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The Society’s Cava Reserva Brut & Cucumber Salmon Can-Apes

Now most of you are probably familiar with Cava, but what is it exactly?

Cava is in essence Spain’s answer to champagne. A sparkling wine made by Método Tradicional aka the Traditional (Champagne) Method.

Why can’t they call it champagne then, if it’s made in the same way?

Well because Champagne own the name and only sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region can call themselves Champagne. That said those crafty Americans found a way round it and some of the older more established CA wineries are still able to label their wines “Californian Champagne”.

Damn I said Champagne a lot it that last paragraph! Back to the Cava…

Most Cava is produced in Penedès, a Catalonian wine region outside Barcelona (North East Spain). In the main most are made from native spanish varieties such as: Macabeo, Parellada and the unpronounceable Xarello.

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 15.05.23The Wine Society very kindly sent me a bottle of their rather long winded-ly named The Wine Society’s Cava Reserva Brut, which is made for them by family run Bodegas Sumarroca. In addition to the three varieties I mentioned above, husband and wife team Carlos and Nuria add a little chardonnay to give the wine that extra finesse.

When you see Brut on a fizz label it’s just telling you its dry in style.

Straight out of the bottle you are hit with aromas of golden apple. Pretty on the eye; lovely light gold with persistent conga line bubbles racing up the glass. More on the nose is a nuttiness and some brioche. The palate is tart and cleansing. Nice acidity and a subtle richness. It’s all topped off with a long biscuit tinged finish.

The fizz was the perfect compliment for lovely simple cucumber and salmon canapés that my sister knocked up. Just rounds of cuke, topped with smoked salmon, a little salt, pepper and squeeze of lemon. You could top them with a little mashed avocado to keep them gluten and dairy www.youtubemp3now.com/sv free or add lemon or fish roe to cream cheese for a little more richness. Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 15.03.59

As mentioned in a previous blog I am a member and massive fan of The Wine Society. For the £40 joining fee you pay you are rewarded with amazing value, top quality wines and great customer service. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Oh and at just £8.50 a bottle their Cava Reserva is worth stocking up on for the holidays.

Brewdog Colabfest 2014

To collab or not to collab that is the question.

To be fair those in the to not camp seem to be becoming more and more isolated. You’ve got brewers teaming up with brewers, beer writers linking up with brewers and even beer bloggers “brewing” with well… other beer bloggers! As was the case of the Pilsner Urquell Brewoff, which was very well captured by Tandleman here in his blog.

When some of the heavy weights do come together… it can whip up the kind of frenzied anticipation that I imagine might greet a Jay-Z and Beyonce/Kanye/Justin/etc or in my case Temple of the Dog* type collaboration. Queues of fervent followers desperate to get their hands on and mouths round the liquid delights of these hash tag multiplying ones offs.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.45.30However, I have not always been blown away by the end product of these much lauded unions. All fanfare and no show if you will.

So it was with some scepticism that I fought (literally) my way to the bar at Brewdog Shepherds Bush. It was rammed!!! Not enough staff to cope and I actually had a fierce argument with a woman who had shouldered past me and then tried to get served first. I informed here of her poor queuing practices and she claimed ignorance, which I debated. Things got a bit tense as we traded passive aggressive verbal blows; ” You go ahead and order! “ … “ No, no! You go ahead! “.

The whole thing ended with me ordering first and in true Canadian fashion feeling horribly guilty and apologising to her. To add insult to injury her chilled man friend quoted one of my favorite quotes; “Worse things happen at sea”. I tried to bond with him over it, but it ended up feeling hollow and reasonably inappropriate. Sniff.

Where was I ? Oh yes walking back to my seat in a west London craft beer bar with a couple 1/2 pints feeling like a total tosser.

Now what was different about these collaborations was that it wasn’t two or three breweries coming together. Brewdog had the genius idea to twin up each of their UK bars with shit hot brewers that were nearest to said bars (their marketing continues lead the pack here in the UK). Thus giving each beer a regional, local focal kind of feel.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.45.05Seeing as I hadn’t eaten dinner yet I got to work on my five a day with Lovibonds and BD Shepherd’s Bush Purple Rain; a foraged fruit sour. Was good and tangy, not too acidic. Liked the texture of it, not thin and weedy but muscular and chewy.

Next was a double header, swapping between sips/gulps of Alechemy‘s liaison with BD Dundee and Buxton Brewery tangoing with BD Nottingham.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.43.55Obviously they have heritage to spare up in Dundee as Alechemy burned actual timbers from the RRS Discovery to charge this Smoked in History smoked porter. Lean texture, fresh feel with balanced cocoa and coffee. Oh and smoke of course; just the right amount. Though I doubt Captain Scott would have approved.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.44.28I am a real fan of Buxton and their Rough C’s brewed with the help of the merry men and women of Nottingham was a real coup. I’d never tried an oatmeal amber lager (a what?!) before, so wasn’t sure what to expect. Lovely texture and feel (oatmeal take a bow) and very easy drinking. Liked the subtle malt sugars mingling with the creaminess of the oatmeal (again), but yet left it left my palate crisp and clean. Nice work.

Ordering food seemed a good idea at this point and am glad I did because they do some mean wings at BD Shep Bush. I opted for the North Carolina variation and demolished them along with some sinfully yummy tater tots, just beer numero quatre landed.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.44.13The Wild Beer Co are easily one of the top 5 breweries in the country and continue to evolve. Their creation in partnership with BD BristolRosa Canina Saison, which was nothing short of spectacular. The beer was delicious and balanced as it walked a tight rope of aromatic rose petal, tart rosehip and savoury rosemary. Not content with just making a fabulous beer, this colab showed some wit by in naming it. On first glance it’s simply the latin name for the shrub rose (native to Europe) that was used in flavouring the beer. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that Rosa Canina’s common name is the Dog Rose. Very clever, very clever indeed.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.44.40After my four stop tour round the UK I came back to London with The Five Points Brewing Company and BD ShoreditchSmoke and Mirrors, a well trod metaphor for deception was slightly misnamed in my opinion as it was anything but fraudulent. This smoked porter showed class in spades: lovely rich silky feel, but wasn’t cloying or boozy (7.8% ABV). It had a wonderful depth as well with hints of cinder, cocoa nibs and espresso foam.

It was time to cross the street and go to a gig (Jungle; who didn’t exactly have me crowd surfing). After the show I felt I needed one last one off, but upon arriving I was a little at a loss as what to have.

Had really wanted to taste Ilkley Brewery and BD Leeds Westwood Stout, brewed with white chocolate. But sadly they had run out.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 15.44.55I sampled a few but being a Toon supporter I settled on a Tyne Bank Brewery BD Newcastle brew called Amba Necta. It sounded like the perfect dessert beer; a honey and apricot amber ale, sadly it didn’t particularly wow me. I freely admit though that by this point my palate wasn’t at its best (I blame the bottle of plastic cider… whoops I meant plastic bottle of cider in the Shepherd’s Bush Empire).

Based on this showing? To colab is most certainly the answer.

* Temple of the Dog was a one off musical collaboration to commemorate the untimely of passing of Andrew Wood, lead singer of Seattle rock band Mother Love Bone. TotD was the coming together of Soundgarden’s front man (and close friend) Chris Cornell and MLB band members Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament. A certain Eddie Vedder was enlisted and with Matt Cameron (also Soundgarden) on drums they released this self titled album in 1991. Of course Gossard, Ament and Vedder went on to form Pearl Jam with their first album Ten coming out that same year. While also in ’91 Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger hit the airwaves.

Other notable 1991 releases: Nirvana – Nevermind, Pixies – Trompe le MondeMetallica – Metallica, Guns n Roses – Use Your Illusion 1 & 2, U2 – Achtung Baby, REM – Out of Time, The Tragically Hip – Road Apples, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Blood Sugar Sex Magik , The Smashing Pumpkins – Gish, Lenny Kravitz  Mama Said, Massive Attack Blue Lines and Enya – Shepherd Moons. 

Shit, that was a good year of music.

Loved me some Enya back in the day.

Penpont Brewery

I am a regular visitor to the wilds of Cornwall and while down for a wedding some weeks past I grabbed a few bottles from Bodmin Moor based Penpont; a brewery I had been meaning to try.

Though a special mention must go out to the lack of functioning brain cells of the staff at the Spar in Rock.

While giving custom to the aforementioned establishment I was stood at the front of the queue (can you call it a queue when it’s only you?), my arms full of essential shopping (scones, clotted cream, etc.), waiting as two people at the tills served a customer each.

One would think a simple sounding procedure and straight forward enough, ah but no. Somehow through a complex level of bumbling and mind numbing faffery I was made to wait almost 10 minutes.

Now I came very close to dumping my overpriced thimble of local strawberry jam et all and storming out in protest. But as I tried to contain my gurgling urbanite rage my eyes fell upon the booze shelves and scanning for a welcome distraction I spied the nicely packaged Cornish Arvor and Roughtor. 

Eventually, I was in fact served and left with said bottles nestled in my canvas tote.

Here’s what I thought…

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 14.16.32Cornish Arvor Amber Ale weighing in at 4% abv and getting its name from a type of boat common on the seas around north west Cornwall, is lovely bright bronze.

A thin wispy head gave off notes of kelp and sweet ripe orchard fruit.

I really enjoyed the fresh texture underlaid with stone fruit and an herbaceous finish.

Solid and very pleasant session ale which I would happily drink with roast chicken or some of Rick Stein’s (reassuringly expensive) fish and chips.

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 14.16.13Taking it’s moniker from the neolithic Rough Tor a round enclosure of stones that once formed a small ancient settlement atop the 2nd tallest hill in Cornwall on Bodmin Moor.

Roughtor is classed as a well hopped amber ale and had the look of dark leather.

Lovely thick soapy head that popping with aromas of nuts, raisin loaf, blossom honey and vegetable oil.

The palate starts creamy then finishes tart. Clean, herbaceous and dry with flavours of subtle apricot and peach then ending with savoury bay leaf.

Sitting comfortably at 4.7% avb this is a tasty www.casinoscapital.com/casino-games-guide/roulette/tips beer and one I think would go superbly with roast beef and yorkshire pud or some nice nutty hard cheeses.

So two good beers from Penpont Brewery and I have bad service to thank for it.

Every cloud…

Hawkshead Brewery and Bar

Now the reason that my lady and I were in the Lake District for my birthday at end of March this year was because I had complained to Virgin trains. The reason for a strongly worded email was the result of a crap journey to Stockport; for which I was given two first class train tickets to anywhere their trains went in the UK. Before some smart ass asks; no I wasn’t complaining about the state of Stockport.

Though I would be remiss if I didn’t give my readers a wee amuse-bouche of what one might expect to encounter at Stockport station after a shit journey on a Tuesday lunchtime. As I strolled out of the entrance in search of a cab, a bored child hurled a mostly empty coke can in my direction; it just missed me. A few feet away, oblivious, his equally disenfranchised looking pram toting mother swore loudly into her phone. Nuff said.

So after our free 1st Class journey to Oxenholme and a round the houses cab journey to Kendal we arrived at our superb B&B. Beech House does a bang up cooked breakfast and is easily one of the most cozy and inviting places I have stayed in the UK (no small feat). I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in Kendal or anywhere near Kendal.

It was a short train ride from Kendal to Staveley the home of one of Cumbria’s finest; Hawkshead Brewery. There was a stack of twittersations fired back and forth as I tried to arrange a peek round the 20 barrel brewhouse. But arriving on a Friday evening the day before a big private event was inopportune to say the least. Thankfully on premises they’ve built a large, modern, spacious brewery bar that serves their beers in cask, keg and bottle as well as kicking out some good grub. Plus it was open till 11pm. Result!

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.23.14I was wearing a grin a mile wide as I strolled into the airy, wood bedecked barn of beeryness (which I managed not to photograph); because it’s exactly the kind of place that is transforming the culture of beer drinking in this country. There weren’t any nooks with beeping fruit machines, nor a toilet that looked like it had last seen a mop in the late eighties. Not even a bar propped up with leering untrusting locals looking to lynch a Canadian Londoner beer geek.

The Hawkshead brew hall was bright, clean, buzzing with the laughter and chatter of people of all ages. Kids dashing around as their parents caught up with friends. Couples young and old in for a meal and a few pints. The kind of place I would spend way too much time if it was my local, which must have been the case for the folk of Staveley as it the joint was packed. We managed to grab a recently vacated table and armed with the food menu and some instructions from my dear lady I waded past tourists and toddlers to the bar. Busy as it was I didn’t have to wait too long to be asked what I might like from a smiling member of staff. I ordered a couple taster sticks and an assortment of edibles.Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.23.30

Back at the table we worked our way through Stick 1: Bitter/Windermere Pale/Red and Stick 2: Brodie’s Prime/Dry Stone Stout/The Illusionist. 

Stick 1: was ok enough with the Red coming out top it with some nuttiness, red berry tartness and nice texture. However, I found the balance and the “feel” of the Bitter and Windermere a fraction out, in terms of what I look for in those sorts of beers.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.23.44Stick 2: full of dark beers was much more enjoyable. My favorite was probably the Dry Stone, I do love an oatmeal stout and this one had it all; black treacle, espresso and a texture that bordered on the sensual. Brodie’s was fresh, chocolatey with a hoppy bite. I know it’s not the done thing to say a cross word about Magic Rock, but my least favorite was probably the Illusionist. This much heralded colab with Hawkshead, though interesting lacked something for me and wasn’t up to the level of other two.

My dissection of the beers was slightly interrupted as our grub landed. Scotch egg & piccalilli: warm, eggy, tangy and piggy in all the right places. Deep fried whitebait & tartar: crisp light batter, rich mayo gherkin pickle saucy and crisp fishy yum yum. Sticky BBQ baby back ribs: stucky sweet, smoky finger sucking tasty. Homemade fish goujons with garlicky butter were a delight; crunching not too greasy batter and moist fish. The piece de resistance though was a Yorkshire pudding filled with: local beef braised in Brodie’s Prime and horseradish sauce. The missus and I were literally elbowing each other out of the way to lick the plate, it was that good. There were corn fritters and mushrooms on toast too but were less inspired. But it all got eaten, so couldn’t have been that bad.Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.24.21Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.25.01Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.24.32Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.24.41

By this stage the sticks had run dry, so I opted for a half of the Lakeland Gold to wash down the remnants of our eclectic tapas feast. That familiar refrain was back though, some missing notes that left me wanting.

Deciding on whether to have dessert or not was a no brainer as they had baked Alaska a la Lakes. Brodie’s Prime made an encore soaking the chocolate brownie base, add poached damsons, ice cream all cocooned in meringue and baked. Sounded like heaven and looked a dream when it arrived, but unfortunately upon eating, it came up a little short. Certainly tasty, but not enough ice cream and the brownie could have done with another good glug of the B.P. if I’m honest. Ah well…Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.25.12

The evening was edging on we were running short on trains back to Kendal, but surely there was the time for a quick night cap? After a short debate with myself I decided on two halves from their speciality range: Hawkshead IPA and NZPA (New Zealand Pale Ale) both on keg. Rather sadly I enjoyed neither and disliked the NZPA so much I didn’t even finish it. My issue? The hopping*. I am all for big hops in beer, but it needs to be balanced. The resin character was so astringent that simpled overpowered almost everything else going on in the beer. Which was a shame.

Despite some of their beers tasting out of tune (in my humble opinion) my visit to the Hawkshead brewery and beer hall was a very pleasant experience. It is a beautiful inviting space in which to enjoy good beer, tasty food and warm company.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 11.23.57Walking outside I was struck by the quiet and the thick darkness beyond the glow of the beer hall windows; a muffling cloak of coal, punched through in places with sparkling diamond stars. It’s easy to forget that such a world exists when we live in a big cities. The roar of jet engines and millions of lights filling up our senses. My breath came out as steam and we wandered our way to Staveley station.

*Now there will be people who disagree or call me anti-hop (love hops I do). But for me good beer (or wine or spirits or food) should have an equilibrium. I would go as far to say that balance is probably the most important factor when I am assessing a food or beverage. When it’s in perfect harmony; a drink or plate of food is lifted from the simply good into the magnificent.

Postscript: I recently came across Hawkshead Lakeland Lager in bottle at one of my local pubs and so gave it a try. I am an optimist and really wanted to be impressed so as to dispel my reservations about some of their beers.

It reminded me of Grolsch. Which sadly is not a good thing.

Won’t stop me trying their beers again though…

 

Lake Brews: Coniston and Stringers

It was upon a birthday trip so fine that I made my way to the wilds of Cumbria and a walking I did go with my good lady upon my arm. Over hill, dale and even across the glittering water of Windermere did we travel in search of adventure and nourishment for our minds and bodies; the smog of London gently being lifted from our hair (and our souls) by the lake breeze.

Many miles did we wander, beautiful sights did we see, good food and drink did we imbibe, but night’s dark cloak drew in and nearing the station I was drawn to the warming lights of Booths.

I know not what called me to the beer aisle like a clarion call, but as I stood staring and blinking in the bright artificial lights my eyes settled upon a few labels. One of the names inscribed was familiar to me so I reached out and took two of its kind.

As I turned to go something stopped me; a ringing in my ears, and lo I knew my mistress waited near the magazines tapping a muddy hiking shoe, that ringing turned to words that shouted  “two is not enough!!”. It echoed around my mind and I tried to shake it knowing there may be consequences if I tarried but a moment more. Yea, before I knew it I was turning back to the glassy glow.

Hungrily I hunted the rows, there must be a reason for my return, where was it to be found? As if a curtain was suddenly lifted I spied the bold packaging, how could have I missed it before? Just gazing upon those brown bottles in their resplendent robes of blue and black edged in white; I knew one thing, I must posses them.

All four little gems travelled tucked in my case back to London town, arriving safely. It twas high time I drank the buggers…

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 14.25.28My previous knowledge of Coniston Brewery related solely to an evening tasting Britain’s Champion Beers at which I sampled their extraordinary No. 9 Barley Wine. Champ in 2012 and my favourite beer from the 2000-13 CAMRA winners. It was on that strength that I procured their Bluebird Bitter and charmingly named Old Man Ale. 

The BB at 4.2% had the look of warm amber, giving off aromas of wet fall leaves, burnt caramel and horse blanket. Sipping revealed some woodiness, iron filings, dry earth, a touch meaty, some resin but cleansing, fresh, easy drinking with a tart floral finish.

Though the name suggested it be best supped by those with more hair in their ears than on their heads; Consiton’s Old Man Ale was anything but.Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 14.25.17

In the glass it looked to me like melted brown sugar with a rich thick shaving foam head. Sniff sniff: lovely floral complexity (owing to the Challenger and Mount Hood hops), warm rye bread, hints of gingerbread spices, fruits of white peach and sweet plum with the vaguest whiff of caramel coated hazelnut.

Let me at it! A balanced 4.8%, creamy rum raisin, air dried beef, dandelion and burdock, with a clean, dry woody mushroom and sage leaf finish. Very very good and not a whisper of the war.

Completely new to me were Stringers Brewery, however their brewy base in the market town Ulverston is a place close to my heart. Some years ago, for about three weeks yours truly nested at the grade II listed Friends Meeting House while I rehearsed a play in the less memorable Barrow-in-Furness.

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 14.24.43They have stopped brewing their XB (4.2%) since I drank it, apparently due to lack of traction in an otherwise overcrowded best bitter market. Which is a shame as my notes will show…

It had a rich Demerara sugar hue with a happy soapy head, then sticking my nose where it did belong my brain did the deciphering: newly cut hay, runny golden syrup, creamy banoffie pie and fresh baked pear tatin. To my lips and then… sharp clean crisp, dry mushroom, round malt and finishing in lemon pith.

Solid and tres drinkable. Bring it back.

Mercifully their Dry Stout (4.5%) is still available and damn is it good!Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 14.24.31

Staring into the abyss of my glass, a dense moonless midnight winter black topped with thin charcoal fluffy clouds. Wonderful full bodied aromas of iron rich earth, liquorice http://casinoin.us/set-back-for-the-poker-slots/, jäger herbs, fresh espresso and baked black plums battered my nostrils. Gulp: cold coffee evolving into tiramisu, some savoriness giving way to Jerusalem artichoke and finishing in dry cocoa. Concentrated and textured yet remains very fresh.

Truly as good a stout as I’ve ever had (won a few awards as well).

And that was that, was that then.

Peckham Burger @ Anderson & Co

Some years ago (like 2008/2009) the grand trendsetter looked upon the great city with its many diverse eateries and despite the health warnings said ” Let there be meat… Shit loads of it… Oh and pop-ups. Pop-ups are like the shizzle”.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.42.24And the people rejoiced for more meat and a multitude pop-ups seemed to be what their lives were missing. But not in the tired boiled/fried or the random installation art way of the past oh no, this was a new dawn, mashing up: craft beer, kimchi, live music, funky art and antiques, hotdogs, DJ’s, lobster and those revered culinary techniques perfected by our rebellious cousins across the great sea. Carnivorous creations of: ribs sticky and sweet, chicken wings made of hellfire with blue cheese dip, slow cooked pork spiced and pulled to the point of no return, steak so big and bloody young children hid their faces at sight of it and last but surely not least that flagship of Americana, the mighty Hamburger.

Last Friday I met up with an old friend who lives Peckham Rye (my old hood) and he suggested Peckham Burger chez Anderson & Co. Chilled hand crafted food cafe by day and by night (Weds-Sat) it morphs into aScreen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.43.23 slick patty and bun operation kicking out simply: beef, chicken, veggie (mushroom) and skinny (bun-less) burgers to which you can add bacon, cheese, etc… Sides were equally minimal: bloody mary salt fries, mac n cheese and coleslaw. There’s a few puddings as well; the specialty being ice cream sundaes with Jude’s the star of the show. It’s not a huge place; room for about 40 covers (give or take) if you include the handful of tables out front and the nice fairy garden in the back where we sat.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.41.44The drinks list is slightly more filled out with a good selection on non alcoholic options featuring Luscombe Drinks and Owlet Juices. Wine is simple and straightforward with a choice of one red (very solid Chateau La Bastide/Corbières) and one white (Inzolia from Sicily). Quite pleased to see a couple of very local beers in Peckham Pils/Brick BreweryRed Ale/Brockley Brewing and the only slightly further afield Kernel IPA/The Kernel Brewery (who have become a deserved regular on some of the UK’s best eateries). There were some more mainstream lagers as well but didn’t take much notice of them.

By way of aperitif I had a Peckham Pils (I’d tried to drink it on two previous occasions but both bottles were flat/faulty). Clear, bright with decent head retention and a touch lager stinky. The palate was alright, crisp and pretty clean, but they’ve still not got it quite right for me. Though I do like their Archway Steam.

Still thirsty I ordered another beer along with the Chicken Burger (au natural) and some of the cocktail seasoned fries. First to arrive was the Brockley Red Ale and I was much pleased. Rich rusty tone and nutty, earthy, red berry nose. Impressive texture to it, nice balance of sweet malt and savory hops. Yum I say!

My CB and fries landed and I tucked right in. Suffolk chicken thigh marinated in tomorrosso (tomato), garlic, basil, oregano, chilli with lettuce, tomato and our aioli on a cholla bun was how the menu described itScreen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.42.01. My tastebuds went with “Oh my flippin gawdness!!”. Gonna out on a limb and say it’s the best chicken burger I have had in years. A real masterpiece; from the cooking of that juicy tender Suffolk clucker, to the tangy vibrant marinade, which balanced just right against the mellow garlic mayo and the sweet soft as a pillow cholla. Senfrigginsational! The fries kept the standard high. Skinny frites with a perfect crunch to them, not greasy and I must say the addition of Bloody Mary salt was inspired. Raised the chip up to someplace special. Oh and their homemade tommy k was awesome! Had just the right amount of sweet, sour and spice.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.43.01To top it all off that red ale was the perfect match, it’s weight and feel beautifully complimenting my heavenly bird in a bun.

Service was spot on; relaxed, friendly and efficient.

Perhaps the bill was a bit more than you might expect to pay for 2 burgers, 2 fries and 4 beers, but we are in London after all. I was more than happy to shell out; hell it’s not every day you eat a chicken burger that might just Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.42.12change your life (ok didn’t change my life, but it certainly made my week).

Oh lo the grand trendsetter said unto them  “Some pop up burger joints are created better than others.”

Amen to that.

Screen Shot 2014-08-04 at 17.43.13

Ska Euphoria & Dale’s Pale Ale Cans

The beer bloggeratti are abuzz with pretty universal praise of our favourite breweries putting their fine liquids into cans. It does tick a lot of boxes in terms of: cost efficiency, environmental impact and freshness retention. That final consideration is especially important when we are talking about the best brewskis making the long journey from the US of A to her Majesty’s golden shores.

Not one to be left behind I picked up a couple tinnies from two Colorado heavyweights Ska and Oscar Blues at the tres swish The Beer Boutique in Putney.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 15.27.18My first taste of Ska Brewing came at the now extinct My Brewery Tap in Brighton. I visited soon after their opening a few years back and had a whale of a time trying a range of keg beers that included that beast of an IPA that is Modus Hoperandi. Euphoria Pale Ale, now in its 10th year is a collaboration with their pals at Venture Snowboards and is a celebration of all the outdoor activities that winter brings and that craftsman spirit that embody them both.

First thing I noticed about this 6.2% abv seasonal “Ska/Venture Venture” was that it was past drink by date by nearly a month, undeterred (I’ve eaten IKEA mustard that was years past its expiry) I poured it out. A promising rich mocha head frothed up showing a deep clear brown undercarriage. The aromas stomped all over my nasal receptors with a complexity that showed passion fruit, marmite, Rollo chocolates and dense ginger cake. With a nose like that I wasted no time supping back a big gulp of it. I was struck immediately by the fabulous rounded mouthfeel, but then subtle malty peach joined the party, with hop resin poking through, his lady friend ripe cantaloupe came bouncing in, bringing the whole mouth fiesta into superb balance. Utterly delicious.

Having heard a lot of good things about Oscar Blues Brewingtheir flagship Dale’s Pale Ale seemed as good a place to start as any.Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 15.27.41

Bright amber in the glass with a thin layer of head, it gave off whiffs of earthy mushroom, pine resin, lemon peel and roast chicken (maybe I was hungry). First sip was zippy and fresh. The texture was nice and creamy, with hints of dry pineapple and mango, razor sharp hops, some stony minerals and a slightly floral finish. If you are a bit of a hopmonster this solid 6.5% abv-er is the benchmark for great USA inspired pale ale. Killer pairing with cheddar cheese as well.

Based on this very limited but highly successful tasting I will be lending my voice to those around me shouting at the top of our lungs. “Bring us more cans!”

East Anglian Wines

Ah East Anglia, ancient home of Boudica; the warrior queen of the Roman routing Iceni tribe folk. Though the centurions eventually got their own back and as a result grapevines were planted en masse in what is the modern day Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. EA once produced 40% of the grapes in Britannia due to it’s fabulous terroir; particularly chalky limestone soils and low rainfall. However since its heyday a thousand or so years ago it has been eclipsed by Kent and Sussex as England’s premiere wine regions. But East Anglia’s vinous traditions live on ; as I found out on a dark autumn evening of tasting at the West Street Vineyard in Coggeshall, Essex.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.04.44There was a handful of wineries present, but I kicked off with New Hall Vineyards and their decent Bacchus 2012. The UK’s premiere white grape showed itself as fresh grapefruit, medium dryness and fragrant subtle green menthol smoke. Signature 2012 is a blend of the little known German varietal Siegegrubbe and better known Pinot Gris. I enjoyed the harmony of white flowers and spicy apricot. It was a good weight, had nice freshness nice body and a zesty kiwi finish. Even better was the Signature Reserve 2009 with its rich ripe muscat nose, clinging acidity, dry green apple and fresh pineapple. The Pinot Noir Rose 2012 had smoky strawberry, flinty stone on the nose and on the palate zippy cranberry was rich long and classy. Most impressive was their Brut Rose 2010 which was a blend of Chardonnay and Pinots Noir & Blanc. It was lean, a bit green but very fine fizz with a real classy rich biscuit tone that finished with a touch raspberry. Very good indeed.

New Hall is headed up by the UK Vineyards Association Winemaker of the Year 2013 and East Anglia winemaking royalty Piers Greenwood. Piers has a deep knowledge and wise warm wisdom when talks about his wines. But it was the regard with which other winemakers spoke about him that told the real story. Piers has an incredible passion for raising the wine profile of the area and does this by consulting at a number of  other wineries in the region.

Set up “Essexites” the Mohan family in 2009 West Street Vineyard does more than it says on the tin. As well as being a micro vineyard (5.5Acres) actually in the village of Coggeshall, its home to “The Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.06.15Wine Barn”; a modern cafe restaurant complete with wine wall that boasts the best wines the UK has to offer. Tastings, tours and more are available at this Anglian wine hub, but I digress… First up was their White 2011 (Faber and Bacchus) which showed pretty well with it’s flinty fresh acidity, super tangy lemon pith and clean finish. Their Rose 2011 (Faber and Pinot Noir) really impressed; smoky earthy red berries, tart cranberry and a pleasingly high acids. Their good run continued with a fine Brut 2010; a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay showing ripe white melon, “prosecco” pear and rich brioche. Very nice indeed. I wasn’t familiar with the German Faber variety (Pinot Blanc/Müller-Thurgau cross) to which the site was originally planted, but Stephen and Jane have put a rather dull grape to good use by blending it newer plantings of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

That theme of diversification is taken to a new level by Suffolk’s Lavenham Brook who in addition to their award winning wines they rear Red Poll Beef, Suffolk Lamb and produce single varietal heritage apple juice. The Bacchus 2012 dripped delightful peach, white melon, vibrant lime moving into dry tingling apricot  finish. Soft red berries, nice texture and a touch leathery were the notes I made about their solid Pinot Noir Rosé 2012. There was a real class to both wines which came as no surprise when I found out that Herr Greenwood is the winemaker there as well.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.05.45Shawsgate is one of East Anglia’s oldest commercial vineyards which may explain their rather dated website homepage. I did however like their wines and the smart clean packaging as well. Bacchus 2011 showed lime, white flower, soapstone, pine needles and a super dry green apple finish. Pandora 2011; a blend of Seyval Blanc and Müller-Thurgau was off dry with vague citrus and ok weight. Spanish Rosado in style their Rosé 2010 (Rondo; a red cross of Czech origins popular here in the UK for making good Rose, though I have yet to have a very good red made from it) tasted ripe and gamey, had generous strawberry, was long, full-bodied and very drinkable. The hits kept coming as I moved to their bubbles. The 2004 Brut made from Seyval Blanc seduced with exotic Asian (apple) pear, rich cashew nut and was all over me with dense lime cheesecake yet zesty yummy freshness. Superb stuff.  2008 Rosé (Rondo and Acalon:another German red import) was meaty, with hints of lovely Brazil nut, strawberries and cream. Really liked the wild raspberry finish.

Much decorated family run Giffords Hall for me produced the best Bacchus (Defacto white grape of England, producing some of the countries most consistent white wines. Its a Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.06.04saucy threeway cross of Silvaner, Riesling with good old Müller-Thurgau) of the day. Their 2012 held my attention with its bracing sea salt, fresh melon, stinging nettle and lovely lively finish. GH’s award-winning Rose 2012 made from a blend of Rondo and the promising Madeline Angevin (white Loire variety) showed off hints of smoke, fine red flinty greenish berries and a subtle meaty edge. Classy.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.05.28I was able to sample some very niche liqueurs from DJ’s Wines who are so boutique they don’t even have a website. My quote about their Bramble Whisky was concise and to the point “I could lose a few days on that, but I wouldn’t mind”. While I was more measured when describing Monks Mead, the product of hard working bees that was fresh, fruity and light with notes of aged honey, heather and citrus zest.

Screen Shot 2014-07-14 at 15.05.06I found time before dinner to move from the grape to the grain with samples from the English Spirit Distillery who are making some sensational spirits including the masterful Old Salt Rum. I found myself softly singing old sea shanties as I sipped this international gold medal winning rum. If you love rum or know someone who does then you must seek out this wonder, that uses traditions centuries old to distill this treacle laden, salted caramel, bananalicious beauty.

I had a chance to chat with Piers Greenwood during dinner and mightly enjoyed hearing his stories. His ethos, how he fell in love with wine and winemaking left an impression on me. With a guardian like him overseeing this reinvigoration of East Anglia vineyards then these smattering of awards and accolades I feel will only increase. The result being hopefully more bottles from this ancient and noble English wine region being enjoyed by the descendants of the Romans who first planted those vines. Oh and Boudica’s as well…

Postscript: I had a look at the websites and other social media for these producers and (with the exception of Lavenham Brook and to a lesser extent Giffords Hall) felt most of them really needed to update and expand their online reach. A twitter account, facebook page and attractive easy to use website are must haves in this modern world of marketing. Ignore them at your peril.

Brixton Brewery

I love supporting local businesses in my hood of SE London. I also love good beer so you can imagine my delight as I gazed upon the chilling bottles of Brixton Brewery in the beer fridge at that cave of drinky delights Market Row Wines.

I snapped four bottles to try. The names were proudly Brixtonian, but did the beer behind those dazzling labels express the vibrant complex nature of this most iconic London neighbourhood?

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.25I kicked off with Windrush Stout (5%) and found the nose of this dense black ale quite intoxicating. Freshly roasted coffee, ripe blackberries, toasted chestnut, rich in iron with a savoury meatiness. It slipped down very nicely and I loved the fresh clean quality it had in my mouth. As well as some of the notes from the nose there was bubble coffee, earthy minerals and a beautifully balanced lean bitter finish. Very easy drinking, yet fine. Quite delicious.

Next was Reliance Pale Ale (4.2%) which smelled of tropical fruit sweets, white melon and toast. My first sip I found to twang of TCP, it was tart with a sharp malt bite and finished dry pithy grapefruit. Very medicinal and not quite to my taste.Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.46

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.37But they were back on song again with their flagship session Effra Ale (4.5%). Mouth watering peach, caramel and rich malty bread invaded my nostrils. Tasting it, what really impressed me was its rich texture of toasted cornmeal but there were also some Jäger herbs with a firm dry mango finish. Very tasty.

To round off the quartet was Electric IPA (6.5%) whose nose sang to me of bright sweet pineapple, candied grapefruit and pasties fresh from the oven. The mouthful was creamy sweet papaya, pithy pink grapefruit with a dry peppery rocket finish. Quite good indeed.Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 14.40.54

Brixton Brewery began to ferment 3 years ago as an idea in the hop addled minds of neighbours and passionate homebrewers Jez and Mike as they drank in the previous incarnation of The Craft Beer Co SW4. Putting their plan into action took about two years and saw them team up with head brewer Dominic whose CV boasts names like Brewdog, Kelham Island and Sierra Nevada. Despite not being wild about the Reliance Pale Ale I felt each beer possessed its own distinct personality and expressed some of that joie de vivre that makes Brixton such a vibrant and engaging place. Here’s hoping that Jez, Mike and Dominic can maintain their solid start and build on some very well brewed beers.

I’m a big fan of fellow blogger Leigh Linely’s writing (I also like that his initials repeat, like mine) and regularly read his  The Good Stuff” blog. Here’s a link to his recent Brixton Brewery Review.

Great minds Leigh; I thought the Windrush Stout was the pick of the bunch as well.

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