beer importers James Clay, bringing together the brewery’s beers and the capital’s burgeoning street food scene in a perfect hipster storm of Instagrammable wonderment. Top street food vendors including Bowler, Big Apple Hot Dogs, Rainbo and Bleecker St Burgers set up in a car park off Dalston Lane, which was transformed into an ersatz street of trendy gluttony.

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The bar at #BrooklynFeast (don’t worry, I’ll stop hashtagging it now) was stocked with eight of Brooklyn’s beers, each matched to a dish from one of the food vendors. The pairing menu below, featuring rarer brews such as Blast!, Pennant ’55 and the ominous There Will Be Black, was varied, well thought out and extremely appetising.

Below are a couple of the food and beer pairings that I tried:

There Will Be Black and Smokey BBQ Wings from Street Kitchen

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These wings had a thick, crunchy batter and were dripping in a decadently thick BBQ sauce that was so delicious it could have easily started its own religion overnight. Like all great wings, just as you bit into one, the meat fell away and you were left holding a bone in your greasy fingers, grinning like a fool.

There Will Be Black is a 7.5% Black IPA (or Imperial Black Ale or Hoppy Stout…) that marries the rich, luxuriant body of the brewery’s seminal Black Chocolate Stout with a ferocious hop cannonade of Williamette, Pacific Gem and Motueka hops. It is an outstanding beer, rich yet with a silky body and palate-tingling hop finish. It supercharged the BBQ sauce on the wings, making everything sweeter, stronger and thicker, before scouring your palate clean with hops so you can do it all over again. A really exciting food and beer pairing.

Brooklyn Pennant ’55 Ale and Big Apple Hot Dogs’ “Dog of Phwoar”

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Big Apple Hot Dogs were a big hit on the night, and had an enormous queue late into the evening. This is with good reason: these are the best hot dogs I’ve ever tasted. Forget slimy, slippery pig product tubes, these are the real deal. Gourmet, genuine frankfurters of pork, beef or pork-beef-blend. The excellently named Dog of Phwoar is a limited edition, spicy beef concoction that is best described as being like chorizo, but beef.

Brooklyn’s ’55 Pennant Ale, named after the ’55 New York Dodgers world championship-winning team, is an English-style pale ale with New World hoppy muscles. It’s a great all-rounder, offering crystal malt sweetness, dry, lager-like refreshment and fresh, hoppy bite. It met the spicy beef head on, but instead of fighting for dominance, they grabbed each other and danced across my palate. The beer softened the peppery blows of the beef without reducing the flavour, and cleaned the salt from my palate to boot. Not as exciting as the BBQ wings and TWBB, but a much simpler, straightforward match that worked just as well.

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It was an exciting event with a lively crowd and a great atmosphere. I can hardly hold the weather against it, but it did make a big difference to how long people were willing to sit or stand outside, heaters or not. My only other complaint would be the number of people. The event encouraged people to try out smaller amounts of different foods and beers and keep coming back for more. This is a great idea, but the event had slightly too many people for it work smoothly. If they had set a slightly lower capacity, or had two sessions (one in the afternoon for trade, for example), the queues would have been shorter and people would have been more inclined to stay longer and try more of what was on offer.

That said, it was a great combination of food and beer in a friendly environment, and hopefully Street Feast will organise more events like this with local London brewers. Their ‘takeover’ at Camden Town Brewery last year was a fantastic collaboration, and Brooklyn Feast did an excellent job of bringing food and beer matching to the people in a cool, accessible format. More of this sort of thing, I say.

The Craft Knight Rises

Craft Beer Rising at the Old Truman Brewery – a sign of things to come?

The modern British beer landscape is rich, exciting and diverse. Traditional CAMRA-organised events, with rows of tilted casks and hi-vis-jacketed stewards are no longer the norm. We now have a variety of species of beer festivals. There are those put on by individual pubs (like last year’s CAMRGB takeover at The Lamb on Holloway Road), where a special selection of beers are brought in for a weekend. There are painfully trendy, street food-oriented outdoor events, like this week’s #BrooklynFeast in Dalston (where else?), which are pre-hashtagged for your social media convenience. There are also events that try to do a little bit of everything.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, Craft Beer Rising took the beer blogosphere by storm and established itself as the new must-visit event of the British beer calendar. It couldn’t have been more different to the London Drinker Beer and Cider Festival, or the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF), CAMRA’s yearly beer bash. Fewer beers may have been on offer, but there was a wider variety. Cask, keg and bottled beers were present from breweries all over the UK and the world. The trend for street food was both acknowledged and catered for. Real ale, craft keg and much more were all included as part of the same experience, and the crowd was just as varied, in both age and gender.

I wrote about Craft Beer Rising recently in Rum & Reviews, and I must admit I got rather excited about how it represented what I thought beer festivals should be all about. Before I went to the London Drinker event, I thought to myself, ‘Ha! Let’s this how this measures up!’ thinking that it would seem pale in comparison to Craft Beer Rising.

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The CAMRA London Drinker Beer & Cider Festival. Proof that traditional beer festivals are still popular.

However, north London’s CAMRA beer festival is still going strong. The London Drinker event last week, in its regular home of the Camden Centre near Kings Cross, still had a big draw. Beer bloggers, beer tickers, old timers, young whippersnappers and brewers great and small made up a large portion of those attending. This was a CAMRA event though, and while women were more than welcome, many did not seem to feel welcome enough to actually attend.

The beer was served to much higher standard than I remembered, though the London bar seemed to have the lion’s share of the best beers. The main bar seemed to be 70% golden ale, and didn’t have nearly as many people drinking at it with ‘bloody hell that’s good’ faces. Unfortunately, the food offering was pretty basic, and shared space with the foreign beer bar. Some real treats were hidden away here though, particularly the mini-casks of Schlenkerla Marzen (liquid smoked bacon) and other German beers.

It wasn’t as much fun as Craft Beer Rising, but I can’t say that CBR was better either, as much as I would like to. These are two completely different events, and I expect #BrooklynFeast on Tuesday to be just as different again. I would be wrong to rank the UK’s beer festivals by how ‘good’ they are. Beer festivals are very subjective, individual experiences that appeal to tastes and personal preferences. The Celtic Beer Festival is completely different to GBBF, just as Wandsworth Beer Festival is to London Drinker, and just as the BrewDog AGM is to Craft Beer Rising. If CBR seems to be the better event, it might be because it adopts positive features from each of the above, and tries to do a bit of everything, and does it well. If this is a trend is on the rise (sorry), then I welcome it. We all get the beer festivals we deserve.

The fact is that each of these events is just as important. Each of them demonstrate the thrilling diversity of the British beer landscape, and we should recognise that each and every one is something to be proud of.