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The Meaning of Ice Cream

We all have things that remind us vividly of childhood. When it comes to ice cream, for me it’s Neapolitan (Tiger is a very close second. Swirls of orange & liquorice, which I know sounds awful but I love!).

I think the main reason I have such a strong emotional connection to that heady mix of chocolate, strawberry and vanilla is because it was and still is one of my Dad’s favourites. He was somewhat of a mystery, wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in a hero for much of my early life and I yearned for his approval. So anything my dad liked I liked. Another reason was that ice cream was a special treat for us, owing to my father’s quite humble salary as a newspaper reporter and photographer. So by its rarity and the pedestal I put my Dad on, Neapolitan was intricately woven into my childhood lore.

The years passed and I moved to the UK but never saw it in the freezer aisle here, thus assuming it hadn’t crossed the Atlantic. However, I was recently told that it had its time in the 80s and 90s but has fallen out of fashion. It’s still a very popular flavour in Canada where I grew up (hmm.. say anything about Canadian culture I wonder?).

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 15.00.07So when I saw Northern Monk Neapolitan Pale (Ice Cream Pale Ale) in the fridge at much loved Hop Burns and Black I instinctively reached out and grabbed a can. As it’s not a common flavour to see I wondered quietly to myself if my American cousin Tyler Kylie who works NM had anything to do with this wondrous concept… 

Then on the bus ride home, a popping candy juvenile thrill rose in me. Surely it was more than a coincidence that back home in my freezer sat Gianni’s Ices Neopolitan Ice Cream Wafers that I had found my local Aldi that a week or so before. “How amazing might the combination betwixt ice cream beer and ice cream be?!!” I couldn’t wait to try it out. Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 15.00.20

As we find in our adult lives it took longer than I hoped to test my delicious theory but one day I found the right time to taste them.

Normally here I would break down the merits of the beer, the ice cream, their paired nuances. But I felt this post deserved something a bit different.

I recognise as a commentator that I spend a lot of time seeking out and talking about life changing beers. Beers that make me want to write sonnets or start a cult or cry.

But I hope to never lose sight of the simple pleasure that can be found in beer. A kind of pure enjoyment that brings a smile to my face and refreshes my spirit.

Northern Monk Neapolitan Pale is that sort of beer and does exactly what it says on the can. Pours cloudy orange and is brewed to 6.2% with York Cocoa House milk chocolate, strawberries and vanilla pods. Subtle strawberry on the nose. It has a creamy mouth coating texture with notes of coffee, apricot and caramel. But most importantly it tastes of Neapolitan ice cream! 

Gianni’s aren’t setting the world alight with their wafers but sat in the sun I swapped bites of ice cream for sips of beer and all critical thought flew from my mind. I returned to the days when life didn’t feel so complex, when eating an ice cream took up all of my attention, completely immersed in pure enjoyment.

This post is dedicated to my Dad and in the hope that one day we’ll sit and drink a Northern Monk Neopolitan Pale together.

Cloudwater with a chance of Mac n Cheese

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 16.11.50
First a word on Cloudwater Brew Co. I bought three uber cool looking bottles from this 17-month-old Manchester-based outfit last year. And not for the first time, my maiden experience of a much-hyped brewery fell short. The beers were out of balance I thought. With none of them really distinguishing themselves as complete works. Drinkable certainly, but I wasn’t about to race out and try some more.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 17.29.51But as I always do when it comes to new breweries, I gave them another shot a few months ago. And boy am I glad I did! The beers have been fine tuned and in my opinion, Cloudwater is brewing some of the UK’s best beers outside London right now. I’ve recently thoroughly enjoyed their US Light Comet, Session IPA Simcoe Centennial, and Pioneer Lager

What really impressed me was the real individual character of each beer. They were all executed with deft precision and showed a real purity of flavour. Everything in harmony. Nothing is wasted or lost. These are very grown-up beers and they are being brewed with very critical and dare I say cultured beer lovers like me in mind.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 16.23.37I decided to make a cheddar, cream cheese and mozzarella mac n cheese with some of their White IPA Mosaic E431 and matched it with the same beer. The beer’s dry peach and pineapple studded with hints of white pepper were a perfect foil for the creamy tangy cheeses. The beer in the sauce was quite subtle and nuanced but was most definitely present, its Vermont yeast pitch (similar to Belgian yeast showing banana and clove characters) shyly poking out from beneath the cheese coated tubes.

Mosaic is a hop whose star is most definitely on the rise and though it possesses many of the citrus, stone and tropical fruit flavours we associate with American hops it also has a unique but not overpowering herbal savoriness that sets it apart from some of its more piney counterparts.  

As a rather self-critical cook, I should have added more cheddar to the sauce, as it lacked some bite. But it was a lot of fun cooking with and then pairing the same beer with a dish. Adds something to the experience. 

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 17.30.55Cloudwater continues to brew an ever-changing roster of dynamic seasonal beers so please seek them out. I bought mine at my ever trusty Fresh Fields Market in Croydon but you can get them online at Beer Merchants or Eebria.

I’ve yet to taste any stouts or porters from them and I can’t believe I am saying this but am looking forward to the autumn to see what they come out with…

Eat the Brewer: Mondo Brewing Company

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 11.41.06As beer and food matching concepts go I think The Other Room Beer Bar has it nailed when it comes to their #EatTheBrewer events.

The basic formula is…

A: Approach one of their favorite breweries to host the night

B: Work with them to create the perfect menu to marry to their beers

C: Sell tickets and invite the brewers to come and co-host the event

ThScreen Shot 2016-06-15 at 10.11.36e Other Room is located on Tower Bridge Road, a stone’s throw from the royal beer arches of Bermondsey, but is miles away from the spare brick and edgy vibe you get in most craft beer venues these days. A very cozy continental little place that wouldn’t look or feel out of place in Belgium or Holland. The sunny one room space is mostly booths with some high stools by the window. Perfect sort of place to read a book or write some experimental hops inspired poetry while you sip your microbrewed beverage of choice. ORB most definitely subscribes to the small is beautiful ideal with only six taps behind a bar that barely has room to fit one member of staff and a well-stocked fridge.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 11.44.40I was very generously invited along in April when The Mondo Brewing Company were the residents for the evening. I have been liking their interpretations of great beer styles as well as their homage styled names coming out of the Battersea HQ for awhile now. And I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to one of the co-founders Todd Matteson at Craft Beer Rising earlier this year.

However hosting on the night was the other half of Mondo’s all American dynamic duo Thomas “Tom” Palmer and lucky for me was seated with him and his little entourage. Must say that I had an absolutely kick ass time with them talking travel, food, Japan, politics and brewing pedigree (Tom’s Dad, Uncle and Grandad all worked for Budweiser) as well as cooing over their beers and their matches.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 10.09.55Todd and Tom both well-seasoned homebrewers as well as globe trotters met while working at the now not so highly regarded London Fields Brewery in 2013. After striking up a bond under challenging circumstances and getting some investment they set up shop in December 2014 at a warehouse a short jog from the Battersea Dogs Home.

Mondo poured six different beers to match with five dishes prepared in the ORB kitchen by the very talented Danish chef Mads Kærsaa.

To whet our appetites we were served a golden Belgian ale called Vader. Despite the name, I felt no invisible crushing tension on my throat or aftertaste of the dark side. Instead, it was sharp, grassy, lean and sure woke the buds up.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 10.09.44First was a Patersbier (Misspelled on the menu. Basically translates as Father’s Beer. Belgian style ale usually brewed at a lower ABV) with a sour cream cheese and cress on a homemade cracker. This was a stone cold match. The blossom honey, fresh clover, and horseradish of the Patersbier complimenting the tart cheese and cress beautifully. The dynamic flavour combinations were literally exploding in my mouth.

Spiders from Mars (Biere de Mars, German-inspired spring brew) with asparagus, parsley and croutons were certainly more muted but it was still a good match and enjoyed the beer’s warm malt and marigold character.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 10.10.08James Brown Ale was rich and meaty which was a great foil for lamp and parsnip, but was eclipsed by the match of the night; kohlrabi (type of cabbage), apple and cheese with Mondo’s American Black Ale served on nitro (A first for their ABA). The beer itself was on another level. Blackberry, boysenberry, and blackcurrant crushed up with charcoal and flecked with chicory then sprinkled with camp coffee on the finish. Sub. Lime. The pairing worked immensely well with the fruits and savory edges of the food everything lifting the palate into sensory overload. Magnifique as our French host Thomas would have said.Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 10.12.42

We finished up with the beer that put Mondo on the map, their London Alt (Dusseldorf style ale) with an orange mousse. Alt is a style I know well having sampled a goodly range on my visit there last year and feel Mondo’s interpretation is an honest one. Malty biscuit, breakfast tea, and faint citrus combine well and with the dessert had the effect of popping candy, a zesty bomb. Though the finish felt a little washed away.

Now not to be remiss in providing a balanced view I must warn you to not expect a five-course meal on the night. It’s really tapas-style portions and the beer pours were on little on the light side.Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 10.11.58

However, with tickets only £20, and only room for 20 people, Eat The Brewer is top value considering the quality of the food and beers you are getting. Not to mention an intimate soiree with some top brewers.

Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 12.50.23Postscript- I have since been out to Mondo’s taproom and as well as being one of the most gleamingly clean and beautiful breweries I have seen in the capital, the taproom has the comfortable feel of a log cabin. The beers and their names are only improving chez Mondo with the likes of the impressive and dangerously drinkable Geronimo Double IPA or the sumptuous, complex Figgie Smalls (aka The Notorious F.I.G.) Belgian Dark Strong. Look out for Steamy Wonder Imperial Steam Lager and Miami Weiss Strawberry White IPA as well.

With imminent plans to expand their facilities, Mondo is surely not only one of hottest breweries to watch in London but perhaps in all of the UK.

Home Brew Review: Hellsize Park Brewing Co

Most of the world’s most celebrated microbreweries in this new golden age of beer that we are now living in actually started life not as a gleaming ready made high-tech facility or even a cobbled together kit in some grimy railway arches. They began in sheds, garages, basements, and kitchens (and in the case of the Padstow Brewing Company a disused and converted surf shower). The architects were men and women passionate about beer and the art of brewing. These enterprising folks then found the courage and support to put together enough money to “scale up” in brewer speak. Many gave up steady safe jobs to try to turn their fervour for fermentation into something bigger and in doing so, not only changed their own lives but touched and awakened thousands of others.

Which got me thinking… What if instead of simply singing the praises of established breweries, I started trying to feature the work of aspiring brewers and brewsters. Perhaps a little incentive and encouragement might be just what they need to make the big leap themselves.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 08.37.09I’ve just lied to you.

The inspiration didn’t come to me from out of the blue. Most ideas require a catalyst, a spark to ignite them; mine is called Jamie. A fellow tour guide at London Brewery Tours he generously gifted me this intriguing taught newspaper wrapped bottle with Evil Goat stridently written on it. The handy work was that of Josh Charig aka Hellsize Park Brewing Co.

 

The full name is actually Evil Goatmilk Saison as I later found out courtesy of Josh himself.

 

Now for those non-geeks out there, Saison (French for season) is a style of beer with its origins in Wallonia (French speaking Belgium). Brewed in farmhouses in the cooler months and stored for the summer it was a refreshing liquid form of payment for the thirsty field workers to drink. Today Saisons are a popular style amongst craft brewers who often add fruit, herbs or spices to the beers. They are often typified by their hazy appearance, spicy sometimes pronounced yeast nose, lively fruit and layered texture.

 

Here’s what Josh had to say when I asked him to tell me a little about himself, thus casting some light onto how I came to have this broadsheet bound chilli infused Saison in my possession.

 

Two and a half years ago, some friends and I decided to make a batch of our own beer and one drunken night we made one of those beer packs. I instantly fell in love with homebrewing and have been doing it ever since as a “serious hobby”. My wife is a farmer and gardener and we had an opportunity to live in Ireland for about 9 months where she could grow a range of plants and I could concentrate on brewing, and this is where we are now. I brew as much as I can here and am doing a lot of testing and experimenting, whether that’s trying a new technique which will increase my brewhouse efficiency or playing around with a recipe to create something I’ve never even heard of before. I’m using this opportunity to become a better brewer and make better beer.
Whilst in Ireland I’ve been keeping a brewing and beer blog the Honest Beer Guide. I’ve also been writing posts for a couple of other publications. My plan is to make the most out of my stay here in Ireland and learn as much as I can about my system, different ingredients and their effect on the beer, and how to craft the best brews. Back in London, I’m growing a few hop plants, and when my wife and I are settled back there I plan on planting more hops along with other herbs, flowers, and spices which I can use in brewing as I’d also like to make some gruit* ales. I’d even like to have a go at brewing using medieval methods!
As you will have guessed I thought Evil Goatsmilk was excellent.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 08.38.01These were my notes:

A cloudy deep amber. The nose was at first farmyard, then field yeasty but that gave way to tropical flowers and fruit. Raising up the glass up I could feel my lips bracing for the promised heat… But none came. Instead, it was dense foamy, not quite creamy yet it had a touch of pina colada about it, and as I began to explore that; the warming began. A throat nibbling, dry persistent heat. In no way unpleasant, it had the effect of making me want another sip. With each one the complex web of texture, tropical fruit and prickly heat spreading out over my entire mouth and nasal system.

More kudos came in the form of Mrs Drink n Eat who thought it was fabulous. To qualify she drinks beer from time to time preferring lager and sour beers but is certainly not a huge beer drinker. I also trust her palate immensely, as she’s not jaded like me. I love getting her take on things as she often comes up with flavours or aromas that are perhaps more peripheral or off piste.

So the Evil Goatsmilk Saison was a huge success. I wish Josh very well indeed and look forward to tasting his future endeavours.


 

Postscript : For you true nerds out there here’s a link to Josh’s recipe. Though he was keen to tell me that he used this yeast instead of the Belle Saison and omitted the fresh jalapenos.

* Gruit was the common bittering, flavouring and preservative agent for ale before hops usurped it. It was made from a mixture of different herbs such as sweet gale, mugwort, yarrow and heather.

Going for an Italian

Four years ago I was just a red-toothed wine vlogger at the dawn of my foray into the wild world of beer when I attended the very first European Beer Bloggers Conference here in London.

It was an event that changed the path I was on and gave me the opportunity to meet and connect with so many wonderful folks who I call friends today (also produced this rather fun video of the 2-day event). As you might expect I tasted some mind expanding beers from the UK, US, Sweden and even an introduction to Italy’s Birra Artigianale through the excellent Toccalmatto and Birrificio.

Now since then we’ve seen a massive increase in the number UK brewers, a huge influx of US imports (even a good few from Sweden) but somehow Italian craft beer remains as elusive and exotic as it was back then.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 09.14.00Part of the problem surprisingly had nothing to do with a lack of good beer explained beer sommelier Jacopo Mazzeo last October at a lunch hosted by specialist importer Beers from Italy at Tozi restaurant in Victoria.

IMG_6564The Azuurri birra revolution can actually be traced as far back as the mid 90’s with Teo Musso’s passion for Belgian beers leading him to start Birra Balladin which many see as setting things in motion. From there beer guru and sensory analyst Lorenzo “Kuaska” Dabove inspired a wine-dominated culture including a teenage Jacopo, that there was more to beer than the big 2 or 3 brands. The two men also collaborated to create TeKuseen by many as the ultimate beer tasters glass. This much-heralded receptacle was what all the beers would be served in during our lunch.

At most recent count, there were more than 830 breweries stretching the length and breadth of the boot, yet those age-old barriers of high taxes and punitive duty are preventing them from finding a foothold (sorry couldn’t resist) in more shops, bars and restaurants here in the UK.

The focus of the lunch was on food and beer matching and starred Abruzzo’s Microbirrificio Opperbacco whose wide range of styles gave my palate a real run for its money. Run by Luigi Recchiuti who turned his back on a degree in agricultural science, to brew beers from converted stable on his father’s farmland amidst the olives, grapes and grains of Casarino di Notaresco (love the olives from there!).

IMG_6567IMG_6566After an introduction from our generous benefactors and some very informative background information from Jacopo, we started things off with 4 punto 7 (4.7% abv. 4 point 7 get it?) a fruity golden ale that exuded a dry floral perfume from the glass. Quite tart and dry to begin but mid palate it shone with pithy citrus, honeycomb and dry flowers. It was paired with a double-barreled aperitivo of delicious and unusual roast fennel, carrot, bean and spelt salad as well as deep fried calamari with lemon. The four point seven worked reasonably well with the salad though I felt it wasn’t the ideal match. It fared somewhat better with the calamari as the dryness cut through the oily crunchy batter.

IMG_6570IMG_6571The second course of crab ravioli with tomato and basil partnered a golden Saison that paid homage to the hippy 60’s. Tripping Flowers (6.3%) despite its name gave little way on the nose. I noted some dry hay and honey but it seemed a touch closed. My first sip was bracingly dry and herbal though finished fresh and clean. Going back, I noted sunflower seed, dried rose petal, wild turnip and some almond. I may have been a bit harsh but didn’t feel the match worked. Independently they were both tasty, but together?

IMG_6576IMG_6574Next was the cleverly named Eipiei (6.3%) which sang of orange zest, pine, caramel sponge and gingerbread. I enjoyed the wild Mediterranean herbs, bold resin etched flavours of roasted red pepper and the biting bitterness, and it had a beautiful balance to boot! As a retired sommelier, I was doubtful that an IPA could stand up to that most classic of Italian dishes, aubergine parmigiana. But the match was inspired. The bitterness coping with the acidic richness of the tomato sauce, the red pepper dancing along with the meaty aubergine and the savoury aspects of the beer going toe to toe with that most umami of foods; parmesan cheese. Going out on a bit of a limb it was probably my favourite, most memorable beer and food match in 2015.

It was around this point that starting to feel a little warm and fuzzy (those last two beers being up over 6%) and this being an Italian lunch we were only halfway into it. I must admit as a direct result, my note taking became mush more abstract.

IMG_6580Secondo was yet another two-pronged gastronomic gambit consisting of pork cheeks, cavolo nero and mash potato and a buffalo ricotta ravioli with fresh black truffle (spoiled!). Taking them on was L’una Rossa (6.4%), a red rye Saison with orange peel and coriander. Now on paper things looked good, certainly with the pork cheeks. The beer possessed tart red fruit, caramelised sugars and good full body. But what works in theory, doesn’t always in practice. L’una seemed to lack the depth to marry well with the pork and the earthiness to harmonise with the ravioli. Not a bad match but just not what I was hoping for. Sadly it worked even less well with the ricotta ravioli with the tangy flavours tussling quietly on my tongue. Oh well…

IMG_6583The main courses out of the way we were now on the home stretch with fromaggio up next and the creative naming from Opperbacco continued with an abbey style triple called Triplipa (7.8% Tripel IPA anyone?). Testun al Barolo is semi-hard pasteurised cheese made from alpine cow’s milk. Testun means hard headed and the Barolo refers that most famous Piedmont wine region and the dried Nebbiolo grapes that the cheese is crusted in. Triplipa on its own showed nice stone fruit aromas and was uber dry, yeasty yet refreshing on the palate. However, the highly complex Testun was too much for it. I felt a creamier soft cheese (minus the tannic grape crust) would have been a better option.

IMG_6591 IMG_6587Finalmente, it was dolce time and we were served a Tozi speciality of coffee and amaretto bonet; a dense delicious wintry treat, which is essentially a Piedmontese creme caramel. This was paired with Dieci e Lode, a dark strong (10% enough for you) Belgian-style Trappist ale. Looking like glorious mahogany tar as it was poured and forming a tight bundle of thick foam this beer offered much to the eye as it promised on the palate. Humming in the glass was the intoxicating scent of ripe fig, moist liquorice and winter spice. Then rich cocoa, espresso hints of black peppercorn and rum-soaked Christmas pudding fruits. It is beer truly worthy of its name (Full marks and honour). I loved the bonet and thought the match was good, but would have been very content with the Dieci all on its own.

And rest…

Three hours had passed since we sat down, but it had flown by. It was a great crowd (that included award-winning beer pals Des de Moor and Sophie Atherton) with lively debate and conversation whisking back and forth across the big table.

IMG_6575It may not have been a total success with a few of the pairings not quite working, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable and educational afternoon. It is only in experimentation that we are able to make incredible discoveries and there was one at the very least with the Eipiei and aubergine parmigiana.

Saluti to Tozi for providing brilliant service and lovely food, the superb beers of Opperbacco, Jacopo for playing host and educator and of course, Beers from Italy for the invite and picking up the tab.

Here’s hoping that in time, Birra Artigianale is a language that we all speak a little better.

*Image of Jacopo Mazzeo courtesy of Arsenio M. Navarra

Finding a new Vocation

Curiosity killed the cat they say and though I’ve never actually died as the result of trying out a “new to me” brewery, there have been a few occasions where the beer tasted as if some element of it may have passed away or at the very least been stricken by a debilitating illness.

Now you would think with so many great suds on offer these days that I would learn to just go back in for those trusted pumps, cans and bottles. But nay, like some kind of promiscuous malt munching member of the Lepidoptera family, I continue to be drawn to the mysterious flickering flame of the unknown.

In fairness to date, I’ve tasted a lot more average beers than bad ones. But every so often my penchant for rolling the dice pays off and did so with aplomb when I plucked up that textured trio cans from Vocation Brewery. For some reason, three seems to be the magic number when I am testing out a new brewery, feels as though I’m getting a good overall impression of what they are capable of. (There could may well be some kind of subconscious biblical undercurrent as well.)

Going by what I supped, Vocation are truly a brewery at the top of their game.

Opened in a Hebdon Bridge (I actually went through there on the train recently and felt a strong urge to leap from the carriage despite it not being my stop. Now I know why.) business park in 2015 by former Blue Monkey Brewery co-frontman John Hickling after he decided to go out on his own. In a short time, this West Yorkshire brewery seems to have impressed its fair share of punters. Well, that’s if you put any stock in Untapped’s ratings, as at the time of writing Vocation currently find themselves number four in England. Impressive.

Enough grandstanding, on to the beers.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 17.46.19Heart & Soul Session IPA 4.4%

For me, the ultimate litmus test for a brewery is its pale ale or a sessionable IPA. Vocation hit it out of the park with this pithy, punchy breakfast juice of a beer. Loads of tangerine, so crisp you could snap it in half, subtle floral notes and the happiest juiciest mango you’ve ever tasted. The finish was firm, held together with hoppy bite and lemon boiled sweets. Super duper! 

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 17.46.33Divide & Conquer Black IPA 6.5%

A style that was very popular a few years ago, and if done well still one of my favourites. The nose had some nice milk chocolatey and roasted coffee bean elements plus hints of fresh peach. Flavours of burnt toffee, savoury marmite yet the texture was quite lush without feeling heavy. There was a blood pudding  iron element to the finish that I found quite agreeable as well. 

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 17.46.03Naughty & Nice Chocolate Stout 7.5%

Poured a bit like melted chocolate with aromas of rich beef stew, cold espresso and dry cocoa. Now I’ve become quite picky when it comes to Stout these days. It has to deliver on texture and man oh man did this deliver! Luxurious fine dark chocolate velvet caressed my tongue and cheeks. Rich to be sure, but perfectly balanced and held together. There were some mature meaty undertones and a touch of chilli, but honestly, I was enjoying it so much I stopped taking notes. We had ordered an Indian takeaway and I was blown away with how brilliantly the N&N stout coped with the varied spices, sauces and heat. I kept oohing and ahhing as it soothed, lifted and cleansed. Easily one of the best beer and food pairings I have ever experienced. Stellar. Note: This is a limited edition release and am not sure who currently stocks it.  

I can’t commend John and his Vocation Brewery team enough. You can buy online from Eebria or Beer Ritz but I picked mine up from my local beer shop Fresh Fields Market in Croydon (Yes you heard right. Check out my blog here), who continue to discover and stock new and wonderful beers for me to try.

As for me, I’m keen to try the rest of their range. Providing of course something new and shiny doesn’t catch my eye first.

Smokehouse Islington

You wouldn’t believe it but when it comes to eating out I can be somewhat hard to please. Really do wish I wasn’t, as it can make me a serious pain in the ass to be around.

But is it such a crime to expect good food and drink served in a setting that make time stand still? Service that is attentive but not overt, warm but not gooey, knowledgeable but not snobby? And ending with a tab that doesn’t feel like you’ve been mugged?

Since I fell for well-made “craft” beer on a bicycle brewery tour of Norfolk and Suffolk four summers ago it’s been my mission to find a restaurant/pub/bar/bunker that brings together that holy quinquennial of fabulous food, wonderful wines, brilliant beers, stellar service and sumptuous surroundings.

It’s been an almighty challenge really, as most places that focus on food and service have been slow to catch on or flat out refused to acknowledge (due to old school snobbery) that quality beer is amazing with things edible.

On the other side of the coin the venues that herald the mighty ale as the king seem to place less emphasis on those customers who may prefer a goblet of good wine and can eschew more creative food offerings.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.28.36That has all changed with Smokehouse in Islington.

First off the interior is cozy, spacious and inviting without being too overdone or twee. Love their little wood fires dotted about and the pretty beer garden will be packed in warm weather. The loos were obviously not updated with the rest of the building and are in need of a bit of a facelift. Not dire, just incongruous with the rest of the surroundings.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.36.46The selection of beers in bottle, can and keg (only a couple cask options) is pretty wide ranging but with an eye on the London. Expect the Kernel, “The Towns” Camden & Beaver and Fourpure with solid imports from Germany, Belgium and the US. Though they would do well to add a few more 75cl to the line-up as they work well as an alternative to a bottle of wine with dinner.

Despite cider being on the up it barely just gets a look in with only a quintet available in bottle and 3 are from Cornish Orchards. Shame.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.28.48Looking at the eclectic wine list may disappoint those on a budget with only one offering of red and white under £20 and more grumbling from those wanting anything from the “New World” as it focuses exclusively on France, Spain, Italy and Portugal.

However, they are flying the St George flag in the rather small fizz section with three out four options coming from England, which is good… and expensive. Their “house” Prosecco is an eye-watering £28.50 which I think is just too much, even for Islington. Surely they can get something under £25?

On a positive note if you are comfortable dropping £22-30 on a bottle then you there’s plenty to choose from in all three shades.

The staff are friendly, knowledgeable and were very helpful when it came to choosing what to eat. Which is where Smokehouse does itself proud indeed.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.28.07For starters, I tried the deep fried rock oyster, beef dripping toast, smoked bone marrow which tasted as good as it sounds. Succulent, salty, rich and crunchy. A special dish and worth making the trip to Smokehouse just to try. Also gracing our lips and belly was a very inventive squid pad thai (not currently on the menu). Instead of rice noodles the squid was the “noodles”. Reminded me a bit of udon but with more bite. The flavours and textures were exquisite.

For main I went with the signature short rib bourguignon and wallowed in its smoky, sticky animal goodness. It’s the sort of dish that after you have eaten it makes feel as though you’ve rescued a cat from a tree or held a bus door open for a trapped pram. Satis-Fied.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.29.01Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.28.19Beverage wise I stuck with beer working my way through the Bearhug “Hibernation” White IPA and Fourpure “Session” IPA on keg before a run of receptacles in the form of Beavertown “8 Ball” Red Rye IPA, Rogue “Hazelnut” Brown Ale to pair with the short rib. Neither of which blew my socks off, so ending with a Weird Beard “Black Perle” Coffee Milk Stout seemed the only decent thing to do.

The tab was a bit on the high side but considering how many beers my pal Scanners and I tried it wasn’t too bad.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 09.34.23If you want to please a group of meat-eating friends some of whom drink wine while others favour beer then Smokehouse Islington is a must try.

Luckily for you West Londoners there’s a second Smokehouse now in Chiswick.

 

An Ode to Antwerp

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 15.20.35As the colder darker weather closes in I am reminded of my first evening in that oh so much more than a diamond den of Antwerp. A beautiful medieval city full of things to see and having done some homework its share of fine ale houses too. Making my way down the quiet cobbled streets towards ‘t Antwaerps Bierhuyske I wondered what sort of place I would find.Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 14.40.09 Cozy, friendly and stocked with fine malted libations I hoped. As it turned out I was more than right. It was as though a calm comfort enveloped me as I wandered inside. The warmth of the place, the artefacts, the joyful reverence and wisdom with which the bar woman spoke of and carefully poured each beer into its intended individual receptacle. It felt like a place of worship, someplace sacred.   

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 15.12.05I began my meditations with the “beer of the moment”, a Bastogne Pale Ale from Brasserie de Bastogne in the French-speaking south of the country. Vibrant, tangy white grapefruit, wild yeasty, with complex lemon oil, and dry bay leaf finish. A real palate waker-upper. 

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 14.40.44Then I made a choir boy error; I decided to order their house sampler of four draft beers. Now Belgian beer is notoriously high in alcohol and blending a quartet of them on an empty stomach is a risky venture. I calmed myself somewhat by nibbling on some local cheese, but less than halfway through I was pretty tiddly. However, there was more, I felt something… else. It was if some unseen banished cleric had slipped a few magic mushrooms or some other such hallucinogen into one of my beers. I wasn’t hallucinating as such and it was not an altogether unpleasant feeling, but twere as if the top of my head had slipped over into another dimension. I’m not ashamed to say it; I was high on Belgian (& Dutch) beer. 

Despite feeling a touch other-worldly, I managed to make a few notes about the beers while I hoped that consuming the aforementioned dairy product would stem a complete mental slide resulting in me singing hymns with the urinal.  

Classic Rodenbach Foederbier showed its oak ageing through sour cherry, woody mushroom, lactic black cherry and smooth easy drinking texture. 

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 14.41.10I most enjoyed Maximus Brutus, an amber/Vienna lager from new Dutch kids on the block Maximus Brouwerij. It had burnt sugar, some piney resin, pithy citrus, a lovely rich yet clean feel and quite complex. Very very good.

I never found out exactly what Struise Brouwers beer I drank as it changed regularly. What I got was all Fernet Branca and boozy molasses. A truly mystical pagan herbaceous brew with tea tannins on the finish. It scared me a little.  

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 14.41.24Last but not least was Lupulus “Dark”, a brown ale from Brasserie Les 3 Fourquets. It picked up the narcotic theme of the evening smelling heavily of “special tobacco” as my father used to call it. My unedited word for word note at the time read “Like drinking BC bud smoothie with essence of pineapple, passion fruit, camp coffee, hint of pine resin”. Nuff said. 

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 14.41.35With no more substantial fare than cheese, I was forced to exit stage left for something to sustain me. The place I found was quite inviting, decent food and judging by this photo I thoroughly enjoyed the bread and butter. I managed a couple more beers: La Chouffe Soleil & Patrasche Nello’s but forgotten the name of the restaurant. How odd…

The next night like a good parishioner I returned to ‘t Antwaerps Bierhuyske and having tried all the keg beers the previous evening I endeavoured to find a bottle or two that might be a rare sight in the UK.

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 14.42.08My friendly barkeep suggested Westmalle Extra and at 4.8% was a welcome break from the high-octane brews. A good clean mouthfeel held half ripe banana, white pepper, lemon zest, razor sharp acids, faintly grassy, super refreshing and very drinkable. 

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 14.42.24The final beer of my pilgrimage was the excellent Cuvée des Jacobins Rouge by Brouwerij BockorLovely tart cranberry, underpinned by some oaky grip, fleshy red fermenting fruits, slightly iron rich and a sanguine finish. I really took my time over this beer, it really asked for your attention. Not in a bullish manner but in a silent focused way that made me appreciate drinking it all the more. A Flanders sour red ale of the highest order. 

And just like that my fleeting communion in Antwerp was over.

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 15.01.56I have been to many cities and drunk plenty of beer, but my time in ‘t Antwaerps Bierhuyske ranks right up there with the very best.

Don’t Blanc Bordeaux Whites

I’m by far not the first and most definitely will not be the last bacchanalian commentator to rail at wine consumers for their ignorance of the glories to be found in a bottle of Bordeaux Blanc.

Just picture the hordes of dry white junkies up and down the country pulling corks and wrenching screw caps, then guzzling the contents as they squint down at labels smeared with names like Marlborough or Sancerre. All the while totally oblivious that of Bordeaux’s two heavyweight white grapes Sauvignon Blanc is one.

Yes, there’s plenty of Semillon about (less Muscadelle and Sauvignon Gris) and some producers like to chuck it in oak to add body, texture and depth. But that formula of razor sharp acidity, cracking citrus, crunchy minerality and fabulous food friendliness apply to so many.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 18.39.01I first came to love BB about 3.5 years ago while celebrating with my girlfriend (now Mrs DnE) at the Greenhouse restaurant in Mayfair. On the recommendation of the sommelier, I ordered a glass of Clos Floridene 2008 from Graves to pair with my haut cuisine chicken dish. The match was tremendous and the wine? Near perfect. So smitten with it, I marched straight out and bought six bottles of the 2010, of which I still possess two (Berry Brothers & Rudd are currently stocking the 2011).

As if being wonderfully complex and a superb food wine wasn’t enough, good Bordeaux Blanc can also age incredibly well. Yet another reason to discover some for yourself.

Good BB is also exactly the kind of wine you want to bring along to your wine geek friends dinner parties. Makes you look like you very much are in the know.

If you are a regular reader/watcher of my blogs/vlogs then you’ll know that I am a big fan of the Wine Society and they deserve much applause for stocking a stellar range of BBs.

I recently tasted a few and here’s a run down.

 

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 18.43.36Bel Air Perponcher Reserve Bordeaux Blanc 2014

Fresh tart lime, crunchy green apple, bold acids. Some creamy apricot on the finish. Tart green machine. 86/100 – £8.50

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 18.43.27Chateau Martinon Entre-de-Mers 2014 

Jazzy lime, firecracker smoke, fresh gooseberry, gum clenching acidity, fine green apple. Very classy and super value. 89/100 – £7.50, but sadly at writing was out of stock.

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 18.43.47Chateau Reynon 2013 

Viscous yellow, nose of flint, yellow melon, grassy herbs and waxy pear. Quite smoky, raw Bramley apple, chewy acids, electric acidity, searing lime juice, vibrant, pure, focused mineral and long razor sharp finish. Just got better and better in the glass. Scrumptious. 91/100 – £10.50 ps Same owners as Clos Floridene but almost a 1/3 of the price of CF. 

To avoid showing too much favoritism or if you don’t do the Wine Society then here’s some other options to consider.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Bordeaux Blanc  – Medal winning on currently on offer at £6.00

Aldi’s Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc – Another medal winner and a snip at £4.99

Dourthe Reserve & La Grande Cuvee Sauvignon Blanc –  A bigger brand but both are well regarded. Reserve from Majestic £7.49 (buy six mix) and GC from Waitrose £8.99

M&S Bordeaux AC Sauvignon Blanc £8.50

Despite the winter coming on, it’s a dynamite wine for the festive period. As an aperitif, seafood platters, tangy cheeses, and the Chateau Reynon killed with Mrs. DnE’s roast chicken last weekend.

So what are you waiting for? Till some pillar of the wine writing establishment cracks under the strain of trying to turn the general public onto this most underrated yet splendid value fine white wine and chains themselves to a stand of NZ Sauvignon Blanc at your local Waitrose? Spare them from such a shameful fall from grace and pick up a bottle or two.

It’s a win win win. You’ll be expanding your wine horizons, supporting the underappreciated producers of white Bordeaux and maybe just maybe saving someone’s career.

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