Bitter and Twisted at Gourmet Burger Kitchen

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A beer and a burger. A humble staple of pub menus across the land.

Some have taken that simple pairing of juicy meat and palate-tingling beer and made something exciting of it. Every city has a local champion, but in London, Byron is the king. Their beer menu puts half of the capital’s pubs to shame, never mind the restaurants. It’s a weird sort of anomaly on the graph of good beer in restaurants, sitting out on its own in an area marked ‘burgers and stuff, but not street food’. I think it’s street food and pop-ups that have derailed this otherwise promising trend. Street food vendors would more than likely sell quality beer if they had the license to do so, however, so maybe this is an area where having a roof wins every time.

Before I’d ever heard of Byron, I’d been to Gourmet Burger Kitchen. It was clearly all about the burgers – big ones – and a choice of decadent toppings and sauces. I remember having a hunk of beef quite rare and covered in blue cheese. It was exciting, and delicious, but the beer was just an afterthought. I think I had Budvar.

Now, of course, in a country besieged by new breweries and people interested in what those breweries make, it’s simply not good enough to just have a couple of lagers below the wine list. To GBK’s credit, they do stock their ‘own label’ Organic Pale Ale made by Laverstoke Farm. I haven’t had it, but the thought counts. Alongside that and the standard couple of lagers, a new beer has been welcomed onto the menu: Harviestoun’s Bitter & Twisted.

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Harviestoun’s Bitter & Twisted is a zesty, likeable blonde beer that suits bottles very well. It has a lemony, citrusy, even peachy hop character that’s kept in balance with some floral Noble hops too. Whilst it’s a pale ale, it reminds me a bit of Sam Adams Boston Lager, in a good way. GBK have about fifty restaurants now, so in Harviestoun they’ve picked a brewer that can handle the distribution demand, and fill the vacancy on their menu for new ‘craft beer’ that people will find interesting but accessible. B&T is a great beer, but it’s not like it’s Racer 5 or anything else on Byron’s beer menu. It being stocked at GBK is still a good thing though of course, because it points toward a more mainstream acceptance of having great beer in high street food outlets.

Wednesday saw the launch of B&T at the GBK in Angel, Islington. It’s a nice place to eat, with interesting lighting, and it uses a soft touch when it comes to hipster décor. The whole restaurant was given over to the invited guestlist between 5.00pm and 6.30pm (a potentially risky move given the place’s proximity to a Vue cinema on Orange Wednesday). Free bottles of B&T were brought to the table, along with sliders/mini-burgers of a few different varieties from the menu. It was a much more informal kind of beer launch than I’m used to. At no point did a Harviestoun person get everyone’s attention and chat about the beer (or it’s pairing potential with burgers), which was a bit of a shame. The only other irritation was that some burgers made to some tables, but not to others. I had a couple of the wild boar burgers, and a couple of the chicken, Camembert and cranberry variety (pictured above), both of which B&T went with excellently. The chicken burger in particular seemed to bring out all the best bits of the beer – a balance of sweet and tart alongside the cranberry, whilst also cutting through the chicken and gooey cheese.

There was also some chips and dips doing the rounds, including hunks of grilled halloumi with a green chilli dip that the B&T paired with very nicely indeed, sitting on top of the chilli on your tongue and gradually turning it sweet.

The event as a whole was fun, but too informal and casual to land any messages about the brand and why it’s there. Other than that, it was a fun evening of food and beer. It also reminded me of what a lovely beer Bitter & Twisted actually is, so in that regard, it was certainly a success. Hopefully, we’ll see more interesting beer listings in GBK and other places like it in the future.

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.